Unexpectedly in Asia Part 4: Seoul…my body is starting to rebel…

I knew such a long trip would weigh heavily on me. The older I get, the less I can cope with long trips it seems. And I sensed something flipped in the Philippines, especially when I got sick. But it was really the excessive food…I felt I was losing my appetite…

That is quite a disaster for a trip designed around eating…especially as I made my way to Seoul. My last trip to Seoul 9 years ago I loved it, from the hard-drinking culture to the octopus I grabbed at a street stall walking back to my hotel at some ungodly hour after drinking with random locals. This time it began a bit of a mess, to be honest.

I was shocked at how crazy some Korean kids behave these days…when we were on final approach into Incheon and several kids jumped out of their seats running around, and the parents were oblivious — playing with their gadgets, taking pictures. Flight crew nearly had to tackle the kids… Crazy… And after a long (and arse-burning hot) train ride to Seoul Station, I nearly died walking up the hill to my hotel.

Note: in Asia, when you can see your destination, it means nothing. Roads are never anywhere near straight or passable.

That ruined any interest I had to go out eating. I wasn’t hungry despite the poor lunch I had. So I just ordered room service, a helpful samgyetang — Korean ginseng chicken soup. Very helpful as I was still recovering from my illness, and to heal my painful body from dragging that heavy bag up the crazy hills and stairs…

Slept very badly and the next day I decided, despite not being totally hungry, to head to the so-called “Sundae Town” across the river. I will skip my commentary about poor transfer signage at some metro stations… But of course the feature here in its many mini-restaurants is sundae — black pudding/blood sausage. This place has many middle-aged ladies selling their versions of the popular dish, and I was corraled into a seat (stall #307) and served with a monstrous (“smallest”) portion…

sundae

Left is before and right is after cooking on the big tray. Now how am I gonna eat this? To be honest it wasn’t that great. The sundae was very glutonous rice-y and really not very bloody. I miss the stronger taste of the European versions. Some nice intestines in there too, but I’m not a fan of pancreas so left a lot of it… I did abandon a small portion of food, having consumed most of this. I headed back to the hotel to have a kip…needed one after this monstrous lunch… BTW this cost only USD 7…

I actually fell asleep longer than I planned and had to rush to get to my dinner at the well-regarded Congdu. The place is in a restored historical house next to the Deoksugung Palace complex, but is very modern inside. I had a nice table upstairs, but it was so bloody dark that there was no usable photo from my tasting menu…which is why I decided to incorporate the review within this bigger unit. No pictures makes it too bland to stand alone, which is too bad.

I went with the big tasting menu and it sure didn’t disappoint. The amuse bouche was a tofu curd with lotus root, seaweed and sesame leaves. Interesting texture, as this restaurant was focused on bringing out the best in local ingredients, especially beans. The first dish was a simple salad with sesame oil and sesame-coated chicken. Nothing special, but solid.

The second dish was a thick taro and mountain yam soup. I’m not the biggest fan of taro from my Hawai’i days, so this was a miss. But then the production came. The showed me a giant prawn sitting in a bucket of ice. Then she poured boiling sake into the bucket and held it closed for just enough time for this guy to be cooked… Now this tasted delicious, rich and uncompromising. Lots of roe too. Messy eating, but tasty!

The next course was glass noodles with abalone, which was quite nice. Then a piece of the most delicious black cod I’ve had in ages, with a touch of miso. Fabulous. Then the main course was the “black pork” from Jeju. Now my criticism is to bring out a piece of pork the size of your fist after all the earlier goodies? I barely finished it, and it was not bad, but the portion was too big to really enjoy it.

The last savoury was a palate cleanser, mullet roe. I love these things, but these were frozen for effect so the flavour was a little restrained. The dessert was rice cakes in a red bean base, pretty good. I enjoyed this tasting menu and it was more sensible way to eat (finally), and more balanced. I finally got veg!

I headed back to the hotel rather knackered, despite the earlier kip. And just went to crash out… Woke up the next day after yet another bad sleep, and got ready and headed out. Most of the stuff I want to eat “don’t open” for awhile as they are usually accompanied by copious drink, so I headed to a mandoo place that I was told was the place to go…hmmm…

So I went to Koong and felt a bit guilty taking a place for 4, so maybe I overordered…plus, I was used to a more modest size for these dumplings from earlier experience, but these were gigantic…how did I manage this?

mandoo

One portion was soup, one was not. The mandoo were the same. These were the size of a fist each…but I fought through it and ate all of it. It was good, but not that great. I actually prefer smaller ones I’m used to. These seemed rather bland.

