Friday, 31 December 2010
Then to my surprise, I came across black truffle again. This time at Din Tai Fung in Causeway Bay. At a xiao lung bao cum noodle joint, one doesn't expect to see black truffles. Wrong. On the menu one can order a steamed basket of black truffle xiao lung bao at HK$138. So without hesitation I ordered one such basket (see below). Well, they tasted like the classical bao but laced with the aroma of the black truffle. It tasted surprisingly good - as the minced fatty pork and truffle created a rich and creamy taste.
One doesn't doubt the culinary uses of black truffles, nor its potential application in cuisine such as Chinese or Japanese. The interesting question here is whether these black truffles are of the European tuber melanosporum variety, or the Chinese tuber sinensis variety, or something else. And how will a surge in demand for this black stuff in the vast Chinese market impact on the world supply.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
The mass chorus gave its very best with a great deal of contrast, from the ethereal angel voices to the muscular song contest march. The German diction was impeccable. Johan Botha continued to shine in Act II but now singing opposite Eva-Maria Westbroek as Elizabeth. Her bright and noble tone was just right for the role.
Semyon Bychkov's reading of the score was considered and more elastic than some would expect. The very measured pace towards the end of Act II held everyone's attention. The combined forces responded and reacted to each of his nuanced direction. The set by Michael Levine was subtle - which is about right for an opera with so much drama on stage.
I do hope they will bring Tannhäuser back more regularly. Judging from the audiences' response, the Royal Opera should not have trouble selling tickets.
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Monday, 29 November 2010
Thursday, 25 November 2010
The stage design was subpstuous, of the period and intricate - no expense spared given it's going to be shared by FOUR opera houses. Signs of the time I am afraid. David McVicar's direction was also marvellous. Nothing OTT, but just enough to effectively create the right dynamics between the characters.
Mark Elder was superlative at bringing the score to life, always keeping the orchestra balanced with the singers on stage.
Thursday, 18 November 2010
The two pieces of sushi were nicely presented. The sushi rice had a slightly sweeter taste than normal. The squid was well grilled. The "two way" referred to the slightly different condiments on top - both were delicious and subtle.
The sashimi lunch was not bad. A very fresh selection of sea bass, tuna, salmon, and even the cooked prawns were quite tasty. Miso soup was of the kelp variety. Rice was proper Japanese grain. So all was washed down with much enjoyment. Though I must try the more interesting creations next time - there were all kinds of rolls and sushi that deserved more time to enjoy.
Friday, 5 November 2010
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Then at 10pm, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Rosemary Joshua played an hour of Carelli, Handel and Vivaldi. I was at first intrigued and subsequently enjoyed this format - a late start so you are not dashing from work and trying to chow down dinner in a hurry. Drinks are permitted throughout - so you can be nursing a pint of beer or swirling a glass of merlot while listenting to Corelli. The presenter (Alistair Appleton) added a relaxed atmosphere and provided a dialogue between the audience and the on stage performers. Of course, the OAE played the music wonderfully. After the concert, there was a DJ cueuing some tracks until the wee hours. All in all, it was an unsual yet strangely satisfying night out.
Friday, 15 October 2010
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
But the issue was my inability / reluctance to get into operas of that period. Whilst I went with an open mind, I came out feeling I had spent 3.5 hours listening to stuff that didn't move me - it was similar to my experience of Harrison Birtwistle's Gawain - well produced and sung but one that didn't engage me. May be there was a lack of intimacy (I don't think operas of that period were meant for a 2,500 seat Royal Opera House, more like the Linbury Studio). May be Anfione needed to be sung by a castrato. May be ... we needed alcohol and canapes during the performance.
Monday, 27 September 2010
being shown above the orchestra. Esa-Pekka Salonen led the Philharmonia Orchestra with firmness and encouragement - and the players were responsive throughout. A memorable Tristan und Isolde is hard to come by, and this one will stay with me for a little while.
