Not an early start for this trip, so it was nice to get up and say goodbye to the family in a civilized way. I had to pack a lot of gear, including a dinner jacket and a smart white chefs jacket (more about this later). I normally pride myself on packing light, but not this time. As I was to be away for the best part of three weeks, I had to pack three large bags. My boss on this trip, Lynsey, had told me that we were making 9 films in total to make sure I had at last one shirt per film plus trousers!! That alone nearly filled one bag. Boss, plus Nigel (sound) and Will (camera/researcher), left two days earlier to get GV’s prior to my arrival. Billy, my driver, picked me up and duly delivered me bang on time to terminal 3 London Heathrow.
The airport was unusually quiet, and I was the only one checking in. Anita from Cathay Pacific checked me in and wished me well. She even changed my seat, so I had more room; I love her! After a bit of adaptor shopping (you always forget) and some £29 quid later, gulp!! It was time to board the plane.
The staff were charming as ever, the plane clean and comfortable seat, all with no hassle. Lunch was served, and as always, I will only eat the food from the country I am visiting. The starter of Chinese salad with Yuzu dressing was okay, the dressing pungent and sweet. The main course of Szechuanese Chicken with Yu Shang chilli sauce was okay also. However, this was a bit too sweet for me, all in all, not too bad. I’m not a big drinker, so I had a small glass of wine (not Chinese) and chocolaty type pudding.
Okay, a little more information on my latest culinary adventure. The first stop was Hong Kong for 6 days, then Bangkok for 2 days. After that, we were to pick up the Eastern & Oriental Express and travel across Thailand. We would cook with the chef on the train, pass over the infamous River Kwan, then onto Penang and finally Singapore for two days cooking. From there, the crew would go home, and I was to fly into Cambodia to see my brother who works there and celebrate my birthday. What a trip, all fascinating stuff. I had filmed in Vietnam a couple of years ago, plus I had been to Hong Kong some 12 years ago with my wife, but that was it. I remember my brother saying to me that if I thought Vietnam was great, wait ‘til you get to Cambodia. He likened Vietnam to Trumpton whilst calling Cambodia the Wild West; I was intrigued!!
I would be cooking 6 dishes that were famous to areas we were going to, and try to keep them fairly authentic, whilst making sure we could relate to them and cook them back home; more about this as we go along. My research had uncovered some amazing dishes and facts. Some of it is very new to me. It just goes to prove, and you never stop learning; I love it.
So, for now, my belly was full. So I was going to relax and try to watch a film. In 8 hours, we would be arriving in HK at 06.30, then straight off to the hotel, shower, shave and be ready to film at 12.00. So to all those who say ‘Going away on holiday again Phil?’ it’s not all jolly, you know!!!!
I woke early on the plane, did manage to get a few hours rest, although the lady next to me kept passing wind. Not really the smell that bothered me more than the sound, oh well. She also snored, probably due to the fact she had sunk 5 glasses of red wine.
Breakfast was okay. I tried chicken congee, a sort of rice gruel/porridge with large mushrooms. Quite nice once you added the chopped ginger and the spring onions. I asked my flight attendant Samantha if many people tried it. Her reply made me laugh; she said westerners thought it was horrible and bland. I can see why, but for me, that was part of its appeal, especially for breakfast. In no time at all, we were getting ready to land, and as we did, the captain tells us it’s a balmy 22C and its only 6 in the morning.
My car speeds me from Lang To Island right into the centre of town. HK is gently waking, and the roads are empty. We pass Kowloon and its huge container port; I have never seen so many cranes and containers. The sun is peeping through the mist/smog and just over the huge skyscrapers. My driver informs me that the smog comes from China, ‘I thought we were in China??’ I reply, no, he says, this is Hong Kong. I didn’t have the wherewithal to argue.
