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Shanghai: Bikini

7 Jul

It seems that whatever Chef Willy Trullas Moreno of El Willy fame touches will turn to gold. Bikini, a vintage adult cinema meet space age themed hotdog and sandwich shop (I know right, how cool is that) below El Coctel is yet another winning concept. It’s a casual venue that also opens till late, perfect for that pre/post drinking/clubbing snack especially given its location. We dropped by for a post dinner snack and and it was almost running on a full house on a Friday night. Spot the glow in the dark stickers of the solar system on the ceiling!

As you can imagine, this must be quite a hit with the expat crowd, there was a large gathering that took up almost all the tables as it’s a really small space (not more than 25 me thinks). If you’re flying solo or want something quick you can also sit at the bar stools. I’m loving their mirror cum menu board btw.

Keeping on brand, there were lots of posters of bikini clad bombshells, and the menu items are named after adult film actors/actresses ;) Bikini is actually named after a famous disco in 70s’ Barcelona known for its sandwiches. IMO, dancing + sarnies = FTW.

Under the “Very Hot Dogs”, which are all served on baguettes, we tried the Mr. Holmes (65RMB) which had toppings of crispy bacon, avocado, mayo, spicy salsa and crispy shallots. Seriously, it’s like all the popular (and my favourite) toppings on a dog, so you can’t really go wrong with this. But I felt that the baguette could be crispier.

The Mr. Vidal (45RMB), with lime-mayo ketchup, basil, diced tomato, jalapenos and raw and crispy shallots, on the other hand was not up my alley as the jalapenos were too spicy for me. If you like a spicy dog, order this. I also felt that both were quite similar in flavour profiles, we probably should have ordered Mr Jeremy that had mushroom and truffle toppings for contrast.

We washed the hotdogs down with an iced cold Estrella Damm – what a good way to round up the night.

From the “Hot and Pressed” menu, I’ve previously tried two at El Coctel (Bikini sandwiches are available there) and they were Ms Anderson (55RMB) with warm smoked salmon, walnut, spinach, apple and goat cheese (pictured) and Ms Fox (58 RMB) with mustard, ham and Emmental cheese. Both were just incredibly delicious, toasty and easily some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.

Other than hot dogs and sandwiches they also have “Snackies” which were Spanish tapas, and “Choripan” which were hot dogs made with Argentinian beef chorizo sausages but we didn’t have anymore stomach space. While I love the sandwiches, I felt a little underwhelmed by the hot dogs. Perhaps I’m spoilt by the ones I had off the street carts in Toronto that were really good (and only half the price, ironically). So if you’re looking for a hearty/traditional hot dog or a proper meal, Bikini isn’t the place as it does more fancy/fusion hot dogs and the portions are snack-like. But if you’re up for just a fun gourmet snack before hitting the bars and clubs in French Concession, and don’t mind paying 65RMB for a hot dog, then this is your place.

Price: $$$
Location:  47 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu
Opening Hours: Daily 6pm to 2am
Tel: +86 21 64336511

Singapore: Ippudo Tao

13 Jun

Ramen like wine, is extremely subjective. I’ve had numerous debates with friends on which is the best ramen in Singapore and chances are everyone likes a different place/type/flavour. I love Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen with thin wiry noodles, and Ippudo is probably my favourite ramen place in Singapore. I’ve tried the original branch in Tokyo before and to be honest I don’t think there’s a discernible difference in the quality we get here. Recently, I checked out the UE Square branch called Ippudo Tao (addition of the word ‘Tao’ because of some collaboration with a Japanese drum group – uh huh) and I think it’s actually better than the Mandarin Gallery branch. Plus they take reservations, open till pretty late and have a bigger menu too! What’s not to like?

We arrived before happy hour was up and couldn’t resist getting some of their curious sounding Japanese cocktails. These were some of my favourites. The oolong cassis (shochu base) was so interesting and delicious. Never knew berries and oolong tea went so well together.

My first time trying a ginger ale highball, and all I can say is that I’ve been missing out on this ginger ale + whiskey combination. The Japanese sure know how to drink their whiskey! Wonder if they really used Suntory?

Another totally delicious cocktail was the yuzu umeshu, a must for all yuzu or umeshu fans! The umeshu they use here was very smooth.