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Thursday, 23 September 2010
Then onto one of the longest symphonies in the repertoire - Mahler 3. The opening fanfare was bold but restrained. Jurowski took quite an episodic reading of this massive movement - and refrained from pulling about too much. The recapitulation of the fanfare with the four cymbals was gigantic. The 2nd and 3rd movements brought about a different sound world - as intended by Maher's naturalistic score. Petra Lang returned in the 4th movement "O Mensch!" with her rich and dark tone. Then there was the contrasting 5th movement - when the Trinity Boys Choir and sopranos/altos of the London Philharmonic Choir came charging in with their angelic voices. The final movement was tender, luscious and warm. The whole symphony was wonderfully put together - and it was very enjoyable too!
Monday, 13 September 2010
Friday, 13 August 2010
Very few people know there is a restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery with roof top view. Even fewer know they serve a afternoon tea. I was treated to afternoon tea there on Friday. The place was buzzing with late tea-drinkers and early cocktail-quaffers. We settled on their classic afternoon tea set which arrived as below:
Monday, 9 August 2010
When one is accustomed to so many good and interesting restaurants in Soho, Mayfair and the East End, crossing Park Lane over to Knightsbridge has always been tricky for me - where to eat, what's convenient, and who will be eating there. After a very positive experience at Koffmann's a few weeks ago, I ventured to another relatively new eatery - Bar Boulud. The charcuterie platter to share was quite wonderful - the tastes and textures were well balanced without coming across as too rustic.
The burgers and chips turned out pretty well too. The meat was succulent. The size was not too big. One actually got a good choice of options on how the burger could be assembled. My fellow diners had the lemon sole which was fresh and well cooked. The boujoulaise sauges were pretty wholesome too. All in all, it makes a trip to this part of town much more tolerable.
Sunday, 8 August 2010
Semyon Bychkov and the National Youth Orchestra kicked start their BBC Proms concert with Dukas The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It was well put together. A good pace. There was a lot of contrast. And clearly the whole orchestra enjoyed this colourful piece.
This was followed by Julian Anderson's Fantasias (its London premiere). The first movement gave a bold and staunch start of the work - being scored for just brass instruments. The subsequent movements took the listeners to different naturalistic soundscapes. The most intriguing part was the tapping of the mouth pieces and col legno which created a "tropical rain fall" inside the Royal Albert Hall. All in all it was a delightful experience (and the audience seemed to like it too).
Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique argually was the weakest piece. Whilst the players were full of enthusiasm, the first movement took a long time to settle - passion was lacking. The subsequent movements got better. The dance and the march were tightly played. Though one could not help but feel the playing wasn't mailable enough to accommodate the sensuous score.
Saturday, 7 August 2010
It's a new production. It's a much loved opera at Glyndebourne. Gerald Finley sang the title role. Having seen him in lighter Mozart roles (such as Figaro) I was not entirely what to expect. He did the athletic and dashing parts of the character well, but somehow lacked the menacing quality at the darker end of the drama. Anna Samuil's Donna Anna was ok - though I did find her voice uneven in many of the arias. Anna Virovlansky was a feisty Zerlian who partnered well with Guido Loconsolo's Masetto. Alastair Miles was held up in traffic so was only able to take part in Act II.
Jakub Hrusa conducted who did a fine job. The keyboard continuo caused
too much distraction with a lot of unnecessary page turning. Jonathan
Kent's direction was good - with lots of movements in the right places.
The best part of the production was the ever unfolding, revolving and imploding set. It started off as a rotating cube. Then it opened up into Donna Anna's house. Then it turned into Don Giovanni's palatial home. Then it folded into the balcony of Donna Elvira. And so on. Very inventive and engaging for an otherwise dark stage.
