Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Monday, February 25, 2019

IWFS Kuala Lumpur Hong Kong Jolly January 2019 - Day One

IWFS Kuala Lumpur Hong Kong Jolly January 2019 - A Recollection of Five Days of Food and Wine in Hong Kong, and How I Became a Lap Cheong Mule

Day One - Friday January 18th
Woke up at 5am for a 6am pickup by Jolly Kit and driver Andy. The phone alarm went off smack on time but it was a hard one to get moving. Cold shower and coffee and some warmed Welsh Cakes got the system going. Kit and driver were bang on time, we loaded the cases in the large van and headed off to the airport. The roads seemed surprisingly busy for this time of the morning; not slow, but quite a bit of traffic heading to and from KLIA. And when we got there at just before 7am the place was buzzing. Lots of people dressed in their robes and looking like they were all heading off on a pilgrimage. We weren't sure if it was Hajj season - didn't see anything in the papers. But here they all were. So it goes. 

Lenglui and I had checked in online the previous day but still got made to stand in not a long line at the MAS counter and all was processed in less than ten minutes. Went for coffee with Kit at the Cafe & Kitchen whilst Lenglui went off to pick up the RoamingMan internet hub she had rented. Though she quickly came back in need of cash to lay down as deposit for the thing. The RoamingMan is basically a modem which you can use internationally; wifi on the go, if you like, without having to pay those massive roaming charges. Costs about RM25 a day and up to five people can connect to it. You find it on your phone with the usual wifi search, input the password and boom! you're connected to the world. In theory; we would check it when we got to HongKong. 

"I'm leeee-aving, on a Jet Plane...."
We finished the coffee and headed for immigration. The MM2H gate was naturally closed so it was a twenty minute queue for the foreigners to clear the gate. Thankfully, the metal scanners for your hand baggage have become easier in that bottled water can be taken through and no need to remove iPads and laptops. We were a shade behind the clock so we headed straight to what we thought was the gate - it would turn out to be the wrong one. Got all the way through the gate scanners only to be told it was the wrong gate. Could have sworn the sucker said 32 and not 36. Grrr!! So we all got metal detected again. I have learned not to wear belts at airports and pack them in the backpack for belting up after all the checks. It does make airport life a shade easier to navigate. We saw some others in our Jolly Group who also were heading off a day early and got a lively good morning from them. Always nice to see a friendly face at the airport. 

Jaya and Sze Wan
The plane was a two by four by two seater and there seemed to be a spare two seat at the back which Lenglui suggested I grab when the door closed. I did and it was excellent - right next to the toilet which suited me perfectly. Also suited Lenglui as it meant I did not have to crawl across her to get to the aisle. We all settled in and waited for the up, up and away. 

The flight went by surprisingly fast though the MAS food was unsurprisingly bad. I got hard bread and gungy noodles given the absence of the quickly selected and consumed alternative nasi lemak. Yuck. Still, it was reasonably edible so down it all went. Though it became a fight to get a cup of coffee given the slight turbulence of the plane - they will not pour hot liquid when the seat belt sign is on. Fair enough, but it does make the morning grouchy that little more irritable. As soon as the sucker went off I punched the attendant button for them to bring a necessary de groucher. They did, though the friend who poured seemed a bit surly at having been summoned to do so. Maybe they were also grouchy for having to get up at 5am as well - really puts a dent in the day. 

It all looked a bit cool and grey on landing and the airport did seem a bit chilled. Down some massively tall elevators to get the train that would get us to immigration and luggage. It would prove a long walk to the long queue which bent up and back down on itself for what felt like a 3km walk (though was probably only half - still not unsubstantial and no apparent concessions for the elderly). But - though the snake of people walking along the trackway was unending and continuous, it worked. There was very little standing time, thanks also to staff who directed us to various gates. Have to be fit to live here. 

The passport chop, pop and have a nice day took less than a minute and we were out in search of cases. Though not before negotiating with the Airport Express desk to get a group discount on five of us going into town. Normally HKD110 for a single, for a group of four it comes down to about HKD85. We later learned that the others went against earlier advice from the Jolly organiser and took a taxi direct to the hotel. Slightly easier and they got there about twenty minutes ahead of us. 

Part of this travel victory for them was the result of confusing information about luggage carousels. The problem was that there were two flights in from Kuala Lumpur and naturally we waited at the wrong carousel. A quick trip to information (which was efficiently English speaking and fast in response) got us the right one and we grabbed the bags. Grrr!!! 

