There is always a bit of a debate that goes on in my mind when it comes to Macau - stick with Fernando's (only reasonable food but in a great atmosphere) or risk trying somewhere else that might not have that chilled al fresco experience that seems to sum up Macau. This time - due to my inability to persuade my hungover body to board a ferry - I missed the Fernando's lunchtime visit and caught up with everyone for dinner at Restaurante Litoral. It's not got the atmosphere that Fernando's has but it's a quaint restaurant with a distinctive Macanese style and - more importantly - the food is much better.
The star of the show was definitely the clams which were beautifully cooked and in this simply delicious soup, full of fresh herbs, onion and garlic. I could have eaten that all night, particularly once the sangria started to flow!
The fried prawns 'Litoral style' were beautifully cooked. I found the sauce a bit too unnatural and sticky sweet but the prawn underneath was delicious.
In reverse, the sauce on the African chicken (a sort of peanut satay experience) was great but it must have been the smallest chicken in the world because there was virtually no meat on it at all. Our final dish was baked pork chop rice which was serious comfort food.
So the key question: is it going to replace Fernando's as my go-to place? It's undoubtedly got better food and is full of locals, rather than Hong Kong tourists... but there is something rather nice about the chilled al fresco atmosphere of Fernando's. Difficult to call...
Dim sum at the Shang Palace in Shenzhen's Shangri-la Hotel was something of a Jekyll and Hyde experience. Some of the aspects like the decor and the steamed dumpings were outstanding and some, like the cha siu bao and the rice paper rolls, were severely underwhelming. Quite bizarrely, there was absolutely no middle ground whatsoever - it was all outstanding or severely underwhelming, nothing was simply "ok".
The entrance to the restaurant is impressive - all sophisticated, moody dark reds and blacks with artsy features - and the service was very attentive. We started off with some red and green peppers stuffed with minced pork which were full of flavour and then a selection of steamed dumplings that were totally spot on. The pork and chive dumpling was particularly good although the prawn dumpling and the siu mai were so close that it was nearly a dead-heat as to my favourite. Had we ended the selection process there, it would have been an outstanding meal.
Unfortunately, I'm a foreigner and therefore part of my genetic make-up means that I can't have a dim sum meal without a cha siu bao. When they arrived, they looked so good, all white and fluffy. But the taste... the taste was just plain odd. It was as if they had added honey to the mixture. The filling was overly sweet and, probably to compensate for the sickliness, there was a lot more bun than the filling required. Cha siu bao buns are not all that flavoursome in their own right and so I was left totally unsatisfied by the experience. The other severely underwhelming dishes were the rice paper rolls, both the prawn one and the barbeque pork one. The filling was rather limited and the soy poured over the top just sort of disappeared without a trace into the roll itself. The result was basically a mouthful of thick flavourless rice paper. Island Tang's rice paper rolls have nothing to fear!
It didn't inspire me to want to pop across just for a meal but if I was in Shenzhen again then I would probably head to the Shangri-la (if only to use the bathrooms after the griminess of the shopping mall). Frankly though, the trauma of all that excess form filling H1N1 red-tape at the border was enough to put any future trips across the border on hold until it's subsided...
It's not somewhere I would have thought of for afternoon tea but Harlans in the IFC is a surprisingly good destination for whiling a way a few hours.
The food definitely compares favourably with the versions of afternoon tea I've experienced at The Peninsula and the Mandarin. I don't think I could fault one of the items on the tiered stand. Indeed, one thing that impressed me was that it seemed much fresher than its hotel-based rivals. The bread on the cute little sandwiches I had at both The Peninsula and the Mandarin was not particularly light and fluffy, having developed a hardness that smacked of being made much earlier that morning. The bread at Harlans was excellent, still soft and fresh.
I guess that the only disadvantage (other than the lack of enthusiasm for teapot refills) is that it is quite quiet so you do have to create your own atmosphere but that worked well for us today as we were able to chat easily in a relaxed, uninterrupted manner. The stunning view of Kowloon out of the huge window means that it would be suitable for when you've got out-of-town guests around and don't want the faff of having to queue at The Peninsula.
