Tag Archives: fine dining

Vasco restaurant review – everyday I’m truffling…

vasco hong kong chocolate

*UPDATE: Vasco has now closed; its sister restaurant Isono is still open though!*

How do you make a fancy restaurant even fancier? With liberal sprinklings of truffle, of course!

Vasco in PMQ is the even more sophisticated upstairs sister of Isono Eatery & Bar, essentially taking many of that restaurant’s key elements and polishing them up into pure Michelin-bait refinement.

vasco hong kong

So we have the same interior designer Joyce Wang, except this time the exposed metals and marble surfaces are just that bit more luxe – a long dining room with plush banquette sofas and a striking circular dining room at its centre, with something of a train carriage vibe about it (we’re obviously talking first-class train carriages a la 2046 or Snowpiercer rather than the First Great Western to Slough).

Likewise, it’s the same head chef as Isono – Paolo Cassagrande from Michelin-starred restaurant Lasarte – but rather than a menu of rustic Mediterranean favourites, Vasco’s dishes are all about creative culinary flair with knowing nods towards Basque cooking. At high-end eateries like this, I always think you should try the degustation, a menu specifically designed to take you on a journey that showcases the restaurant’s raison d’etre… so that’s exactly what we did with their seasonal three-course white truffle menu.

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St Betty restaurant review – the roast of the town

st betty hk roast beef

UPDATE: *Sniff sniff* Sadly, St Betty has now closed. In the meantime, try Sunday roast here instead!

Having recently returned to the UK for the first time in over three years, I can safely say that one of the (very) few things I miss about the place is the food. That’s not to say I don’t love eating out in Hong Kong – and trust me, do I LOVE eating out here and would miss it madly if I were ever dragged kicking and screaming somewhere else – but you just can’t get things like fish and chips, kebabs, Magnums, Penguins, sticky toffee puddings, smoky bacon crisps, Domino’s pizza deliveries, great big whacks of gammon, beef Wellington from the supermarket and the little family-run Italian down the road over here.

However, what you now can get over here is a beautiful top-notch Sunday roast – thanks to the wonderful Shane Osborn, head chef at St Betty.

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Brasserie De L’ile restaurant review – frites for my sweet…

UPDATE: Brasserie De L’ile is now closed.

I may have mentioned on just a couple of occasions (like here… and here… and errr… here too) that my boyfriend is a bit of a chip connoisseur. For him, fries are one of the main food groups and golden chip fat probably runs through his veins. So when I heard about a new joint in town, Brasserie de L’ile, that was serving all you can eat fries, I knew it wasn’t a matter of if we would go, but WHEN!

Luckily for Brasserie de L’ile, it is located on Arbuthnot Road – and Central not being one of our frequent hang-outs, I felt slightly less nervous that my boyfriend would manage to put them out of business in just one visit!

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Le Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon high tea set review – one sandwich short of a picnic?

One of life’s laziest pleasures has to be high tea. Being able to enjoy a mid-week afternoon tea set basically signals ‘Hey, I’m a jobless slacker!’ but that’s all part of the fun, right?

My BFF Mirander (studying so not a jobless slacker btw) and I (freelancer, so technically not a jobless slacker either) have a fondness for long afternoons spent shopping with occasional – and even longer! – dessert pit-stops, so we decided to check out the Le Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon after I heard lots of good things about it on Twitter.

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Red Pepper restaurant review – the spice of life

Ask my boyfriend what his favourite restaurant in Hong Kong is and his answer may well be Red Pepper.

Red Pepper has been a staple of Hong Kong’s dining scene for years. It’s the kind of place that old-timers in HK for flying visits make a point of visiting, the kind of place businessmen take clients for impressive banquets and the kind of place that tourists get told to try. Consequently, some of my local friends shake their heads and complain it’s only for ‘gweilos and expats’, with its Sichuan dishes geared towards Western tastes. Oh well, leave it to the gweilos and expats then, as that means more prawns for us!

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The Pawn restaurant review – the Pawn identity

UPDATE: The Pawn has since been renovated with an entirely new menu!

So we’ve talked history, we’ve worried about heritage and we’ve waxed lyrical about the views – but what about the restaurant itself? Well, it’s safe to say that The Pawn acquits itself fairly nicely on the food front as well.

So what does The Pawn have in common with The Press Room Group’s other restaurants (The Press Room and SML)? Amazing attention to detail, that’s what. Part of what makes all three of those places real dining experiences is that no expense has been spared on the décor, the ambience and the little niggly things that all contribute to giving you a great feeling about eating there. Consequently, The Pawn makes the most of its old shophouse setting – airy high ceilings, balcony seating, long iron-grilled windows and decoration that totally fits with the simple grandeur of the place.

