Late Chows @ Champ, Bangsar Shopping Mall

Date of Visit: March 27 2013

‘Damn Shiok’ – literally translates to ‘damn delicious’ in Malay

Loitering around the malls in KL is fast becoming an excruciating lunchtime exercise. It was with relief that our meeting today went OT and my colleague offered to drive us out for a late lunch at Bangsar Shopping Mall. Bangsar is an up-market residential area about 30mins (on good traffic days) from KL City Center. Since our ‘mission’ is simply to grab a late grub then head out to catch the plane, I didn’t have time to check out the mall, however, with my sharp eyes, I noticed many nicely done up eateries. In particular, a pastry shop on the ground level which offers afternoon tea which I look forward to visit.

The restaurant we are heading to is ‘Champ’. Apparently, it is a favourite of the locals serving Malaysian fare. On the large brick wall inside the bistro, there is a huge red board proclaiming that Champ is placed in the Top 30 restaurants in Malaysia by Miele. From my googling, I later discovered that Miele Guide is an authoritative guide on eating out in Asia since the opinions are based on the professional jury and also online polling.

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Gonna work through this list!

The deco in brickworks with a large bar, dim low lights and booth seatings is reminiscent of ‘Cheers’, the popular sitcom from the 80s, ‘Where everybody knows your name! What is lacking is perhaps the jukebox! True to its spirit, while waiting for our food to arrive, we saw the chef-owner Richard Nah. A big man in T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. All very casual, simply out to inspect his business which my colleague tells me is humming along briskly. I can concur, with beers on tap pulled into huge icy cold schooners.

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What we ordered:

We ordered a BBQ pork (char siu) and crispy pork belly to share. Like all Malaysian dishes, they were very sweet. Still, I liked both dishes. The BBQ pork, although very sweet, was perfectly caramelised and the fat literally melts in my mouth. The crispy pork belly was tender, tasty and has crispy skin. I can attest that they were ‘damn shiok‘!

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BBQ Pork and Crispy Pork Belly

Mee Jawa: A Malay/ Indonesian fried noodles

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Mee Jawa

Nyonya Kerabu Mee Hoon: A dish similar to dry angel hair pasta. Spicy and sour with onions and chilies to unblock one’s tear glands. The mee hoon were very fine, but did not stick together and the best part of it, it was not oily and more like a noodles salad with herbs! Shiok!

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Nyonya Kerabu Mee Hoon

Fried Kway Teow: This is a popular dish and my colleague explained that this is his favourite because it has a lot of crab meat and the shrimps are big and juicy.

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Fried Kway Teow

Chu Yuk Fun: This is Champ’s signature dish – a bowl of noodles chock full of minced pork, pork ribs and innards. Shiok again, no doubt, but it has a layer of oil on top and only 2 tiny miserly bits of innards.

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Chu Yuk Fun

My verdict? Well, anytime I don’t have to jostle for a table is damn shiok. However, in all fairness, the BBQ pork definitely ranks in my top 5 list char siu for dessert!

Eating ‘Dirt’ at Asia’s #1 Resto! @ Narisawa

Date of Visit: February 25 2013

A spot of experimental French-Japanese dining à la Narisawa-style. Reservations was too easy – hop online, fill in your details, pick your date and remember to reconfirm a week before.

The resto is in a up-market suburb of Aoyama, very easy to find. Since we were early, we checked out the hood. Walking around the suburban vernacular of precast concrete, we spotted design firms and GA Japan masterpieces. Continue reading

Just An Average Nick @RyuGin Tokyo

Date of Visit: February 26 2013 (Early Spring Menu)

In stark contrast to its offshoot’s glamorous location in Hong Kong (my review here), Nihonryori RyuGin‘s location in Tokyo is more subdued, in a residential back street off Roppongi. Roppongi was a sleezy area frequented by American GIs in the 60s before Mr Mori took the punt to redevelop the area and almost went under during the Japanese Asset Bubble. Lucky for him, his gamble paid off and now Roppongi is a thriving metropolis in Tokyo.

With an impressive string of accolades, namely 3 Michelin stars and being in S. Pellegrino’s List of World’s Top 50 Restaurants (determined by the water the restaurant sells, methinks), booking for a degustation dinner at RyuGin is very strict – starting at 11:30am on the 1st of the preceding month. However, if you are a late diner, you may be able to book in for their à la carte after 9:30pm. Continue reading

REVIEW: Andy Warhol 15 Minutes Eternal @ HongKong Museum of Art

“I am. Deeply superficial person”…

But aren’t we all darling Warhol?  And that’s the reason you are (still) accorded with more than your share of 15 minutes fame!

