Archive | April, 2012

Ba Yi – a local’s local

27 Apr

Ba Yi restaurant frontBa Yi is one of those neighbourhood restaurants that I’ve always wished I had. Sadly the closest London’s Elephant and Castle ever got was the once-great but now distinctly average Dragon’s Palace on Walworth Road. Well, no more. I’m in Sai Ying Pun now and happy to be a mere five minute walk from one of the best locals in Hong Kong.

Ba Yi specialises in cuisine from Xianjing province, which has more in common with Pakistani or even Turkish cooking than typical Chinese fare. As such it centres on lamb, mutton and camel (yup) seasoned with heaps of cumin and chilli, salt and pepper. It’s simple, rustic, and goes down brilliantly with a Tsingtao or three, which are served for some reason in strange metal tankards at Ba Yi – maybe glass is a premium commodity in Xianjing.

Over two visits I’ve eaten my way through most of the menu, taking in must-haves of mutton pancakes, mutton skewers, shredded fried potato and mouth-numbing green beans with lamb and Sichuan pepper. The pancakes are an interesting take on the classic Peeking duck-style affair – a DIY job involving wheat pancakes, fried, minced mutton, a mirepoix of fried veg with some fried cabbage and a slightly spicy tomatoey sauce on the side.

Lamb dumplings are also good, if a little chewy, and the rack of lamb is fine but comes slathered in the same tomatoey sauce which makes it difficult to taste the meat through. The standout dish for me is the skewered mutton – generously seasoned with salt and cumin and grilled over a high heat for an intensely sheep-y flavour. A chicken stew was pretty good but to be honest, everything after the mutton tastes a bit bland.

If you order beforehand they will roast you a whole leg or even an entire lamb – dosed up with a dusting of cumin and served at the table. I’ve no idea if it’s authentic or not, but it’s a busy, boisterous place to go with a group and get stuck in. Even the Michelin guide has recommended it – so make sure you’re hungry and get down asap. Actually don’t, or I might not be able to get a table.

Ba Yi: 43 Water Street, Hong Kong


Around HK$200 a head without beer

Zuma – the best champagne brunch in Hong Kong

24 Apr

champagneThere’s no such thing as a free lunch. Yup, this much is sadly true. However, we live in a world where price and value for money all too often get mixed up, where people buy budget brand toilet roll even though it’s like wiping with paper, or economy range chicken which actually tastes more like quorn than meat. Why not spend the extra, make it go further, enjoy life?

Champagne brunch is something of a Hong Kong institution, presumably combining the institution of weekend brunch seemingly beloved of all white middle class Americans and Australians with the fundamentally British past time of all-day drinking sessions. Easter Sunday seemed like a perfect time to do it, and Zuma the perfect location. Now I’ve never been to the original joint in London’s Mayfair but its less stuffy sister Roka – also in London – produces some of the best (and most expensive) Japanese food I’ve eaten outside of Japan, so expectations were high.

First the damage. HK$550 will get you the buffet – or baikingu – brunch plus free-flowing Perrier Jouet for 90 minutes. Red and white wine, Bellinis or sake are also available, or the menu sans booze at $428, but to be honest, who wouldn’t choose champagne this good?

The brunch is exceptional. Fresh sashimi of salmon, yellowtail and sweet prawn, fresh oysters, blow-torched salmon and yellowtail sushi – singed for a hint of BBQ flavour – and several maki rolls featuring goodies like soft shell crab and tempura kick things off on one side of the counter. On the other side, there are soba noodles with dipping sauce and soft poached egg, salads, wild mushrooms, chicken karaage, beef sashimi, smoked salmon, literally a smorgasbord of delights.

zuma sushi

On top of all that there’s a choice of mains [one per person] which include grilled salmon teriyaki, sirloin steak, selection of tempura, miso-marinated chicken and other simple dishes . The likes of black cod and wagyu beef are also available at a heft surcharge but quite frankly, why bother? The steak was packed with flavour and came with a few fried wild mushrooms while the salmon was cooked to flaky perfection and was only lacking a bit of acid to cut through the oil.

Dessert is an impressive winter wonderland-sized ice sculpture covered in ice creams, sorbet and fruit. This is quite simply the best value brunch, or even meal, I’ve had. Ever. Add in brilliantly efficient and attentive waiting staff who certainly won’t let your glass go empty for more than five seconds, and you have almost the perfect meal. Almost. Brunch being brunch, do expect kids. Lots of them. Bring a gun maybe….

Zuma; Landmark building, 15 Queen’s Rd Central

Brunch w/booze: HK$550