Friday, 30 December 2011

Delectable / Wasteful vegetables at Spring Moon, The Peninsula

Spring Moon at The Peninsula in Hong Kong remains one of my favourite Chinese restaurants for lunch. The service is impeccable. The food is seasonal and of a high quality. And not over-priced. But sometimes, one encounters dishes that can be troubling.
Pictured above is "Stir-fried hearts of Gai Lan with air-tried sausages". Yes it was very seasonal. Yes it was delicious. But I could not get over how wasteful it was - of the whole Gai Lan (Brassica oleracea - Alboglabra) only the heart of the plant was served: the delicious leaves, the green stalks and everything else were 'absent' from the plate. One dreads to think how much of the rest of the plant was re-used in other dishes.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Late night snacks at The Peninsula, Hong Kong

If you are stuck in Tsim Sha Tsui after a few drinks (in my case at the Ozone, Ritz Carlton Hotel), then The Peninsula is the place - not crowded, no wait, and reliably good food and service.
 Here is the deep-fried pork-neck bum with a delicious relish.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Club Qing in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has many restaurants that are tucked away ... some are in far flung places, some are in big hotels, others are on upper floors of commercial buildings. Club Qing was one that, unless you knew, you wouldn't know. A friend of mine took me ther for their tasting dinner just after Christmas.

The dinner began with a small helping of Long Jing Tea (龍井茶) which is supposed to aid appetite. The first three dishes came at the same time - which was a series of small bites consisting of a water melon shooter. water bamboo salad and a ham and mushroom roll (below right to left).

I thought the "King Prawn Toast" (shown below) was particularly good - crunchy on the outside, good strong seafood taste on the inside. The foie gras on tofu was also interesting - though two "soft" textured ingredients needed a bit of a lift.


A further serving of tea was offered. This time it was a Ti Kwan Tin Oolong tea that helped cleanse the palate. The Stir Fried Pumpkin with Mushrooms served in a mini Japanese pumpkin was very tasty. There were more dishes to follow. But the aforementioned were the memorable ones.


As for deco, it tried to re-create a bit of a traditional Qing Dynasty eatery feel, but the air conditioning ducts, concrete wall finish and dark light didn't really do it for me. Food was great, service was attentative, but it needed to work on the decor.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Eugene Onegin at the ENO

I was quite looking forward to see ENO's Eugene Onegin - as it's a co-production with The Met.



The first disappointment was that Toby Spence (Lensky) had lost his voice, so did his understudy. So Adrian Thompson (originally Monsieur Triquet) stepped up to sing - but from the side (second disappointment) as Toby Spence was "acting" the part on stage. So there was this bizarre situation where in Act 2 Scene 2 (Duel) we had Toby Spence "acting" opposite Audun Iversen (Onegin, not bad - but a bit wooden in his acting) and a third voice coming off stage (third disappointment).

The stage set was great (Tom Pye) and the direction (Deborah Warner) had enough details and finesse to make the whole story believable. Amanda Echalaz who sang Tatyana was on form and the letter scene was very well sung. The monologue of Prince Gremin (Brindley Sherratt) was grounded. Ed Gardner, once again, held it all together.

Monday, 7 November 2011

La sonnambula at the Royal Opera

Yet another classic that I have never seen before. The set, designed by Marco Arturo Marelli, was grand without being overbearing. The chorus / crowds were well placed for the drama to unfold. Eglise Gutiérrez was a lovely Amina who sang and hit all those high notes with eloquence. Elena Xanthoudakis as Lisa was fiesty and fun. The male cast was less interesting - but I guess it's opera about the soprano coloratura ... Glad to have seen it.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I was a bit surprised to see Jeffrey Tate billed as the conductor for Der fliegende Holländer. "He conducts Mozart" I thought to myself. Well, it was slightly slower than usual - about 2.5 hours run time - which enable one to listen more careful to the orchestration and melodic lines. Egils Silins was a competent Holländer - with sufficient gravitas and lyricism in his voice. Stephen Milling was a very good Daland. Anja Kampe was OK as Senta - her high notes were a bit forced which left one on edge sometimes. The production was beginning to lose its novelty - the rustling of the wet curtain during the overture was a terrible reminder for those who didn't visit the bathroom beforehand ...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

