Monday, August 31, 2009

Currently addicted...

... to this Taiwanese TV serial. The plot is so far-out that it wouldn't look out of place on Mars, storylines are completely illogical, and the acting over-the-board, so why do I still want to watch it?

Maybe because deep down, I am drawn to the heart-warming messages in this show: good triumphs over evil, the meek will inherit the earth, and true love can conquer all. When what you believe in comes increasingly under test, it is precisely such affirmative escapism that allows you to (momentarily) forget the realities of this big bad world that we live in, and gives you a much-needed shot of hope.

Fated to Love You: Currently airing on Channel U, weekday nights 10 pm to 11 pm (or watch on, the chinese version of youtube).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Spicy Italian Sausages from Espirito Santo

We did manage to pop by Espirito Santo after lunch and buy my favourite Spicy Italian pork sausage for Sunday breakfast. Espirito Santo makes darn good sausages...far better than the ones sold at Jasons/Cold Storage. Not having tried those made by other gourmet butcheries before, I can't say that it's the best in Singapore but it sure rocks my boat!!

Is it the combination of all that juicy fat and lots of herbs and spices, and sweet tasting minced pork that they use? Of course the price is quite dear, so much so that I only ended up with less than half this morning *sulk*. The other "more than half" portion went to E who ventured the undoubtedly superior claim that he did a 20 km run before sunrise. I can't argue with that.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Botak Jones

When we asked Joanne what she would like to have for lunch she chose Botak Jones over Espirito Santo, cos none of us had eaten there before. There are a number of Botak Jones over the island all located in neighbourhood coffeeshops, selling american stuff like burgers, fries, sandwiches, steaks. The Marine Parade outlet is located at Blk 80 Marine Parade Central, near our usual hangout of Parkway Parade.

We all ordered burgers - E and I shared a "Massive" which is described as "220g of prime steer australian beef mixed and formed in our central kitchen served with lettuce, tomato and onion" and measures 5 inches across. A $9.30 set ($7.80 for the burger alone) got us two additional sides of chilli fries and stewed vegetables.

Our "Massive" came within 10 minutes and it looked pretty impressive. According to the server, the beef patty was handground and so the choice of doneness was restricted to only medium or medium well (i don't see the logic in that unless they are not very hygenic in doing the grinding). I do think they should have used a slightly more fatty cut of meat - the patty was a tad dry although I liked the spices thrown in (perhaps thyme and oregano). Avoid the stewed vegetables - they were overcooked and gluey, go for the corn on the cob instead. The chilli fries were alright but not that special. N.B. I forgot to add that the buns would have benefitted from being toasted and everything should be served hot. For some reason the beef patty was tepid when it came.
Overall not too bad fare at this price point but then Carl's Junior serves up better burgers (my favourite, double bacon western cheeseburger) at a cheaper price with air conditioning too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blu - one of my best dining experiences ever

Confession. This post is waayyyy overdue. It’s so late that I got embarrassed and contemplating not posting it. But then I saw Michelle’s review on Blu and got inspired, plus, I think such a special place deserves more recognition.

E and I went to Blu in late March to celebrate both his birthday and our wedding anniversary, which fall on the same day. I had done a lot of research beforehand to zero in on this place! Having heard so much raving about the new chef Kevin Cherkas who had taken over just a few months ago, I was terribly excited to check the place out. It helped that the Shangri-La “Flash Your Age” Promotion where you get a discount had just started and we managed to get a decent discount on our meal (not large cos E’s not that old but not small cos he’s not that young either!). Sorry about the wonky photos, we forgot to bring the proper camera so had the camera phone, and the lighting in Blu is really bad for photo taking.

Ooh yes, the raving is soooo justified. I think chef Cherkas is a genius. The “Experience” 6-course menu, at $140 per person is such a wonderful must-try…I could not stop talking or dreaming about it for weeks after our meal! For the “Experience” menu, chef comes out and talks to you about your likes and dislikes, and decides on each of the 6 courses for you, which of course is great for the diner’s ego.
First course: I had the “Lucky Oyster”. A single fresh oyster (I think it might have been Bélon but can’t be certain after this time), still brimming with the juice of the ocean, with a “pearl” of oyster juices. The pearl went pop against the roof of my mouth and flooded my tastebuds with that sweet sweet briny metallic oyster taste… E had the foie gras macaroon – a slice of foie gras sandwiched between a tiny orange macaroon, just slightly larger than the thumb. He didn’t share so I don’t know how it tasted but he said it was good (you know men – very non descriptive).

