Friday, April 26, 2013

Sun Yun Kee, Dor Ho and May Wong Fish Ball Noodles : Eating my way through Electric Road, North Point Hong kong

Walking through un-touristy streets, discovering restaurants where locals eat -- those are my ideas of a really good time.  My friend, long time Hong Kong resident and fellow foodie Beba had told me that Electric Road, which crosses Oil Street where Harbor Grand was situated, was a veritable local foodie's paradise.  She pointed me in the direction of a few notable places where one could eat as the locals did on less than HK$50.  My kind of places indeed!  
Whole day meetings would not stop me, I made my first walk about on a Monday.  During lunch break, I opted out of the (horrors!) hotel buffet and hied off to Electric Road.

Beba had warned me most of the places would not have English signs or menus but that I should walk right in and just point to what other people were eating.  I decided that since lunch break was just a little over an hour, I couldn't wander too far from the hotel and with this in mind, I made my first discovery - just 5 minutes away from Harbor Grand was Sun Yun Kee at 270 Electric Road (no English sign on the facade but I found out the name on -- a terrific resource for eating out in Hong Kong!)

It was a surprisingly cold day so I ordered a cup of hot tea with milk, as the British and the Hong Kong folks like it.

It was lunch time so the place was full of locals and people from the nearby offices.  I sat in a table for two but was soon joined by a young man, who shyly tried to communicate with me in English.  Food being the universal language, we enjoyed our meal together.

 I ordered the fish ball and fish cake noodle soup.  The fish balls were freshly made, very springy and tasty.  A generous slice of fish cake and the ubiquitous broccoli leaves made up the rest of the dish.  The noodles were chewy and the broth was a bit on the simple side which really made the fish balls the star of the bowl!

My next foray into Electric Road came the next morning.  I woke up early and peered out the window. Hooray, there were restaurants that seemed to be open!  
Why graze through the calorific and yet boring hotel breakfast buffet when more of the eateries along this electrifyingly delicious stretch of North Point were just waiting to be experienced!
Dor Ho was open at 7 am so I walked right in.

At this early hour, Dor Ho's regulars were already having breakfast.  I saw a few having toast and eggs but most were slurping away at their bowls of congee.

 So congee it was!  For good measure, I ordered crullers -- bicho bicho to us, "stick" to the natives and the locals.  My congee thankfully came in a small bowl so I was sure I would be able to finish it.
Just plain, rather soupy congee with century egg, eaten with the hot, freshly fried crullers -- it was a local breakfast that was so much better than any hotel buffet.
I also thought that Dor Ho's cutlery cabinet built in to the table was such a genius and handy idea!

On our last night in Hong Kong, I had yet to sample the delights of May Wong Fish Ball Noodle House, a specific recommendation from my foodie friend Beba.  So, even if I had had an early dinner in Causeway Bay, I decided that a late night snack at May Wong was something I had to do before I left Hong Kong.  Thankfully, the restaurant was still open past 10 pm.

 May Wong has an english menu and I saw fish dumpling noodle soup on the menu!
Fish dumpling soup is an old favorite of mine which I used to enjoy in a small hole in the wall in Tsim Sat Tsui -- the place is now long gone from the scene but its special fish dumplings are still fresh in my memory. Would May Wong's version rekindle the taste I knew and loved?

 While I waited for my order, I saw that I was not the only one out for food at 10:30 pm.  People were still coming and going -- the eating continues till late night along Electric Road!

Here are my fish dumplings and yes -- they were just as good as the ones I used to enjoy.
Firm and fresh, no hint of any fishiness at all.  The broth was mild yet savory -- truly a great meal to end my eating affair with Electric Road!
I shall be back to discover more!

A Tale of two Hong Kong Hotels : Part 2 Harbor Grand Hong Kong

I was lucky this last trip to Hong Kong to have experienced two hotels in the time that I was there. 
J + Boutique Hotel was a treasure that I unearthed and it was hard to tear myself away from her cocooning embrace. 
But I was here for work and was officially booked at the Harbor Grand in Fortress Hill, two subway stops away.  So after just one night in Causeway Bay, I reluctantly packed my suitcase and moved ...

It was a complete 180 degree turn.  If J + was cool, trendy, hip, small and chic -- well, Harbor Grand was exactly as its name implied -- a grand ... no, a grandiose hotel right along the harbor in the residential North Point area.

