Friday, March 30, 2007

Home Hong Kong Cafe

My friend C's quest to find good cheap eats around town continues on! This time she wanted to try a Hong Kong styled cafe - she asked the right person!

The name "Home Hong Kong Cafe" is my own translation since it doesn't really have an English name, but it belongs to the Grandma's Kitchen group. It's recommended by my hairdresser, who is a Honger, and he knows his food by the sounds of it. His comments on the place were that it's above average, but don't expect anything outstanding. Well it sounds good enough for me!

Since it was our first time there we decided to sample as many dishes as possible, just to get a feel on the place. I went for the meat/fish balls - a south China specialty - just to see how authentic the place is. The beef and cuttlefish ball combo (RMB18) was served on a bed of bean sprouts and some sweet soya instead of a soup base. They were also halved - quite an interesting presentation. The cuttlefish balls had the correct chewy consistency, not bad compared to the other ones I tried at other places in SH. I would give it a 6 out of 10. The beef balls were less descriptive. C correctly compared them with hot dog wieners..I guess if you think about it she was right on. My advice was that it's best to NOT think too deep into this kind of thing.

I thought she would be interested in trying some Chinese donut wrapped in rice pastry (RMB9). The pastry wasn't bad but the donut sticks were squashed and not crunchy and airy like they should be. Perhaps it would help if the waitress didn't drench them in soya.

We got the beef curry (RMB25), hoping to end my search of the perfect curry. While the presentation (the big plate and all) was impressive my heart sank when I saw the color of it. It looked way too neon yellow and experiences tell me yellow = instance curry powder mix = no taste. My suspicion was sadly confirmed, the sauce was rather tasteless with no curry aroma whatsoever.

The Singapore noodles (RMB25) was a winner! It was actually spicy (a rare find in SH) and had all the rich curry flavours. The consistency was just right - not too oily, not too dry and not too wet. It could use a few more prawns and BBQ pork pieces though. Still it was probably the best Singapore noodles I had so far in SH.

I hadn't realised there was a dim sum menu. I didn't have a lot of faith with the dim sum in a little cafe place like this but I thought I would give the "ha gow" (prawn dumplings) (RMB13) a try. They tasted better than the microwavable version but not even close to those you have in tea houses. Oh well.

Finally we tried the pineapple bun (RMB4) and we were taken by surprise how nice it was. The topping was sweet and extremely flaky. The bread was so soft and fresh it had to be sinfully fattening.
The bill with 2 hot grapefruit honey tea (RMB15) came to RMB128, there was enough food for 4 people though!

Home Hong Kong Cafe
1213 Nanjing Road West (near Shanxi Rd.), Shanghai. Tel: 6279-2929

Lunasol

One should never go in a department store 'just to browse'. I made a mistake the other day as I was looking for a face contour highlighter (sounds pro doesn't it) but ended up with something totally unrelated. Well at least it is useful (or that's what I'm trying to tell myself).

This is the Lunasol base for eyelids. Have you ever had your eyeshadows running on your lids? Fading? Creasing? Falling on your cheeks while you blink? Well this base can help you. Once applied it corrects the different tones on the lids. The powder eyeshadow then glides on easily, like on a silk canvas. The colours are also more true and notable with the lighter shades. Best of all it helps keep the makeup on all day, even on a hot day. What more can you ask for?

The sales girl wasn't going to let me off with just the base. Truth be told I was deeply intrigued by the eyeshadows before I laid eyes on the base anyway. There are 2 things that are worth noting. One my lids don't look puffy with the pinkish colour somehow. Wow. The other wow factor is the silver colour glitters. When applied with finger in dabbing motions at the end over the shadow, it adds so much....subtle bling (ha! My first oxymoron I came up with).
Avaiable at all Kanebo shops.

Spaghetti and meatballs

The house specialty.

Ingredients:

for the meatballs:
- 500g of ground beef (makes about 13, 14 golf-ball sized meatballs)
- 1 large egg
- 1/8 cup milk
- bread crumbs to help bind the mixture
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- cayenne pepper
- dried oregano
- salt and pepper

for the sauce:
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 large bell pepper, chopped
- 1 to 2 gloves of minced garlic
- 1 large tin of chopped tomatoes with liquid
- 1 large tin of tomato sauce
- 1 small tin tomato paste, or a tube of tomato puree to adjust the sauce’s thickness
- 1/4 to ½ cup to cup of beef stock (liquid should cover all the meat balls very generously (can use 3 Oxo cubes and water)
- cayenne pepper
- Worcestershire sauce
- dried herbs – oregano again, a bit of thyme, and a pinch of mixed herbs
- salt and pepper
1. Beat eggs and milk together, and mix all ingredients for meatballs together.
2. Roll into balls, brown in flying pan, or bake in 350F oven for ½ hour. (I bake mine, cos then I can make the sauce while they are baking).
3. In a deep heavy-base saucepan fry onions and garlic till soft.
4. Add all tin sauces and beef stock, bring to boil.
5. Add meatballs, bell peppers, and all other seasonings, bring to boil..
6. Simmer for about 30 to 45 mins, or until the bell peppers are soft and almost melted. Sauce should be thick.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Toad in the hole

