Saturday, November 28, 2015

Market Grill: Lobster Rolls and more

The fad of lobster rolls are all but almost over. But there are still great tasting, and there are still a few places who serve a value for money roll. One is Pince and Pints and the other The Market Grill.

I dropped by after not visiting for a while, and found the place to be just as cozy as my last visit.

The grill still offers great steaks...we saw the grillmaster hammering out several during our visit there, and they all looked great...and one of the advantages (disadvantages?) of sitting next to the display grill is the smells and sizzles can be experience in close quarters...mouth watering.

We sampled the Lobster Roll...

Served with fries, and a small salad. The brioche bun is buttered, and toasted on the grill, and a (we understand) 500g of lobster, boiled, deshelled, coated with some lovely herbed mayo pommery sauce. The lobster is cold in the hot bun, and the contrast creates a wonderful sensation in the mouth.

We found the lobster tail to be very chunky but a bit on the tough side. And the pincer meat to be extremely soft and tender. $45 for a serving is quite good value for money, we think.

We also tried the burger

The Chef's original recipe chargrilled burger is with 200g of chuck patty and served with creamed Portobello mushroom, bacon, romaine lettuce. The bun is the typical sesame seed bun. Very juicy, thick patty, with strong beefy flavours. The bacon was crisp and full flavoured. Very nice burger. The 200g patty version we had was $34, and they offer a smaller 150g patty version for $25.

Overall a nice grill. They also have steaks, as we mentioned, lamb and fish. 

The Market Grill
208 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068642
Monday - Saturday
Lunch 1130am - 230pm
Dinner 6pm - 10pm
Closed on Sunday
No reservations policy

Saturday, November 14, 2015

18 Grams Roastery Lab – Wan Chai, Hong Kong

There used to be a few places I usually go to for espresso in Hong Kong. When they are good, they are exceptional, and way better than those in Singapore. We found one near where we were staying for Watches & Wonders, and thought it worthy of a writeup.

Curious name, a friend who is not an espresso geek asked. Not at all, 18 refers to the amount of beans in grams one usually measures for a standard pull of double espresso. Of course, this differs from machine to machine, from bean and roast to the other. For eg, on my Elektra Leva a Casa, on my home roasts, I typically pack 20g of powder into its portafilter. But 18g remains a text book standard for a doppio.

Roastery Lab also is interesting. They do have traditional classical espresso and coffee, including slow cold drip, but also some experimental ones. Like Nitro Espresso.

Yes, this is not so novel anymore...Chye Seng Huat Papa Palheta makes one. But it is still pretty avant garde. Looks like a dark beer, served from a tap. But smells like coffee, and taste like coffee. Nitro coffee is slightly efferverscent. The coffee is treated with high pressure nitrogen, chilled in a keg and served on a draught with a foamy head like a Guiness. The mouth feel is rich, creamy, and seem a touch sweet and less acidic than cold brew. 

And a bit more experimental, perhaps, but a very simple sparkling espresso..

Cream soda in a glass with ice, and over it, pour a double shot of espresso. I found this a much nicer drink than the Nitro. All the espresso elements are still there, and the bubblies from the cream soda make a nice mouth feel. Smooth, with the full taste of the espresso showing. First time I have come across a drink like this, but one which has a low barrier to entry as this can even be attempted at home. 

We also had the traditional espresso...a doppio ristretto

Quite excellent. Note the beautiful mottling on the crema. The crema was thick and rich. The ristretto was very viscous, powerful on the nose as it is on the palate. Beautiful long finish. Excellent cup.

I also tried the picolo latte, actually I had this as my first cup, as I always try to avoid disappointment with a new place. As milk often is a good mask for the sins of the barista.

Superb cup. Just the right amount of foamed milk adding the requisite richness and body to the espresso. This gave me the confidence that the barista knows what she is doing to order the ristretto above.

I also tried a machiatto.

Perfectly executed. The touch of milky foam on the espresso was just right. Nice.

