Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oriole Cafe and Bar: espresso to satisfy at last...plus great food too!!

with Prof. Horolographer, SJX, RobG and DaveG

Had wanted to drop by for a long time, ever since I was alerted of the presence of this new eatery, chill out bar, espresso haven. Colin Loh, a friend from the Singapore Greens Group (a group of fanatic coffee lovers, home roasters, and espresso freaks) told me that John Ting, Singapore's Barista Champion 2008 and 2009 is resident barista has setup shop just across the road from my office...I yearned to go have a try.

I first dropped by during the First Latte Art Shakedown...discovered John and Oriole's owner Keith Loh (SBC 2009 second, SBC 2008 4th) were fun folks.

So this time round, I wanted to sample the food...

First off...some starters:

Spicy calamari.



These were rather tasty bits of calamari, battered with a spicy batter, deep fried. The calamari was a bit overcooked, and slightly tough, but tasty.

Second started was Grilled prawns bruschetta:



Interesting, methots...prawn bruschetta? Usually, in Italy, bruschetta is just plain grilled bread, topped with virgin olive oil, tomatoes, mozarella, and sometimes...if the chef is daring, proscuitto. This was my first encounter with prawns. But the prawns were fresh, the grilling very delecate...leaving the prawn in an almost raw state...so one can savour the prawn flavour and taste...and crunchy texture...very nicely done...the bread was crisply toasted, and the diced tomatoes provided some bite...goes well with the virgin olive oil drizzled over. Nice dish!

Now the mains. The young man of the group...12 year old DGan had the biggest entré: the burger...topped with a fried egg, it looked wonderful. He affirmed with big smiles, and approving looks as he devoured the burger.



SJX had the braised beef cheeks with tagliatelle:



He too grunted his approval between bites. The beef looks very well braised in its own jus. One to try for a next visit.

RobG had the beer batter fish and chips.



Fresh fish, I suspect snapper, is encased in a very crisp, mildly flavoured batter. The batter was made lighter by adding beer to the mixture and allowed to rise...allowing the beer to create within the wet batter, making the dough lighter, and when deep fried in hot fat, resulting in batter which is crisp, and provided the structure to contain the moisture of the fish within. The fish was tender, moist and full of flavour. Quite lovely. A simple dish, done right.

Horolographer and I both had the Philly Cheese Steak.



I always had a soft spot for Philly Cheese Steak. My first encounter was the now defunct (in Singapore...still doing well in the US), inexpensive, food court variety...a shop called Steak Escape. Edward loved the PCS as well, and often the two of us would sneak away from shopping...he would have been no older than 4, perhaps 5 years old then, to have a PCS. Later, in the US, I sampled the awesome Pat's King of Steaks in Philadelphia, who invented Philly Cheese Steak. Pat's (and Geno, which I haven't tried...but reports of poor service at Geno have discouraged me...) are the hallmarks to judge by. My memory of Pat's is good...though I didn't like the cheesewiz. There is something primal about eating a sliced rib eye in the concoction of onions, provolone cheese, fried in tallow/butter and a soft, toasted long hoagie bun.

The Oriole version was excellent...albeit a bit on the small side...the bread was soft, nicely toasted...not too crisp, but enough to provide some bite, the insides were smooth and soft. The beef...I think ribeye like at Pat's...was sliced, fried, and rolled into a neat pile. Onions were beautifully caramelized and some green bell peppers were added. I am not sure if they used Provonce cheese, but the cheese tasted good, and I was thankful no Cheese Whiz. Both Horolographer and I loved it. I would go back just for this sandwich.

For desserts, we shared a Chocholate Fudge Cake, and a Carrot Cake. The Choc Fudge was super, super rich. Didn't take a pic...was a rather largish slice. The carrot cake was about the size of a regular cup cake...



My slice, showing a nice generous icing was rich, and creamy. The cake itself was moist, yielding small chunks of carrot bound within the cake. Very nice. Reminded me of the original Carrot Cake offered by the original Coffee Club way back when they first opened in Holland Village in the early 1990s. Both Oriole's cakes were a tad too sweet for me.

And finally the coffees. The piéce de résistance...the espresso. This was my espresso doppio:



Nice thick crema, moulting on the crema suggest a good cuppa. I did not see my cup being pulled, but I went to the espresso machine. Saw a mother of a machine...a 3 group La Marzocco, and a smaller GS3. Beautiful machines.



The heavy lifting...um, brewing, was done by the magnificent 3 gruppa La Marzocco. The resulting coffee...best in Singapore...befitting that it was pulled by the Keith, who placed no. 2 in Singapore Barista Championship 2009...as mentioned, John Ting, who also worked in Oriole was placed no 1, but he was in Reservist.



Even though the glamour is always stolen by the espresso machine, the grinder is the most important piece of the espresso equipment puzzle. Get the grind wrong, forget about espresso. Two very large grinders were took pride of place. One was a Mazzer Super Jolly (I use the Mini myself at home). A big grinder is better than a smaller one because larger grinders operate at lower burr speeds...translating to a smaller amounts of heat generated by the grinding...resulting in helping preserve the flavour of the grinds better. Each cup was ground to order. This ensured that the coffee is fresh, and never stale. Ground coffee have a shelf life for the connoiseur of about 1 minute. Beans must be ground for each cup, immediately before brewing.



The volume was just a bit long for a doppio...but still within regulation size. An espresso should be about 1 fl. oz in size...and a doppio (double in Italian) should be no more than double the size. The crema held a spoon of sugar for about 30/40seconds, testifying to the fact that it was a result of correct brewing and not a gimmick. Proper crema has foundation and structure, and can support a teaspoon of sugar for a while.



The coffee was viscous, almost liquorice like. Superb mouth feel, good body, beautiful aroma and a long after taste. This is actually very very good espresso. Mecca in Sydney (at Grace Hotel's side by King Street) serves a more potent version, but the Aussie version achieves this by actually serving a double ristretto...when you order an espresso doppio. The espresso made my day!


Oriole Bar and Cafe
96 Somerset Road
#01-01/05
Pan Pacific Serviced Suites
tel: 62388348

Keith also owns Bedrock Bar & Grill just adjacent...a fine dining establishment.

Photonotes: The restaurant was rather dark, so I had to shoot at ISO6400 to ensure a shutter speed, with my preferred aperture for sharp hand held shots without IS.
I think a bit grainy, but still acceptable...do you think so?
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