For appetiser, we tried their signature steamed bun with braised pork and Ippudo’s original sauce ($3/per piece). While the meat was tender, this was a little disappointing as it was such a thin and small slice I could barely taste it. Hope ours was just an outlier as I’ve only heard good things about this dish.

Moving on to the ramen, the following 3 flavours are unique to Ippudo Tao – you can’t find them in the Mandarin Gallery branch. The Tao Aka came with thin curly noodles, tonkotsu broth, bara charshu (pork belly), spicy miso paste, spring onions and fragrant garlic oil. It had notes of curry and was quite spicy after a few mouthfuls that I started sweating! It’s definitely not a flavour you find too rich because of the spiciness. The bara charshu was tender without being too fatty.

The Tao Kuro had thick chewy noodles, shoyu tonkotsu broth, bara charshu (pork belly), special blended miso paste, black fungus and fragrant garlic oil. This tasted richer than the Tao Aka, and the garlic oil provided an aromatic accent to the broth. The additional ajitamago was as expected, molten although not too liquid in the centre.

The Bonito Tonkotsu had thick chewy noodles, tonkotsu broth blended with bonito fish stock, bara charshu (pork belly) bamboo shoots, Japanese leeks and spring onions. It smelt so good (because of the bonito) that it got us very curious, especially with that little random ‘mole’ of miso paste on the side! Upon first sip the extremely umami flavoured broth was hands down a winner, but it got a bit overbearing after a while. It came with really thick yellow noodles (not my favourite type) but I figured they pair the thickness of the noodles according to how rich the broth is.

The Ippudo Shiro is one of the signature Ippudo flavours. Made with the original tonkotsu broth, Hakata-style thin and straight noodles, bara charshu (pork belly), black fungus, cabbage, spring onions – this is probably my favourite out of the lot we tried that night, and my favourite ramen in Singapore for the moment. For me, ramen is all about the broth. This one is so flavourful yet light (unlike the fat and collagen laden types), and has a delicate tonkotsu flavour that I can never get sick of. And I love the noodles too! Strangely, I found it better than the last time I had it at Mandarin Gallery – not sure if the kitchen here was just less busy but I’m not complaining!

While Ippudo’s ramens are definitely on the pricier side (~$15 for basic bowl with one slice of chashu and no tamago), I think overall, the taste and lovely buzzy setting (no mad queues or elbow to elbow type seating) justifies it. Am also loving the fact that I can have my ramen and yummy girly Japanese-style cocktails at the same time :) So glad that they decided to open in Singapore in addition to Japan and NYC !

Price: $-$$
Location: #01-55/56, UE Square, 207 River Valley Road, S (238275). Facing Mohammed Sultan Road, opposite Chikuwa Tei.
Tel: +65 6887 5315
Opening Hours: Mon to Thu 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm to midnight, Fri to Sat 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm to 2am, Sun 11.30am to 11pm. Last order half hour before closing.
Website: http://www.ippudo.com.sg/

Hong Kong: San Hing 新興食家

16 Dec

As we had a morning flight to catch out of Hong Kong, we planned to do an early morning Dim Sum breakfast in San Hing as it opens at 3am and was rated on CNNGo as having very good Liu Sha Bao 流沙包 (golden custard bun). The stars were aligned too, as we bunked over at our friend’s pad in Kennedy Town which ended up being only 200m away from San Hing. This is the view we got when we left her pad to trot to San Hing – it’s really cool to be staying just a few steps away from the harbour.

Totally random but I spotted this pretty Body Shop Tram on our way there.

The moment we entered, we felt all eyes on us as we were the only odd ones out. At 7am, everyone there was a retiree clutching newspapers and Yum Cha-ing as part of their morning routine. You probably get the clubbers post-clubbing in the wee hours of the morning; but at daybreak, retirees rule at San Hing. It was packed to the brim but we managed to squeeze past the crowd into a corner of the back section and shared a table with an elderly man.

There was no menu so we just ordered the usuals and scanned the many media clippings on their wall for recommendations. Let’s start with the Liu Sha Bao that even Eason Chan recommends.

As its name dictates, the filling of the Liu Sha Baos at San Hing really gush out out, unlike the almost-solid ones we often get in Singapore. I quite liked it as it wasn’t overly oily, didn’t have too much salted egg, and had a fragrant coconut milk taste. A pity it wasn’t served piping hot so by the time I snapped a few photos it was already cold.

