Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shun Feng Restaurant, Shanghai

I'm going to admit an immediate bias in this post as I am going to talk about a restaurant run by distant members of my family in Shanghai called Shun Feng. They have 6 branches with one opening up this month, but the one we had several meals in was located on the 7th floor of the Shanghai No. 1 Department Store on East Nanjing Lu, the main strip in the city.

Shun Feng serves primarily Hangzhou style cuisine, and they try to source their ingredients locally. The restaurant also does not have an executive chef, rather they have many chefs, each who specialize in one dish or item.
They have several hundred items on their menu, and I can say that every item I ate when I visited the restaurant was delicious.
For starters, the tea served with meals is Longjing tea, a form of green tea especially from Hangzhou. It's served in a glass and the leaves can be resteeped in hot water throughout the meal, and for me, the flavor and smoothness got better as the meal progressed.

One of the most unique dishes I had in China was Shun Feng's sea cucumber served in a soup that had caterpillar fungus. For one thing, the sea cucumber was spiny, considered to be superior to non spiny versions. The caterpillar fungus was even more special: it's considered medicinal, but in the soup it conveyed a unique herbal flavor that complemented the sea cucumber's texture.

Another signature dish was fried stinky tofu from the city of Fuyang. When uncooked, stinky tofu is rotten tofu, and it smells terrible. When cooked though, the bad smell should go away, and can easily be served in a restaurant without scaring nearby diners. The flavor had a pungent quality reminiscent of stinky cheese. It goes really well lightly dipped in chili sauce.

Some other highlights from my dinners at Shun Feng include:
- wood ear mushrooms - each one was uniform in size as the others
- pumpkin with a honey sauce
- freshwater shrimp
- pork and vegetables wrapped in tofu skin
- 1000 year egg (with the largest yolks I've ever seen) with pork sung

Desserts in Chinese cuisine are a bit odd, even for me, as there is really no use of dairy items.
I tried what seemed like "cake" made with rice and surprisingly the texture was like actual cake- fluffy and light. I had two versions- one a white just simply sweet cake, and the other was flavored with a Chinese fruit I can not recall, but it had a notes of dark chocolate in the flavors.

While not quite like Western desserts, it was an interesting item to try. Regardless, we would still end our meals with fruit which is much more consistent with Chinese cuisine.

A few more items of note from Shun Feng included:
-chicken feet- these were cooked slow in a light chicken gravy- different that the Cantonese style
-taro with vegetables - this might have been the best taro dish I've ever had- the taro was smooth and creamy to bite into

- fried turnip/daikon dumplings- this was another "best i've ever had" dish, the daikon inside was beautifully cooked and the outer layers of crust were delicious
-soup with egg dumplings, quail egg, clear rice noodles, stuffed tofu and vegetables

It makes me happy that whenever I go to Shanghai, I will be able to eat at my family's place, Shun Feng. They've taken flavors of home for me and pushed them into fine dining.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Harrod's Food Halls, London

While Fortnum and Mason was pretty, it was nothing compared to Harrod's - whose food halls rivaled those in Japanese department stores. They were amazing! There are 4 halls total -- 1) Prepared foods with a few mid-range counter restaurants (dim sum, sushi, and tapas); 2) Coffees, teas, biscuits, etc. 3) Fresh produce, butchers, seafood, poultry; and 4) Candy and the casual eateries - pizza, gelato, deli.

Not only are the halls themselves beautiful, with lovely mosaics, chandeliers, etc. the food is also artfully presented. These pictures don't do it justice, but here you go.

Fortnum and Mason, London

We had a stop in to the super hoity-toity food store Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly, 300 years old and counting, holding Royal Warrants as Grocers to HRH the Prince of Wales and HM the Queen. Known for its prettily packaged gift hampers, teas, biscuits, confectionery, and wines, the store was like a Tiffany's for food.

Fortnum and Mason
181 Piccadilly

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

St. John's, London

Throughout our trip we kept it pretty on-the-fly in terms of our meals, but the one place we knew we wanted to eat at and made a reservation for in London was nose-to-tail guru Fergus Henderson's St. John's. The smell of fresh-baked bread as we walked in to the clean white space was so enticing... Did I mention that we had no good bread in Scotland? So we happily dug into the homemade bread basket, while we perused the menu.

We decided on 3 small plates -- bone marrow, served in traditional fashion with parsley salad, sea salt, and more delicious bread; cauliflower, fennel, and butter bean salad; ox tongue with bread and green parsley dressing -- and one large plate: hare saddle with lentils.

It was so wonderful to eat fresh crisp vegetables - crunchy fennel and cauliflower with creamy butterbeans. The ox tongue was super tender; bone marrow, of course, such a simple pleasure. And the hare was a nice medium rare, simply seasoned.

Redneckhunter finished the meal with a refreshing lemon sorbet with vodka.

St. John's Restaurant
26 St John Street
020 7251 0848

British Puddings

Probably as your reward for eating boiled-to-death veggies in the UK, you get super sweet pudding (aka dessert) at the end of your meal. Here were some of our favorites: sticky toffee pudding (above) and banoffee pie (below).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Contrast Brasserie, Inverness, Scotland

Sadly we did not have much luck with food in Scotland... We were really looking forward to the rustic waterside Temple Seafood in Oban, only to find a sign on the door saying they were closed (no reason given).

We found ourselves on the Isle of Skye at the end of a 3-day bank holiday weekend. Going first to one NY Times recommendation (having to wait an hour until service actually started), then another (gone on their own holiday), then heading back to Portree only to find out that a lot of the restaurants had run out of seafood!

