Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eight at the Langham

My mother is absolutely devastated. My cousin, Rex, has resigned as a chef at The Langham Auckland which means she can no longer claim to be related to someone who works at one of the nicest restaurants in Auckland. I'm not entirely sure why that is something to be proud of.

Our table at Eight
Jason and I had been looking forward to trying out the new menu ever since Rex brought home the new menu! Formally known as SBF Brasserie, Eight has transformed what used to be an exquisite seafood buffet into a true dining experience. 

Great Ocean Road and Route 66
Upon entering, I was amazed at how big the buffet had become -about twice the size since I last came! It now houses eight kitchens (get it?): Route 66 -an American style grille, Silk Road -Chinese cuisine, Spice Route -Indian cuisine, Great Ocean Road -seafood and oyster bar, Tōkaidō -sushi and sashimi, The Garden Route -a magnificent salad bar, Dessert Road -basically heaven with a chocolate fountain and Champs-Elysées -with freshly prepared breads, waffles and pancakes.

Selection of meats at Route 66
Our first stop was the selection of scrumptious looking meats at Route 66. There were the meats you'd usually expect such as lamb, beef, pork and chicken. And then there was kangaroo. So, naturally, I made Jason get kangaroo steak while I settled for a nice piece of Savannah Angus Sirloin. While waiting for the chef to cook up our steaks, we went to fill up the rest of our plates from the other sections.

The Garden Route
Our first stop was The Garden Route filled with countless selections of colourful and tasty salad ingredients. I was greeted by the friendly station chef who offered to make my salad while I stood and pointed at whatever took my fancy -cos lettuce, tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber and, at the chef's suggestion, some pretty edible flowers. There were way too many sauces and dressings that I had never heard before so I let her choose the "eight" dressing. 

My Colourful Salad

My plate of selections from Route 66, Tōkaidō and the Silk Road
Feeling satisfied with my selection, I went back to my table only to find out that most of my fellow diners had already gone for seconds! I find that, with most buffets, the quality of the food takes a second seat to the demand of the hungry guests -but not here. Everything is made in front of you, as you order, so you know it's fresh and cooked however you want it. My steak was cooked just right and the scalloped potatoes were simply melt in your mouth. The dim sum and sushi were divine -I just feel sorry for the kitchen elves at these stations who did not stop slicing sashimi and stir frying the whole time I was there.

Tōkaidō -Oysters, Salmon Sashimi and Tuna Sashimi

Whenever there are oysters on offer, I must have some. Whenever there is salmon and tuna on offer, I must make Jason eat some because he doesn't like them (yes, I'm evil). The seafood was very fresh. I expect nothing less from such a fine establishment.

Yvonne with her waffles and pancakes from Champs-Elysées
While I'm on my seafood plate, everyone else had moved on to their third plates and I see Yvonne come back to the table with some very delicious pastries -a freshly made waffle, pancakes and a danish. I have no idea how she fits all of this in her stomach!

Selection of Chocolates sitting underneath a Meringue Tree
Her pastries look so good that I demand that she take me to Dessert Road for the heavenly looking desserts I spied on my way in. It is such a pity that the meringue tree is just for display.

Part of Dessert Road -Chocolate fountain with dippables!

Jacky and Jenny about to dip some honeydew melon into the chocolate fountain
There is a cute chocolate fountain with a vast selection of fruits and candy with which to dunk into this velvety goodness. Apparently it's a real pain to clean at the end of the night! We have so much fun making chocolatey fruit kebabs which go very well with the Mövenpick ice cream that is just around the corner. The homemade marshmallows had a strange texture reminiscent of pink batts. I didn't get any on my second dessert run.

Little chocolate presents from underneath the Meringue Tree
By this time I could barely move but, luckily, I still had my dessert stomach. 

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cheesecake, Fruit Skewers with Mint Chocolate Chip Ice cream and Vanilla Panacotta with Mango and Pomegranate Coulis

I was ecstatic with my panacotta. It was so creamy and the mango coulis was just bursting with flavour -it was so good that Jason had to steal half. The cheesecake was a bit bubbly but still tasty.

