Review: Din Tai Fung, Little Bao and Cô Thành in Hong Kong…(or carbs carbs and more carbs…)

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1st Course

So let’s begin of first course of our journey through H.K…did we wanna eat at Chungking Mansions? With its fragrant vats of (somewhat questionable) curries…and even an intimating Dosa giving a salute as we sped past the suit sellers?      

To be honest, a well made Dosa is great, but in the thriving heat, sans hangover a Dosa is an intimidating thing. I’ve only had Dosa, a Sri Lankan fried specialty at Devs in Bristol, but the memories there: the pattern of accents and a chaotic kitchen…wow this kind of stuff you can’t even review..despite being in the middle of nowhere…they turn out exotic Chicken Lollipops and its BYOB…Awesome. 

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http://www.devskeralabristol.com/

I’m with my dad in H.K at this moment, this is not going to be a cool meal, but given it’s his first time in Honkers, he gets to choose I guess…the foodie in me sees us eating those triangles they mislabel as sandwiches in 7/11, but the poor old geezer has Lonely Planet…

So where did he want to go?

It was a Michelin dumpling shop.

Above a mall.

It was Din Tai Fung: 

You don’t need a huge picture to read about the legend of a damn dumpling shop…

The Din Tai Fung, has a very traditional atmosphere, a restaurant with a story….a little stuffy with a lot of people on lunch breaks. Okay, they give you ginger and you don’t have to brazenly ask in broken Chinese for vinegar, an essential ingredient here, but if you are going to charge us around 70 HKD for pork chop…I expect to even want to try it.

 My dad chowed down with his knackered tastebuds and I  chowed down on these slightly samey prawn and pork dumplings, personally, the best type of dumplings are har gow, plain prawn parcels, originating from Guangdong, with lots of soy, spice and vinegar…or a few streetside local shops…in-fact: the last time I had dumplings that were truly memorable were in Sichuan, oily, spicy, with the spice making it so overeating wasn’t as possible. Perfection.’

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*heavy breathing*

I’m trying not to judge, I’m trying to repeat the Lonely Planet mantra, but Din Tai Fung as one TripAdvisor  member CristiKant put it: 

‘…This restaurant seems to be a dim-sum institution, and claims a 1 Michelin star. Now… dim sums were not bad at all, but I would definitively classify them as average. Service was a bit slow, we were served some tea we did not ask for and did not touch… and had to pay for it!.

It was okay, everything has its limit, but as a starter in HK, Din Tai Fung is okay for a tourist originating from a place where dumplings don’t exist, which to me is probably a version of hell. 

How to make dumplings:

  1. Get dressed…

2.  Find a local shop that has one of those big metal boilers, BEER and SAUCE

3.  Order anything and either enjoy or leave with an average impression. 

 

2nd Course

So it’s time to mention something equally as comforting, something round and fluffy we are taking about Little Bao, Central…Bloody hell!!! We have a history me and this wonderful H.K institution.

 

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An innocent teenage boy with a bao?

Name a restaurant that’s  ever been more cool than a place that magics up a fairly difficult hamburger, that is unlike bread, yet totally unlike dumpling?. I once had a dish in New York, Chinatown called a ‘Moon Roll’ that frantic googling has made into a myth. The bao comes so close…god its Freudian. 

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The pork bao, is a thing of beauty and to be honest, everything down to the Brussels sprouts is a thing worthy of your attention. This time around, we had the drunken clams, maybe a sly Family Guy reference? Bao is fun! May Chow rocks!

But clams in booze?  Oh shit…with puréed potato, yes!!!, this is a taste sensation, the wine coming through just as heady as me mam’s red wine gravy, practically getting the shakes just even withdrawing from the whole thing. 

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Also a shoutout to the Italian bar next door, my dad is… not always say, co-ordinated, but free Espresso martinis are the shit here at Central. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of it…*hic*

 

Third Course

(Dessert in Asia? Hell Naw!!!) 

Quick beer in a temple, reflecting if you’ll survive the journey of food and booze traveling demands? Well there’s a place that Anthony Bourdain allegedly recommended and that’s Cô Thành.

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A cool knowingly hipster Vietnamese restaurant in Central HK? Hmmm, hold the papers!  A unique story? Not so much, but this is the face of food in Kongers right now, despite all the fish balls…fusion food…Impossible food! Bars like Mrs.Pound that do cocktails served in little boxes and have the audacity to charge over 50 HKD for an average one…

I personally opted out of the noodles to have chicken wings, some cold noodle, maybe a mistake on my part, leading to their signature french sandwich known in Vietnam as bahn mi. Ironically, I know a lady who lives for wings, which to a Brit is like…what you eat when drunk out of your mind…Chicken wings haven’t quite taken off as much in Britain as say….jellied eels and Brexit.

