The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Bonappetour in Hong Kong - demo at Edith's

Last month I was contacted by Yee Hueh, the Community Manager at Bonappetour, who introduced the company as a young start-up, "an online community marketplace that provides travellers a chance to dine like a local, anywhere around the world". Bonappetour was launching in Hong Kong, and the company was searching for hosts to represent the community. Having three kids at home - the youngest only a few months old - I politely declined the offer to join as a host since I don't have the time nor energy for such a job. Yee Hueh then extended an invitation to attend one of the demos held by one of the new Bonappetour hosts, and I accepted it as I was curious to see how this works. I was accompanied by Inez, the co-founder of Bonappetour, and Yee Hueh, and we were all welcomed by Edith who was a fantastic host. Edith was pleasantly surprised to see that a baby was joining the demo, but thankfully the little one slept through most of our time there, waking up only when the food was ready. Edith's love of food and cooking was evident as she taught us how to make dumplings, tofu with century egg, and lettuce wraps (aka san choi bow). Best of all, they were all really yummy! I think this 'kitchenless concept' is brilliant, allowing travellers to experience a foreign culture in the best way possible - with the locals, eating local food, in a home! Even in a place like HK, where there are many expats, people who live locally can also enjoy such an experience. Thanks to Fiona, the appointed Bonappetour photographer at the demo, for eleven of the photos below.

Edith, our welcoming hostess:

The ingredients for the food, mise en place:

Making the pork and prawn filling for the dumplings:

Getting hands on with making our lunch:

Dumplings two-ways - boiled:

And fried:

Edith also showed us how easy it was to make tofu with century eggs:

No cooking required, and a lovely cool appetiser for the warm months:

Enjoying the fruits of our labour:

Edith is located in Ap Lei Chau, and you can see details of her 3-hour local market tour and home cooked meal experience here.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Birthday lunch @ Restaurant Akrame, Hong Kong

Hubby had his birthday on the weekend, and we celebrated it with a visit to Restaurant Akrame. We'd visited Chef Akrame Benallal's other restaurant next door a few months ago and had really enjoyed it, so we were looking forward to lunch at the fine-dining sister restaurant. Bucking the design trend of many French fine dining restaurants, Restaurant Akrame instead features a minimalistic and contemporary interior of white walls, black furniture and portraits of tatooed models, lending a no-fuss and casual atmosphere. We applaud the fact that our reservation was not shunned though we clearly stated that we would be bringing our almost-4-month-old baby along with us. (For the record, #3 is the model baby, quiet and unfussy, so we didn't fret too much about bringing her to a fine dining restaurant.) Restaurant Akrame is small, seating only 30 diners, but the tables have a comfortable space in between that affords some privacy. Staff was polite and helpful, and service in general was professional and faultless. For lunch, we had quite a few options. There was the nine-course menu for HK$1088 with specified dishes and optional wine pairing. The Menu Degustation suits those who like to be surprised with the chef's choice of dishes, with several options depending on your appetite: the friends lunch menu (three courses, HK$280), menu favorite (four courses, HK$380) and gourmet menu (six courses, HK$580). Wine or juice pairings were available for extra. An a-la-carte menu was also available for those who want a little less mystery over the food that is served. Both hubby and I chose the 6-course gourmet menu, and since hubby is not a wine-drinker, he went for the juice pairing for an additional HK$238. While juice pairing was a novelty, I'm undecided on whether the juice pairing enhanced the experience. It was fun to give it a go nonetheless. We weren't given a printed menu, but below is what hubby wrote down as we were served the dishes (I would have done that work if my hands weren't already taken up feeding the baby and taking photos at the same time - something you'd think I'd get good at by #3, but it's still a challenge).

I don't have a better shot of the restaurant, but this gives a general idea of size and interior design:

The first of the two plates of amuse-bouche: smoked eel with squid ink cracker and balsamic vinegar (foreground), and sesame cracker with avocado (background):

Second plate of amuse-bouche was crispy fried potato:

Delicious crusty bread with citrus-salted butter:

First course was slow cooked egg with potato puree, sweet corn kernels and a type of pepper from South France (perhaps Espelette pepper?). The yolk was firm but thick, rich and satiny smooth. The corn kernels were juicy and very sweet. Everything in the bowl tied well together. Paired with a pineapple and coconut juice:

Foie gras and balsamic. The serving size of the foie gras was perfectly petite - any bigger and I would have trouble with it. Paired with pomegranate juice:

Oysters with potato emulsion and beetroot. Both were good but we liked the potato emulsion better than the beetroot:

Cod with peas, wasabi sauce and basil foam. Succulent cod flesh went surprisingly well with wasabi. Paired with spinach and apple juice:

Hubby's duck and a bowl of lentils with cheese foam. Juicy and flavourful duck with orange jelly. Paired with beetroot juice:

Pork with a balsamic reduction:

Dessert was brioche with vanilla custard and hazelnuts, served with a bowl of fluffy frozen cream-like dessert similar to semi-freddo:

Petit fours with a birthday message:

We had an enjoyable lunch at Restaurant Akrame. The menu changes monthly so it'll be worth a revisit.

