Wednesday, December 30, 2009

R Burger: Novelty Factor

SCENARIO: 2pm in the afternoon...TIRED and STARVING from traipsing around the shops in Ion Orchard...No energy to walk to Ippudo at Mandarin Gallery which was lunch Plan A...
PLAN B: Check out R Burger at Ion Orchard's food section. Actually I was quite curious to check out the R Burger (confession: I quite like MOS Burger's rice burgers) despite that huge thumbs-down from Tan Hsueh Yun in the Sunday Times the day before.

Bravely, I got the R-burger combo set (at SGD8.80) comprising the burger, potato wedges, a raw veggie salad wrapped in rice paper, and a drink. The R-burger comprised a beef patty with a sweet miso-like sauce accompanied with shiso leaf and pickled daikon, all sandwiched between steamed white buns which purportedly had 1000mg of marine collagen (and is supposed to miraculously beautify the consumer). The bun texture was curiously gelatinous and it had a irritating quirk of sticking to the roof of my mouth while the beef patty was small but luckily somewhat juicy and not grilled to death. The veggie salad was horrible and tasteless - it came with a mayonnaise dip which i avoided - and had evidently been sitting around for a while since the rice paper was starting to dry out.

On the whole, this still was an edible and serviceable meal, and I did feel somewhat virtuous for having taken a healthy meal, but this is not a place that I would choose to frequent in future unless I have no other choices.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ko, Intercontinental Hotel

Finally, after that trio of disappointments, a Japanese meal that lived up to expectations. I have to confess that I have a bias towards Ko, since its head chef Hideto Setomoto used to helm the kitchen at the now defunct Ikukan. Ikukan was the first proper Japanese restaurant where I ate at and where E and I celebrated my birthday five years ago with our first Kaiseki meal. So yep, Ikukan and Chef Hideto have a very special place in my heart.

But enough reminiscing about the past and back to Ko. We went for the special $98 Amex one-for-one promotion and were amply rewarded with a decadent 6 course menu: egg tofu with prawn and tobiko roe; sashimi of yellowtail, salmon and sweet prawn; grilled Japanese eel; tuna tataki / assorted tempura; california maki served with miso soup; and finished with vanilla ice-cream served with assorted berries.

What stood out in particular was Ko's high premium on quality and freshness - almost every dish was a winner. The egg tofu was surprisingly tasty without any accompanying sauce or broth, and the tobiko roe was so fresh that it was crunchy and popped crisply in our mouth. The sashimi was superbly fresh and the amaebi (sweet prawn) was so stunningly sweet, E raved about it a full three times. I loved how succulent and oily the grilled eel was, accompanied by a just-right sauce that was not too overbearingly sweet. The tuna tataki was excellent, with a thinly grilled exterior providing a hint of smoky fragrance, while the inside was lusciously pink and oh-so-sweet and fresh (take note, Rakuichi!). The tempura while not as light as that of Tenshin's was still very palatable.

Happiness - that we had an excellent meal and that my good memories of Ikukan have now been reincarnated in Ko.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wah Kee Farrer Park Prawn Noodles

On Boxing Day morning, we were in the vicinity to run some mundane household errands and had a craving for prawn noodles, so off it was to the Pek Kio hawker centre at Cambridge Road. There was a mega-long wait at the famous Wah Kee Farrer Park prawn noodle stall, but the friendly stallholder chatted with E and told him all about the history of how he first started selling prawn noodles 58 years ago from a pushcart at 20cents a bowl. What a wonderfully colourful slice of history!

We got both the $3 version and the $10 version with three huge jumbo prawns. The $3 version was average, and the soup stock was rather weak so I scratched my head as to why the long queues. But then I chowed down on the $10 version and then understood what the fuss was all about. The stock was robustly prawny and flavourful. Those jumbo prawns were galumpingly fresh and incredibly sweet and tasty, accompanied with a bowl of very fragrant al-dente homemade egg noodles (the auntie refused to let E order the beehoon as she had made the egg noodles herself).

Completely worth that 30 minutes wait.

