Thursday, November 1, 2012

Responding to requests: Chinese style green beans with pork mince

This will be a quick one. Yes, it's another response to twitter...

It was a recipe call for Chinese-style green beans with pork mince. Well, @MissPiggyEats, here it is...


300g round green beans, chopped to 2 inch lengths
75g (roughly) pork mince
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced
1-2 spring onions, finely chopped
Chili, chopped (optional)
Salt, sugar, soy sauce, oil

2 teaspoons soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon water

1. Marinade the pork mince with, you guessed it, the marinade ingredients. Combine well, then give it another 5 stirs for good measure. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so.
2. Heat up a wok on high heat, add about 1 tablespoon of oil, turn it down to medium-high heat. Add garlic, chili and spring onions (save about a tablespoon for later) and saute until fragrant. Add the pork mince, break it up quickly into small pieces and saute til golden brown. Remove from wok and reserve.
3. Add another tablespoon of oil and heat up the wok again. Toss in and blister the green beans until about 1/3 to half cooked. Add the pork with its juices, and a little bit of extra water (2 tablespoons or so), and allow to reduce for a minute. Season with salt, soy sauce, sugar to taste, and allow to cook, uncovered, for another minute. 

Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

HK cheap eats. And the not so cheap but good eats.

This one is for @lili_pie on twitter: the promised list of food to try in HK.

The cheap, and cheap-ish
1. Tim Ho Wan, IFC/Hong Kong MTR Station
So it's not the original hole-in-the-wall 1 Michelin star. So what? This one is cleaner, on the Island line, and there's always shopping or window shopping at IFC afterwards. Most dim sums are around the 15HKD (that's less than 2 AUD each) mark, so with a small group you can easily get every item on the menu.
Podium Level 1, IFC Mall, Central (above Hong Kong Station).

2. Sang Kee congee, Sheung Wan
If you don't mind a bit of dirt and aren't claustrophobic, this is the place to try out some of the best congee in the world. If you don't mind eating fish with bone, then try the fish bone and beef congee (Gwut ngau, abbreviated). The congee is cooked down so much it's more of a rice soup; flavoursome, wholesome, nothing can compare. Their clear broth items are also very, very good. Try the turnip and beef brisket, no noodles necessary.
7-9 Burd Street, Sheung Wan.

3. Kau Kee beef noodles, Sheung Wan
So famous the place even has its own Wikipedia page, in English: ! Definitely go for the noodles, especially the thick kind. If you have company, get something different so you can all share and try. This place gets some huge lines, so beware!
21 Gough Street, Sheung Wan.

4. Lan Fong Yuen, Central
For an authentic cha-chaan tang (HK Style westernised tea shop) experience you really can't go past this place. An institution and an innovator, their HK style milk tea is truly one of the best. If you want something stronger than your usual coffee, try the Yuen Yeung - the HK original blend of milk tea and milk coffee. French toast and their dry "yiding" instant noodles are also must tries.
2 Gage Street, Central.

5. Gai Daan Jai (egg waffles), Fung Kee Tsim Sha Tsui
Sadly, I missed out on this during my last HK trip. Their egg waffles are some of the best in HK - eggy, soft and fluffy inside, crispy outside. At $12 a pop they're double the price of their main competition across the road, but well worth it, I think. Catching them during a break in the queue might also get you better quality, too.
Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, opposite Tai Ping Koon (I think).

The not so cheap:

1. Tai Ping Koon
One of the oldest "fusion" restaurants in Hong Kong, they do "soy sauce" Western food - and they do it well. Service and quality at Tsim Sha Tsui and Central can be a bit inconsistent at times - last time things were better at Central than at Tsim Sha Tsui (TST), but TST used to be the better one... hard to tell. Their stir fried beef noodles (dry, not the Swiss sauce type), Swiss sauce chicken wings, smoked pomfret and roast pigeon are musts. If there are more than 3 of you, definitely get a souffle too - they are unique.
Check website for branch addresses.