It feels like a comfy dining room. Not a posh snooty one where you daren’t clatter your cutlery, not the one in your gran’s sitting room with the conked-out sofas, but somewhere nice in-between. The chairs are proper rustic wooden dining chairs, with embroidered cushions and arts and crafts style engravings, but all slightly different so it’s obvious they weren’t just bulk bought from Ikea. There are strips of beautiful bespoke floral wallpaper (designed by HK artist Tsang Kin-Wah) that, when viewed up-close, is basically pretty graffiti. There’s lots more honest brown furniture that feels old without feeling ancient, like it had a life before The Pawn rather than being created especially for it, whilst the famous HK pawnshop symbol recurs throughout, on their personalised crockery, restored on the wall outside and even on the platter that your bill arrives on. Add a few Hong Kong touches, like simple dangling plastic ceiling lamps and views over bustling Wan Chai with the audible dinging of passing trams and you have beautifully-executed design that’s obviously had hours of thought poured into it but that still feels relaxed and unobtrusive, rather than fake and try-hard. As you may be able to tell, I loved it.

Meanwhile, the menu is pure British gastropub. Ham hock, bone marrow, liver, hearty portions of red meat and mash in various guises, sticky toffee pudding, apple crumble… but all posh-ed up, with modern chef-y twists and served in a becoming manner, hence just about justifying charging $180 for a plate of fish and chips.

The lunch deal, however, is pretty amazing. $150 for three generously-sized courses of such quality is fantastic value and bizarrely, cheaper than ordering any single main from the a la carte menu.

I started things off with pumpkin and ginger soup, definitely only suitable for those that don’t mind their soups being sweet. Despite it being part of the set, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they hadn’t stinted on portion size and despite it being a piping hot day, I was pleasantly surprised that my piping hot soup still felt summery. It was rich, thick and creamily sweet and I loved the warm fuzzy kick that the ginger gave. There were also two glazed crispy toast type things providing a snappy crunch that complemented the soup perfectly.

Onto my main of Dover sole, with a lemon butter sauce, mash and assorted leaves. When my boyfriend tasted it, he commented ‘The sauce is the best thing on there.’ He was absolutely right, begging the question: why wasn’t there more of it?! One of my pet hates (can you tell I watch too much Masterchef?!) is when sauces are dribbled about for artistic effect rather than actual consumption. Yes, it looked pretty, but it tasted even better and I wanted more! My fish was nicely-cooked and, combined with what little drizzle there was, tasted lightly lovely, but the mash was oddly cold and there was too much of it (a problem endemic with mash in general). And, to me, leaves will always be just leaves.

My boyfriend had the fish and chips. I tested the waiter was genuinely curious and asked what type of fish it was – sole again, apparently. Given how thin sole is, chef did well to fry this without making it dry and flaky. It was soft and moist, coated in golden crispy batter that was just about the right thickness. We knew it’d be a good ‘un when my boyfriend stuck his knife in and it crackled and crunched nicely! The boring peas would have been better as mushy peas, with some appropriately chef-y twist like mint and again, the overall portion was huge. But the chips were the star. In Hong Kong, you’ll get served a lot of supposed chips, with very few of them equating to anything like a British chip. French fries, frites, wedges, criss-cut, curly, julienne, slightly fatter frites but still definitely not chips, very obviously formerly-frozen chips out a bag – we’ve seen it all. These chips were the real deal. Reassuringly fat, crispy on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside, piping hot and made from quality spuds, they were just about the closest I’ve come to real chips so far in Hong Kong. Steak-cut slabs of gold.

Finally, dessert. Otherwise known as heaven. It was a banana walnut cake with toffee sauce, which I was ordering mainly for the toffee sauce, hoping it would be similar to the a-maz-ing butterscotch sauce in SML’s profiteroles. I don’t even like banana walnut cake… I’m now banana walnut cake’s biggest fan. Often, banana can be an overpowering presence but here it was a pleasant fruity undertone and the earthy flavour and crunch of walnuts ran through the cake, in addition to some very Chinese candied walnut clusters on the top (often seen as appetisers in Chinese restaurants). The sponge was light and I’d practically scoffed it all before I realised I’d started. But oh, the toffee sauce! I’m in raptures just reliving it now. Sticky, gooey, dark, rich, sweet, syrupy caramel. I would have licked the plate clean if I could (and as you can see, I gave it a good go with my spoon!). My boyfriend kept catching me give little gleeful grins as I set about demolishing it; I think I was hugging myself with delight by the end. Imagine the infamous scene from When Harry Met Sally and you’re probably not far off.

So yes, the prices are a little steep. Yes, the food is not really aiming at Michelin-starred ingenuity. And yes, you’re paying as much for the atmosphere as for the ingredients. But for a special occasion, a luxurious lunch or just because you fancy treating yourself, I think it’s worth it. And if you really can’t stretch to it, just shimmy up to the roof garden instead!

The Pawn, 2F, 62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, 2866 3444

Banner photo from Urban Renewal Authority’s website

The Peak Lookout restaurant review – peak-a-boo!