A Gingerbread House of Happiness

my niece J says happiness = gingerbread house+marshmellows+gummy bears

Rather belated, but Season's Greetings to everyone and best wishes for health and happiness in the year ahead!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Grandmother's Soon Kueh Legacy

The last time my late grandmother made soon kueh was 4 years ago. On that occasion, I sat beside her in the kitchen, the two of us shaping and filling the kueh with a quiet and easy rhythm, content and happy at making food for our loved ones.
On Sunday morning, my mum and I tried to recreate that familiar taste of grandmother's famed soon kueh. My mum made in advance the filling of grated turnip, carrot, fresh bamboo shoots, chopped shitake mushrooms, dried shrimps and diced pork, sauteed together for a short time over high heat till fragrant.
The secret of the soon kueh skin had eluded us for the longest time. The best soon kuehs have skins that are translucently thin, but yet retain a slightly chewy texture. My grandmother was not one to measure out ingredients precisely and mixed together different quantities of rice flour, tapioca flour and glutinous rice flour based on her own internal scale. Rather than guess at the mystery mixture, we decided to use a supermarket flour mix specially for soon kueh, added hot water, oil and salt, and kneaded the dough till it was pliable and elastic. We portioned the dough into little round balls, shaped them into thin bowls with our fingers, and packed the bowls full of filling before sealing the edges. Doing this, the tips that my grandmother had imparted flooded back ... knead the dough vigorously to "exercise" it....wait till the dough has cooled before making the kueh, as it will not otherwise not be pliable and will tear. I remembered too, how my grandmother first taught me to make soon kueh as a child and kickstarted my love affair with food and cooking, and how my minature-sized soon kueh got larger over the years as my hands grew bigger....
Almost. These soon kueh tasted almost like how my grandmother used to make them, except that she is no longer hear to see and taste our efforts.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fassler Gourmet Singapore

This is an open secret by now, due to rampant reporting in the newspapers. We made the hike to a remote corner of Woodlands where this factory outlet is located last Friday morning to stock up for our Christmas party this year. Fassler Gourmet specialises in salmon products but also stocks a good range of other frozen seafood like cod, whiting, oysters, bamboo clams, crayfish and lots more. Since the room in which all the produce was stored was maintained at an artic temperature, we only managed to withstand the cold for less than 10 minutes but in that short time grabbed a good haul comprising a few packs of frozen salmon tails, salmon belly, snapper fillet, a kg pack of seafood marinara, and frozen lobster bisque, crab bisque and clam chowder. I like their soups which are very rich and flavourful - the lobster bisque is especially good for whipping up a quick bouillabaisse. Total damage was less than SGD50 which is a good price considering the amount of stuff we got!

the super cold room where the produce is stored haphazardly

Fassler has hiked up their prices recently and their smoked salmon is now sold at almost the same price as in Cold Storage and NTUC Fairprice, but the other frozen products are still worth the long trip down - good to make a little adventure out of it! Just remember to bring your jackets along if you don't want to turn blue from cold before deciding what to buy - and an ice box to store all your stuff.

46 Woodlands Terrace
Open on weekdays from 8am to 5pm
Open on Saturdays from 8am to 12.30pm (avoid if possible! It is a mad mad crowd.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Barcelos and my peri-peri chicken craving

It is no secret that I luuurve YNandos. The grilled chicken marinated in the secret peri-peri sauce is a super-addictive perfect blend of tangy, flaming-hot and smoky flavours. Whenever I see a Nandos outlet overseas, I MUST eat there, no two words about it.

Sadly, Nandos does not have any outlets in Singapore. Even Mustafa seems to have stopped stocking their sauces (a dear friend braved the wrath of Malaysian customs to hand-carry a bottle back from Penang for me).

But then, I recently found out about Barcelos – a Nandos competitor (actually more like an pretender…even right down to the cockerel logo and the bottles of peri-peri sauce on the table). Rushing down to the Holland Village outlet, I ordered a set: ¼ chicken done “very peri”, served with a side of spicy rice and a can of soft drink, all at a very reasonable price of SGD10.95. Barcelos’ version tasted close enough to the real deal that I was happy eating it although the flavor and spiciness level were not as intense as that of Nandos proper (even then there is some variation in Nandos’ quality – the Australian and London outlets are far better than the Malaysian outlets). No matter, one can always turn to the sauce bottles on the table for extra excitement - I must have used up half of Barcelos’ “supa peri” sauce as a dip.

The servings were modestly sized even for a small eater....