But with all that food weighing me down I took the rather long walk back to the hotel, skipping the subway. Long walk plus a hill climb left me tired…and I fell asleep again… But I got up for my dinner, planned for a place I was told was one of the best places to get excellent Korean beef, Daedo Sikdang. This was the original location, so I thought it would be the best.

Got a floor seat (there goes my legs…) and it started out great as they fried a big piece of beef fat on my grill…

cooking fat

Then it all went downhill. The beef was actually not that good, and the resulting fried rice was better than the beef…that’s saying something. I left very disappointed, and reeking of grilled meat…

I made my way to Brew 3.14, the small pub and pizzeria opened by the guru of Seoul Eats, Dan Gray. Had a good night drinking there, but was too full to partake in the delicious pizzas…but drinks were enough, just what I needed…

Cabbed it back and woke up the next day just not hungry…wow… So oddly I just did nothing. My body just gave up. No energy to go anywhere, no appetite to eat. What has happened to me? Just actually did work on my laptop…

Before you think this is the end of the world, rest assured it all changed that evening for dinner. An unexpected dining partner and a spectacular meal that ranks as one of my all time top meals in my life. So let that be a lesson, that appetites do return when most unexpected.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed in my Seoul eating. Congdu was good and the last meal (review forthcoming) was brain-meltingly good, but the others were very meh…and I hate using that term meh… I left Korea saved by the wonderful last meal, knowing that the spectacular dinner was gonna bring me back here again. Now off to Tokyo…last stop…

“Sundae Town” [원조민속순대타운]
1640-31 Seowon-dong
Gwanak-gu, Seoul

Congdu [콩두]
Deoksugung-gul 116-1
Jeong-dong, Seoul

Koong [궁]
30-11 Kwanhoon-dong
Jongro-gu, Seoul

Daedo Sikdang [대도식당]
431 Hongik-dong
Seungdong-gu, Seoul

Brew 3.14
95-1 Ikseon-dong
Jongro-gu, Seoul

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Unexpectedly in Asia Part 3: Manila…nearly killed me…

I more than happily left the sinosphere getting out of Hong Kong to get to Manila, but had to survive Hong Kong Airport first. From a dodgy dimsum place at the airport where they pulled the change away as I was grabbing it (!!!) to the lack of places to buy water (but millions of places to buy dry herbs), I was counting my seconds to get out of the sinosphere.

The flight was not pleasant on Cebu Pacific. Though it wasn’t long at under 2hrs, it was packed. And the seats were built for small people. And of course, the very small yet oblivious teenager in front of me *had* to recline. After an hour I complained and the father, an entitled American-Filipino thinking he was some big shit, yells at me about the “right to recline” and all that BS. I just shut my mouth. No point knocking down a guy in front of his 3 daughters… I still have a bruise on my knee 4 days later…

I got to my hotel, the InterContinental, and it was a welcome relief from the hell that was the Hotel Lisboa in Macau (read my previous entry here). Cheaper, hundred times better service. In fact, one of the best service I’ve ever had in a hotel anywhere in the world. I arrived mid afternoon so I took a bit of time orienting myself and bracing myself for the tropical heat…tho the locals complained of the cold (29c)…

For dinner the first night I headed out to a place a mate recommended called Mesa. Though they have a few locations, I headed out to the location in the massive Greenbelt malls (Greenbelt 5 to be exact). Got a little lost as there is never directions and directories are hard to find in Filipino malls (why???). I finally found it and turned out to be packed…had to wait about half hour for a table. Worried me as staff seemed harried and rushed…

I finally got a table and it took another 10 minutes to order. That’s a sign of how things are gonna be… I was told the specialty of this place is the so-called “crispchon” (crispy suckling pig), the portions, even smallest, was too big for 1 person. There is no provisions to single diners really, as all the dishes seemed family style…but I braved two dishes anyway…

Mesa

On the left is the stuffed giant squid (with ground pork), with a nice sauce. However, it seemed a little undercooked, and the tentacles way over-fried. On the right is the daing with “tons of garlic”…or dried, fried milkfish. Not bad, but nothing special. Do note these dishes are *not* tapas sizes, these are full plates… Several of the dishes I asked for had run out. Of course they forgot my drink and took ages. The service was utterly chaotic. Fine, busy, but still…

It wasn’t that great. Looks much better than it tasted. I heard similar complaints from people I talked to later during my trip, but…oh well. Interesting start. I headed back to to the hotel as I was knackered, but stopped for a beer at a “micro-brew”…and it took 15 minutes to bring my beer. There is a service issue in this country…

The next day I woke up not feeling that hot. At Mesa last night this guy at the next table was coughing up a storm…shit, and I know I always get sick in warm weather. This can’t be good… I headed out by cab to the mammoth Mall of Asia — one of the largest in Asia, if not the world. I was looking for food, this time in the also-heavily-recommended eatery called Abè.

