Friday, December 9, 2011

Last meal before flying

My table at Pierre with a hint of Christmas
and beautiful accents and flowers.

All photos taken with my brand-new SONY SLR
which really helps me shoot pro shots easily.

Last night I finally flew back to Manila from Hong Kong, arriving at 9 PM and it was straight to Round #5 of my neighborhood cocktail parties until about 230 AM. Round # 4 was on Wednesday night and unfortunately I’d missed it; but I heard from other neighbors that it had been great fun and everyone had stayed way past midnight. As has become the tradition for our neighborhood cocktails, Wednesday’s hostess had reportedly outdid herself and set up a great party complete with live music.


Then, as for Round # 5 last night, well, when I arrived, a chorale group had just finished a Christmas performance for the guests! Talk about the standard of entertaining just getting higher and higher here, for something that essentially started as a simple neighbors' get-together. It's lots of fun, however, and of course everyone greatly appreciates the efforts of each host/ hostess to put together a great party.

Anyway, I was late for the party last night because my flight from Hong Kong had arrived at exactly 9 PM and it had taken me an hour to get from curbside to party with a dress change in between.


One of the first people I saw last night was my bachelor neighbor with the Pacific Northwest-style house big enough for a party for 500. He'd actually started this new level of entertaining by hiring a pianist to play on his grand piano as we had cocktails. Then we'd had a guitarist at the party on Wednesday, and a chorale group last night. At this rate, the next hosts are going to have to contract an orchestra.

"This is all your fault," I told him. "You and your pianist started this all. Now I don't know what I'm going to do when it's my turn."


Then I saw my good friend who is up next for hosting tomorrow night. "So what are you going to do for your party? Hire a circus?" I teased her. Well, not quite the circus, but actually even better. She's hired the best caterers in town for her party!

"I love it," I said, almost laughing. "But I hate you. I'm never going after you again in this party circuit thing." Of course this feeling of competition is all in good fun. But I must say that everyone's house has been absolutely beautiful in a unique way so far, and so wonderfully decorated for Christmas.

Last night's house was full of antiques, Orientalia and unique Christmas decor. And the food was fabulous. I'd just had a major meal in Hong Kong and stepped off a plane where I'd already had dinner; but there I was having another meal at midnight.


Meanwhile, my cocktail party is on the 18th and I still don’t know what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll juggle a few Christmas balls or hire a fire eater to swallow flames while singing Christmas carols.

As for the food -- what does one do when one of the hostesses before you has hired the best caterers in town for her party? And the hostess after that, too, is very well known in this town for her entertaining prowess and larger-than-life lifestyle. So I'm in for some major logistics pressure next week.


But in Hong Kong yesterday, my last meal before flying was at Pierre, the fancy French restaurant of the Mandarin Oriental that has just been awarded two Michelin stars for the second year in a row. Interestingly, both sets of stars were under a different chef; but I'm really impressed so far with this latest chef who did his previous training for the longest time at a very famous multi-Michelin starred restaurant in Alsace, France.

I lunched with a friend and I’d arrived slightly earlier, so I had time to chat with restaurant manager Julien about the many good tidings going on at Pierre, famous French chef Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant in Hong Kong. Pierre has a restaurant in Paris, which serves the best Bresse chicken in the world as far as I'm concerned, and a restaurant in Tokyo. But between Hong Kong and Tokyo, I like Pierre in Hong Kong better.


“How has your stay in Hong Kong been so far?” Julien asked me. I replied: “Absolutely wonderful. This is my fourth two-star restaurant in four days.”

Julien said: “I am so jealous.” And I replied: “And I have high blood pressure.” It was true. All the rich food had whacked my blood pressure out of control, but I really just could not help trying at least one Michelin restaurant a day. In fact, yesterday, I’d had one Michelin restaurant for lunch and another for dinner; and dinner had been a mammoth 10-course tasting menu accompanied by 10 different kinds of wine.

But in spite of all the great food just coming my way like a tsunami, I was really looking forward to this lunch at Pierre. For my last lunch, I wanted civilized, elegant, classic – and this is exactly what you get at Pierre.


The Mandarin, by the way, received two stars for Pierre and one star each for Man Wah, its Cantonese restaurant, and for Mandarin Grill, its Western restaurant. This makes Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong the only hotel in the world so far with three Michelin-starred restaurants under its roof.

That’s a pretty big deal in the culinary world, and I’m so happy for them as I consider the Mandarin my home in Hong Kong. I've been staying at the Mandarin ever since I can remember and there have been some visits to Hong Kong wherein I don’t even leave the hotel and just rotate between its five restaurants. Man Wah and Mandarin Grill have always been my favorites, and as much for the atmosphere as for the food.


Something to start everything on the right foot.

