Dining at Grappa’s Cellar

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Jardine House, 1 Connaught Place, Central, Hong Kong
http://elgrande.com.hk/restaurant/grappas-cellar/

Edwin and I had dinner here last night, as an anniversary celebration of sorts. Technically speaking, it was to celebrate one year and ten months of marriage, so it’s not really an anniversary. Oh well, I’ll take any reason to enjoy good food!

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Happy Hour is 3pm to 9pm daily! Cocktails are 2 for 1, so I ordered the Succo di Mirtilloe (or something like that), which is prosecco and cranberry juice. It tasted just fine, and it reminded me of a sparkling rosé. I loved drinking out of the champagne flute. It just felt so… celebratory. (Alright, we’ve established the theme!)

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I hesitated a little before I ordered the Caesar salad with chicken, thinking that the chicken might be cold and tough, which happens a lot to salads in general. However, I was really impressed with how tender this chicken was. There was also just enough dressing, the portion was generous. Good for two to share!

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For mains, we had the risotto with crab meat and prawns in lobster sauce, and ravioli with minced chicken, bacon and ricotta cheese in parmesan cream sauce. If you’re a seafood lover, you’ll love the risotto. Everything was cooked just right, and every mouthful packed a punch of crab-y, lobster-y flavour. Yum!

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The ravioli was lovely too. It was really creamy on the outside, yet it was not overpowering. (But then again, I love cheese and cream.) The inside of the ravioli had an interesting texture – it was drier and crumbly, and I could taste the individual flavours. It was my first time trying ravioli, so not bad!

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Surprisingly, we weren’t too full after our mains, so we ordered a tiramisu. This was definitely one of the best I’ve tried so far! First of all, it’s at least 50% larger than the average slice. But size isn’t the only factor. The biggest crime when it comes to tiramisu is dryness. My heart breaks a little every time that happens. Luckily, the base of this little baby was soaked through, and every bite presented a boozy kick.

Another thing I loved was that they weren’t stingy with the cocoa powder. You know how some tiramisus come with a mere dusting of cocoa powder? It’s never enough. Here, there’s an actual layer of cocoa powder that had to be at least 2mm thick. So much love!

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Bonus: There’s a dance floor in the restaurant! It’s not an everyday thing though, possibly only on Wednesday nights. There’s live music performances on other nights. You could call ahead to ask, if you’re interested.

Filled to the brim with carbs and cream, we sat back and observed the crowd for a while. We did dance later on, which was really fun. The other dancers were of varying levels, and everyone looked like they were a little drunk, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious!

Overall, it was a great dining experience. Dinner, drinks and dance? My heart is sold. It’s a place I would definitely revisit, with lots of friends in tow, and we’d dine, drink and dance the night away.

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Tastes of Taipei

This post features James’ Kitchen, Mitsui Cuisine, Mala Yuanyang Hotpot and miscellaneous bites. Enjoy!

James’ Kitchen 大隱酒食

65 Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei / 台北市大安區永康街65號
(02) 2343 2275

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According to several sources (food blogs, travel lists etc), this is THE go-to place for Taiwanese comfort food.

We arrived at 11 something, only to be told that they open at noon, so we took a little walk around the area.

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Plenty of dining options available on Yong Kang Street. And there are cafes everywhere in Taipei.

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Tea and books, a winning combination.

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Would have been a lovely place to rest if it weren’t something like 33 degrees that day. (How I’m to survive the scorching desert heat of Dubai, I don’t know.)

Finally, it was noon and we were seated in air-conditioned comfort.

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Now, one thing I didn’t like about James’ Kitchen was that they had limited options for beverages. It was either sake, beer, or 洛神花茶 // Roselle tea. If you don’t feel like drinking during lunch time, or if you don’t drink at all, then you’re stuck with the tea. There weren’t any other types of tea available, or any soft drinks, which was a little disappointing. Personally I didn’t like the Roselle tea, which I felt had a strong sweet and sour taste. Edwin, on the other hand, loved it.