However, after this run of bad luck, we were happy to sit down to a very nice, reasonably priced meal at Contrast Brasserie in Inverness. We were drawn in to Contrast while strolling along the banks of the River Ness by the sign advertising a 2-course pre-theater menu for 12 pounds. The menu looked interesting, it was early, we were hungry, and the price was right.

For my starter, I had a poached egg and wild mushrooms on sourdough toast. Redneckhunter got duck pate, which came with a nice chutney, and sprinkled with sea salt.

For my main course, I had grilled colley, on top of sundried tomato risotto. The fish was perfectly cooked, the risotto, not so much... It was undercooked, but I didn't care, I was happy to finally have some fresh fish! Redneckhunter got an Asian-inspired lamb stew/curry.

When I got home and googled the place, I discovered that Contrast had been on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares! Apparently he acknowledged that the food was quite good, but somehow their marketing failed to get any customers in the door. Well, I'm not sure if what he taught them helped any because we were 1 of 2 tables of diners. Sure, it was a Tuesday night, and it was the early bird special, but still, it was a lovely, warm evening, you would have thought more people would have liked to dine riverside. Service, however, may be one issue with the place. All I can say is that if someone indeed needed to partake of the pre-theater menu in order to make it on time to the theater, well they might not have made it...

Contrast Brasserie
In the Glenmoriston Townhouse Hotel
20, Ness Bank
4 (0)1463 223 777

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Haggis at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Edinburgh

After Ireland, we headed off for Scotland where, in the words of Mike Myers, most of their cuisine is based on a dare. First order of business, I had to try haggis.

I loved it! Mine came nicely baked in a ramekin with a mashed potato crust and not cut out of a sheep's stomach, though I think I would have liked it just as much that way too. I was expecting it to be more like scrapple (though later when we had it for breakfast, it did come fried in slices), but this one at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was like shepherd's pie, only with sheep offal instead of meat. I also liken haggis a bit to corned beef hash with again sheep innards instead of corned beef, and oatmeal instead of potatoes.

We also had a nice ham terrine with quail eggs, and a very yummy cheese plate for dessert. And of course Redneckhunter happily sampled several drams of whisky.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cheese Melts at McDonald's UK

I agree with that wonderful observation about Europe by Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction: "They got all the same shit we have over here, just somehow it's a little bit different." For that reason, I always end up going to McDonald's whenever I'm in a foreign country just to check out what's different.

On this trip, my favorite non-American McDonald's find was Cheese Melts. Crispy on the outside like a hashbrown, with soft melty cheese on the inside, they are served with sweet chili dip, which was exactly like Thai Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce. Much better than mozzarella sticks in my opinion.

I've noticed that while Americans are purists who only like ketchup on their French fries, the Brits will put anything on chips -- all kinds of flavored ketchups (made by Heinz no less), gravy, curry, chili sauce, etc. Why are we so boring back home?!

Another McDonald's observation: I love McDonald's ice cream cones, but here in Ireland and the UK, you could only get McDonald's ice cream in sundaes, no cones. Odd especially because you can get soft serve ice cream in a cone in just about every gas station or convenience store...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leo Burdock's, Dublin, Ireland

Leo Burdock's is famous for being Ireland's oldest chip shop. Whether this is true or not, I don't know. We did see at least 2 pubs claiming to be Ireland's oldest pub...

I have to say, the chips were great and flavorful, but I was a little disappointed in our fried cod. Maybe it suffered some extra sogginess in the journey wrapped in paper, walking a block and a half from the chip shop to the courtyard of Christchurch Cathedral, but beyond that, I thought the batter could have been more flavorful. I also should have asked to add my own salt and vinegar as I would have liked a lot more yummy malt vinegar.

Leo Burdock's Fish and Chips
2 Werburgh Street
+353 1 4540306

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ulster Fry, Belfast, N. Ireland

In Belfast, we ducked into a kind of depressing market because I had spotted a second-hand store (which turned out to not have great vintage Fred Perry/Ben Sherman finds as I was hoping, but instead was all American duds - Wranglers, Levi's, Aloha shirts, etc.)

But in the market, we also spotted a food court with a counter serving all day fry-ups. Redneckhunter opted for a small fry (egg, bacon, sausage, and fried soda bread) - this was the small, can't even imagine what the large fry was like. And I got beans on toast -- classic British comfort food. At something like 1 pound 50 for each plate, we could see why this seemed to be a favorite of high school boys after school, judging from our fellow food court diners.

Moran's Oyster Cottage, County Galway, Ireland

Redneckhunter saw Moran's Oyster Cottage listed online in a Top Ten Pubs in Ireland list, so since we were staying in Galway, we decided to take the short drive outside of the city to find it. Thank god we had a GPS, otherwise we never would have found the thatched cottage located on the tidal Dunkelin river, across from the old stone wall that's known as The Weir. It was well worth the drive.

In business since 1797, seven generations of Morans have run the restaurant. We were greeted at our table, in fact, by current owner Michael Moran.

We ordered the specialty of the house two ways: fresh, on the half-shell; and grilled, with garlic breadcrumbs. Both were delicious -- big, briny, meaty oysters, expertly shucked. Apparently the shuckers at Moran's are world champions of the craft.

We rounded out the meal with seafood chowder (more refined and less chunky than others we had had in Ireland) and more locally smoked salmon on brown bread. The smoked salmon we had in Ireland is milder, less salty than its American counterpart. And homemade brown bread is addictive -- dense, chewy, nutty, slightly sweet... I miss it now that we're back at home!

Moran's Oyster Cottage
The Weir
Kilcolgan, County Galway