Tuesday, March 30, 2010

El Toro @ ZhongXiao East Road, Taipei

The power of the Internet. A click to Google and a search that goes along the lines of "things to eat in Taipei" revealed that Chef Daniel who had a stint at El Bulli had just recently introduced molecular gastronomy in Taipei by opening his restaurant in Taipei.

If one can't exactly book himself for a flight to Spain and endure a year long advance reservation, El Toro actually sounds quite feasible.

Opposed to the impression that this place was all posh and fine dining, this place seemed rather relaxed and cosy. We found the place just before 12pm and we saw the man himself sitting outside with his computer and bubbly. Not overly desperate, we walked around and returned when everything was open and unfortunately that was the last we saw of Chef Daniel.

Going through reveals that the menu is more tapas like and it appears that amongst the chinese littered reviews, there must have been mentions that special dishes should be requested before hand via the telephone. Anyhow, they can accomodate with set menus starting from NT1,000 onwards if you trust your meal with the chef. We did just that with a NT 1,000 set and a NT 2,000 set.

To start things off, freshly baked bread which had some cheese blended in.

As a warning, majority of the staff will speak Mandarin as mother tongue and if you want, there was a lady that could speak in English but she didn't serve our table throughout lunch but only came once in awhile. We took it as a sign to just enjoy what was being served without knowing what was served.

Looked obvious enough to know that it was a honey coated chorizo sausage topped with oats. A solid and compressed piece of sausage that resembles the taiwanese sausage. It was about the best sausage i had in awhile and i swear i could eat the whole sausage regardless of whatever size it came in (in taiwan, sausages comes in foot long sizes too).

Thinly sliced salami served with diced tomatoes and bread. The relish-like tasted as if it had been doused with garlic, very pungent and unlike the usual bland ones which emphasises on the sweetness of the vegetable.

We tasted what seemed to be like mashed pumpkin with some nuts and a slightly sweet sauce. The dish was presented to us in Mandarin and we did catch the last word "chocolate". Further research online reveals that what we had eaten was infact pumpkin (thank god we weren't that bad), crab meat, nuts served in a white chocolate sauce! Resembles baby food and taste vaguely like that but a mile away in terms of flavours.

Mackarel sashimi or either lightly smoked with some nuts and tomatoes. Pop it in your mouth and sip on the fish broth that was surprisingly not too fishy.

The blood sausages. First sign of being fancy in terms of using foam. Unlike foams i have tried, the foam came with a hint of vanila and matched the deep blood sausage.

I have been lucky in terms of tasting good soup and we were served with beautiful pumpkin and cauliflower soup. Well made and wholesome, one cannot get enough.

I was hoping they serve us paella but instead we had risotto. Looked out of place in a Spanish restaurant. The mushroom risotto was slightly stodgy and didn't come across imaginative while the lighter flavoured prawn risotto was palatable with the fresh seafood.

The skate or the more common term used a.k.a stingray was a first for me in this form. Normally marinated with heavy spices and grilled in a banana leave, this was served simple with a passionfruit sauce. I didn't get it when another spoonful of what tasted like my pumpkin soup was served. The flaky fish was well cooked with a crispy skin top.

The sea bass was coated with nuts resulting in a caramelised sweet skin. At this point, we were wondering why the same items seemed to be recycled i.e. the pumpkin tasting sauce originating from the soup.

Apparently their special, a rolled chicken with pine nuts. We couldn't see what the hype of the dish, although it was well cooked and this time the sauce resembled the cauliflower soup.

Although the dish looks like a mess, we understood it was a pork belly with foie gras. Sounded like a formula that would strike gold but the belly was almost non-existent with 90% of it being fats and the foie was rather small in portion. However, what little meat i forked out was heavenly.

Desserts were served. The duo of chocolate mousse with pepper and lemongrass cotton cheese and the trio of chocolate mousse with pepper, their own version of tiramisu and a fig tart. The standout dessert was their tiramisu. At this point, the English speaking waitress came to tell us that the chef wanted to come up with his own interpretation and it was a damn fine version of cream cheese, peppermint and a thin layer of sponge.

