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Posts from the ‘China’ Category

How Not to Eat a Pork Chop Bun in Macau

Food-wise, Macau is known for egg tarts, jerky,
suckling pig and pork chop buns–at least those are my  associations. On my
previous two visits to the former Portuguese colony Tai Lei Loi Kei's well-known pork chop
bun eluded me because it's one of those classic chowhoundish follies: off the
main tourist drag, super-specific hours, long lines and daily sell-outs. I
never made it over to Taipa Village.

Except that now the tourist-packed enclave abutts the ever-expanding
casino district, Cotai  (a portmanteau of the two neighboring areas: Coloane and Taipa) that barely
existed when I was in Macau in 2008. It
also turned out that hallowed Tai Lei Loi Kei was right across the street (granted,
a major multi-lane thoroughfare) from the sprawling Galaxy complex where I
staying (and wasn't allowed to see the world's largest rooftop wave pool because of post-typhoon storms, not even a peek) an exemplary illustration of the collision of old and new/local
culture and Americanization that I enjoy so much. And yet I still did not get my
Tai Lei Loi Kei bun…

The internet is rife with misleading information (and not
just from trolly hurricane douches). Tai Lei Loi Kei hadn't closed and it
hadn't moved into The Venetian. Accuracy, people.

Venetian tai lei loi kei

Uh, not yet, at least.

Lord stow's venetian macau

There was a Lord Stow's Bakery, however–another example
of a once small local business (selling egg tarts, in this case) getting modern
and mall-y. They also have branches in Japan, Korea and the Philippines.

Venetian macau food court

The casino food court was highly impressive, though,
with the same false summer blue sky and gondola-filled canals as in Las Vegas–just a hell of a lot
bigger overall. Seriously. The biggest in the world with 546,000 square feet vs. Vegas'
measly 120,000.

Exterior mcsorley's ale house macau

Plus, there was a frat-free McSorley's that kind of
blew my American-brands-abroad-loving  mind.

Taipa walkway

So, the morning before heading back to Hong Kong we
took the hotel's free shuttle bus to Taipa Village, which was, yes, just across
the street. They don't make it easy for pedestrians in a lot of modernizing cities,
which is why there was also a shuttle bus to The Venetian, across another
street on the other side. Maybe the oppressive humidity and sudden bursts of
rain also contribute to the aversion to walking? (Keep in mind that 99% of the tourists are Chinese, not the stereotypically lazy, blobby Americans everyone hates.)

San hou lei pork chop sandwich

 Thinking I was shit out of luck on Tai Lei Loi Kei, original
spot shuttered and not yet open in The Venetian, I sought out San Hou Lei (one of
many other pork chop bun purveyors–they're not that scarce) and ended up with
a pork chop sandwich on crustless white bread instead. Language barriers, they are

San hou lei exterior

There were some cute howling cats pacing in the front of the cafe, though (sadly, you can't see them with the window glare).

I want this cat shirt

On the subject of cats, a souvenir-shopper down the street had a shirt that I wanted.

Cat in a monkey shirt

Not to be confused with a cat in a shirt I
encountered in Bangkok a few days later. But this is about Macau.

Pork chop bun stand

There was a curry pork chop bun stall along the main
shopping arcade with a name I couldn't read because it was only in Chinese.

Curry pork chop bun

The sandwiches couldn't be more simple: a thin grilled
pork chop, this version sprinkled with curry powder, on a Portuguese roll. I add chile oil to mine. Unlike the McRib, there are actually bones in the cutlet.

Kafelaku coffee

Next door was a cafe selling civet poop coffee. I
couldn't taste anything radical in this expensive $6 cup, but when presented
with the opportunity to try kopi luwak you must partake.

Kopi luwak beans

A container of beans cost the equivalent of $168. Pre-digested coffee does not come cheap.

After dawdling and trying two unintended pork
chops between bread, we realized we needed to get back to the hotel to catch a
shuttle to the ferry to make it to Hong Kong by 8pm (yes, pork chop buns are what caused me to miss my original reservation at The Chairman) and in the rush back
guess what we found, merely a block from the crosswalk (the only such
concession to walkers on the entire busy road) leading straight to The Galaxy? I would've gone on day 1 if knew it was so close (Google Maps couldn't find it).