Date of Visit:  Twice in February but can’t remember exact dates
Entry Fee: HK$20 (HK$10 on Wednesday)
NB: Closed Thursday

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Dining with Bogans @RyuGin Hong Kong

Date of Visit: February 16 2013

To date, my dinner at Tenku RyuGin is the most expensive meal I had in Hong Kong (HK$1980++). What gives? The location of course, atop the International Commerce Center, currently the tallest building in Hong Kong on Level 101. I had also wanted to compare the branch here in Hong Kong before I test the mother branch in Tokyo where I had secured a reservation.

To get to RyuGin, one has to go to the Sky Dining Lobby to catch the dedicated express (1 minute) lift. I guessed that Level 101 must be at 400m (bad digit for the Chinese) above sea-level since the screen inside the lift turned orange once it reached 399m and a second later, the lift doors opened.

The decor of the restaurant is very simple with light-coloured raw timber. It is reminiscent of walking in a Japanese garden passing through the ‘shacks’ of glass-encased wine displays before arriving at our table by the window.

The views from Level 101 is less than spectacular with smog and haze.

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Red sun syndrome?

Continue reading

A Barbie Doll’s Lunch @Miyoshian in Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa

Date of Visit: March 1 2013 (on my birthday!)

Kenrokuen in Kanazawa (entrance fee ¥300, free for Seniors over 60) is one of the 3 Great Gardens in Japan’ (the other 2 being in Kyoto and Okayama). Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t great as we arrived on an early spring morning with a heaving sky which later drizzled. The garden is smaller than I had imagined with a couple of souvenir shops, but neither served hot coffee, except from the vending machine! The garden is pristine with pine trees and very meticulously landscaped. I saw the gardeners busy combing the ice off the lawn. I was wondering about the ropes in the trees. Apparently, they were to prevent the trees from snow damage, but now they are mostly decorative and even the tiny bonsai plant that I saw is roped. This is Kanazawa’s trademark I was informed!

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Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa: One of the 3 great gardens in Japan

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2-legged stone lantern. ‘Kotoji’

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Ropes in trees – trademark of Kanazawa!

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Gardeners busy sweeping the snow off the lawns to prevent ice damage

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Water, trees, stone paths, wooden shack

Our lunch today is at Miyoshian located right in the middle of the Kenrokuen Garden. Our lovely concierge from our hotel had booked for us a table by the window, so we can enjoy the serenity of the pond at the same time listening to the soothing trickling of the Midoritake waterfall.

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Miyoshian: Sitting over the Hasuike Pond inside a rustic timber shack

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There are 2 Miyoshian restaurants in the garden. We chose the tatami room(reservation recommended), the other restaurant opposite has tables and chairs for seatings, but no views.

Interior of the restaurant. Traditional tatami floors, dim lights, low tables set the tone for a rustic experience.  However, best of all, the heater which saved us from the chill (the smell from the gas took a bit of using to…nonetheless…)

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Unfortunately, since we are not used to sitting kneeling on the floor, our legs started to get numb soon after

The Lunch:  Set meals starts at ¥1500, but since we had made a reservation for the tatami room, we had to take the ¥2000 lunch set. Service was spotty, with only 2 forgetful waitresses who had to scurry from the other restaurant, but otherwise very amiable.

After ordering our pre-ordered set lunch, we were served a sweet, thick, gooey fermented rice beverage, which we all enjoyed.  We assumed it to be a non-alcoholic sake.

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Ama-zake: Traditional drink of Hina Matsuri. Made from ‘kome koji’, the same rice used for sake

When our set lunch arrived, we were taken aback but humoured with the childishness of the lunch-set assortment – green, white, peach-pink, yellow – is this a lunch for Barbie?

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Lunch fit for Barbie

The funny thing about Japanese hospitality is that they will speak to you in Japanese even though they know that you can’t understand a word of what they were saying – they will still very patiently introduce each dish presented.

Unfortunately, it was not until I got back home in Sydney and did some googling on what we ate that the symbolic significance of the food served to us were understood.  Nevertheless, better late than never, here is my deduction of our Barbie’s lunch.

Our Barbie’s lunch was actually a Hina Masturi lunch set featuring the all-important Hina Matsuri color palette of green, white, peach-pink and yellow. Their dainty presentation originates from the refined foods of which ladies of the imperial court had in the Edo Era.

  • Green: Signifies spring and new life;
  • Whilte: Signifies long life and fertility;
  • Peachy pink or red:  Signifies health and to ward off bad karma;
  • Yellow (in some regions):  Refers to the yellow flowers of the nanohana plant, a vegetable related to broccoli that is a major harbinger of spring.
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‘Fruits from the sea’ (prawn, snail, fish, jellied crabs), bamboo shoot and mochi

The three small stickyballs in pink, white and green on a stick are called dango, similar to mochi, except with no fillings.