Ask me my favourite restaurant in Hong Kong and The Peak Lookout comes close to the top of my list. It’s not so much the food – though delicious, it’s nothing to get excited about – more the location, the ambience and the heritage of place. It has an unhurried old-time elegance, plus obligatory stunning views, that make it the perfect place to while a way a few hours on the Peak.

The Peak Lookout Hong Kong

In a place where restaurants come and go practically before you’ve finished your starter, The Peak Lookout is actually a site with history. Back in the day, it was a resting shelter for the poor sods that had to cart about rich expats on sedan chairs whilst the building we know became an eaterie, called The Old Peak Café, in 1947. This was before the days of the two giant malls that now hold fort at The Peak and it was practically the only (decent) place to eat there for a good fifty years. The Old Peak Café was listed as a Grade II Historic Building in 1981 following a petition against its demolition and Café Deco lost the lease of it in 1989, whereupon it was renovated and re-opened as  The Peak Lookout in 2001. Oddly enough, Café Deco’s eponymous flagship restaurant now sits in The Peak Galleria nearby (with a near identical menu), whilst their Peak Café resides near Central’s Mid-Level Escalators.

Peak Café, in the 1960s, from Gwulo.com

The Peak Lookout is now owned by the Epicurean Group, who also own that other famous long-standing Western restaurant, Jimmy’s Kitchen. The building itself is still recognisable from its 50s and 60s heyday and has been faithfully restored with a faintly colonial décor. It’s all rattan chairs, timbered high ceilings and sepia photos… I say this and I don’t even think there were rattan chairs but that’s the vibe they’re going for and it definitely works. Floor-to-ceiling windows look onto the terrace outside, complete with stone walls, shrubs and stunning vistas over the rest of Hong Kong. The suited-up staff come from the more reverential age of dining and the ambience is pleasant, genteel and relaxed. I particularly love the building lit-up at night, where they somehow manage to turn what are essentially fairy lights into the first word in sophistication.

The menu itself “takes inspiration from” various cuisines i.e. is a bit all over the place. It basically does classic dishes and does them very well, even if it’s at premium prices. However, The Peak Lookout, or whoever is the chef there, will forever hold a place in my heart for knowing what gravy is. I have been at supposed steakhouses and had requests for ‘gravy’ met with blank stares and no, I do not mean mushroom jus or garlic sauce or black pepper. I mean gravy. It’s on the menu here, as ‘gravy’, and that makes me very happy indeed.

I find it very difficult to not order the 8oz filet steak from their ‘garden charcoal barbeque’ when I’m here ($328, plus potato, side, sauce of your choice and coleslaw). This is because, in addition to knowing what gravy is, the chef knows how to cook a steak. I don’t even want to think about the number of cows that have died in vain when, on requesting a medium-rare steak, I’ve been met with a bloody blue mess or a dry tasteless brick. Here, it’s always been cooked superbly – perfectly pink in the middle, juicy, beefy and not oozing so much liquid that you just know it hasn’t been rested.

I’m also a big fan of the risotto balls ($108), something a little different that I’ve not seen on many other menus in Hong Kong. Crispy breadcrumb-coated balls of creamy, rich risotto in a tangy tomato sauce, these are absolutely divine but definitely too filling for one or even two people. I’ve also had the nachos, which are probably the nicest I’ve had in Hong Kong thus far (and at $108, they bloody well should be!). For me, the key to good nachos is to cover them in as much cheese, guacamole and sour cream as their little tortilla bodies can take without burning them – it sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many places get it wrong. The chicken quesadillas ($98) are also amongst the tastiest I’ve tried.

I had high hopes for the escargots ($98), as the soft garlicky buttery ones at Jimmy’s Kitchen are divine, but these were buried under far too much mashed potato and not served in their shell, which always means they’re going to be the wrong side of rubbery. And a Caesar Salad ($126 – and that’s without chicken!) will always essentially be a Caesar Salad.

As I never stray from my steak, I can’t comment first-hand on any of the other mains. My boyfriend had the chicken vindaloo ($166) and gave it 7.5 out of 10, saying it was infinitely better than Jimmy’s Kitchen’s famed curry (which he likened to the boil-in-a-bag English variety). My mum had the vegetable curry ($152), my auntie stir-fried mixed vegetables ($146) and whilst had no complaints about the taste, they had plenty to say about the inflated prices. Whilst I think you can justify paying a few hundred for quality pieces of meat (especially as these are usually imported cuts), I’m not sure you can charge that much for well-dressed vegetables.

But in the end, you know you’re not actually paying for the food itself (sorry, I’ve not once managed to have enough room for dessert). You’re paying for the ambience, the environment and the views – and they’re totally worth it. With the birds twittering, the sun shining and HK’s harbour just being its usual beautiful self, it takes some beating. And if you face that way, you can pretend the two ugly malls on The Peak don’t exist either.

The Peak Lookout, 121 The Peak, Hong Kong, 2849 1000