I was seated as it got busier in the lunch period and asked about portions…and they said 1 dish is safe for me. Again, the portions. It makes it hard for a single person to have a balanced meal with veg and so forth. Ugh… As much as I love eating in the Philippines, I won’t last a week eating like this… But I ordered the pastel de lengua, a nice ox tongue pie.

Pastel de Lengua

This was quite nice. The gravy was smooth and tasty, and the tongue were extremely tender. The pastry on top was a bit too thick so I just excised it. It was excellent underneath. It wasn’t quite enough (as I hoped) so I ordered what I came here to get, the arobung kamaru.

Arobung Kamaru

Stop yelling. Utterly fantastic these fried mole crickets, the best dish I had in Manila! Wee crunchy, but fried in a tasty base. Frankly I would have happily tossed this in a pasta dish, it’s really good!

As I was feeling myself getting a throat and ear bug, I grabbed a few things at a shop but also took a long walk along the seaside before heading back by taxi. Got back to the room and tried to rest. Had to help a friend with a literature project, which took 2 hours, then accidentally took a nap…got up at almost 10pm…shit…

Rushed out by taxi to dinner, getting to ‘Cue Modern Barbeque in the tres-trendy Fort Bonifacio neighbourhood just before last orders. Had trouble finding it (as all places in Filipino malls) but got there. I grabbed a beer and ordered their famous grilled corned beef.

corned_beef

Well, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Juicy, smoky and just the right fat content. Excellent stuff. I’m glad I jumped out the door to come here. I soon headed back to the hotel on cab, again, feeling a little concerned about getting sick…

Stupid me I headed to the bar…and ended up drinking until 4am…not crazy drinking, but good drinking. Talked to an Australian about all sorts, cricket and work, but at some point in the night we were pouring out our life problems to each other. He had a promising new star on the horizon, but needed to unload stuff — as I did. Weird you end up in these situations when you travel…people you’ll never meet again and you tell them your darkest deepest secrets… I felt a weight off my shoulder as I went to crash out…

Ugh…not the hangover, none of that…but I got up totally sick. Seriously. Massive headache, massive fever, throat, ear and sinus problems… Damn, this is bad. Lucky I prepared yesterday… I sat in the room not moving all day and night, taking a small amount of medicine but a crapload of Vitamin C and zinc. I know I have a freakish immune system, so it’s getting it to kick in…

That means day’s plans ruined…so was most of the next day. Felt dreadful. Tons of water and vitamins…not much food. The first meal I had after this was the nice dinner at Tiago, but again, too much meat and not enough possibility for balance…

I felt better the day I was to fly out, just enough time for a quick lunch. I headed to another recommended place called the Kanin Club. An unpretentious place near the Manila Stock Exchange, I sat down and ordered the specialty of the house, the crispy dinuguan.

crispy dinuguan

It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds, fried pork in a blood sauce. Sadly, it’s not as tasty as it sounds. The pork was either totally fat or inedible rock-hard pieces that hurt my teeth, though the sauce was rather nice. Did nothing for me, sadly… Unlike most people who’d bitch at the blood, it was the poor pork prep that did it for me…

I left Manila sadly with a bad meal in my belly. A 4-hour flight to Seoul, from +31c to -7c, awaits on Cebu Pacific again — and yes, the small seats… But I was ready for some cold. I really enjoyed the Philippines, but it was a shame that I got sick…but it always happens to me in the heat. Last time in Asia it was Bangkok… But to be honest it’s too difficult to do Manila solo if you want to eat well…it’s too much food (and too much to leave to waste) for one, or else live on street food. Not as easy in heavily modern Makati.