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Delights of Kaga Cuisine on the tray

Clockwise from top left.

  • Jibuni is a local duck stew which we were looking forward to sampling, was an acquried taste.  It is rather a rather odd piece of sweet cold piece of meat in batter
  • Sashimi wrapped in a tough thick kombu with a piece of shiso leaf for taste
  • Chirashi-zushi, or “scattered” sushi, a bed of sushi rice with various colorful toppings was very edible
  • Ushiojiru is a clear soup made from hamaguri clams, which I believe to be in season.  The shells symbolise a joined pair, signifying the wish for a happy union in marriage.
  • Hasumushi is grated Kaga lotus root with shrimps and gingko nuts that is steamed, and covered with a thickened broth. It has a glutinous texture.

To conclude our meal, we were served a sweet and savory puff rice, called Hina arare.  As far as the lunch went, we were not impressed at all, but still…

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Hina arare puff rice mix

… I would still recommend the experience of having tea instead and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the garden setting. (It is a marvellous thing that the Japanese do not talk loud and use mobile phones.)

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View out to the pond

…Perhaps a more ‘authentic’ and better tasting Jibuni can be found at the shops outside the garden at  ¥550. There are also plenty of modern cafes outside serving pasta.

I also visited Seison Kaku Villa (entance fee ¥1000) which I highly recommend.  This 2-storied building had the Buke-Shoin (Samurai) style rooms on the ground floor and a  Sukiya-Shoin (combination of Samurai and Tea-ceremony) style rooms upstairs.  Walking on the squeeky patio was interesting as it still emitted the sounds of nightingales when weight was pressured on.  The upstairs were coloured in bright blues, reds, purple and black – very innovative for its time.  Choice glass imports from the Netherlands were also preserved showing the wealth of its owner Maeda Nariyasu.

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Seison Kaku (a national treasure)

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Antique Hina Masturi Dolls on display inside the museum (photo I took from the JR magazine)

Hina Matsuri Doll Festival

Hina Matsuri is a big festival in Japan and falls on March 3rd. It literally means the Doll Festival, a day when the families with girls display a very special set of dolls, hina-ningyō, thus praying for their girl’s good health and happiness.

Hina Matsuri is a new tradition which only became popular in the Edo Period (1600-1867) whereby it became customary for maternal grandparents to present a set of dolls upon the birth of their first granddaughter. A full set requires a seven-tiered staircase-like deck on which to display the Emperor and Empress, ministers, attendants, musicians and the procession of dowry goods and is very costly (up to and over one million yen!)

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Lladro Hina Matsuri Porcelain Dolls @ Palace Hotel Tokyo

Here is a link to Llandro’s Hina Matsuri Dolls, which I saw on display in Palace Hotel Tokyo, with the starting price of A$3500 and I am rather keen to get the pair.

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The traditional sets of Hina Matsuri dolls are true works of art with 7 tiers (from Hotel Nikko Kansai, Osaka)

The Emperor (Odairi-sama) and the Empress (Ohime-sama) wearing Heian Period clothing are placed in front of a gold folding screen (byōbu) with two paper lanterns (bonbori) and two flower vases

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The Emperor is holding a shaku (a ritual baton)

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The Empress is holding a fan

Notice the diamond shaped rice cakes placed on the stand with Hina dolls? These are the Hishi-mochi. They are colored in pink (implying peach flowers), white (implying snow), and green (implying new growth).

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Ministers and dowries

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Court attendants, muscians and dowry

The probable origin of Hina Matsuri might be Nagashi-bina (floating paper dolls down a river). Originally, the paper dolls were made to represent each person and all the ill-fortunes that might visit that person in the coming year were wished onto the doll. Then the doll was sent away on the river, taking the bad luck with it.

A taboo to remember is to take the pair of Hina Dolls down after March 3rd – however, if the family is too busy to dismantle the set, the dolls must be turned around, otherwise, misfortune might fall on the daugher and she would not be able to find a good husband!

And for the more academically inclined, here is an interesting critical analysis on Hina Matsuri and the Japanese Female, which inquired on the females as ‘controlled victims of Japanese patriarchy‘ from its sombre and not-so-happy significance.

Today, March 8th is also the International Women’s Day which I found out from the morning show talking heads. Seriously, why do they equate women’s power through style and dressing? Don’t they know that the stars before and after are so totally different? Most stars are from the ghettos anyway. The world’s most powerful woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australia’s richest woman, mining magnate Gina Rinehart are powerful, but they are not stylish!

Anyway, before I tangent off, here is a link to the virtual Girl Museum online – ‘Celebrating Girlhood Worldwide’!

