Marouche Grill on Elgin Street

So I had dinner at Marouche Grill, a new Lebanese restaurants on Elgin Street in Soho.

If you’re looking for a review on the food there, then I’m sorry to disappoint because I wasn’t really paying attention to the food so much as I was the company, which consisted of a small group of local foodies sharing experiences and stories about all things food. There was this one memorable dish that I would recommend though and it was the Mouhamara (its a little spicy .. just to give you a heads-up).

Anyway, the dinner was organized by Dorothy So from HK Magazine as she’s writing a piece on local food bloggers. Some stories will and should probably stay within the group (sorry!) but she’ll likely share some of the other more media-friendly stories with you in the August 28th (edit) late September publication. I’m not going to be the one to spoil the fun, so pick up a copy then.

If you’re looking for a write-up on Marouche Grill, you’ll probably find a better piece (not to mention better photos) written by much more experienced local food bloggers whom I had dined with. Check out Peter’s blog at 吃喝玩樂, Elvina’s blog here, or KC’s blog here.

(Note: At the time of writing this post, only Peter has written about Marouche Grill).

Thanks for organizing Dorothy and good luck with the article!

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SML in Times Square (Part 2)

Here’s what we had at SML at the trial dinner:

There were just too many dishes and our table was a little cramped and busy, so I had forgotten to take photos of the grilled prawns / chilli / garlic, meatballs / spicy tomato sauce. Whoops.

My favorite dish? (MUST GET)

  • classic lasanga al forno
  • meatballs / spicy tomato sauce
  • crostini / anchovy mayonnaise
  • veal escalope / sage-caper butter

My favorite dessert? (MUST GET)

  • citrus panna cotta / pink grapefruit & orange slices
  • caramel profiteroles / butterscotch sauce

Note: Here, “MUST GET” = just get it, I’m not even going to bother explaining. Its that good 🙂

Needs just a little improvement

  • Risotto – the braised ox-tail was terrific, but the risotto was a little too raw (I know its supposed to be little bit hard), a little too liquid and a little lacking in flavour
  • Gnocchi – also lacking a bit in flavour, definitely didn’t taste 4 cheese

House red were Moulin de Gassac Cab and Syrah (2007) and the house white was also a Moulin de Gassac Sauvignon Blanc (2007). But like I said, once they’re officially opened (today actually), I’m sure they’ll have a much more extensive wine list.

We had a LOT of food and wine, so even though the meal was complimentary, we wanted to see what the damage was. It came up to about HK$1,350 for 2, but I reckon we’d be pretty full eating just half the stuff we ordered (i.e. don’t use us as a reference. It isn’t HK$ 700 per head … unless you go completely nuts like we did. I’d say HK$ 400 per head is reasonable?)

So is it worth going to? Definitely! I think there’s still half of the menu I haven’t tried.

Note: Photos taken with BlackBerry Curve 8900

Siu Yeh Rating: 8.5/10

SML Bar / Restaurant / Patio

11/F., Times Square
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2577 3444
Email: info (at) smlrestaurants.com

Gianni’s Ristorante Bangkok

Nowadays, good authentic cuisines are becoming increasingly accessible in countries other than its country of origin. While you’re obviously able to find great Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong and China, you can also find great Cantonese restaurants in Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York amongst many, many other cities. One of my most memorable Japanese dining experience (other than in Tsukiji 築地) was in Toronto – believe it or not – at Hiro Sushi on King’s Street, of all places. (I wonder if its still around. Speaking of Tdot, is Susur Lee still around too? Ahh, the reversed menu!).

Anyway, in Thailand, there are a lot of good Italian restaurants and a handful of great ones. We asked a local (Thanks Duang!) and the top 2 picks were: Gianni’s Ristorante and Il Ristorante Zanotti.

We were going to visit Zanotti but couldn’t get a table until 9:30PM, so we opted for Gianni’s instead. As it turned out, it was a blessing in disguise because our local friend told us (I’m throwing all these “local” bombs around … because they are the voice of authority and I shall not be questioned :D) that Zanotti varies in consistency, while Gianni is the more consistent of the 2.

Bread Basket from Gianni's

Bread Basket from Gianni's

The bread basket was not bad, but would’ve been better if it was hotter. It was only mildly warm, but good selection nonetheless.