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But after hearing so much about the bahn’ and reading about it in Kong’: 

It had to be done…

But I have to attest, I wanted more than this, pate sandwiches? Maybe it has inspired me to cut my cucumbers more down the road than across the street, still…all this for a sandwich? Cucumber is best in gin, but not at 88 HKD…

Maybe the novelty is a key ingredient here, but then I’m sure if given a choice between Vietnamese rice rolls and a baguette, the rolls will always win…..

Anthony Bourdain? I’m are my hero and your opinion and expert guide on why this was that awesome will be missed. It was okay, I wish I’d order noodles, but again…it was too hot!!! 

I had a better and more entertaining time eating traditional hotpots in Nanluoguxiang, Beijing but maybe that’s the company I kept. Clotted duck and random meat pots, with the right cynical attitude, the novelty there is better, more authentic and the people are less…less…uh…hipster and more Mao!

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While we are on the subject of asian centric dishes…

As a snob, the most recent fun I’ve had genuinely in a restaurant outside of Kongers…is an excellent experience ripping rabbit tongue from the skull of spicy head, an experience that even horrified the Chinese guy I was dining with…below lets end on some top things, other than chew and reminisce on food in H.K:

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  1. Graffiti around Central, Man Mo temple…a hundred times yes.
  2. Drink drink drank drank all the spirits and good wine
  3. Repulse Bay, if you can ignore the plastic bags in the water.
  4. The Wanch, looks cool, though empty all day, looks very British pub inside.
  5. HK light show at 8:30pm each night. Beautiful from the Kowloon Harbour.
  6. Get lost and buy pointless key rings in PMQ.
  7. Kowloon has some bars and I believe some good temples. Though I find it a bit samey sometimes.
  8. Ride a ‘Ding Ding’ Tram.
  9. Club 71 for mixed crowd in overly Caucasian Central. 
  10. Get locked out of your Airbnb.

 

再见!

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Tidy Table: Bistrot Pierre

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Entering the newest addition to the Mumbles: Bistrot Pierre; I breathed a sigh of relief; Not only was it busy, it was beautiful; Bistrot Pierre is known for combining provincial French cooking with an eye for detail; not only does it feature a stunning outdoor terrace to watch the boats go by; but the inside is decorated with warm Parisian decor; which will brighten up many an evening. Making it an exciting development for the new Oyster Wharf restaurant scene.

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Usually, I always judge a restaurant by it’s bread; the latest addition to the Mumbles; Bistrot Pierre has both the freshest french bread I’ve ever had in a restaurant, alongside artisan bread which can be made even more stunning with their deliciously zingy tomato tapenade; all washed down with a crisp bottle of white wine.

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This tapenade will be in my dreams soon enough…’My bouche is amused’ as Rob Brydon once said…

Next came our starters; I started with the Salade de truite fumée which featured    Smoked trout, beetroot and fennel salad  and a horseradish crème fraîche, while my dining companion went with the steamed asparagus, ham hock and sauce gribiche of eggs, capers, cornichons and herbs;

Perfect harmonious flavours; creamed eggs and asparagus.

If there was anything that would slow down our enthusiasm for the bread/tapenade; these dishes definitely made us stop in our tracks; my favorite part of the starters was the creamed eggs harmoniously combined with the asparagus: a dish that simply had been created with real talent and flair: I should note at this point that many dishes at Bistrot Pierre are either gluten free or can be made vegetarian:  providing a haven for those who are bored of the dreaded nut roast.

So onto mains; both of us opting for the duck confit  which came with an oven mitt to stop you burning your fingers, as you dish up various perfectly cooked provencal vegetables; that will be begged for by your dining companions;

The duck was easily one of the smoothest pieces of poultry I have cut through since Powdered Duck breast at celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant in London; what was interesting is that it came with salty olives and red wine jus; making it full of flavor; this combined with the shards of potato and carrots made it a dish that was well worth the price tag.

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Duck worth migrating to the Mumbles for; Duck with red wine jus and provencal veg. 

By this point, full of lovely bread, starters and now that the duck was beginning to migrate to my stomach; most reviewers tend to give up at this stage; but my weakness for creme brulee is strong;  we first started with two unique elderflower martinis on a balcony overlooking the Mumbles;

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While I love brulee; martinis are like my kryptonite; I have to say I’d be unable to say no to any of the other drinks at Bistrot Pierre and look forward to trying their take on a Bloody Mary one afternoon; again, the same talent found within the kitchen is found down at the bar and my partner in crime definitely enjoyed hers down to the last drop.