Friday, 30 July 2010
The last time I tasted Pierre Koffmann's gastronomic creations was back in 2004 when La Tante Claire was in the Berkeley Hotel (the site now occupied by Marcus Wareing). The time when he was on Royal Hospital Road was most memorable for me - as I'd been going since the mid 80s. I knew Monsieur Koffmann embarked on a few short term projects since his departure from the Berkeley Hotel but never settled in one place. So when I discovered he'd opened Koffmann's at the Berkeley hotel, I knew I had to pay a visit.
The deco of Koffmann's was a blend of modern British and French brasserie - laid back to be comfortable, with chocie decorations to remind you of its gastronomic heritage. The menu was relatively short - a la carte and a prix fixe. I could not help but gravitate towards the former - the heritage tomatoes and goat cheese basil sorbet salad was full of flavours. Quite refreshing especially as an appetizer before the main course.
The Pied de cochon arrived after much anticipation. Monsieur Koffmann's interpretation of the dish had acquired a cult status when it was served up at La Tante Claire. Since then many chefs tried to re-create the dish. So here we were at Koffmann's in 2010 - the texture of the cochon was light even though none of the ingredients were 'light'. The sauce was exactly how I remembered it - velvety rich but with an edge to it to match the cochon. It was heavenly.
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Business trips seldom offer the opportunity to eat well. So it was a pleasant surprise to be taken to Liviano which was a Italian / Slovak restaurant on the edge of town. I ordered a cold tomato soup - which came in a lovely rich red colour full of tomato flavour with a strong kick to it (perhaps paprika or chili). The main course was loin of venison - which was beautifully done. What looked like roast potatoes turned out to be potato dumplings pan fried. They had a lovely chew to it.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
When in doubt, ask about! I was in Amsterdam for a day en famille and needed somewhere nice to have lunch. So I thought I'd consult a trusted friend who worked locally. After a lot of "where's that again" and "no I didn't see it", I eventually found Gartine which was in a narrow alley off a main shopping street.
It's dinky and cosy. The menu was full of wholesome sandwiches made with locally sourced ingredients and beautifully dressed salads. I tried the tartare of marinated mackerel. Others had the freshly laid hen eggs in mayo. May be we were hungry, may be we were impressed, it all went down just too quickly. Then came desserts ... I asked our lovely waiter whether I should go for the white chocolate mousse or dark chocolate cake - he recommended the latter and you could see what arrived below! It's simply presented but packed full of flavours!
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Sunday, 4 July 2010
The last time I came across Catherine Malfitano was when she sang the title role of Salome at the Royal Opera in 1997. Prior to that I also saw her in that famous "on location on time" production of Tosca. I had no idea she started directing operas. So it was interesting to see the latest production of Tosca at the English National Opera directed by her.
Well, I was not disapp0ointed. Amanda Echalaz was an intense Tosca with a big voice to match. There were lots of detailed movements - ones that added complexity to her character. It was all very believable. Cavaradossi was sung by Julian Gavin - again a big tenor voice with good top notes and tenderness. Scarpia was portrayed by the fine Anthony Michaels-Moore - giving lots of dark colours. Ed Gardner just let the Puccini drama and music unfold. If you like Tosca, go see it.
Friday, 2 July 2010
Many years ago I was introduced to Tim's Kitchen by an old family friend. At the time, Hong Kong was emerging from the last financial downturn. People were tightening their belts but didn't want to forgo good food and drink. Tim's Kitchen arguably opened at the right time - where great Cantonese classics were served in a humble (i.e. no need to pay for intrusive services at a glitzy location) if somewhat utilitarian set up in Sheung Wan.It received 2 Michelin Stars in 2009. Clearly, the ex-chef for the directors' dining room at Hang Seng bank was capable of satisfying the most demanding palettes.
