The chef? He’s from Barcelona

Incredible. Simply months since the last update. I bet you thought I’d given up blogging. In fact, I’ve been torn between masses of mundane stuff (not worth blogging about) and some interesting stuff that I’m damn well not going to blog about (mind your own business!)

So here, just to kick things off again, is a restaurant review. La Comida, Staunton Street, the Spanish restaurant and Tapas bar. I was there last night and was confounded by the gap between their good dishes (amazing) and their bad (a practically inedible travesty of cooking).

In summary, if you go to La Comida stick to the tapas which were, without exception, bloody marvellous. The calamari with aoli were perfectly cooked and not at all chewy, enclosed in a firmly textured crust of tasty crumbs, and the aoli itself was an ideal match. The asparagus with parmesan was the ultimate vegetarian comfort-food. The sardines were crispy-skinned, full of flavour and enhanced by a dash of olive oil (always available on the tables).

Then comes the tactical error: instead of ordering more tapas, my companion and I tried for some of their main meals. She had salmon with dill sauce and french fries and it was not too bad. A generously-sized portion, but unfortunately with only the most stingy splashing of sauce; certainly not enough to actually allow it to be tasted.

I chose the rack of lamb with mashed potato and green salad and it was universally awful. The lamb itself was properly cooked (I like mine rare and they complied with that reliably) but the cut of meat was cheap, clotted with fat and sinew, and much harder to eat than lamb rack ought to be. The mash must have been instant as it had no taste at all, and was dry and had a suspiciously uniform texture. The salad had been dressed apparently with pure brine and was far too salty to eat. Nothing on that expensive plate gave me any pleasure at all. Luckily my companion had filled herself up with tapas so I ate her salmon and found it quite agreeable.

They also serve the roughest rioja in the world as their house red. Avoid at all costs.

Would I return? Yes, for the tapas, without any hesitation. I’ll never be ordering off the main course menu again.

Tung Chung FAQ (part 2)

Apart from people seeking commercial sex in Tung Chung (see the FAQ part 1), the other search engine queries that turn up many times a day are from peckish people searching for food delivery services.

Now, eating out in Tung Chung is woeful, for the most part. We have:

  • The Aviator: poor food at high prices
  • Pizza Hut: poor food at high prices
  • Delifrance: Incredibly poor food at high prices
  • Starz Bar: Microwaved plastic food at high prices
  • Spaghetti House: Bland but inoffensive, although they did once serve a friend of mine with a pizza that included a plastic bag between the base and the topping
  • Food Republic: Well, it’s a food court. You wait ages for your food while standing up, and when you have it you won’t be able to find anywhere to sit. Once you have sat, you are haunted by other people hovering nearby holding rapidly cooling meals and waiting for you to leave. Also, Food Republic manages to have a back door but no front door.
  • That new restaurant under the cable car, whatever its name is: Can’t even be bothered to go look, because the menu they dropped in my mailbox had “Chinese Western-style Food” scrawled all over it, i.e. bad steak, overcooked and served with fried rice. I’m the last person to lambast Chinese food – I love it in all its forms – but they cannot butcher, so anything involving western cuts of meat is a guaranteed failure. Also, some of my chums have tried this restaurant and say it’s pretty bad.
  • KFC: KFC
  • McDonalds: Gone, in accordance with CityGate’s policy that an Outlet Mall must contain nothing other than outlets, which is why we don’t have any HSBC ATMs any more either.
  • Eastern Gate: Nice dimsums (but a very limited menu; where’s the tripe fried in black pepper? where’s the no mai gai?), long, long queue, and the wait staff get incredibly surly if you overstay while they’re trying to set things up for the Sunday afternoon geriatric mah jong sessions.
  • The Thai in the Basement: Some say they like it. I find the food unsubtle and unsophisticated; the sweet-and-sour tastes like ketchup. If you want Thai, go to Melody Thai in Tung Chung Village, where the phanang curry will make you squeak with pleasure, and the full-strength tom yam goong will just make you squeak.

There are other options, but generally I don’t bother eating out in Tung Chung. Kowloon and the Island have a million better alternatives.

You can get food delivered in Tung Chung and it’s not always a bad option. The Handi Tandoori (again, out in Tung Chung Village) does magnificent and authentic Indian food and will bring it right to your door. The aptly named “Pizza and Chicken Experts” will deliver… well, I never used them, but I see their bikes about the place. I assume they’re delivering pizza and chicken.