I have no idea what this is. My mother took a photo of it. I think it might be a passionfruit cheesecake..
Even after eating all of that, I convinced everyone at my table to let me create a cheeseboard from the massive selection at Champs-Elysées. We tried a very nice Blue cheese, Camembert and a creamy Gouda with crackers, Iranian dates, walnuts and grapes. How very satisfying. I now like Gouda cheese.

While we are eating our cheese and crackers, I notice some people from the next table walk by with curry. I kick myself (as well as Jason) -we forgot to go to Spice Road! I guess we have to come back then!

Lunch at Eight is $37 per person -very reasonable for the incredible dining experience. I only wish I had a bottomless pit for a stomach.

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Eight can be found at the Langham Hotel, 83 Symonds St, Auckland, New Zealand.

All recipes are on Petitchef

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Red Brick Parnell

This is my boyfriend, Jason. Despite his expression, he is actually quite excited to be here.

No, he is not my hostage.

He is the biggest fan of my blog. It means that he gets to tag along to restaurants, food shows and be a guinea pig for my cooking experiments (although they don't always come out that great).

Red Brick

Awesome Cork and Cap Tables

Tonight we visit the, aptly named, Red Brick restaurant in Parnell. It has a warm atmosphere and the staff were very friendly and attentive without being intrusive. We are both very impressed by the interior decor and spend a few minutes ooohhhing and aaahhhing over the stylish coffee tables in the bar area.

Ice Cold Coke and Orange Juice

We start off with some ice cold drinks while we wait for our meals and enjoy the light music playing in the background. We also notice the chair for naughty patrons..

But not really

..I was just kidding..

Hand Cut Fries with Aioli -$7.50

 We started off with some large hand cut fries which were served with a generous dollop of aioli sauce. It may seem unusual for me to get so excited about seemingly regular potato fries, but these were very moreish -more so than regular fries. They had a very thin, crunchy outer layer with the creamiest centers you could ever imagine!

Free Range Chicken Breast wrapped in Streaky Bacon -$29.50

Our mains arrived shortly after we finished the fries and we were quite pleased with our portion sizes. I immediately fell in love with my chicken dish -who wouldn't love a plate of their favourite meat wrapped in their second favourite meat? The chicken was cooked to perfection and filled with a mustard & gruyere stuffing and then wrapped in crispy crispy bacon. I'm not usually a fan of coleslaw because the vinegary makes makes me think it's been left in the sun for a few hours but the Red Brick fixed that problem for me -just put aioli in it instead! The red cabbage and nut slaw was fresh, crunchy and the garlicky scent of the aioli went perfectly with the toasted nuts.

Potato Gnocchi -$27.50

"I'm going to be honest, the cherry tomatoes are the best part of my meal" said Jason and, after tasting a small portion myself, I have to agree -it was a little bland. Neither of us have had gnocchi before but we were pretty sure it's meant to have a little more flavour -perhaps a sauce to go with it. We were quite satisfied once we figured that the sauce and salad from my dish went very well with his.

The Bar

Whilst dining, I spent a good amount of time staring at the tapas board in the next room. Despite the fact I was eating, I could literally feel myself getting hungrier and hungrier as I eyed each dish. I'm definitely coming back soon -watch out, tempura scallops!

The Menu

Aside from the slightly bland gnocchi issue (which was very quickly solved) we were both very impressed with the Red Brick. It has a lovely atmosphere, has ample parking despite being close to town and the food is exquisite yet reasonably priced. It even has a park across the road where you can lay down if you get too full (yes, we did this).

The Red Brick can be found at 46 Parnell Rd, Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand

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All recipes are on Petitchef

Monday, January 24, 2011

Maybe being vegetarian isn't all bad

You may have noticed that most of my recent meals don't contain many fruit and vegetables. You would be very correct.