Tai lei loi kei

Tai Lei Loi Kei, totally open, and well before 3pm,
the much publicized time when buns supposedly become available.  Internet, you lie. Partially out of fullness
and a little out of spite and heat exhaustion, I didn't even bother buying one. At this point I was
over Tai Lei Loi Kei.  I will never speak of Macanese pork chop buns again after this post.

Tai lei loi kei moving to venetian

a sign advertising a branch in The Venetian.

The Chairman

The Chairman was nothing like I thought it would be.
That name, right? As pointed out in the Times' recent Yunnan Kitchen review, locally sourced,
organic products haven't been adopted by Chinese restaurants in NYC the way
that other cuisines have. The same is true in China, itself, and by extension, Hong

So, when I read about free-range chicken from The
New Territories and soy sauce brewed in Kowloon, I pictured communal salvaged
wood tables, subway tiles and cocktail programs because I've been in Brooklyn
too long.

The chairman upstairs

In reality, The Chairman is just a restaurant, a
little upscale, neither flashy nor run-down (crab art on the walls!) with good service (shockingly
affable for Hong Kong) slightly away from the hubbub of Long Fai Kwong at the
end of a quiet street with no outlet.

The absence of abalone and shark's fin on the menu
(they'll make them if you want them) also gave me pause, in a good way. I almost skipped The Chairman due to my ambivalence
about Cantonese food, particularly on the higher end. Status markers like the aforementioned
duo plus XO sauce and birds nests aren't for me, and the austere purity of a
double boiled soup or barely sweetened desserts teeming with legumes are above
my head. I can't appreciate a glossy arranged plate of mushrooms and bok choy

Normally I hate over-explainers, but it was a
novelty for a Chinese restaurant. The service was unusual (they also accommodated a last-minute switch to Sunday night–many HK restaurants are closed on Sundays–when a travel snafu caused me to miss my original Saturday night reservation) in that our server,
an older gentleman with a British name, seemed genuinely excited about the
food,  describing everything and being
helpful by suggesting half portions unprompted when we showed interest in items
that would've been too big for two.

We just had tea, in other words, no drinks, which is unusual for me at dinner on vacation, but I
don't travel well and it was that thing where you're so tired that drinking has
no effect (I'd had Sazeracs beforehand at no-vowel, kind of pricey, The Blck Brd,
which was in a more Brooklyn vein, oh, and four hours of unlimited champagne at the Intercontinental brunch).

The chairman smoked baby pigeon with longjing tea & chrysanthemum

Our baby pigeon was missing its head, an omission that
may have been intentional to protect our delicate Western sensibilities (photos
I've seen online are beak and all). Headless or not, the little crisp bird was
smoked with longjing tea and served with pickled onions, a non-Cantonese touch
that balanced some of the richness. There was also a chrysanthemum component,
though it blurred with the green tea flavor (also, I don't know what the flower
tastes like).

The chairman fresh flowery crab with aged shaoxing wine & fragrant chicken oil

Fresh flowery crab with aged shaoxing wine and  fragrant chicken oil is a signature dish, and
rightfully impressive–look at that face. The mottled crustacean arrives assembled
but already cracked, behind ripples of fat rice noodles. Not an easy chopstick
dish. The sauce was strongly winey yet still smooth, pleasingly bitter and
borderline fermented, just a little funk, almost like nothing I'd tasted before…almost,
half-way through I realized it reminded me of fondue if fondue could be
creamless. If your eyes were closed, I'm not sure that you'd recognize this
dish as Chinese. Combined with the flakes of crab meat and the noodles, it was
like the idealized seafood pasta I never actually get from an Italian
restaurant.  I was resisting my American
urge to clean my plate and trying to be more New York by leaving noodles behind
to save room for the rest of the meal (four-hour brunch, remember) but they
wouldn't clear our plate. The remainders started getting cold. The staff seemed
concerned. Eventually our server came over and divvied up the uneaten noodles and
scraped the roe clinging to the crab shell onto our plates. Rookies.

The chairman stir-fried snap beans with mushrooms

We would've felt guilty not ordering vegetables.
There were like fifty different types of mushrooms–that bacon-looking blob is
fungi–and freshly shelled peas in this dish.

The chairman braised spareribs with preserved plums in caramelized black vinegar

This is a half-order (they were bigger than they appear
here) of the spareribs coated in caramelized black vinegar and preserved plums
and garnished sweet potato chips. It's a fancy sweet and sour sauce, and
therefore, pretty lovable.