The Helena Rubinstein wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art had a lovely garden outside (a bit like Musée Branly in Paris) that softens the straight architectural lines. I was able to see quite a few temporary exhibitions of Israeli contemporary artists. Though it was a small space, the works were well curated and lit - with helpful staff. In fact, one of the artists-in-residence was giving a guided tour when I was there.
But the main museum 10 minutes away couldn't be more different. It's a large space (actually a new wing was opening the following day after my visit) housing some impressionist / post-impressionist works by the usual French artists. There was also a big collection of contemporary works by more established artists. Alas there were no floor plans or highlight guide - so one had to walk through the entire museum to discover items of interest: great if one has the time, not so helpful if one only had an hour or so. Still it was worth the visit.


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

La Traviata at the Royal Opera

No, I cannot remember how many times I have seen La Traviata. I thought Marina Polplayvskaya sounded good as Violetta. Leo Nucci perfect for Giorgio Germont. The last scene was not half bed.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Passenger at the ENO

I'd never heard of The Passenger by Mieczysław Weinberg. So it was a bit of a shock to see the Holocaust depicted on the ENO stage. Weinberg set the first act to a slow, drone like pace. It moved very slowly - apparently it was to recreate the atmosphere at Auschwitz. Act 2 had more melodies and drama - but ones that were heart-wrenching. Johan Engels's 3-dimensional set design was provocative and well lit by Fabrice Kebour. The rather large cast was exceptional in the delivery of text and conquering the tricky melodic lines. One came out of the theatre feeling unsettled.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Faust at the Royal Opera

No I didn't see Vittorio Grigolo as Faust, nor Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite. Instead, it was Malin Byström who sang the latter wonderfully and James Valenti the former who stepped in at the last minute. Considering these changes, David McVicar's Faust is still a wonderful piece of theatre.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Il trittico at the Royal Opera

YES! The new opera season has just started after a dreary British Summer. The last time I saw Il trittico was at the ENO years ago. Don't remember much part from hearing O mio babbino caro in the context of Gianni Schicchi. I was rather excited to see the triptych staged by the Royal Opera House.

Il tabarro: Eva-Maria Westbroek was a very powerful Giorgetta - with all those torn emotions fully expressed. Lucio Gallo sang Michele switching between rage and resignation. Ultz's design was stark yet atmospheric. There were sufficient background movements (the odd sailor, or strolling evening couple) to keep the set real without being too distracting.

Suor angelica: Ermonela Jaho was Angelica - where her voice darted from the cool / calm sister, to a penitent nun, to a distressed mother. All delivered wonderfully. I loved the moment when everyone froze on stage after Angelica's death - like someone pressed the Pause button on a DVD.

Gianni Schicchi: This was the same Royal Opera production that paired with L'heure espagnole a few seasons back. This revival brought the same fun and whimsical elements about. Francesco Demuro who sang the lover of Schicchi's daughter was a voice to watch.

And what an evening with such rich emotional textures, sound worlds and contexts - brought about by Pappano. There was some very good playing in Il tabarro with those very modern harmonies. The ensembles were rock solid all the way through. What a great way to start the new opera season.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Umberto Bombana's Otto e Mezzo in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, just like London, New York and Sydney, has its fair share of restaurateurs who attract loyal followers. Umberto Bombana (originally at Ritz Carlton's Toscana, then The Drawing Room in Causeway Bay) is definitely one. I had the opportunity to check out his relatively new restaurant. Tucked into a corner of the mezzanine floor of an office building in Central, Otto e Mezzo exudes a certain cosmopolitan Milanese chic: discrete entrance, showy celebration of Jamon (yes, even some of the best Roman eateries such as Salumerie Roscioli don't serve prosciutto anymore), and stylish chocolate brown deco.
The poached langoustine tail topped with caviar was delicious with a delicate texture. Con cura, Signore Bombana personally shaved a big lump of black truffle onto his freshly made taglioni in a mushroom sauce.
Some of us ordered the costoletta alla milanese - and it arrived as a whole piece which was then carefully carved into three portions. The eating experience on a whole was delightful. Everything was delicate and carefully prepared. The staff was attentive without being overbearing. So all in all a satisfying experience.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Ozone - the feeling of on top of the world

The Ritz Carlton opened a few weeks ago with a lot of press coverage and fanfare. So I just had to check it out - so I hooked up with a friend for a few drinks and some bar snacks at Ozone.