莲花阁茶艺素食馆 -Lotus Room Tea Art and Restaurant

When going out for dinner, Chinese people rarely follow the "one meat and two veggie" rule -it's more like "heaps and heaps of meat and seafood.. Oh yeah, I suppose we should include one vegetable dish." Sometimes the vegetable dish has meat in it.

Tonight, however, we are going strictly vegetarian.

We crave fruit so much that we have the after dinner fruit before the meal

My wonderfully intuitive father figured out that I'd secretly been craving less meaty foods (by the huge amounts of Longan I'd been eating at home) and took us out to the Lotus Room which is situated in the middle of Fuzhou's famous West Lake. We are actually sitting on top of the lake itself giving us a spectacular view from our room on the second floor.

Our private room

Each room is beautifully furnished in the traditional way and has a side room for Gongfu tea. Despite being in such a great location, our guests have trouble finding the building (as well as navigating the heavy Fuzhou traffic) and we have some complimentary after dinner fruit while we wait for them. Our waitress also brings out hot cups of jasmine tea while we wait.

The non-complimentary fruit platter
..The traffic is so bad that we actually have the time to order another plate. The kitchen elves slice the fruit fresh and it is brought up straight away. It is so satisfying.

Back: Jasmine Tea. Front: Five Grains Soy Milk
I am over the moon when our guests finally arrive and our waitress brings out a warm jug of five grains soy milk to accompany our meals. It is sweet, fragrant and not too thick.

Steamed Lily Bulb(百合) with Blueberry Sauce

This was almost too pretty to eat. Almost. When consumed, lily bulb is supposed to very beneficial to one's heart and lungs -you can find more about its medicinal properties here. The lily bulb was sweet, crunchy and had quite a floury texture and the thick, blueberry sauce was but not too tart.

Individual "ham" and vegetable hand rolls
 All the meat dishes are made from tofu, gluten and flour etc. These hand rolls are expertly made and I was very impressed that none fell apart during dinner. The "ham" salad was very refreshing and full of flavour -they even added some fish floss! I only wish there was more than one for each person.

Fried "Fish" with Dragon Fruit
 The main theme of tonight is "oooooh how did they manage to make this look and taste exactly like meat?" 

How do they do that?
I may even go as far as saying that this fish tasted better than normal fish. It was lightly pan fried, flaky, soft and paired beautifully with a strawberry and dragon fruit jam. Unfortunately, the jam was used more as presentation and not enough was provided for my piece of "fish."

"Duck" with Orange Sauce
Looks and texture wise, this was a bit of a downer -I actually thought it was weird that my dad ordered a dish of burned bread. Taste wise, however, it was delicious. The orange sauce was very intense but not so strong as to smother the taste of "duck."

Kumara Leaves with Goji Berries

I like spinach and kumara leaves taste a lot like spinach -you could put the two in front of me and I probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference for a good few minutes. I was confused by the weird tasting white liquid it was floating in though. The sauce was flavoured with century egg which usually has quite a pungent flavour which I usually like but, in this case, it was very mild and smelled faintly of Rotorua. I enjoyed the dish a lot more when I found out the strange taste was supposed to be there.

Stir Fried Mushrooms

Tofu Pot
With the "meat" dishes out of the way, we were incredibly impressed with the traditionally vegetarian dishes that were served. We were no longer distracted by the novelty of meat for vegetarians but could really appreciate the thought and skill that went into each and every dish. The mushrooms were cooked in a light garlicky sauce that did not smother, but actually enhanced their natural flavour. The silken tofu had been mixed with a little egg before setting to increase its slipperiness and softness as well as injecting it with a little eggy flavour. The sprinkling of caviar throughout the pot gave it a nice little change of texture.

Tempura Eggplant
By now, our waitress had caught onto the fact that I like to take photos of my food and brought this beauty over to me before cutting it up into manageable pieces for everyone. Can anyone say new favourite eggplant dish? Anyone who knows me well would know that I love my eggplant. Up until now my favourite dish had been the "fish scent eggplant casserole" but, now, it has been topped and replaced (not that I would stop ordering it anymore). This dish was amazing -I cannot stop raving about it to anyone who will listen! One, super long, piece of eggplant is finely sliced (but not the whole way through), dipped in tempura, deep fried and then covered with a thick, sweet and sour sauce. The batter was extremely light and crunchy and the center of each piece was so soft that it was almost gooey. I have a massive smile as I write this. Note to self: try to recreate this.