I also had breakfast there, and found the Eggs Benedict with ham to be quite superb.

Hollandaise sauce was good, and the eggs poached to perfection. Probably poached sous vide. Comes with a nice side of fruits. 

Upstairs the very small cafe, it sits perhaps 8 pax max downstairs, is the roaster and a small dining area.

Very nice espresso place. Worth a visit every time in Hong Kong. Centrally located just a few minutes walk from either Admiralty or Wanchai MTR station.

18 Grams Roastery Lab
10 Johnston Road, Wan Chai
Tel: +852 2520 5100
Fax: +852 2345 7367
Sunday-Thursday: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Day Before Public Holiday: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Old School Tim Sum: Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong

A visit to an old school tim sum (dimsum) place in Hong Kong is quite an unusual experience for the uninitiated. Service in the traditional Western or Japanese construct is almost non-existant, and what there is is efficient rather than polite. With a touch of tension all built in.

First when one arrives at the restaurant, in this case Lin Heung Tea House in Central Hong Kong.

One makes one's way into the restaurant...not as easy as it sounds, as it is likely to be very crowded. The restaurant seats 300 per sitting in about 50 tables. And it is often very crowded. The first task at hand is to find a table. The wait staff will not help you on this other than the cursory "there's a place there". Most of the waiters are old men, who are as grumpy and curt in their responses as can be.

Once one finds a table, and it is mandatory to share a table. Regulars already know this, as well as those who have read their guide books, and they will make way for one to sit...small gestures like a small shift of the chair to allow one to slide over. A nod of acknowledgement.

Once a table/seat is obtained, one needs to capture the attention of one of the waiters. The waiter will then take one's order for tea, and disappear. When he re-appears, he will hand over two cups (if one is alone) or the one cup one per pax, a basin for rinsing cutlery and a tally card. If one is solo, the larger of the two cups is used for tea making, and the smaller one for drinking. One steeps tea in the larger cup and pour it into to the smaller one to drink. If one's party is more than self, then a pot is served instead of the larger cup. The rinsing bowl is filled with hot water, and one is expected to rinse the cups, chopsticks and spoon in it to cleanse them.

The food is served on traditional food trolleys. The idea is for the trolleys to make its way around the tables and the diners choose when the trolley arrives. However, the place is usually so crowded that the trolley almost never makes its round. Diners rush to the trolleys as they exit the kitchen and wave the tally card to the trolley lady. She will take the card, puts her stamp on it and serve one the dish ordered.

And the food?

It is rather good. Portion size is quite large. The style of dim sum is more robust and basic rather than Michelin starred (like Tim Ho Wan). This is not fine cuisine. This is basic, hearty food. Well done. And quite delicious.

The experience of eating is part of the fun. It is rather hectic, but should be experienced at least once. For me, I try to get a chance every visit to Hong Kong.

Lin Heung Tea House
60-164 Wellington Street
corner of Aberdeen Street, in Central, Hong Kong.
蓮香樓 | 蓮香居 | 蓮香老餅家

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tsui Wah Restaurant in Hong Kong: Airport branch

Must stop every time I leave Hong Kong, if I have time...the Tsui Wah Restaurant at Airport. Don't mistake this for the Tsui Wah Eatery in the Departures area, after clearing Immigration and Customs/Security. This is before you enter the Immigration. 

After check in, swing upstairs and have the last doze of Hong Kong food before departure. Even if you have access to First Class lounges within, forgo here.

The last trip I was there, we (4 guys travelling together for the Watches & Wonders) ate and ate in the territory, and had a farewell meal here as well. 

First all of us had the iced milk tea

First the statement: served in a bottle which is cooled by a bucket of ice. The message is that the tea is made just right, and dilution by melting ice will spoil the taste. Indeed, it was excellent. The tannin in the tea was apparent, but was assuaged by the richness of the milk. Nice balance. 