Now I know where to go when the cravings for peri-peri chicken strike!
17E Lorong Liput,Holland Village
Vivocity, #02-91/93

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Banyan Tree Bintan (Part 2)

As it was our first time staying at a Banyan Tree accommodation, we were not quite sure what to expect although the website pictures were jaw-droppingly lovely and hinted of tip-top luxury (the price was jaw-dropping too).

Our villa had a wonderful large open-air deck with a personal outdoor jacuzzi. Inside, the room was huge, done up in a traditional Indonesian style, with a four-poster bed and a comfy daybed to lounge on and watch DVDs (why the supremely outdated 24 inch CRT television set is beyond me though).

a huge deck with jacuzzi covered up to prevent leaves from falling in
Later that evening, we got a little BBQ going on the veranda and had the most stupendous dinner of grilled corn, Japanese sweet potatoes, sausages and canned ratatouille with crusty bread, followed by toasted marshmallows for dessert. This was such a fun and exiting experience and it all tasted incredibly good I suppose because we did everything ourselves. After we had eaten ourselves into a stupor, we sat in the jacuzzi and counted the stars liberally dusted all over the clear night sky. I thought I saw a shooting star streak low over the trees and made a heartfelt wish on it…

our dinner grilling above glowing hot charcoal
Banyan Tree Bintan is showing its age and many aspects can be improved (the subpar toiletries, the somewhat worn furnishings) but somehow all these little details weren’t that important after all our worries and stresses melted away in the tranquil environment, surrounded by nature. Reflecting on all that had happened in the past year, amazingly, the memories that came to mind were about happiness, love, and hope, and not the bad times. Having my loved ones around me, healthy and happy - that is indeed the greatest blessing that one can have.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Banyan Tree Bintan (Part 1)

Last weekend, E and I went for a short but relaxing stay at the Banyan Tree Bintan resort. It took only an hour’s trip from Singapore by high-speed catamaran before we arrived at the resort before noon.

Since our villa was not ready yet, we embarked on an early lunch at the Pantai Grill, situated right on the white sandy beach and shaded by palm trees. It was very sunny and hot that day and all the other travellers had sought refuge in the airconditioned indoor Lotus Cafe (which definitely does not have much ambience and is very sanitised) but not us! I love beachside grills - it's that magical combination of the casual sun, sea and sand vibe and smoky hot seafood that shouts HOLIDAY! like nothing else can. Basking in the strong breeze, admiring the turquoise blue sea and savouring the smell of salt in the air, I was pretty much blissed out.

E had the grilled red snapper fillet (USD14), served with a delish rosemary tomato compote. The fish was beautifully grilled to perfection in a banana leaf casing (such a tropical feel!) and smeared with a savoury spice mix. My choice of grilled jumbo prawns (USD17) with caramelised lemon was fresh and tasty although rather predictable. The food was overpriced by Indonesian standards, but not unreasonable for a resort of this standing.
We left lunch feeling supremely relaxed and chilled out and started making our way to our villa ..... (to be continued).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Most Adorable Thumbdrive Ever

A colleague gave this to me recently, as she was leaving the organisation. This is such an adorable and yet practical gift with a generous 4GB capacity which will come in highly useful, for those days when I bring work home (more often than I would like!). Just gotta love those sweet doll-like features, the chinadoll bob and the *pink* cheongsam with little flowers!!!

Thanks a bunch Angelina, I will miss having you around.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rakuichi, Dempsey

I realised just how spoilt my tastebuds were when I left Rakuichi unimpressed, despite the good word-of-mouth that the restaurant has. Rakuichi has two branches and the Dempsey branch is tucked away in a deep corner of Blk 10. I had high expectations when I walked in but was greeted by a faint whiff of not-so-swimmingly-fresh fish from the counter...not a good sign.

Since I had already made the trip there, I forged ahead and ordered the rainbow sashimi set ($36.60) which came with assorted sashimi, char-grilled sushi, chawanmushi, teapot soup (dobinmushi) and dessert. The sashimi (maguro, salmon and hamachi) was excellent, very fresh and sweet tasting, although cut in slightly thicker chunks than what I would have preferred. Unfortunately the powdered wasabi paste was a huge letdown - surely at this price the restaurant should be serving freshly grated wasabi!

