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Stoney River, Nashville, United States

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Stoney River is a chain of about 10 steakhouses dotted mainly in the Central Eastern part of the United States. There are two in Nashville – one in Franklin near Nashville and another one in Nashville itself. I have been to the one in Nashville a couple of times and the food has always been good.

For starters, I would recommend the New England Lobster Bisque garnished with sherry. It had a strong kick of the sherry in the soup which was rich, smooth and sweet in flavour.

One of the best main courses there, in my opinion, was the coffee-cured filet mignon, cured in coffee, brown sugar and molasses. The steak  was cooked to perfection and melted in the mouth. The enjoyment was augmented by the sweetness of the molasses with the hint of coffee.

Desserts never seem to be the strong point in a meal in the USA. However, the cappuccino creme brulee with spiced pecan and berries was worth a try.

Address: 3015 West End Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee, TN 37203, United States
Telephone: +1 615-340-9550
Website: nashville.stoneyriver.com

Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 11am-2pm Lunch / 5pm-10pm Dinner ; Saturday: 4pm – 10pm ; Sunday: 11am – 3pm Lunch / 5pm – 9pm Dinner

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visits in April & November 2012 ]

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Momofuku Ko, New York City, United States

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Momofuku Ko entrance, New York City

Luck must have been on my side with my visit to Momofuku Ko. This tiny 12-seater restaurant only opens the booking at exactly 10am Eastern Time in the US 1 week in advance for dinner and 2 weeks in advance for lunch on Fridays to Sundays, and the reservation can only be made on its website. On the Friday two weeks prior to my NYC visit, I kept reminding myself to log on to the site at 3pm in London to see if I could book for lunch, and if I failed to secure the booking, then at least I would have a few more days subsequently to try again. My brain inevitably drifted to think about other things – 3pm came and went without my realisation. At 3.15pm I suddenly realised what I should have done, so I logged on, and found that there was still availability on Friday lunchtime, so I made the online booking straight away.

If I had gone for lunch or dinner on the following Saturday or Sunday, even if I could have secured the booking, I would not have been able to enjoy the meal there, as hurricane Irene hit New York that weekend, and the place was closed over the whole weekend. So I’d always remember this meal as the lunch before the hurricane weekend.

I have heard a mixture of positive and not-so-positive comments from various people – I kept an open mind, with no expectation whatsoever even at a staggering price tag of USD175 for lunch.

The restaurant entrance was probably one of the least attractive ones I have seen – with the metal grid, it looked like it’s closed down, and it’s easy to miss it unless you specifically looked out for the logo of the peach! We went in and showed the piece of paper with the reservation details, and were swiftly led to the seats at the counter (there’s no table as such) facing the open kitchen. There were already 4 diners there enjoying their lunches. While it’s interesting to sit at the counter and be able to watch all the dishes being prepared and converse with the chefs, it was uncomfortably warm for me.

We were soon joined by customers no. 7 and 8, and then the 3-hour lunch began. Here’s a run-down of the dishes. (In case you are wondering why there’s no picture of any dishes, the restaurant does not allow any photography. Also there’s no menu so the description of each dish is what I have noted down):

(1) Palm souffle with dill mayonnaise and American caviar – These resembled mini spring rolls: crispy fried pastry filled with delicious smooth mayonnaise. The roll was light and airy.

(2) Rib-eye beef with pickled okra, mint and dried jalapeno – A small but tender piece of beef served on a Chinese soup spoon, with the various flavours visiting the taste buds in turn: first the pickle, then the mint, and finally a sweet flavour from the sauce.

(3) Kushi oyster with sweet potato vinegar – This was OK but nothing distinctive to write home about I must admit.

(4) Grilled octopus with avocado wasabi cream and dried olive – The strong kick of the wasabi failed to disguise the slightly fishy taste/smell of the octopus. Not really sure if the combination of ingredients worked that well.