My first toad in the hole ever! My husband decided I would like it since a) I love sausages and b) I like Yorkshire puddings. Yes indeed.
Ingredients:
- 6 good sausages (we used Theuringer) (I know...no good Cumberland or plain old English sausages here)
- sprigs of rosemary
- sunflower oil
- gravy mix

For the batter
- 285ml milk
- 115g plain flower
- 3 eggs
- pinch of salt

1) Mix batter ingredients together, set aside.
2) Put 1cm sunflower oil in baking tin (ours was 9x4 and 2 inches deep), place in middle shelf of oven at highest setting (240-250C/475F). Use the thinnest tin possible as the oil has to get smoking hot. Place a large tray under in case of oil spill.
3) Fry the sausages until slightly golden while the tin is being heated.
4) Take tin out, put sausages in, then very carefully pour batter in over the sausages. It might spit. Throw rosemary on top and carefully put tin back in oven.
5) Bake and DON"T open the oven door for 20 mins.
We cheated by using packet gravy mix (why not?). The rosemary was a nice touch. I expected the Yorkshire to be more bread-y but somehow it was very egg-y instead. Reminded me an egg tart. My husband assured me that the way it's supposed to be.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Deep cleansing - NOT!

As a face-mask addict the search for cleansing masks is eternal and so far not too much luck. Time for some bitchin'.

There was so much hype with the launch of Natura Bisse my cousin E and I practically raced to the counter to empty our wallets. Between the two of us we tried 4 products (all masks) and I have to say everything we tried was mediocre at best. I should have stopped buying any more but once again I fell victim to the evil marketing tactics again and decided to give this cleansing mask a try.
Well most of the cleansing masks I tried tend to feel a little dry afterwards and I can totally accept that. One always needs to use a moisturising mask right after anyway. This particular mask though..I don't even know where to begin. It's so dry that it STRIPED my skin! The bits on the side of my nose were peeling despite the deep moisturising mask which followed. My very first in my mask career.

****

The Isa Knox hot-and-cold pack has all the right jargon. The hot one "opens pores", "purify", and "clean". It heats up once it goes on and with the circular rubbing motion it will draw impurities out. Truth be told it draws suckers like me in more than anything else. The warming sensation is nothing more than a novelty. I did not feel any cleansing property the two times I used it.
The cold pack is a piece of silicone film which is supposed to refine and condition the cleaned pores. It sucks even more than hot pack. First of all it's really dry, with no more than 3 drops of liquid all together - I can probably squeeze more juice out of my ipod skin.
Then there's the shape. How the heck are you supposed to fit that on your face? When I finally figured out that the mask would just cover my nose and half my cheeks I was even more annoyed. What about the rest of the face? The forehead? The chin? Do we not have pores on those places?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ambassy Court Cafe

To be honest you can't really be picky on free food. The grub at the Cafe in Ambassy Court is not bad - having said that I would never go there if I had to pay for it, so you get the gist.

My husband tried the vegetable sandwich, I guess he wanted something healthy. Then he asked to have fries on the side. When it arrived I thought it was my hot dog - why was it served with a hot dog bun? The fillings included artichoke, pepper, and lettuce. Not very inspiring and with that big dollop of mayo it looked a little scary. He ate all the fries and the veg + half a bun at the end - perhaps it wasn't all that nice after all (I hadn't bother asking).
I decided to be adventurous and tried the Taiwanese minced pork noodles. First I couldn't tell what was Taiwanese about it. It was just like your regular styled noodle you get in mid-northern China. Then the pork was not minced. It was chopped, but not that it mattered. In fact it was better because I could then pick out the fatty bits easily (makes you wonder what IS in mince). It had a nice salty taste - bit nondescript but not at all offensive. I liked the egg marinated in sweet soya. Oh! Maybe that's what they meant by Taiwanese!

My hot dog looked and tasted better than I expected. The bun was toasted and it even had hot dog relish! Yum! Too bad the fries were soggy.

Overall verdict: 6 out of 10 - not bad as long as your expectation on the food is not high. The environment is stress-free (always have lots of tables), the service pretty good and civilised.