I think if I’m to return to Asia, I cannot travel here by myself solo again. You can’t eat properly solo, you can’t get the full food experience. You end up compromising, exceeding gluttony, become wasteful, or just end up eating utterly unbalanced. For instance I barely had serious serving of vegetables (not rice) since arriving. If I order 3 dishes (with 1 veg), I’ll waste a lot of food because that’s enough to feed 5…

Oh well…off to the same problems of solo diners in Seoul…

Abè
SM Mall of Asia
Bay City, Pasig

‘Cue Modern Barbeque
Bonifacio High Street Centrale
Fort Bonifacio

Kanin Club
Ayala Triangle Gardens
Makati Avenue
Makati

Mesa
Greenbelt 5
Makati

Review: Tiago

Quezon City,
25 January 2014

I had arrived in Manila a few days ago, and I will chronicle my Manila eating in the next posting. But I had been struck down with a nasty bug in middle of my time here, which was extremely unfortunate and made my plans go awry…

I had made contact with the owners of Tiago restaurant before my trip, as I noticed it was one of the few stand-alone restaurants featuring haute Filipino cuisine. This is a concept I love to support, and I had planned to go in yesterday. But I would have had to crawl in my condition yesterday… So I decided to go in on my last night in Manila.

After a lengthy cab ride on the EDSA (those of you been to Manila will understand this craziness), I got to Tiago and relaxed with a glass of wine as I poured through the menu. Wow, this was gonna be a feast in any which way. I had not eaten much for the past 1.5 days, so I was game for a huge meal. When I did place my order, my server gave me a smile of “you asked for it!” Bring it on!!

The cool thing about Tiago is that just from appearance, it can be anywhere in the world from California to Catalunya. And unlike other places I have been in Manila, the service tonight was just wonderful. I’m glad they put enough focus on the front of the house, something sorely lacking in many other places in Manila.

I ordered 2 main dishes and they were voluminous… The first was the lechon, or roasted pig…

lechon

This version was roasted stuffed with garlic, onions, leeks and chillies. To be honest it was seasoned a little too lightly, especially considering my other dish, the inocuous-sounding Pinausukang chicken and pork.

Pinausukang chicken and pork

Oh yeah, this was the biggie… The trotter, in its full glory, was braised in a delicious sauce. But the real star was the smoked chicken. This was uncompromisingly good chicken, full-flavoured and serious. It’s one of those chicken dishes that makes you like chicken again. Plus delicious quail eggs! I nearly killed myself finishing this dish, but it was fantastic!

Of course all of this was buffered by a service of delicious tinapa rice…

tinapa rice

A nice rice with a hint of smoked fish to give just enough exotic flavour. This was an excellent combination. Perhaps I ordered too much for one person, but it was good eating to say the least. Solo diners are still rare in these venues it seems…and culturally, people in the Philippines (and most of Asia) dine in larger parties. But I was happy to crash the stereotype but eat like a party!

After a coffee I headed out rather happy, just as the place was filled up with happy diners. I really am heartened to see haute Filipino cuisine thrive, especially in an environment that is comfortable and with excellent service. Again, Tiago would not look out of place at all in California or Catalunya, not at all. In fact it would thrive in both of those places too.

Tiago
85 Scout Fuentebella Street
Sacred Heart, Quezon City
Metro Manila, Philippines

Review: Tim’s Kitchen

Macau,
21 January 2014

I have chronicled my weird trip in Macau the last post and hinted that my last meal was planned for the well-regarded Tim’s Kitchen. No, this isn’t some shack, this is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the region, graced with 1 Michelin star. I was looking forward to this, though with some mixed expectations. The other fancy restaurant in the hotel, Guincho a Galera, was fantastic, but the last Michelin-starred Chinese place I was at, Yè Shanghai in Kowloon, had rather trying service…

But I was happy with Tim’s Kitchen when I walked in (though I got lost looking for it in the labyrinth that is the Hotel Lisboa). I was given a nice table and the manager, who took my booking, came out and said hello and basically served me all evening. Now this is classy, personal service that is essence of Michelin quality. I was given the menu and I ordered a nice glass of douro — and the wine service was impeccable (not the red-white confusion like at Yè Shanghai!). I was happy so far.

The manager was very good helping me sort out the extensive menu without overselling anything, and he appreciated my selection. And it was a feast… All started with a century egg amuse bouche. Love these things…

century egg (amuse)

Then my meal started to appear. My starter today was crispy duck tongues with peppercorn salt.

duck tongues

These were tasty, with wee amount of spicy that made it perfect. I rarely eat duck tongue, but this was a treat. Delicate, but full flavoured. I was happy. The next was my soup course, and it was one of the chef’s specialties — the superior snake bisque.

snake bisque

Mmm…. This dish is only available seasonally, as it is seen as a great winter dish. Rich but not overpowering, it really had a unique taste about it. It was fantastic, I could have had another bowl! Totally awesome.