Having navigated through Elements (shopping mall) to the entrance of the hotel (9th floor), the lift then took me to the opulent hotel lobby on 103th floor. The last time I went above 100th floor anywhere was to go to Window on the World at the World Trade Center in New York: that was a while back. Having been screened by the staff that I was suitably dressed (shirt with sleeves, shoes, trousers), I boarded the lift that took me to Ozone on the 118th floor.

The view was amazing. At that height, I was looking down onto the 88th storey talll IFC across the harbour. The Peninsula looked like a little stump on the waterfront of Kowloon. It was also to see over Magazine Gap onto the south side of Hong Kong Island and beyond - a vista that I have not come across before. Fabulous.

The drink and snack menu at Ozone was respectable. The choice of caviar and oysters was clearly aimed at those with deep pockets (though why would anyone serve European oysters in a month without an 'r'?) The wine list was, as expected, comprehensive. The "by the glass" list was not too bad - somewhat biased towards Italian and Australian. My Ruinart blanc de blanc was delicious. The viognier wasn't bad either.

I sampled a few things. The crab balls (pictured below) were quite delicious. The Granny Smith apple with Jamon Iberico wasn't bad either. The ambiance of the place was slightly strange - an uncomfortable mix between an observation desk and a swanky bar. The dress code certainly helped contain the strays from the streets, but not enough to attract the "right" crowd. It will probably take a while for Ozone to find its place in this Mega Rich City.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Peter Grimes, Royal Opera

John Macfarlane's austere design for Peter Grimes was still fresh and effective. Amanda Roocroft was superb as Ellen. While Ben Heppner brought to the role his wealth of experience, his wobble and intonation was definitely an acquired taste. The Royal Opera should definitely start searching for the next Peter Grimes.


Andrew Davis was great. No doubt there were sufficient rehearsals to ensure Brittern's scoring was not fluffed. The highlight from the pit was the sea interludes which were beautifully and atmospherically played.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Macbeth at the Royal Opera

Macbeth was never my top Verdi opera. Still. I went to see it.

Simon Keenlyside sang superbly as Macbeth - from innocence, power-hungry through to the deranged. Liudmyla Monastyrska had a tremendous voice - she had no difficulties in filling the house while matching that of Keenlyside at the right moments. The chorus was magnificent - especially in those crowd-scene moments. Pappano conducted a very obedient orchestra.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Damnation of Faust at the ENO

Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust deserves to be staged. It's a wonderful work full of surprises and fantasies. Having sung the work in French a few times, I have become very partial to the work. So I went to ENO's staged version of Faust.


An in true ENO fashion, The Damnation of Faust received a thoroughly provocative treatment. Hildegard Bechtler created a set that was both practical and versatile in delivering the countless scene changes. I thought the cliff top / German Romantic backdrop was really good. The Nazis were used to depict hell and the works of the devils. Provocative enough for an English audience, but might seem mundane to visitors from across the Channel.

Peter Hoare, as Faust, had the right kind of ringing tone and enough emotions to be believable. Christopher Purves as Mephistopheles delivered a wide range of colours, from the wooing romantic to the sarcastic devil. Christine Rice was a fine Marguetite - and she was particularly good in the solo arias. Though low on numbers, the chorus did rather well throughout the scenes. Edward Gardner once again gave the work the necessary shape and flow. Let's hope the ENO will revive this again.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Glyndebourne

This year's festival opened with Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - there was a great deal of anticipation and I think everyone's expectation was surpassed. The LPO under Jurowski produced a clearly layered sound through out. I was hearing passages and phrases that was buried in other performances. The clarity from the pit enabled all the singers to shine through on stage. Gerald Finley's Hans Sachs was a pensive yet emotional one. He also sang it with such ease making it hard to believe it's his role debut. Anna Gabler as Eva was wonderful with her playful role. Marco Jentzsch was Walter - not sure whether his 6'5" frame enabled him to deliver such a resonant and tenorial voice. Topi Lehtipuu as David probably didn't warm up sufficiently at the beginning as he fluffed a few top notes but was much improved in the subsequent acts.