This was one of my favorite meals during my quick
stint in Hong Kong because the food and approach, a mix of humble and high-brow
with an emphasis on ingredients over glitz,  isn't really like any restaurant I've
experienced there.

The Chairman * 18 Kau U Fong, Hong Kong

Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan is famously the cheapest Michelin-starred
restaurant on earth. At least the original Kowloon location is, but there was
no way I was testing out the blog-chronicled two-hour-waits while on vacation.
I get enough of that nonsense in NYC, thanks. The snazziest branch is on the
Hong Kong side of Victoria Harbour in the IFC mall. I went for the
lesser-trafficked Kowloon location (The Guardian recently filmed a video there)
a bit higher up the subway line in Yau Ma Tei, which appeared to be a district
made up of blocks and blocks of toy and children's clothing wholesalers.

Tim ho wan yau ma tei

There was still about a 15-minute wait, but not so

Tim ho wan pork buns

This is dim sum, by the way, non-skippable in Hong
Kong even if only in town for two days like me. I couldn't even tell you the
best because there are just so many choices and it depends on if you want luxe
or old-school; many fall somewhere in the middle, and most now serve fresh dim
sum cooked on demand after checking boxes on a piece of paper instead of the
cart method that Americans have grown to like.

Tim ho wan pork bun

Often a restaurant is known for a specialty or two.
At Time Ho Wan it's undoubtedly the place for pork buns with a crackly shortening-and-sugar
enriched topping that bakes down into a barely golden, flaky crust. A softness without
fluff. I'd say they're a relative of the Mexico buns I was obsessed with on my
last Hong Kong visit. I don't consider buns chopstick food, but tried to do as
my fellow diners, using the little bowl to park it and taking awkward nibbles
before I dropped the floppy mound onto the spoon.

Tim ho wan shrimp dumplings

Hong Kong is modern, British-influenced, and all
that but there is still a substantial language barrier, and outside of the
central areas, foreigners still get stared at like you're in rural China or
something. I felt the eyes, and then a heap of trouble arose when I tried
asking for chile sauce for the shrimp dumplings.

Tim ho wan tonic medlar & petal cake

The table next to us, which being separated by
half-an-inch meant we may as well been dining with the middle-aged couple, had
a dish, so after futile attempts at asking for chile sauce I pointed at theirs.
And what I ended up with was the only thing on the fairly short menu that I
really, really didn't want to eat. I'm not crazy about eating flowers, but go
along with it at high end restaurants since it's en vogue and unavoidable, but
not with my dim sum! Um, so three wedges of the so-called Tonic Medlar & Petal
Cake were given to me. It's basically Jello with chewy bits of…I don't even
know. Apparently, medar is a fruit but these were dried petals and I think wolfberries suspended in
gelatin not fruit. Anyway, it was fine, and I ate it, but it was no cake and
did nothing for the Chinese dessert image problem.

Tim ho wan shrimp rolls

Shrimp rolls. I should've gotten the pork liver
version, but it slipped my mind.

Tim ho wan spare ribs

Spareribs with black beans.

I briefly considered getting another order of pork
buns to go, but after than medlar mishap I wasn't taking any chances.

Tim Ho Wan * 9-11 Fuk Wing St., Hong Kong


The Chinese aren’t the most sentimental people. Mainlanders only recently started to fetishize the past with the creation of Maoist, peasant-themed eateries. It takes a more Westernized city like Hong Kong to name a high end restaurant Hutong after the maze-like back alley dwellings rapidly being demolished in Beijing.

I avoided slick restaurants on vacation (Robuchon, while expensive, was more garish-regal) but for our final evening in Asia I wanted to do the whole guidebook-approved fancy cocktails and dinner overlooking the skyline. And you’ll end up paying for that, no getting around it. Not only are the Chinese un-sentimental, they have no problem requiring customers to spend set minimums. At Aqua, one floor above Hutong on 29, you are must spend HK$120 to enjoy the atmosphere. No one ever need encourage me to order two drinks (which easily added up to more than the $16 rule) so that wasn’t a problem.