We arrive at the very tall Langham Hotel in Kowloon, and I check in with charming staff. I try to check-in, but my room is not ready. Fair enough, it’s only 7 am, and at that very moment, Lynsey (my director) taps me on the shoulder on her way to the gym. Nigel (our soundman who came on the Norwegian trip) turns up a few minutes later, but Will (cameraman) oversleeps. We have a second breakfast and coffee and go through the days filming. I’m desperate for a shower, shave and unpack. Fred, the fixer, turns up, and the crew go off filming a local wet fish market. Finally, my room is ready, a lovely suite on the 38th floor with spectacular views, even in the morning mist, sorry ‘China smog’. The room is spacious and very comfortable. I unpack and write a few notes, then have 40 winks lying on a wonderfully soft bed with crisp linen.
I have to be in the hotel’s 2 Michelin Star Dim Sum restaurant Ming Court for lunch in no time at all. I meet up with the crew plus our HK fixer Fred and the hotels’ communications manager Titannia Shum. It’s all a bit surreal, still trying to wake up, not much sleep straight into a 2-star lunch. However, everyone is very polite here; I have found nothing is too much trouble.
We start with fragrant Jasmine tea, then quickly followed by silken bean curd, black truffle and gold leaf. It’s soft and packed full of flavour, really on the edge of being too strong with truffle oil, being careful to avoid the gold leaf on my fillings!!!!! Next is a trio (I’m not too fond of that expression) of Ming Court Dim Sum, a steamed mushroom bun, drunken shrimp dumpling that decided to squirt its juices all over me when bitten into (how embarrassing) but tasted very nice and an Alaskan King crab and pork, all beautifully presented. To follow a fragrant chicken consommé served in a clear glass teapot infused with Matsutake mushrooms and bamboo pith. I kid you not; the pith is to add substance to the broth, nice and refreshing. The fourth course had more black truffle, this time coating fingers of chicken meat and freshwater prawns that had been made into a paste, fried and topped with skin. This was served with pumpkin two ways, steamed and a sort of croquette. I have to say it was probably my favourite dish. Still, the food came, a deep bowl lined with thin-set egg custard, topped with a slightly thickened duck consommé, ravioli and the thinnest strips of preserved duck ham. By now, I’m stuffed, and I have a further 20 days of this!!!! Don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly not complaining.
Dessert was a selection of 4, ranging from some pretty tasteless over set jellies to a Wolfberry curd plus black sesame curd set custard. The whole thing served on the now ubiquitous liquid nitrogen box, all a bit old hat, but still fun.
After coffee’s, we go straight into the kitchen to get a lesson on Dim Sum making. The chef is all ready to go, and we quickly film a couple of easy ones—first, a mushroom, ginger and foie gras version that is fried in incredibly hot woks. Next, a pork and freshwater prawn open wonton style, which is steamed for 10 minutes. The kitchen crew take the piss out of my handy work, but it’s light-hearted. We finish filming, then taste a mango custard version that is wrapped in rice paper, coated in egg white and rolled in flaked almonds and deep-fried again. The filling melting when bitten into, it’s really delicious.
Our filming is interrupted by a chef dispatching two huge, live grouper on the floor, Nigel looks a bit shaken, but that’s the way it is here, all fresh as a daisy. The chefs just shrug their shoulders and carry on, and it’s part of life here. We say our thanks to the chefs then retire to the restaurant to interview the executive chef, Mango, real name, Tsang Chiu Lit Mango. He looks about 30 but is, in fact, 57; make your own minds up and see the picture gallery. He explains that Dim Sum is about 30% of his menu, and they make up to 500 a day fresh, weekends more and from up to 30 variations. My research found the best part of 2,500 variations; he’s a nice chap. We pack up and go for a shower and relax before going out for, yes…some more food.
We hop into a bus and head off to downtown Kowloon to the restaurant Hutong, which overlooks the main Hong Kong Island. It’s a spectacular view as we are about 20 floors up. The food is okay, a set menu consisting of simple fare. Asparagus dipped in sesame seeds, scallops with grapefruit, and small stuffed razor clams are nice starters. Mains are okay, beef with chilli, cod in what looks like a chilli crumble and the house speciality crispy rib strips of lamb with raw garlic dip and dipping sauce. At 8 o’clock sharp and for 13 minutes, many of the buildings across on HK Island light up with lasers and searchlights. It’s known as the symphony of lights and is named in the Guinness book of records as the “World’s largest permanent light show” all too quickly, the show is over, and we are on our way back to the hotel. By now, I’m drained and can’t wait to get into bed. So I flop into bed, but alas, at 1 am, I’m awake again until 4.14 am. Still, it was good to get all my emails and texts done.