I had the Prawns w/ Tossed Noodles

A noodle classic using bamboo noodle, like those in Hong Kong's wanton mee. The noodles tossed in oil with prawn roe and  XO sauce. It is then mixed with succulent fried prawns on top. Superb. Some might find it a bit dry as the noodles had little sauce. But the combination of prawn roe (the little red dots) and the wonderful prawns were indeed mouth watering. 

One of the famous dishes is the Fish Balls & Fish Cakes w/ Flat Rice Noodles in Fish Soup

Tsui Wah claims their fish balls are made daily with handpicked yellow eels and over 10 types of fresh fish. The noddles are flat rice noodles, which we call here in Singapore kway teow, were very soft and light. The fishball is very springy, fresh fish fragrance. Beautiful stock completes the picture. 

The standard in HK CCT: roast goose

Not as good as those in my favourite Yat Lok, but still very good. The skin was crisp, and the goose meat was flavourful and a bit flaky...such that it is not tough, but yet not powdery...a kinda optimum state in between. Yat Lok somehow manages a more crispy skin and an even more flavourful meat. 

And another standard, Fried Flat Noodles with Beef

Another standard in HK. The noodles were similar to the soupy fish ball noodles above, but sliced perhaps wider. So the same soft, tender texture is found. But instead of being blanched in stock, the noodles are wok fried. The wok hei created a wonderful smokey, burnt flavour and aroma. The beef was done just right, and very tender. Some might find this dish a bit greasy, but such is a plate of fried kway teow.

As I mentioned, this is a must stop place to eat before boarding. But make sure you have plenty of time to partake of this pleasure. Highly recommended.

Tsui Wah have many branches all over Hong Kong and many other countries. The main outlet in Wellington Street, just across from Yung Kee is another great branch, but not all the branches serve food which is equal in quality, even though Tsui Wah uses a central kitchen to ensure uniform quality.

Tsui Wah Restaurant
Hong Kong International Airport Branch
Shop 8T007, East Hall, Terminal 1, Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau.
Business Hours : 07:00-00:00

Monday, October 26, 2015

Capital Cafe: Hong Kong for truffle scrambled eggs

One of my favourite things to do in Hong Kong is to eat at a Cha Chan Teng. Especially for breakfast. Not all Cha Chan Tengs serve an equal breakfast. I don't know why their set is almost always a kind of ham macaroni with eggs and toast and coffee or tea, when most of the time, the macaroni is really not up to par. Australia Dairy Company is one of the best for their scrambled eggs, but fails miserably for the macaroni.

This time round, as we were staying on the island, we decided not to cross the channel to Kowloon, and try out Capital, which is reputed to be a close rival in terms of taste of their scrambled eggs. Plus, they serve it with black truffles. Interesting.

The place was not difficult to find, a short walk from Wan Chai MTR.

No queues. And as we approached, the lady by the counter smiled at us, and ushered us to our seats. brusque waiters. No forced sharing...ok, we shared the table, but the two of us shared a table for 8 with another couple.

Could this civilized CCT rival Australia Dairy? We ordered a buttered toast, a scrambled eggs with truffle on toast, and iced milk tea.

The tea: HK$21 for cold HK Style milk tea. Nice, with a light tannin bite. Smooth mouth feel, and the aromatic tea cutting through the creaminess of the milk. Quite nice.

The buttered toast. HK$9. Nice too. The bread is nice and thick. And toasted lightly, buttered on one side. Fragrance of the butter was not overpowering, but pleasant, and the bread within was moist.

And what we came for:

The scrambled eggs were done perfectly. A thin light "membrane" and within the eggs were just cooked that it looked like it might ooze, but not quite. The fragrance was nice,  and tasted very good. Rich, creamy, tasty. Compared to the Australia Dairy version, this one lacked the salty creaminess of canned soup (reportedly used by Australia Dairy). And was a bit milder.