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Elderflower Martini: Really refreshing to finally get some good cocktails in a restaurant while overlooking the beautiful beach. 

Finally: Now ready to crack out the creme brûlée and it’s delicious shards of burnt caramel; We also tried the Frangipane of warm baked pear and toasted pistachio: Usually; I go for a cheese plate; which is also featured on the menu at a refreshingly reasonable price of £5.95: all in all; the spirit of French desserts lives on through Bistrot Pierre; making it one of the most well put together places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in Swansea for years.

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Sweet nectar of the gods…silky Creme Brûlée

Merci Beaucoup to Bistrot Pierre; I’m visiting Paris myself in early June; Thank you for giving us a real taste of french cooking; that no doubt will rival many of the offerings actually in the country; Overall; the standard is set high for fellow restaurants to compete with this level of good food, friendly service and a beautiful location… with a range of offers and set menus; you have no reason to not to say Bon Appétit! to Bistrot Pierre song!

 Bistrot Pierre is at;  3 Oyster Wharf  Mumbles Road Mumbles SA3 4DN

 

#Instafood is unhealthy.

We are now literally products of our time obsessed with the products of our time.

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#Jewellery has 9,623,991 tags on Instagram, while #Instafood has 83,157,881 tags.  Even more surprising;  #God has a mere 23,020,799 in comparison…Jesus was savvy when he conjured up all that fish and bread to feed the multitude; he knew that one day we’d all be applying the ‘Claredon’ filter recklessly onto everything: With so many people treating food like precious jewels or some form of higher power; the new status symbol truly lies in how you pick your dinner.

Desserts are easy; if you’ve got an overly sweet tooth; you go for some kind of puffed up version of a childhood favourite on steroids. If you are trying to be classy; or alcohol has dulled your palate; cheese is always the answer , but what about the gubbins beforehand?

I recently found myself wondering for a whole hour whether to have beef tartare as a starter or go for the trout, as a lamb wellington main was a popular choice on TripAdvisor: the reasoning being that it is correct and proper to have a fish or vegetable based starter to contrast with a meat main.

At home, my own recipe book wouldn’t even justify a pamphlet; so how had we come to such levels of pretentiousness? I had survived well in Nigeria; where moin moin followed by a bit of shortbread was my idea of a perfectly decent meal: You were lucky if the electricity was on.

Neanderthals; didn’t fret about whether ordering the Sabretooth Carpaccio as a starter because they were having the Mammoth Wellington as a main. Back in that time; I imagine procreating took a higher priority over what you put in your gullet; Eating was just a means to survive; not some kind of fancy way for the affluent, childish many to get a few social media likes.

We now want some kind of feeling to accompany the taste; it’s not merely a case of getting full or even enjoying it;  In some countries such as China; food is a rich part of the culture and it’s people take great pride in dishes that are native to their particular region; At it’s worst; food in western societies  has become completely conceptual and even fairly unpleasant as a result;

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Take for example this awful concoction, which looks like Liberace’s smoking faecal matter or the Raindrop cake; which resembles a breast implant; Most recently; Starbucks have launched a Unicorn Frappuccino; which is more of liquid fashion statement than anything palatable, containing a whopping 76 grams of sugar for a large one. #Instafood is not healthy or nourishing, it’s entirely about surface.

Yet, we still worry so much about what goes into our food, while we also mindlessly eat hummus filled with pieces of metal or rot our molars with Fruit Smoothies; The ‘health’ food industry is just as dubious as the fast food industry.  We will one day see more virtual immersive dining pushing us further into a culture where to look is everything and drones will deliver our food for us; meaning that we’ll be able to designate a place at home to take our #Instafood pics.

Lastly,  the one saving grace may well be that immersive dining encourages us to put down our phones and experience restaurants in a way that isn’t so hollo; Take http://sagaya-ginza.com and their immersive restaurant below; while I’m still fretting whether to have the meat or fish as a starter; Interesting things are happening and the future doesn’t have to be Unicorn coloured and it doesn’t have to be hash tagged;

 

…I think i’ll go for the fish

 

Sonic Room Service: Room 29

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‘Is there anything sadder than a hotel room that hasn’t been fucked in?’ 

Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales have delivered a ghostly meditation on pretzels, blonde bombshells and other tricks of the light: 

When we think of hotels, full of stories of wreck and ruin, we immediately go to the iconic Chelsea Hotel:  where grisly murders, coked up transexuals and head on an unmade bed were inclusive. Room 29  takes you under the sheen of The Chateau Montmartre, showing the crack which let the light in; leaving many stars broken beyond repair.