Will and I meet early for breakfast. I was still pretty stuffed from my first day if I’m being honest, but I did manage some fruit and a nice coffee. Lynsey and Nigel arrive, and we soon get down to where we were off to today.
The Shui Wah restaurant is our first stop to meet up with Hong Kong tea Master Kwong Kin Cheong. He is one of HK’s top tea guys. He would show me how to make Yuan Yang and special tea that is drunk all over the city. I was not too sure what to expect, and as we film, he explains through our fixer Fred that the tea is made using 20% weak coffee and 80% tea!! It’s then blended with a sort of evaporated milk. Yes, I know it sounds a bit weird, but in fact, apart from being quite pungent and very strong, it was very nice. We film a couple of times, and I also see why they call it pantyhose tea. The tea is strained through long nylon nets, giving the look of stockings or tights, hence the name.
Next, stop a quick bite to eat, then one of the highlights of the visit to HK. We were to meet and cook with the new superchef on the block Alvin Leung. He’s known as China’s Heston Blumenthal. We pitch up to his 2 Michelin star restaurant Bo Innovation in Wan Chai. The main lift is out of order, so we arrive at the tradesman’s lift and wait for the top man. He arrives and is charming, a big man with a booming voice and very outspoken, clad from head to toe in his trademark black chefs uniform and full-on cigar. He is going to cook one of his signature dishes for us. Fried lobster with charred corn, Sichuan pepper, chilli and lobster foam (Mmmmm) lobster dim sum, hollandaise, and a Japanese flower I now forget. He is good fun and really plays up to the camera; we joke with each other and have a good laugh. It transpires he was born in England, living in Brentford and trained as an engineer, then got fed up with that and wanted to cook. Within a couple of years, he had 2 stars, programmes on telly and a few restaurants under his belt, and has just opened one over in London. I’m not sure how the Brit’s will take to him. He’s a big star here and really works the media well. He invites us back for dinner later in the week. I will let you know how it goes. I like him; he’s funny and larger than life.
By now it’s raining so we try to get some shots in the local streets of the nightlife, but it’s too difficult. We try the street food and its very good and outstanding value for money and decide to call it a day. Tomorrow is another long day starting with a visit to Tim Ho Wan, the most affordable Michelin restaurant in HK, so it’s off to bed.
Slept okay, had a nice breakfast of sushi, and then it’s off really quickly to Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest one Michelin star restaurant not only in HK but in the entire world. It’s fairly close to the hotel, so we arrive on time (something we are not used to). The restaurant is in an industrial part of town and looks deserted when we turn up. But as we walk in the restaurant is packed and it’s only 9 in the morning. We are ushered into a side room, and the owner turns up, Mr Mak. He is charming and accommodating. We explain what we want; he goes away and sets it up for us without a fuss. They do about 30 varieties here, ranging from simple steamed fish and meat creations to feather-light steamed rice paper rolls stuffed with beef and squid. They sell a staggering 1,500 per day at really reasonable prices. We film in his kitchens, first steaming some rice paper rolls and dim sum.
Then on to making a barbeque pork dim sum on camera with Mr Mak. He is deft and swift and teaches me the right way. They are going to be our lunch later. By now, downstairs, the restaurant is filling up. We accidentally get in the waitresses way, but they seem fine with it. I chat with two women from Singapore who jokingly explains they cannot get into Mr Mak’s restaurant in Singapore, so they came to HK instead. After about an hour, we are getting peckish, so we are taken upstairs to a small private dining room, more like a store cupboard.