It did seem odder to set a number (HK$300/US$39) at a chic restaurant. I’ve never encountered practices like sharing fees and $10 per person musts at diners and the like. But I knew this going in based on the confirmation email that also spelled out the no short, slippers or sleevelessness (for men only, I would think) policy. I can see dirty backpackers being a problem in Bangkok but Hong Kong doesn’t really attract the bumming around element. Or maybe they are trying to keep out those pesky Chinese who wouldn’t stop wearing pajamas in public even for the Olympics.

Unfortunately, I goofed off like a good tourist taking copious photos of the glowing red and blue interior and picture window view so poor I was forced to delete them. At 8pm, they start a laser light, pyrotechnic show, “A Symphony of Lights” in Victoria Harbor (and we think the Empire State Building periodically changing color themes is hot shit) which is hard to ignore. In no time I got a red battery low signal that had me panicked over missing shots of our last supper.

I greatly prefer the strong flavors of Northern Chinese food over the pure delicateness Cantonese is known for or else I would’ve booked a place like Lung King Heen, recently bestowed with three Michelin stars. I’ll eat atmospherics right up too; the wire bird cages that sit on each round antique carved wood table until diners arrive and they’re whisked away, the dim cavernous space with outer edges divvied up into mysterious private nooks and even the rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” orchestrated on plinky Chinese string instruments. The cover was almost as good as the first time I heard Musak version of “Hungry Like the Wolf” piped into a Hallmark two decades ago.

Crispy yuppies

The food wasn’t anything like the upscale Chinese that plagues NYC. The Waikyas, Buddakans, I don’t know, maybe Shang (I haven’t tried it yet but have higher hopes). Hutong served Chinese food that was actually good. And being Hong Kong, items you’d never see on an American glossy menu—marinated pig’s throats, lamb organ soup, lots of salty egg yolks and crab roe—were right at home. I’m still not certain what “crispy yuppies” are. I’d guess a fish, as
this dish was listed in the seafood section, but that could also be
because it sounds like guppies.

Hutong crab daikon rolls

Family-sized portions provided way more than I had expected. Thankfully, the chilled daikon crab meat rolls were light. The sweet-vinegary edamame cabbage slaw on the right was a freebie relish/appetizer.

Hutong boneless lamb ribs

Lamb ribs were a signature dish and present on nearly every table. I acquiesced. I would be good with these crackly skinned, lightly fatty slabs replacing pork belly as cut of choice. If I’m correct, the meat is de-boned and slow cooked while the skin is fried separately then reconstructed. Accompaniments included crushed garlic, julienned scallion whites and a soy based sauce. The sharp raw garlic and onions helped cut the natural sweetness.

Hutong sichuan fish head

The fish head wasn’t on anyone’s table, and got lots of ogling from the Middle Eastern couple sitting near us who asked the waiter what we had. I’ve never encountered a Sichuan fish head preparation and am not sure whether it’s traditional or not. Who cares? The sauce tasted salty and hot from chile bean paste and was enriched with minced pork, very much like a ma po tofu preparation.

Hutong green bamboo shoots

The last surviving photo from Hong Kong/Singapore/Macau extravaganza 2008. My battery died immediately after I snapped this shot of the “jade” bamboo shoots. Not only did these taste amazing, they also were incredibly pretty, pale green and glistening. I thought they had forgotten this dish since it arrived half-way through the meal; there was no rhyme or order to the courses. I could’ve sworn these were cooked in butter as they tasted salty and rich, though the menu only said wok-fried with no clues. I’m not crazy about gloopy cornstarch-thickened vegetables so these were perfect.

We did the high in the sky, bar with a view sandwich (or is that a bookend) and had a few nightcaps at Felix, famous for its window-facing urinal in the men’s room. I had no idea how tiny—one long table and a curving leather banquette off to the side of the circular counter–the Philippe Starck-designed bar was. Or how much the peach and pistachio pudding color scheme enhanced by underlit marble reminded me of ‘80s Santa Fe style with a dash of Golden Girls’ Miami. It never looks like that in photos, though. It’s quite possible that my observation skills were dulled by too much food and drink.

Hutong * 1 Peking Rd., 28/F, Hong Kong

Yunyan Szechuan Restaurant

I had to keep postponing my desired Sichuan meal because I didn't think my stomach could handle it. By our last day in Hong Kong I just gave up and risked a lunch anyway.