2. agnes. b le pain grille
Don't cringe, and don't judge please. I've had some great food and great service there! Sure, it's not cheap, at about 300HKD or more per person for lunch, but it's still better than most 50pp restaurants in Sydney. Their minute steaks are great, and their desserts are always top notch. The agnes. b LPG cafes are around everywhere, if you're just after desserts.
15/F Cubus, 1 Hoi Ping Road, Causeway Bay. Other LPG cafes addresses available on the website:

3. Pak Lok Chiu Chow, Elements
Yum Cha is a definite must in Hong Kong. I know there is a post on this blog previously about cuisine cuisine, but Pak Lok does it so much better. Cheaper, too. At around 30 AUD per person, you sit in comfort, enjoying your tea and dim sum off fine bone china. Book in advance for weekend yum cha if you can, or get in early, which is around 10am. The classics like har gow, siu mai and char siu buns are done fantastically, and the chiu chow dumplings are some of the best in the city. Believe me, I've been to plenty of other places, including the renowned Fook Lam Moon, and they're not as good. Try the abalone noodles as well, really interesting textures and balance of flavours.
Shop 1028D, 1/F, Elements, Kowloon Station

Sadly, I don't have a recommendation for other HK classics like fish ball rice noodle soup, wonton noodle soup and so on. I am still on the quest for decent ones, because nothing I've tried lately can compare to some of the stuff that I grew up eating as a kid. Hope you have a great time in HK, lili_pie!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Wish List

The other day, there was an email in the work inbox on the Christmas period. Stand downs, taking leave, leave entitlements... Christmas might still be a bit more than two months away, but time does seem to fly away these days. And you know, Christmas=presents...
Yes I've been guilty of regifting. Many times. In fact, all the time. It's the "waste not, want not" thing. I hate doing it. Yes, I'm very picky. And being so picky I know how hard it is to find the perfect gift for someone else too. Come birthdays, engagements, weddings, Christmas, housewarmings... I never know what to buy, and at times like that I can't help but want to see that person's wish list. I know I have, in my head, wish lists for various things, like fashion items, watches, jewelry, things to do, things to see... Recently, there has been a mini-explosion of things I want for the kitchen. Since it is somewhat related to "the table", I might as well share it here. This is what I wish for, but hey, it could spell some gift ideas! Meanwhile, I will sit here and hope that someone will be kind enough to, perhaps, consider getting me things from this list for some special occasion. No pressure of course!

The Big Guns

KitchenAid Platinum Collection Stand Mixer KSM 156
Since I've been away the baking habit has died down significantly, but this beautiful thing has been on my mind for at least a good 8 years. I've never been able to justify buying one. With a small family and friends in all parts of the world, I have been able to make do with a hand mixer and sticking to relatively simple recipes. Indeed, the most difficult baking challenge to date has been macarons, and even that somehow was managed on a hand mixer alone...
Wish Rating: 9/10

Thermomix TM31
Oh, who wouldn't want one? It weighs, mixes, grinds, heats, cooks, beats, emulsifies... all-round miracle worker in the kitchen! It even cleans itself!
Wish Rating: 9/10

Espresso machine
No, I'm not talking about one of those Breville/Sunbeam semi-auto machines you can get from any DJ or Myers... I'm talking ones that belong in cafes, hand assembled in Italy that perform much more consistently. Ones that can make the espresso AND have the steam wand going at the same time, at the very least. Then again, a good coffee needs a good barista, it will probably be a while before mine are any good...
Wish Rating: 7/10

The Small-But-Pricey Stuff

Hario "Woodneck" Drip Pot DPW-3 and Buono Kettle VKB-120HSV
Yes I know the fascination with coffee in Australia revolves mainly around Italian style espresso based stuff, but drip coffee can be good too! Admittedly my fascination with drip style coffee has been mostly inspired by Japanese dramas such as "Yasashii Jikan", and not to do with the actual taste... What's wrong with that? Cupcakes wouldn't have become a huge trend without SATC, right?
Wish Rating: 9/10

Hario Bronze Water Drip Pota PTN-5BZ
Cold drip is something I love for the taste. The apparatus looking oh-so-cool in a science-y geeky kind of way helps, too.
Wish Rating: 7/10

Hario Syphon Technica TCA-2
Hario again, I know. They are the "Kings of Glass" in Japan, though. And despite what people might think, coffee in Japan can be dated to as far back as the 1800s. Everyone knows, the Japanese take things seriously all the time... coffee is no exception. Besides, syphon coffee tastes great too.
Wish Rating: 7/10

