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.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Slow-cooked Salmon with Sundried Tomato Pesto

This looked so pretty and tasted so good! I was carrying out a trial run of the main course for our usual Christmas dinner with close friends and was extremely pleased by how easy but impressive this dish was. Truly for lazy cooks indeed. The secret is to cook the salmon on very low heat so that its texture will be melting and looks uncooked but it is indeed cooked through!

I was inspired by the "recipe" on Steamy Kitchen's webbie, which I modified by cooking my salmon at 100 deg C for 30 min (will try it at 80 deg C for 40 min for the actual dinner) and complementing it with a homemade sundried tomato pesto that I whipped up using our recent acquisition of sundried tomatoes from France. The pesto was superb, with all the concentrated tastes of tomato, blended with the piquant fragrance of fresh basil leaves and toasted almonds. Just so addictive and simply delicious that I kept on finding excuses to eat what we didn't use for the salmon, on toast.

Sundried Tomato Pesto (makes about a cup)
1/2 cup packed sweet basil leaves
1/2 cup toasted whole almonds (I used ground almonds)
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp lemon zest (I added some lime juice instead to up the tangy factor)
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 generous packed cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (I left the cheese out)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
(1 cup = 240 ml)

Drain the sun dried tomatoes. Toast almonds lightly in a dry shallow pan, about 5 min (they will turn light brown and emit a nutty fragrance). In a food processor, combine the basil, toasted almonds, garlic, lemon zest, and salt and process till coarsely chopped. Add the sun dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese and process further. Stream in the olive oil slowly and process until the pesto comes together. Scrape into an airtight container and leave in the refrigerator. The cook gets the privilege of licking off the rest of the sundried tomato pesto!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sushi Nogawa

I will just come straight to the point and say this - I was disappointed. Maybe it was a case of overly high expectations. Maybe it was just that I went on the wrong day of the week. Or maybe that I wasn't a regular there. Whatever it is, surely restaurants, especially such a reputable one as Nogawa, should ensure a minimum quality for their set lunches? Moreover, since Chef Nogawa is known as the great-grand master of all sushi chefs in Singapore, it would not be unfair to expect pretty exceptional cusine at his eponymous restaurant.

Both my friend and I ordered the chirashi sushi set (SGD35). Now I had recently had a to-die-for chirashi at Aoki (SGD35) and a very good one at Inagiku just over the weekend (SGD30 after 50% Feed At Raffles discount), so the memories were still vivid in my mind.

In comparison, Nogawa's chirashi set (SGD35) simply did not inspire any raptures. The fish was not as fresh as I would have liked, although in all fairness Chef Kelvin did include a slice of chutoro in our selection. But this was still not enough to salvage the overall impression I had of mediocrity (e.g. the rest of the fish selection like salmon was kinda average…). While the chawanmushi was passably smooth and tasty, it also did not stand up to the gold standard set by Tatsuya’s – heck, I think even Kuriya’s version is better. And when the dessert of two slices of watermelon and one slice of honeydew melon came, I found myself thinking longingly of the trio of cute desserts served at Aoki….

In future, I would probably choose to spend my 35 bucks at Aoki or Tatsuya. Surely, one shouldn’t need to go omakase (and spend a lot) to have a nice meal?

Sushi Nogawa
Concorde Hotel, 100 Orchard Road

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Lobster Lunch at Greenwood Fish Market & Bistro

Taking a temporary break from the French fest and back to yummy-ing in Singapore! Today, I had a very enjoyable seafood lunch with Y at the Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro, since we were both in need of a Monday pick-me-up.
This place used to sell raw fish at the front of its shop, hence the name – one had to march through the fish section before entering the tiny restaurant at the back, which was cramped and dim. Not only that, diners seated near the entrance ran the risk of getting turned off their food by the constant smells of raw fish wafting in from the retail shopfront. However, the odd set-up gave the restaurant its unique colour and character, indeed, it became rather famous because of this reason. On my previous two visits with E (before we got married…gosh! That’s more than 4 years ago!), we had only tried the hot seafood platter for two, which had a good range of different types of seafood and came in an enormous portion, but was not really that earth-shatteringly well-cooked.

Fast forward to today, the restaurant has now expanded to a second outlet which only has diner seating and does not sell fish. Yay for the smells, but nay for the insipidness of the new seating. Y and I were lucky that Monday’s special promotion was for lobster and shellfish – live Boston lobster (550gm to 650gm) at $39.95, and live New Zealand Greenlip Mussels at $9.95! Really tear-inducing prices (to the restaurant owner, that is!).

