30 December 2010

Dining Out... - Part 2 出街食-下卷

Both my freelance work and my day job give me plenty of opportunities to live out a foodie’s dream. As a restaurant reviewer I get to try out fancy new places and sample their best dishes for free. The price to pay, however, is having to keep detailed notes of everything I put in my mouth so that I can spit out a thousand words on a two-page magazine spread the next day. Likewise, expensing client lunches sounds like a no-lose proposition until I find myself stuck with a table of stodgy bankers yapping about China’s next big IPO and why everyone should buy gold. It all bears out the old adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

One of my restaurant reviews

Hong Kong is a foodie’s paradise and we have the numbers to prove it. There are over 20,000 eating establishments listed on Open Rice, the city’s popular online restaurant guide. Based on that figure alone and excluding thousands of hole-in-the-wall noodle houses and neighborhood kitchens yet to be catalogued by the website...


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Read the rest of this article in No City for Slow Men, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


17 comments:

  1. Oh Jason, Jason ...

    You're such a (petit-)bourgeois. You have dreams of turning the Hong Kong restaurant scene into another generic New York or Sydney ''' esthetically pleasing blandness.

    Embrace your inner Baudelaire, your inner Rimbaud, your inner Orwell, your inner Tolstoy, your inner Dylan Thomas and cherish Hong Kong's "dirty man restaurants", which you so refreshingly describe as follows:

    "With the exception of restaurants stationed in hotels, shopping malls and dining enclaves like SoHo, Star Street and Knutsford Terrace, eateries in Hong Kong generally pay very little attention to their décor. The wisdom that “you eat with your eyes first” has yet to gain traction in our city. Wet floor, sticky floor; dirty carpeting and peeling wallpapers; a guan gung (關公; a Taoist deity) shrine next to a giant television screen, Styrofoam take-out boxes stacked under dramatic crystal chandeliers, customers queuing outside washrooms reeking of chlorine masking more unpleasant odors."

    Come to where I live -- Yuen Long -- and I can take you to restaurants where the food is succulent and honest, and the beer cheap and plentiful ... and perhaps you can learn to be less precious. If you truly prefer Knutsford Terrace to these you must live in Pleasantville, you must have a bit part in the Truman Show.

    -- David

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  2. Thanks for your comment, David. I've tried so hard to avoid being called a bourgeois but here I am, once again on the defensive. The thing with Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Orwell, Tolstoy and Thomas is that, you can't *try* to be them, you either are or are not. I am working on it, nonetheless.

    I have no doubt that there are places in Yuen Long that serve succulent and honest food. Isn't that exactly my point? I love local food in Hong Kong, but I don't believe that good food and a good dining experience (service and decor) are mutually exclusive. In any event, I just might take you up on your offer for an eating tour in Yuen Long.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  3. You described the scenes at a restaurant so vividly!!!Very true!!!LOL~~~

    LM

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  4. Hi Jason,

    Another excellent write-up. Every facet of review is so well described.

    I liked the way you picked up on the typical 'Hong Kong style' decor and servicing patrons at low to high-end restaurants and eatery joints in Hong Kong. It is indeed shocking that rude and bad mannerism still exist and are still practised by some waiters even in posh restaurants as if norms of a competitive service industry. Their mind-sets need to change.

    While some notable improvements on quality of service are evident from the past, especially during business downturn of SARS, there still seems a long way to go.

    Now, there are many restaurants in Hong Kong keenly interested to polish up their image. Everyday, prior to daily opening of doors to clients, the whole servicing team gathered around to go through a daily ritual of refresh of some basics of customer service etiquettes. However, that still leaves some other small eating outlets behind that serve some of the best quality and sumptuous food in town - where brisk business is daily motto of the day for restaurants' owners and their servicing team.

    Keep writing!

    Martie

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  5. Thank you for your comment, Martie. You hit the nail right on it's head when you used the word "mindset." I think it is all about having the right mindset when it comes to customer service.

    Jason

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  6. jason, thank you for the gracious response to my acerbic comments.

    You're a true gentleman. :)

    -- David

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  7. I just found your blog and I found it extremely interesting. Great source, very interesting to me.

    Then I also found that you spent some time living in Italy. I come from Italy, from Torino. Do you speak Italian a bit?

    I came to HK to make a PhD in social studies, I'm really trying to understand this place a bit.

    Your book seems interesting, I will look for it.

    Diego

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  8. David, I thought your comment was fair. It wasnt at all acerbic. I am always grateful for readers who take the time to leave me comments.

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  9. Love your new article !

    More comments to come later on as you are unlucky enough to hit one of the most "discerning" (said some of my friends, but obviously they ain't seen nothing yet) tongues in HK (not really as I don't belong to the elitist echelons of this colony). 101% on the humour awash in your article though, amazing :>

    Christine

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  10. Hi Jason,

    I just loved your article! Brilliant! I totally agree that somehow different cuisines in HK are "cantonized" and its not quite authentic. A very good example are Japanese restaurants in HK. There are just too many of them everywhere and its very hard to distinguish which are authentic and which are simply "wannabes".

    I do have to say though, the food selections in Hong Kong is nowhere comparable to the choices and quality in other top cities in the world such as Tokyo, New York, and even Shanghai. Having lived in HK for over 4 years, I do feel that this city state has a lot more room to grow and improve on its food selection and quality.