Yunyan was a nearby backup plan (plan A, San Xi Lou, seemed like a pain to navigate at the last minute on public transportation) on the fourth floor in a mall that housed a disproportionate amount of Japanese retailers: Muji, Uniqlo and Sekiguchi (the Monchichi store that I bring up often as possible).

Yunyan szechuan restaurant

I had read in Time Out Hong Kong, I think, about a spicy intestine dish they served. What I didn't realize was that even though Chong Qing wasn't in the name or description, it's exactly the same preparation as Chong Qing chicken, which we also ordered. D'oh.

Yunyan sichuan pork intestines

We ended up with two massive plates heaped with dried chiles, one with hidden bits of fried chicken cubes to sift through with chopsticks and the other studded curled with porky tubes.

Yunyan chong qing chicken

I always enjoy a good intestine, but am better acquainted with Argentine grilled chinchulines. These must've been quite fatty because they crisped right up, the soft inner layer only making an appearance after an initial crackly bite. And yes, the heat level was high. In the US, the intimidating pile of chiles is often more decorative than fiery. The heat never seems to transfer from pod to protein. Not the case here.

Yunyan dan dan noodles

The tongue-numbing properties were also amped up to that buzzy point where your mouth starts tasting metallic. You really need other flavors for balance and we didn't have those. The two closely related entrees were so strong that the dan dan (spelled tan tan here) noodles seemed sweet and soothing by comparison, probably from the sesame paste and maybe a touch of sugar.

A green vegetable, any vegetable is seriously lacking from this meal. But we were afraid of over ordering since leftovers are troublesome on vacation. What we ended up doing was adding the remaining intestines to the chicken pile, got it to go, wrapped the Styrofoam container in serious plastic and brought it back home with us on the plane. This was totally not my idea, though I'll admit that after 15 hours of flying with a head cold and coming home to an apartment with bare cupboards, a few nibbles of day-old mouth-burning Sichuan organs was kind of fortifying.

One of the more photographically comprehensive posts I found about this restaurant, resides on the blog of an eight-year-old. Yes, an eight-year-old.

Yunyan Szechuan Restaurant * Miramar Shopping Centre, 132 Nathan Rd. 4/F, Hong Kong

Mak’s Noodle

1/2 Maybe Mak's is to wonton noodles what Katz's is to pastrami sandwiches. It's a classic, touristy or not. I lamed out a bit by not trying the original location, but one in a Kowloon mall instead. We had to make a few concessions on this vacation, sometimes choosing closer restaurants over potentially more authentic ones.

Mak's noodle kowloon

Honestly, I'm not enough of a wonton noodle connoisseur to nitpick over nuances in broth and dough elasticity. I happen to love New York Noodletown's roast pork noodle soup with shrimp wontons, which might not pass muster in Hong Kong.

Mak's shrimp dumpling soup

The hallmarks of Mak's is a soup base made from dried fish and pork bones, which lends a robust flavor, and small serving size supposedly to keep the noodles from getting soggy. I think it's the perfect portion because on vacation I like having double meals for maximum sampling. A normal bowl could easily be twice the size of what's pictured. The amusing thing is that everyone around us who had ordered soup from different restaurants in the food court had bigger bowls and still finished before we did. Granted, I'm a slowpoke, but Chinese are no nonsense eaters.

Mak's dumping interior

I tried a bowl with dumplings and wontons, not knowing the difference between the two. It appeared that wontons are the compact shrimp-filled pockets you commonly find while dumplings are larger and stuffed with two whole shrimp and chopped mushrooms.

Mak's beef brisket soup

Here's a version with beef brisket. I would've had this if I hadn't just had a surprisingly good room service rendition a few night's previously.

Mak's Noodle * 33 Canton Rd. 2/F, Hong Kong

West Villa

There were so many meals to squeeze into four days in Hong Kong that we only managed dim sum once. I chose West Villa based on strange criteria: the presence of something called “Mexico buns.” A custard-topped pork bun that I can only guess got its name from its vague resemblance to a concha. Really obscure, though, because pan dulce, not to mention Mexicans, are nonexistent in China.

West villa interior

What I hadn’t really considered is that Mexico bun is the English interpretation of cha xiu ma xi co bao, which wouldn’t be spelled phonetically but in Chinese characters, duh. The staff didn’t speak English. Luckily, they did have bilingual check off cards, though nothing called Mexico bun appeared. Um, and I messed things up. I originally put a 1 next to five items, then thought that looked weird so tried changing to an X, but stopped after two—pork buns and shrimp asparagus dumplings–because the squiggles resembled nonsensical asterisks. And guess which two dishes never arrived at our table?