Bone China Tea Service set, with silver tea pots, tea strainers and kettle
I love afternoon tea, way back before its boom in Australia around 2007. Having experienced some of the most raved about afternoon tea institutions in Hong Kong and Sydney then left bitterly disappointed, having a tea service at home means I will be able to take matters into my own hands. I love Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Ginori... as long as the designs are simple, classic and timeless. You'll be well rewarded for getting me this gift - think fresh scones, thick cream, homemade jams, Laduree macarons...
Wish Rating: 6/10

Baccarat crystal decanter and wine glasses
Elegant stemware is a beautiful thing. Crystal stemware... now we're talking. Baccarat has some of my favourite designs, particularly their coloured glass - unconventional, I know, but who can resist? Right now my eyes are set on the Harcourt Darkside Glass set: black as onyx, the geometric designs are forever edgy yet timeless.
Wish Rating: 6/10

For the tastebuds

Mariage Freres teas
My first experience of Mariage Freres teas was at the agnes. b LPGs around Hong Kong. It was 38HKD for a tea bag, essentially, but money well spent - my eyes were opened to an entirely new world. My favourites by far are their Breakfast Earl Grey and their own Marco Polo blend. Some of the best black teas around. There's still some left in the canisters, thankfully... but at this rate they're going fast. Loose leaf 100g cans are the best.
Wish Rating: Currently 5/10, but once it runs out... it'll shoot right up to 9/10!

Laduree macarons
Those who know me personally will no doubt wonder why Laduree is on this list, since I've never been the biggest fan of macarons around the blogosphere. I wasn't, and probably still not, the biggest fan of macarons. There is just something different about Laduree macarons, though; the way the shell has just the right amount of thickness and crispness, the way it is chewy and melt-in-the-mouth with its filling... that level of finesse a Zumbaron (let's not go there) or a La Renaissance just doesn't quite hit. I am starting to understand the fascination now.
Wish Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Furano Furano Furano!

Most Aussies visit Hokkaido during ski season, but the northernmost island of Japan is equally lovely in summer.

Right now, I'm at Furano Hotel, and just enjoyed a lovely French degustation. So good, I couldn't wait until after the trip to do the write-up.

Aperitif: Champagne
Champagne to start, on the house. The elegant stemware and silverware were good indicators of the standard of food to follow.

Amuse bouche: trio of potato chip sandwiches, with broccoli, pork rillette,  caviar cream, on mashed Hokkaido potato
Potatoes is one of the many agricultural produce that Hokkaido is famous for. Sandwiched between two potato chips, this was a great starter for the meal. The pork rillette was flavoursome, slightly smoky, and melt in the mouth. The mash had probably the most intense potato flavour I had ever tasted.

Terrine of vegetables, Rillette of Hidaka "Tokishirazu" salmon, salad
Fresh, crunchy vegetables... really could do no wrong. The salmon rillette provided just the right flavour and seasoned the terrine well.

Takigawa "Snow White Cherry Barei" duck and Tokachi mushroom fricadelle, Ashiya vegetables ratatouille, house-made Italian parsley oil 
Tender, soft, melt in the mouth, the duck was sweet and packed with umami, and just the slightest gamey taste. Along with the earthiness of mushrooms, the acidity of the ratatouille balanced the entire dish perfectly.

Ashiya zucchini potage
Refreshing, creamy, with a hint of curry spices, this was a lovely soup to have in the warmth of the Hokkaido summer.

Shakotan "Hirame" Fluke fillet with vegetables, Akkeshi "Asari" clams and Hidaka Konbu Bouillon
Tender and moist, the fillet of Fluke was again, cooked to perfection. The Hidaka Konbu lent a pleasant slight smokiness to the bouillon. However, the vegetables were slightly tough to chew, and the zucchini on the wrong side of crunchy.

Main: Fillet of choice beef with Furano "Tsubaigerutorebe" red wine sauce
So soft and tender was the beef fillet, it could probably be cut with a butter knife. Cooked to medium rare, it was the right level of juiciness, with the right amount of smokiness from the grill. The red wine sauce was absolutely spot on, with the right amount of seasoning and acidity. So, so perfect.

Dessert: Yamabe Yamazaki Melon Farm "King Melty" Melon soup, Coconut blancmange
Slightly sweet, cool and refreshing, the coconut blancmange was creamy and smooth, and went down like velvet. Despite the craze for Hokkaido melons, personally I don't think they're that great. The fragrance of Chinese Xinjiang melons far surpass that of Hokkaido melons, and sweeter too. Still, a very nice dessert.