Complimentary Pate on Toasted Thin Bread

Complimentary Pate on Toasted Thin Bread

This was a complimentary foie gras pâté starter. Again, the toasted bread would’ve been better if it was a little more crunchy; a sign that it was probably sitting outside a little longer than it should’ve (or it was prepared too early in advance). But the pâté was very flavourful, perhaps a little saltier than I expected.

The seafood mains ... reasonable, no?

The seafood mains ... reasonable, no?

Genuine Parma Ham Sliced on Honey-Dew Melon

Genuine Parma Ham Sliced on Cantaloupe

This dish is generally pretty good in about 80% of the Italian restaurants I go to, because it really doesn’t require much. What it boils down to is whether the parma ham and cantaloupe is fresh or not, and how thinly shaved the ham is so you can wrap it around the melon before you cut it into pieces. This is definitely a pass.

Hokkaido Scallops Served 3 Different Ways

Hokkaido Scallops Served 3 Different Ways

From left to right:

1. Hokkaido Scallop with Avocado Puree: Rather than using butter, which generally goes extremely well with scallops (think teppanyaki), avocado was used to mimick that same texture and “body” (a bit of wine speak here). Unfortunately though, it doesn’t quite have that same “butteriness” to it than if butter was really used. As clichéd as it may sound: butter really has no substitute.

2. Hokkaido Scallop wrapped in Fried Squid Ink: This was a little teaser to what I was going to have as my main (see below). The fried squid ink was a little crunchy and has a strong calamari flavour to it, but it doesn’t fuse with the scallop as well as the other 2 did. I think that might’ve been because

3. Hokkaido Scallop with Truffle Sauce: This one I thought was the highlight of the dish. The generous amount of thick black truffle sauce was more than enough even when I selfishly took a spoonful of that and smeared it onto my half-scallop. There was still quite a bit left after this scallop was gone so I used the remaining of that sauce for the avocado scallop.

Overall, this was a symphony of flavours, which is a great start to the meal. It can also be quite filling too (those Hokkaido scallops are massive!) so I highly recommend sharing this appetizer with someone.

Lobster Bisque with a Dash of Coriander

Lobster Bisque with a Dash of Coriander

This was alright. I’ve had better lobster bisque and I think mainly because it was way too creamy and not enough lobster flavour to it, not to mention I like soup piping hot and this was only mildly warm. I feel like for lobster bisques, if its not “balanced” then it would be safer if it was leaning a little towards more lobster flavour than cream.

Some One-eyed Fish ... I forgot the name!

Some One-eyed Fish ... I forgot the name!

“A” for presentation. A “B+” for taste, although I didn’t order this but I did try a bit. The one-eye fish (apparently a delicacy in Thailand … can anyone verify?) was cooked until the fillet was golden brown on the outside and cooked just enough on the inside. It was very fresh, but I didn’t get much of the sauce so I can’t tell you what it was like together. Maybe YOU can tell me after you’ve visited.

Not-your-usual Spaghetti Bolognese

Not-your-usual Spaghetti Bolognese

The friend who order this had requested an extra big portion of the spaghetti bolognese and it was pretty darn big, although it doesn’t quite look that way in the photo. I tried to ask him to put his hand there as comparison … let’s just say he has pretty big hands.

I didn’t try it, so I can’t really comment on it, but from what I hear … its was pretty solid.

Squid Ink Linguine at Gianni's in BKK

Squid Ink Linguine at Gianni's in BKK

The best damn squid ink linguine I’ve ever had (I’ve only had it on one other occasion). Al dente was a given, nor would I expect anything less. It wasn’t dry like the last time I had it at I-don’t-remember-where. Is it creamy? Yes and no, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they used a bit of cream here, but anything thrown into this dish automatically gets diluted a little (i.e. less creamy) and gets dyed black. Its got very heavy seafood and calamari flavours and was actually a little spicy as well, although I can’t quite tell where the peppers were. I really couldn’t tell what’s what until I put the stuff in my mouth and work out what the texture was. I found about 6-7 pieces of calarmari, which I thought was neither little or generous. Overall, this was a great exotic dish and it really tasted a bit like ink (for those of your going “Oh right, like you’ve tasted ink before …”, I really have, although not intentionally. If you want to know, its Parker brand. Black.) … but in a good way.

