Qi - House of Sichuan 呇 (Hong Kong)


Before venturing to Qi – House of Sichuan, you’ll want to read this first. There will be things that draw you to the restaurant: a Michelin star, an easy reservation system (a simple email), and their Wan Chai location that’s close to other night life.

You may even be drawn by their website’s description:

The authentic Sichuan dishes here reflect the “seven flavours of Sichuan” – spicy, aromatic, sweet, bitter, sour, peppery, and salty. Not for the faint-hearted, be prepared to experience a wide spectrum of spiciness as the house serves up explosive flavours from the Sichuan canon.

Just heed their warning – the menu is not for the faint-hearted. Unless you have a high tolerance for spice, dishes from the Sichuan region really differs from the sweet, sour, and salty preparations of other Chinese regions. Even if you’ve been to a Sichuan restaurant outside of China, you may not be prepared. I was no match for Qi.

Learn from my mistake. Here are three words of advice:

1. Skip the hot and sour soup

While the hot and sour soup ($60 a bowl) was tasty, incorporating plenty of thinly julienned ingredients so that each bite was a mix of flavours and textures, the soup was so hot (in terms of spice and temperature) that your tongue will be scorched by the time you’re even a third of the way through. Good luck handling anything else.


A better starter is the mouthwatering chicken ($85). One of Qi’s signature dishes, the slightly chilled boneless white meat is tender and flavourful all on its own. Plenty of warm chili paste is placed over top, but you can add as little or as much as you like to ensure it’s not overwhelming. Aside from spice there’s a bit of mala heat that has a numb inducing quality – semi-protecting rather than scorching the tongue.


Or you could just go straight to the mains and nibble on the forced upon snack plate ($30) while waiting – a non-spicy sesame oil laced winter melon, lightly spiced cucumber, and lotus root tossed with a mala sauce. 


2. Balance out the meal with non-spicy dishes

A good ratio to aim for is about 50/50. Thinking the sugar glazed ginger and scallion beef ($160) would be a dish with respite, in the dark dining room we didn’t notice the chili beside the name on the menu. Indeed, with the first bite you’re greeted with a crispy crust and aromatic syrupy sauce… but then the chili dust mixed into the batter erupts into the mouth. Nonetheless, it’s mellower than all the other dishes we tried, except for the mouthwatering chicken where the diner controls the spice level.


Even the vegetarian eggplant ($115) was too much. It’s a shame there wasn’t a plain eggplant dish as the vegetable was done perfectly – cut into thicker sticks and cooked until creamy. But then the sauce was so thick that it’s hard to get away from the chili. Unfortunately, for vegetables, there’s only one choice for something without heat – a plain seasonal vegetable ($90) with or without garlic.


Surprisingly, the dish I could handle better was the spicy prawns ($240) – a dish that actually has ‘spicy’ in the title! While it looks scary and filled with red tongue torturers, the chilies are left in large pieces so you can easily avoid them. While the deep fried prawns are stir-fried with chili oil, each are fairly large in size, so the seafood to batter ratio makes the heat more balanced.


3. Arm yourself with plenty of water and a cold milk tea

The restaurant is smart to include a bottle of water at every table. In the heat of the moment, you’ll find yourself reaching for it ($70) – although I did see some tables ask them to switch the bottles for a regular pitcher.

Yet, it was the cold milk tea ($45) that offered the most respite. The sweet cooling dairy temporarily quenching the flames. It was the only thing that allowed me to try everything twice, although my husband and I eventually had to tap out and leave most dishes half done.

If all else fails, you can always ask them to tone down the spice – as I overheard from the neighbouring table when they ordered the chili crab. It may feel like you’re wimping out, but at least you’ll be able to finish the meal.

For a Michelin starred restaurant the service could have been better. Being under staffed, it was difficult to flag someone down to order the milk tea and the paying process was painfully long. Still, while we left the dinner defeated and tongues a flamed, I’ll still give Qi a decent mark since it lived up to what was promised and the food was done well. Just listen to my advice and perhaps you’ll leave victorious. 


Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Wan Chai, Hong Kong
 Address: 60 Johnston Rd (J Senses, 2nd floor)

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Hexagon (Oakville)


It’s remarkable how many Toronto food lovers will travel out-of-country for a great meal, but when they hear a restaurant’s outside of the GTA boundaries a crestfallen “But, it’s so far!” is the typical response. Why is it that we’ll more likely hop on a plane for a Michelin starred meal than just traverse our highway system (even with the traffic) to support Canadians? Indeed, not every restaurant is worth travelling to. However, after a dinner at Hexagon, I assure you - this one is worth the drive.

Finding parking is easy in the “downtown” Oakville area, much easier than locating Hexagon. Situated in a court yard amongst other restaurants, their entrance has no signage. Therefore, look for a blue awning… you’ll then receive confirmation you’re in the right place, after opening the door and seeing their name etched into the tile floor.


Hexagon does have an a la carte menu, but it’s very small. Therefore, if you’re dining with someone that needs choice, the four-course menu ($75) is your best bet; there’s 3-4 options for each course. And don’t worry if you don’t understand the menu – even while visiting with a group of frequent diners, we haven’t heard of 20% of the ingredients listed … cascabel chili anyone? Luckily, the sommelier patiently described everything to us in a conversational manner, comparing them to items more commonly found on Canadian menus.

Starting with a warm pain au lait, this is the bread that even people who have sworn off carbs may succumb to. Soft, flakey, and buttery; it’s delicious and could go toe-to-toe with the one served at Alo.


The tendril of charred octopus is oh so tender and arrives with a palm sized black corn tortilla that makes a great two-bite taco. Dots of sauces cover the plate so you can try a bit of the seafood with something tangy, spicy, or creamy… although it’s already good enough by itself.


Torn between the onion consommé and truffle shallot agnolotti for the second dish, my friend graciously offered me a taste of her soup. As expected, the broth is flavourful and fragrant, putting French onion soup to shame. Soft plump gruyere gnocchi and caramelized onions line the bottom of the bowl, the consommé still the star.


The pasta was just thick enough to give the agnolotti chewiness while letting the creamy smooth ricotta filling come through. Even with a cream sauce, the dish wasn’t too heavy, balanced with the diced granny smith apples I was a bit apprehensive about, but added a fresh element.


Although the duck could have been cooked less, since it was dry aged, the meat remained tender and the skin was wonderfully rendered until crispy. The saltiness from the cube of duck confit on the side also contrasted nicely, tantalizing the taste buds. Overall, there was so much going on with the plate: black garlic paste, sea buckthorn jelly and even a hunk of savoy cabbage left crispy (not unlike a gigantic Brussels sprout), but it all worked together.


Hexagon’s piñata dessert is whimsical and great for people who like playing with their food. Suspended above the crème brulée was a white chocolate capsule filled with powdered sugar. I’m advised to whack the chocolate with a spoon, emitting a puff of white exploding over the dessert. Playfulness aside, the crème brulée was rich without being heavy due to the citrusy kalamansi and floral jasmine used in the dessert. A nice end to the meal.


Since we were celebrating a birthday, a special dessert arrived afterwards - a peach almond tart. The pastry was thick but crisp and buttery, the richness balanced out by a slight tropical taste from the fruit.


The meal was a delicious one - the four courses just enough food to satisfy without being stuffed. For those who are hungry and adventurous, Hexagon also offers a 9-course tasting menu option where there is no choice. After all, if you’re going to travel “all the way” to Oakville, why not make it worth it?

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Oakville, Canada
 Address: 210 Lakeshore Road East

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


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Grandeur Palace 華丽宮 for dinner (Toronto)


I have a love-hate relationship with Grandeur Palace: they’re one of better dim sum restaurants, in terms of taste for value, but the sheer amount of “friends and family” they let go to the front of the queue grates on the nerves while you’re waiting. Luckily, they’re quiet during dinner and with a small group we’ve just walked-in. It’s so much better when there’s no one jumping the line!

Unlike other Chinese restaurants, Grandeur doesn’t serve complimentary soup. So, if you’re used to wetting the whistle before the food arrives, plan accordingly. Their soup of the day ($9.98) is reasonably priced and sufficient for about 8-10 people. While it changes, one evening brought us a bone broth made of pork, carrots, apples, and white fungus, arriving piping hot and flavourful (not having been diluted).  