I was pretty happy with everything now. I have 2 main courses coming, which I would be consuming with my wee bowl of rice. The first was the braised bamboo piths with fresh crabmeat and roes.

bamboo piths with crab and roe

Now bamboo piths are not bamboo, but a wonderful rare mushroom. And as you can see, the amount of crab and roe are extremely, extremely generous. You can just get a view of the bamboo piths under the rich sauce, served as slices. They are very neutral, but have a wonderful texture. The awesome richness of the roe and plentiful crab made this a dreamy dish…I wanted to lick the plate…

Then my second main course came, the braised garoupa fin.

garoupa fin

Now garoupa (grouper) is the most popular food fish in Cantonese cuisine, and this was a fin section with plenty of meat. It has the distinct flavours of the “Chinese banquet fish” but with added complexity. A generous portion certainly of the tasty treat.

Wow, I was beyond happy with this meal. It was nearly perfect. The only thing that marred the experience was some cigarette smoke seeping through, but that’s the building’s fault, not the restaurant (nothing they can really do when smoke is so thick everywhere else in the hotel…). The service, from the manager to the wine, was impeccable, clearly at a Michelin level, well trained — again, unlike Yè Shanghai. Also unlike Yè Shanghai is when I ordered a cognac it came properly (not like the calvados on rocks I got at YS)…

But for a dessert I chose something odd…an Italian hot chocolate…

Italian hot chocolate

Wow…this was like a bowl of chocolate syrup. Utterly rich beyond belief… I was nearly catatonic after this…took 20 minutes of savouring this before I was done! The manager even cheekily suggested this would be better with wee dash of cognac! That’s for another time!

I had to wake up at 4.30am in the morning for my boat back to HK to catch my flight to Manila, so I had to call it a night. But this was utterly fantastic, the best Chinese meal I’ve had in years, if not decades. Food was amazing, service was fantastic. What else can you want? This would be a star anywhere. But for Macau, this *IS* the star.

Totally awesome. They deserve a 2nd Michelin Star. They really do.

Tim’s Kitchen
Hotel Lisboa
2-4 Avenida de Lisboa
Macau

Unexpectedly in Asia Part 2: Macau…I really don’t know what to think…

After the troublesome process of getting a *proper* room in the odd hotel that is the Hotel Lisboa, I took some time to unpack what I needed and to figure out where I should check out first today. I could take it slowly today as I was still enjoying the effects of the fabulous food for late lunch at Guincho a Galera

I ended up falling asleep for a little while…bloody jetlag…before I emerged into a cool (for Macau) evening. Like in Hong Kong everyone had coats on, except me. I wandered out towards the “town square” — Largo do Senado. It’s strange to see the façade of colonial Portuguese with gaudy Chinese New Year decor hanging from them. I headed to the narrow Rua da Felicidade where there were many good old-school eateries, and I found one I had been looking for. It’s a little place called Cheong Kei, and I was given a shared seat in a crowded place. Friendly staff despite no English, and it’s best known for this dish.

prawn roe lomein

It was a tiny plate, but I wasn’t looking for a big portion. It almost looks like spaghetti with bottarga, but it’s similar. It’s lo-mein with dried prawn roe. It is a tasty little treat, with excellent al dente noodles. It is very, very much like a bottarga dish. Fantastic start to the evening’s food!

I walked around some more but nothing stuck out too much, and honestly I was getting tired of weaving around very slow-moving people on the streets. People here walk even slower than in Hong Kong, and I really cannot walk like that… I took in some of the colonial sights around Largo do Senado and Largo da Sé and of course Igreja da Sé, the main cathedral of Macau.

se

So then I walked partly back towards my hotel and hit another place on my list — Chan Kuong Kei. They gave a little attitude but I got my order through.

pepper duck rice

As you can see, this place specialises in barbequed meats — its most famous dish is the above, the roast duck in black pepper sauce. To be honest it wasn’t a good dish. The pepper sauce was dreamy, yes, but the duck was a tiny portion that was almost all bone. Very little meat on these poor things. It was a shame, this sauce could be so awesome in a serious place.