These first four appetisers were presented one after another in quick succession, to the point that I started to worry that either the meal would finish in an hour or we would have ended up with 30+ dishes at that speed of service.

(5) 4 types of sashimi – Long Island fluke with black bean and daikon, Hamachi with water chestnuts and peppers, Bream with chopped chives and bonito flakes, Spanish mackeral with beetroot – the four different types of fish and preparations were presented as four little portions on a long plate. The one with the best flavour was the bream.

(6) Mixed vegetable platter – Roasted carrot with rice cracker, summer salad of green beans with homemade XO sauce, Grilled Shishito pepper – The carrot was slightly too hard and would have given it a better contrast of texture with the rice cracker if it had been cooked a little bit more. The salad was refreshing with a good spicy kick of the XO sauce. The shishito pepper had a nice flavour without too much seasoning.

(7) Mushroom salad with cilantro and jalapeno dressing – another dish with spicy taste to it, and while it was interesting to see a wide range of mushrooms gathering on the plate, the jalapeno left a rather strong spicy after-taste that it just lingered in the mouth for quite a while afterwards.

Up to this point, I found that there was a higher-than-expected proportion of dishes with spicy taste and I must admit I got a bit fed up with that. While Russell was not keen on mushrooms, that mushroom salad was his favourite dish up to this point. But we both agreed that, after an hour of eating, we found that the dishes were nice but nothing that was truly outstanding.

(8) Puffed egg with bacon dashi, sliced konbu and chives – Just as we thought the meal lacked the surprise, here we were presented with one of the most pleasant surprises of the whole meal. When we saw the earlier diners being served this gigantic “matzo”-ball look-a-like dish, we were wondering what it was. The size and the look of the ball put me off because it looked like a rather stomach-filling dish. Then we discovered that this was in fact beaten egg from the whipped cream charger, and then boiled for a minute or so, before serving on the soup dish, with a bacon broth. The egg-and-bacon flavour came through so well in the dish – it almost had the same magic as Fat Duck’s famous bacon and egg ice-cream.

(9) Bento box: Halibut broth with spinach and beansprout, Grilled quail in barbeque sauce and squash slaw, Charred bak choi with black sesame, Grilled rice roll with pork fat and coarse sea salt. Instead of serving these in a proper bento box, they were served in individual dishes but arranged on the counter as if it’s a bento box. The broth had a spicy taste to it (yes, again, spicy!) but at least it had a clean and refreshing taste to it. The quail tasted like roast quail in a typical Chinese restaurant but nevertheless it had an excellent flavour and the meat was tender. The bak choi was non-descriptive and did not even look that appealing – OK, it may be supposed to look like pickled vegetable. The rice roll was delicious with the guilty pleasure of pork fat.

(10) Ravioli stuffed with sour cheese, mushroom, chorizo, pickled tomato, sweetcorn and lime – Yet more spicyness introduced into another dish! The ravioli skin was rather thick, and the dish had a strong Mediterranean flavour that I thought for a moment that I was at a tapas bar!

(11) Maine lobster with lobster mushroom, cauliflower mushroom, daikon, charred ground bean and saffron sauce – the lobster was cooked sous vide but it came out slightly too chewy which was a shame, as the dish had a very interesting mixture of flavour and texture that could have worked so well.

(12) Rabbit pate, smoked cured lamb, smoked pig face, with pickled red onion and pickled cucumber mustard – a small platter of charcuterie, with spicy taste creeping in once again.

(13) Deep fried short rib with 2 cubes of watermelon compressed with rose wine, fried eggplant with red miso, and eggplant puree – The beef was nice and tender, if somewhat too greasy because of the deep-fat frying. Luckily the watermelon cubes (looked like gigantic red dice)  were refreshing and a welcoming addition to the dish to cut through some of that grease of the meat.

By this point I was already so full that the sight of another large piece of beef (for the last 4 customers) being prepared in front of me made me feel a bit nauseous.