We feast on my bar-b-q pork dim sum, then wave after wave of small bamboo pots arrive. Prawns, fried pork and spinach dim sum. Turnip cake, more like a radish are delicious. Beef and then prawn steamed rice rolls are soft and silky. Pudding is a sort of steamed toffee cake cut into big squares, wow! Completely stuffed, we film outside then say our goodbyes as we have a hectic day ahead. We head off to film on the start ferry that sails from HK Island to Kowloon and back; we do it a couple of times to get some nice backdrops. There is a huge American aircraft carrier full to the brim in the harbour with helicopters and planes. It has seen better days but does look very sinister in the rain. HK water police and military are all over it and sail around constantly keeping an eye.
After a quick coffee in town and really to keep out of the rain, we head to Michelin starred Zin Dau Ji to see how the HK’s best chefs cook their speciality roast pork.
Next stop we need to film street food in a busy place in downtown Kowloon. We film some great meat restaurants with all the meats hanging up, ready to go. Duck, geese, chickens; huge chunks of roasted pork all are devoured in huge amounts here. We film in a bakery and HK’s favourite sweet snack, the egg tart. I also try a Swiss Roll look alike, and the strangest thing strikes me, they are offering a sweet that is not sweet at all. In fact, the Swiss Roll almost tastes slightly salty. We push on, and I try a skewer with what looks like thin spring onions skewered to one end. The guy brushes them with a little oil and seasoning and lightly grills over a charcoal grill for 2-3 minutes. They are superb. We head back to the hotel wash and brush up, then go to Bo Innovation to meet with Alvin.
Once we arrive, the top man is there chomping on his large cigar. He invites us to the chef’s table right in front of the kitchen. His kitchens are mad busy, but everyone seems under control. Dave, his No. 2, pops out and says hello.
We start with his own Champagne, swiftly followed by waffles filled with oysters, like little bubbles filled with cooked oysters. The other dishes are a blur right now.
I have made copious notes made on the menu he gave us. I will find it and at a later date pop on the site, as they are complex and very lengthy, but it was a brilliant meal and well worth his 2 Michelin stars in my view.
My head felt very heavy after last night’s meal with Alvin. However, 14 courses are quite enough, plus wine and the obligatory whisky afterwards. I struggled to get out of bed to have an early breakfast, but once the coffee kicked in, I felt much better.
We set off to get the funicular railway to The Peak to get a few nice pieces on camera, plus the lovely panoramic shots of this spectacular place. It had been raining on and off over the past week, so I was not expecting too much. Even Fred was quite concerned that it would all be okay. We checked in and boarded the train. We were lucky and had the two front rows of seats, much to the disdain of a few locals. Fred was quite straight with them. It’s about an 8-minute ride to the top, and we managed to get some nice shots. At the top, we were lucky and got what we had come for after a few breaks in the cloud. The sun popped out briefly, and we all managed to get a few rays.
Once that was over, we had a quick coffee and then organized the bus to bring us back into the main downtown to attend a tea appreciation society lecture on HK’s and China’s favourite drink. On the way, we also stopped off briefly to get a few nice shots from a rooftop restaurant and Bar East. From here, you could also get wonderful views over the bay to the old airport now being converted into a new cruise liner terminal.
At the tearooms, there were already 5 other ladies ready for the lecture. So we made our apologies for being late and also filming and got started. I have to say, it was quite interesting, concentrating on the main 8 teas drunk in Hong Kong. These ranged from red to green and even yellow to black. We were shown the way to brew tea and to appreciate it. This is all a far cry from how we make a cuppa in the UK. Maria, the lecturer, was excellent and really knew her subject, but as with all these things we had to leave early to set up for the next piece to camera with Maria.
We say our goodbyes and move onto the next location in Soho. This time we were to film on the longest moving walkway in the world. This walkway extends from the centre of town right up into the Soho area and is packed. At the top, we film more taxis and nightlife then drop into a small Thai restaurant for dinner.
Still not finished we film the final end to the HK film on the water’s edge with the skyline lit up behind and return to the hotel. We have a quick filming session in the wet market after breakfast tomorrow then it’s off to the airport for an evening flight to Bangkok. So now, off to bed.
We arrive at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok late into the night, so it was straight off to bed to be ready for our first day in Bangkok, which you can read all about