Jan and Kit on the Airport Express, with Barry trying to figure the SIM Card
Straight out through the Green Lane, though not before another five minute stop for one of our Gang of Five to purchase a SIM Card so that the partner could get onto the Facebook. Straight on to the Airport Express for the three stop and 20 minute ride into Central followed by two HKD60 taxis to the Jen Hotel with the luggage bungee strapped in the boot. The Money (and Jolly organiser) had previously issued us with Business Cards for the Hotel, and with a bit of Cantonese from Lenglui and Kit the driver figured out where we needed to get to. Took about ten minutes in moderate traffic. Business cards are bi-lingual and in the absence of an ability to speak Cantonese they really help drivers figure out where you need to get to. Tip: try also to record someone speaking the address you need to get to and store it on your handphone to play to the cab driver - also helps. 

The Beef Brisket Noodle shop
Driver unloaded the luggage for us and we all went up the escalator to reception to get warmly met by IWFS KL President May Peng and our fellow MAS passengers who were on their way out for a pre Jolly jolly somewhere in the area. May suggested we dump the luggage and go straight out for a late 3.30pm light lunch at a beef brisket place recommended by the Money and located around the corner from the hotel. This we did and within ten minutes we were all oohing and aahing at the tasty broth and beef and various other bits of mostly pig floating in the bowl with the noodles. May joined us, though she had already eaten there earlier. It was very good. Small place, taking around twelve people maximum. One couple were squeezed into one corner whilst two elderly Honker men played cards and drank beer in the other. We also ordered some of the very inviting Siew Yoke and Roast Duck hanging in the window. We enjoyed the duck over the siew yoke; the latter felt a shade oversalted and not quite crispy by Malaysian standards. We drank tea though I shared a beer with friend Barry. A very hearty start to the Jolly. I wish I had the name to share, but there didn't seem to be one anywhere in sight - at least not one that I could understand. It is on the block next to Hotel Jen and directly opposite the entrance to the HKU Underground. Worth a visit if you are staying near. The Money had managed to get a special rate for the Jolliers at the Hotel Jen which extended both before and after the Jolly - HKD1190 per night plus HKD119 service charge. Not unfair and the HKU station plugs you directly into whatever Hong Kong action you might be looking for.
Waiting for Noodles

Hotel Jen Hong Kong
508 Queen's Road West
Western District
Hong Kong
Tel +852 2974 1234
email hjhk@hoteljen.com

With The Money and The Bank and some Jolly People at The Peak
The evening in prospect would start with a sunset snifter of the goodstuff up on The Peak with the Money and the Bank after which the assembled would then repair to a restaurant on the Kowloon side for a private dinner with supposedly the finestkind traditional Teow Chew cuisine. Can't remember what time we headed off from the Hotel, but we flagged a cab outside and played a Whatsapp recording previously made by the Money to the cab driver in an attempt to help him understand where we wanted to get to. Needed a bit of extra Cantonese from Lenglui and May Peng but it did the job and about thirty minutes later we got unloaded at an imposing looking tower block up on the Hong Kong Hill. It was a bit grey and chilly as we wandered in the general direction of a door where we saw the Bank coming to greet us and direct us to the apartment where the cold and icy sparkles in glasses were waiting. Very nice place, superb views in the sunshine, but clearly somewhere that would get battered in typhoon season. The others in our party were close behind and all of us enjoyed a pleasant reunion and catch up over bubbles and wicked potato chips and the brilliant Kirkland nuts. We got a tour of the apartment and saw where all the bits and pieces got stored. This was a cool place - no real need for a wine fridge if this was the usual temperature. Saw a couple of boxes with the name Enoteca on the side and the Money confirmed this was the name of the usual supplier, though not the one responsible for most of the wines that would get served at dinner. This would be the Freshmart at the Sogo Department Store on Causeway Bay (somewhere that Lenglui and I would eventually end up later in the Jolly) where a receipt later passed to me would show 10% discounts as a result of something called "Thankful Week" back in November 2018. Have to target a return next year, hoh?

Table at The H Kitchen Private Room
We slowly got ourselves roused to get into a couple of taxis booked by The Money that would transport us to our private dinner for the evening at the H Restaurant, supposedly finestkind traditional Teochew cuisine, and located on the Kowloon side in an area called Mong Kok. Took us about thirty minutes to get there, most of it down along the winding road from The Peak. Stopping at a traffic light en the way down, we saw a large wild boar nonchalantly crossing the road in front of us whilst some pedestrian HongKonger was equally nonchalantly passing behind it. Not an uncommon sight, apparently - lots of wildlife prowl the upper hillsides. 

