30 May, 2013

Montreal: The place to eat

Jadeite In all honesty, it took me some time to post this (back-dated) piece. But there was no way I couldn't share my tasty experiences with you! 

The food was amazing, some of it cooked by my host, Chow with Chow.

Living in Hong Kong, markets like Jean-Talon (Marché Jean-Talon) in the heart of Montreal just make me drool. And even if some things seem kind of expensive, it’s just full of delicious product that I want to take home and… cook. Surrounding the fresh produce are a few stalls selling pre-made goods, including the best sea-salt caramel macaron I have ever eaten and some interesting looking polish pastries.

There are also a few shops selling all things Maple, but I was told by my good host that those products can also be found cheaper, elsewhere. Which was a good thing, because I could not resist the vintage style packaging, which I secretly wanted to take home to use as a pen-holder or something.

A short walk south from the market is little Italy. You know what that means? Cannolis. That’s what it means. I have this constant hankering for a good churro and while I know these two things cannot be compared, how can you say no to a good cannoli?

Try Alarti-Caserta at 277 Dante, Little Italy. Luckily for me, they have small and large sizes (this was a long trip, at some point I had to think about my heart, if not my waistline). I also wanted to try their sfogliatelle, which was what I was given the last time I tried to order a cannoli in Sheffield, UK (I know, what did I expect? It was yummy though).

But among the pastries and some of the most extravagant cakes I have ever seen, were other yummy things that I didn’t get to try (heart, waistline, remember?), like this nutty tart. Mmmm. I will have to go back to Montreal sometime.

And after that, full as I felt (ssshhh, I ate other things before we got to Alarti Caserta) we walked through Mile End, looked, tried on and walked south more to the Plateau where I fell in love with a home-ware store called V de V Maison.

But we had to walk more, because I know that Montreal bagels are good. ChowwithChow had brought them to me in HK before. They were calling me. I wanted to try one of those, fresh.

In case you’re not familiar or lucky enough to have friends in Montreal, their bagels are different and known for being really good – some people actually don’t want to eat a New York bagel, because hey, it’s just not their style. These little puppies are boiled in sweetened water and then baked in a wood fire oven. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s best to eat them fresh and from a place that only does bagels.

// There is more to it, but I’ll let wikipedia explain that.) //

So, we took our route past coffee shops and shoe shops and hairdressers (she needed to trim her bangs) and I ‘found’ myself by FairmountBagel (because I cried “what about the bagel?” Even Chow had eaten enough by then).

Located at 74 Fairmount West, these guys have been making bagels since 1919 and my taste buds told me that experience was worth it, even if my tummy wasn’t in the mood for stretching exercises.

The only thing I missed was the Marmite. But hey, this lox was ridiculously good too.

I still had more places to go on my trip, so sadly I didn’t bring bagels home, but I did head to a supermarket one Mont Royale Avenue (av. du Mont-Royal) to get less perishable goods. And oops! We passed by La Maison du Macaron, which I was told is one of the best in the city.

The lovely Chow bought me a box of the printemps-été 2013 collection: Mango and black pepper, strawberry and rhubarb, raspberry and lime, strawberry and basil and of course, I tried their sea salt caramel too. I’m obsessed with caramel. I’m obsessed with salty & sweet. So what can I say? This was a trip of flavour combinations (check out the pops at The Hyppo in St Augustine ).

Oh, and at the supermarket I picked up some cheese and a jar of Dulce de Leche (for some reason, it’s a regular staple in Canadian supermarkets), which I’ve been saving up for making some Argentinian alfajores, now the weather is cooler in HK. I’m going to add some pink Himalayan sea salt to mine, along with that coconut rim. (Warning: there are lots of bad recipes for these on the Internet…)

27 May, 2013

Kisses cupcakes, Wan Chai

Me love cupcake. So I couldn't resist trying one from Kisses cupcakes when I discovered it on Saturday. Despite the fact that I just got back from a month in the USA. (So much cake).

But upon looking through the window at the product, I realised that these cupcakes are shallow – and less filling – but with a fair helping of frosting neatly whipped around the top. A decent ratio to indulge a frosting freak like me.

With choices like mint choc chip, red velvet, cookies n cream, green tea, (I could go on for a while) it was hard to decide on my final prey. But I felt like something light (after a month in the US) and chose lemon. I like lemon desserts, they're usually pretty tasty.

The cake part was lightly lemony, fluffy and not too sweet. It wasn't oily and tasted natural, unlike many store-bought muffins. Despite my love of frosting, I was a bit overwhelmed by this one. The frosting wasn't a buttercream with a sweet twist of lemon, as I'd expected, but a base of fresh whipped cream and not-too-sweet lemon. For me, that was far richer than a butter cream and took the enjoyment out of the cake.

All said and done, especially for Hong Kong, I thought the balance of texture and flavour was commendable.