Good bye, small and fascinatingly quirky J + Hotel lobby ... look at the sweep of the marble staircase at the lobby of the Harbor Grand.  The lobby was huge specially for Hong Kong where hotels tend to maximize every inch of usable space. But I hear the Harbor Grand is owned by Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong billionaire and reputedly the richest man in Asia.  He certainly spared no expense for his hotel.

While impressively spacious, I thought it was not as tasteful as it could have been.  After all, size doesn't matter every time.  The three sparkling chandeliers suspended from the ceiling were pretty but too showy for my taste.  The entire lobby of the J + Hotel could have fit under one of these large chandeliers.

The hotel is just four years old and already very popular with conventions, meetings and events.  
Thus the red velvet chairs, tacky and odd, that were scattered throughout the lobby were already showing signs of wear and tear.  

Our room was every inch a traditional hotel room.  Thankfully no red velvet plush chairs here.  The decor was muted and quite refined, much more so than the public areas.

The bathroom was well equipped with a glassed off shower and bath area, a rain shower and a deep and spacious tub.  I looked forward to long soaks after long meetings.

The best part of the room was the view from the corner windows!

Our room looked out over the harbor and the wharf, with nothing to obstruct the wide expansive view of water, ships and the Kowloon skyline.

The other window looked out on the mainly residential and quiet area of North Point.  Harbor Grand is situated on Oil Street and down below was Electric Road -- where I was told there were lots of good, local restaurants to be discovered and enjoyed.
Aside from the view, that was the main attraction and benefit  of staying at the Harbor Grand Hotel!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Tale of Two Hong Kong Hotels : Part 1 J Plus Hotel Causeway Bay

I had a meeting scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in Hong Kong which brought me to such a state of euphoria and glee -- I would be back in my second favorite city in the world!  
I decided to fly in early, on a Saturday to give myself more time for solo wandering and to indulge in what I love to do best, in Hong Kong or any other destination -- to walk alone and to eat by myself.

Kowloon has always been my favorite stomping grounds but it was time to explore other places.
The internet, that wonderful resource, led me to  J + Hotel in Causeway Bay.  
Their web page claimed that this was the first boutique hotel in Hong Kong designed by Philippe Starck and boldly challenged the reader to "dream and be inspired".  
I was taken in -- that was just what I wanted on my extra day alone!
J + Hotel is at the corner of Irving and Pennington Street, right across the bigger and more traditional Regal Hotel.  It's in an old building, tucked discreetly at the corner with no signage at all save for a small sign at the door.

Don't be put off by the building's exterior and facade because you'll be charmed the minute you walk in.  The front desk where you check in is literally that, an antique, ornate desk.  The floors are wood and they gleam, a sheer curtain separates the front desk  from the rest of the small lobby.

The chairs and the sofas are deliberately stylish and eclectic and it's all just a shade away from being too frou-frou for me. There are different sizes and shapes of small footstools which can double as trays that you can perch your coffee cup on.

Off to the side is where one can enjoy the continental buffet breakfast in the morning.  Even the breakfast is studiedly chic -- warm croissants, artfully cut fresh fruits and homemade yoghurt and jams.

Surprise, surprise!  I was upgraded from my regular room to a one bedroom suite!  Must have been a slow week-end.  I was completely enchanted by my room -- all 780 sleek square feet of it!  This is the view as you enter the room.  Note the writing desk conveniently positioned behind the sofa, the comfortable looking day bed that separates the living area from the small dining nook.  The coffee table is in bright green and red and is actually a large poster converted to a small table.  It makes for a bright pop of color in an otherwise all white room.
I was suitably impressed!  White flowing sheer curtains block out the light but not the noise -- this is right in Causeway Bay after all so I can hear the traffic down below.

Behind the flat screen tv and the sheer curtains is this hidden, wall to wall divan where you can sit, dream, read and yes, be inspired as their web page says.  The footstools with the dwarves are such an eye catching touch that I am momentarily swept with thoughts of how to smuggle one out in my suitcase.

Since J + Hotel touts itself not just as a boutique hotel but also as service apartments, it comes equipped with the amenities of home, if your home had been designed by Philippe Starck.
The dining area has a faux marble top table for four with the requisite statement seat made of fiber and wood.

The service apartment feel is carried over in the generous storage space.  One wall is lined with cabinets    with more than enough space for a long staying guest.

The bedroom makes me feel so cosseted and pampered.  A small flat screen tv mounted on the wall is just right for spending the whole day in bed. This room speaks to my inner slothful self.

 While small, the bathroom is complete and has a rain shower for good measure. The small footstool is a thoughtful and useful touch.

I just had to take a photo of the "statement seat" which surprisingly was quite comfortable to sit on.