West villa roast pork

I was under the impression that West Villa was known for their char siu and anything containing the roast pork. Here it is in its pure sweet, fatty lacquered form, nothing like the tough, dried out version found so often in the states.

West villa shrimp rolls

Rice rolls with super plump shrimp.

West villa boneless stuffed chicken wings

Fried boneless chicken wings stuffed with minced pork and mushrooms, I think. The preserved vegetables were a nice touch.

Still no shrimp dumplings or pork buns, though. After nearly half and hour we asked one of the waitresses for an order of pork buns, thinking they must have forgot. Every other table had them so we knew they were must-haves. It seemed like she understood us but 15 minutes later it was clear we still weren’t getting them. We flagged her down again and this time she brought over the English-speaking manager. We once again asked for an order of pork buns, politely, I might add, which seriously pissed her off and she started violently cleaning up our table and banged around the plates extra loud to prove some sort of point that was completely lost on us. Seriously? So much trauma over stupid pork buns. We weren’t about to leave without them after waiting so long.

West villa pork buns

I don’t want to say these were worth the wait because no one should have to spend 45 minutes anticipating a single dim sum order. But they were pretty amazing, no question. The first I noticed was that they were warm, straight from the oven, something you never get with cart dim sum (which seems to be the preference of New Yorkers but not so much with Hong Kongers). Secondly, these weren’t regular pork buns, tan and bready with a shiny top. The finish was pale, dull and crunchy, created by a light sugar coating barely perceptible to the eye. I should’ve shown a cross-section of the insides but I was too busy eating to stop for a photo.

West Villa * Lee Gardens Two, 28 Yun Ping Rd. 2/F, Hong Kong

Harbourside at The InterContinental

Update: I re-visted in July 2012 and the buffet is still awesome and pretty much the same, minus the price (it's closer to $100 now) but you don't need a whole rundown. Instead, I have a newer set of photos.

* * *

Ok, I just dubbed StraitsKitchen the most awesome buffet in the universe. That title is now taken. Maybe The InterContinental hosts the most Decadent buffet in the universe. Yes, $80 (approximate, based on the current exchange rate) is crazy but you could recoup that in champagne, lobster and foie gras, alone.

I made sure to take advantage of the free flowing bubbly (Moet & Chandon, no generic sparkling wine). I'm stereotyping but I can say with great certainty that the majority of the clientele drank no more than two glasses; it's not a big drinking culture plus that whole "Asian flush" thing. But the waiter will refill as long as you keep downing them, though after the fourth or fifth glass (hey, flutes are small) they do ask before automatically topping off.

Intercontinental buffet plate one

Plate one: half lobster (people were seriously grabbing like two whole lobsters at a time-I was very restrained), salmon mousse, scallop of some sort, a circle of foie gras topped with a thin square of dark chocolate and assorted cold seafood.

Intercontinental buffet seafood

I enjoyed the chilled seafood station. The middle shelf was filled with lobsters just minutes before.

Intercontinental buffet plate two

Plate two: in the back is seared foie gras with a apple chutney (they are obsessed with foie gras everywhere and way generous with it), jamon Iberico (there was a carving station with three different Spanish hoof-on, whole leg hams), peking duck, "surf and turf," a toast with steak, mushroom and lobster claw meat and shrimp tempura.

Intercontinental buffet plate three

Plate three: more lobster, shrimp, squid and dried scallop dish.

Intercontinental buffet sashimi

I also got some sashimi with this round. Tuna, and maybe mackerel. I forget since this was almost a month ago.

Intercontinental buffet peking duck

Peking duck "action station" with dim sum, soup and assorted self-serve warm dishes in the background.

Intercontinental buffet plate four

Plate four: peking duck redux, cashews, a different Spanish ham and French cheese, one was Comte.

Intercontinental buffet desserts

I didn't really capture the sheer volume of goodies in the dessert section. As you will note, they had both white and milk chocolate fountains.