Kisses is sweet, reasonably priced at $25 and up and I plan to visit again. There's a red velvet I haven't got to yet.

23 May, 2013

Art Critter: Art Basel Hong Kong, 2013

A Chantown Art Critique Critter: What did I think of Art Basel Hong Kong?

I liked it. And I thought the brand changes externally were minimal, but I can't say the same for those who worked on the fair. Or for the collectors. (That said, I found the old website much more informative...  why do Art Basel hide the Press section of their site?).

Between the first and the third floor, I preferred the third, but that might be because I started there, after CY Leung cut the ribbon to start the show. I might point out that I found his presence somewhat huomourous (he did not give a speech). But I also took it as a sign that the government can only be pleased they have secured Art Basel as a great business venture, since they do relatively little to promote the arts by way of education, support, funds or on a wider societal basis.

Art Fairs are a funny business for the average Joe. You might see famous pieces you'd otherwise need to travel to New York for. Or new works by artists just making the spotlight. But you are also confronted with hundreds of galleries and pieces – that aren't for you. You're not buying. Even at the Affordable Art Fair, the question of purchasing a piece needs careful, careful thought. Those are my savings.

So the enormity of an art fair is about as draining and overwhelming as seeing all of the Metropolitan in New York. You lose energy, will and interest. But fairs, the buzz that goes with them and your friends' Instagram streams make you  feel like you have to see it all.

I think that ArtHK greatly improved over the years, but the works were a bit repetitive. Art Basel Hong Kong seems less so. The breadth of work and galleries presented is better. I even saw a Wayne Thiebaud – one of my favourite painters. (He's 92 and you could eat his work). I've never seen that at the fair before. You can find him at Acquavella somewhere on the third floor – you've got a map.

Onto other things. The vernissage somehow lacked the ambience, crowds and excitement of last year, despite that Kate Moss allegedly attended as did Shwan Yue (I didn't see him!) and Edison Chen. Actually I didn't see that many people that I know either, and usually, everyone is there.

That said, I know a number of artists and galleries that couldn't get enough vernissage tickets, something that I've never heard before. In Hong Kong, we all know someone... so it's not always that hard to get in (for free). Could it be that Art Basel tightened the reigns? It's hard not to feel, from inside chit chat, that this is a money machine. Of course it is – the art world is fickle, money makes it. But this is gossip so I should stop.

Out of about 245 galleries present at Art Basel, about 26 are Hong Kong galleries. While that includes White Cube and Ben Brown (etc), it's still a good percentage, as Fair Director, Magnus Renfrew pointed out. Well done Hong Kong.

Maybe it's just me, but while I enjoyed the fair (especially Thiebaud) I don't feel the lure to go back again over the weekend, I don't feel an attachment and I can't even point you to any pieces that you really must see except for Thiebaud and Shieh (that was at an HK gallery, I forgot which. Sorry, I was tired). I saw at least four pieces clearly based around guns.Yawn.

Instead, if you feel adventurous, go to the old cold storage beneath the Fringe Club and see Wun Dun. Artist Adrian Wong was selected by the Absolut Art Bureau to create an immersive installation for the launch of Art Basel HK – and it's hosted in the coolest spot (sorry: pun). Various performers will appear every night, and the cocktails were created by Wong (which if you know him, is a little concerning). I couldn't take Duck cocktail (with duck fat wash), but maybe you can.

The way to art it – writing about art, the Chantown way.

As someone who studied both history of art and fine art, I usually approach exhibitions with a few thoughts in mind – technique,  understanding and aesthetics. I want to learn but I also want to have an intelligent discourse about the visuals and concepts presented. I also want to indulge in artistic greatness. After all, as a writer, I have easier – and more – access to famous and accomplished artists than I ever had as an artist no longer at university.

But I live in Hong Kong and I run my own business. So, like most people here, I find it hard to do everything. Sometimes I can't get to all the press events I'm invited to. 

Other times, I go, but don't have time talk to the artists (or they don't have time to talk to me) or i just don't have time to write something proper and interesting. I don't even have time to copyright stamp my images. This blogging lark isn't all roses you know.

There's something else too. Since moving to Hong Kong, I've become more disillusioned with the art world because I live in close proximity to 'for profit' galleries and their clientele. And I no longer live in a country where the government supports and encourages artistic activities and appreciation of the arts. As an artist I've never been so aware that it's all about luck. There are few places for an emerging artist like me to show, especially where I won't be paying high rents with no hope of sales (even at 50% commission).

So I've decided to remedy my blog block problem by writing short snippets from the art shows I do attend. Inspired by the style of this highly popular no-holds-barred food blogger, you can expect honesty (and fewer expletives). These bites make no promise over what will be covered but they will provide personal insights or technical information in a truly digestible, Hong Kong sized format.

These insightful snapshots of my artistic observances, or Chantown Art Critique Critter, will also be tagged with 'Art Critter'.