(14) Goat cheese sorbet, with little layered jelly cubes of pomegranate, earl grey tea, honey and milk – while I was not a fan of goat cheese at all, this dish was rather pleasant and I enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because the sorbet did not have a very overpowering taste of goat cheese, and the chewy jelly cubes with the intense flavours really made the dish stand out.

(15) Shaved Hudson Valley foie gras with lychee and pine nut brittle, riesling wine jelly – it’s one of the signature dishes of this restaurant. I was not convinced that it worked – while I liked all the ingredients individually, together I didn’t think it was a happy combination. The strong flavour of the wine was competing with the other flavours also.

(16) Pineapple sorbet, with frozen pineapple slice, dried pineapple, and house-brewed root beer – this was refreshing, with the various textures of pineapple in this dish.

(17) Toasted rice cone with miso ice-cream, sticky rice and mochi – It was light and a nice way to finish the meal.

(18) Onigiri with kim chi – this was given to us to take home, but unfortunately I only rediscovered the onigiri about 3 days after the meal, so I did not dare to eat it.

On the whole, the meal was an interesting journey of flavours and combination of ingredients, and it’s a roller-coaster ride of impressive dishes to the “nothing-to-write-home-about” dishes. I was glad to have visited the place nevertheless. The final bill, including a small bottle of sake and tips, came to a whopping USD500 for two – I am still pondering whether it’s worth this much.

While the chefs were friendly enough and did take some opportunity to chat to us briefly when they are not busy preparing the dishes, the service from the restaurant manager was colder than liquid nitrogen. While I don’t expect the staff to be ultra-friendly, but a little smile wouldn’t hurt. The thing that left a bad final impression was that when we were leaving, she just initiated a social conversation with her colleague about  3 feet away and did not even acknowledge our departure, let alone saying farewell – not something I’d expect from a Michelin-starred restaurant. Rude?

Address: 163 First Avenue (Between 10th and 11th streets), New York City, United States
Telephone: No telephone
Website: www.momofuku.com/restaurants/ko

Opening Hours: Friday-Sunday: 12:00pm-12.45pm, Daily: 6.50pm – 10.00pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 2/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in August 2011]

At Siam, London, United Kingdom

Originally I was meant to be going into Soho for a quick fix of my sushi craving on a weekday evening with Russell. Then we thought that since it’s early maybe we could get a table at Arbutus without reservation. But as we walked down Soho Square, he said “Oh there’s this new Thai restaurant on Frith Street, shall we go and have a look?” – so somehow a last-minute joint decision meant that we ended up at At Siam (@Siam)!

We were greeted by the staff as soon as we stepped through the door, even though the restaurant already had quite a few customers. The decor was less traditional Thai, but more modern design with a hint of Thai incorporated. The menu was not huge but there were more than enough dishes for us to exercise our brains in choosing.

Our starter was Ruam Mittr, an assorted selection of Thai appetisers with salad. I was surprised by the generous portion, with no less than 8 pieces of the corn fritters for a start – do they somehow know that I just love corn fritters? The yam spring rolls were interesting enough. The chicken satays did not have enough spices in the marinade, resulting in a more bland taste. The prawns and salad on the lettuce leaves tasted good and refreshing.

As soon as we finished the platter, we were presented with Yum Pu Nim Tod Krob, which was the battered soft shell crab with chilli jam and mixed vegetable salad. Maybe it would have worked better with the soft shell crab on top of the salad, with the chilli jam on the side, as the batter was rather soggy when we had it. Still, the salad was itself was good, with more unexpected ingredients like pear and pomegranates.

We had two main courses to share: Kae Padd Prik Thai Dum (stir-fried lamb with black peppers and Thai seasoning) and Gaeng Phed Ped Yang (roast duck red curry with lychees and pineapples). Both were nicely flavoured, without the spices being too over-powering. With the sticky rice to accompany these two dishes, there was no leftover.