Three weeks ago it opened shop in a new location (also in Sheung Wan). It is now much more spacious than before complete with several private dining rooms for those demanding discretion. The food was still very good. The Crystal Tiger Prawns (see below) were crunchy and tasty. The Crab Claw floating on a double-boiled stock glazed egg white was delicate and divine.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
Paul Nilon's pensive interpretation of the title role worked well. Idamante (sung by Robert Murray) was emotionally torn. Illia (Sarah Tynan) was not bad, though not remarkable. Emma Bell's Elettra was fantastic - with high drama and vocal agility. Finally I thought the videos (by Fifty Nine Productions) worked really well. While it was obvious they were projections on stage, they were really effective in delivering the maritime / tempest feel to an otherwise stylish but plain seaside resort set.
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Anna Netrebko was the glamorous / tragic Manon whose vocal colours and strength effectively conveyed the full range of emotions of her character. She was well matched by Vittorio Grigolo as des Grieux - whose voice had a wonderful tenorial ring, sang with real emotions and complete with handsome looks. The two brought the house down at the end of the evening. Pappano was his usual self - ensuring a tight and responsive sound from the pit. Go see it!
I have been meaning to go to Il polpo in Soho for a long time but somehow didn't manage until today. Well the menu has lots of traditional and familiar Venetian dishes - fritto misto, risi e bisi and fegato veneziana. And there were some dishes that took advantage of seasonal English produce - asparagus with anchovy butter and Parmesan cheese. All in relatively small portions which was great as one could sample many different dishes. The staff was relaxed and friendly. Definite a place to revisit.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
I have never seen Constantinos Carydis in the pit before, and his
enthusiasm and big gestures kept the orchestra moving and the ensemble
together. And the horse, donkey, abseillers and acrobats all added to
the grand opera feel.
Monday, 7 June 2010
Though I was not totally convinced by the beginning of the first act. It seemed there was either insufficient drive from Pietro Spagnoli (as Don Alfonso), or the production got stuck - the pace seemed slow and there was not enough build up to the subsequent melodrama. I think the set worked well - but could see why others thought it's a bit dated. The second act picked up a lot - somehow everything geled better. I wonder how long before the Festival decides to retire it.
Sunday, 6 June 2010
A whole bunch of us had just done a gig at ExCel in London. It was a warm and humid day. We were hungry for something wholesome. Luckily one of us had local knowledge of an allegedly very good Vietnamese restaurant in the area. Well, Cafe East was not easy to find (here is the Google map reference) but the journey was well worth it.
We got there and were asked to wait for 5-10 minutes - always a reassuring sign on a Saturday evening. The interior of the place was functional bordering utilitarian (see pic below). However, the clientele was mostly South East Asian (another reassuring sign) and the noise was a slurpy and happy one.
The rice-pasta rolls were good, and so were the sliced sausages. The true test of any Vietnamese restaurant, however, is still Phở - rice noodles with thin slices of rare beef in a clear beef soup. Well mine turned up looking good (see below). The soup was clear. The smell was excellent - a beefy aroma scented with basil and spices. And it was very good - the noodles were al dente, the beef was succulent and the soup was tasty without being overpowering. I happily slurped up the entire bowl and drank the soup (and didn't feel thirsty later - another sign of a good soup).
Saturday, 29 May 2010
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Went to Hix on Brewer Street last night for dinner. Not impressed.
We were made to wait an extra 20 minutes for our table in the bar
downstairs which was dark and loud. The cocktail list was interesting -
but the lighting condition didn't encourage reading nor exploration. The main
restaurant was overwhelmingly noisy - a harsh nosiness rather than
buzzy noisy. The waiting staff was slightly disorganised.
As a starter, I had the battered monk fish cheeks. It sounded good on the menu. I have eaten many fish cheeks before and they definitely were not cheeks - more like medallion of monk fish fillets. The tartar sauce was nice though. My venison salad was disappointing - served in a wooden bowl (why?) the venison was tough and bordering flavourless. The beetroot chunks were good though. Desserts improved somewhat - I had a taste of my friends' chocolate tart and Bakewell pudding which were both rich and decadent.