Ambassy Court Cafe
1500 Huai Hai Rd Middle (near Wulumuqi Rd), Shanghai.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Coconut Paradise

Saturday night and Coconut Paradise. We thought it would be busy and we went early (like 7pm). The place was still full! Luckily there was one small table left on the terrace overlooking the garden. Good thing the weather was mild enough to sit out...and it was pretty romantic after all!

The papaya salad (RMB48) was right on the spot - not the best I've had but it was pretty dang good. The dressing was sour and spicy and the papaya fresh. The portion was rather stingy though.

The seafood salad (RMB70) had a really nice dressing too - spicy but not fiery. There were prawns, clams, squid, and some vegetables in it. At least the portion was a little more reasonable, but then it was still expensive for what you get if you ask me. Also I should have ordered the squid salad instead as it comes with glass noodles and they always soak up the dressing nicely.

The prawn cakes (RMB68) were pathetic looking. Usually they should be plump and thicker looking. It tasted as pathetic as it looked - too soft and pappy. Because of the thinness there were more batter than prawns. Disappointing but the worse be yet to come.

The beef on sizzling plate (RMB70) was also pretty lame. It was basically beef fried in oyster sauce! There was nothing Thai about the dish at all. The only good point was that the beef was pretty lean and juicy, but show me the Thai spices!!
We also got a small tom yum soup(RMB80). The 'small' tom yum turned out to be pretty big and we each had about 3 to 4 bowls. It was pretty red hot at least, just like it should be.

Just as we thought the chef had redeemed himself or herself with the soup there came the pad Thai noodles (RMB60). It was another flop. It was so wet and had no taste whatsoever.

We were tempted to ask whether the chef was on holiday of something? The food was so much better for our previous visits and we didn't mind paying the expensive prices. Now for what you get it's definitely a rip off. Please bring the good food back! We love Thai food!

Coconut Paradise
38 Fumin Rd. (near Julu Rd.), Shanghai. Tel: 6248-1998

Whisk

It's my 3rd write up on Whisk. It's actually pretty good that we keep going back (see here, and here). This time we decided to see the antipasto for two (RMB60). It didn't look bad although I wouldn't mind a few more vegetables like artichokes or aubergines. Everything tasted OK but then other than the roasted peppers everything was ready made and it would be difficult to screw up. Having said that the prosciutto tasted kind of funny and we left it untouched.

My tuna salad (RMB50) looked very colorful and appetizing. I like salads when they come with salami. The tuna came in big chunks and they were home-made! Wow. The dressing was zingy enough to stand up to the stodgy taste of the salami and tuna. There was way too much of the stuff on the salad though. If they were going to serve the dressing on the side anyway then why dunk so much of it on the salad to begin with?

As full as I was I was determined to try the brownie with ice cream (RMB35). It was worth stuffing myself silly. The brownie was very soft and moist - I am officially hooked. We had a little debate over the 'brownie' because to us we would call this thing a fudge. I thought brownie has a harder crispier top?
1250 Huai Hai Rd. Central (near Changshu Rd.), Shanghai. Tel: 5404-7770

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fashion Police vol.6

A walking Chupa Chups!
Another view.
I started stalking her! The Chupa Chups do was 3D!

Latina

All-you-can-eat places excite me. Sometimes it's fun to just stuff yourself silly...hence the picture with the half-eaten steak. Sorry guys I was too busy chowing down my grub before I realised I forgot about the picture.

For RMB68 per person you get to have all the starters, BBQ meats and desserts. As you can see here the starters were nothing special - the usual pasta salad, beans from the can, egg salad, veg etc. There were also hot dishes like beef and pork on the side, but I decided I would save room for the BBQ meat instead.
There was just Brazilian dude serving the meat and therefore there was a bit of a wait here and there. He was also very careful to serve us just one piece of whatever each time, despite the fact that I told him we were hungry. (He gave us a mere 'hmm' as a response - sense of humour bypass!) Anyway we got to try the beef, sausage, chicken, beef, lamb, and more beef. All of them tasted a tad bit too salty. They also served us some cheese bread and fries during the meal. Not bad for 68 bucks - we had some ice cream at the end too. Definitely quantity over quality.