And the truffles? Kind of disappointing, I think. I was kind of expecting slices of black truffle (ok, wishful thinking as the scrambled eggs with truffle on toast was only HK$42 (less than S$8), it was hard, slightly crisp grains, which lacked any depth of flavour or fragrance. I think the truffles were probably Chinese origin and possibly dried before being crushed. We asked the lady by the counter the origin of the truffles, she did not know.

But overall, I enjoyed the scrambled eggs on toast. And a positive alternative to Australia Dairy. Now to find the steamed milk that is done so well in Jordan...:-)

Highly recommended. Read the history of the cafe. Its quite interesting too.

Capital Café 華星冰室
Shop B1, G/F, Kwong Sang Hong Building, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong (10 min walk from Wan Chai MTR) Tel:+852 2666 7766
Opening Hours: 7am – 11:00pm

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bistrot du Sommelier: revisit review

I reviewed the Bistrot du Sommelier in 2012, click here for that review. I was impressed with the quality of the food then, and was rather keen when I received an invitation to try out their new Fall menu. 

From the 2012 review, they have a new chef de cuisine, in the form of the young Brandon Foo. 

We started with the famous Duck Rillette, 100gm ($10.80++)

As with my experience earlier, this is a winner. Rilette is a typical French style dish, like pâté, the meat is cubed or chopped, salted and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded, and then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste. They are normally used as spread on bread or toast and served at room temperature. And the one at Bistrot du Sommelier is fantastic. Spread on a nice crusty bread, it is delicious enough to be a complete meal.

The bread, was of course up to par. Crusty, but deliciously soft within. Very good with the rilette and with the next dish: the  Rabbit, Pork, Duck Foiegras Ballotine, 150gm ($18++)

Traditionally a ballotine is like a sausage, and usually with poultry. But these days all kinds of meat can be used. And in this dish, Chef Brandon used rabbit, pork and foie gras. The ballotine is rather firm, and was served with some greens and cold. It went well with the bread. Kin thought it to start to grow on her as she ate, while I preferred the rilette. 

We had double salads...First a warm salad: Chataigne, Bettrave et Sabayon aux Cèpes ($19++). Chestnut mousseline, steamed beetroot and cèpes mushroom sabayon 

Not quite what I was expecting. The sabayon dressing was warm and wonderful. The other components of the dish was excellent as well. Great way to serve up vegetables. And they used both red and white beetroot, which is rather unusual, I guess. The beetroots were cooked beautifully, enough to be tender, but not mushy. 

The second was actually a seafood salad: Panaché de Fruits de Mer ($19++). Prawn’s ‘Babajuan’, confit trout, sautéed squid and Pourpier salad 

The trout and squid were marvellous. The prawn was hidden in a crusty pastry, and I couldn't really taste the prawn. The salad was excellent, as was the dressing. Chef Brandon really knows his way around the flavours as they remained distinct but at the same time melded well with each other.

Then on to the mains. We started with the fabulous Roast Chicken: Poulet rôti, Cuisses en Vol-au-vent de Foie gras, jus Volaille aux Epices (Serves 2, $68++)  Oven roasted French chicken, legs and foie gras in puff pastry, spiced chicken jus

Beautifully roasted. Half a chicken, we were told French origin, but was not sure if its the famous poulet du Bresse. It was magnificent.  Below the chicken leg, and within the Vol-au-vent of puff pastry is a serving of rich, sinful, gorgeous duck foie gras. The dish was served with a side of whipped potato, which I felt was a bit too creamy, but Kin enjoyed. The whipped potato was very finely done, with no lumps, or bits of potato. 

A closeup of the meats...the breast meatwas moist, tender and flavourful. The leg had a heavier flavour, but still very tasty. And the skin was springy, yet had a crispness that tasted absolutely sublime. 

And we also had the pork chops: Côtelette de Porc Canadienne rôtie, Pomme Vigneronne ($38++). Oven roasted Canadian pork chop served with potato Vigneronne 

Very Provence style. Basic, earthy. And most wonderfully delicious. The pork was cooked to perfection. And perfection is not used carelessly. The cooking was superb.