David McVicar excelled in this production. Unlike his opera directions for Covent Garden that tended to be dark (Aida) and licentious (Rigoletto), this time there was light and comedy. There were a lot of detailed touches that really brought production to life. Such as the Lena / Eva fussing on the church pew in Act I, or the fight scene in Act II that went with the music. With Gerald Finley being a relatively young Hans Sachs, his interplay with Eva was much more potent and believable. I can easily sit through the performance again.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Werther at the Royal Opera


Rolando Villazón was Werther in this revival of Massenet's Werther. His voice was lyrical and there was care in the phrasing and delivery of the lines. Very well sung. His opposite number was Sophie Koch who sang Charlotte - with a full range of colours in her voice. Together they made a pretty credible pair on stage. Pappano, as usual, got the best out of the orchestra. A nice revival indeed.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Tsar's Bride at the Royal Opera


It was the 3rd performance of the Tsar's Bride at the Royal Opera when I went. So I was not sure what to expect. Rimsky-Korsakov's score was great - lighter than I thought. As one would expect from a largely Russian cast, the basses boomed and the sopranos sang well on top of the orchestra. The diction was good and, as it is a repertory piece for most Russian opera houses, it came across polished. 
 
The production and design was rather good. Even though the opera was set in sixteenth century Russia, the production was definitely 21st century metropolis: it moved from a swanky cafe to the shopping street of Moscow. Act 3 was set in a roof top penthouse with a swimming pool complete with glittering guests and well groomed waiting staff - how it reflected the decadence of the oligarchs. The amazing thing was that it really worked.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Fidelio, Royal Opera


I am indifferent about Fidelio. I have seen it many times. It doesn't do it for me. So why did I see it again on Saturday??? Hmm.
Act One. It's not good to hear a split note from the horns right at the opening of the work. Yes the orchestra played it together, but the brass was rough and the strings were sloppy. It sounded like a rehearsal but in fact it was the last performance of this run. That's bad. Kurt Rydll was a capable and sympathetic goaler. Nina Stemme, who was superb as Isolde a season ago, was a more subdue Leonore. The whole of this act, despite of the masses on stage and a suptuous production from The Metropolitan Opera, was dull, dull and dull.
Act Two. It got off to a better start with Endrik Wottrich as the imprisoned Florestan. He sounded lyrical and pensive. Nina Stemme's subdue tone was replaced by an insistent and eventually vigorous one when she succeeded in rescuing Florestan. The final big sing scene was grand. David Syrus, Head of Music at the Royal Opera, was a last minute replacement - as I said everything was held together but somehow the whole performance lacked urgency.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Great tasting Italian at Ovest Pizzoteca on Manhattan

Never turn down a restaurant recommendation from a Italian Manhattanite. Ovest was just round the corner on 10th Avenue an 27th Street. OK it was a business lunch so had to order food that could be eaten easily while talking. The risotto with lemon and prawns were great - very southern. And the granny's lemon tart (torta di limone nonno) was fluffy light and not too tart. Nice.


Thursday, 7 April 2011

Renée Fleming was dazzling in Capriccio at the Met

My plane from Chicago was running late, and I thought I might have to drag my suitcase from La Guardia to Lincoln Centre! Luckily the tailwind helped the plane catch up. So I got to the Met in good time for Capriccio.

It was the 9th performance of Strauss's last opera Capriccio at The Met. I was surprised - I thought it would have been performed more often. The opera didn't get off to a good start. The sextet overture was scrappy and the phrasing was not entirely logical - it sounded like those playing in it didn't rehearse enough. And there were some excruciating moments. Never mind. Joseph Kaiser was Flamand the composer who looked and sang wonderfully at the opening. Russell Braun was Olivier the poet whose more mellow tone reflected the role well. Peter Rose sang the role of La Roche with depth and compassion - especially his rant which was superb. The star of the show, Renée Fleming, was superb - she delivered playfulness and class throughout, culminating in the introspective and imaginative monologue at the end (the orchestra redeemed itself with the lyrical Moonlight Music). Sir Andrew Davis conducted - and apart from the overture it was fluid and tight at the same time.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The new wing at Art Institute of Chicago by Renzo Piano

OK, it was a very dull and grey day, but it was still great to see new wing at the Art Institute of Chicago Renzo Piano's. The new space was devoted to largely modern art - spacious and well lit.