The cab dropped us at the restaurant entrance and we were led through the narrow strip to the back and out and up some stairs to a bar area and a set table and Yasu with flutes of fizz waiting for us. We were quickly joined by Lenglui daughter and serial foodie Lorraine who had heard much about the H Kitchen and the chef and was keen to join. For this piece, I could not find anything on the web about the place. Perhaps it is all in Mandarin... 

Bit of ambience, felt like a private club
This would not be a cheap one - Chef William is commanding HKD1500 per person and a maximum of one table. Whether this included corkage, I did not find out, but the glassware was good and plentiful and the staff mostly knew when to pour and keep the glasses nicely topped. 

Chef William explains the Goose Liver dish
Having said this, it became a fun and memorable evening for the combination of everything - food, people, chef, ambience - and the sense of occasion that somehow we had all come together from across the waters to be with each other. All the dishes were brought out by chef and team and he explained each one. The ingredients were absolutely some of the freshest you could want for, and the preparations had that elegant simplicity of deft seasonings that let them shine. To those who know their Teochew cuisine, this must have been bliss. For me who doesn't, the food was enjoyable, though many of the dishes do not seem to be able to be recalled with any great passion. Overall good to very good, not quite great for me. 

Two style Goose liver and, er, internals
Having said this, some things were unforgettable; the two way goose liver which tasted of… liver. Although the one with the blood somewhat less so. The screams of anguish as I handed one of my Sea Cucumbers to a food neighbour from the rest of the table. I really don't get these things, nor the passion they inflame in some people - I was just happy to pass it on to someone who knows how to appreciate the thing. Especially this one - looked more like a dog's dick on the plate than the usual big suckers you see in KL. Can't please everyone, eh? The constant clinking of glasses through the night, the chit chat, the ooohs and aaaaahs as the dishes came out. Someone called for a song and I rolled out my "Pang Yau" written and made famous by local legend Alan Tam and which prompted Chef to break out his top end whiskey to toast the group and the occasion. Don't get many white boys (Ang Moh or Gwailo as we are called) singing in Cantonese, and it is a great ice breaker. Gets me a lot of "yam seng" booze too. Shout out to The Money for getting some lovely wines for the night - the Rothschild Brut was delightfully chilly and crisp and perfectly rasping whilst the 2013 Lynch Bages was silky wonderful, lending Bordeaux beef to the often delicate finesse of the cuisine. And a total of HKD400 per person for the lot - amazing buys...

Egg White Dumpling 
In sum, H Kitchen is definitely worth a shot for the different side to Chinese Cuisine that Chef William offers, along with the kind of "secret" feel about the whole affair - for once we were on the inside of the foodie scene and enjoying it to the hilt. Having done it once, I doubt the occasion will ever come up to revisit. Which makes the memory that much more special. Sometimes you just have to shut your eyes to the cost and enjoy the ride. 

Signature Sea Cucumber. Yes.
The H Kitchen
G/F 1237 Canton Road
Mong Kok, Kowloon HK
tel 2215 0150, 6466 8488

Warming Carrot Soup
Special Clams in Traditional Vinegar Basil Sauce
Teochew Goose Blood, Intestines and Liver
Oyster Pancake
Egg White Dumplings with Vegetables and Chicken Mince Filing topped with Crab Sauce
Signature Sea Cucumber braised and pan fried and stuffed with Squid Paste in reduced Chicken Broth
Slow braised Goose Web and Fish Maw
Tiny Sea Snail Fried Rice
Sea Whelk clear Soup
Taro with Sugared Sand
Scraped Avocado and Jellied Palm Sap combination

Goose Web - tasty
Champagne Baron de Rothschild Brut
Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Magnum
Henri Bourgeois Sancerre 2013
Chateau Lynch-Bages 2013

The Wines. And The Bank.
The evening closed and some got a cab back to the hotel whilst the rest of us opted to follow Lorraine to the subway and get the Metro. It was amazingly straightforward - put your money in the machine, pick your ticket and boom - take the ticket and find the train. Took us straight back to the HKU station and the Hotel Jen. With another day of food and booze in prospect, we figured an earlyish night would be best. Plugged in the phones for charging, switched on the TV and fell into bed. Slept like a pig. 

Click here for Day Two of the Jolly>>>

The Sea Whelk Soup

Sea Snail Frid Rice - felt very healthy

The Big Whiskey - very nice
Yasu and Bubbles

Doing what we do best - eating and drinking. Cheers!

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