Second course: I had the Thai Crab Ravioli while E had the Escargots. I can’t remember much about my ravioli except that it tasted good. E’s Escargots were really pretty! The escargots were crumbed and went down in a trice.

Third course: We both had the famous “Lobster Thermidor”. Three pieces of oh-so-succulent lobster, served in a lobster bisque reduction, and topped with lobster mousse. That wondrous lobster flavour, layered upon layer upon layer…is there ever such a thing as too much lobster?? Simply superb. We loved this dish so much that even if it was a fine-dining restaurant, we threw decorum to the wind and mopped up every last drop of the exquisite bisque with our bread.

Fourth Course: Having heard so much about “The Egg Came First”, I wanted to try that. This egg was poached at low temperature (at some precise temperature which he told me but I forgot), and seared, then served with onion broth and topped with a sprinkling of black truffle. This was a bit of a let-down for me, personally I did not feel that it was spectacular even if E pronounced it in his usual taciturn way “very good”.

Fifth Course: Our main of mustard beef! Oh that beef was really delicious. Soft and tender and just sooo juicy and sweet. They must have used prime or wagyu beef, properly aged to bring out all those flavours.

Photo credit: Michelle of (many thanks!)

Sixth Course: This was the dessert to top all desserts! Staff served what looked exactly like a large halved hard-boiled egg (ostrich size) to us on a plate surrounded by pictures of the full British works for brekkie, and proudly announced “Breakfast is served”. That was such a clever idea, coming up with that egg! It had a wobbly “yolk” of mango and passionfruit, which we were instructed to burst and smear over the “egg white” of coconut sorbet. The egg even had a shell that could crack!!

Full and replete, we had coffee but then Blu served up the final surprise of petit fours – a “tree” with “flowers” of candy puff, leaves of milk chocolate, and planted in soil of dark chocolate granules. I can’t find enough superlatives to praise this place – inventive, funny, clever, and with spectacular food. Genius *shakes head in disbelief*. Believe, me, the fact that I still feel like this after a gap of 5 months says something.

What are you waiting for?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Search of The Perfect Meal

The Perfect Meal: A TV show showing on channelnewsasia, that pits 6 well-known chefs in a contest to "reinvent classic local dishes and ultimately create an iconic meal epitomizing modern Singapore". The winner gets to cook for the President of Singapore. The show gets a kick in the entertainment factor because of the terribly acerbic but spot-on comments of one of the judges Peter Knipp, who is the man behind the World Gourmet Summit. Case in point - "Do you know who is Alfred Hitchcock? He made horror movies. I think we're experiencing one now.".

Sadly, I missed the second, third and fourth episodes so if anyone knows where I can catchup on them (can't find them on youtube) do drop me an email.

Note: There's something wrong with my server that makes blogger act strangely - can't post any photos for the moment or do any (not-so) fancy-smancy formatting.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cheese at Spruce

It was a good evening out at Spruce some Fridays ago with a few friends. I had my usual roasted whole red snapper and stole one mouthful of someone's mushroom risotto which was super heavenly - creamy but not too fine, with some rustic coarseness and lots of truffle fragrance. I am so having that next time. We also decided to share a cheese platter after our mains and Travis himself showed us the offerings in the very nice cheese cellar (temperature and humidity controlled!). We ended up with a nice creamy blue cheese, relatively mild, a wonderfully ripe brie, and a hard cheese with truffle flavouring in it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dozo, Valley Point

Dozo brands itself as “fine modern japanesque – a one of a kind modern Japanese concept that offers a decadent multi-course degustation menu offering the best of Japanese, French and European cuisine”. This was an unusual choice for me. A friend who also enjoys eating had gently encouraged me to check it out, and there was the matter of that very high positive rating on hungrygowhere.