I headed back to the hotel, needing some rest. The jetlag is still playing havoc with my head… Of course I fell asleep and got up at 2am…and tossed and turned until about 5am then crashed for another few hours… Felt like rubbish when I got up. Not too hungry but headed to explore.

panorama

Macau is a crazy place, with these crazy casinos everywhere. These are all basically to service the mainland Chinese crowd. Very little infrastructure is built for visitors of other nationalities; the Japanese stay with their own hotel, for instance, and my hotel doesn’t even have a bar that stays open past 10pm. It’s all about the casinos…and I really can’t stand them, especially full of self-important people with shite attitude. Even though indoor smoking is now banned in Macau, it’s frequently flouted in casinos…

I had a long walk and had enough. Nothing looked appealing around town that didn’t have a queue out the door, and my sock actually ripped a hole so I headed back to the hotel. Dropped into the 24-hour cafe there, Noite e Dia Café, and had myself a quick dimsum lunch.

dimsum

The shumai (right) was particularly tasty. It’s probably why people don’t go out to eat when the hotel has such good food. This is the craziness of Macau; many places in town are not getting the rewards of the tourism boom as the quality restaurants caters to them competitively. This dimsum is of good quality. At 24 hours. Plus all for room service. Scary, to be able to get suckling pig at 3am on a whim… But it gives people no incentive to explore, as I hear mostly local Cantonese when I am out eating outside of hotels… That’s a shame…or is it a reprieve from the annoying tourist hordes?

I rested the late afternoon and headed out later for dinner around a similar area. I was supposed to explore Taipa and head to a great Portuguese place there, but unforseen circumstances forced the restaurant to close for the day (luckily I checked the FB page), so I stayed on the peninsula. This time I headed to a place I was told was the best in town, an old-school Chinese place called Tou Tou Koi. I had to wait 20 minutes for a table as it was rather busy, which is a good sign for Monday night. LIttle did I understand why it was so busy…because the staff was idiotic and slow…

I got a table and had to wait another 10 minutes for any service. Needed a drink by then but no wine (“only by the bottle”) so settled for a beer. Was tempted to buy a bottle of wine… Ordered 3 dishes, 2 starter-ish and one full. And steamed rice. So after about 10 minutes they told me the main dish (mutton casserole) was sold out. And like in Hong Kong (my first night) they didn’t come back to ask me what I want as a replacement until my first dish arrived, crispy roast pig another 15 minutes later. Thety had also run out of the proper suckling pig so I went with this. I was pissed off by then. It was not particularly good.

They finally asked and every selection they said would take upwards of 40 minutes. After all that waiting, no friggin’ way. I went with something else. Then the “prawn sushi” came out. Nothing special, I thought they were something else. Disappointed. Then the main came out, pig tripe with peppers. No rice. I asked (I had ordered) and they wanted a surcharge, so fuck it. Ate it plain…again, nothing special…

Tou Tou Koi

I was seriously unhappy. It looked good, but it was very ordinary. This was supposed to be the “best” independent (read non-hotel/casino) but it failed badly. Horrific service to boot. Bill looked dodgy too but I didn’t want to argue; I noticed at least 2 other tables argued about their bill (in Cantonese so they were local). I was livid leaving. Bloody awful. Everything that is wrong with dining in Asia in one meal.

Of course this was when I wandered back and found the bar had shut by 10pm. This is like a crazy world…so I just went upstairs and tried to crash out… And once again, a horribly interrupted sleep through the night…

So today, my last full day in Macau, I needed to maximise it. I headed through the centre again looking for food. I had found an offal place but the queue was ridiculously long. It was similar to the Block 13 Beef Offal stand in Hong Kong, sp I gave it a miss. I wandered around and found a good place for lunch called Lei Hong Kei.

It was surreal when I walked in…they were butchering a huge fish in the main part of the restaurant and I had to walk through fish blood and avoid the butcher’s cleaver to get to my table. The service was surprisingly friendly and they took my order. And my elderly server showed his cheeky side and switched to fluent English after my order was done…geez…

I ordered cuttledish with chives and what I thought was “fried fish belly” according to *both* the English and Portuguese version of the menu, but it was actually fish stomach (not quite belly as we would think it…) stir-fried with scrambled eggs and bean sprouts.

Lee Hong Kei

I gotta say the portions here were huge…biggest I’ve seen, and this scared me. These were *huge*. I dug in and finished both, though it took nearly 45 minutes (a lifetime in a Chinese restaurant solo). The cuttlefish was excellent, and you can taste the freshness here. The young chives were a nice addition and I scooped it up with glee. The “fish belly” dish was actually excellent, the sublime taste of fish stomach (reminds me of the cod tripe I had at Taberna del Alabardero a few weeks ago) with the rich egg and refreshing sprouts.