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開胃菜: 柚香甜酸蓮藕 // Appetiser: pickled (?) lotus root

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Pardon the blurry photographs. I think this was 私房鹵鵝爪 // marinated goose feet, but I can’t be sure.

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鹵大腸 // Marinated pig’s intestines? By the way, I wasn’t the one who ordered the dishes, which is why I can’t remember a lot of them. Paiseh!

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午魚一夜干 // Threadfin that’s been dried overnight, then grilled.

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烤雞翅 // Grilled chicken wings.

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If I remember correctly, this was 蘋果南瓜雞湯 // chicken soup with apple and pumpkin.

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Now this, I will always remember, because it’s awesomeballs. (Yes, you read that right.) It’s 蔥香豬油飯, a simple and frugal dish with rice, scallions, soy sauce, and the magic ingredient, LARD. Tell your diet to suck it and order this. I can’t guarantee that you’ll hear the chorus of angels, but it’ll be good enough, trust me.

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And we’re done with lunch! Meanwhile, folks who joined the queue for Din Tai Fung while we were en route to James’ Kitchen were still waiting to be seated. Nothing against Din Tai Fung, which is popular for a reason. I just can’t bring myself to spend precious vacation time in a queue.

Mitsui Cuisine 明水三井二管

No. 59, Jingye 1st Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 104 台北市一路59號
(02) 2533 8802

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This was recommended by a colleague of Edwin’s, who said that Japanese food in Taiwan was far superior to the Japanese food in Hong Kong. (Hong Kong has better Western food, so now you know.)

First off, this place is in the middle of nowhere. We took a taxi, and the driver had to drive around the block twice before any of us could make out that there was a restaurant lurking in the shadows. Inside, however, it was a different story. We were already late for our reservation, so I forgot to take photos. I can tell you that we walked past rows of tanks inhabited by monstrous crustaceans. Seriously, it was the stuff of B-grade creature attack movies.

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Here’s a friendlier-looking version.

Now on to business: the food. We had the tasting menu, which was NT1800 (~S$75/HK$466) per set. Yes, that seems a little pricey, but the staff actually suggested that we share the sets, two to one. So dinner turned out to be NT900 (~S$37.50/HK$233) per person. I haven’t included the service charge, but we’re talking around S$40 for a fancy Japanese meal, with quality ingredients, top-notch service, and a lovely ambience. It was definitely one of the best meals we had at that price point!

Note: what you’ll see in the pictures below were being shared by two people.

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Pickled radish for starters.

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It felt like there wasn’t enough sashimi to go around. But since we were on a budget, no one’s complaining. But the taste – oh the taste – I remember putting a piece in my mouth and saying, “This is what sashimi tastes like!?” I never have sashimi in Singapore anymore. Hong Kong’s sashimi is still fairly decent. Someday I will go to Japan and I may never return.

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Salad with crab claw. I’m aware that the pictures aren’t great. Still learning how to take good food pictures!

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Grilled lobster. Edwin the lobster man went nuts trying to get every little piece out.

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What would you call this – a mini steak? In any case, the slices of beef were tender and succulent. Would have liked more sauce though.

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Steamed fish. Glorious taste and texture, horrible to look at. I do apologise if this picture has traumatised you.

If it doesn’t seem like much value for money so far, this came next:

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The steamboat ingredients included assorted seafood, vegetables, and noodles. We got really full halfway through this course! But it didn’t end there…

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What meal is complete without dessert? Each person had some fruit, a small slice of cake, and a scoop of ice-cream. It was a good thing we shared the set. It would have been impossible to finish all that food otherwise!

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Satisfied diners.

Mala Yuanyang Hotpot 马辣顶级麻辣鸳鸯火锅

There are a few branches across Taipei, including the popular Ximending area. We dined at the one in the Xinyi area, I think. It’s around NT500 plus for all-you-can-eat, so it’s another place with great value!