[Prices quoted above do not include the 10% service charge.]

Restaurant Akrame
9B Ship St
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel. +85 2 2528 5068

Monday, 13 June 2016

Fine dining Vietnamese @ Gia Ngu Restaurant, Hanoi (Vietnam)

When we were in Hanoi last year, we had the chance to eat an amazing variety of delicious street food. Though we could have easily avoided restaurant dining altogether, we could not resist enjoying a meal at Gia Ngu Restaurant, located inside the hotel we stayed at. Service was amazing - staff were smiling and friendly as always, and very helpful in explaining the menu items and then demonstrating how to eat one of the dishes we ordered. The menu contained a combination of Vietnamese dishes as well as Western food, so there is something for everyone! Prices were of course higher than on the street, but still cheaper when compared to the same quality of restaurant service and food in Hong Kong, Australia and the US. And it was worth dining in air-conditioned comfort sheltered from the rain!

Gia Ngu Restaurant was also where we had our daily breakfast that was included in our hotel rate:

Even when we were living in Australia, the Viets had a reputation of doing awesomely delicious drinks, and here we enjoyed a mango smoothie, a passionfruit smoothie and pineapple juice:

For the kids, we ordered the Stir-fried Noodles with Seafood (US$7.50). I loved how much veges there were, but the 7-year-old disagreed:

Grilled "Hoi An" Snakehead Fish (192000VND, US$9) - with lemongrass, galangal, spring onion, garlic, onion, dill, peanuts in banana leaf, served with rice noodle, fresh herb, rice paper with Vietnamese fish sauce:

This was how you're supposed to eat the fish - DIY spring roll!

Wrapped Chicken in Sugar Cane (195000VND, US$9.20) - "chicken in ginger taste are wrapped with a sugar cane then grilled, served with rice noodle, vegetable for rolling and fresh sugar cane sauce". This was also eaten in the same style as the fish. Delicious!

If there is only one restaurant to visit in Hanoi, make it Gia Ngu Restaurant! The hotel, the restaurant, the staff - everything about this location gets our thumbs-ups!

Gia Ngu Restaurant
Essence Palace Hotel
27 - 29 Gia Ngu Street
Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel. +84 4 3926 2135

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Stylish coffees, average food @ Caffe Habitu [Elements], Hong Kong

We've lived above the Elements mall for more than five years now, and we finally tried out Caffe Habitu. Its location and entrance is not in a very prominent place, so it is easy to forget it's there. We found out last year that one of our four neighbours living on the same floor as us, works at Caffe Habitu in the advertising department. And since then Caffe Habitu came on our radar. We've dined there twice in the previous two months, both times for a quick brunch date out with baby #3. Service is adequate here - at least there is table service at this branch, unlike at a few other locations. The space is comfortable enough for a cafe-style setting, and there is opportunity to people-watch from the tables overlooking the ice-skating rink. The meals here are average at best, but the coffees and cakes are worth coming here for.

The entrance to Caffe Habitu is tucked away in a corner away from the main part of the mall, so it's easy to miss:

Hubby ordered Myers' Caffe Luna (HK$59), a cappuccino cocktail made with Myers' dark rum and hazelnut syrup, laced with a crescent of chocolate. A bit too boozy for a midday coffee, but I must say it was delicious:

Hubby's All Day Luxury Breakfast (HK$128) with scrambled eggs, Cumberland pork sausages, Scottish smoked salmon, bacon rasher, roasted vine tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, baked beans, served with rose strawberry jam and toasted brioche. This is pretty good, compared with the other breakfast egg dishes we tried:

Poached Eggs with Asparagus and Prosciutto (HK$112). One egg was overcooked, and the other egg had barely any runny yolk:

Warm Chocolate and Pear Fondant with vanilla gelato (HK$72) - this was good! Warm soft gooey chocolate fondant paired beautifully with the creamy and cool gelato:

Our second visit fell on a Friday, and there was an affordably priced set lunch menu which gave the option of soup or salad for first course, and about three or four choices for the main course. Tea/coffee was included (a bit extra to change to a special coffee), and it was HK$25 extra to enjoy one of the Quintessential Cakes range.

Daily soup for the set lunch menu was Mushroom Soup. It was very salty and oily:

For my coffee, I chose one of the signatures, the Cappuccino Brûlée (additional HK$16 for the set lunch option). In the background is hubby's All Day Luxury Breakfast and Ginger Latte (HK$50):

The Tsar's Choice (eggs benedict with smoked salmon, dill and caviar, HK$102) was ok. The poached eggs were overcooked again:

Pure 65% cake from the Quintessential Cakes range - a good choice for chocoholics:

Come to Caffe Habitu for the coffees and cakes, but there are better options for a meal elsewhere in the Elements mall.

Caffe Habitu [Elements]
Shop 1001, 1st Floor
Elements Mall
1 Austin Road West
Tsim Sha Tusi, Kowloon
Hong Kong
Tel. +85 2 2196 8466