Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My favourite chicken rice: Wee Nam Kee

with office colleagues
Chicken rice is the quintessential dish in Singapore. This is one dish, where I prefer Singapore hawkers to Penang's. The standard of chicken rice in Singapore is so high, almost any hawker will have to produce decent tasting ones. But to find the really excellent ones...a little knowledge is needed.

I prefer the roast chicken mom makes a fantastic traditional Hainanese white chicken rice, with super fragrant rice, and killer chilli. She learnt how to cook the chicken and the rice from a Hainanese neighbour, whose family used to cook for the Malaysian Royal family (interestingly, the Malaysian royalty's cooks are Hainanese), and the chilli is her own concoction based on our peranakan roots.

But roasted chicken rice is another ball game. Calling it roasted is a misnomer, I guess...the chicken is usually shallow fried...a huge cauldron of boiling oil, is used to bathe the chicken until it ends up with a super crispy skin, with the meat still moist, juicy and tender. My absolute reference for this style of chicken is a shop somewhere in PJ, which is no more. My late father in law would bring the entire family there, and we'd wallow in the goodness of the chicken rice.

Wee Nam Kee in Singapore offers, methinks an alternative.

The chicken, especially when it just comes out from the kitchen is marvellous. Chopped into mouth sized bits, it is succulent, with a crisp, tasty skin.

The chilli was the diy type...with chilli, black sauce, ginger in different small vats on the condiments basket. The chilli is excellent...spicy, hot.

They also serve a nice hae cho.

Though this is typical Singaporean style...where there is almost as much filler flour used in the hae cho as there are ingredients. Contrast this with the typical Malaysian haecho, typified by JB Ah Meng's...and one sees the difference. But, Wee Nam Mee's version is still very tasty...the exterior crisp to a fault.

We also had the bean sprouts with salted fish.

This is a usual accompaniment to chicken rice. The taugeh, or bean sprouts are regular...unlike those found in Ipoh which are gigantic. They say its the special water in Ipoh...I don't know...but the ones here are quite good too. We have tried sprouting taugeh at home...and the flavour of the home taugeh are more intense. Wee Nam Kee's version is expertly fried, with good wok hei and the bits of salty fish provide a good, crisp counterpoint.

A bowl of dumpling soup was also presented.

This was regular...chicken broth, prawn and meat dumplings. Nothing spectacular.

Wee Nam Kee
275 Thomson Road
#01-05 Novena Ville
Tel: 6255 6396
Operating Hours:
Daily: 10.30am - 2am

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tampopo: kurobuta at its best?

with Kin, Prof. Massi, Prof. Francescca and Kin, Edward on two weekends

I wrote about Tom Ton and its superb kurobutas earlier. Click here for earlier review.

Takagi-san, the owner has to be credited for his bravery as probably the first restaurant in Singapore to introduce kurobuta pork to the public.

The signature spicy kurobuta shabu shabu ramen is still in top form. The Kyushu pork bone soup which enriches this dish is as rich and tasty as ever.

We also had the Kyushu pork bone kurobuta ramen. The cloudy, rich looking broth is typical of Kyushu pork bone ramen. Boiled in constant high heat for two days, it extracts the minerals, collagen, and calcium, into a rich thick broth. The bowl is spiced up, both by colour and taste as it is generously topped with a spoonful of spicy flying fish roe. Within the soup, a chilled flavoured egg resides...outside firm and cooked, insides runny and nearly so.

Typicalof Kyushu ramen, the noodles were thin but not wiry. And complemented the broth very well. It allowed the broth, which is the real star, to shine.

Extra servings or chasu was also available, and this was excellent. The right amount of fat vs lean meat balance and flavourful.

But the main dishes were also as outstanding.

Premium cut of kurobuta pork chop:

This was served on a hot plate. We found the marinate a bit on the salty side, but the cut of pork was gorgeous. Tender yet had some bite, and magnificently flavourful...due to the generous marbling.

But even more spectacular was the katsu.

I had waxed lyrical over Katsukura's katsu, proclaiming it to be the my personal best. But being able to indulge in it frequently is not possible, as Katsukura is in Tokyo. I will gladly settle for Tampopo (and Tom Ton) version any day. The pork served to us that evening was even better than the norm in, fatter and hence more flavourful. But also very tender. The batter was less light and oily than the Katsukura, but it was nonetheless very light and crispy and provided the perfect counterpoint to the rich pork within. Katsukura still has the edge with its superior dipping sauce, barley rice, and batter...but the quality of the meat is at the same level.

Various levels of pork were available...according to marbling. The cut we had pictured, is of the highest grade cut...with most marbling, and beautiful, beautiful flavour.

We also had the occassion to sample the cream puffs from Tampopo deli at the basement of Liang Court. Made fresh every hour on the hour, this cream puff draws the queues like no other. Only 40 pieces are available at the top of the hour, and the queue starts to form at least 20minutes before. When it comes out, it is immediately zapped by the eager queue.

The puff was super light...this was the first indication that it was something special. The crust was crisp, and as you break it open, the smooth, soft, cold custard just oozes out.

The custard was a perfect balance of sweet, savoury and creamy. Just marvellous. The style is like Beard Papa, but this was seventh heaven while BP remained on the ground.

Worth the queue...btw, the other pastry stuff in the Deli is also very good...characteristically light and fluffy.