Warning: After eating this dish, your tongue, gum and lips will turn completely black so this is definitely not the dish you want to get if you’re on a first date 🙂 And that’s not all that turns black. Think ahead.

Is it worth recommending to people? With a full-house (about 50-60 covers?) and good mix of Thai, foreign and 3+ tables of Honkie patrons (I’d like to think that a presence of Honkers is usually a sign of a good find) dining there , I believe the answer is a definite yes.

Bill for 7.5 people (the 0.5 was a spaghetti bolognese to-go for a friend travelling from Pattaya who missed the dinner) was 9,300 Baht. About US$ 37 per head? Definitely not bad at all … but we didn’t have wine.

Siu Yeh Rating: 8.5/10

Gianni Ristorante
34/1 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road
Bangkok 10330
Tel: 0 2252 1619, 0 2652 2922
Fax: 0 2652 2584
Email: gianni@loxinfo.coth
Website: www dot giannibkk dot com

Erawan Tea Room

You know how there’s always a restaurant that you have to go everytime you revisit the same cities? Its different for everyone. For me in Shanghai, it’d be Jia Jia Tang Bao and / or Xiao Yang Sheng Jian. In LA, it’s In-N-Out Burger or Pink’s Hotdogs. In Bangkok, it’s definitely Erawan Tea Room.

Why? Because they serve hotel-quality Thai food, in a hotel-quality environment, with hotel-quality service, but at Tsui Wah prices (per dish). Oh, all those mentions of “hotel” – that’s because the restaurant is managed by Erawan Grand Hyatt.

Erawan Tea Room by Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok

Erawan Tea Room by Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok

The bill for 4 grown men, ~10 dish plus drinks came out to be about 3,300 Bhat (or US$25 per head) and we were stuffed. Sure, you can find decent Thai food for cheaper prices and 800 Baht per head isn’t exactly cheap in Bee Kay Kay, but everything is relative and let’s put it into perspective – sometimes you just want a nice, quiet and easy meal away from the Bangkok heat and pollution, but you don’t want to get shafted by going to restaurants like Blue Elephant.

(By the way, if you really want upscale Thai cuisine in Bangkok, go to Naj. Prices are a little cheaper than Blue Elephant, but at least locals go there, and that alone speaks volume. Blue Elephant’s for clueless tourists too lazy to do a bit of research and too stuck-up to interrogate their hotel concierge. Sorry!)

Back to Erawan Tea Room.

The setting is like a nice cozy living room with comfortable (large) chairs and sofa, dimmed but not dim lightings, wooden blinds … the ambiance is just really .chill. (for a lack of a better description). There’s a touch of homeliness to the restaurant as well, as they have giant shelves surrounding the entrance where you can purchase fresh cakes, biscuits, scones, jam, tea, Thai snacks and treats made by the restaurant and even Erawan Tea Room tableware (i.e. plates, bowls and utensils). While I don’t know anyone’s who’s bought any tableware from them, I just like the idea that you can take a piece of the restaurant with you back home – perhaps, an explanation of why I like going back so much; its just like home!

Erawan Tea Room Interior 1

Erawan Tea Room Interior 1

Erawan Tea Room Interior 2

Erawan Tea Room Interior 2

Erawan Tea Room Interior 3

Erawan Tea Room Interior 3

That same balance you find in its decor and ambiance transcends, quite easily it feels, to its extensive menu and dishes. I should probably also add that for most dishes on the menu, you can either choose “S” for small portions or “L” for large portion and the prices are neatly laid out. (Yeeees yes, its not rocket science to offer 2 portions, but most restaurants don’t lay the information out quite so clearly and when you have to ask about it, and inevitably when you have to ask about the prices, its becomes that much more tedious … and not cool).

The dishes here are terrific. While I can’t quite say it was the best I’ve ever had, its definitely up there in to top 5. (I think I’ve had some pretty decent Thai food in Shanghai. Lan Na Thai, Coconut Paradise, Simply Thai and Thai Gallery were all pretty good. OMG, Banana Leaf (Hong Kong Plaza) is really really bad, don’t go!)