So I cannot understand what the fuzz is about this place. Perhaps there is no fuzz - just good marketing and PR. There are plenty of decent eating places in Soho and I don't think I will be returning to Hix anytime soon.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Jacques Imbrailo, as Billy Budd, had the quintessential innocent and youthful quality. Master-of-Arms Clggart was sung by Phillip Ens who gave it plenty of vindictiveness: shades of Iago emerged during his monologue towards the end of Act 1. The Glyndebourne chorus was splendidly masculine.
Michael Grandage, making his operatic debut, did the job well - the acting and movements were great. The lighting, by Paule Constable, was good too given the relatively complex stage set. Sir Mark Elder together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra delivered
fantastic team work even with this difficult Britten score - and the
woodwinds and brass were particularly brilliant.
Friday, 14 May 2010
Micaela Carosi (as Aida) had a powerful voice and delivered some good acting. Amneris (Marianne Cornetti) had the right kind of highly strung and gutsy voice. The decidedly-chubby Marcelo Álvarez sang a decent Radames - though his opening aria Celeste Aida could have been sung with greater sensitive and observance of the morendo marking at the end would not go amiss. There were lots of people on stage, but my guess was that less than half were singers (there were acrobats, lots of dancers, some muscle-bods) - so while the Royal Opera chorus came out strong, the sound lacked that big chorus feel.
Nicola Luisotti (conductor) didn't hang about in the pit: the tempi were very progressive which made this potentially long and stogy opera exciting and punch.
Monday, 3 May 2010
Finger sandwiches form an integral part of an English afternoon tea (together with scones and clotted cream, cakes and of course tea). Most hotels in Hong Kong would do a half decent afternoon tea. The Clipper Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental has been offering afternoon tea for decades.
I was meeting up with some out of town friends in Hong Kong and I thought tea at the Mandarin would be lovely. We sat down. We ordered afternoon tea. The food, as usual, came in a multi-tier contraption as well as a basket of piping hot scones. What intrigued me first were the boxy objects on the top tier (see picture below) - what were they?
Thursday, 29 April 2010
No doubt he exerted great pressure on his cello. Towards the beginning of the final movement, Ishizaka looked at Jurowski, then the whole orchestra stopped playing: the A string snapped! Ishizaka left the concert platform briefly, came back with a shiny new A string. There was a bit of a chuckle in the audience when the soloist and conductor were working out where to pick up the work. Everyone got back into the work quite quickly and the final section allegro marcato was firm and unhurried. Ishizaka played the final chords with much decisively and brought the work to a close.
Thursday, 8 April 2010
Friday, 26 March 2010
As for the music, the orchestra deserved praise for "counting like crazy". Stuart Stratford ensured the tempo was clear and he did give all the singers very clear leads - so they could focus on the singing rather than the counting. The singers were generally good, though there were intonation problems with their descending arpeggios.
Now will the ENO bring back Akhenaten?
Monday, 15 February 2010
Roberto Saccà (Alexei) really got across his internal turmoil while Angela Denoke played the hard-to-get Polina. Richard Jones's direction was great - where each act and sequence had an authentic feel with just enough caricature to deliver entertainment value.
Antony McDonald's set and Nicky Gillibrand's costume designs were great - giving the production a contemporary feel. The zoo, the hotel corridor and even the big gambling tables really worked well. My friend also thought perhaps the revolving door was synced to the key changes and rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, Pappano and the orchestra really kept the pace of the work going. The gambling sequence, in particular, had a quicken pulse that really conveyed the excitement of a buzzy casino.
Saturday, 13 February 2010
The second half of the concert included two rarely performed works: Fauré Pavane with Choir and Poulenc Stabat Mater. As a performer in these two pieces it would be inappropriate for me to review them.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Jonathan Miller's production originally included stylish costume by
Giorgio Armani which really worked with his textured walls and
contemporary staging. Subsequent revivals, however, included the Marks and
Spencer's clothing. This run at the Royal Opera included updated costumes (slim fit suits for the men, still rather dull clothing for the women) and Apple
iPhones. The audience seemed to
have liked it.