Thursday, 31 March 2011

Greens serves up super greens in San Francisco

It's apparently well-known to the locals. Greens is in one of the rejuvenated warehouses in Fort Mason on the other side of Fisherman's Wharf. Annie Somerville uses the most local, fresh and where possible organic ingredients to concoct lots of delicious vegetarian dishes. There were no nut-roast or big bowls of lentils - all the dishes celebrated vegetables as they were. There were lots of good flavours - the seasonal asparagus were great, the potato cakes were really wholesome, and the salads were amazing.


BTW the view looking out to the Bay was spectacular at sunset.

Blomstedt conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Tchaikovsky and Sibelius 

The soloist Yundi was an up and coming star in the piano world until Lang Lang came along and stole the limelight. So it was a delight to get a chance to listen to Yundi play Tchaikovsky piano concerto no 1. The opening movement had a certain briskness to it. Yundi's long phrases were punctuated by percussive interjections from the brass section of the orchestra. Apart from a few slips, this movement was well played. The second movement had an unsteady start - with Yundi pushing for a brisker tempo than what the orchestra was prepared to give - so the first few phrases rocked a little. But everyone was soon back in "concert". The last movement was probably the best - the orchestra kept pace with the soloist. The fiendishly difficult cadenza gave Yundi the opportunity to show off his virtuosity - fingers flying cross the keyboard.

The second half of the concert was Sibelius second symphony. This gave me the real opportunity to hear the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at its home the Davies Symphony Hall. The brass section was fabulous - they had this wonderful sonorous sound that was warm yet punchy. The strings were pretty good too - a very tight section. Blomstedt took the work at a brisk pace and maintained momentum throughout. While there was little wallowing in the big moments, I felt there wasn't quite enough introspection and passion. It was too 'cool' for my liking. Would love to have the opportunity to hear the band under MTM - one day.

The new sculpture garden at SFMOMA



Monday, 28 March 2011

Nice nosh at Nopi

It is the latest addition to the Ottolenghi stable of eateries. Unlike the other cafe cum food emporia, Nopi is a proper sit down restaurant - with a clean white and brass colour scheme. The menu, as one would expect, offers a range of flavour rich dishes. I sampled quite a few (the benefit of eating with a large group) - the Japanese aubergine was very succulent, the slow cooked pig cheeks were great and the prawns with feta cheese was full of flavours. I also and the chocolate cake (flour less) and that was yum. I went there with friends who brought their kids, and the staff were super nice to them. The convenient location is likely to attract a steady stream of shoppers who fancy a decent bite eat. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

An evening of cosmic music with the LPO

The first item of this concert was Brett Dean's Komarov's Fall. I thought it was entertaining - that the violins imitated the bleeping sounds inside the space capsule, and the "panic" in the control room, and the fateful fall. No doubt it's a good piece to introduce to young kids with astronomy / astrophysics aspirations. And this formed a not-too-demanding opener of this concert with Marin Alsop conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

This was followed by John Adams Doctor Atomic Symphony. Having seen the opera quite recently at the English National Opera, I was intrigued by how this might sound - and whether it conveys the full range of emotions. On balance it was an atmospheric work - and the famous aria sung by Oppenheimer was carried over as a trumpet solo. It worked I thought. And the LPO played beautifully under Marin Alsop's direction.

The final item was Gustav Holst's The Planet Suite. So often one hears bits of it on the radio. And one is inclined to think it is over-programmed. Yet asking around, I found my fellow concert goers hadn't listened to it live and in its totality for years. The orchestra played the work with conviction - and delivering the details. The sopranos and altos of the London Philharmonic Choir appeared right at the end of "Neptune" singing a fiendishly difficult passage portraying an other-worldly sound. All in all, it was a satisfying and enjoyable concert.