Petit fours: hazelnut panna cotta, chocolate fondant, strawberry fruit pate
Honestly, I thought the hazelnut panna cotta was far better than the melon and coconut dessert. Nutty and creamy, it went down a treat and everyone at the table relished every last bit.

After dinner, it was drinks at the bar. For some accommodation packages, a large portion of the bar menu is free. As in, have as many as you want, at no extra cost.


Furano Hotel original: Lavender Hill

Furano Hotel original: Asayake no Kumo (Clouds of sunrise)
When we got back to our rooms, a mystery box was set at the mini bar...

That's right, a supper of crab sushi with Japanese pickles. Don't know how I fitted this in after such a big dinner and drinks!

Furano Hotel

Reservations can be made on Jalan net.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Majors Lane

"We're running out of wine."

That's all it took to start organising a half-impromptu Hunter Valley weekend. Low supplies of the bottled stuff at home.

And why not make it an overnight trip so we can fit more tastings in? Won't say no to that.

The only problem: where to eat dinner? Having had a mediocre experience at Redsalt, we weren't inclined to dine there again. Twitter friends replied with suggestions, but the masters of purse turned each and every proposal down, on the grounds of expense and disinclination to sit for three or more hours eating eight courses. One kept asking if the restaurants I proposed had steak.

Reasonably priced, a la carte, not too far from the hotel, has steak (or something along those lines). Major's Lane Restaurant fit the bill perfectly.

Forgive the fuzzy photos, it was dark and the photographer in question had a full afternoon of wine tasting beforehand.

Bread and butter

Grass fed fillet of beef wrapped in Lovedale Smokehouse bacon, bubble and squeak parcel, sauteed mushrooms and Majors Lane Shiraz jus, $36

Brussels sprouts with Lovedale Smokehouse bacon

Slow braised lamb shanks, warm quinoa salad with hand dried pepitas and tomatoes, $34

Confit of Hunter Valley duck leg, cassoulet of cannellini beans, tomato and chorizo with an orange and tamarind jus, snow pea shoots, $34
The confit of duck leg was fall off the bone tender, the tanginess of the jus cutting through the richness of the duck nicely. Gamey, but not overly so. The slow braised lamb shanks, I was told, was delicious too. But the star of the evening had to be the fillet of beef, cooked to absolute perfection. The bacon perfected the dish with just the right amount of saltiness and smokiness.
Portions were very, very generous. Our original plan of mains and dessert had to be scrapped as our bellies took in the mains.

The next day, we found ourselves back at Majors Lane. By day, the restaurant becomes the Lovedale Smokehouse Cafe, where you can create your own antipasti share plate for the table.
Garlic bread

The antipasti lunch

Clockwise from bottom left: prosciutto, pork chipolatas, beef and chorizo sausage

Clockwise from top left: beef and pork chorizo sausage, chicken terrine, beef and jalapeno chipolatas, smoked duck breast, pork and cheese kransky, chicken macadamia sausage, Swiss-German style air dried wagyu
Everything was lovely. The standouts, though, had to be the chicken sausage, pork and cheese kransky, and the smoked duck breast. Everything was helped with a bite of the freshly baked ciabatta rolls and crusty garlic bread.

For six, the table of food came to $129 in total. Not bad, for the quality that was presented.

And yes, we did replenish the cellar, with a good dozen Hunter wines.

Majors Lane Restaurant/Lovedale Smokehouse Cafe

Thursday, July 19, 2012


29th in the world, best in Australia. Three hats and three stars. Peter Gilmore.

It could only be one place: Quay.

The rest of this post is probably going to be a bit of a jumble of words, because dining at Quay has been a something of a dream. Something to be reserved for a special occasion.

In short: it did not fail to impress.

My memory has been looping the flavours and textures of every single bite of my 4-course lunch, and it will probably remain that way until my next meal at Quay. And honestly, words are starting to fail me at this point as I was that impressed by the whole experience. Everything was immaculate. Amazing.


Friends of friends had been trying to make a reservation for a while, but to no avail. So when I made the reservation request for lunch, I had every expectation that the reply would be that they were fully booked. The first surprise was the reply I received on the same day, saying that they could book us in for lunch the next week. I, er, dropped my iPad as a result. That night, my lunch date and I had clothes and shoes and bags all picked out.

Excited would be an understatement.