A glass of white wine for NT150 completes the meal.

The meal, wine and a 10% service charge plus a complimentary coffee came up to NT3630, roughly under RM400.

Address and contact details:

110 Taiwan

508-2, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 5, Taipei City

Taking the MRT? Stop at the station MRT Yong Chun, take the exit at no. 4 and walk straight ahead, crossing the pedestrian bridge. Follow the numbers until you find 508 and walk behind the building.

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. I think it was a case of overexcitement and a mile high expectation. The fact that i saw a few chinese looking chefs in their open kitchen and not seeing the Chef himself was disappointing and also didn't appreciate the flavours were recycled in some dishes. It would have been better if we looked at the ala-carte menu and splurged there instead. However I am glad to have tried it and didn't regret that decision to step in. People with a tighter budget will be glad to know their ala-carte prices are very decent between NT 150-500 a dish and their set lunch is only NT250!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Where do i even start with Taiwan?

I got to admit that preparing for a trip like the one we went to Taiwan was earth shattering. To say it was a daunting challenge to go for a D-I-Y 8 day and 7 night trip was probably being too humble.

Back in those days, if one wanted to go for a holiday, it usually involved stepping inside a travel agency and picking up brochures then choosing one that suited the destination and the budget. You will pack your bags and meet at the airport. From the moment onwards, you will basically be hand held throughout the number of days including be told what to buy, what to eat, where to sleep and probably where and when to take your dump.

Over the years, i suppose people become more daring with information so widely shared amongst the online community that alot of people are going to countries often with a guide printed of the internet or if they are rich enough, buy one from the bookshop.

Amongst all the DIY holidays that i had, Taiwan is probably the most difficult for these few reasons:

1. Language barrier - Apparently 80% of the population speak Mandarin only and it doesn't mean the other 20% automatically speak English. If you haven't noticed by now, i can't speak and read mandarin words apart from the ones appearing at the karaoke videos.

2. Taiwan is not just about eating and shopping - Holidays in Thailand and Hong Kong were purely for the eating, if not shopping. Taiwan is filled with many scenic places that you would be considered to be too foolish not to visit.

3. Reliability of the information online - You have no idea whether what is being posted online is real or not. If the fellow says take Bus 9 and its not, you are screwed.

4. Transport - how do you plan out your itinerary using solely their public transport. As it is, if one was to ask me how do we take the bus or the LRT in KL, i would be clueless, so furthermore a transport system overseas?

Well glad to say despite these few hurdles, we survived the trip without being conned, kidnapped and didn't end up in any wrong places.


Since this is a food blog after all, i will let the readers decide what they want to read about first from the list of food we managed to stuff ourselves with:

1. El Toro - opened by Chef Daniel who had worked before at El Bulli, the top restaurant in the world, if not the second best.

2. Ji Jia Zhuang - according to online articles, the place to visit for some chicken loving, so famous that their waitress apparently is Japanese to cater for tourists.

3. Celestial Palace - 3.6kg duck, done Peking style for 2 fellows, gone mad?

4. Hana sei - What is Japanese food doing in Kaohsiung?

5. Ding Tai Fung - originated from Taiwan, really miles better?

6. Shilin Market / Liuhe Market - Street food all around!

7. Screw the food, show me Taipei and Kaohsiung in pictures!

Vote, vote, vote!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I am still away...

My trip to Taipei has so far been one heck of a trip.

Not surprisingly, I have been stuffing my face with street food, totally ignorant of the fact that there are the norm meal times to adhere to (just realising that we haven't actually had that many of a normal meal sitting down during the usual breakfast, lunch or dinner time).

Visited numerous tourist sites that usually come with the street that sells the same food (what else) and the same kind of goods that ended in a nightmare 40 minute mini bus trip with 30 other people down the mountains (we have officially given up trying to go to Jiufen and will tour around the shopping centres instead today).