The aburi sushi came next and a pretty picture it was too, with ika (squid), tamagoyaki (sweet egg omelette), salmon belly, hamachi (yellowtail), cooked prawn, tai (red sea bream), and chutoro (medium fatty tuna belly). Unfortunately the sushi appeared to have been aburi-ed by an over-enthusiastic chef with pyromaniac leanings and were cooked all the way through instead of being just charred on the surface -now I know where that not-so-fresh fish I smelt went. Nonetheless, the chutoro still tasted great with all its fragrant oils seeping into and infusing the sushi rice.

The chawanmushi and the dobinmushi were okay, and luckily dessert was not cut watermelon, but a scoop of black sesame ice-cream.

Overall, the meal was not bad but I left with some slight dissatisfaction and the feeling of having overpaid for what I got. Given the spate of not-up-to-expectation experiences at Nogawa, Santaro, and now Rakuichi, I've got to wonder, whether it's my spoilt tastebuds or whether restaurant standards are slipping. Either way, I need a fix at Aoki soon!!!
Blk 10 Dempsey Road

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sun With Moon Japanese Dining & Cafe

So suaku me finally made it to Sun With Moon Japanese Dining & Cafe, despite this chain of restaurants having been around for some time and being rather popular among the working crowd. I had not been keen in the past to try the place because it seemed so similar in concept to chains like Waraku and Ichiban Boshi (basically a super-humongous range of sets and no particular specialty), but nevertheless decided to give it a shot today since I was in the central area for a lunch appointment with a business associate. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Sun With Moon at Central is done up in what I call an aspirational modern style, with stylistic flourishes to provide an ambience reminiscent of that in fine-dining restaurants. I had been planning to try the kamameshi (steamed rice pot) which apparently you can’t get elsewhere in Singapore… but it was not to be, it seems that the restaurant does not serve this dish during lunch. My ‘J’ type brain being not used to alternative scenarios couldn’t quite function with this unexpected turn of events and I reverted to habit by ordering a set of Hokkaido ramen with tori karagge. Not clever at all, considering that Sun With Moon is not a ramen specialist (and Santouka which I recently tried and loved is in the same building!) To be fair, the ramen was okay-ish but nothing out of the ordinary, in a characterless miso soup without much depth of flavour - it was basically just salty.

The much-raved about tofu cheesecake came presented in a cage, which was cute in a twee and gimmicky sort of way. I could taste the tofu used in the making but found it pleasant nevertheless - very smooth and slightly tangy, with a crunchy and fragrant biscuit crust, although the usual underlying fragrance and richness of cream was missing. Although I don't think one saves that many calories on this, so the point of using the tofu is kind of lost. And at $5.90 for a teeny slice, it is definitely overpriced.

Well, overall the entire dining experience at Sun With Moon was okay, if not one that I would make an especial detour for next time. At least I can say, "been there done that"!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Café Hacienda's Weekday Set Lunch

My interest was sufficiently piqued by Yuan Oeij’s latest email that Café Hacienda was offering weekday set lunches, to drive down to the Dempsey enclave and check it out together with my regular lunch companion Y.

I like how Café Hacienda’s name sounds… it seems to convey a certain air of je nai sais quoi with a laid-back jazzy vibe….the type of place where you half expect beautiful tanned exotic models to saunter in, sunlight to softly shadow comfy couches, and bossa nova to be playing softly in the background....

Alas, back in real life, Café Hacienda’s actual ambience and décor fell short of my (admittedly head-in-the-clouds) imaginings. The plainly done-up eating area was dominated by functional wooden laminate tables in a plain eating area and minimal accessories, with some half-hearted attempts to infuse some homeliness / character seen in a bookshelf along a corner and in a small corner with some couches. Seriously, the Privé group needs to invest more in interior decoration!
However our $22 three-course set lunch was more than decent and very affordable. I admit that I made my booking with quite a bit of trepidation, given Michelle’s bad experience with the food, but phew, things turned out well. For starters, we both ordered the mushroom soup which was tantalizingly laced with truffle oil and thick with pureed mushrooms. This was a kick-ass rendition, with no or very little cream added (hooray!) and heady with that earthy mushroom aroma I love so much, although if I had any bones to pick it would be that the chef was a little bit heavy-handed with the salt.