The pork was wonderfully pink and moist within. And a crust had begun to form on the outside. The chef must have seared the pork chop to create the beautiful, Maillard-ed crust, then finished it off in the oven at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time. Even as I write, I can almost smell the wonderful aroma of the pork. The accompanying potato gratin was also excellent. My favourite dish for the evening.

And then we waited a while for the dessert. Soufflé à la Noisette, for 2 ($25++). Hazelnut soufflé and dark chocolate ice-cream

When it arrived, it looked like a soufflé should. The eggs had risen to a magnificent overflow to the bowl, with a membrane like topping sprinkled with castor sugar. As the waiter placed it on our table, it a proper soufflé should. My standards of reference are rather high...Chez Dumonet in Paris. OK, this is not near the levels of Dumonet. But was very close. I found it slightly too sweet...yes, I know desserts should be sweet, but this for me was a tad over. But I was bowled over with the crispy whole hazelnuts within. And the beautiful chocolate ice cream served at the side. So, overall, for me, this was a winner.

We also had some French wine to go along with dinner. The house Bourgogne Rouge: Bachelet Monno 2012 ($88++ per bottle) was rather nice. Chosen by the sommelier as a house wine, it had plenty of pulpy, citrus fruit over a base which is bright,  chalky minerality, and then refreshingly pithy, zesty notes on the finish. 

The Bistrot also offers a TGV Menu for, quick like the French high speed rail for busy folks. Three course prix fixe menu for only S$35++. 

We enjoyed this visit to the Bistrot du Sommelier as I did the last time I was there, and made a mental note that 3 years is too long for a revisit, and will return soon. The cuisine is hearty, the cooking excellent, and the ambience was very nice. 

Le Bistrot du Sommelier
53 Armenian St, Singapore 179940

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Spora Cucina: Sardinian food just next to Orchard Road

The restaurant exterior reminds me of Las Vegas, bright lights, neon...Inside, it is reminiscent of the set from a Mafia movie. And the food, is authentic Sardinian, simple, pure, robust tastes.

The interior, I must say is very beautiful. Like a dark, high end club/restaurant as might be favoured by celluloid Mafia.

We began with a salad, as is usual, perhaps for an Italian place:  Polpo Alla Carlofortina ($20++)

Slow-cooked fresh octopus with celery, olives, pine nuts, basil and house made dressing. Of course, the greens are fresh, as are the tomatoes. The olives added a nice bite, while the dressing goes magnificently well. The octopus is cooked till very tender, and is mild flavoured.

The next dish was a rather interesting one. Biscotto di Pecorino ($22++).

What looked like a roti prata, with honey. Sopra calls this the Pecorino cheese stuffed in pane carosau and drizzled with honey. The cheese is very mild, reminds me a little of mozzarella, a similar texture and consistency, and the stretchy, springy mouthfeel. I cannot decide if the honey is a good complement. Perhaps I might leave out the honey as it makes it a bit too coy and sweet.

We also had a pizza, of course, this is an Italian restaurant afterall:

I must say this is superb. the Pizza Sopra ($28++ for 9"), with tomato sauce. Mozzarella. Parma ham. Fresh tomato. Arugula. Parmesan. Everything went well with each other. The pizza bread was excellent...crusty on the outside, with smokey burnt bits, and very soft and fluffy within. The ham was a standout for me. Enjoyed this very much, and will be a recommended dish for me.

We also had pasta, again a natural for an Italian, but this with a slight twist

 Malloreddus alla Campidanese ($25++). Its a traditional Sardinian semolina pasta with rosemary pork sauce. The pasta is dry gnocci, Sardinian style done with semolina. It was firm to the bite, and there was just enough sauce to coat each bit of pasta and not more. One of my pet peeves on pasta in Singapore is that our kiasu culture demands that we have a lot of sauce...that it drowns the pasta. Frequently after eating the pasta, a pool of gravy remains. This is NEVER done in Italy. Where the sauce is to accompany the pasta, just enough to coat each strand/bit of pasta, and no more. This was the case in this Sopra pasta. Bravo! Tastewise, the sauce is rather special. Sinews of pork bathed in a tomato sauce is abundant and coats the gnocci. Very nice. Also recommended.