Found out the hotel in Kaohsiung i booked at came out from the scene in ghost movies made in the 70-80s and proceeded to go out frantically finding another one which in the end was the same price but just opened a month ago (but not before seeing an uncleaned room with condom wrappers all over the floor).

What else can i say? Loads more but that shall be enough to get the ball rolling when i get back to Malaysia tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Weissbrau @ Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

I have this misconception that one should not drive down right to middle of the KL city on a Friday night for dinner.

So when we found ourselves starving at 8pm, we looked at each other and decided that it is time to put the misconception to grave or end up in the grave for being foolish enough.

It must have been the stars being extra shiny because in no time were we in Pavilion, facing almost non existent traffic. So it was indeed feasible to have a slightly late dinner in town on Fridays!

After being disappointed at the Tangs sale where i couldnt get anything; Fred Perry and FCUK was not on sale, no half price discounts applied to the cufflinks, we left finding dinner.

Where, oh where?


Theres a thing i miss about my old Fridays and it is the periodic beer drinking. The good old days of happy hour fridays. Now, i get to enjoy a beer or two and apparently an upgrade from Tiger Beer to HoeGaarden.

Weissbrau serves food that we identify as german; the knuckle and sausages, with sides like spatzle. I was about to say so is Rosti but turns out its Swiss.

The mixed sausages are well, sausages. I prefer thicker sausages which packs more meat rather than long and skinny ones. The brown sauce tasted delicious and the side of spatzle excited only when i ordered it because it was like a chewy piece of pasta.

Thank god for the pork knuckle and the rosti. The knuckle is as good as any out there and i would have prefer a more crispier rosti.

All in all, a good non halal meal; pork and alcohol in a convenient location of a shopping mall but prices aren't too cheap, the meal being about RM120++.

Address and contact details:

Level 3, Pavilion
Tel: 03-2142 0288

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Look forward to trying out more pub grub from this place.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mandarin Grill @ Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur

Along with the apparent recovery of the economy from the second half of 2009, Mandarin Oriental seem to have chosen the right timing to launch their interpretation of fine dining, elevating the scene to a new level with not one but two new high end restaurants.

Always known in my books as a place to go for dim sum since its near KLCC, our usual family hangout place, i admit i was and still quite clueless of the other dining opportunities that lie within the hotel.

Mandarin Grill caters for the business lunches and dinners, sophisticated without being overly too formal, a nice place to drop by for a good meal and focuses on their meats. Pacifica on the other hand remains as THE fine dining spot which focuses on seafood with its underwater theme.

A kind invite by Nicole from PR allowed me to finally understand what fine dining should and would be like.

In the correct sequence of events;

A warm welcome at the entrance and an escort to your table.

A napkin over your lap.

A waiter ready to get you a drink while you ponder over the menu.

Champagne? A chilled glass and a bottle for your inspection before the glass is filled.

Whet your appetite with an amuse bouche; a tuna tataki which had an asian inspired taste to it, the warm fennel dressing and the sesame seeds.

A variety of bread with sundried tomato butter or plain butter accompanies the meal throughout the night.

To start the meal off, we had their signature mandarin grill appetizer sampler; a jumbo lump crab cake with apple mikado, sundried tomatoes and basil coulis, the smoked salmon loin with fennel slaw, orange reduction and coriander sour cream and the slow cooked lobster with fennel, dill mayonnaise and balsamic.

The crab cake was a marvel as they managed to pack real fresh crab meat into a small cube which was neatly fried to a crisp outer wrap. While the salmon loin looked like it could pass off as sashimi, a slight nudge with the fork and a touch at the tongue reveals the familiar flavours. The lobster meat was cooked to perfection and the texture was alike any fresh crustacean.

I was told that The Pumpkin Veloute is a secret receipe by the chef which he guards dearly. If i had created such a delicious soup, i would protect it with my life because it was very lovely indeed, ranked as one of the top soups i had in my recent memory.