Almost every table orders the roasted Peking duck special ($19.80), a steal for two courses (duck with wraps and chopped carcass). While it’s not the most stellar version of the dish, it’s still satisfying. Their biggest flaw being the consistency of the bird – larger tables are given larger birds.


Moreover, their wrappers are a little thick and left in the steamer too long causing the top ones to dry out and crack. Nonetheless, they’re a good three-bite size ideal for making a duck taco.

You will spend more on other dishes – even a simple vegetable dish is above $15. However, Grandeur doesn’t skimp on quality or portion sizes. The sweet and sour pork ($16.80) is made with pork tenderloin, so even older family members could bite through the meat, and there was enough sauce for flavour. Sadly, the large chip is prettier to look at than eat: thinking it was a gigantic shrimp chip, I was disappointed to be greeted with the taste of Styrofoam.


The salt and pepper pork chop ($16.80) is a substantial dish. Again, the kitchen ensures it remains tender while creating a crispy crust, it just needs to be spicier.


While it’s common in Chinese restaurants, the actual seafood in the tofu, vegetable, and seafood in hot pot ($18.80) has little flavour given it’s quickly blanched before cooking. Most tables order the hot pot for the sauce over the natural shrimp, scallop, and squid flavours.


If you’ve never had bamboo fungus, it has an interesting crunchy spongy texture that I love. At Grandeur, you’ll find the ingredient in the stir-fried vegetables with bamboo fungus ($15.80), topping broccoli and mixed with black and white fungus.


The baby bok choy with salted and preserved egg ($13.80) isn’t my favourite dish as the grainy texture of the salted egg yolk is strange against the vegetable. However, it’s simple and relatively healthy feeling for those wanting a lighter option.


At $19.98 a pound, it doesn’t sound expensive for a large lobster, but when you’re greeted with a behemoth 6-pound dish ($119.88), it adds up. Best for big tables, large lobsters aren’t always as sweet as their younger counterparts but there’s more meat, especially in the claws and legs. The traditional stir-fried lobster with green onions and ginger was done well, chopped into large enough pieces so it didn’t become overcooked.


The braised grouper ($48) is another dish for larger tables – a platter with a big slab of meaty fish topped with tons of tofu and surrounded with vegetables and mushrooms (these sides alone enough to count as its own dish). The thick grouper was just cooked through and there was sufficient oyster sauce to keep everything flavoured.


Whoever chopped the deep fried whole chicken ($33.60) did so in a haphazard manner, it arrived disheveled looking. Nonetheless, it was well flavoured, the skin crispy, and the meat cooked through but not tough. Perhaps it was cut while it was still hot - if it’s between presentation or temperature, I choose temperature any day.


Although the restaurant doesn’t provide soup, customers do leave with a sweet ending. The customary green bean soup with tapioca was hot and sweet and on a weeknight dinner there were also bite-sized mango pudding and cookies.


While dining at Grandeur Palace doesn’t make you feel like royalty (even on quiet nights it’s hard to get a staff member’s attention), their dishes are decent interpretations of Cantonese cuisine. Just go in a table of six or more; they don’t skimp on portion size.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2301 Brimley Road

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Grandeur Palace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Putien 莆田 (Hong Kong)


Chinese cuisine, due to the size of the country, varies in tastes and ingredients amongst the regions. Putien showcases dishes from Putian (yes, there’s a vowel difference in the name), a coastal town part of the Fujian province. With its proximity to water, there’s of course a choice of seafood dishes, the menu also incorporates a variety of meat (mainly pork), tofu, and grain offerings as well.

From the picture, I thought the steamed Putien clams with garlic ($99) were razor clams, but they’re actually Duo Tou clams, named after the village they’re raised. The clams are bred in coastal soil that’s rich in nutrients (adding to its flavours) without the gritty sand. Smaller than razor clams (about a third of the size), they’re also meatier and much sweeter. Very tasty. The kitchen smartly purées the garlic so you can taste the ingredient without the harsh bite. Imagine our luck, visiting Hong Kong in April, so we could try them – there are only available from April to August.


