Mandarin Grill Chef Sunday Tour @ Mandarin Grill + Bar, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hong Kong

I’m betting my bottom dollar that most of you dudes and dudettes are fans of the Masterchef series.

How awesome was Heston’s Blumenthal’s week long appearance on Masterchef?  I hope none of you missed out the fun-filled molecular themed episodes – with lots of liquid nitrogen, dry ice, spherications, smokes, etc. That particular episode on ‘Medieval Feast’ with the ‘vegetable patch’ reminded me that I have not blogged about my degustation dinner at Mandarin Grill + Bar in Hong Kong a couple of months ago.

Date of Visit: June 2 2013

Mandarin Grill + Bar is a 1-Michelin stared restaurant in Hong Kong synonymous for decadent dining – delicious food, sophisticated ambience, fantastic service, arty food presentation – all for HK$1,588+10% per person for the degustation.  A dress code is in force.  All men must wear a jacket and keep it on at all time.  No torn ripped jeans even the designer ones.  (Anyone remember Marc Jacobs’ kilts fiasco?  He was refused entry to a restaurant because he contravened the restaurant’s dress code by wearing a ‘skirt’?  It made news – and some noise!)

Anywaz…

The gastronomy at Mandarin Grill + Bar has enough neologisms and touches of creativity to convince the most discerning food critic and yet mom would still be happy with the landings in front of her. Since I was hosting  dinner for 6 on that night, I used my Samsung Note  to take these quick blurry snaps and relied on my memory of the highlights of the night – so apologies for the horrible photos and sketchy food notes.

Under the guidance of the sommelier, my guest chose a Kabinett Riesling and a Nuits Saint Georges for dinner. I liked the French Burgundy, but found the German Riesling slightly too sweet as I refer drier varietals.

With our wines ordered, menus collected and everyone at the table comfortably settled, the waiters brought out a potted olive bonsai plant. A bit puzzling at first until the waiter said  to imagine eating the spherifed olives under the olive tree. Visual aid is said to evoke our memory center in our brains which works by enhancing the flavour receptors in our taste buds hence making the corresponding food taste better. To be honest, I cannot remember how the spherified olives tasted like…  The key of making ‘olives out of olives’ is to find olives that have a great quality juice that tastes great, here is a link of a tutorial by Ferran Adrian.  

The melt-in-your-mouth gougères rolled in parmesan cheese (presented in a Mandarin tin box) and olive gougères on the other hand, were heavenly, I distinctively remember the sweet buttery aroma of cheeses in the crumbly gougères.

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A pot of olive bonsai plant, with spherified olive and extra olive Gougères

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Gougères rolled in parmesan cheese (presented in a Mandarin tin box)

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Gougères

The warm soft breads were fresh out of the oven. A trolley of 5 types of  olive oils were wheeled to our table.  The waitress explained in detail the flavours and nuances of each type of oil hailing from different countries.  I think I chose the French, although in hindsight, I should have chosen ‘Lambda’ from Greece, the world’s most expensive olive oil (read here)

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House-made soft rolls

The presentation of a Flower Pot for each of the diners marks the 1st course.   It was accompanied by the ceremonial watering of the plant with a tea infusion from a watering-can!   Inside the Flower pot was a small garden patch of herbs and sous-vided root vegetables stuck in a creamy concoction and edible soil. This was quite similar to the Masterchef contests’ vegetable garden whereby they used egg mayonnaise (for earth), topped with chopped-up dried olives and nuts for make-believe edible soil.  I am not sure whether the same ingredients were used for the pot, but the pot was exceptionally divine – a bit too heavy and filling though.

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Flower Pot

Salmon and Caviar
I am assuming that the caviar was of the sustainable farmed varietal.     Because I nipped off to the Ladies (there was an attendant stationed there to hand me  a hand towel after I had washed my hands), I didn’t realise that we had to share a tin between 2 people.  I only realised later when I had a good half of it.  I think there was lobster boursin under the bed of caviar.  It was very delicious.  My apologies to my guest, but since she had recently attended a lavish wedding reception, she told me, that she has had enough of her share from the humongous bowl of caviar that is so de rigueur in Hong Kong society weddings nowadays.

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Caviar

The hedonistic salmons came out in style, smoking on a bed of herbs/hay.  This is smoked-cured-salmon-heaven and very good!

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Salmon

Sirloin
5 slices of tender juicy beef arranged in a circle around different types of mushrooms, (and a piece of dehydrated mushroom) on a heavy timber board- the waiter gave us a tall-tale of “cows roaming in the woods”.  Really?  We all thought that the story-line could be improved with “deers roaming in the forest”.  Whoever heard of cows in woods anyway?  This came accompanied with mash potatoes and spinach

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Sirloin

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Sirloin

By the time, the cheese trolley rolled over.  We were stuffed and had to wait for 20 minutes to digest before we can proceed any further.