The Foie Gras Au Torchon was a late minute addition after the mention of foie gras during our conversation. After not having this piece of decadent animal organ for quite some time, i couldn't help but to get a taste of it. Although what i had in mind was the piece of liver itself, it came in the form of a pate (why, i had no idea what Au Torchon was obviously). The bread came in handy as the spiced piece of toast wasn't enough to spread the rich form of foie. The pear and ginger chutney was something new, mild with a hint of spice opposed the usual sauce or the accompaniment of a sweet or tarty element.

The Pan Fried Scallops with the Mango Salsa, Tomato and Paprika Risotto and Citrus Sauce is another of their Signature dishes. The scallops were ridiculously huge which was slightly undercooked in the middle served with a perfectly cooked risotto. I prefer my scallops to have a nice seared top. The tomato based sauce was intense along with what looked like dehydrated tomatoes. I felt the foam was more of a decor to the dish than a necessary component (tasteless (i tasted it first)).

The Grilled 1824 Beef Tenderloin was served with a gratin dauphinois, green jumbo asparagus and a morel (a kind of mushroom) sauce. After doing my own research, 1824 is a renown breed of cattle in Australia and it was certainly showed. However with the palate so used to a richer cut like the rib eye or the T-bone, the lean cut was new to me. I found the exquisite meat under seasoned and noticed an elementary mistake of not asking your guest how they would like their steak done. However a variety of salts (changes from day to day) are presented to you (which may explain the under seasoning) to be eaten with your steak. Out of the three, i remember paprika. Did i mention that you will be presented with a set of knifes that comes in a big leather case for you to choose from to carve your piece of meat?
Now, desserts are apparently their forte and if there was one thing you can't skip here, it has to be the last course of the meal. The Manjari Chocolate Ganache Slice served with chocolate sorbet and a coffee anglaise was breath taking. The richness of the chocolate was so welcoming and i couldn't have enough of the sorbet. If this had to be summarised in one word it would be in capital letters; C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E. For those who want something to cut through the chocolate elements, the coffee anglaise provides that option.

The Hazelnut Creme Brulee with Blueberry Compote and Yoghurt Sorbet was a play of sweet and sour flavours. However in this case, i felt the compote and sorbet did not serve a purpose other than to cover the delicate hazelnut flavour of the brulee. I am watering by the thought of having the brulee on its own.

By the end of the night, with a few glasses of Champagne (Moet and Chandon by the way) and a glass of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile), I was very satisfied with the whole experience. Eventhough one can find faults with the meal, very normal since the meal was not cheap in any way, the service and ambience makes up for it. The waiters knew their dishes, knew when to come and ask how was everything, and knew when to come with another drink.

I also trust that with or without Nicole's presence; the friendly restaurant manager would have been equally as attentive to your needs and opinions while the Chef Cedric Darthial would have as usual given his 100% to cook your meal.

If you are looking for someone to impress, business or personal, your money should be well spent in Mandarin Grill.

Address and contact details:

Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur City Centre

Tel: 03-21798960

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Somehow at the back of mind, i can't seem to comprehend how a normal man on the street could have had a meal like mine for close to RM500++ even if it was on a blue moon basis. Then again, that is what fine dining is all about, exclusiveness and pampering at a level where not everyone can afford. If anything, i would be back for their desserts and also start to put money in my piggy bank for a redux.

PS. Just in case if everyone wants to know the prices, the starter is RM125++, the soup is RM32++, the foie gras is RM82++, the scallops is RM110++, the beef is RM125++ and the desserts are RM32++ each. However, i am not sure whether the portions served are actual portions or have been downsized so we could sample a variety of dishes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Restoran Laut Sungai Yu @ Bandar Bukit Tinggi, Klang

Despite having a girlfriend that stays in Klang and yes, recently upgraded to the Wife, we can really count with two hands, the places we eat around the Klang area.