And now McDonalds claim to deliver as well. I guess they bike it over from Yat Tung, where clothing outlets know their place. In fact I actually tried to order food from MaccyD’s delivery service recently. The nice lady telephonist, whose English was unexpectedly good, told me that “the chef is very busy” and the order would arrive in “one hour and forty minutes”.

Firstly, chef?

Secondly, who waits nearly two hours for a quarter-pounder? McDonalds food is the very last resort for a terminally tired guy who needs a protein-stuffed comfort food fix before lapsing into unconsciousness. It has no features sufficiently redeeming to justify an hour and 40 minutes delay. I cancelled the order and, as a result, added two days to the far end of my lifespan.

And just to annoy all the folks who’ve waded all through this diatribe in the hope of finding phone numbers for Pizza and Chicken Expert, McDonalds, or the Handi Tandoori – yes, I have them all, and no, I’m not publishing them. Not unless they start paying me commission.

Fried Easter eggs

The holiday four-day-weekend has been spent in a whirl of housework (some new furniture arrived, necessitating a re-organisation that turned into a full-scale spring clean), and a fair amount of office work, mostly conducted on the laptop while I sat in bed and the cats nagged and nagged for food.

And of course, I should not forget my friend Josh’s drinks party over at Tai Wai, where a lake of wine and a heap of Malaysian food (including some terrific coconut rice) found itself being poured and shovelled into my face. Epicurean bliss augmented by the beautiful sunshine and the chairs out on the balcony.

One minor achievement resulted from an impulse re-watch of V For Vendetta on Thursday evening. I was curious about the “Eggy in a Basket” that V (and later, “Daddy” Deitrich) were cooking, so I decided to try to emulate it. A very tiny amount of trial-and-error led to the following recipe:

You need:

  • A slice of bread (thick-ish cut; Taste’s 7-Grain bread is good)
  • An egg (chicken, not goose, turtle or dodo)
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper

Generously butter both sides of your slice of bread and then make a hole in the middle using a wineglass to cut out a plug of bread. Pop that circle of bread out and save it.

Put a frying pan over medium heat and allow it to warm up. Crack your egg into a cup. Don’t break the yolk. Remove any bits of shell.

Now put the bread (and the cut-out circle) in the pan. Drop a knob of butter into the hole, and then pour the egg into it. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.

Wait a couple of minutes until the egg is nicely adhered to the edges of the hole, and flip both pieces of bread over. One more minute should do it after that.

Serve, eat, use the cut-out circle to mop up the yolk.

Caution, this is highly-addictive and unhealthy comfort food. On particularly bad mornings, use one of these as the lower layer of beans-on-toast.

Branson pickle

This letter of complaint to Virgin Atlantic from a disgruntled but awfully articulate passenger is currently doing the rounds. I thought I’d share it here because it’s so typical of Virgin: they generally provide a good service for long-haul, but often (too often) manage to slip in something that spoils it. Either a foul meal like the one documented here, or a stroppy jobsworth at check-in (exclusive to Heathrow, I find), or the regular breakdowns of their V:Port entertainment system (which takes at least 30 minutes to reset) or the nasty little security stickers that they insist on affixing to my passport which won’t come off without hours of scraping and which leave a black, gungy, sticky mess behind. (No other airline does that; I wish VS would knock it off as my passport is starting to look gangrenous.)

My current beef with Virgin concerns a refund. I bought a ticket on my Amex card, and cancelled it a week later. According to their Customer Charter I should have seen that money back on my credit card in seven days. Well, it’s 48 days now and there’s no sign of it.

Incidentally, isn’t Virgin’s response to the above e-mail snide? The food is “award winning”, they say, and “very popular”. It’s the passenger’s fault for not liking the meal, they imply, rather than Virgin’s fault for supplying appalling swill. Apart from anything else, it doesn’t pass the laughter test: since when has any economy class food been “very popular”? What a peculiar concept!

Edit: Less than 3 hours after I published this, Virgin Atlantic’s IP range turned up in my log file, browsing not to the front page of the blog but straight to this posting! That’s very impressive, VS. If only you were just as quick with my refund.