We were served 17 types of Cheeses. Again, each piece of cheese was explained in detail by the cheese sommelier.  We had some crackers, honey and pastes to go with our cheeses.

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Cheese Board

I had a Light Bulb for dessert!  Really?!  Yup, the light bulb was made of spun sugar and filled with coconut foam and paired with a quenelle of mango ice cream and a chocolate filament for extra panache.

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Light Bulb

The grand finale was the petit fours.

This is melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles presented on  Mandarin Oriental’s signature edible chocolate ‘madolins’. I tried to scrap some chocolate bits off to try, but it was rock-solid hard.  Better not risk a trip to the dentist, right?  I should have asked for a doggie-bag too…

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Chocolate truffles presented on Mandarin Oriental’s signature Edible Chocolate ‘Madolins’

All-in-all a fantastic 4-hours dinner.  A bit Downton Abbey-ish, served in full silver service.

I might have missed the Art Basel 2013 and the special menu designed in conjunction with it, but nevertheless, there is always next year.  Here is a link to the astoundingly specially created menu here  *Food Porn*

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Van Gough’s Ear made from Foie Gras

Suckling Pig @ Catalunya, Hong Kong

Date of Visit: June 5 2013

So here is the newest and hottest tapas joint in The Kong. Positive reviews bestowed upon this contemporary Catalan eatery were presumably based on the El Buli alumnus who had spent a decade with celebrity Chef Ferran Adria. Catalunya Hong Kong is a second restaurant set up by Chef Alain Devahive Tolosa in Asia, sister to Catalunya Singapore. Interest was certainly generated, enough to pique my interest to convort a reservation 1 month in advance.

On the actual day, I and one other hailed a cab from Admiralty to Morrison Hill (near Happy Valley), only to be told by the taxi-driver that we will be countering heavy traffic because today is a Wednesday, and Wednesday is horse-racing day. Luck was on our side, we arrived at the restaurant right on time, 30 minutes later. The exterior of the restaurant looked every inch a bespoke jewel box on the ground floor of a non-descript office building, distinctively decorated with metal works and tiles on plastered wall – hard to miss.

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Source: Lifestyle Asia

Upon entry, we were quickly whisked to our table. I noted an army of waiters, around half are Spanish, the rest Filipinos. Could the Spanish economy be answerable to the influx of Spaniards to Hong Kong and the recent Spanish tapas boom here?

Earthly tones of the interior exudes sensuality and warmth. The timber panels on the walls, floors and ceilings completed the ambience with coloured walls in reds and browns. One cannot help but imagine oneself being transported to an elegant rustic Spanish country manor while sitting on the upholstered chairs. The room was dimly lighted with the central chandelier emiting a warm glow to the abyss. I especially liked the mirrored tiles on the walls which reflected in the dark. Since dimly lighted rooms do not photograph well with my camera phone (see example below), I had to resort to borrowing from Catalunya’s webpage for illustration.

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The massive brass and glass chandelier took center stage, dimly illuminating the restaurant
Source: Catalunya Hong Kong

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The walnut bar with warp around high stool seating for 40 people
Source: Catalunya Hong Kong

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Source: Catalunya Hong Kong

A bottle of Catalan Priorat was promptly ordered and imbibed while we took time to read the fun descriptions on each dish in the menu. We consulted with service who recommended that we start with 2-3 tapas and a main. I am intrigued to see what the kitchen will come up with.

Dinner started with the arrival of the Bikini (HKD115), a standard Barcelonean tapas staple. Who would have guessed that the ordinary looking toastie of melted mozzarella, aromatic truffle and Iberian ham sandwiched between 2 slices of Wonder Bread could elevate the ham and cheese toastie to a whole new level? “You won’t be wearing the bikini”, claimed the menu, too much of this toasted goodies would certainly mean that I won’t be wearing one!

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Our second starter of Catalunya’s ‘special surf and turf’, did not disapoint either. Sweetbreads with Baby Squid (HK$130) were unbeatable. Artichokes and olives were pan-fried together with the creamy sweetbreads and squids to give an acidic side-kick for balance.

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The star of Catalunya was also our Main. The Segovian Suckling Pig (HK$825) was presented to us with the piglet laying on a bed of herbs on a timber board. It was served table-side with the waiter cutting the piglet with a ceramic plate. The piglet could not be more than a month old from the crisp paper-thin skin lacking fat. Meat was tender yet firm, but needed the full use of the accompanying gravy to give some taste. I presume the piglet to be pressure cooked then reheated and subsequently its skin lightly torched before final serving.
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Service was attentive, however without the silver-service that one could expect at a fine-dining establishment. Usually in other premium restaurants, service would extend to frequently reaching in to refill the wine/ water from the bottle that rests on your table. This lack of extended service might deter some people, but I appreicated on being let alone with uniterrupted conversation.