However, I had hesitated for a few months, because it seemed a tad overpriced ($39.80 for a 6-course lunch, $59.80 for a 7-course dinner), considering what fine food could be had for less (The French Kitchen, Les Amis). So when an e-voucher for 20% discount at Dozo popped up on my computer screen after I had completed an online banking transaction, it seemed like I could no longer ignore all the nudges to go there. Tucked away on the second floor of the very small Valley Point mall somewhere along River Valley Road, Dozo was quite difficult to locate and we had to climb a flight of stairs to get there. The interior reminded me a bit of a Chinese lounge – dimly lit, with dark reds, browns and blacks dominating the soft furnishing colour scheme. The chatty server quickly explained the system to us – we could only take the 6-course or 7-course set menus, with a choice of 5 to 6 selections under each category.

Starter: No choice given for this one. A platter of a single seared scallop, a small piece of pan-fried foie gras, and smoked salmon. The smoked salmon was overly salty, but otherwise the scallop and foie gras were adequate if somewhat unexciting.

Side Dish: Gratinated escargots topped with yuzu butter; and foie gras chawanmushi topped with black truffle slice. The escargots were not bad, tasty and not chewy, although the yuzu fragrance was drowned out by all the hearty flavours of the escargots and butter. Foie gras chawanmushi was somewhat of a let down, since I couldn’t find or taste any foie gras in it, and the truffle also did not have a strong fragrance.

Soup: Infusion of cepes mushroom and truffle; crab bisque. The mushroom soup was well done – thick and heavily scented without the addition of cream. I also liked the crab bisque, it had a nice texture and just the right amount of “crabbiness”. Crucially, it was not too salty as is wont to happen with crab and lobster bisque.

Main: Beef tenderloin on pu-ye and granite hot stone; crispy Kurobuta pork with onion jam. The pork was alright but there was nothing special about it – it was breaded and deep fried – juicy and sweet but that’s what I would expect for high-class meat. On the other hand, the beef tenderloin was a nice surprise, served rare on a special “pu-ye” leaf laid over a smoking hot granite stone. I didn’t manage to detect if the leaf infused the beef with special flavours but it was certainly fun cooking it to our desired level of done-ness.

Dessert: Warm chocolate cake with ice cream; expresso crème brulee. These are considered fairly standard desserts and the version served here was adequate, although the chocolate used was not really of premium quality.

The drinks were considered one of the six courses – our picks were iced apple mallow melody and hot roselle tea.

Overall, we really enjoyed ourselves at lunch. The dishes were all presented in unexpected and very creative ways, thus adding to the overall visual appeal and fun factor. Not sure that I will return again though, I still think it’s pretty expensive even after the discount, and the quality of the food while decent, is not really premium quality. But it’s certainly worth a try if you’ve not been there before, and are looking for something new.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Flowering Cactus

Unlike me, E has green fingers, and almost every plant that he touches flourishes. Here's a photo of the flowers on our cactus plant. I didn't know that cacti could have such pretty flowers!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Encounter with Two Spoilt Children

We were having dinner with my parents at this Teochew eatery at Joo Chiat Place yesterday (the food is good but that's not the topic of this post) when this big MPV drew up and after about 10 attempts managed to parallel park next to the road. Out appeared the family, including two girls of primary school going age - they looked to be about 8 and 11 or thereabouts.

This family dashed to "chope" a table but almost immediately the two girls started protesting "there are flies on the table" (an exaggeration, since the eatery was in fact quite clean, much better than many hawker centers). Almost just as speedily the parents started offering to "pack the food away" and when that failed, to bring them somewhere else for dinner, presumably air-conditioned. Really spoilt children, and understandably so, given the attitude of the parents, to give into their every whim and fancy. No wonder they call them the strawberry generation - soft and bruise easily.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Glad to have Tried Barracks Cafe

My friend SP who has impeccable good taste said some time ago “you must try Barracks Café, it is very good”. I had not been keen to check this place out because it appeared to be an impossibly hip and happening hangout for the beautiful people a.k.a focus more on the décor than the food. But after hearing all the good things that he had to say, today I finally gathered up the impetus to drive down to Dempsey with another friend, Y, for our monthly lunch outing. Boy, am I glad that I did.