Deep Fried Cream

Lily Porridge with Lychee Pieces
Because we had eaten the complimentary fruit and the second fruit platters, we simply had to order dessert. The deep fried cream was kind of a disappointing finish to the exquisite meal we had -the shell was sickeningly oily and the centers a little chewy. Luckily dessert was salvaged by the lovely sweet porridge and the cream didn't taste too bad when I dipped them in my bowl. The porridge was lightly sweetened, creamy and the small pieces of juicy lychee were very pleasant surprises.

View from the balcony

I have nothing but praise for the Lotus Room. The atmosphere was exquisite and we felt like the busy streets of Fuzhou were miles away. A little part of me wishes I was back in Fuzhou just so I could experience the food all over again. Each dish was refreshing, light and delicate and I would seriously consider going vegetarian if every meal was like this (I can hope, right?).

The Lotus Room can be found at Zhuohai Park, Number 319-3 Guangrong Rd, Fuzhou, Fujian, China. 

Note: "Lotus Room" is not the restaurant's actual name. I translated it from its Chinese name to make it easier to write about.

All recipes are on Petitchef

Friday, January 21, 2011

Falling leaves return to their roots

As any Chinese person would tell you, family is the most important thing. The second thing they might tell you is that they have a very big family. My dad has a MASSIVE family.

My father has two siblings, each of whom has one child -this is quite easy to count. Then we go into the extended family. My poppa has two brothers -the oldest one has 7 children (who then go on to have about 2 or 3 children each) and the youngest one has 10 children (who also go on to have 2 or 3 children) and when you count the fact that their children have even more children, you give up counting and just say there are a lot of Chinese people everywhere. Keep in mind that I haven't even started on my nana's side of the family.

Anyway, the purpose of this trip to Fuqing(福清) was to visit the extended family and see my poppa's resting place and eat lots of food (because, after all, we are in China). We arrived just before lunch and, already, we could hear the sounds of people being busy in the kitchen. We only had a brief window of opportunity to greet everyone before we were quickly ushered into the kitchen for lunch -they must have been waiting for us for quite a while!

Baby oyster soup, Squid, Tiger Prawns and "Haku"

 We started off with a selection of seafood caught fresh that morning and cooked straight away. None of the flavour was lost and it was really nice to be able to eat seafood from the deep ocean instead of the farmed stuff we'd been getting in restaurants. See those things on the bottom right? I don't know what they're called in English -or even Mandarin! All I know is that they're pronounced "Haku" in Fuqing dialect and are a type of small lobster. My cousin tells me they're called "slip lobsters" but I am unable to find it on Google or Wiki (and that's the extent of research I'm willing to do). These little buggers taste wonderful but are amazingly hard to eat -there are countless amounts of little hooks designed to cut you should you try to get into the shell but you will be rewarded with delicious lobster meat if you succeed. 

Sweet Dumplings

Scrumptious peanutty center

Next we had a bowl of sweet dumplings (who cares that we had dessert at the beginning of the meal?). These are one of my winter favourites. They have a soft and chewy outer layer made of glutinous rice flour and have a sweet, peanut center. Heavenly. I immediately forget that there are other dishes coming and have three bowls..

Deep fried frost fish
Battered Prawns
 What do they put in their batter?? It's delicious! It was light. Very light. Each piece of fish/prawn was surrounded by the most heavenly, lightly salted crunch -my mouth is actually watering as I type this..

The chefs
 After eating what seemed like half my body weight in food, I was full and decided to have a wander around the house -oh, did I mention that it's 10 stories high? Anyway, I stumble upon the cooks (great uncle's wife and his eldest daughter) and beg them not to make any more food. They just laughed and told me to keep eating..