    I do not think the quality of food in HK is not as good as it should be. To that, I mainly blame it on the greedy HK landlord who continuously raise their rent, and thus forcing their tenant to sacrifice on the quality of the food they serve only to merely be able to make ends meet due to the high rent.

    Look forward to your next article!

    AB

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  11. Thanks, Christine. I look forward to your detailed comments.

    Jason

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  12. AB,

    Interesting take -- food in Hong Kong is not as good because landlords are greedy. I never thought of that!

    I suppose you have a point. Here in Hong Kong, anything that involves or requires space tends to get squeezed, and that applies to restaurants, stores, offices and even schools and hospitals.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  13. Absolutely true that there is no free lunch in this world (unless you let me treat you,of course, hahaha). Still, whether I can tolerate formal business lunches with clients or obliged-to-poach-contacts lunches to bring in the dosh for the firm depends on how motivated I am on a particular day. Don't like having to mind my ps and qs throughout and in constant fear of saying something untoward or idiotic. And people expect you to come up with riveting new views or insights that is contrary to the current tide that can bring in millions for their business (pretending all the while how you are thinking "for" their business to the point of detriment to your own practice ((if not your leisure hours : p )) )

    Don't know how much I can trust the comments and the pics on Open Rice, those are pretty self serving. The only benefit is they give you the tel. and the address and sometime the opening hours. I love the old Mandarin Grill before the renovation and Toscana definitely. And despite your comment, I enjoy Otto E Mezzo and the Drawing Room. Mr. Bombana is the consultant chef to the latter as well, and I enjoy the ambiance there even more than 8/1/2. French-wise, my near favourite if not favourite is Chez Patrick (though I know some dislike the place) and the one I frequent most would be Robuchon in Landmark.

    Yup, service varies across restaurants, and it certainly depends on how well you know a place. I am lucky enough that my friends and I have never tried to eat from a dish that is being spirited away by the over-zealous waiters (and I can tell you my friends are equally zealous in snatching the last bit from a dish), but one way or the other they are certainly out of tempo with the patrons' consumption rate (unless one is a regular at a restaurant). Luk Yu Teahouse used to be famous for treating new patrons like dirt (and maybe it still does nowadays occasionally), but I can tell it has gotten better over the years, and more foreigners are eating there actually (to my utter surprise). I went for yum cha at Luk Yu with my dad since I was about half my present height (and I'm about 5 feet 4 or something like that now) so basically I know that if another shoot-out rages in that place when I am there, I can almost expect the waiters of the entire restaurant to cover me against the bullets (guess it wouldn't work if it is a hand grenade or landmine : p ). So if you ever feel like taking a traditional dim sum lunch or nice dinner there, grab me along (they may just cover you as well, Jason).

    I dislike it when they miss my orders, especially when I am rushed for time, say lunches during the weekdays. But most of the places I frequent enough know my habit now, and the folks at Robuchon first comment to me when I arrived before was never "good-day" or "good afternoon" or "hello", but "what time do you have to leave, Miss Tong" or "how strong would you like your tea / coffee today, Miss Tong, how many teabags?" Humour aside, I do apprecitate the fact that they'd really try to prompt everything for me. Still, at the rate I am chasing everyone and over every aspect of my life, guess I won't live too long to sample the good and the bad food / services anymore.

    Christine

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  14. I love a place with nice, simple decor and ambiance. And though I am not overly picky (I think anyway, but dont all girls think like that?) but I do demand the place to be clean if not spick and span, at least with what I can see, albeit I know for sure there are probably rats having a bigger feast than I am having behind the kitchen. I have actually gone into the kitchens of a few restaurants I know well enough, but obviously they are not the dai-pai-dangs like Tsui Wah. And I guess with everything that we see, whether they are pleasing to our eyes or not, they is much much more that we don't really see unless we are really part of the team, or their "insider" team.

    I beg to differ on the quality of food view though. I have to say most are OK, some are super, but I can hardly say the standard is even. Even the standard differs from day to day at the same restaurant, and there are retaurant that does a particular dish better than most other restaurants in town. One of the chefs I know used to joke and tell me that their food will only taste better with every visit I pay them (to entice me back, of course). Still my standard is that I won't die of food poisoning after eating anywhere, so I guess I can't fail any place yet. Except for the food court in Justco in Taikoo Shing (about 14 years ago), when, after eating there, I got food poisoning plus a flu or something like that, and I got thrown into hospital on 24/12, discharging on 27/12. That, Jason, is the whitest Christmas I've ever had (whiter than the Whistler skiing one, I can tell you).

    Can't agree with you more on the "Cantonization" part, that is infiltrating the restaurant scene in HK, save for a few restaurants. And some maybe tending towards the "fusion" side as a guise knowingly or unknowingly. Well, if one subscribe to the theory of "survival of the fittest", and "ultimo ultimus" (I've probably got the Latin wrong, but it is a Biblical phrase from St Paul about "be all to all"), that's it. Afterall, we are eating at the restaurants to seal a business deal too, and likewise, it's also a business for the restauranteurs!

    Christine

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  15. Hi Diego, I do speak a bit of Italian, although its been a long time since I last had a real conversation. Thanks for supporting my blog and my book. It means a lot to me. Please do check back from time to time -- I post a new article every two weeks or so. You can buy my book from any Dymocks or Bookazine in Central. Let me know if you can't find it.

    Ci vediamo,

    Jason

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