 

On the whole this was a welcoming addition to the Thai restaurant brigade in Soho – I more or less gave up eating Thai food in Soho with the demise of Sri Siam and then Thai Pavilion quite a few years ago… But maybe now there’s one that I can go to again.

Address: 43 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4SF, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7494 4511
Website: www.atsiam.co.uk

Opening Hours: Daily: 12.00pm to 3.00pm; 5.30pm to 11.00pm

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in June 2011]

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong

April 27, 2011 1 comment

Billed as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, Tim Ho Wan is one of those places you just have to try to see what the fuss is about. So on a business trip to Hong Kong in January 2010, I simple had to go there and see for myself.

I went there first on a Friday at 3pm, thinking naively that it would be well after the lunch break but before everyone finishes work or school, so there shouldn’t be much of a queue – how wrong was I!!!! So I decided to return the next morning instead.

Saturday would always be a risky day to visit this place, knowing that many locals would be making the same trip. I had all the good intention to get there by 9.30am, half an hour before the restaurant opened. But I overslept and only just managed to get there at 10am. There was already a long queue all the way to the end of the street.

 

As the restaurant can only hold 20 customers at a time, a member of staff strolled down the queue to give out numbers and jot down the number of people in each group. The couple in front of me, numbered 30, was told that they would have to wait for at a very minimum of 1 hour and they should go for a walk in the neighbourhood and return in an hour. I was the only person in my group no. 31, and I was told that I should stay in the queue in case I could join another table and jump the queue. I was handed over a piece of paper with all the dim sum dishes, and I marked a few dishes that I fancied trying.

As people got their numbers, many disappeared off for a walk round while more people arrived, so the queue hasn’t got any longer. However, by about 10.15, the number had already got up to about 54 (it was a group of young lads from Australia), and by 10.45, the number shot to seventy-something.

Number 1 was called at about 10.50, and then there’s a rush up to no. 7 by about 11.00. Then a few minutes after that my number was called (Thanks to the lady with ticket no. 34 – she was right by the door and heard my number being called) and I was ushered to a table and joined a family of 3. The restaurant itself was tiny – it could only seat about 20 people in total at any one time.

At last minute I decided to add one more dish to my already rather greedy choice of 5 dishes, but I thought it’s worth pigging out just for the energy I used up queueing for an hour.

My first dim sum dish of the peanut and pork ribs congee arrived pretty quickly. The congee had just the right consistency – not thick as a paste, and not watery either. It was beautifully seasoned and the pork just peeled off from the bone easily. It was a promising start.

 

The next 2 dishes came more or less at the same time – the har gau (steamed prawn dumplings) and the main attraction of the restaurant, namely the baked char siu bao (roast pork buns). The dumplings were bursting with large succulent prawns, and were perfectly cooked. The buns were a real winner and did not disappoint – it’s one of the most famous dim sum dishes from this restaurant, and the twist of having a sweet baked topping instead of just the plain old steamed buns works magic – the sweetness of the topping blended in so nicely with the roast pork.

While I was happily and greedily scoffing down all the food, the staff were busy taking orders, delivering freshly made dim sums to the customers, topping up tea (a choice of pu ‘erh or shou mei) and collecting money.

Spring rolls were next – the filling was garlic, cheese and prawn. An interesting combination but I didn’t think it worked well – the garlic and cheese were just too overpowering.

 

When I finished the first four dishes, it was a rather long wait for the fifth dish – steamed beef balls with orange peel. By this time I was rather full and so I didn’t enjoy the beef balls as much – while it was soft and tender, the texture was actually a bit too soft for my liking…. it was like eating a ball of fat though it was not that greasy. And although I was no longer hungry, I managed to finish the whole dish and once again I was patiently waiting for my last dish, feeling slightly embarassed that I was sitting there with no food in front of me while there was still a large group of customers gathering outside the door waiting for their lucky numbers to be called out and watching everyone in the restaurant eating.