Putien’s wonton soup stands out due to the fried garlic used in the broth and a light vinegar note in the background. The wontons were thumbnail-sized and filled with pork and chives, decent but the flavours largely coming from the soup. Just be careful to only order the per person amount ($28 a person). Our waiter insisted we get a small bowl ($79), making it sound like it’s a better deal, but it ended up being way too much for two and would only be suitable for a table of three or four.


While the flavours in the sesame deep fried bao with stir fried shredded pork ($52) were tasty, we had to add a lot of the stuffing to make it taste good as the bao was rather thick. It’s also overly greasy so is best after you blot the wrapper with a napkin.


Aside from the clams, the dish that impressed me the most was the homemade bean curd ($68) … yes, tofu! The centre was silky incorporating a mellow taste that’s almost like steamed eggs. Deep fried and braised, the end product is delicate, barely resisting a spoon, but deliciously flavourful. Overall, the vegetarian dish was tasty, even better if the green beans were cooked a touch longer.


Thankfully, we had the oyster sauce from the tofu as the cabbage rice ($68) was bland and sorely needed it for flavour. While a decent portion, it is nothing like the fragrant concoction my grandmother used to make; we would have been better off with regular steamed rice.


Putien certainly trains their staff to upsell, to the point that it borders on annoying. Indeed, I understand the need to increase bill totals, but when it happens during every step of the ordering process, it can get irritating. For example, they don’t offer wine by the glass, so when my husband switched to beer and me tea ($9 a person regardless of it you have it), our waiter tried to convince me that a bottle, the standard 750ml variety, was small and wouldn’t be too much for us to share. This is on top of a bowl of overly oily seaweed at the table, which is automatically included on the bill ($9).

Regardless, I can live with all the above as I know “sauce” and “tea” charges are common in Hong Kong. Even convincing us to order more soup than necessary can be forgiven. What I was most appalled with was the outright lying for gratuities. At Putien, the bill only arrives in Chinese (despite us requesting English menus). With all these miscellaneous charges, I wasn’t sure if gratuity was already added and didn’t want to risk not including anything. Therefore, I stopped one of the staff members to ask, and she said that their bills do not include tips. It wasn’t until I looked back later and used Google translate to find a 10% gratuity line item. For a restaurant who has such sweet Duo Tou clams, all the nickeling/diming and outright lying sure had me leaving with a bitter taste in my mouth.   

Overall mark - 6 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 
 Address: 99 Percival St (Lee Theatre Plaza, 7th floor)

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen (Toronto)


For being such a multi-cultural city, Toronto is sadly devoid of non-fast food Jamaican restaurants. While I have no objections with having a huge stuffed roti or plate of jerk chicken for $10, I also like to enjoy the food slowly, with friends, and preferably with a drink in hand. Enter Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen, where there’s plenty of drinks to be had and food to share.

You can’t go wrong with any of the likkle bites, such as the saltfish fritters ($12), each two-bite pastry lightly packed with plenty of fish in a deliciously hot crispy crust. The miniature Jamaican patties ($10) arrives four to an order: two tasty curry turkey ones incorporating the right amount of spice and tons of gravy along with two vegetarian coconut patties, which after the turkey feels a bit plain. Nonetheless the pastry is great and the filling heartier than the typical frozen variety.


If you like scampi shrimp, Chubby’s pepper shrimp ($16) incorporates a base of garlic butter then adds scotch bonnet chili sauce to make it fiery red. They’re juicy and flavouful where you’ll definitely feel the heat, in a bearable way.


The slow-baked jerk wings ($16) were a sizeable portion and great for sharing. With a sticky dry rub made from honey, scotch bonnet dust, and lime zest, the spice slowly builds on the tongue and leaves a light burn to remind you it is jerk. While the wings were enjoyable, they should be cooked less as the chicken was bordering on dry.


There’s also a variety of jerk offerings for mains. Having had the chicken wings, we opted for the jerk pork ($17), which arrives as two cuts: a fried pork belly and a grilled buckeye loin. Surprisingly, the leaner loin was the moister of the two; the pork belly so overdone that it was chewy. Chubby’s smartly pairs the meat with sautéed seasonal vegetables, a mixture of kale and collard green that’s just cooked until wilted with bits of kale stalk added for crunch. This is one dish where the vegetables are just as good as the protein.