For dessert, we chose Chocolate. The self-saucing chocolate pudding, accompanied with passion-fruit sorbet and poached spiced apricot was delectable and ended our dinner with a positive note.

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After 2 hours of eating and drinking, it was time for us to make a move. As I was leaving, I saw the next table which was seated at around the same time as us, being served their first tapas. Perhaps this is how one makes the 1-month long wait list worthwhile, by warming up your tooshie on the seat a wee bit longer.

Delectably Classy @Aria Restaurant Sydney

Dates of Visits:  A couple of times in April 2013

From the moment you enter the well-polished brass doors, you are well and truly looked after.  With a classy interior that looks out to the Sydney Harbour and Opera House and waited on by smart attentive staffs (fit too, from pushing the brass doors, I presume?), Aria Restaurant Sydney is clearly a perfect place to dine, impress and to entertain.

‘Foraging’ @Aronia de Takazawa, Tokyo

Date of Visit: February 22 2013

Aronia de Takazawa or the re-branded Takagawa was voted the #1 Restaurant on Tripadvisor before I left for Tokyo. It also came #31 in S.Pellegrino Asia 5o Best Restaurant 2013.  From the reviews and blogs I have read, also famously difficult to book because it is a tiny restaurant with only 4 tables! So reservation was made 3 months ahead through emails with Takazawa’s wife, Akiko.  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

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

Sepia

Date of Visit: August 11, 2012

Another memorable meal in 2012 was at Sepia. It is ranked #3 in the Gourmet Traveller Guide and also received 3 Hats from SMH Good Food Guide.

If not for the take-home degustation menu of the day (with postcards and the restaurant’s calling card as momento), I would be left puzzling at the pictures without a clue to what deliciousness I had. I must also say that dining at Sepia is the closest to molecular gastronomy experience in Australia! The following are my iPhone gastronomic journal (and I must say iPhone takes some good pictures!)

ONE

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Seared swordfish belly, kelp, mayonnaise, shiso vinegar jelly, ginger oil

TWO

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Butter poached Port Lincoln squid, barley, miso cured egg yolk, lemon sorrel

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Check out the posh knife work!

THREE

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Wild yabbies, water chestnuts, jamon butter, apple and fennel, elk

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I got a substitute dish- scallop with nori, avo and Japanese ginger jelly (the little translucent ball on the bottom left)

FOUR

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Seared Empador, nori salt, roasted bonito and garlic consomme daikon radish, Hijiki, salad burnet

FIVE

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Glazed and smoked freshwater eel, watercress, parsley and oyster dashi, tapioca, licorice, nasturtium

SIX

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Milked lamb goat’s cheese

SEVEN

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Saikyo miso braised pork belly, Corella pear, pickled artichokes, spanner crab and crackling, rosemary flowers

EIGHT

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Seared Wagyu beef, nameko mushroom, garlic flowering chives, roasted red onion juice and wasabi, shallot, potato and kombu crumb, citrus soy

NINE

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Fondue of ‘Old Telegraph Road’ brie, sushi rice, malt, Tasmanian winter truffle

TEN

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Reduced milk sorbet, cucmuber and apple jelly, pickled cucumber granita, mint oil (Before)

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Reduced milk sorbet, cucmuber and apple jelly, pickled cucumber granita, mint oil (After)

ELEVEN

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Rhubarb, vanilla custard, almond cake, juniper and lemon, honey ice cream

FINALE

This is the “plat de résistance” and the reason I chose to eat at Sepia – the famous ‘Winter Chocolate Forest’!

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“Winter chocolate forest” – Soft chocolate, praline and chestnut, lavender cream, blackberry sorbet, blood orange jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twigs

Sepia on Urbanspoon

Four In Hand

Date of Visit:  January 20 2013

When it comes to restaurant recommendations, who’s a better person to turn to than yours truly?  I eat out a lot, and I mean A LOT!  I should moonlight as a Concierge in some posh 5 star hotels.  However, since I had worked (albeit only part-time in hotels when I was in Uni – I can honestly tell you that hospitality is nothing glam, sipping champers and mingling with guests at cocktails – it’s backarchingly exhausting with long arduous hours and occasional dealings with incredible hard-to-please guests!)