The Wing First Class Lounge @ Hong Kong International Airport

Date of Visit: February 22 2013 (and subsquently on March 6 2013)

Cathay Pacific Airlines’ new First Class lounge just reopened a week or so before my visit after a very extensive renovation. It is on the left after the immigration check on the Departures Level. It indeed had the ‘Wow Factor’ – super sleek in black, red and whites. The designers are from the same firm that designed the airport – Foster + Partners.

The interior and finishes are all uber high-style, with luxurious designer furnitures (from Poltrona Frau) and smooth glossy finishes. From personal experience (owning a set at home), the sofas look good but not comfortable to sit (and get up). With the heavy commercial traffic (and jean wearers) it is good that they come with lifetime guarantees and shabby-chic is pretty much in vogue too!

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Quiet early morning at 6:30am: The main sitting area. Head towards the red wall for the restaurant and the illuminated white panels to grab a hard liquor

The Haven is the restaurant and overseen by staff from Hong Kong’s iconic Peninsula Hotel. The maitre-d, head waiter and waiters seem professional, however, I wasn’t informed nor made aware of the ‘“reinvented” à la carte menu complemented by recommended wine pairings’ (which I read later in the Discovery inflight mags), so I made-do with the buffet selection instead. They have the basic staple of cold cuts, salads, sushi and selections of breads and cakes with muesli and cereals available for breakfast and a beef carving corner for lunch and dinner.

Now, this is The Haven is the place that really ‘wows’ me! Not the food, mind you but the workmanship. Notice how all the marble patterns line up? This is very rare nowadays even if the designers have trek all the way to the quary in Italy to select the marbles. My inquisitive eyes also noted perfect stone-cutting with no chips or repairs in sight!

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Specially selected marbles from the quary – all lined up perfectly on the walls

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Unpolished marbles with perfectly lined marble patterns

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Buffet counter

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Green tea bundt cake for breakfast!

The Champagne Bar: (I had 2 glasses of Moet Imperial Bruts on my return leg back to Sydney on March 6 since it wasn’t open for my early morning flight on my previous journey). I can’t help but comment on the strong glare from the sun. It would be ideal to put in sun-control blinds, but then it will spoil the whole aesthetics and originating idea of the airport – of airiness and lights steaming through (a major short-sightedness since the principal designers from UK forgot how strong the sun can be in Asia!)

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Office area – complete Apple Macs with printer-scanner and telephone.

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The Solus chairs – trademark of Cathay Pacific

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Solus Chairs

There are also 12 shower suites where I headed for freshening up before boarding the plane.

Steik World Meats @K11 Mall, TST

(A scheduled post from the Chica currently on a month-long luncheon in Japan)

Date of Visit: February 21 2013

Apparently Steik World Meats at K11 Mall, TST was recommended in the Michelin Guide 2011 and 2012. It had the American steak-house look – dark timber and dark carpeting. It also has an open kitchen. The ceiling is interesting resembling the spots on the cows – howdy do Cowboys!

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Interior of Restaurant

I enjoyed the warm and soft breads fresh from the oven.

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Bread Basket with free refills

It is common in Hong Kong to have Set Lunch menu, so we all ordered the 2-course Set Lunch which included tea or coffee. The price of the Set Lunch varies depending on the main course. Dessert will cost an extra HK$30 (but since the serving size were rather big, and we are watching our weight, we skipped dessert)

ENTREE: This was the most popular with us all ordering the same entree. There’s chicken liver and foie gras parfait, parma ham, pork terrine, duck rillettes, pickles and toasted baguette. The cold-cuts were excellent – I like them all especially the chicken liver foie gras which is very creamy and rich.

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Charcuterie Plate

MAIN COURSE: What I noticed is that there is no standard in the cuts and presentation.

My pork loin was cooked perfectly with a pinkish center and it was tender. However, the buttered spatzie was rather burnt – it’s kind of doughy like gnochi, but in noodle-form and pan fried like chow-mein.

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Canadian Pork Loin with Buttered Spatzie, Sauce Charcuterie $198

The steak looked good. But cooked in Chinese cafe-style, what is missing is the hot sizzling plates!

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Chef’s Choice Cut of the Day 7oz Dry Aged Steak with Sauteed Potato, Lyonnaise Glazed French Beans, Shallot Jus $228

The fish came dry and burnt. Both my aunts ordered fish – one had the tail and the other the belly. Shouldn’t the cuts be the same in fine dining restaurants? I guess not…

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Fresh Fish Fillet with Sauteed Vegetables and Lemon Butter $176

Personally, I think Steik World of Meats is a high-end Chinese cafe, service is very fast and super-efficient, not exactly silver-service though. So in my humble opinion not worthy of Michelin recommendation…just my two-cents. There is a clubby bar area with a well stocked liquor and spirits collection and with the Happy Hour promos would be a decent place to chill out after work or a long hard day of shopping!