Choosing the main was a struggle between my good side and my dark side. For today, the good side won over and I had a blue swimmer crab and prawn sandwich (instead of a sinful and environmentally unfriendly and totally tempting NY burger with wagyu patty and melted blue cheese, arghh). But all turned out well with that extremely tasty and sweet crab filling, yums! although I did not much care for the toasted bread on which it was served.

Finally dessert of a homemade honey and fig ice-cream which was sweet in a very natural and healthful way with chunks of figs embedded in it and a gooey vicous texture...a good end to our meal. Overall, a good lunch (if not one to rave about) at a good price too and I like that!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pork Chops ala Julia Child

Don't you just love that feeling of extreme satisfaction when recipes turn out successfully? Well, Julia Child's masterpiece, MtAoFC, is really proving to be a real treasure on my bookshelf (next to my treasured Neil Perry's The Food I Love). Here are two simple recipes for pork that I tested out a couple of times over the last month since we were getting tired of our usual old standby (marinated in self-improvised "char siew" marinade and grilled). The pork chops tasted simply wonderful - fragrant, buttery, savoury and oh-so-tender. Lovely!! The recipes are reproduced here for the benefit of a dear friend W who has recently had to cook a lot more than she used to!

Salt Marinade with Herbs and Spices (per pound of pork)
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground thyme or sage
1/8 tsp ground bay leaf
Pinch of allspice (I skipped this)
1/2 clove mashed garlic (optional)
Mix all the ingredients together and rub them into the surface of the pork. Marinade for at least 2 hours, 6 even better (I have tried 30 min before and it works too). Before cooking, scrape off the marinade, and dry the meat thoroughly with paper towels.

Casserole Sauteed Pork Chops (for 2 - 3 chops, about 1 inch thick)
Preheat oven to 325F (160 deg C). Dry the pork chops on paper towels (important: if the chops are not dry, they will not brown as they will end up steaming / poaching instead). Heat some cooking oil in a casserole and brown the chops on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. As the chops are browned, transfer them to a side dish.
Pour the oil out of the casserole and add 1 tablespoon of butter (with 1 halved clove of garlic,if you like). Return the chops to the casserole, overlapping them slightly. Baste them with the butter. Cover and heat the casserole until the meat is sizzling, then set in lower third of preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Arrange the chops on a hot platter.

I served the chops plain and was perfectly happy. However, here's how to make a simple sauce from the cooking juices.

(For 2 - 3 chops) The chops will have rendered about 1/2 cup of juices during their cooking; remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat. Pour in about 50 ml of dry white wine OR brown stock OR canned beef stock and boil rapidly, scraping up all coagulated cooking juices, until you have about 50 ml of concentrated sauce. Taste for seasoning and pour it over the chops.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Marbled Cheesecake

My brother's birthday cake this year was meant to be some sort of chocolate cake but when my mother asked in a small voice "what type of cake are you baking" I knew what she really wanted me to make. Hah.

It's not difficult to create the stylo mylo marbling effect. I portioned out a third of the cheesecake mix and melted some milk chocolate chips in it, then alternately filled up the mould with the darker mix and original mix, before running the tines of a fork through the surface to swirl some of the darker coloured mix through the lighter one. This is a great ego-boosting exercise for feeling like a consummate patissier even if you are not a very accomplished baker *grin*
Remember, don't add the chocolate chips directly into your filled mould - because of the difference in relative densities of chocolate versus cheesecake mix, if you do so, the chocolate chips will just sink right to the bottom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tavern, River Valley Road

A large piece of ribeye steak and beautifully cooked sweet peas at Tavern

My maiden visit to Tavern last week, tucked away unobtrusively on River Valley Road near the Mohamed Sultan stretch, was a pleasant surprise for its very good value and decent cooking. This place has a certain old-world appeal about it, dimly lit and with a slightly worn but comfortable and laid-back air. Think dark wooden furnishings, wait staff togged out in white shirts and vests, and a huge portable wooden stand with the daily specials written in chalk Y

Our set lunch at merely $17 nett included: a starter, a main course, dessert, coffee/tea, and a complimentary glass of soft drink. Now that’s the way to make your customers happy, there’s nothing more that turns me off than petty restaurateurs trying to make a quick buck by charging customers for every single item. Our bread came piping hot and it was pretty good, with soft fluffy innards and crusty exterior…although admittedly I personally prefer a stronger and more yeasty flavor.