Enough said, with a couple of guests flying in from New York for the work week ahead, I have been delegated to find a couple of wonderful places to entertain. Since this is our first meeting, I decided to dine at one of the locals that I frequented. Four in Hand is a small comfortable restaurant housed in a heritagey building in the leafy suburb of Paddington – where I can easily find a spot to park my car for a Sunday lunch. The chef is an Irishman by the name of Colin Fassnidge and he cooks the food that I like to eat, namely traditional slow-cooked foods that are big in natural flavours and presented with a contemporary twist. It also offer a good selection of international wines.  The restaurant has a slightly formal vibe with  white linen table-cloths and napkins, however, the maitre-d and waiters are friendly enough to welcome guests in flip-flops for lunch too.

First up, the amuse bouche – the usual ‘fish and citrus soup’. Very powerful and zesty – not unlike the lobster bique with tangy lemon and herbs –  I’d say ‘wake up taste buds’!

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Amuse Bouche compliments of the Chef

Entree (A$28): 

My guest had a crab tart, which is curry mixed with potato and fennel.  I am not sure of the exact ingredients, but the marron looks big and juicy.

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Guest’s Entree: Crab ‘tart’

Mine was warm trevally (a white fish).  The mash potatoes accompaniment come heavily mixed with miso.  The vinegared cucmber was very appetising and best of all was the crunchy wafer-thin pork crackling, which I absolutely loved.  A Japanese-influenced dish, I reckon with miso, soy sauce and pickled cucmbers.  Never a food waster, I used the sourdough (from Iggy’s) to mop up all the sauces!

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My Entree: Warm trevally with crackling and miso prickled cucumbers

Next up:  The Main (A$39)

My guest had the lamb with the seasonal tomatoes.  The menu changes regularly, but the basic key ingredient of of lambs, pork and beef are always there, be it slow-braised or roasted.  What changes are the seasonal vegetables.

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Guest’s Main: Lamb 4 Ways

My main was absolutely divine!  Look at the fat on the pork!  I ate all the fat and left most of the meat on the plate (it was a huge serve – the one other thing I love about 4 in Hand is, they feed you very generously!)  Seriously, if you want to stay looking young and healthy, you have to eat some Omega 3… eg Fat!  Cooked fat is not fattening because the fatty oils have been released in the process of cooking, and what is left is the colleagen and fat molecules.  Seen any good looking vegetarians in their 60s?  Betcha they have wiry hair, bad teeth and parchment skin.  Reason is:  While being on a raw food or vegetable diet is fantastic, the nutrients that you have in the beginning will be used up in 10 years if you don’t replenish your body with healthy fats and vitamins found in traditional food.  Anway, without regressing further, the fried ‘cube’ you see on the plate has some sweetmeats, more fat and pigs tail YUMMO!  The roasted nectarines and radicchio gave a terrifc balance of tarty sweet and bitterness to the dish!  COMPLEX SIMPLICITY INDEED!

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My Main: Roast Suckling Pig, Tail, Nectarines and Prosciutto

Oh, I nearly forgot my main came with smooth mashed potatoes with celeriac and eschallots – to ease my eusophagus!  LOL

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My Main #2: Mash accompanying Roast Suckling Pig, Tail, Nectarines and Prosciutto

Finale:  The Dessert (A$16)

Pictures speak for themselves… Nom Nom

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Chocolate Nutrigrain with Macerated Cherry Salad

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Cinnamon Cream, Nuts, Apple Popsicle

I was interested to know what Hoegaarden snow was.  It was simply lime granita

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Roast Peach, Basil Cream Hoegaarden Snow

Here are the iPhone food porn that I have from my other lunch on December 8 2012. Lucky that I took snaps of the menu too.  Otherwise, I won’t know what is hiding under the foliage.  There are some key changes in the menu, good thing too, as I can always expect something new when I visit.

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Duck Salad

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Tuna Sashimi with Smoked Eel, Lemon Curd and Sea Herbs

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Chicken Liver Parfait and Prosciutto

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Miso Braised Beef with Barley, Smoked Carrot, and Local Sea Green

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Spring Lamb; 4 ways with Peas, Beans and Baked Tomato

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Roast Spanish Mackerel with Brassica, celery and Vanilla Puree (not on new menu)

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Peanut and Jelly Sundae (not on new menu)

Well, if the restaurant menu looks steep, then the pub next-door will be more your thing.  The food is a ‘fraction’ of the price you pay in the restaurant and they come from the same kitchen!

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Onion Rings with Coleslaw

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Slow-cooked Beef

Steak and Chips

Steak and Chips

All in all, I do recommend Four In Hand for your out-of-town visitors.  Next up dinner at Quays before my visitors head back to NYC!

Four in Hand on Urbanspoon