Phuket Promotion at Erawan Tea Room

Phuket Promotion at Erawan Tea Room

Lime Soda - My Favorite Drink

Lime Soda - My Favorite Drink

A real properly-made lime soda makes my day.

"Spicy & Sour Prawn Soup with Lemongrass"

"Spicy & Sour Prawn Soup with Lemongrass"

Tom Yum Kung – definitely one of my favorite soup other than lobster bisque. This one’s got a good balance between hot and sour (actually I didn’t find it spicy at all, my a friend of mine couldn’t handle it so I had his as well) and was quite garlicky and lemongrassy. As an added bonus, there was a generous portion of fresh river shrimp (I counted 8). In most other places, they’ll give you about 4?

Fish Cake & Green Mango Salad

Fish Cake & Green Mango Salad

The green mango salad was pretty spicy, but the sourness to the dish is definitely an appetizer in the full sense of the word. The fish cake is … well, its a fish cake. I don’t think they vary that much between restaurants … I’ve never had extremely good or bad fish cakes before. (Prawn / shrimps cakes different).

My Favorite Phad Thai Anywhereeee

My Favorite Phad Thai Anywhereeee

The Phad Thai at Erawan Tea Room is probably one of my favorite. Its leaning a little towards the sweeter side,but the mix of a whole lot of other flavours help counter that sweetness quite effectively. Its got a bit of fresh bean sprouts, dried shrimps, leeks, egg, onions, garlic, peanut all mixed with the noodle, which was so fresh it was chewy (but not the rubbery kind of chewy). The thin layer of egg wrap helps contain the heat and as you break it open, all the said flavours oozes out … then everybody fights their way to get first dibs.

Chicken in Green Curry at Erawan Tea Room

Chicken in Green Curry at Erawan Tea Room

(See red curry below)

Stir-fried Kailan with Crispy Pork

Stir-fried Kailan with Crispy Pork

I remember this Kailan dish to be slightly better last time I visited the restaurant. It wasn’t bad, but I guess the veggies getting a little “old” and so it wasn’t as fresh as I remembered. Nonetheless, a good dish.

Roasted Duck in Red Curry

Roasted Duck in Red Curry

We asked for mild for both the green and red curry so neither of the curries were that spicy. Regardless, they just go so well with Thai rice. Both the chicken and the duck was cooked well enough so that it wasn’t dry at all.

Steamed Whole Sea Bass with Chili and Lime Sauce

Steamed Whole Sea Bass with Chili and Lime Sauce

The cook deboned the fish so all that was left was fresh sea bass that we can scope with our spoon and get a bit of the chili and lime sauce. Great dish for lazy people like me. The fish was pretty fresh too and my friend who doesn’t normally eat fish (the same dude who gave me his Tom Yum Kung) liked it alot. And for 360 Baht, this fish was a pretty good deal.

3300 Bhaaaaaat! ขอบคุณ

3300 Bhaaaaaat! ขอบคุณ

I love this place. Need I say more?

(SEVEN) – inside joke.

Siu Yeh Rating: 9.5/10

Note: Photos taken with BlackBerry Curve 8900

Erawan Tea Room
Erawan Bangkok
494 Ploenchit Road
Bangkok 10330
Tel: +662 250 7777
Website: www dot erawanbangkok dot com/tearoom.php

Hokkaido Day 5: 小尊政壽司 Masazushi in Otaru

On our final day in Hokkaido, we only had time for one more meal … and had I known about Sushi Zen, I suppose we would’ve just stayed in Sapporo. Instead, we took at 30-minute JR train ride to Otaru (quite a bit of trouble for lunch don’t you think?), which is a sea-side town northwest of Sapporo.

The town was known for its port and at one point, the Otaru Canal (小樽運河), ran through the middle of the town, but now only a portion of it has been preserved.

Otaru Canal Warehouse (小樽運河)

Otaru Canal Warehouse (小樽運河)

Otaru Canal (小樽運河)

Otaru Canal (小樽運河)

So, having seen the canal (the only tourist attraction we had time for), we randomly found a sushi restaurant to fill us up, which turned out to be pretty decent. Here’s Masazuhi using Google Map.