For the starters, it was a toss-up between the calamari salad and onion and potato soup, so naturally I took the salad which was unremarkable except for the rather unusual dressing of a sharp-tasting pesto. There was a good range of choices for the main courses, so I picked the grilled rib-eye steak while my friend chose the pan-fried Pacific dory.

My steak came with some beautifully cooked sweet peas – such a bright green colour, and unwrinkled! – so simple yet so difficult to get right, as well as the obligatory carrots and potatoes. “GENEROUS” was the thought that crossed my mind, as I started attacking my steak, a good hefty cut of about 150g. I had no bones to pick about the quality of meat (passable but naturally not in any of the ‘prime’ / ‘dry-aged’ / ‘marbling factor gazillion’ categories) since I had already made mental adjustments for the price J. However, it was a pity that the steak was cooked to medium-well doneness instead of my stipulation of medium-rare. My friend’s dory was a huge size portion but I felt that it was overcooked and hence quite dry, plus, it did not have much taste. Finally, dessert of a chestnut and chocolate cream was enjoyable, light and not too rich.

Indeed this place is a good choice for business lunches if one doesn’t want to push the boat out too much.

The Tavern Pub & Restaurant
229 River Valley Road

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chin Lee Restaurant has Pig Trotter Jelly!

Tucked away deep in the heartlands in a nonedescript HDB estate, Chin Lee packs in the crowds because of its good authentic Teochew cooking and down-to-earth prices. Being half-a-Teochew (but always thinking that I am a full Teochew) on my mother's side and loving Teochew-style cooking, I happily trooped down with my parents to check this place out on Saturday evening.

I knew we were in the right place when I flipped open the menu and THERE IT WAS. I just had to have the chilled pig trotter jelly (SGD8), one of my favourite dishes when I was growing up. The pig trotters are basically stewed with pig skin in a light soya sauce stock, and because of the super-high gelatine content, the stock hardens and sets when refrigerated. It is then sliced up into chunks and served with some chilli sauce on the side. Chin Lee's rendition tastes lighter and less salty than the one I used to eat at home but very chewy and with great texture....two thumbs up!

We were also very happy with the coffee pork ribs (SGD12), which were infused all the way through with the slightly sweet coffee aroma and nicely crispy around the edges. My mum actually ate one whole piece which says a lot about how delicious this was since she normally hates the smell of pork and avoids it assiduously.

Our Teochew-style steamed live red garoupa (about $35) was simply superb too. Not many pieces can do Teochew style steaming well but Chin Lee gets it down pat, fish steamed to just the right level of doneness, with lots of watery soup, my favourite preserved plum and pickled mustard as condiments, and even rinds of pork fat ...this last item was so authentic that my mum was the only person who had ever eaten it before! I slurped up every last drop of that great soup.

Service was very prompt and friendly, and even better, they don't charge for GST or service. We left very very happy campers indeed. For those who are thinking of going, please make reservations in advance because they are always fully booked out especially on weekends.

Chin Lee Restaurant
Blk 115 Bedok North Road
6449 5454

Friday, November 27, 2009

Jaan Par André

picture-perfect amuse bouche

Inventive. Impressive. As wondrously beautiful as works of art. But for me, it fell a little short of being an amazing, unforgettable meal that I would talk about for weeks on end.

The former Jaan had taken on the new moniker of Jaan Par Andre, after the much feted up-and-coming chef Andre Chiang took over the reins last year. Rave and almost hysterical reviews of how stunning and spectacular the food was, followed. So it was with much excitment that we ordered the 7-course degustation menu ($240+++ per person, which is a price to stun the unsuspecting too I say).