Aida revived at the Royal Opera, with distractions

I went to the latest revival of Aida at the Royal Opera last night. Act 1 got off to a rocky start as Carlo Ventre was finding his place on the large set and stage. Celeste Aida ended in thunder, rather than tenderness as the love aria demanded. Olga Borodina returned to this production as the bold and vengeful Amneris - great voice with clarity. Liudmyla Monastyrska was the not-so-last-minute cast change to replace the pregnant Micaela Carosi as Aida. She was not bad - slightly on the uncertain side in Act 1 but gradually gained strength.
Act 2 had probably too much going on. While David McVicar's production delivered the "grand opera" feel - the thumping, slapping and lashing of the dancers coupled with blood and nakedness meant one finds it hard to focus on the music. Though visually stunning. And I was not sure why there weren't any singing slaves: the chorus members were "priests" and the actors and acrobats were "slaves" with their mouths shut. So the slave's chorus parts were sung by the priests. Not convinced by such economy.

Acts 3 and 4 were quite well done. Possibly because there was less stage direction and distractions, but also all solo singers settled down quite well by now. Fabio Luisi took firm control in the pit.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Anna Nicole

The Royal Opera House's PR machinery was in full throttle weeks before the premier of Anna Nicole. So I wasn't surprised to see all the little touches on the night - the Warhol-esque portraits of Anna Nicole plastered everywhere, the vivid pink stage curtain with AR at the bottom (read Anna Regina, but you have to read it quickly in English Latin ...) and the American accent PA to remind patrons to switch off their "cell phones".


Eva-Maria Westbroek was great - singing her way from her trailer-trash look through to the Hollywood glitzy blings, then to her fattened end. Her voice rang all the way with clear diction. Gerald Finley who sang The Lawyer Stern was equally good - with sufficient sleazy acting to make the role convincing. And the chorus was great - especially in Act I where the harmonies were thick and complex. It also played a significant role as the spectators of the story.
And the music? Antonio Pappano seemed to have spent sufficient time getting to know Mark Anthony-Turnage's score. The main orchestra played and responded well. And the rock band seemed to have given the whole work that "American" feel. The music sounded (to me at least) like an updated mesh of Berstein and Shostakovich - lots of patiches, lots of complex rhythms and harmonies, but somehow not losing touch with the audience. So in that respect I thought it was well crafted. Will I go back? I think so.
Yes, the audience. Well the PR machinery must have done its job well. There were lots of young faces and on the night that I went many trendy fashion types (from London Fashion Week?) and they seemed to have enjoyed the performance throughout. Let's hope they will return to see other operas.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Parsifal at the ENO


I must have missed it when Nikolaus Lehnhoff's Parsifal was staged in 1999. Well I was very glad to have seen it on the first night this time round - for it was a very good production and performance. Mark Wigglesworth took the overture at the right pace - just enough solemnity and poignancy without making it overbearing. The first half of act one was always the tricky one - relatively long dialogues and Sir John Tomlinson's presence was essential in keeping the whole thing moving. The transformation music was great (though the brass could have been bigger) and the chorus was on form.

Jane Dutton's Kundry really shone through in act two - with clarity, urgency and sufficient degree of other-worldly quality. This was matched by Stuart Skelton's Parsifal - who gradually lost his innocence culminating in the showdown with Klinsor (Tom Fox). The stage set for the act three was a bit wierd with a half completed rail track into the barren "garden". Still, the trio of Tomlinson, Dutton and Skelton was absolutely superb. Yes it was a long opera but it was captivating and well worth the post-Parsifal numb bum.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Pleasant surprises at Hibiscus

There are times when one wants certainty when eating out - such as a light fritto misto at Polpo, or beautiful pied du cuchon at Koffmann's. But there are times when one wants to be surprised. If it's the latter that you are after, then try Hibiscus of Regent Street. Rather than choosing from an a la carte menu, or a tasting menu, the diners have to select whether they wish to eat 4, 6 or 8 courses. The dishes that could appear on your table are listed - that's right you wouldn't know for certain which dish will turn up.

So here is a scallop with crumble on top. They were the huge and hand-dived from Scotland. The crust on top added interest but did not detract from the taste of the sea that the scallop offered. Another dish that came was pan-seared smoked duck breast (see below). It was cooked just right with beetroot garnish and spices. It was tender and flavourful. 
The portions were (too) generous, the service was good, the wine list was interesting, and the ambiance was just right. So go there and be surprised.