We also ordered the Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gao), Glutinous Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf (Luo Mai Gai) and Rice Roll with Prawns (Har Cheong Fan). All were pretty good! I especially liked the skins of the cheong fan and har gaos, they were thin, fresh and moist enough. The glutinous rice could have done with a bit more sauce/flavour. On hindsight I should have ordered the Quail Egg Siew Mai too but I completely blanked out as we rushed to order.

For “dessert”, I wanted the Osmanthus Jelly, but was told they only serve it in summer. So I ordered the Deep Fried Milk which is also one of their signature dishes and the waitress said they don’t have that either. But anyway it popped up on our table like 1 minute later, so I’m not complaining. I’ve not eaten this before so I didn’t know what to expect. Unfortunately this was served cold and hence felt very greasy :( But it was still semi-crispy on the outside, and the inside was basically a milk-flavoured custard. Not exactly salty or sweet, just milk-flavoured. Still I could imagine that served piping hot, it would have tasted 10 times better.

San Hing to me, felt like a neighbourhood Dim Sum place catering to the nearby residents and probably the clubbing/night shift crowd who want supper (given the weird opening hours). It isn’t exactly a place for refined Dim Sum, or to sit and linger as it has extremely uncomfortable surroundings. But that said, the retirees there seemed to have no qualms about zen-ing out and reading their newspapers over copious amount of tea. If you do enjoy a good Liu Sha Bao or are looking for a late night/early morning Dim Sum feast, it’s worth a trek.

Price: $ (<30 SGD for 2 pax)
Location: 10 Hau Wo St., Kennedy Town, Hong Kong Island (nearest MTR is Sheung Wan/Central, you can take a cab from there)
Open daily: 3 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Beijing: Hai Di Lao 海底捞

1 Aug

Hai Di Lao 海底捞 is a popular chain hotpot chain in Beijing that originated from Sichuan. I actually dined here twice on my trip as my first experience was so good I had to bring the husband there. Some of the outlets are 24 hours! Steamboat as supper after clubbing – how awesome is that??

It’s insanely popular so there is a rather elaborate queuing/waiting system. After we first got a queue number, we sat at this waiting area outside of the restaurant with makeshift tables where we were served snacks, drinks and there were TVs and games such as Chinese checkers and playing cards (bearing hilarious pictures of steamboat ingredients no less). Though we had to wait at least half an hour on a weekday night (and it was almost 9pm), time passed quite fast with all that entertainment. I read online that they even provide free manicures but I guess it differs from branch to branch.

Once our number was called, we were ushered up to the restaurant, to another waiting area where we were presented with herbal tea and a very long menu to peruse and order while they got our table ready. Half-sized portions of each item were also available to cater smaller groups. Though we ordered usual portions since we were hungry, the staff informed us that we had ordered too much and advised us to cut down since we could always order more if we were still hungry later. I was quite impressed and this almost never happens in China.

Finally, we were shown to our table. The actual dining room was quite posh, and very large and spacious. It looks nothing like the crummy hotpot restaurants in Singapore’s Bugis area. By now we were really hungry and had pretty high expectations after all that suspense. After our soup was boiling, the waitress scooped a bowl of the clear soup for us to taste. It was good! Flavourful but not in the salty or MSG-laded way. Our waiter opened and poured in the mala packet in front of us, perhaps to show that it’s a fresh batch since some steamboat outlets in China reuse their soups. I didn’t touch much of the mala soup 麻辣汤 but my friend seemed to be enjoying himself, albeit the sweats and swollen lips ;)

All the items we ordered were fresh and of pretty good quality, but the prawn paste 虾滑 was exceptional! I always order this in hotpot if they have it and this was miles above anything I have tried before.

If you order la mian (hand pulled noodles), a la mian master will pull your noodles in front of your very eyes while busting some hip-hop moves at the same time. I was insanely tickled by this.

The food’s good, but service and hygiene were really where Hai Di Lao stood out from the rest of the steamboat places in China. The service was prompt, friendly and just overall excellent – they even cooked our food for us :) I can safely say Hai Di Lao was the best hotpot experience I had so far. Try it and you won’t be disappointed!

Price: $-$$ | Locations: Many. I went to 2 Yan Jing Xi Li in Chaoyang and A2 Baijiazhuang Lu in Sanlitun | Website: http://www.haidilao.com | Reservations recommended