The mussels, which we had ordered cooked in white wine sauce with garlic, came first. These were so supremely fresh (duh, they are live) and the mussel juice was mouth-wateringly GOOD…briny and garlicky, with a smoothness from butter whipped in at the last moment. Although both of us felt that we couldn’t taste much white wine in the juice, this did not in any way mar our enjoyment of this dish. After mopping up the last of that delectable mussel juice, the dish of the day arrived! When our grilled lobster was presented, both Y and I were a little taken-aback, since it was a good size lobster and had turned a stunningly bright red. I have to say that the meat was slightly overcooked and a little tough but still retained its sweetness of flavour. An innocuous little pot sat on the side, which turned out to be an extremely delicious brown butter with lemon sauce. So more-ish in fact, that we sat dipping our fries in it as an excuse to savour that nutty fragrance, after the lobster was long gone.

It’s a simple fact that so long as seafood is fresh, you will get a winning meal (unless you are a really bad cook), so Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro actually doesn’t need to work very hard or hire culinary experts. Still, I enjoyed this lunch a lot more than I expected to. Hmm, perhaps another visit one Thursday to take advantage of the Alaskan King Crab promotion is in order…

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cilantro, Arles

For such a small town (population 52,000) Arles has not one, but two very good Michelin star restaurants. My first choice had been L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel, a two Michelin star restaurant lauded for its inventive cuisine, but unfortunately the restaurant's rest days coincided with the two days that we were in Arles.

Happily though, our second choice, Cilantro, turned out to be stunning. A short walk up a open courtyard led to the greenhouse,which was the focal seating area of the restaurant, allowing light to stream in. The lunch menu was priced at 29 Euros for three courses, which was a complete steal. My first course of Hereford beef salad with lemon grass vinaigrette was delightful - thin slices of lightly seared rare beef perfectly complemented by the light vinaigrette.

E's starter of sauteed escargot with tomatoes marmalade and nettle juice, served in puff pastry, was equally mouthwatering. The sharpness of the nettle juice gave the dish an unexpected edge, while the unusual matching of flavours melded so well together, that this dish elicited an unsolicited exclamation of "oiishi!!" from a Japanese lady seated behind us.

The mains were equally awesome. Roasted duck breast with "panisse" (a lightly fried potato mixture), olives onions and saffron marmalade was simply perfection - perfectly seasoned lightly with sea salt and roasted to a deep pink, and scrumptiously tender to the bite.

The roasted grey sea bream with young vegetables in vanilla emulsion looked deceivingly simple but the flavours of the freshest, sweetest vegetables simply shone through, while the creamy vanilla sauce added a suprising twist to the dish.

The desserts were simply magical as well. I had the cutest little petit trio of home-made sorbets - passionfruit, basil and raspberry - full of concentrated natural flavours. Even E who does not like basil, conceded that the basil ice cream was good. And E loved his pear ravioli with fruits. It's not often that we see ravioli being used in sweet dishes so this was really unusual for us.
We were amazed by how well the petit fours were exceuted as well - almost like a second dessert!

This was by far one of the best meals that we have ever had - inventive with a sense of mischief and adventure, yet so completely delicious and flavoursome. A wonderful meal at a wonderful restaurant.

Le Cilantro
Arles, Provence

Market Day in Arles

Market day in Arles. All manner of stalls line the street from the crack of dawn. Tomatoes, so red, juicy and sun-kissed that you imagine picking up one and biting into its firm flesh as its tart and sweet juice spurts out. A small stall sells nothing but cheeses - fresh, mild, ripe, mature - the pungent aroma wafts over in the cold crisp air. I buy a small round of fresh provencal cheese for lunch and tuck it into my bag as we continue our saunter.

Further along, a few stalls have set up mobile rotisseries complete with gas fires licking the roasting racks, as rows of roasting chicken crackle and drip their juices onto the tray. The heat and the delicious smells are irresistable on a chilly late-autumn's day. I buy one too, intending it for our planned picnic lunch later on the banks of the Rhone river, and the friendly stallkeeper obligingly spoons in heaps of caramelised carrots and onions that have been basting in the roasting juices.