And then the star of the evening: suckling pig:

Porcheddu Sardo ($48++). Traditional Sardinian suckling pig (400grams) with Mediterranean herbs and roasted potato. Truly superb. Single portion sized servings, instead of requiring one to order an entire suckling pig. The two pieces we got was superb. Rib side, it was a really small pig. As can be seen from the picture, the crackling is to die for. Light, crispy, and mild tasting (no heavy  porcine flavours here.) If one strains one's taste buds, perhaps a touch of milk can be detected, as the little pig who went to piggie heaven for this morsel had only been fed with its mother's milk. 

The tiniest sliver of fat lies beneath the crackling, and the meat within was tender and juicy. Goes really nice with the roasted potato, and the bed which is a kind of bread crackling. Very nice, and highly recommended.

The desserts then. Tiramisu ($10++). Layers of coffee soaked sponge and mascarpone sabayon.

Nicely done, but nothing exceptional to write Mom about. 

And the Cannoli ($10++).  Traditional pastry filled with Ricotta, Chocolate and Candied Orange.

I liked this quite a lot. The cannoli was hard and crispy. Dry texture, but goes marvelous with the soft, creamy insides. Really nice end to a good meal. 

A wide selection of wines and Italian beer is also availble. I had the typical Peroni Nastro Azzurro ($12++) which was nice to complement the dishes.

In conclusion, a very nice place. They do have a private room which can seat 30, if memory serves me right. And the main dining hall which is very beautiful. They also have outdoor seating where smoking is allowed, and a nice bar area. Traditional Sardinian cuisine, with earthy, simple and robust flavours. The suckling pig is a true standout as is the cannoli dessert. Highly recommended.

p.s. This was an invited tasting. Thanks to Food News for the invitation.

Sopra Cucina & Bar | Italian Restaurant
10 Claymore Road #01-02, 229540
6737 3253

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Roast Paradise at Old Airport Road

Charsiew. The stuff of some of our culinary dreams. Most charsiew shops also sell other roast meats, most typically roast pork, roast duck and sometimes roast chicken. But this new little store tucked in Old Airport Road Food Centre is special. It only roasts charsiew. Only charsiew. With rice, with noodles, or on its own. One must really admire the dedication to fully specialize.

The shop is rather new, and the hawkers are young, fresh, and educated. They have a Facebook page with frequent updates and they answer FB comments promptly. They exude passion for their cooking, and the specialization to only offer char siew is admirable. Interestingly the signboard says "since 1970". Possibly inherited the business? I will ask them the next time what's up with that. Surely the chaps who man the shop are too young to be even born in 1970.

The charsiew they offer is the KL style, sweet, caramalized, crisp burnt edges. The meat is marinaded and roasted in-situ. The stall is supposed to be open from 10:30 to 4pm. But frequently it is sold out by 1pm, most days even earlier. Perhaps they need to do their roast planning better, so as to maximize the availability. I arrived at 11am, a good time. No queue, and the meat still warm from the rest after roasting.

The charsiew is reminiscent of the Oversea one which I waxed lyrical over, but has since disappeared from Singapore. It is fat-ish, but not too fat. Just the right amount of fat for a full flavour. The meat is very tender, and excellent mouth feel.
And it is crisp on the edges, slightly burnt at the ends. Superb. The umami is wonderful. Served with garlic flavoured rice. This was the upsized $4.50 portion. A regular portion is only $3.50. They also offer a premium charsiew which I did not try. I was told it is made from fatter pork, and more flavour.

The charsiew is probably the best I have tasted for a long time. And will be my new reference standard. Highly recommended.

Roast Paradise
01-122 Old Airport Road Food Centre