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