Intercontinental buffet plate five

Plate five: aqua green macaron, random cake, dinosaur egg-looking goodie, lemon coconut pastry, lime tart and cheesecake in the center. While picking at our sweets, we were kindly informed by our server that the buffet would be closing in ten minutes so we should make a quick final run. 3pm already? I have no idea how three hours passed so quickly.

I probably only sampled 15% of what was on offer. I don't like filling up on pastas or heavy meaty dishes. And I never eat congee, yogurt or granola at breakfast buffets because it just doesn't seem worth it. Oh, or d.i.y. Caesar salad, which seems very popular at Asian buffets.

It wasn't until we left that we realized the jazzy lite music serenading us all morning was actually being played by humans.

Harbourside at The InterContinental * 70 Mody Rd.,  Hong Kong

Robuchon a Galera

The first-ever Hong Kong and Macau Michelin guide was released the very week we were in those two places. It’s not as if I was going to rearrange my plans based on this new intel. As it turned out we already had reservations at two two-stars: Yung Kee and Hutong, and more felicitously, Robuchon a Galera, one of only two three-stars in the book (Lung King Heen, whose chef is profiled in this weekend’s Times is the other).

Robuchon a galera entrance

Do you think they’d doll up an entryway at a Parisian Robuchon in this manner? I did appreciate how seriously the Chinese took Christmas.

Anyone who knows anything about this oddly placed Robuchon in the gloriously overwrought, Liberache-style Hotel Lisboa knows that lunch is a staggering bargain. $200+ shark’s fin and abalone chef’s menus would be lost on me. The set lunch provides a sample of what the kitchen is capable of in five courses for a more palatable HK$ 538 ($69). Fewer courses are available for $42 and $54 but why limit yourself? We wanted the full appetizer, soup, fish, meat and dessert experience.

Hotel lisboa contraption
We also wanted the mildy seedy Hotel Lisboa experience, if only for one night, to soak in the ambience…and carcinogens. I would call bullshit on the Times’ currently popular third-hand smoke article, if it weren’t for the headache and chest pain-inducing properties of our room’s ashtray aroma. And then our first-hand smoking (I rarely smoke anymore, though just like not abiding dietary restrictions on vacation I also enjoy a cigarette or two when out of town) only upped the ante. My disappointment at not encountering any of the fabled Russian hookers hooker lingering in the lobbies and casinos was almost mitigated by the bedside wooden console that controlled the lights and played AM radio-quality Chinese stations.

The wine list was crazy. The hefty tome was bereft of bottles under three digits. No one around us even had alcoholic beverages, though. As we discovered on numerous dining occasions, Asians aren’t big drinkers. Even in casinos everyone sipped hot tea rather than booze. With Robuchon doing like the locals would’ve been a wise move. Two cocktails and two glasses of champagne nearly jacked our bill an extra $100 (and I naively said lunch would be my treat).

Robuchon a galera apple amuse

Apple granita amuse. Yes, that’s dry ice-induced smoke beneath the plate. Very dramatic.

Robuchon a galera foie gras & marinated mushrooms

Lightly smoked foie gras on top of marinated mushrooms with virgin olive oil. Though the thinly sliced fungus takes up more visual room than the curls of liver, the creamy foie gras, with yes, a hint of smoke, was the dominant ingredient.

Robuchon a galera japanese egg yolk ravioli

Japanese egg yolk in herb ravioli, watercress and warm sea urchin in its own juice. This was not my appetizer, but I’m including alternating photos for variety’s sake.

Robuchon a galera spicy crab bisque

Crab bisque spicy with Espelette pepper under aniseed emulsion. We both chose this saline soup and like pouring the smooth bisque over the foam ourselves. The crab meat-encrusted crackers were a nice accompaniment. I’m not sure what to make of the little blue gem on the tray, however.

Robuchon a galera seafood in coral broth

Scallop, squid and shrimp in coral broth and flavored with basil. I do not know what they mean by coral. You don’t actually cook with those sea polyps, do you? I just realized that I chose two creamy seafood courses in a row. I can’t help liking that rich, delicate combination. Last night I had $16 lobster ravioli at Carrabba’s, which tasted like what you’d expect from an Italian chain restaurant. The truly amazing thing about this three-star seafood medley is that it only cost $14, technically.

Robuchon a galera sea bass wtih beet jus

Back of sea bass on crispy skin with braised fennel and beetroot jus.

