Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bo Innovation (Hong Kong) 12/2012

After an exceptional meal here a year or two ago I was very keen to come to this restaurant which specializes in x-treme chinese cuisine, as they put it. Sandra had no idea what to expect and was not happy when we had some difficulty finding the entrance which is actually in a side street.
They were offering a Chef's menu or a X'mas menu which, at HK$2080 was $400 more expensive and had three extra courses. That was what we selected and we were not sorry.
Many things seemed quite strange from the first thing they brought a waffle with Iberica ham and mustard sauce, which was both sweet and savoury and replaced bread, (8/10) 
 to the eight treasures that finished the meal.  Moa Tai Sour was a small sweet aperitif which was perhaps a teaspoon of foam. (6/10) .
The first real course was smoked eel with a strawberry sauce and some cubes of fish jelly. The eel was moist, lightly smoked and very very good though the fish jelly was rather bland and the whole dish made more interesting with the sweet sauce,(7/10)
 Caviar, Chinese farmed sturgeon roe with a tiny bit of edible decorative gold leaf sat atop a tempura ball containing oyster milk lying in a little bottarga, a strong fish sauce (6/10)
 Bo Dan Dan Noodles were very spicy with red pepper                                                              
and accompanied by pine nut, preserved vegetables, salmon roe and the airiest and lightest imaginable sea cucumber foam. Beautifully presented and quite simple this nod to sea cucumber did not do anything beyond decoration for the dish although it did add one
 more texture to a complex combination (6/10). 
 Foie gras, bamboo shoot "zhou ye qing" liquor, miso, pickled Indian lettuce stem ` was slightly sweet, the foie gras barely cooked, was quite superb in this unique combination.(9/10)

Turkey congee, black Alba truffle, 7 year aged aquarello rice, abalone was almost the equal of the previous dish. The rice in the congee had retained some of its structure, the soft but chewy abalone contrasted with some jellied fish broth making a nice combination. (8/10) 
This was followed by a palate cleanser.  
Molecular was a technical creation. A small dumpling enclosed in a gelatine skin with a thin stripe of red vinegar condiment was designed to imitate the taste of the classical Shanghai dumpling. This was the least successful dish, mainly because of the unrealized expectation. (5/10)
From here on things got better and better. Tomato, presented three ways, "pat chun" chinese vinegar infused made for a sweet and delicious bite, a sort of combination with a mayonnaise added to with powdered fermented black olives, "lam lok" a green tomato flavoured marshmallow, were all astonishing simple, varied but tasteful and excited our palates. (10/10) 
Black truffle was a variation on bacon and eggs. Slices of truffle covered Chinese bacon, dried until crisp, which covered a triangle of bread on which was a scrambled pigeon
 egg. A clever idea beautifully executed. (10/10) 
 Lobster, several large pieces of barely cooked lobster meat in a lightly Sichuan pepper, sweet corn lobster bisque with tiny sweet peas was characterized by its balance. Nothing detracted from the perfectly prepared lobster nor dominated the taste of the bisque. (10/10) 
Saga-Gyu beef was a fine piece of waghu with diakon, sea cucumber, bamboo gungus, chinese yam, asparagus in an aromatic consomme, poured at the table, was stunning.  
The last of the savoury courses it summed up the character of the meal. Not overly worked, varied and satisfying in every dimension of taste, texture and appearance, one could not ask for anything more. (10/10)
Two desserts followed. Christmas spirit made up of wild turkey whiskey brownies, green tea vodka lime mousse, chinese almond ice cream, hawthorn rum, white chocolate snow and green apple martini sounds like a lethally intoxicating combination but again the tastes were distinct and everything was light and easy to eat. The brownies were exceptional but among all these flavours I expect most people would find favourite and less favoured parts of the dish. (8/10)
We were thoroughly stuffed by now and took the petit dim-sum back to our hotel. These eight treasures were extraordinary. Each a different taste, each a different texture but all delicate and memorable. They were made up of:  Dragon Eye gelee, coconut, Osmanthus, fermented rice, white peach, Rose macaroon, lychee, white chocolate, Lotus seed, chocolate, sticky rice dumpling, Mandarin peel, chocolate truffle, Red date marshmellow, Wolfberry, tian jin pear, blue cheese, crystal bun, Chrysanthemum steamed sponge cake. (9/10)
This two star Michelin restaurant does not appeal to everyone in the way it did to us. If you like imagination in every aspect of a meal, unusual combinations of tastes, wide varieties of textures within small dishes, quality products treated with respect you should love this place as we did. Service is very friendly and helpful. They have an extensive wine list, heavily marked up and a small list by the glass. We had a bottle of German reisling (HK$480 which matched well with all the dishes.
They would match wines if you wished.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Chatter 47: What's Killing our Restaurants

Looking back over Epicure for the last few years I was struck by several observations. Firstly what a very good food and wine magazine it is. News, reviews, recipes articles, equipment, interviews are all first class. It's only serious deficiency is the lack of any space for comments from readers.
Apart from the constant movement of chefs there is one very frequent item of interest:established restaurants closing and new restaurants opening.  
The restaurants that close can be excellent, such as Embrasse, very good such as Verge or fated such as Garcia and Son, specialty such as Tapas y Vinos or just about anything else. No matter most have been open less than three years and are run by people closely involved with the restaurant world. 
So what goes wrong?
Clearly it's complex. There are masses of good restaurants of every complexion and every price range. Everyone knows that. Everyone must also know what staff cost, what food costs, and that set ups cost might blow out. That must be no surprise. Staff of course always come and go but even if the restaurant remains fairly popular it may still fail after a time. 
Business people are not stupid so what is it that gives them the confidence to open a restaurant or cafe at a place where several others, who also thought they could run a successful business, failed.
Perhaps this triumph of optimism over good sense arises from the simplistic conclusion that, as there are so many apparently successful restaurants run by so many people who are not especially capable it must be easy.  
Blind Freddie should know it's not easy.
For those already up and running the challenge is to survive and flourish in an ever more difficult environment. The slowing of our economy may decrease the cost of money they may have borrowed but it may also decrease the amount of discretionary spending on dining out. The holiday season may provide a temporary fillip but everything is getting more expensive, petrol, utilities, staff, produce, every thing. Work practice laws and regulations are adding more pressures. Rising costs are inexorable but diners have resistance to main courses over $49, or in many cases $39 or even less so prices cannot be put up and up to cover these costs.
People may become more cautious about opening restaurants but, regardless, the inevitable result, sadly, is that we will see more and more restaurant closures.

Sake Restaurant and Bar (Southbank) 12/2012

We have now been twice to Sake and feel quite confident in declaring it to be one of the very best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. At the Eastern end of Southbank, under Hamer Hall it has replaced the indifferent Cafe Q.

Score 16/20
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne/100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC
(03) 8687 0775 ·