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Like the yin yang sign. Perfect for groups split down to spicy and non-spicy.

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The free-flow beverages included soft drinks, juices, and even wine! o_O

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In my personal opinion, this was the best (and most dangerous) part: all-you-can-eat Haagen-Daz and Movenpick ice-cream. I had 8 scoops. #indulgent

Parting Bites

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Meatball soup and fried tofu at the airport foodcourt.

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Beancurd with peanuts and jelly bits at the 101 Mall foodcourt.

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Spongebob pancake-thing from a food stall at a night market.

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Bak kut teh and braised pork on rice, near a night market.

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Beef noodles with soup.

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Beef noodles (dry).

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Appetisers at the beef noodle place.

The list of Taiwanese specialties is a long, long one. Whether it’s quirky street eats to beef noodles to braised pork on rice to… you get the idea, there’s something for everyone. So remember to bring your appetite!

Let’s Talk Taipei: Sights, Sounds and Sleep

A great thing about living in Hong Kong is being in the middle of Asia. It’s given us the opportunity to make day trips to Shenzhen and Macau, and several other destinations are just a short flight away.

The flight to Taipei was only two hours, and I wonder why I had never taken a trip to Taiwan till this April. 台灣其實很多東西玩的!

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Taipei’s airport isn’t very different from Hong Kong’s or Singapore’s. Clean, spacious, air-con blasting… what’s not to like?

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The museums are filled with Chinese treasures, the small streets are full of character, and the night markets are lined with food stalls galore. The National Palace Museum (pictured) is huge, and you’ll need to cover a lot of ground. If you want to take in the sights and sounds (and smells) of Taipei, be prepared to walk a lot. Comfortable shoes are a must!

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You could also rent one of these bikes to cycle around the city, although it’s best that you travel light. There’s only so much that the basket can take!

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The metro and taxis were also convenient and fairly affordable. How cute is the interior of this cabin?

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If you’re travelling to Taipei and looking for accommodation, I definitely recommend ARK Hotel, located in Dongmen. Location-wise, it’s great. The metro station is less than five minutes away, and the famous Din Tai Fung is across the street, if you’re interested. It’s also near Yong Kang Street, which boasts a number of restaurants and cafes, including James’ Kitchen (more about that in a future post).

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The rooms are small but comfortable, with cute and cheery details. Basic amenities such as toiletries, hair dryer, and electric kettle are provided. You do have to pay a bit more for a room with a window. There isn’t much of a view, but you need to wake up to natural light, then it’s something to consider.

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As you can see, ours was a windowless room, so we had to make do with several alarms on our phones to wake us up in the morning. Also, the walls are rather thin. You’ll be able to hear what’s going on in the corridor, and we had the misfortune of staying on the same floor as a very loud family.

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Complimentary mineral water and snacks are provided as well. There’s a small supermarket across the street, in case you want to pick up more food and drinks.

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I like that the hotel lobby looks like someone has put some thought into what guests might like. You can borrow the books and magazines for the night and return them the next morning. The concierge will take down your name and room number, so don’t think about bringing an extra “souvenir” home!

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Feeling peckish? There’s free coffee and cake! I tried a cup and it tasted decent. Very convenient if you need a caffeine fix!

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This, I love. The couch in the lobby is laden with huge stuffed toys, which we all know to translate to photo taking opportunities. And because the bear probably isn’t going to fit into your selfie, the staff on duty will be more than happy to help you take pictures.

The best part is that ARK Hotel is very affordable. It’s around S$100 a night, and it includes breakfast at a nearby MOS Burger.

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You’re given a meal voucher which includes a breakfast burger and a hot drink. It’s not great, but it’s food. Plus, you’ll need the fuel as you go on The Great Food Hunt along Yong Kang Street. Tastes of Taipei will be coming up next, so stay tuned!