The restaurant is on the second floor and has very clean design and decor. The staff team is very accommodating and very well-mannered (as you would usually expect in Japan).

Masazushi in Otaru

Masazushi in Otaru

The chefs do their thang after we made our order …

Chef Preparing Our Food at Masazushi 1

Chef Preparing Our Food at Masazushi 1

Chef Preparing Our Food at Masazushi 2

Chef Preparing Our Food at Masazushi 2

And while we wait for the chefs to prepare our sushi platters, we poured ourselves soy sauce for the sushi … AND for the sashimi.

Soy Sauce for Sushi ... and Sashimi?

Soy Sauce for Sushi ... and Sashimi?

Masazushi is one of only a few Japanese restaurants I’ve been to that serves both soy sauce for sushi and soy sauce for sashimi.

Japanese soy sauce brands such as Kikkoman develops sauces which ranges from light, sweet and mild to dark, less sweet and rich. As a general rule of thumb (and correct me if I am wrong), sashimi uses the lighter one while sushi would be better paired if it had been dipped into a slightly richer / darker sauce. The logical reason I guess is because sushi has a block of rice, which itself is … bland, I suppose. Its all about the balance! … Yeh .. yeh, I’m right.

“The balance of sweetness and saltiness, as well as a special blend of natural ingredients, pairs well with wasabi (Japanese horseradish paste) and heightens the flavor of sushi and sashimi” … an excerpt from the Kikkoman website.

Sushi Platter at Masazushi in Otaru

Sushi Platter at Masazushi in Otaru

They were all so good and fresh … but what stood out in particular was the roe on rice. The roe was slightly bigger than most of what I’ve tried before, but much juicier and much more complex (probably a bit sweeter as well).

Uni, Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp), Hamachi (?) and Toro Nigirizushi

Uni, Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp), Hamachi (?) and Toro Nigirizushi

The marbling on the toro almost looks like marbling on an A5 Kobe!

Toro Sashimi - Cut 1

Toro Sashimi - Cut 1

Toro Sashimi - Cut 2

Toro Sashimi - Cut 2

Here, we were given 2 different cuts of toro sashimi to try. Both equally as good … but subconsciously, it feels like the second cut is better … probably because it was thicker. They should just give me 20 ounce of it to chew on …

Toro Sushi ... Again!

Toro Sushi ... Again!

Tako Sushi and Something Else (Sorry, I Forgot)

Tako Sushi and Something Else (Sorry, I Forgot)

We had tako sushi and something else as well, I can’t quite remember (I’m going to have to get back to you) … but its a really fatty fish, and is usually consumed half grilled, as you can see from the photo.

In the end, I almost want to say “this is as fresh as it gets” since we’re sitting in the north-most town in Hokkaido (even though the seafood might’ve still gone through a pretty elaborate supply chain), but I want to save that line for that day when I catch the fish from the sea 🙂

Masazushi (小尊政壽司)
Otaru, Hokkaido
Japan

Hokkaido Day 4: Ramen Alley in Sapporo

Again, using Google technology (and why not? Japan’s cities is one of Google’s most mapped-out places on earth!), you’ll find the Ramen Alley (ラーメン横丁) if you right click the arrow (right arrow) 5 times.

You’ll see a nightclub called “Club Taliswomen” (lol, I like how they just turned “Talisman” into “Taliswoman” which makes no sense), and the famous Ramen Alley is on its immediate left. Yes, the area is known for its nightclubs … there are literally, hundreds of them around. By the way, gentlemen, I’m sure the “Ramen Alley” excuse has been used numerous times … you might want to use something a little more creative … “Honey, I’m going to grab some ramen with some buddies tonight, … sorry its an all guys thing … don’t wait up tonight” just ain’t going to work!

Anyway, the place where we had our ramen was located right in the center of the alley on the left (if you are entering from the Club Taliswomen side).

The Ramen Alley in Sapporo

The Ramen Alley in Sapporo

I forgot which one it was …

¥800 Authentic Japanese Ramen? Deal!

¥800 Authentic Japanese Ramen? Deal!

I suppose 800円 isn’t exactly cheap for a bowl of ramen, but given the size and quality of the ramen, it was pretty good value. This meal also turned out to be one of the cheapest of the trip, but its definitely up there as one of the most memorable.