The amuse bouche set the stage for what we could expect. It was beautifully composed, just like a picture. Fried prawn legs and French radish "planted" in dark chocolate "soil". Cracklings of bamboo ash, chicken skin and sakura ebi with a dijon mustard dip. The flavours were tantalising if a little strange and new to us.

lemon sous-vide
Our second course was a lemon "sous-vide". A small cube of lemon mousse packaged in transparent lemon jelly was presented, together with the "before" product - vaccum-packed lemon cured for two months. Not too sour or sweet, this was a palate-awakening treat.

this is how the lemon looked before it got onto the plates...
The highlight of the Mediterranean red prawn "escabeche" was those two raw prawns, unbelievably flavourful and sweet. The artfully arranged heap of baby vegetables in the middle of the plate was a sight for the eyes - purple cauliflower florets, pearl onions, baby radish - but somewhat disappointingly, tasted rather ordinary.

beautiful! Mediterranean red prawn escabeche

Pressed foie gras glazed with Spanish wine followed. The foie gras was extremely smooth and melting, and the accompaniments of apple millefeuille, gingerbread crips and fig compote struck a pleasantly sweet note. A clever interpretation of the traditional foie gras preparation!
pressed foie gras...balsamic vinegar reduction

Then the caviar tarte tatin came, and I have to say, this dish was so clever that it went completely over my head - just couldn't understand it! The caviar was nicely briny to be sure, but we were left scratching our heads as to what the big deal was all about....

caviar tarte tatin. so pretty but uncomprehensible to me.

Thankfully, our first main of char-grilled wild baby barracuda was delicious. A thin fillet of fish rolled into a roulade and topped with a plume of bacon-flavoured foam, the flavours melded together like a dream. I especially liked the toasted Brittany wheat which served as the carbohydrates for this dish, Woah! smoky and savoury and just so-ever slightly crunchy.

char-grilled wild baby barracuda

Our second main of top-grade Japanese wagyu served with wild potato done three ways and burned onion broth was very good too. Expectedly so, given the quality of the produce, but to be honest, not as flavourful as that beef steak that we had at Joel Robuchon. My main complaint was with my piece of beef being slightly overcooked to a medium doneness (and not medium rare like E's was, although I was too shy and too nice a person to send it back to the kitchen). Both of us also felt that the beef was a little tough and chewy.

japanese wagyu

Dessert was a dark chocolate ganache with milk marmalade sorbet. I appreciated the premium chocolate that went into the making of this dish but it didn't really ring any bells unlike that unforgettable "Breakfast" dessert at Blu. Petit fours of financiers, creme brulee macaroons, dark chocolate with orange fizzy pops (a nice and whimsical touch!) and white chocolate coated strawberry sorbet popsicles rounded off our meal.

All courses come served in miniature, teensy-weensy sizes. The good thing is that one doesn't feel stuffed, even after seven courses. Good also, that we had the amazing 50% discount on the Feed@Raffles card. I have a penchant to try out the set lunch ($58+++) another day though, since I can't quite reconcile my impressions with all those glowing reviews. Perhaps my tastes are still very much plebian in nature! *grin*

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

L'Entrepot Bistrot

Not so impressive was L’Entrepot Bistrot, despite the chef hailing from the hallowed halls of Iggy’s. Over a working lunch I tested out the very limited number of options offered in the promotional $15 Clarke Quay set lunch deal (for two courses).

My French onion soup with melted emmental cheese and croutons was decent enough. I could taste the sweetness from the caramelized onions – it was good that sugar was not used to artificially sweeten the soup – but I couldn’t really tell if veal stock had been used in the preparation. My main of seabass fared fairly well too, seasoned just right with salt, and the skin had been fried to a good crisp while the flesh remained succulent. The accompanying bed of potatoes and the tomato, olive and capsicum sauce were adequate but uninspired. Servings were small and left me feeling rather unsatiated after the meal (and I'm a very small eater too).

To be fair, at this price one can’t expect that much but I wish that I had liked this place just that little bit more to want to come back and try its higher-priced offerings. The location at the fading tacky tourist spot of Clarke Quay is really not a point in favour for L’Entrepot Bistrot; it only had 3 occupied tables (including ours) during the lunch hour. It’s a sad reality that even restaurants with talented chefs at their helm, do have to bow to the pressures of the bottomline and cut down on the quality of their ingredients / food, which only creates a vicious cycle.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Divine Pork Cheek Ramen at Santouka

While leisurely flipping through the Sunday Times Lifestyle section this morning, I perked up pronto when I saw some dining offers at Central, in particular one offering a 1-for-1 special at Santouka Hokkaido Ramen. Well I had been hearing lots about the superb and slurpelicious ramen served at this place and was keen to find out how it compared to the other ramen notables at Menya Shinchan, Miharu and Torisho Taka. So yeah this was the perfect opportunity to finally try it! Off we speeded to Central for lunch!