Latina (4 locations)
XinTianDi, Tai Cang Rd.(near Ma Dang Rd). Shanghai. Tel: 6320-3566

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bye bye wrinkles

The lines around my eyes were hopeless. I gave up the search for an eye gel/cream long long ago. Nothing I used helped, even though they all claim to do a whole list of things. I was lucky if the product did so much as keeping my lids from being dry. No chance on other corrective properties. Then I discovered the power of Retino.
The Shiseido Revital Wrinklelift AA can be used anywhere on the face including the eye area. I started using the trial tube about a month ago and believe it or not the lines around my eyes have somehow started to disappear! I still have lines of course but I am certain that the situation is getting less dreadful. Maybe I won't need Botox afterall!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Citizen Bar Cafe

After our lamb feast our friend Ca miraculously had room for dessert (and I thought I eat a lot) and took us to a cafe she knows of right around the corner.

Citizen is a small place with 2 floors. We were surprised to see that apart from the drinks and desserts it actually had a full (and somewhat expensive) food menu as well. I took a look on the internet and apparently the place is voted the best cafe in Shanghai in 2006. Not much is said about the food but I will keep the place in mind for our next lunch excursion.

Our carrot cake expert C tried the carrot walnut cake (RMB28). He said it had a nice taste but it was too spongy. He added that a carrot cake should have more texture - perhaps more carrots?

My husband gave the fresh baked apple pie with vanilla ice cream (RMB30) 5 out of 10. He said the apples were pappy and there was no proper topping.
Sorry for the out-of-focus pictures. It was all the dark beer and wine.

222 Jin Xian Rd. (Near Shan Xi Rd West), Shanghai. Tel: 6258-1620

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Uighur Restaurant

One of my favourite places in Shanghai, I was so stoked that we got a large group on this particular visit, as we could finally order all the stuff I wanted to try! I have to say some of the stuff on the menu is a little adventurous (if not scary). I guess one has to make use of everything you have in a dessert. But until I am in a dessert, staving, I will leave the goat brains alone for the time being. Don't worry though because the menu here is big enough so there are lots of "normal" stuff.

We started off with some Xin Jiang Black Beer (RMB10). It tasted like larger but somehow not as gassy. Good stuff to have with the lamb .

One can never visit a Xin Jiang joint without these tasty lamb skewers (RMB10 for 4). They were nicely and not quite so delicately seasoned with loads of spices. I could tell cumin and chili. Sometimes the meat can be a little fatty but on this visit it was acceptable.

The pan fried beans (RMB12) was our "feel-good dish" amongst all the meat dishes we ordered. I personally thought the beans were a little overcooked, as they were not quite so crisp as they could be, but my friends assured me that I was being picky. The seasoning was right on the mark though. The Sichuan peppercorns added the perfect kick and a nice numbing effect to the otherwise boring dish (who likes vegetables?) I was thinking if my mom could make veg dishes like this it would have made both our lives a lot easier.

Then came the reason why we visited the place: the roast lamb leg (RMB118). I just loved the rustic way they served it. No joking around. (We saw a WHOLE roast lamb being served at the next table - now that's hardcore.) The waiter helped us cut the meat into chunks while I fantasized how satisfying it would be if I could just pick the whole joint up and eat off the bone. We were given plastic gloves to pick at the meat. How fun was that. The meat was roasted to perfection: crispy on the outside, moist and succulent the inside. The dipping sauce was also a highlight. The flavour of the sauce was actually quite complex and I couldn't quite pinpoint what was in it.

Another favourite of ours - the lamb meat in thin cake (RMB60/40). Basically it's chopped up lamb fried with carrots and green peppers. The "thin cake" was like the pancakes you get with Peking duck. Unlike Peking duck it didn't need any sauce because the filling itself was pretty moist and had lots of flavours already.

The Xin Jiang flapjack (RMB3) was another hit that night. It was simply divine. More crispy and seasoned then a pizza base, it was a perfect complement to the lamb. Twelve thumbs up! We should have ordered a second one.

The hot and sour potato thread (RMB10) provided a good intermission for our lamb fest. The vinegar taste was awakening as our taste buds were getting a little numb from the cumin.

The delicious chicken (that's what it's really called) with noodles (RMB70) was accurately delicious. The sauce was almost like a Malaysian curry without the coconut milk. The meat was cooked until it was very tender that it felt off the bones easily. The potatoes were superb as they soaked up all the essence of the sauce. The noodles never came that night - the place was packed solid and the service got a little sloppy, not to mention half the waiters and waitresses were busy dancing and singing on the stage at different times. Anyhow we were so full we didn't worry about it too much.

At last our stuffed baked bread (RMB10 for 4) came. They were meant to be our appetizer! They were stuffed with (you guess it) chopped lamb. They came to the table warm and soft. Some said the filling could be a little spicier but I thought it was tasty as it was.

I think the no-frill way of cooking and atmosphere of the place helped make our whole dining experience exhilarating. The RMB10 beers helped too I am sure (we must have had 3 or 4 each). All in all everything was tasty although a little greasy. Then again its lamb and it's not like you eat it often. Yes so please give it a rest (you know who you are).

