Tinkering with IQ @ Fa Zu Jie, Hong Kong

Date of Visit: May 31 2013

A visit to Hongkie Town would inevitably involve some time being spent in the company of Mom’s fabulous besties from her high school and their families. I really admire their enduring friendships, I mean how often do you get in touch with your friends all the way from junior high? They are women on top of their game – one of them who could not join us was a scientist at NASA, I’m always humbled by her remark that ‘anyone launch a rocket, it’s only when there is an emergency that you need a PhD!”, that is a very cool remark don’t you think?

I am always thrilled to meet them and knowing that we all love a good night out with good food and conversation, I chose Fa Zu Jie (法租界) – Chinese for French Concession –  from Asia Tatler’s list of best private kitchens in Hong Kong.  A marvellous idea since with Shanghainese background, no doubt these BFFs would have a lot of fun and personal opinions in regards to the French twist.

Our reservation was secured a month beforehand and we received an email from Chris (one of trio partners) regarding our menu and a detailed map on how to reach the elusive private kitchen a week prior.  The trek to the 2nd floor private kitchen was not as difficult as anticipated, we walked into a stall selling plastic gears and followed the noise from the establishment of a popular new Mexican eatery at the back, then up the stairs to the white door on the 2nd floor.

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Directions to Fa Zu Jie emailed to me by Chris

The interior of Fa Zu Jie is intimately cosy with white walls and low ceiling, tables are set a respectable distance apart.  Since we are a large group of 8, we took up for the central location in front of the open kitchen, with the another group of diners taking up the enclosed outdoor terrance at the back.  There were bri-a-bracs of antiquities and old empty bottles of fine wines including magnums of Lafites  lining the shelves and floors, making a pleasantly lived-in feel.  The price of dining there is $578 per person with no corkage and service charge.

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Open kitchen with marble bench top

What is a ‘private kitchen‘? 

“Well,  private kitchens have a long history in Hong Kong forming part of the local dining scene which is being revived in earnest recently due to the high rental costs.  They operate in a legal limbo: They’re not full-fledged licensed restaurants but they’re not shady speakeasies either. They’re typically small, serving between 10 and 30 diners at one set time, and located in residential buildings in less-expensive parts of town. Often they’re in converted apartments— sometimes even in the chef’s home.”

Without ado, when all the guests have arrived and seated, our first course arrived. 

Shanghainese cuisine use alcohol liberally.  Seafood and chicken are ‘drunken’ with shaoxing wine and are briskly cooked/steamed or served raw.  The first course is a light and refreshing dish of carpaccio of drunken octopus, drunken abalone and drunken razor clam, whimsically named…

Sea Genius. Saint. Mr Da Lian. All are half drunk.  It quickly became the darling of our table.  This dish is a direct translation of Chinese to English.  We were instructed to eat from right to left starting from the mild abalone to finish off with the springy  and so SO delicious la mien in Chinese shaoxing wine. The sweet fragrant liquor reminded me of the drunken cockles that my grand aunty in Shanghai used to send me in Hong Kong.

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Sea Genius. Saint. Mr Da Lian. All are half drunk.

The second play-on-name is on the country of origin.  Straw Mushroom. Morocco. Shrimp Skin. You guessed it!  Couscous!  We have here a plate of Straw Mushrooms and mixed mushrooms marinated with Chinese vinegar, couscous, dry shrimp skin and Chinese celery, parmesan cracker.  I find it  unusual since I can’t recall either Shanghainese nor French ever uses couscous traditionally, but the mushrooms were very fresh with the parmesan crackers imparting the salty crunch.

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Straw Mushroom. Morocco. Shrimp Skin

The third course is a game on imagination.  Ocean Front. A Little Hut with a Field. This is basically deep fried Miyazaki chicken, shrimp quenelle with seaweed and spring roll with kalimeris indica mashed potato.  Miyazaki chicken is apparently the world’s tastiest chicken according to the article here.  The chicken was succulent enough but as I had said earlier, dining with the BFFs will bring on some constructive criticism – Mom reckons that the spring roll with kalimeris indica mashed potato should use tofu skin instead.   Kalimeris indica or ma lan tao is a popular Shanghainese cold starter, usually chopped very finely and presented as a mould.  This is my favourite appetiser by the way (and I’ve found a recipe blog here)

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Ocean Front. A Little Hut with a Field.

We had a slight tweak to our menu for our fourth course.  My Mom requested for Lion’s Head, which she reminisces.  To make this meat ball perfectly required mastery.  Here, we were all oohing and aahing the Jinhua ham consommé, which is full of depth and flavour (and aromatic to to boot!), the meat ball was made of hand minced pork and fat and crunch bits of what I presume to be water chestnut.   It was very soft, fluffy and very porky.

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Lion’s Head

Shanghai people are delicate eaters, so servings are usually quite small.  However, if you have a big appetite and still have room for more…  wait for our next course!

Braised pork knuckle is ubiquitous in Shanghainese cuisine and a firm favourite in our household. My gran would insist for one each week. Thus the mixing up of countries and their national dish is our name-game for our fifth course of Shanghainese Pickle. Italian Stew. German Rice.  We have braised pork knuckle in Shanghainese style with risotto (Italian) and German sauerkraut.  The pork was yieldingly tender and moreish when paired with the punchy sauerkraut.  This dish really filled me up!