Locating the place can be somewhat confusing. At least I had the advantage of having been to the Tippling Club just next door so I wasn’t too disoriented. Barracks Café is actually part of the same mega lifestyle outlet which goes by the confusing and tongue-tying moniker of House, Barracks and Camp. Once inside, it was like stepping out of Singapore and into another world - a very beautiful one. The place is charmingly done up with mismatched vintage chairs and has a wonderful setting looking out onto a lush green “jungle” – I have a soft spot for verdant greenery! Even the toilet was gorgeous, all light and bright, and with wood paneling.

Now for the important stuff – the food. The lunch “box set” (just their cute way of calling the set lunch) was going for $30 for three courses of almost anything from the ala-carte menu, and so that’s what we ordered.

Grilled Figs (me): chargrilled fresh figs served with crumbled pastry goat’s cheese and walnuts. I ordered this wanting to try something different and was very pleasantly surprised. The natural honey-tasting sweetness of those figs was complemented so well by the savoury smooth cheese, and reminded me of the wonderful cheese dish I had at the Tippling Club – no surprise considering that Tippling Club’s chef Ryan Clift is also the consultant chef for Barracks Café.
Sweet Corn Crab Soup (Y): Y said that it was extremely good and finished every single drop. I don’t like corn and thick soup so didn’t try this.

Squid Ink Paella (me): A huge serving came in a paella pan with clams, prawns, squid, black olives, tomatoes and grilled peppers. This was tasty, with a nice crust (although it could have been a bit more crusty) and the taste of the briny squid ink had really seeped into the rice grains.
Bay Prawn Capellini (Y): With chilli, braised baby leeks garnished with micro herbs and topped with pecorino cheese shavings. We both thought that this was superb. The menu blurb highlights the stock as being Asian based. Well I don’t really care how the chef does it, the dish tasted sublime. No wonder they brand it as their “house-proud” dish.

Strawberry shortcake (me): This came in a very cute stainless steel box with a shotglass of vanilla cream made with real vanilla beans by the side. Heavenly - layers of warm soft sponge interspersed with strawberry jam, served with cold cream. No wonder this is the *number 1* ranked cake in Barracks Café.
Pistachio, apricot and chestnut cake (Y): This was the only not-that-good dish of all those that we tried today. The milk chocolate coating over the chestnut mousse was far too sweet, so Y ended up scrape-ing most of it off before eating her dessert.

Barracks Good Ole Fish n Chips (Y’s colleague): Y’s colleague had asked her to pack the fish n chips back for a late lunch. The quantity was huuuge (or that’s how it appears to me, the small eater), and the enticing aroma of the truffle shoestring fries kept on distracting me during the drive back. [Verdict was that it was good although expectedly a little soggy from the inevitable condensation that had formed during transportation.]

We saw a lot more to tempt us on the menu but our stomachs were protesting from being too full (and I couldn’t finish half my paella and half the strawberry shortcake despite them being so yummy). So the skinny pizzas and the truffle mushroom ice-cream that we were eyeing will just have to wait till the next visit. Do go, please.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Yet More Crab from Seafood Paradise

I solemnly promise that this shall be the last crab-related post for a while at least. The Paradise Group (Taste Paradise, Seafood Paradise, Paradise Inn) has built up quite a name for itself in recent years, banking on its reputation for fresh and well prepared seafood at affordable prices. E and I used to go to the Seafood Paradise outlet at Defu Industrial Park until the crowds started getting too big and our food took one hour to arrive on the table. We were also very impressed at the one time we ate at Taste Paradise back in 2006 when it had just opened - Chinese-style fine dining with prices to match too, but they do serve a mean claypot sharks fin.

So it was timely to visit the (relatively) new branch of Seafood Paradise at the Singapore Flyer when asked for suggestions on where to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday. There was nothing noteworthy about the restaurant decor - typical Chinese banquet style with tanks of live seafood displayed near the walls. We ordered the special August promotional set menu which came with 7 dishes including a geoduck (a very large clam found on the Pacific coast of North America) sashimi, poached australian blue clam in superior stock, and Seafood Paradise's signature creamy butter crab. Apart from the geoduck which was very crunchy and fresh tasting and the blue clams in superior stock, the rest of the dishes were only so-so.