Tucked away in a quiet corner on the second floor of Central, Santouka was tiny and cosy and packed with many customers, many of whom looked Japanese. Good sign, a sure endorsement of the authencity and delicious-ness factor of the food. Thankfully, despite the queue, turnover was brisk and we only had to wait about 5 minutes before being whisked in and seated.

When our 1-for-1 meals of Tokusen Toroniku (choice pork) Ramen (SGD19.50) in Miso (E's choice) and Shio (my choice) stock were set in front of us, we took a bite of the pork and exclaimed in delight. You see, it was simmered pork cheek - so soft and with a divine layer of fragrant and oily fat...apparently the restaurant serves only 60 bowls of this delicacy each day, since there are only 200 to 300 grams to be had from each pig! Poor piggies but lucky us. The broth was good stuff too, full-bodied and robust and milky from long slow simmering of pork bones, and just the right side of oilyness / saltiness (yes still very oily and salty but less salty than Miharu's and less oily than Menya Shinchan's). While the noodles were eggy and chewy, they were still less bouncy than those of Miharu's, which have proven to be my favourite after all these taste tests.

It was a terribly good meal and we ended up so full that our original plan of going to Azabu Sabo for another 1-for-1 offer on Hokkaido ice-cream dessert had to be shelved. In fact, even as I write this, we are still so full that dinner tonight has to be delayed - highly unusual for a Sunday night!

Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo

Back to catching up on our France travel posts, while the memories have yet to be drowned into oblivion by the daily grind of work.

Think Monaco and fast cars; billionaire magnates; debonair James Bond-type dangerous men; movie-star princesses; flashy yachts and sun-drenched glittering blue waters come to mind. For a taste of the high life, we booked lunch at Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo, which had two Michelin stars, not without a tad of trepidation given the impressiveness of its name and credentials (our wallets trembled in fear). Indeed, when we arrived at the Metropole hotel where the restaurant was housed, the entire atmosphere was extremely formal and obviously geared at high-spending rich guests and celebrities (indeed, I think I spotted Dame Helen Mirren the British actress dining with a friend). We were swiftly divested of our coats and bags - very polished and professional service indeed - and escorted to our seats in a colonnaded dining room which had an open kitchen at one end, and not one but two! trolleys - a bread trolley and a dessert trolley. Pleasant surprise!! Instead of the 75 Euros each that we had been expecting to spend on lunch, there was a range of much more affordable lunch menus, starting from 29 Euros per pax. We decided to take the 43 Euro menu, which included a starter, a main, and coffee/tea, and water.

Our happiness started when the bread trolley was quickly wheeled over to our table. We chose the olive bread and the poppy seed bread which is *illegal* in Singapore. One bite and oh bliss, crusty exterior and warm soft yeasty savoury insides. No one makes bread like the French (except maybe the Japanese. On second thoughts, maybe the Japanese do it better!).

My starter of cold mackerel with aubergine confit and basil sauce was surprisingly good. Mackerel is a very strong-tasting fish but the restaurant had prepared and marinated it so well, that there was no fishiness at all, but simply the good clean flavours of the sea shining through. E fared less well though with his mussels steamed in white wine with saffron and chorizo. As expected the mussels were very fresh but hardly elevated to another level by the preparation, something that we could have easily cooked at home. But then our mains arrived, and all was forgiven. My slow-cooked veal cheek with black olives was utterly stupendous.... it quivered on the plate and melted the instant it reached my mouth. The wonderfully savoury sauce with a salty edge from the olives. Those ultra-smooth and buttery mashed potatoes (I don't want to hear how many calories there are in those two innocent looking dollops).

But unbelievable as it may seem, E's grilled beef fillet was clearly the KING OF THE MEAL. I swooned when I tasted it....that robostness and complexity of flavour that you get only from premium beef, properly dry-aged. That sauce, so full of beefy goodness, as if the essence of one whole cow had been distilled and concentrated into a small pitcher. So, so much better than even Morton's (yes, I must recalibrate my internal rating system.)

To be sure, we will not forget our meal at Joël Robuchon for a very, very long while.