I really enjoyed this meal, although it was heavy. The whole thing was very cheap and good, and this blows away the crap meal I had a block away last night. Both are very similar inside in appearance, so why do people go to that one is beyond me. This is worth going to. I headed out and took a 2-hour walk around the entire west side of the peninsula. I needed the exercise…

It was a great climb up to the top of the hills, and some of the views were fabulous. And of course, there is the Portuguese Consulate — a grand building for the former colonial power.

consulate

After that long loop and hike, I headed back to the hotel to chill, and to pack. I had a dinner planned at one of the best places in town tonight, Tim’s Kitchen (review forthcoming), and an early night. I have to wake up at 4.30am, rush to the ferry and get back to Hong Kong, then race to the airport to fly out to Manila…

But I have to say Macau is a place I’m not sure I’d ever come back to. It’s utterly catered to a mainland Chinese audience, and there’s little appreciation for visitors from elsewhere it seems. It bares some resemblence to Tallinn — a place where a neighbouring population comes to play, treats its people poorly, flaunts wealth unnecessarily. I feel bad for the locals. Maybe this is why they cling to places in the old city and feel at home in those restaurants in ramshackle buildings. That’s the Macau I want to see, not the bloody casinos and the rude, chain-smoking, self-important guy from Beijing treating his hooker from Guangdong like crap in the hotel lobby.

I really cannot wait to get out of the sinosphere and to the Philippines…

Cheong Kei
68 Rua da Felicidade

Chan Kuong Kei
19 Rua do Dr. Pedro José Lobo

Noite e Dia Café
Hotel Lisboa
2-4 Avenida de Lisboa

Tou Tou Koi
6-8 Travessa do Mastro

Lei Hong Kei
33-37 Rua da Felicidade

Review: Guincho a Galera

Macau,
19 January 2014

I made my way to Macau after a rather headache-filled morning. From the horribly sign-posted ferry port to a dimsum place that was slow as hell I had to abandon some of the food to catch my boat (never go to a place called “Kung Fu” anything…), it was not fun. I got to my hotel, the venerable Hotel Lisboa, which was in end-of-weekend chaos. Crazy trouble checking in…like they misread my booking to be “3 rooms for 1 night” instead of the more reasonable… And after I cleared it all up they told me room not ready until 4pm. Ugh…utter chaos…

So instead of going out to explore the town, I was too aggravated. I wandered through the labyrinth of this hotel’s public areas and after getting lost a few times I settled with the Portuguese restaurant Guincho a Galera. This restaurant is linked to the well-respected Fortaleza do Guincho* in Portugal, as the name suggests. It was a fancy place, and my expectations were high — especially looking at the prices.

It was empty as it was 2pm on a Sunday when everyone is probably doing dimsum or still sleeping. The service was excellent, which was a nice improvement from Hong Kong. I even got an amuse bouche out of this…

amuse bouche

I was looking towards this meal as the dishes sounded just fantastic. There were so many possibilites (check out the menu on the website). I chose as a starter, alongside a nice glass of Portuguese white, ouriço do mar — the sea urchin dish.

Ouriço do mar

This beautiful dish featured 2 hollowed-out urchins filled with different shellfish (crab, abalone), filled with avocado and urchin foam. Extremely tasty and the shellfish selection was of good quality. The urchin mixing with avocado was quite a nice blend. And you see that beautiful veg presentation? Very tasty, and with abalone hidden away between the colourful vegetables. Beautiful and tasty!

My expectations are met by far. I switched to a red before my main course, porco preto Alentejano assado — roasted black (Iberico) pork from Alentejo.

Porco preto Alentejano assado

The meat was super juicy and the fat was perfect. The few pieces of leitão, or suckling pig, was an awesome touch. And under the veg, which was excellent, a bed of morels were lurking! That was an unexpected surprise! Too bad the photo doesn’t show it. Wow, this was a tour-de-force of a dish.

I was really happy with this meal. I was bloody full as that pork was voluminous. And I still had the “Kung Fu dim sum” fighting it way through me… I was spent and happy…

petits

They brought this out for me as I enjoyed a 30-year port. The custard in the centre is by far the highlight, one of Macau’s greatest treats — the pastel de nata, the egg tart. I was so happy I almost forgot the crazy hotel stuff earlier…

I headed downstairs and faced more craziness. Let’s say it all calmed down finally after a room change, and I finally relaxed. Macau is starting totally nuts, but the food has been utterly fantastic so far! With excellent service, I expect this place to join several other restaurants in this complex (Lisboa and Grand Lisboa) with a Michelin star soon.

Guincho a Galera
Hotel Lisboa
2-4 Avenida de Lisboa
Macau

Unexpectedly in Asia Part 1: Zipping Through Hong Kong

I’m not sure what caused me to make this rather unplanned trip to Asia. Maybe it was the hard fall I had on a piece of Arlington ice that bloody construction crews didn’t bother with, or just how worn out I am from the move out of NYC, I just decided to burn a lot of points and go when the weather was tolerable. So as alluded to in my reviews just posted of Terra Vergine and Yè Shanghai, I began my trip in London and then Hong Kong.