View from seat
Two graduations, one new job, and one farewell: we had rolled four reasons into one to justify splurging at Quay. Not that anyone needs a reason to visit Quay other than for one of the best dining experiences available in the country, of course. We relaxed into our seats and took our time looking through the menus.

Amuse bouche: sashimi of native marron, pomelo, roasted almond slivers, bergamot marmalade
Being impressed by the first bite happens a lot. Being continued to be impressed by subsequent bites doesn't happen often. Languishing every bite doesn't happen often. Frozen in liquid nitrogen, the pomelo presented the most interesting texture, with its hardish exterior and somewhat chewy yet soft-ish interior, somewhat changing and almost disguising the taste of pomelo. The marron was soft, tender,  slightly salty, and the bergamot enhanced each bite with its fresh, citrusy bursts.

Sashimi of Corner Inlet flathead, hiramasa kingfish, salt cured oyster cream, black lipped abalone, raw sea cabbage, nasturtiums, warrigals, periwinkles.
Lightest of light in terms of treatment, the flavours of each ingredient shone through. The contrast between the soft kingfish, slightly elastic flathead and chewy abalone was rounded off perfectly by the oyster cream. The vegetables enhanced the freshness of the fish, with the sea cabbage highlighting the natural saltiness of the ocean. The portion was more generous than it seemed, which was a big plus.

Jasmine and cassia scented poached chicken,  shaved hand dived scallops, ginger curd, white eggplant cream, smoked eel pearl
The taste was as clean as the presentation. Delicate, immaculate, beautiful, nothing was left on my lunch date's plate.

Roasted quail breast, steamed truffle brioche, confit egg yolk, new season white walnuts, fumet of Vin Jaune
Finally, a generous enough serve of truffle to satisfy my curiosity. Earthy, mushroomy and pungent, the truffle brought out the gamey umami-ness of the quail. The texture of the brioche was somewhere between bread and cake, it was very moist, very truffle-y and very, very soft.

Smoked and confit pig's cheek, shaved scallops, Jerusalem artichoke leaves, juniper, bay
So good it was, lunch date was rendered speechless - and that doesn't happen very often. The crispy Jerusalem artichoke leaves were paper thin and not at all greasy. Despite having next to no sauce there was enough moisture in the tender scallops and pig's cheek to carry through the flavour.

Roasted pink snapper, ginger scented milk curd, kabu turnips, young leeks, shaved abalone, fennel, radish, oyster and seaweed consomee
The lingering slight smokiness of the oyster and seaweed consomee permeated the dish with its umami taste. Perfectly balanced, perfectly seasoned, the only complaint was that the snapper was slightly overcooked and just a touch dry.

Poached wagyu beef, oxtail, morel, black chocolate pudding, farro, buckwheat, hazelnut, ezekiel
In one word: it was impressive. Rich, tender, juicy, the beef was perfectly cooked. The crust and pudding formed an interesting textural contrast, and it worked. Every bite was relished with delight, though it did get slightly salty towards the end.

Eight-textured chocolate cake 
Dessert was simply amazing. It was beyond our every expectation. The visual theatrics of the eight-textured chocolate cake, with the hot chocolate ganache melting the centre of the cake was surpassed by the delight of every bite. The crisp chocolate disc, the creamy mousses... every component was a delight in itself, and formed a harmony of chocolate eaten together. No other chocolate cake will ever come close.

Guava snow egg
 Yet another visual delight, and an absolute masterpiece. Cracking the snow-dusted toffee exterior, there was first a white layer of meringue before reaching the guava yolk custard centre. The contrast between the softness of meringue, cold refreshment of the guava granita was offset by the bottommost layer of cream. Nothing short of perfection.

The final surprise: petit fours. One of the waitstaff had found out that we were celebrating not one, but three special occasions, and brought this lovely plate out to congratulate us. One was a cocoa dusted, dark chocolate truffle covered in chocolate covered puffed rice, and the other was a caramel truffle with a roast hazelnut centre. These were the most delightful truffles I had tasted all year. So immaculate and beautiful the writing was, we had to be prompted by the waitstaff to smear it with our fingers.

Quay is truly worthy of all its accolades. I have never encountered lovelier staff, better service, amazing food and greater attention to detail. It is a dining experience that will remain as one of my fondest food memories, I am sure.