The Big Eat

Following on from the recent top-100 book list meme that I addressed recently, Spike at Hongkie Town has published a similar list of the top-100 foods everyone should try (originally taken from Very Good Eats). Here’s my list…

  • Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  • Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  • Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  • Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.
  1. Venison
  2. Nettle tea
  3. Huevos rancheros
  4. Steak tartare (but I got food poisoning from it)
  5. Crocodile (barbecued, in Alice Springs)
  6. Black pudding (breakfast isn’t complete without it!)
  7. Cheese fondue
  8. Carp
  9. Borscht
  10. Baba ghanoush
  11. Calamari
  12. Pho
  13. PB&J sandwich (thanks, Emily!)
  14. Aloo gobi
  15. Hot dog from a street cart
  16. Epoisses
  17. Black truffle
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
  19. Steamed pork buns
  20. Pistachio ice cream
  21. Heirloom tomatoes (can’t be having with uncooked tomatoes)
  22. Fresh wild berries
  23. Foie gras
  24. Rice and beans
  25. Brawn, or head cheese
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
  27. Dulce de leche
  28. Oysters (but fried Taiwanese-style, not freshly-shucked)
  29. Baklava (flown in fresh from the UAE)
  30. Bagna cauda
  31. Wasabi peas
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (in Bermuda, just delicious!)
  33. Salted lassi (not really fond of yogurt)
  34. Sauerkraut
  35. Root beer float
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar
  37. Clotted cream tea (so many times you could snap my arteries like old twigs)
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (for the first time, at a James Bond party in Barnes, London, during which we also used a microwave oven to invent Vodka Poppadums)
  39. Gumbo
  40. Oxtail
  41. Curried goat
  42. Whole insects (witchetty grubs count? They’re whole, they’re insects, but they’re larval!)
  43. Phaal (went through me like a red-hot ballbearing through a pat of butter)
  44. Goat’s milk (too damn dairy)
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
  46. Fugu (not because of the poison, but because it’s very pricey and tastes rather ordinary, and eating it seems like unnecessary machismo and little else)
  47. Chicken tikka masala
  48. Eel
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
  50. Sea urchin
  51. Prickly pear
  52. Umeboshi (in Tokyo, served with 9-condiment Japanese congee)
  53. Abalone
  54. Paneer
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
  56. Spaetzle
  57. Dirty gin martini (I recommend MO Bar for these; generous quantities of booze are involved)
  58. Beer above 8% ABV (CAMRA festivals, every time)
  59. Poutine
  60. Carob chips
  61. S’mores
  62. Sweetbreads (in Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, at the tender age of 13)
  63. Kaolin
  64. Currywurst
  65. Durian (I like this a lot, actually)
  66. Frogs’ legs
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
  68. Haggis
  69. Fried plantain
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
  71. Gazpacho
  72. Caviar and blini
  73. Louche absinthe (technically not, although I’ve had absinthe in various non-louche ways!)
  74. Gjetost, or brunost
  75. Roadkill
  76. Baijiu (and regretted it every time)
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie
  78. Snail
  79. Lapsang souchong
  80. Bellini
  81. Tom yum
  82. Eggs Benedict
  83. Pocky
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
  85. Kobe beef
  86. Hare
  87. Goulash
  88. Flowers (in salads, and also chrysanthemum tea)
  89. Horse (also in France, although I had cold, sliced donkey in Guangzhou)
  90. Criollo chocolate
  91. Spam
  92. Soft shell crab
  93. Rose harissa
  94. Catfish
  95. Mole poblano
  96. Bagel and lox
  97. Lobster Thermidor
  98. Polenta
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
  100. Snake (in Sham Shui Po)

Dish of the day

menuem2.jpgOn Saturday I went menu-collecting. We like our food delivered to the office at lunchtime, but the same old stuff from the same old restaurants gets dull after a while. The Japanese is great, the Vietnamese likewise, and we all love cha siu Tuesdays, but new tastes are always welcomed. So as I ambled through Sheung Wan clutching my prized copy of June’s NTSB Reporter (a gift from Minnesota), I collected a few menus from restaurants that responded positively to my enquiry about whether they delivered food.