My favourite dishes were the saucy ones with rice. The curry chicken ($16) contained bone-in pieces boiled until tender in a flavourful light curry sauce. A bowl of jasmine rice accompanies the curry with papaya chutney and shaved coconut if you want to make it tropical, I just liked it plain. While not pictured, the Caribbean veggie stew ($15) was rich and satisfying, where the pumpkin and sweet potato helped thicken, coconut milk made things creamy, and the corn and beans added texture.


With a ton of sides to choose from, a large group is ideal so you can mix and match: the rice and peas ($5) actually contains red kidney beans and goes nicely with the jerk pork, Chubby’s slaw ($5) has a great vinegar base and cools any spice, the fried okra ($6) is surprisingly large with the bigger pieces split in half so there’s no sliminess, and the jerk tempeh ($7) reminds me of a hearty mung bean side, great by itself or with curry.


The rum and raisin bread pudding ($10) got me so excited that I forgot to take a picture of the dessert. Cut into cubes and then deep fried, the dessert is crispy on the outside and soft and cinnamonny on the inside. They’re like hot delicious beignets with a warm caramel sauce and cooling vanilla gelato.

While it’s best to go to Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen as a larger group, the circular tables are so small that you can hardly fit anything else if everyone orders drinks and the hot sauce is placed on the table. We had to ask the staff to take away the tea light and strategically place items on our seats to allow the food to fit.


Nonetheless, we managed and enjoyed our dinner. Perhaps it’s the environment, sit on the second floor and you’ll feel like you’re transported to a Caribbean destination: the skylights let in the sunshine, while the slowly spinning fans and tropical décor give you a lazy feel. Everything, is gonna be all right.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 104 Portland Street

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Burgeroom 香港開飯喇 (Hong Kong)


I know what you’re thinking – why would you visit Hong Kong and eat burgers? It’s a city filled with delicious Chinese food and you’re eating burgers?! While I’m generally a tourist who “eats locally”; after a week, even with all the tasty Chinese options, I start to crave something different. That’s when I turned to Openrice (the Yelp and Zomato of Hong Kong) to see what international restaurants the locals are visiting. One of their top choice seems to be Burgeroom, which specializes in gourmet burgers.

The restaurant lies on a small street called Food Avenue, running parallel to Paterson, which is filled with restaurants – a safe bet if you’re unable to get a table at the no reservations Burgeroom. As a fast-casual type eatery, you review the menu tableside then head to the cashier to order and pay, where they’ll give you a number to place at the table.

If you love cheese, there’s the mega cheese burger ($105), which tops a beef patty with 80g of fondue-style melted cheddar. Eat it quickly, as the cheese hardens fast. Additionally, it can get messy – you’d expect this from the molten cheese, but also because of poor layering skills: the kitchen places the lettuce and tomato on the bottom (traditionally placed on top of the patty), causing everything to slide around. The burger could also benefit from onions (to add a bit of crunchy texture) and the tomato should have the hard stem cut out. Toppings aside, at least the beef patty was juicy and the bun fluffy and soft.


The batter used to deep fry the soft-shell crab burger ($108) sorely needed more seasoning and was applied too thick, rendering the crab tasteless. Sure, there was tartar sauce on the bun, but this was way too sweet and tasted more like Miracle Whip than real tartar sauce. While the lettuce goes well with the crustacean, I’m not sure if the tomato was the best choice – again something like onion or pickles would have given the burger more texture. Thankfully, the soft-shell crab was not overdone, was relatively fresh, and a sizeable portion.


Perhaps the best part of the meal was the twister fries ($28) – hot from the fryer so it was immensely crispy. Moreover, the basket was generous and definitely large enough for sharing. If only the cheddar on the mega burger was still molten it’d be a great dip for the fries - believe me, I tried.


For a place that has won a lot of accolades, the awards are likely for the menu’s opulence and wide range of toppings. After all, where else do you find burgers topped with a king prawn omelette, Hiroshima oyster, or scallop? There’s even the option to add foie gras or double foie gras to any burger. The novelty ingredients are great, but Burgeroom needs to focus on the basics as well – making sure there’s ingredients that complement the protein and everything’s layered correctly. Perhaps that’s a lesson: don’t go to Hong Kong to eat burgers.

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Causeway Bay, Hong Kong,
 Address: 50 Paterson Street

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!