The butcheries and seafood stalls do a roaring business, with hordes of housewives lining up patiently for their turn to speak to the butcher / poissonnier and get advice on the best and freshest cuts and catches of the day. At a stall that specialises in shellfish, a non-stop string of customers point, 1 kg of mussels, 1 kg of sea urchins, 1 dozen of oysters, and walk away with bulging bags and the promise of a special dinner. As if under a spell, we can't help but buy half a dozen Normandy oysters as a pre-lunch snack, although none of us has ever shucked an oyster up till now.

Yet further down, the food stalls give way to a flea market, as early morning stretches into mid-morning. There is something particularly poignantly romantic about the old-world charm of the wares displayed on the pavement, dappled with the bright provencal sunlight. Old stamps and first day covers. Lovingly polished heavy silver serving forks and spoons. Sets of horn-handled cutlery. Lace and reams of cloth. Old leather bags and cases, shiny with the patina of age. Crystal glassware.
As you lose yourself in the sights, smells, sounds and rhythm of the market, it's one of the most amazing memories you will take back with you.
Arles, Provence
Street market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 8am to 12 noon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eating Well for Less!

Far from it that our meals in France were all multi-course, fancy-dining, hoity-toity Michelin affairs. Since France is rather pricey to tour, we saved money by having lunch as our main meal (which is when restaurants, even the starred ones, offer great deals), and having simple dinners. One of our most memorable and amazing meals was a gourmet picnic on the grounds of the Versailles Palace. That morning, we had made a quick detour to Rue d’Aligre, near the Bastille area, where there is a lively and bustling street market selling fresh produce, and bought ingredients for assembling our own gourmet baguette sandwiches – tranches of pungently savoury 12 month aged Jambon Bayonne wrapped in crusty french baguette chunks, tantalisingly sweet yet salty vine-ripened cherry tomatoes from Sicily, and Muscat Blanc grapes, all for under 6 Euros. Eaten watching the fountains in the broad green expanse of the Versailles Chateau gardens. Ahhh......

When we were in Avignon, Provence, we had the greatest luck to be staying in a wonderfully charming self-catering studio at Hotel Autour Du Petit Paradis. This was beautifully decorated in Provencal style with iron-wrought furnishings, white washed and sanded cabinets, wooden floor paneling, dreamy transparent lace curtains. Our studio had a small cooking area with microwave cum convection oven, cooking hob, and refrigerator, and was very well equipped with cooking and preparatory utensils – knifes, pots and pans, colander – and cutlery, even a bottle opener!

So we cooked a simple dinner that night of cheese ravioli (bought at nearby supermarket) with a simple brown butter sauce (or beurre noisette, which is super easy to make: see instructions here), accompanied by a side of boiled Brussels sprouts tossed with some butter. We made ourselves an equally luxe breakfast of creamy scrambled eggs the next morning.

Wine for me and only me, not E the teetotaller
Eating well does not always mean spending more, and it can be so much fun “hunting and gathering” your food. Finally, to end off this post, here are a couple of photos of the beautiful scenery and light in Avignon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Benoit Paris

Our next star was bound to be good, since we were having lunch with the bestest company. W and Z had driven all the way from Fontainebleau to Paris to meet us, something that I had really really been anticipating muchos! since it felt like eons since I had seen her and had a good chat (in reality only two weeks).

Lunch was at a Alain Ducasse-run place - Benoit, which is the oldest bistro in Paris. And boy did it fit our ideas of an authentic, "real-life" Parisian Bistro. Dark wood panel interiors - check. Red banquette seats - check. Polished but just so-ever slightly tarnished brass fittings - check. White linen covered tables squashed narrowly next to each other - check. Tres charmant!!

Being Singaporean (meaning we just can't see past a good deal), all of us took the 34 Euro set lunch, which had a good range of 3 choices for each course. Since I was determined to have as authentic bistro food as possible, I opted for the terrine of chicken livers for my starter. Well... it tasted exactly like it sounds. Salty and savoury, like a gussied-up ham, but that's about it, not terribly exciting.

E had the pumpkin soup with mushrooms. This got good feedback from our little company as warm and comforting soul food but didn't do too much for me (no secret that I don't really like thick creamy soups).

My main course was chicken braised in a little pot and served with roast potatoes on the side(it was quite funny that W only spotted the little dish of potatoes after we finished our chicken...). The chicken was competently cooked, moist and juicy, well sauced, but I felt that it somehow lacked the *magic* to bring the diner onto a higher plane? Potatoes were extremely good though! Teensy-meensy baby potatoes, with perfectly crisp skin, and that tantalising savoury aroma that one only gets from DEEP-FRYING IN ANIMAL FAT (duck in this case).