Even the signature creamy butter crab didn't taste as good as I remembered from the Defu outlet (not that it was that spectacular to begin with), and left a strange sweetish aftertaste on the palate. Also with all that sauce smothered all over, it was kind of difficult to tell the quality of the crab meat. I always hope to be proven wrong but this is sadly yet another proof that popularity leads to complacency and a drop in standards.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Baked Crab With Vermicelli

My dad is a very indifferent eater who doesn't bother one ounce about the distinction between good, average, mediocre or bad food. But the one dish that he does like quite a bit, is Thai style baked crab with vermicelli, especially when the vermicelli has been soaked through with copious amounts of sweet crab juice and chicken stock, and generously flavoured with garlic and chinese parsley. We usually order this dish at Thai Village Sharksfin restaurant, which is my mum's favourite restaurant, but it's not that difficult to make this dish at home.

So on Saturday afternoon, E and I made a special trip down to Tekka market (near the Serangoon road area) to buy live Sri Lankan crabs for this dish, as this type of crabs are much sweeter and meatier. [Note: we really like the newly renovated Tekka market. So much meat, vegetables and fruits of different variety, and cheap too! Can even get hard-to-find stuff like fresh bamboo shoots. ] This monster that we bought weighed a whopping 1.1 kg and cost SGD26, which was really reasonable. He put up a big fight, refusing to go to sleep even after 1 hour in the freezer and was a much tougher nut than we had thought to crack and clean, since his shell was super duper hard. E ended up having to use a hammer to whack at the shell before it gave way.

Eventually we managed to manhandle him into my largest claypot and cooked him up with vermicelli using this easy recipe from Ruth Lau. The baking takes about one hour but it was so worth it since the crab meat was really, really sweet and the vermicelli had soaked up the crabby juice goodness even if it was a tad fragmented (i forgot and left it soaking in hot chicken stock for too long, yikes). You can see my father relishing his crab in the background. My definition of simple happiness - cooking food for the ones you love and seeing them enjoy it so much, even if it is not quite up to restaurant quality (yet). It's really worth all the trouble!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Chilli Crab Tribute to the Nation

Happy Birthday, Singapore. Chilli crab is arguably the nation's best known and loved dish - crabs cooked in a spicy, sweet, tangy and gloopy sauce. Great for mopping up with fried Chinese sweet white buns (or mantou).

We cooked this dish a few nights ago with a ready-made Prima paste mix that E had gotten for free in a seminar goodie bag (strange, i know) and two cheap (SGD3.50 apiece) crabs. Pretty good and authentic, and an easy-peasy to fix dinner, for something that came out of a bag :-)

Friday, August 7, 2009

How to Eat Oysters

Open your mouth big big and pop them in with your hand.

Get someone to feed you.

Slurping them up like this works too.
Guest starring: J
Venue: The Line, Shangri-La Hotel
Number of oysters eaten in the course of this production: 3

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The French Kitchen

I had a truly terrific lunch at The French Kitchen last Friday. Tucked away in a hard-to-find corner of Central Mall, this is a venture between chef Jean-Charles Dubois, formerly of Raffles Grill and Emmanuel Stroobant of Saint Pierre fame. I had always wanted to try out the food at Raffles Grill when Chef Dubois was cooking there, but didn't get the chance to do so. But having read the rave reviews about The French Kitchen, it seemed that there was no longer any excuse to put off this long-awaited meal.

I was truly impressed when the bread came out and we were presented with both thyme butter and salmon rillettes as spreads. The bread itself wasn't that outstanding, but it was passable. This was followed by the amuse-bouche, the complimentary chef's surprise of a cod brandade served with a parmesan crisp and drizzled with wonderfully fresh tasting and assertive basil oil.