Jarvis Cocker, who went from working at one point at a fishmongers in Sheffield to the dizzying heights of Pulp, acts as the perfect curator; dreamily observing the stars and his own dealings with the allure of glamour and fame: The same voice which picked apart the girls eating boxes of MilkTray alone is back to focus on Hollywood.

Chilly Gonzales compliments this beautifully, giving the album a style closer to Cocker’s radio shows.  Room 29 is stripped back to give it a more ‘lounge’ feel that allows you to focus solely on the lyrics.  Of course, These are lyrics that you’ll actually want to focus on; there’s so much to dissect it’s thicker than a Hollywood starlet on valium.

‘Trick of the Light’ seductively takes on falling for Hollywood movies and contains cryptic nods towards Cocker’s own experiences: ‘I lost my wife…and that Hollywood!’  it seems even the ex-fishmonger can view his own life just as sardonically as he’s viewed everyone else. Though there’s plenty of observations that keeps me coming back to Room 29.

The album contains a multitude of witty lines on stars of the 1930s from Jean Harlow, Howard Hughes et all; but a lot of the imagery comes from Cocker’s own imagination;   ‘Ice Cream as Main Course’ as a hedonistic ode to days of turbans of silk, chocolate milk and shots of rum doesn’t need to be explained;  it’s luscious arrangement tells you everything you need to know.

‘Belle Boy’  in particular, features a particularly raunchy segment on discovering a hotel guest mid coitus; All delivered with glee that could come across as a bit pantomime in the hands of a less talented vocalist.  Unlike Bob Dylan, there’s only a hint of age in Cocker’s voice and that’s probably  just a trick of the light.

I have no reservations about this album; it has all the power of a 70’s Bowie album and will be spoken about in the same way someday. So help yourself to pretzels…help yourself to the minibar…This album is like sonic room service.

 

 

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Mad Fer It: We Are Ian at Wardrobe Theatre Bristol.

 

 

We are Ian is about the ‘fuck all’ generation; left behind with debt, zero hours contracts and worst of all; nothing to do on the weekend. If we have nothing to look forward to; what’s the harm in looking back?  In Bed With My Brother are doling out the goods for a show that is much more than a nostalgia trip;  It’s ultimately a huge political music video about how we need a new movement; framed around 3 devoted teens literally following the light.

On a simplistic level, their sage is a talking lightbulb called Ian, We never get to the bottom of who Ian actually is; it’s up to you; you’d have to be a stone wall for the character to not resonate with you on some level. He could be a pop star or a Ziggy Stardust figure, doling out wisdom to his fans; He basically functions as a sample of soul from the rave era, treated with the same devotion as any pop star to their young fans.

In Bed With My Brother punctuate the show with a series of slang words and dance moves that could only have been invented after a few ‘Brown Biscuits’ which seems to give the characters just as much energy as any illegal street gear that used to float around Madchester during the 80s.  Even if you’ve lived your entire life without a cup of Coffee;  I defy you to not get up and do the Cold Spaghetti or throw a couple of Hot Potatoes on the dance floor.

With audience participation being at the forefront of it’s success;  it’s easy to see why In Bed With My Brother have performed at various festivals and for this show; Bristol. Bristolians love getting off their peanuts; it’s in their blood, along with Exhibition Cider. At 50 minutes long, the show pumps beautifully towards an ending which doesn’t so much offer a defining statement as state the obvious; we all have to grow up, but first; lets keep dancing before the comedown sets in.

It’s all in good fun; the real work is figuring out what you’ve projected onto the play and what the play actually stood for. I usually hate all the academic navel gazing, but it’s impossible in some senses to stop thinking about We are Ian, which is the key to it’s success. Rather than tell you, it challenges the senses; a refreshing break from the usual narrative toss usually served up in the Post Xmas lull. As a result, it avoid soap opera plots and retains all of it’s raw power.

None of this would be possible without the actors themselves; The enormous physicality they possess, even when throwing around various baked goods is astounding; We’ve all been a bit worse for wear and thrown some ill-advised shapes; but the Nora, Dora + Kat as their Facebook humbly bills them are like three demented droog mimes; There’s not a lot of companies that could make a talking lightbulb, a Maggie Thatcher rave montage and the pogo so appealing; but somehow they’ve managed it. All we need is a bit more clarification on who Ian is. Oh fuck it; We all are and you will be too. Fookin’ see it!

Next show at: New Wolsey Theatre 23rd March