E went for the mixed seafood cooked in a cream sauce. The seafood was slow-cooked and consequently had a beautiful melty texture but again I was not too impressed, although I couldn't quite put my finger to what exactly the issue was. Perhaps my personal preference for lighter cooking approaches means that rich, creamy sauces are "wasted" on me! (I would just scrape them off, how terrible of me).

My dessert of rhum baba - sponge cake soaked in rum, served with whipped cream on the side. What impressed me most about this dish was the whipped cream which not only had real vanilla in it, what's more, somehow the bistry managed to get it to taste super rich and buttery, which really reminded me of heavenly Devonshire clotted cream. Wow! What's the secret?

Cool! We even got "self-service" rum to add to the sponge cake. I had quite a stressful time eating this though as I was busy trying not to "contaminate" the other slice of the cake given E's supposed allergy (in reality more of a hang-up) to alcohol.

This assortment of little tartlets - apple, lemon and chocolate was E's choice of dessert. This was done really well: tart shells treaded that super-fine line between being firm but just nicely crisp and buttery. In Z's words, the chocolate used was "high-class".
Overall, good solid traditional cooking served in a authentic bistro environment (The Michelin Guide's phrasing: "authentic and delightful establishment"), although I am not so sure that it is really of one Michelin star quality - reviewers a little biased perhaps? Nevertheless, our lunch still merited a full three stars, elevated as it was by the company of good and sorely-missed friends.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two Stars at Relais Louis XIII

I was full of anticipation to check out our first starredItalic restaurant in Paris, which I had made reservations for a full month in advance. Relais Louis XIII, which has two Michelin stars, is situated in a charming 16th century old building with open stonework walls, in the 6th arrondissement near the Louvre museum. The lunch menu was priced at a surprisingly affordable 50 Euros per person, and besides the customary starter, main and dessert, also included a cheese platter, water, and coffee. This was a real steal given the quality of the food and the cooking!!

We were served not one, but two amuse-bouches - miniature cheese puffs and pizza tartlets, and a corn soup cappucino, which E really enjoyed. My starter of scallop terrine with chives was simply wonderful, with a perfect smooth and quivery texture and oh! those scallops were just brimming with sweetness. Smothered in a creamy butter sauce and yet not too rich, this was such a treat.

But what we really really loved was E's starter of seared foie gras served on a bed of sauteed wild mushrooms. This could not be more delicious. The generous lobe of foie gras (the size of my hand!) melted in our mouths, while the sprinkling of fleur de sel accentuated the smoothness and rich fragrance of the foie gras, all perfumed by the earthy aroma of the wild mushrooms.

For my main course, I chose the seared seabass, which tasted nothing at all like those farmed seabass I buy in the local markets and supermarkets (must have been a wild seabass, maybe Chilean?) It was supremely moist and juicy, with a crisp skin and perfectly seasoned meat...the best seabass that I've eaten! Could things get any better?

Yes, they could. E went one up and had this lovely main course of lamb served with aubergines and tomatoes confit. The lamb was PERFECTLY cooked to a rose pink and was absolutely tender, juicy with nary a hint of that sometimes unpleasantly musky odour.

Very full at this point, we were presented with the cheese trolley from which wafted delectable cheesy aromas, so we pointed and ended up with several large slices of which we could only recognise the brie, gruyere, and mimolette. It was all good and very addictive to nibble on, so despite our full stomachs we still managed to finish more than half the selection.

And finally, the desserts! I had a white chocolate mousse frozen into an ice-cream ball, with a fromage blanc of cassis - like a cheesecake. This was adequate but nothing very much to shout about.

Meanwhile, E continued his run of good choices with this minestrone of exotic fruits served with a scoop of mango ice-cream. Tangy, intense and sweet all at the same time, this was a flavour explosion on our tongues. I simply loved that mango ice-cream to bits - it was so so concentrated that it tasted even more like mango than the real deal.

Full as we were, there was still room for petit fours, which were served with our coffees. These came beautifully presented on a silver tray with caneles and the most deliciously soft and fragrant nougat that I have ever eaten in my life.

Oh, what a meal! Words cannot do enough justice to it.