If you look closely at the menu, you’ll see something that says “四代目店主” … that means the ramen noodle joint has been operating for 4 generations now, and this chef (pictured below) is the latest bloke to run the family ramen business. Let’s all hope he has a child to continue the legacy.

Yes, the 4th Generation Chef is Frying our Ramen Soup-base and Stuff

Yes, the 4th Generation Chef is Frying our Ramen Soup-base and Stuff

Here, the 4th gen chef is seen putting garlic, spring onion, onion and some secret ingredients into the wok and frying it before adding the soup base.

The Best Damn Bowl of Ramen, I Have Ever Had ... So Far ...

The Best Damn Bowl of Ramen, I Have Ever Had ... So Far ...

The result? The best ramen I’ve had. The ramen noodle itself is also home-made. Its fresh, chewy and soft (but not too soft). It taste and feels as if it had absorbed a little bit of the soup on its outer layer. Yep … I’m that good with food now.

The soup-base which is pretty much just oil anyway … its really hot (also from the oil) and flavourful. Definitely garlicky, a bit soy-saucy (like I said, its thick!) and somewhere in there, I can almost taste sesame, corn and carrot.

Well, that’s the stuff that you can’t really see in the photo … but what you can see, the half-sliced egg, and the not-so-generous slice of pork was like a 3-point from the half-way line that sealed the game. The egg was boiled to a point where if you slice it in halves, the yolk is a little runny still … and that’s how you know its a good ramen egg 🙂 We used this egg-method to gauge the quality of the ramen joints in the alley.

The pork was also very well … porky. It wasn’t dry and it wasn’t cold … but that might be because it was sitting in a boiling bowl of noodle for so long. The only downside to the pork is, there’s too little meat (and too much fat!).

Gyoza

Gyoza

The gyoza was only so-so though … nothing to write home about.

Will I be back? No doubt. But then there are another 19 (assuming there are 20 ramen restaurants in the Alley) to try out … what to do?!

Ramen Alley in Sapporo
Somewhere in Sapporo (Check above Google Map)

Hokkaido Day 4: 二十四軒 Seafood Market (Part Two)

As mentioned, this restaurant is connected with the market next door, serving only the freshest of seafood “straight from the sea!”. The decor is pretty simple and while we were there at 3-4PM, there were surprisingly quite a few groups of people coming in to enjoy the seafood, and most of them are local! Somehow, that tells me we found the right spot.

Menu at 海鲜食堂 at Nijuyonken Seafood Market (二十四軒)

Menu at 海鲜食堂 at Nijuyonken Seafood Market (二十四軒)

Menu 2 at 海鲜食堂 at Nijuyonken Seafood Market (二十四軒)

Menu 2 at 海鲜食堂 at Nijuyonken Seafood Market (二十四軒)

Simple, but definitely a solid selection of cooked / raw food. Whatever you see in the market next door that you don’t see here on the menu, just tell me what you want and the staff will get it and prepare it for you 🙂

Sea Urchin at at 海鲜食堂 at Nijuyonken Seafood Market (二十四軒)

Sea Urchin at at 海鲜食堂 at Nijuyonken Seafood Market (二十四軒)

Uni taken straight from the spiky black echinoderms creature … thingy. A little watery though, I actually prefer the dry ones you find at most sushi restaurants. This is as fresh as it usually gets. But I’ve seen videos where people just pluck these things out from the sea, cracks it open and drinks it. Dayum.

I ❤ Uni with a friggin’ passion, you slimy little thing …

Toro!

Toro!

This toro was fresh, but definitely not the best I’ve had. If you look closely at the toro, notice there’s a spot in the middle that’s a little gray? Yeh … I thought that was a little weird, but it didn’t taste like its gone bad or anything … very awkward. BUT … still good.

Conch and Abalone

Conch and Abalone

Both crunchy and sweet in the Chinese sense (爽甜) … I actually prefer the conch a little more.

The bill came out to be around ¥20,000 … so I guess this isn’t as cheap as we had imagine. Then again, we did have some pretty expensive seafood … perhaps, we should’ve just stuck with cooked / grilled food.

二十四軒 (Nijuyonken) 西 28 丁目
Sapporo, Hokkaido
Japan