A typical weekend scenario usually involves fighting the jam back to town, eat some funky place we had in mind, spend the whole day and night in KL and fetch her back late at night or the next morning.

The memorable rare meals are usually none other than Bak Kut Teh.

So i found myself pleasantly surprised to visit this place after an invite from the relatives.

Basically a no frill place that can get very crowded. Reservations are to be made the day before, if not you could get one of the two replies "can, sit outside" or "can, 9pm la".

Signature dishes include the coconut prawn which is essentially tom yum soup made to kill of all signs of bacteria lying on your tongue and the stingray grilled with their own concocted marinade.

The clams were rather small but were steamed with a strong alcoholic broth which was welcomed.

It must be way too long since i had belacan kangkung because i found the vegetable so appetising that i finished half a plate of rice with it.

Other dishes that we ate that night included the salted egg yolk mantis prawns that was well coated and the mango chicken which was overfried.

Overall the food was well cooked and cheap, all the dishes only cost in the range of a RM100 thereabouts. Thats value eating after a RM100 per pax Sage Meal.

Address and contact details:

Restoran Laut sungai yu
No. 31-0, Lorong Batu Nilam 3B,
Bandar Bukit Tinggi
41200 Klang, Selangor
Tel 03-33258808

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Simple seafood, well cooked chinese dishes and affordable except for the overfried chicken, the extra long queue and having to sit outside, rain or shine.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kogetsu @ The Saujana Resort

In a country where we celebrate anything and everything, preaching the "lets enjoy so long as it is a public holiday", it is more easy than not to find yourself in a spot.

So when it came to celebrating Valentines and the first day of Chinese New Year on the same day; we wore the chinese new year hat during the day to gamble away while when dusk came, the romantic side comes about.

In the many years, we had one too many disappointments when trying to book into any crowding restaurant to be served under par food and given less than attentive service during Valentines.

So when we found ourself in the Saujana area, we decided to drop by Kogetsu, to hear that they will only open in another half an hour and that no bookings were required. There was some sort of hope that this would be the quiet romantic dinner.

Being the only customers at 6pm, we decided to share a kaiseki set for 1 (RM180++).

Dish 1: Tuna with Yam, Steamed Yam, Edamame and Roast Duck Breast. The tuna was refreshing, the yam was surprisingly mix between bite and melt in your mouth while edamame is as good as any frozen packet and the duck was well, forgettable.

I remember Dish 2: A medley of vegetables broiled with dashi broth. Again very simple and allowed us to enjoy the natural sweetness of the vegetables.

Dish 3: Sashimi. When the plate was presented to us, we suddenly asked ourselves if they had mistaken our order for 1 set and not 2 sets. The serving was huge with almost 14-15 slices of fish, which got us sweating to imagine that our budget of RM200 had just blown into pieces. Well, whatever, if it was portion for two, so be it and we did enjoyed the freshness of the fish till the last bite.

Dish 4: Assort of tempura which i had better elsewhere.

Dish 5: Grilled "god knows what fish". I never had a liking for small fishes which usually comes with quite abit of bones. This one was ok as you i could sort of fork out the meat.

Dish 6: What looks like steamed rice with some vegetables. A carb filler which tasted plain.

Dish 7: A clear soup with a grilled mochi. The mochi was also quite bland but i enjoyed the soup.

Dish 8: A scoop of green tea ice-cream. By now, we were stuffed and glad that it was indeed only a set for 1 as they only gave one scoop.

As far as value is concern, a set for 1 clearly could feed more than 1 and there were some glimpses of good old japanese food being served here. On top of that the small crowd and the "lake view" are plus points to come to Kogetsu.

Address and contact details:

Saujana Resort
Jalan Lapangan Terbang SAAS
Shah Alam

Tel: 03-78405888

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. Tempted to give them four stars but i don't think they tried hard enough when coming up with their kaiseki dishes although i did love their yam and fresh sashimi.