This morning, I handed them over to the staff. Jon the Intern looked at the menu for one place that offered a strange combination of Malaysian curries, pizza and pasta. “That looks like Emily,” he said, referring to a library photo on the front of a girl tearing into a naan. I took a glance. Yes, it did, vaguely.

We agreed that this was a slightly amusing co-incidence and there the matter rested. Until, slightly later, David emitted a splutter and waved the menu over his head. “It is Emily!”, he insisted. “I recognise that dress she’s wearing.”

“Nonsense,” I told him, but wandered over to take a look. The photo quality wasn’t marvellous, but sure enough, the curry-eating brunette in the loud frock was just about recognisable as Handshake’s Marketing and Sales Manager. The just-visible jade bracelet on the left wrist confirmed it. When Emily returned to the office she admitted, under interrogation, to moonlighting as a model for Indian food, adding that she had in fact been paid in curry.

menuem.jpg

In the race for dinner, it’s a Thai

This is just a quick plug for one of my favourite restaurants: the Thai Curry House at 38 Bonham Strand.

I go there fairly often with Emily and they consistently serve us with perfectly decent Thai food at a very reasonable price. The dish that we consider to be their “signature” is the whole fish poached with chilli and lime, which is a mite more expensive than most items on the menu and takes a while to appear, but which is definitely worth both the dollars and the wait. It’s labelled on the menu as a “three-chilli” item, but it’s not really that ferocious.

If you drop by, I also recommend the pork-neck starter, the soft-shell crabs, and any of their red or green curries.

That section of Bonham Strand is a treat for cheap food. The Vietnamese place almost directly opposite the Thai Curry House (next to the HSBC) is also a great place for a quick, cheap and excellent meal.

Sea food

On Wednesday afternoon I had a meeting with some clients in Macau. The plan was to eat some tasty vittles and swill down some vinho verde and a bottle of port at Clube Militar after the meeting, so I wanted a return ticket on a fairly late ferry. The boats were unusually full, and the only seats available on the 11:30pm ferry were in “first class”. It’s not much more expensive than the ordinary tickets, though, and I’ve never tried TurboJet’s first class, so I handed over the money.

Well, dinner at Clube Militar was great (although it is a bit annoying that the restaurant is open to all-comers but the bar is members-only), we demolished insane amounts of port, and then weaved back to the ferry terminal. Infer what you will about saunas, casinos etc, but I’m afraid in reality absolutely nothing seedy or decadent took place at all. It was, after all, a work night.

Ensconced in first class on the boat, I was surprised to note that, even late at night, they serve food; not half as surprised as I was when I inspected the food, though. Here it is:

tastyfood2.jpg

Because the picture is not 100% clear, I will explain what you are looking at. This is a bowl of tuna mayonnaise, served on a generous bed of lumps of apricot; and a blueberry has been impertinently wedged into the top. In other words, it is random food.

The next day, I cheerfully related this tale to a friend, and to my chagrin she immediately topped it. Apparently in a restaurant in Tian Ta (somewhere in the mainland), she and her American friends had rejected some sub-standard dishes and asked for something decent to be brought to them. It would appear that the Chinese chefs had retired to the kitchen to derive logically from first principles a dish that would please young Americans. They were served with: fried chicken, drenched in ketchup, liberally smothered in coconut and topped with some cake sprinkles. Not only is this definitive “random food” but even better – there is a picture!

tianta_sm.jpg

Apparently it all got eaten.

Dial-a-Hacker

It’s great to have food delivered to your door. However, this is a warning to users of Dial-a-Dinner (http://www.dialadinner.com.hk/):

Don’t use credit cards on this web site!

I’m working late in the office with a couple of colleagues and we have the urge for pizza. No problem; Dial-a-Dinner can provide us with San Marzano’s finest. We run through the menus and order, and then we come to the checkout. It doesn’t use SSL! In 2007, when SSL-enabled web servers are free, an SSL certificate costs US$20, and the entire world knows that they need to look for that little padlock when entering their credit card on the Internet, these irresponsible assclowns at Dial-a-Dinner are still running a 100% unencrypted web site.

These guys need to watch out. Soon they will be obliged to comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, and if their acquirer or bank finds out that they’re accepting unencrypted credit card numbers, pretty soon they won’t be accepting credit cards at all.

Luckily, we have banknotes, so we opted for the cash-on-delivery option, and we still get our delicious pizzas.