The 13-hour time change was not yet killing me at first, having slept a bit on the Heathrow-Hong Kong flight. I arrived in the evening of Wednesday, and after a walk around some areas for street food, it was a little early (and a little annoying), so I decided on a “normal” dinner. I headed to well-regarded Yat Tung Heen near my hotel.

This meal reminded me how crap service is in Hong Kong. I’ve not been here in 9 years, and this is one aspect I really did not miss. When 1 of 2 dishes I ordered turned out to be unavailable, they never gave me a chance to order a replacement… I was so ticked off I barely enjoyed my beef flank casserole, and basically left pissed off.

I tried to get a good night sleep, and had a pretty good one. I was energetic heading out. One thing I can never fathom is why people in Hong Kong, especially healthy young people, walk so bloody SLOW. Old people walk faster and seem more cardiovascularly fit. I felt like a nutter weaving through the sea of snails…

I made my way to Hong Kong island and went searching for small food places I had heard about. I first explored Wellington Street, a steep alley that was ultra crowded. I skipped into Mak’s Noodle, which is well-known for their wonton noodles.

I was given the “single seat” slot although they weren’t too busy yet — it was just before midday. I was sweaty from the walk and a hot bowl of soup may not be ideal, but the fragrance was fantastic.

wonton noodles

The noodle had no sog to it, beyond al dente. Just the way I like it. The wontons were pretty boring and the broth was fragrant but pretty typical. But it was a good opening move today.

I walked around some more in the hilly alleys in that part of Hong Kong, climing long hills with endless steps. I see only old people using them; young people were going around. Amazing level of laziness in the young people here…

I was getting very sweaty in 20c (68F) weather and everyone was wearing their coats… So I dropped into an unnamed place that looked good. Despite it being empty-ish they forced me to share a table. And of course they brought out the wrong dish (rice noodles with beef flank instead of with tripe)…

tendon rice noodle

It was very bland, very ordinary. But I was hungry so I ate the rather large portion. These things are always hit and miss.

I then headed east to a place I heard about called “Block 13 Beef Offal” — but couldn’t find it after 20 minutes of searching. Damn, it may be gone… Disappointedly I headed on back to the hotel, as I needed a shower…this town is dirty…

I relaxed and caught up on some work I needed to do before I got ready and headed to the meal already reviewed at Yè Shanghai. Drank quite a lot that night around different places, but it was rather boring…

Woke up next day a bit hungover, and did some online recon for food ideas. I was determined to find out what happened to “Block 13 Beef Offal” and I found it using photos from Google Maps — they put it on the wrong side of a main road. Idiots. Once again Google Maps fails me…

I headed out and went back to North Point and finally found this place. It was just a street stand, so you stand around eating. Simple. I first ordered a snack skewer. Choice was offal or octopus, and I began with octopus.

grilled octopus

With a spicy curry sauce this was delicious, and for HKD 10. The spiciness really added something interesting here, but the octopus was very tasty. Very happy. Now for the big deal…

offal bowl

This is basically an “offal bowl” — their main dish. I took a large one because I had been dreaming about this for a week… Now they don’t screw around with their offal here in Hong Kong, and this is about as offal as it gets. Even Fergus Henderson would look twice at this bowl, comprised of tripe, large and small intestines, lungs, and even pancreas. Throw in a few daikon too. The sauce was a rich addition to really give this dish extra flavour. The intestines took awhile to chew but the flavours really penetrated it. Fantastic tripe, the lungs soaked up the broth well, and the pancreas surprisingly good. Some may want to throw up looking at this, but…this is heavenly for me!

I headed out happily and wandered around a bit before heading back to the hotel to finish a few things work-related. But stupid me I decided to take a wee nap and…instead of an hour it was about 8 hours later when I got up at 1.30am! Fuck! I missed the entire evening!

With my boat to Macau in the morning, my brief Hong Kong adventure was basically over… I could have gone out for some food at 2am, but I was still knackered…so just wrote this up and went back to rest… Never been to Macau, so want to be energetic for all that wonderful food on that side.

Yat Tung Heen
Eaton Hotel
380 Nathan Road, Jordan
Kowloon

Mak’s Noodle
77 Wellington Street, Central
Hong Kong

Block 13 Beef Offal
1 Shu Kuk Street, North Point
Hong Kong