Yesterday I began lunch at 1230 pm so I was in a bit of a rush to catch my 6 pm flight. This was not going to be one of those five hour lunches.

My friend and I chose the Express Lunch, which was “express” in name only. It was a truly fancy and fine meal. I had four courses that were served as elegantly and as satisfyingly as a proper tasting menu. And to accompany lunch, we had champagne – a nice holiday touch to a last meal before flying out of Hong Kong.


My perfect oysters

Julien recommended the oysters to start, and they were absolutely perfect. They were incredibly fresh but flavored with citrus, and a little bit of tuna (if I'm not mistaken) was added underneath.

My friend had the scallop carpaccio to start and I tasted it.
This is also a must-try on their current express menu.


Then my next course was a major no-no for cholesterol but I really couldn't care less yesterday. I had the foie gras soup with red currant jelly and winter vegetables, accompanied by a purely green but tangy salad of lamb's lettuce. Inspiring and delicious.

Winter soup being poured into my bowl of foie gars

A nice salad of lamb's lettuce

Interestingly, Pierre does a lot of innovation in his starters, but when it comes to his main courses, most things are based on classic cooking and executed to perfection. This is just the way I like it as I'm not exactly a molecular biology kind of eater. I'll happily dabble in some experiments to start, but I like my main courses firmly planted on the ground.


My shortlist for a main included a lobster salpicon with a citrus sauce, accompanied by pasta flavored with the essence of the lobster itself; a grilled, glazed and slice pork belly with a clam pasta; or grilled lamb cutlets with a blackwheat crepe and a Vietnamese salad.

That's my lobster

That's the pasta full of essence of lobster

When I consulted Julien, he unhesitatingly recommended the lobster so that was what I went with. It was so wonderful I actually had to stop talking for a while just to focus on how good it was. The lobster was incredibly moist and tender, and it had such a clean and pure taste; and the citrus went so well with it as it took out any hint of fishiness.

But, just so one would not miss the actual taste of the lobster, the chef made sure to include every ounce of essence squeezed out of it into my pasta. This was a touch of genius, actually.

The lobster had grapefruit in the dish!

Meanwhile, my friend had the cannelloni with snails as a main course, and I ended up sharing this dish as well as I simply had to try how Pierre in Hong Kong did their snails. There was very little obvious sensation of snails, but just enough of a hint to remind you that snails were inside the cannelloni made with egg plant.

Snails wrapped in a canneloni of eggplant


For dessert, my eye wandered immediately to the last option, which had the words "bitter chocolate" and "ice cream" in it. I'd already ordered it, in fact, when my friend interrupted and said to Julian with lots of authority: "She should have the Grand Dessert."

What could I say? A "Grand Dessert" certainly sounded tempting, and who was I to say no to six desserts instead of one? Yes, the Grand Dessert at Pierre actually is a set of six or seven desserts -- depending on the chef's mood that day, I suppose -- and it's a very balanced assortment of dessert flavors. Of course there's lots of citrus flavors in it as this chef loves his lemons. But it also had very sweet and very chocolate along the way, so you might say it was a trip around the (dessert) world.

Dessert #1

Dessert #2

Dessert #3

Dessert # 4

Dessert #5

Dessert # 6


The meal finished just in time for me to catch a ride to Hong Kong airport and check in for my flight. On the way back to Manila, I read the latest issue of Vanity Fair from cover to cover. As far as reading materials go, my vices are very well-written biographies, the weekend edition of the Financial Times and Vanity Fair when it doesn't focus too much on celebrities.

I bought the latest issue of Vanity Fair at the airport kiosk and it was just enough reading until Manila. It certainly had more celebrities than I would wish, but I did find the cover story on Lady Gaga quite interesting. There was also a rundown of the personalities who will benefit once Facebook goes public.


And today, to add to the wonderful holiday spirit and the great feeling of community within my neighborhood, my neighbor Tammy sent me over two of the most beautiful (and giant) Christmas wreaths I have ever seen, to hang on my front door. Tammy does the Christmas decor for some of the biggest firms in the country, as well as many homes of the rich and famous of Manila; but no matter how many places she's done, they all look unique.

In my neighborhood alone, she must've done at least six houses of neighbors; and so far the ones I've seen have all been different in theme and color, and all fantastic.

Well, now I have my own two Tammy Christmas wreaths on my front door, and she even sent someone to install them for me professionally. And every time I see them, they simply take my breath away. If you'd like to know more about Tammy's Christmas decor, google her workshop called Color It Christmas.

This Christmas season has so far been very special for many reasons, and one major reason is the wonderful spirit of sharing and community in my neighborhood. From a fancy lunch in Hong Kong to an all-night party in Manila that ended close to 2 AM. Just another day in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

25F Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
5 Connaught Road, Central
Hong Kong
Tel (852) 2825-4001


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


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