My last experience of lemon chicken in Hong Kong could easily be renamed "nuclear reactor chicken". The sauce was a seriously disturbing neon yellow colour and frankly, I'd have been surprised if the chicken had come into contact with a lemon at any point during the cooking process. With that in mind, I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit when my friend C.L. suggested a lemon chicken dinner, particularly as I was expecting it to be a bit of a local Wan Chai experience.
Wrong on all accounts. My first pleasant surprise of the evening was the restaurant itself, a tastefully decorated restaurant round the corner from The Pawn. Painted a warm yellow, the dining area was clean and spacious with old black'n'white photos on the walls. Also, unlike quite a few Wan Chai restaurants, the menu is in English as well as Chinese.
Second pleasant surprise of the evening was the food which was really quite unusual. The lemon chicken, in particular, was a highlight. I suspect that the following description will make you think I've gone mad but I assure you, it worked. The deep-fried chicken pieces, an excellent combination of tender chicken and really crispy batter, were covered in this thick, sweet lemon sauce that, I swear, bore a striking similarity to my grandmother's signature lemon drizzle cake.
To accompany the lemon chicken, we had a stir-fried crab and egg white dish which wouldn't have been on my list if I'd ordered but which will be from now on. The subtle flavours and texture were great, real comfort food (although my friends tell me that it has to be eaten as quickly as possible after it leaves the kitchen because it is rather less appealing when tepid!). Then there was a house-speciality baked rice dish with chicken which was nice but which wasn't going to knock your socks off.
The other rather cool dish was their version of that Chinese take-away staple, prawn toast. The deep-fried toast pieces were layered with fish and then a slice of ham for decoration. My friends thought the restaurant was all a bit gweilo although I did point out that I was the only non-Chinese person in the room and it was completely full on a Wednesday night. I think they eventually settled on the fact that it was western-influenced Cantonese food.
The problem with having an amazing experience the first time you visit a restaurant is that the second time will never be as good (First Experience). This unfortunately proved true at Oyster C. The key problem was really that they were so busy that they couldn't cope - we waited 30 minutes before our drinks order was taken, wine glasses remained empty for long periods and it was very difficult to get the waiters' attention. The other impact of the over-stretched waiters was that they didn't offer the tom yum soup with the tiger prawn sashimi (and I didn't realise that they had to be ordered separately because on my last, less crowded visit - and indeed on a friend's separate visit - they had offered it as a done deal). Without the tom yum soup, the sashimi has significantly less wow factor.
On the plus side, the clam pasta was excellent - the same creamy white wine sauce threatening to cause a coronary at any moment. The staff were helpful when it came to the oysters P.G. and C.O. chose and with 16 varieties on offer, even the pickiest oyster aficionados are likely to be satisfied. To their credit, they were working really hard to try and manage all the tables but perhaps they should have staggered the diners a little bit so that they could keep everyone happy.
My first experience of Oyster C is still at the forefront of my mind so I'm clearly going to have to give it another shot but for HK$500 a head with wine, it should really polish its act.
It's official. Hong Kong makes you lazy. Reaching Rice Paper last week felt like a serious expedition and yet, in London, I wouldn't think twice about spending an hour sweating away on the tube to get to a restaurant. To be fair to my inner laziness, from Central, getting to Rice Paper involved a walk to the Star Ferry terminal, a trip across Victoria Harbour and then the trauma of navigating through the labyrinth that is HarbourCity. Still, it was a good meal - nice food, reasonable prices and a lively, noisy atmosphere (helped by the fact that, even during out mid-week visit, it was absolutely heaving with a queue of people standing outside).
The consistent Vietnamese food is not going to amaze you with its innovation but it is nice, consistent food, perfect for a mid-week dinner. The scallop and mango roll was flavoursome and our mains of seafood yellow curry and a squid and prawn pad thai were pretty good. The wine options seemed to be rather limited in terms of choice (although I noticed a chilled wine cabinet on the way to the bathroom and so it may be that we failed to receive the actual wine list...). Definite brownie points go to the service which was efficient without being pushy. All in all, pretty good.