Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Great potential for Café Gray at The Upper House in Hong Kong

Probably the newest boutique hotel in Hong Kong, The Upper House which opened in October 2009, has its bar, restaurant as well as the hotel lobby on the 49th floor. No doubt to take advantage of the view as well as lots of natural light.

Café Gray Bar  was buzzing on a Wednesday night with well-heeled tourists and expats alike (not many locals were sighted). The drinks menu has a number of delectable cocktails to entice the palette. My pineapple and thyme martini was unusual yet tasty.

091230 Cafe Gray IMG_0406
We then progressed to Café Gray Deluxe - the restaurant adjacent to the bar. It seems brighter than the bar with a similar view of the harbour and Central. The menu, devised by Gray Kunz, has many interesting dishes and combinations. Our gnocchi with artichokes and sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes) was light and tasty.  The richness of the short-ribs was balanced by a sharp tomato compote and mustard sauce. The pomfret meunière was good but on the large side.

091230 Cafe Gray IMG_0410 

(Gnocchi with artichokes and sunchokes)

091230 Cafe Gray IMG_0415
(short ribs)

The wine list is extensive - one that befits a 3-Michelin star restaurant rather than the brasserie of a boutique hotel. Perhaps Café Gray has starry aspirations, but for now it's a bit of an overkill. As for the service, there is room for improvement. Despite of the fine cutlery and deco, the service seemed brisk to the point of abrupt - plates were removed too quickly, waiters too ready to take orders, chocolates appeared before the dessert: they need to work on the pace of the meal to achieve a more rounded and luxurious experience.

Let's see how it does in a few months.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Fried Curry Crab at Somboon in Bangkok

OK, it was all Thai to me! Being whisked away by a friend's fiancée I found myself walking into this rather large restaurant Somboon that featured a crab in its logo. Not entirely sure what to expect, I let my hostess do the ordering. In true Thai fashion, dishes just turned up as they were freshly prepared and cooked. The "star" dish was, surprise surprise, curry crab. It was just crab meat cooked in an Asian curry sauce which was delicious with just the right balance of spices and richness - all went down swimmingly well with jasmine rice. We also had the classic tom yum koong which was rich and tasty. The koong woosen (prawns with vemicelli noodles) was great, so was the grilled cockles. The mean was concluded with sticky rice and Thai mangoes. Yum yum.

NB: There are several branches of Somboon in Bangkok. Unfortunately, Google has found the site being associated with malware and viruses so can't pull any pictures here. Apologies.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The orchestra was too loud in Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera

This has to be one of my favourite operas, and definitely the favourite Strauss opera. So I was much looking forward to seeing the first night of the revival yesterday. The overture was sounding symphonic which got me worried as it was supposed to be a relatively tender opening to the first act. The in-bed duet between Octavian (Sophie Koch) and Marschallin (Soile Isokoski) was drowned out by the orchestra. The only exception was when the score only called for a handful of instruments accompanying the voices. Baron Ochs was sung by Peter Rose who had a good mid register but lacking umph in the bottom notes. The second act got off to a good start - the duet between Sophie (Lucy Crowe) and Octavian was very good and totally believable. All the singers looked and acted splendidly on the set by William Dudley.

The prelude to the third was bombastic. The farce in the first half
was nicely played out and fun to watch. The trio had a tender start -
Isokoski's pianissimo was outstanding, joined by the beautiful voices
of Koch and Crowe. Though slowly but surely, the singers were drowned
by the orchestra towards the end.

I peeped into the pit to find out what's going on - the conductor
Kirill Petrenko was giving very big leads to the orchestra with huge
gestures all the time: of course the orchestra would respond in kind. Clearly there was
insufficient attempt to balance the sound between stage and pit. One
advice for him: sit in the back of Stalls and have a listen - if you
can't hear the singers, the orchestra is too loud.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Last night I went to see this Royal Opera and Royal Ballet co-production of The Tsarina's Slippers. The fairytale story is just the perfect ticket for Christmas: Ukrainian Christmas, witches, devils, Court at St Petersburg, drunken teacher, etc. Mikhail Mokrov's set design and Francesca Zambello's direction was fun and effective. To maintain a certain degree of innocence,  lots of the special effects were played by the Devil's entourage, nymphs, and just simple acting rather than by backstage machinery. 

As a relatively unknown work (certainly outside of Russia), the Royal Opera enlisted a cast of largely Russian singers. Olga Guryakova was Oxana with a big voice to fill the auditorium; Vsevolod Grivnov was a lyrical Vakula. Larissa Diadkova and Maxim Mikhailov were the Witch/Solokha and the Devil respectively - who really made the fairytale work. The corp of the Royal Ballet fitted well in all the dance sequences - especially the nymphs by the lake and the court dances.

Musically, it was a bit like Onegin and Nutcracker thrown together with a heavy Ukrainian influence. At times, Tchaikovsky's handy work was only detectable in the orchestration. So some of today's audiences may need a bit of time to get used to this unknown work: it certainly deserves more outings.