A small kitchenette is just as elegant as the rest of the room.  To save on space, the microwave is mounted and recessed into the wall.

The fridge is not just a small hotel bar but a full sized cooler complete with freezer.  I am happy to see that San Miguel beer is their beer of choice.

Should you wish to cook and eat in, the modern four burner smooth top range is there for your use.  Complete cutlery, plates and other utensils are also provided.

Even the door knob and the door signs are so contemporary and humorous!  Should you wish your room to be made up, please hang this sign on the door.
Choosing the J+ Hotel for my extra night in Hong Kong was definitely a great decision.
And one that I seriously did not mess up, no matter what the sign on my door said.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lantaw in Cordova, Cebu ... the light at the Edge of the World

With apologies to Jules Verne.  

I was in Cebu for holiday last week and stayed at my favorite hotel, the Mactan Shangrila.  
Long time friends from Cebu invited me out for dinner and suggested that I take a break from my usual gorging at Golden Cowrie and discover another restaurant, Lantaw in Cordova.
Why go all the way to the city they said, when Lantaw was right in Mactan Island, where I was staying?  And why not, I said. So I agreed to take a cab from the hotel to meet up with them in Lantaw for dinner.

Little did I realize that Lantaw is at the edge of the island of Mactan, right on the pier in Cordova City. It was a good 30 minute cab ride from Shangrila, this on roads that had very little traffic.  
The taxi driver was quite apologetic when he explained that my destination was literally at the end of the road.
And true enough -- Lantaw's parking area is at the very edge of the old pier of Barangay Day-as, Cordova City.  Right across the expanse of dark water are the twinkling lights of Cebu City.  
Such a pretty sight -- it certainly was worth it after the long ride.

Lantaw calls itself a "floating restaurant" since it sits right on top of the water.   You walk across a wooden bridge to reach the first dining area.  The thatched roof is lit up and looks golden,  like a beacon in the evening darkness.
For atmosphere and ambience alone, it already scored high points with me.  However, I am sure it is much more attractive and comfortable  at night but horribly hot and humid during the day.

From the main entrance, a large open dining area is already full of diners.  While we had no reservations, we were lucky  enough to find one of the last empty tables for ourselves.

Beyond the open dining area is another large floating platform, this time covered with a canvas tent. More brightly lit and with bigger tables, it looked ideal for big groups.

The beer was extra cold!  More points for Lantaw on my list!  With its casual, convivial feel, soft mood lighting from the native lamps and the panorama of Cebu City's lights in the background, Lantaw also feels more like a huge open air bar rather than the  restaurant that it really is.

Because it is where it is, Lantaw is essentially a seafood place.  Crabs, shrimps, native clams, scallops and fish dominate the menu.

Naturally, the ubiquitous crispy pata, lechon kawali, inihaw na liempo were also available.  It wouldn't be a Pinoy restaurant without these favorites.

I really wanted to try the house specialty -- saang or spider shells which I had never tried before. Unfortunately, they had run out so I made do with the tried and tested baked scallops.
On the plus side, they were fat and fresh -- however, the heavy hand the chef had with the cheese and garlic drowned out their delicate taste.

Since I couldn't get the saang, the waiter suggested I try their other specialty -- bakasi or small eels which are found in the waters of Cebu but are particularly plentiful in the Cordova area, which is where Lantaw is situated.
These are eels  grow to 6 to 8 inches in length and Lantaw serves them fried or in a sour, sinigang style soup which they call nilarang.
We ordered bakasi both fried and nilarang and I can't say I became an instant fan.
It's too spiny,  not so fleshy and has a slightly bitter aftertaste.
However, my bigger issue  was the thought that I was probably eating something that is not sustainable and that by ordering bakasi, I was perhaps adding to the depletion of this species.
In any case, I don't think I will be having this again.

A grilled boneless milkfish is at least something I know is completely farmed and therefore not in any danger of being endangered.

We also ordered calamares which was crisp and a good match with my second bottle of cold San Miguel beer.

Our very efficient and attentive waiter suggested the Lantaw special which is much like Bicol express although they use seafood instead of pork bits.  It came in a coconut half shell and was creamy with just the right spice and kick.  Great for eating with the pandan flavored rice.

All in all,  Lantaw ... the light at the edge of Mactan Island was a good discovery on this Cebu trip.
While the food was not spectacular or even memorable, the native hut, the open air setting, the cool sea breeze and most specially, the vista of Cebu City's lights and skyline spread out before you as you drink a cold bottle of beer ... these  definitely make it worth a visit!