Stirfried Vermicelli

"This is the last one, we promise!" said my aunt as she brought this out. They certainly left the best for last. The vermicelli had soaked up the flavours of the pork, oysters and chinese cabbage and, as you can imagine, was simply delicious!

This, my friends, is apparently a snack. Xien Mien with fried egg, prawns, baby oysters, pork and fried seaweed
 After lunch, we visit my poppa and great-grandpop and a few of dad's other cousins. Then, apparently, it's time for a snack. This is one of Fuqing's specialties -Xien Mien are very very thin white noodles cooked in a chicken broth. Everyone who lives in Fuzhou would have grown up with this. You can have it for breakfast, lunch or/and dinner and are consumed in almost every occasion such as birthdays (no matter what age you are), weddings and when you're about to go traveling. The topping is the best so I give in to peer pressure but leave most of the noodles as I'm sure my stomach has not fully digested lunch yet.

Roasted Watermelon seeds
  So what does one do immediately after having a meal sized snack? Rest? Let it digest? No -we go straight to dinner. I'm not even kidding. We literally left the house and walked to the restaurant. We start off dinner with a few plates of watermelon seeds which are the most moreish little snacks ever! They are marinated in soy based sauce before being dried and baked. It was quite enjoyable listening to the loud click of the shells cracking open while the adults talked.

Prawns and Haku

Stirfried Octopus Tentacles

Close up of Haku- little lobster thing

By now I'm sure you all get that seafood is a big deal here. A meal is not complete without a plate of prawns, fish and (note I said and, not or) oysters -don't you worry, the oysters are coming later. The octopus tentacles were very juicy and had a little bite to it and was covered in a light garlicky sauce while the prawns and Haku tasted like they should (yeah, I'm sick of describing seafood now). I get a little bored and start playing with my food -does anyone remember the freaky aliens from District 9 by the way? If not, click here.

Beef and Veggie Stew
This soup was a very welcomed change to all the seafood I'd been having lately and tasted very clear despite the amount of ingredients in the bowl. The pieces of beef had been coated in cornflour before cooking so the meat wouldn't get too tough and the bits of celery added really added to the taste.

Oyster fritters

I told you oysters were coming. These were, by far, my favourite dish of the day. No one can resist the smell of oyster fritters! They were so fragrant and tasty -we even took some home with us for the next day!

Steamed Crabs

Crab Scented Cellophane Noodles

Razor Clams

 The normal person would be full by now. Apparently my family are just eating machines. It's their specialty. The cellophane noodles taste wonderful and, even though my stomach is on the verge of exploding, I have a bowl and savour the taste of the crab meat. The razor clams were fried with golden needle mushrooms in a ginger and garlic sauce which really complimented its natural flavour.

Rex's dad having a ball with his Gongfu tea set

Dried Persimmons
As if feeling a little guilty for feeding us so much today, we are taken back to my cousin, Rex's, place for some Gongfu tea (工夫茶). I have a less modern set at home if anyone wants to try. The black tea we are served is meant to cleanse the body of fatty oils so it is perfect to have after the massive dinner. We also have some dried persimmons to accompany the tea -I couldn't help it, they taste like angels. I've never seen these sold in New Zealand but, if you ever get the chance, please try these. Dried persimmons are sweet, dense and chewy -much like dates but more juicy.

Supper (aka feast)

During after tea time I notice that Rex's mum is not present but keep quiet just in case she's just retired to bed because dinner has rendered her too full to move. Little do I know, she's actually doing the opposite. It seems that she's not yet full and prepared a massive supper for everyone as a pre-sleeping snack. Supper consisted of fried fish, fried baby oysters, baby oyster soup, congee, xien mien and sweet potato dumplings. Sweet potato dumplings are also a Fuqing specialty -kumara flour mixed with glutinous rice flour to form a soft, sticky shell for a center of pork, prawns, seaweed, cabbage and baby oysters (they really like that combination here!

Delicious savoury center -I can help but eat a few
 I leave them to their supper and conversation at about midnight and drift off as I wonder why no one here is obese..