While I was still waiting, the family of 3 got their final order and they put the food into polystyrene boxes that the staff provided. This was the family’s fifth visit to the restaurant, and they recommended the roast pork buns as well as the Chiu Chow dumplings and Turnip cakes. They said that some people started queueing at 8am – so that’s a good 2 hours before the opening time, and that most people with numbers beyond 100 would usually have to wait until late afternoon or early evening before they could even comtemplate of eating here, and number 200 onwards would basically have no chance of eating there. They then left the restaurant at noon and I was then joined by a couple – they were no.18 in the queue!

Finally after about 10 minutes wait, my final dish arrived – it was sago pudding with taro. That was well worth the wait – the sago pudding was perfectly cooked, and the taro paste was smoothly blended into the soup base.

Once I finished the sago pudding, I promptly paid. Six dishes came to a grand total of HKD 78, which works out to HKD13 per dish ie less than USD2 or just over GBP1 per dish.

When I walked out of the restaurant, there was still many people gathering outside the door, including Mrs No. 34. I gave her instant feedback on what I thought of the dishes I had, wished her good luck and I departed.

So was it worth a visit? I am two-minded about this. It’s certainly unusual to find a Michelin-starred restaurant so cheap, the quality was very good for this rock-bottom price, and the baked roast pork buns were to die for. However, having to queue for so long (my legs were aching for the rest of the day) and the rather cramped uncomfortable seating, you’d be better off paying a little more, save the time to do other things and eat elsewhere, unless you are prepared to stand for a few hours first thing in the morning to guarantee a seat before lunchtime. Rumour has it that the restaurant will move to a bigger venue after Chinese New Year – it remains to be seen if the expanded restaurant would be able to keep up with this quality.

Address: 2-8 Kwong Wah St., Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Telephone: +852 2332 2896
Website: not available

Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 10am-10pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in January 2010]

Viajante, London, United Kingdom

April 27, 2011 1 comment

Years ago I went to a gastropub/restaurant in Hoxton called Bacchus which, at the time, was one of the most exciting eating places I had been to, with dishes that were so out-of-the-ordinary and well executed. The head chef was Nuno Mendes, hailed as the next most exciting chef to watch out for in the UK since Heston Blumenthal. Then the place disappeared, and Nuno Mendes did various things on the opposite side of London that I didn’t take much notice, until he opened Viajante in East London, and then I decided to pay a visit again. It has taken a few attempts to get there, as every time I wanted to book for dinner (even quite well in advance), I didn’t manage to secure a table at the time I wanted.

The website did not give away any hints on the menu – the only thing was that for the 12-course menu, the booking must be for 8pm. That didn’t bother me and so I booked a table for one Sunday evening in September.

The restaurant was set in a town hall in Bethnal Green. With its high ceiling, the place felt pretty spacious. Not long after we ordered, the food started arriving….

(1) House sashimi – Interesting dish that played with the mind. I expected “sashimi” meant that the dish was based on raw fish, but there’s grilled peppers in there which gave a similar texture and confused my mind and taste-bud.

(2) Grilled broad beans – slightly on the dry side, and a rather unmemorable dish otherwise.

(3) Thai explosion II – this was a fish mousse sandwiched between two wafers. Interesting texture and the flavour did have a strong hint of the Far East.

(4) Razor clam, red pepper and pumpkin seeds – I love razor clams but this dish didn’t wow me.

(5) Bread

(6) Botan ebi, smoked yogurt and rosemary

(7) Tomatoes, water, mozzarella and strawberries – very interesting combination and a refreshing dish.

(8) Scallop, pickled cucumber and celery juice

(9) Wild mushrooms and artichoke, cured belly and pine nut milk – Full of flavour and it was one of the better dishes.

(10) Charred leeks, white asparagus, hazelnuts and milk skin – a bit of a messy presentation and the overall taste was OK but not great.

(11) Braised salmon skin and fried aubergine – Could have been mistaken this as a dish from a Japanese restaurant. It was good, but not so original.