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Shanghainese Pickle. Italian Stew. German Rice.

To round off our delightful meal, we were served traditional Shanghainese sweets with a twist.  Fermented Sticky Rice. Preserved Plum. And More…   marking our final time putting on our thinking hat for the night.  Calamansi and jiuniang yoghurt ice-cream, preserved plum butter cake with almond and chocolate coating topped with sesame tuile.  Jiuniang is sweet fermented sticky rice wine usually eaten with glutinous balls (one of my favourite dessert.  I also mix jiuniang with yoghurt and muesli for a boozy brekkie sometimes!)  The trail of finely grinded pistachio nuts is a whimsical play on the *dot*dot*dots* of  ‘give me more’…  And thus ended our fun night of guessing each course which were cleverly labelled with a play on words.

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Fermented Sticky Rice. Preserved Plum. And More…

Address: Fa Zu Jie. 1/F., 20A D’Aguilar Street, Central.

Liberty Private Works

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

Date of Visit: February 18 2013

I booked Liberty Private Works (LPW) a month before I arrived Hong Kong. Booking was super-easy as it’s all done via online booking and the restaurant will email you with confirmation, followed up by 2 more phone confirmations – the week before and on the day. Getting a seating on your prefered date is a different matter. I did a Google search and found that this is the Top Restaurant in Hong Kong. The seats are very coverted since the establishment is operated in the ‘private kitchen style’, i.e. limited seating of around 26 persons per night organised in 2 seatings – 7:30pm and 8:30pm.

The menu is a set degustation menu costing $HK800+10%. Wine pairing will set you back further for HK$680+10%. We opted for a bottle of Spanish red instead. The wine list is very well curated with New World wines as well as the Old Worlds, I would suggest you to peruse the wine list online before you go for dinner – if you prefer reds, choose a lighter style wines (my 2-cents)

Chefs at work...Plating up with precision... and utmost concentration

Chefs at work…Plating up with precision… and utmost concentration

Munching on the lavash with guacalmole dips while waiting for the 8:30pm start

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Lavash with Guacamole

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The highly prized truffle in the glass cake-stand

AMUSE BOUCHE: Octopus terrine, balsamic (black dots) & pepper (red dots) reductions, cute circular cabbage leaf, cheese croquette, triangular pepper. Very delectable…

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Amuse Bouche of Octpus Terrine

ONE (Seafood): The chef suggested that we start from the left with the frozen grape and finish on the right. The espelette gave a spicy kick that lingers. After eating the last frozen grapes, I can really feel the espelette kicking in, warming my belly

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Tuna, Sea urchin, Espelette, Rice

Close up of the sea urchin and tuna. Can you see the caviar and gold leaf? The puff rice was very crunchy and tasted slightly vanillin… some childhood memories perhaps – munching on puff-rice crackers, anyone?

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TWO (Seafood): This course came on a very hot stone-slate plate. Because I’m allegic to shellfish, I got 2 pieces of the pumpkin ravioli instead of the lobster. (The lobster was apparently quite chewy and tough). The foam is coconut reduction. There was a suprise in store – I found a piece of seaweed under all the trappings. I love the green endame and yellow sago beads

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Lobster, Chorizo, Pumpkin, Coconut

THREE (Seafood): What beautiful presentation! Ponzu jelly in cubes, dots of yogurt, fennel, tiny nectarine bits, sous vide salmon and sweet oyster

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Salmon, Oyster, Nectarine, Fennel Yogurt

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Mine – but without the oyster

FOUR: This is a rather difficult dish to make, since the egg is poached inside the ravioli. Boy-O-Boy, delicious! I stuck the warm baguette to break the egg and wipe down the plate to soak up all the yolk and sauces – let’s spare the dishwasher boy the trouble, I say…

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Egg, Truffle, Parmesan, Caviar

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Spear the egg with the baguette

FIVE: The foam is from the essense of ham and fowl. There’s chargrilled brussel sprout leaves, daikon, thick ‘vegemitey’ truffles sauce

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Guinea Hen, Winter Black Truffle, Iberico Ham, Pear

Pulled fowl under the ham

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What’s under the Ham?

SIX: This is a fun dish. It kind of reminds me of my breakfast muesli with coco nibs. Venison is cooked in 2 ways: Venison steak cooked medium-rare and venison sausage. There’s a mint inside the sausage – another suprise? Cute! The pickled onion compliments the cherries, one whets the appetite, the other sweetens it.
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Venison, Cherry, Cocoa, Muesli

SEVEN (Dessert): THIS IS THE HIGHLIGHT!!

Each dessert plate is done very artistically and not one looked the same!

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Korean Strawberry, Tomato, Mascarpone, Rosemary

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Tomato with a suprise stuffing inside (not telling) and basil seeds

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Closer look

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Ice-cream, mochi with condensed milk filling

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The final product – crackling of liquid nitrogen

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EIGHT: Taking the Cantonese spin with fried milk – and healthful bee pollen and honey to soothe the body… interesting. The fried milk was very ceamy and milky which I absolutely loved

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Fried Milk, Saffron, Manuka Honey, Bee Pollen

PETIT FOURS: The clock is striking midnight and I have to catch the last MTR back to the dark-side… All-in-all, a very fun, interesting and tasty experience. Yes, I will be back! Most defo!

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Petit Fours: Mini Madelaines