Friday, 4 February 2011

An out of sync Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera

There seemed to be some sort of battle between what was being played in the pit and what was being sung on stage at the Royal Opera last night. The 6'4" Joseph Kaiser as Tamino started well in the opening aria with a strong tenorial ring in his voice. But when the three ladies turned up things started to change - the ensemble of the singing was good, but somehow it went out slightly with the orchestra. Christopher Maltman's Papageno also got off to a good start - but there was tension in the tempo. It all came to a head when the three ladies and the Queen of the Night (Jessica Pratt) returned - it was touch and go at times whether they will reach the end of the bar together. Sadly it went on like that for the remaining first act. 


The second act started well, and Jessica Pratt sang the famous Queen of the Night aria with accuracy and conviction. But the ensemble problem came back - the chorus wasn't together with the orchestra, the tempo of the three brave boys rocked, and so on. In the solo arias, the singers wanted to take more time with the lines but the pit didn't go with the flow. Luckily the final scenes were more or less together and everyone stopped at the same fermata.
To me, the whole performance sounded like a rehearsal. Except it couldn't have been as it was the second performance of this revival production by David McVicar. Based on my personal observation, I think Sir Colin Davis was unwell - his walk to the rostrum was slow and timid, he didn't look up to the singers much nor give them the leads when expected, and he seemed to have focused more on the orchestral players than on stage. At the end of the performance, Sir Colin took his curtain call in the pit rather than on stage. So perhaps he was unwell. Or perhaps it was something else ...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Grand Imperial - too grand for Victoria?

There isn't a shortage of Chinese restaurants in London. And the likes of Hakkasan and Royal China have set the bar relatively high at the upper end of this crowded market. Though with an increasing number of Chinese expats and well-heeled tourists in London, there may be room for more.
Grand Imperial is situated in a hotel attached to Victoria Station. The decor is contemporary Chinese. There were several large fish tanks - one couldn't be sure whether they are for displaying tropical fish, or storing live stock to be eaten.
The menu had a good selection of traditional and modern dishes. We tried the thin slices of braised beef shin (cold starter dish) which was tasty. The soup of the day (pork with Chinese medicinal roots) was piping hot though probably not to Western taste. The pan fried egg, sprouts and vegetarian shark's fins was fragrant (see below). The shredded chicken with jelly fish and salty ginger dressing was ok. The roast Peking duck at the next table looked good.
The staff were attentive (though when we went the restaurant was less than half empty) and crockery was fine. But somehow Grand Imperial lacked a certain something. The fish tank was too imposing and out of place. The high ceiling was crying out for a buzz from the bar, which was quiet. The price point was set too high to attract passing traffic from Victoria. The food was not bad, but somehow wasn't sophisticated enough to marry up with the decor. It will be sometime before Grand Imperial works out its clientele and positioning in the market.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Online guide to the Asian culinary world

A friend of mine just sent me this article about Danielle Chang (ex CEO of Vivienne Tam) launching LUCKYRICE in NYC. Looks like it's going to be a food festival (in May) to start with - but will it go beyond that?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Royal Opera

Well, it was the same production with set designed by Christian Fenouillat. Levente Molnár's Figaro was ok. Bruno Praticò made a convincing Doctore Bartolo. The real star in this revival had to be Aleksandra Kurzak as Rosina. Her stage presence and vocal colours easily overshadowed everyone else on stage.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Buddha Jumps Over The Wall (佛跳墻) at Tim's Kitchen

There are many interpretations of "Buddha Jumps Over The Wall" - but here is a rare opportunity to sample this sumptuous dish at Tim's Kitchen last night.


It arrives in a beautiful white-and-blue porcelain bowl.
 
Here is the first "eat" - a demi-cuit pigeon egg with rehydrated abalone in a supreme chicken broth.


Fish maw appears in the second "eat". I have to confess I forgot about what fish maw tasted like and it was a very strange sensation to be re-acquainted with it. De-boned goose-web, pig's knuckle tendon and sea cucumber forms the third "eat". And the soup ingredients were presented on a plate - black chicken with lean Jin Hua(金華) ham.

This is undoubtedly a sumptuous and luxurious dish - using highly priced ingredients. And I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to experience it again. One could not help but wonder whether a top notch chef such as Tim could concoct the same dish with ingredients that have less environmental impact yet achieve the same gastronomic outcome? That would be a challenge.