Quay Restaurant

The Grounds

Alexandria. Not somewhere I venture into very often. The last time I stopped there would have been over ten years ago, to look at real estate.

A lot can happen in ten years.

It has transformed into a vibrant, fresh neighbourhood with convenient access to the nearby business precinct. But lacking in parking, as we found out dropping by to try out the Grounds of Alexandria.

I've heard much about how crowded this place can be, particularly weekends. We arrived just before the end of breakfast, and luckily were seated immediately. Being a lovely sunny day we were happy to be outside, beneath the warmth of the sun. With five minutes to go, we managed to order before the end of breakfast service.

In the refurbished former Four'n Twenty pie factory, the Grounds is a cafe/restaurant, with a garden, veggie patch, chicken house and, according to the signpost, a dog house too. Unfortunately for us the garden was closed for maintenance that day. 

Drinks came first. The hot chocolate came on a board, with spiced chocolate ganache and a small bottle of steamed milk. Fun to pour, not so fun to drink - it had a pretty heavy cinnamon kick, and I'm not the biggest cinnamon lover.

Coffee took a while. Smelled great, and went down silky smooth, but didn't have enough of a coffee kick for me. I've had worse, but I've also had better.

The house-cured ocean trout with fennel and herb salad and scrambled eggs on sourdough was more generous than expected. The eggs were lovely and rich, contrasted nicely by the freshness and tanginess fennel and herb salad. The trout was silky, and perfectly seasoned. Even with a half portion it was substantial enough for one.
The bacon and egg roll was very, very generous with the crispy bacon. Loved the rustic look of the bread roll and its crunchy crustiness. Only complaints: bacon was too crispy. And too generous. 

Service was quick and brisk. We were greeted by smiles, but that seemed to fade away as time passed. Maybe that had something to do with too much sun outside... and the growing queue of people waiting to get in for lunch. 

Was it worth the trip? Perhaps, and if I'm in the area again I may consider stopping by again, considering my soft spot for refurbished industrial decor. But will I head out especially for the food or coffee? Not sure. There are plenty of other places in my own neighbourhood that can rival that standard. 

The Grounds of Alexandria

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pick Me Up: Cheat's Tiramisu

Funny how life plateaus, peaks, then drops just as suddenly, rather like a roller coaster.

After some personal issues came up yesterday, I needed a pick me up. Something to take my mind off things. Rather than waiting for Monday to come (my cousin and housemate has her final assessment for her postgrad studies that day), I needed it last night.

Pick me up. Tiramisu. Nothing like a bit of cream whipping to get the mind off things.

Out came the Savoiardi fingers, the mascarpone, and pouring cream. This is definitely not an authentic Italian recipe: it's one of my own creation since some in the family had issues with eating zabaglione.

Cheat's Tiramisu
Makes about 1 2L box, with extra (cook's treat)

250g Mascarpone
500mL pouring/pure cream
3 tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)

200g Savioradi fingers
1 large cup strong espresso (about 250mL), cooled to room temperature

1. Mix mascarpone and sugar together. Add cream in small amounts, ensuring that the mix remains smooth. Whip until soft peaks form.
2. Line the box or container with savoiardi fingers. Spoon over espresso, allowing about 1-2teaspoon per biscuit. Press down slightly with the back of a spoon to break up the biscuits slightly. Don't worry if the biscuits aren't soaked through - it will draw more moisture from the cream and the top layer of sponge fingers.
3. Spread one third to half of the mascarpone cream over the soaked savoiardi fingers evenly.
4. Line with another layer of savoiardi fingers, and spoon over espresso again. Allow 2-3teaspoons of coffee per biscuit this time - "runoff" will flow to the bottom and soak the lower layer of biscuits.
5. Spread over another layer of mascarpone cream, ensuring that the biscuit layer is evenly and completely covered. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
6. Slice or spoon and serve dusted with cocoa powder or grated chocolate.

I had cream and biscuits left over, so this ended up being the cook's treat.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rose, Rose, I Love You - Shanghai Chronicles, Part 1

The Thirties and Forties. An era of glamour, intrigue, coloured with tales of spies and conspiracies. Shanghai appeared to be ruled by the KMT Government, but was controlled by the mafia. Tight fitting qipao, tailored suits, rickshaws, and dancing at the Bailemen. The era of the Peace Hotel, concession zones, and lace doilies. The age of Eileen Chang, of the Mesdames Song, the 8 year-long war sparked by the invasion of the Japanese.

