Monday, February 4, 2019

Anita Lo x Ho Lee Fook

Last week we stopped by Ho Lee Fook when TV chef Anita Lo was in town to present a crossover menu with Chef Jowett Yu for an one-night-only event at the restaurant. With both chefs with similar background and cooking styles, I am curious to see how this collaboration panned out so we made the booking straight away once we heard of this event.

Stung by our previous experience with the same restaurant group when they gave us our table some 30 minutes late at another guest chef dinner, we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived right on the dot for our booking, the table was ready for us. The place was full as you could imagine, and with the noise from people talking and the music in full blast, it did give you a similar vibe like an old-school Hong Kong-style Dai Pai Dong albeit a much fancier décor. By the time we walked in, both chefs were already in full action, cooking up a storm from the open kitchen near the entrance upstairs.

The set menu featured a few dishes which made Chef Anita famous, through her previous restaurants of Rickshaw and Annisa, both in New York City, and her TV appearances, including winning in one episode of Iron Chef America. The dishes quickly arrived soon after we settled down, with the first course being "chawanmushi" with crabs, sea urchins and winter black truffles. The chawanmushi was served chilled unlike the traditional version (hence the quotes) with the texture resembling a savory panna cotta rather than an egg custard and with rather mild taste, and most of the flavor was provided by the picked hairy crab meat and sea urchins on top, along with some chopped truffles. A convenient appetizer (made a bunch in the afternoon and kept them refrigerated) with decent execution nonetheless.

Foie Gras Dumplings is one of the Chef Anita’s signature dishes right from the beginning of her culinary career, and I could totally see why. The dumpling was filled with foie gras mousse and steamed, and served with a small slice of foie gras on top plus soy dressing and the thick black garlic sauce on the side. The combination probably became cliché already, but I thought it’s well cooked.

The barramundi was my favorite dish of the evening. The piece of fish fillet was cooked perfectly, juicy and with the right fatty texture, and it’s served with a brush of pea puree and a few pieces of deep-fried taro “balls” that reminded me of the taro dimsum dish. Presentation was a bit messy, but everything worked well together.

Our last savory course was beef done three ways, with ox tongues seared and sliced thin, cheek slow-cooked and tendon deep-fried. I liked the bouncy texture of the ox tongues – a bit tough but acceptable – and I loved the rich flavor of the beef cheeks served as pulled meat, but the tendon was well below par despite being highlighted by the server who brought the dish to us. "It was to die for", we were told, but instead it's tasteless and soggy. “I couldn’t be bothered of using up any of my calorie quota for this” was the feedback from CYY after having a small bite. I had to agree.

I often dig everything sweet but even I found the dessert of strawberry tofu custard way too sweet to my liking. One couldn’t miss the flavor and fragrance of the well-riped strawberry coulis on top, but that means the flavor of shiso flowers and yuzu was completely overwhelmed and hardly noticeable. But I love the touch of a simple fortune cookie being offered along with the check at the end – sure brought back memories of living and breathing Chinese-American takeaway on a regular basis.

A good night out? Yes. But the food? Passable.

When? January 29 2019
Where? Ho Lee Fook, G/F and Basement, 1-5 Elgin Street, Soho, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Fillet of Barramundi with Peas and Taro

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