Uighur Restaurant (5 locations in SH)
1 Shanxi Rd South (near Julu Rd), Shanghai. Tel: 6255-0843

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hong Court, Ambassy Club

Our landlord granted us memberships with the Embassy Club and we get RMB3000 worth of credit we can spend with any of the restaurants at the club. Free food! Almost as good as free booze. Whoohoo!

Truth be told we go eat at the Embassy Club to eat because the place is always empty and stress free when it comes to getting a table. The food is average and expensive by local standards but it's "free" for us (except we get ripped off with the rent). Well might as well eat some off.

Back to the actual lunch. I don't know why these places bother with the crappy starters that nobody eats. A horrible thought: do they recycle them? Here we had dates and some pickled carrots, cucumber and radish. I tried the dates..so sweet. What's the point?

We ordered the sauteed fresh shrimps (RMB88) again as we were impressed with it the last time we had it. Well this time it didn't look right...the glassy finishing sauce looked too thick. I have no idea what this sauce is but it should be light and delicate. This wasn't the case. It was kind of heavy and the prawns were not prepared carefully. Two or three of them were not completely de-veined (yes we are picky) but yuck!

Our stir-fried honey peas with lily bulbs and kidney beans (RMB48)was nice. Not much they could do to screw it up to be honest.

We also got the fried rice (RMB48), shrimp dumplings (RMB22), Siu Mai (RMB18), and some beef rice sticks (RMB16). I didn't take pictures of the because they were average looking and tasting and that I've written about them numerous time before (see here and here).

Lunch was RMB260 - more expensive than Crystal Jade. We got charged for the stupid dates and pickles as well whether we liked it or not. Good thing it was free!

Hong Court
Ambassy Club, 1500 Central Huai Hai Rd., Shanghai

Dong Bei Ren 东北人

We spent a few days in Harbin last year and had the opportunity to sample the dumplings there. My husband didn't think much of them but I thought they were interesting - not that I would desperately crave them again but they are unique in its own way of you know what I mean.

Anyway my friend C is trying to find some interesting places to take her sister, who will be visiting China in April for the first time. Dong Bei Ren came to mind since I heard so much about it but never manged to convince my husband to go. What is Dongbei (northeast) or Manchurian food, other than dumplings?

We were greeted by a number cheery waiters and waitresses on the way up to the dining area. The menu had a lot more than just dumplings actually. There were lots if meat dishes - even some fish. We decided to stick with the dumplings since it was lunch time and we didn't want anything too heavy.

The waiter told us that the only non alcoholic beverage available (other than the tea) was the mixed northern coarse grain juice with corn, green beans and millet (RMB8). While my two friends U and C looked at each other in despair I jumped the opportunity to try one. I was so doing it for science. Well, for the blog.

When it came my heart skipped a beat. It was grey and thick looking - just like the mushed up cardboard+water the Mythbusters were trying to eat. To make the matter worse it was also lukewarm to the touch......I closed my eyes and took a sip. It didn't taste like cardboard paper! It wasn't bad at all! It tasted kind of like oatmeal with a hint of sweetness in it. It was actually pretty drinkable. I wondered where the color is coming from?

This is the home style layered bread (RMB3) we ordered. I was expecting something like an Indian paratha bread, freshly baked with a nice buttery smell. Instead imagine a piece of kitchen paper soaked in slighly mingy oil then pan fried. That's what the layered bread felt like. We sampled a little and left most of it untouched.

The fried shallot pancake (RMB3) was equally as greasy. I had a little bite and it was very spring onion-y. Would have been nice with less oil.

The fried pancake with beef and radish (RMB3) also seemed like it was deep fried instead of pan fried. The filling was strange - stringy beef (beef shank?), and I didn't spot any radish - not that I was digging around for it as I only ate a little piece of it.

We had more success with the dumplings. There are more than 15 different types of dumpling on the menu. Since each individual order (ranging form RMB8 to RMB12) comes in 16 of them we went for the family dumpling platter (RMB20) instead. We were told that the color of the pastry comes from different vegetables. Hmm. Which pink vegetable? Anyhow the fillings in them were all different, varying from meat and veg to just meat or meat and pickled veg. All were good with the vinegar and chili sauce.

The bill for 3 was RMB46!!! We will be back again to try some other dishes. Tip: don't order anything fried. Better off with steamed stuff.

Dong Bei Ren (6 locations in Shanghai) 东北人
2/F, 3 ShaanXi South Rd. (near Julu Rd.), Shanghai. Tel: 5228-8288