An era I have always been fascinated with.

With the Chinese economy booming, there are more restaurants than ever, with a marked increase in fine dining. Some degustations cost upwards of 2000 Chinese Yuan per person (approx 335 AUD), with promises of imperial cuisine featuring abalone, swallow's nest, shark fin, sea urchin, and fish maw, dishes requiring days of preparation. There are also themed restaurants, like one which recreates a factory canteen during the days of the Cultural Revolution, with its enamel crockery and wooden chopsticks, and food served in aluminium lunch boxes.

Fu 1088 and Fu 1039 were more up my alley: set in restored houses built in the Golden Age of Shanghai, the restaurants serve traditional Shanghai fare (上海本帮菜) in mainly private dining rooms. None of the usual rowdiness and noisiness attached to Chinese restaurants here.

Let's start with Fu 1039. The name is derived from the house being No. 1039 on Yuyuan Road. "Fu" (福) means good fortune in Chinese. Along with Fu 1088 and Fu 1015, all located on Yuyuan Road, the restaurants are discrete settings in restored upper-middle class houses in the Changning district of Shanghai, with antique furniture and fittings.

Entrees: chilled drunken chicken, smoked freshwater fish Shanghai-style, jellyfish salad, sugar lotus stuffed with sticky rice.

Mains: Crystal freshwater prawns (no photo), braised pork belly, steamed Tenualosa with Jinhua ham and Jiuniang, braised black sea urchin with prawn roe, hairy crab 3 ways, yellow croaker soup.

Dessert: Fruit platter (no photo).

All in all, it wasn't too bad. Certainly it wasn't cheap for dinner in Shanghai, at around 300CNY per person (approx 50AUD), it wasn't too expensive either.

The drunken chicken was very chilled, served with Shaoxing granita on top, the chicken having sucked up the fragrance and flavour of Chinese rice wine. The smoked freshwater fish, Shanghai-style isn't actually smoked - the fish pieces are first marinaded, then deep fried, and finally dipped in a sweet soy-based sauce, served at room temperature. The version at Fu 1039 wasn't too bad, but leaned towards the dry side. Jellyfish salad, was refreshing and crunchy, a kind of crunch that does need some getting used to. Sugar lotus with sticky rice, though, is my personal favourite; and yes, as sweet as it is, the dish isn't actually a dessert, but a starter. The contrast between the slight bite of lotus root and the soft glutinous rice coated in osmanthus sugar syrup was lovely.

A few special mentions: the crystal freshwater prawns (I was too engrossed with eating and forgot to take a photo) were fantastic. The right balance between crunch, subtle umami and tenderness, that can only be achieved with wild caught freshwater prawns. I have lost count of the number of times I have tasted prawns from the sea passed of as its freshwater cousins.

Pork belly was unctuous. The Tenualosa bony but full of flavour, albeit slightly overcooked and a tad dry. The hairy crab 3 ways came in the form of stir-fried crab meat, fried sesame ball with crab roe and meat filling, and baked crab shell. All delicious, but a bit rich towards the end of a meal.

The yellow croaker fish was a let down. What was supposed to be a milky white soup with specks of dark green from the Ningbo-style salted preserved vegetables came to our table as a slightly murky green milky soup. One taste was enough to conclude that the fish had not been properly slaughtered - the fish gall had been pierced and contaminated the meat. Needless to say we informed the waitress, who immediately turned and walked out of the room without saying a word. We called her back, and requested, more firmly, that we wanted to speak with the manager. That took a good ten minutes. The manager then insisted that the soup was fine, and the peculiar bitterness must come from the "special" style of the salted vegetables and not an issue with the soup - something my grandmother, born and raised in Ningbo, simply did not buy. The manager initially resisted our invitation to taste the soup, but later gave in, tasted it, and took it back to the kitchen. While she may have not charged us for the soup, it did leave somewhat of a bitter taste in our mouths, literally and otherwise. While it may sound bad enough on paper, I must admit that service has improved overall in China: ten years ago, a comment like that would have been the fuse for a fight.

A beautiful setting, with distinctly Chinese service. Still worth a try.

Fu 1039 福1039
1039 Yuyuan Road, Changning District, Shanghai
+86 21 52371878
Bookings required. Minimum spend per person may be applicable.
Expect some Chinglish on the menu.