Robuchon a galera lamb rack with oriental fragrance

Roasted lamb rack with oriental fragrance, with samosas medley and coriander pesto. This was actually a lot of food, not tiny portions. Normally, I can power through a tasting menu but this lamb was so unctuous and rich that I had to pass off a number of slices to James (no, I can’t just leave food on the plate). What they call “Oriental fragrance” is Indian spicing: garam masala, coriander and cumin. The mini samosas were filled with a cheese-spinach blend. The off-white blob on the left is the famous impossibly buttery Robuchon potatoes that James has tried recreating at home. He ordered the beef because it came with potatoes and he thought he would get these. Instead, our server came over with a big dish of them and doled out a small spoonful on my plate while he received a different style of potato, altogether.

Robuchon a galera wagyu beef cheek

Braised “Wagyu” beef cheek, aromatic pepper with Dauphine-style creamed potatoes. Despite coming in an individual cast iron crock like the mashed potatoes did in Vegas, these were more like scalloped potatoes. James described the meat as tasting like Salisbury steak. The horror. I think he meant the soft texture, which I would call closer to pot roast. That’s what a cheek is like.

Robuchon a galera dessert trolly

Then came the big decision: dessert or cheese? I’d been savoried to death and we had been eyeballing the dessert trolley all afternoon.

Robuchon a galera dessert selection

I chose baba au rhum, caramel ice cream and a profiterole tower.

Robuchon a galera candy trolly

I knew there was an insane Willy Wonka-esque candy trolley in addition to the regular dessert cart and started fretting when I didn’t see it being rolled around. It was James who anxiously asked, “Isn’t there a candy trolley, too?” “Yes, it’s coming,” reassured our waitress, laughing a bit. We didn’t want to get short-changed on sugar. It didn’t go to every table, though, which made me wonder if you did have to ask for it. Or perhaps others had already had their fill and didn’t bother.

Robuchon a galera candy selection

We shared marshmallows, nougat and a lollipop. The choices were so overwhelming that when it came down to it I didn’t know what to pick.

Robuchon brush

I thought the padded purse stool was the most unnecessary but appreciated amenity until I discovered the cache of plastic-wrapped hairbrushes offered in the bathroom. I had to grab one because how often do you get a free hairbrush? Now that's a souvenir. At least I didn’t stuff bread into my purse.

Robuchon a Galera * Hotel Lisboa, 3/F, Av. da Amizade, Macau


Before there was Food Republic there was BreadTalk (same company). I don’t have that many food obsessions but I can definitely count pick-a-mix sweet and savory bakery goods as one of them. I am so obsessed that I have given semi-serious thought to how I could come up with a New York interpretation. Sure, we have Fay Da, Taipan Bakery, Café Zaiya and their ilk thriving in Asian-heavy neighborhoods but what about a more universal equivalent that would appeal to Americans?

I was looking at BreadTalk’s franchising program. You need $500,000 and they only have locations in Asia and the Middle East. Not so doable, and it’s not like they have any name recognition in the U.S. anyway. I’d be better off starting from scratch—not that I have even a sliver of business sense.  Maybe if I had one of those The Apprentice type personalities.

Bread talk bacon floss bun

Bacon floss bun. I’ve mentioned floss already. It’s essentially finely shredded jerky and you find it in buns, mini egg rolls and sometimes in stir-fries. Crispy, salty and good.

Bread talk nacho cheese buns

I didn’t find nachos to all that pervasive in Singapore, so a nacho cheese bun was a little odd. Yet nothing can beat the nacho cheese-drizzled Cinnabon I once spied in the Petronas Towers.

Bread talk obunma

Obunma sums up why I like BreadTalk. They are not afraid of novelty and current events. Obama was also used as a marketing gimmick for Hip Diner USA.

Hawaiian pizza

There’s a lot of Hawaiian combos in S.E. Asia. Finally, a place where I don’t have to hide my love for ham and pineapple.

Frankfurter tortilla

Ok, this frankfurter craziness is not from BreadTalk but an upscale grocery chain, city’super, in Harbour City. Hong Kong malls are so chichi with their Prada, D&G, Versace, Vivienne Westwood and the like (maybe the Monchichi shop negates that). There’s nothing upscale about a weiner wrapped in a tortilla, though. I also picked up a classier camembert walnut bun.

BreadTalk * various locations, Singapore & Hong Kong