Since I was attempting to be on some kind of "diet", I chose the consomme ambassadeur - a clear free-range chicken broth with mushrooms, truffles, and puff pastry crust. Wow, this was superb. The broth was clearly made with happy chickens - so much depth of flavour, surprisingly light, yet the savoury chicken taste still shone through and was not overwhelmed by the truffles.

My friend had the kurobuta pork cheek and foie gras terrine which she thought tasted a trifle like Spam, but still good nonetheless. I would have taken this but for the so-called diet....

And my main of chargrilled lamb tenderloin, done medium, with Bearnaise sauce. I liked it - no musky "lamb" smell. But my goodness, this was so outdone by my friend's main of seared striploin with glazed white asparagus and bone marrow! This was the first ever time that I tasted bone marrow. Wow, it has a taste sensation that I can only describe as feral. I could close my eyes and imagine the lifeforce of this cow, all compressed into a little bit of quivery jelly, melting in my mouth with coarse grains of sea salt. More please.

Alright, drama over, it was time for dessert. We had the poached peach with almond ice cream and dark chocolate creme brulee with vanilla ice cream. I personally thought that dessert was the most unimpressive part of the meal, but hey, what do you know, I don't have a sweet tooth and thus can't appreciate desserts.

At $36 for lunch, this has got to be one of the best-ever set lunches around given the quality and quantity of the food that you get. The service is almost faultless - warm and observant, without veering into that hyperactive "hiya, I am your new best friend" territory. They serve an early bird degustation of 6 courses - including all those I wrote about in this post - for a real steal price of $68 if you order before 7.30pm. Oh, I am so in love with this restaurant! Not everything is perfect, but oh, its highlights are so dazzling! (And also, Chef Dubois is quite the good-looker, with deep blue eyes and an impish smile. Ooh, I shook hands with him as we left the restaurant). Finally, Au Petit Salut has been pushed aside in my books. I can't wait to go again, stupid "diet" begone.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

North Border Bar & Grill, Revisited

Having ordered the wrong stuff at North Border Bar & Grill on my previous visit, a return trip was in order so that I could get a better sense of the quality of food there.

This time round, for my starter, I ordered the Mexican Jalapeno Peppers stuffed with cream cheese, served with mango salsa. This was FIERCE stuff! I love chillis but the spiciness and hotness of this was on another flaming hot level altogether. Good that the restaurant served it with cream cheese and mango salsa which helped to douse the fire somewhat. In case the above doesn't sound too flattering, actually I enjoyed the dish :-)

Main course was baked portobello mushrooms stuffed with sundried tomatoes and cheese on avocado pesto which was alright but nothing spectacular - I felt that the cheese didn't really complement the mushroom and I could hardly taste any sundried tomato either. Portobello mushrooms were big and juicy, almost meaty.

It was only after the meal that I realised I had inadvertently gone vegetarian! Anyway, after scrutinising the menu, I came to the conclusion that it was not really my fault for ordering the wrong things the previous time since there were hardly any items that qualified as Tex-Mex for mains? Apart from perhaps the grilled ribeye steak. Anyway, while the food is decent but nothing to shout about, I would still come back here, for the jalapeno peppers, as well as the super laid back, garden feel of the place. This is the sort of place where you can easily while away the entire afternoon, sipping chilled white wine and muching on tacos with salsa dip...ooh time for another vacation methinks.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

300 km for Durians

2 weekends ago, seized by a sudden fit of (madness? hunger? craving?) we decided to drive all the way up to Segamat, to eat "freshly dropped" durians at a durian plantation. And we don't even like durians all that much - it just seemed like a exciting road trip for the day.

So all the way it was to Kampong Teratai (GPS coordinates N0222447 E10241027, hp 0197082800), a 300 km drive one way, just for durians! The plantation had run out of the "branded" Mao Shan Wang durians by the time we got there around 4pm, so we ate Red Prawn durians instead. I am not really a durian connoisseur but the durians opened were all fairly good, creamy and fragrant, with even one or two having the bitter alcohol taste that I like. It was also good fun admiring the baby durians on the trees - these would take 2 or 3 more months to mature and ripen. A cheap and fun day trip - our durians cost only less than SGD10 (but then the owner gave us a huge discount).