Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tim Ho Wan

Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok.
Kowloon, Hong Kong.

With an exterior covered in scaffolding in a dingy back street of Mong Kok, if it weren't for the mob out the front, you would barely notice it as a restaurant, let alone the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. 
Once you get up close, the story doesn't get much better, covered in photo's of their dumplings, post it notes and various press articles it doesn't have the appearance of your typical Michelin fine diner. Unlike most Michelin fine diners, there are no of reservations. You want to eat at Tim Ho Wan, be prepared to queue.
The queue system is basic but efficient, locals get a yellow menu in Cantonese, gwailo's get one in white, on it a number is written and the wait begins. Getting there around 12:45 was a bit risky, I was expecting at least a 30 minute queue, but within 20 minutes we were in with our order placed and expectations set for some great dumplings. Orders are placed upfront and we weren't game to risk being unable to re-order so we ordered what most would consider a very generous set. The interior at Tim Ho Wan matches the exterior, very basic with tables literally next to each other and not much room to move. Not a restaurant for the claustrophobic.

Without too much of a wait, first dish arrives and with this things got off to a great start, the baked pork buns were superb. The buns were very short and the bbq pork inside simply perfect. The surface of the buns were coated like the melon bread one would get a breadtop. It doesn't take long for one to forget the details of the environment realise the food here is pretty special.

Top Left - Steamed Shrimp Dumplings
Top Right - Vermicelli roll stuffed with Shrimp
Bottom - Shumai

During the course of lunch we sampled 8 dishes, with the exception the fried noodles all were exceptional. The highlights other than the baked buns were the shrimp dumplings which were possibly the best dumplings I have ever had. The filling was light and the skin translucent, firm but not chewy and not sticky, I was very glad that we ordered an extra serve.

Of course the question readers will want to know is, how cheap is the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world? Very cheap, lunch for two a mere $25 AUD total, yep, $12 each, less than the cost of one plate at some Yum Cha restaurants. 
Don't look for white linen, don't look for a wine list, just look for the one of the best value dining experiences on the planet.

Tim Ho Wan - The only way an Epic Win would be cheaper would be if it were for free.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

La Rochelle Sanno

2-10-3 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, 

Despite being out of production for over 10 years, Iron Chef still has a cult status amongst foodies around the world. Partly for being a cooking show that was about restaurant level cooking and partly because of the Japanese "campiness". It has also enjoyed years of repeats locally on SBS to the point where it was the Get Smart of Saturday night.

A trip to Tokyo for me wouldn't be complete without at least dropping in to one of the Iron Chef's restaurants. These days, the Iron Chef's are more resteraunters than chefs, but then again how many celebrity chefs aren't? In my last trip to Tokyo I managed to get to three of the restaurants owned by Iron Chefs Sakai, Kenichi and Ishinabi. This time around though with room for only one, the hard decision of going with Sakai again was made. 

This time around we went to Sakai's La Rochelle Sanno restaurant which has been open for about 18 months in a business part of Tokyo. The restaurant itself is a more modern and relaxed compared to the Minami-Aoyama restuarant and does well for it.

L: Amuse Bouche
R: Kingfish Sashimi

The food too is also more relaxed to than the last visit. It is still technical and still flavoursome, but the plating is a lot less busy and is more influenced by Japanese techniques. This was evidenced by the amuse bouche featuring a burdock soup and a first course of sashimi.

L: White asparagus wrapped prawn with caviar cream
R: Parsley crusted sea bass

The next few courses started to show a bit more French flair and technique. The asparagus wrapped prawn was definitely a winner. The prawn was ever so slightly cooked giving it a gelatinous texture and the pairing with asparagus caviar cream worked well. The parsley crusted sea bass was also another winner, the lightness of hand showed off the flavour and texture of the fish.

The final savoury course was also my favourite, chicken stuffed with bacon foie gras. The humble chicken was cooked perfectly and the filling of bacon foie gras was enough to add flavour without overpowering or leaving one feeling weighed down.

Deserts are also more relaxed in the new La Rochelle. The desert cart offered several choices of cakes, sorbets and preserved fruit. All were of high standard and the plating impeccable. In a nod to cherry blossom season, our plates were painted with sauce blossoms to reflect the season.

Overall this was an excellent lunch experience with no disappointments and impeccable service. It did make me wonder why this restaurant is overlooked a Michelin star in the Tokyo guide. Perhaps there is an anti-Iron Chef sentiment in the Michelin team as it is an excellent dining experience and would be on par with any 1 or 2 Michelin star restaurant that I have been to. I think that is endorsement enough as a restaurant to go to if you are lucky enough to get to Tokyo.

La Rochelle - Epic Win

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bar Pulpo

Melbourne International Airport (T2)
Melbourne, VIC 3045

For some reason I have never made it to MoVida, or any of the MoVida spin off's until now. It isn't because  I dislike Spanish food, quite the contrary, it is more likely to do with never being able to get a table without a queue or at a time that suits.

So finally I get the opportunity to sample some of MoVida's food at Melbourne airport, plenty of chairs the only thing required to get a table is an international boarding pass!

The layout is casual and open, not a bad move considering the luggage and carry on that the average traveller has with them. The large TV with departures though leaves you with no mistake that you are at the airport.

Food wise Movida Bar Pulpo is what one would expect, Tapas & Raciones which for the most part are under $10 and $20 respectively.

Croqueta - Win
The croqueta of leek & cheese was pleasant, not greasy, not too heavy. It would be a struggle to really improve this.

Vieira - Oven baked scallop with Jamon & Potato Foam - Middle of the Road.
The order of scallops were delivered perched on rock salt and looked very pretty. However, the subtle flavour of scallop was overpowered by the jamon. It was still enjoyable, but when jut a shame the balance wasn't quite there.

Cordoniz San Jacabo - Boned half quail filled with jamon and mahon cheese - Win
I was bitterly disappointed to miss out on the last lamb cutlet of the day, as a result I went for the quail filled with jamon and cheese as an alternative. Crunchy on the outside and ever so moist on the inside the quail has enough presence to stand up to the jamon. The only criticism was the use of thyme was a bit heavy handed.

Bar Pulpo is certainly a worthy spot to kill some time while waiting for a flight for those of us unfortunate enough not to be in a business lounge. Airport food has come a long way, shame in flight still has a long way to go.

Bar Pulpo by Movida - Win
Bar Pulpo By Movida on Urbanspoon

Prawn Star