(12) King crab with chicken jus and spicy paste – It was a little bland and I wasn’t sure if the texture worked either. For some reasons it looked more like processed chicken roll.

(13) Iberico pig neck, langoustine and broth – This was probably one of the best dishes in the whole meal. The pig neck could have been slightly more tender but it was nicely flavoured without one ingredient overpowering the others.

(14) Halibut, confit yolk, courgette ribbons and sofrito – it was a shame that the halibut was overcooked but the combination of the ingredients was well thought out.

(15) Squab, beetroot yoghurt and pistachio praline – the squab was cooked well but not spectacular. Interesting mixture of flavours.

(16) Green tea and shiso – a refreshing start to the desserts.

(17) Blueberries, goat’s curd, lemon thyme and caramel – I wasn’t sure about the combination went well together. The ingredient that I enjoyed most was the blueberries unfortunately.

(18) Panna cotta ice cream, yoghurt, crumbled oats, hazelnuts, thai basil and apple – presentation was somewhat messy and despite the contrast in texture, there’s not much taste to this.

(19) Petit fours

Maybe I was expecting too much after Bacchus. However after the whole meal I felt that the standard had gone backwards. For something as experimental as this, I did not expect to like every single dish. But the hit rate seemed to be rather low this time.

Address: Patriot Square, London E2 9NF, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7871 0461
Website: www.viajante.co.uk

Opening Hours: Daily 12:00-14:30 & 19:00-23:30

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in September 2010]

Uma Restaurant, Berlin, Germany

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I was in Berlin for a conference and I just felt anti-social one evening, so I decided to go out on my own and find a restaurant to spend a quiet evening. Uma caught my attention with its Western-Japanese fusion cuisine. The location was very convenient also – it was just on the southern side of the Hotel Adlon Kempinski by the Brandenburg Gate.

The decor was impressive, with a Chinese clay horse presiding right in the middle of the restaurant. However the restaurant itself was like a death-trap, with the low lighting and the unexpected steps scattered around.

There were many choices on the menu to satisfy most people. Some dishes are more South-East Asian than Japanese, but there’s one theme throughout – there’s always a Westernised twist to the dishes. It took me a while to decide what to have, as there were just too many dishes I wanted to try.

The amuse-bouche was Cucumber Mousse & Lemongrass Foam with Paprika – the mixture of hot and cool (both in temperature and flavour) was interesting: the spicyness of the paprika combined with the coolness of cucumber, covered by a thick layer of foam.

My first course was Aubergine with Teriyaki Sauce and Bonita Flakes. When the waitress proudly presented the dish to me, I said to her that I didn’t order the Japanese pizza, but aubergine. She then said “oh really?” Well, yes! Suspiciously enough, my aubergine dish turned up a short while afterwards. The mistake was forgiven as the fish was flavoursome and the aubergine was nicely cooked through. Very enjoyable.

The main course was Black Cod with Yuzu and Ginger. The wonderful fragrance of the dish was let down by the uneven cooking of the fish – part of it was too dry while another part was fine. The flavour was also not evenly distributed, resulting in some parts of the fish with overpowering taste. I ordered a bowl of steamed rice to go with the fish – there was a generous sprinkle of sesame on top of the rice which was certainly not Japanese rice – American long-grain perhaps?

For dessert, I ordered Liquid Chocolate Souffle with Green Tea & Vanilla Ice-Cream. Not really a Japanese dessert in any way, but at least the souffle had a nice gooey liquid chocolate centre. So it was a satisfying finish to the meal.

On the whole, the food was good – it was really just been let down by the fish and the rice. Service was good though the attitude of the waitresses could have come across a little less cold – it’s not as if they were rude or anything, just lacking that welcoming friendliness in a Japanese place.

Address: Behrenstraße 72, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Telephone:  +49 30 30 11 17 324
Website: www.uma-restaurant.de

Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 18.00 – 23.00

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in October 2010]