Tampopo Restaurant
177 River Valley Road #01-23/24
Liang Court Shopping Center
Singapore 179030
Contact no: 6338 3186
Fax no: 6336 2625

Tampopo Deli
177 River Valley Road
#B1-16 Liang Court Shopping Centre
Tel: 6338 7386

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pu Tien: hidden treasure in Kitchener

with Larry, Prof. Horolographer, SJX
Larry suggested we have lunch at one of his favourite restaurants...Pu Tien at Kitchener Road...a veritable temple of Heng Hua cuisine in Singapore. But beware, there is more than one restaurant advertising themselves as Pu Tien...but only one 127 Kitchener Road.

We started with the classic Heng Hwa starter: Steamed cold pork belly with garlic

I found the pork (yes, the white slices are pork belly which is steamed, and chilled) to be very porky tasting/smelling, and the meat a bit rough, fibrous. The sauce was heaven sent...probably because of the garlic...This dish did not get my seal of approval, but it mattered not as the others approved...and Larry just nodded in satisfaction.

The next dish, however got my thumbs fact two...the Pu Tien Century

It was battered, then deep fried to a crisp exterior, and then smothered with a black, sauce...Yum! The taste of the century egg was very mild, and the crisp exoskeleton provided the mouth with sufficient distraction that at first bite, it is hard to imagine this is century egg. Gone is the typical ammonia smell...however faint (OK, if you are already expecting century egg, you can barely detect a hint of ammonia), and the gorgeous creamy interior is very rewarding.

The third hor d'ourve was mini shrimp with seaweed.

This dish provided a smart contrast to the earlier ones. Devoid of any richness, it was mild and tender in its demeanour, and invites a second bite and another. The hint of grassiness of the seaweed counterpointed by the savoury, slightly pungent taste of the mini-shrimps were excellent.

We progressed to what Pu Tien in their menu calls the side dishes...the kai lan with beancurd skin.

Beancurd skin has a special place in my heart...well, beancurd is special to me...especially when it is lovingly hand made, bursting with flavour on the silky smoothness. And hand made beancurd skin...where a huge cauldron of bean curd is heated, and the top most surface, being exposed to cool air, hardens into a springy, elastic skin. As each layer of skin is formed, it is expertly peeled off, and laid to rest, exposing the liquid bean curd to form yet another skin. The skin is treasured for the fragrance, for the springy and elastic texture...and Pu Tien's offering was par excellence. The bean curd skin was very tasty, having absorbed braising liquid from what I would imagine to be a seafood and chicken stock. The kai lan, playing hide and seek below the bean curd skin was expertly fried. Lightly cooked, and still crunchy.

A Heng Hwa wanton soup was next

A light wanton skin protects a bit of pork, shrimp mix to form a delectable wanton. The wanton skin was very soft, and having fully absorbed the soup, was fragile, and tends to break. The soup had a slight tinge of sourness to cut the richness of the broth and the wanton. Excellent to wash the palate to get ready for the two gastronomic highlights to follow...

The deep fried pig's trotters with salt was an experience.

Imagine our excitement when 4 smallish (each the size of my fist) pork trotters were served on a platter...looking deep fried, crisp outer.

Indeed, the proper way to enjoy this delicacy is to get one's hands dirty (indeed Pu Tien provides plastic gloves)...pick up the trotter by the bone, and bite on! Each bite will reveal a very crispy, yet light skin, and as the teeth sink in...a soft, jelly, sticky layer of collagen sends its greetings before finally one tastes the fragrant, savoury meat. Wonderful does not begin to describe the dish. I love it. Siang Hee's ter kar...using a larger part of the pig is super crispy, and flavourful and have its own place in my heart, but this Pu Tien's trotters have a larger share (possibly a larger contribution to the cholestrol...hopefully not...I try and assuange myself that this is not so much fat as there are collagen under the crisp skin).

After that, it is rather difficult to top...but top it they did...with the famous Seafood Mee Sua.

Normally mee sua is bland, and super soft...often tired, and uninspiring. That is why this is common food to nourish the sick body. But this is no ordinary mee sua. This is mee sua which can make hair grow on your chest.

The mee sua is lightly braised in a superior stock slowly, allowing all the wonderful flavours and tastes to infuse within. And then it is lightly fried with fresh seafood...I found prawns, fish, oysters, squid amongst others, and topped with some crispy black seaweed. Pu Tien made its reputation on this dish (and the same dish, but done with bee hoon), and it retains the crown for the best of the best mee sua. I return the week after to sample this very same dish with bee hoon...the bee hoon they used is the thin wiry type from China. For me, the mee sua is the superior dish. The thin bee hoon was less capable to soak up the gorgeous sauce as was the mee sua. has also reviewed this restaurant...for Dr. Tay's remarks, go here.

127 Kitchener Road
Tel: 6295 6358
Operating Hours:
Lunch: 12pm - 3pm
Dinner: 6pm - 11pm

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bakerzin: local dough boy does lunch too...

with RobG and AlanT

Bakerzin started business in 1998 as Baker's Inn...and realising that his talents not only lie with baking cakes, cookies et al, Daniel Tay began experimenting with local specialities. His cheng tng is really special - chock full of premium ingredients such as gingko nuts, lotus seeds, sweet potatoes, longan, white fungus and persimmons...but supremacy comes at a cost...$6.80. For some reason, this was deleted in the new menu, and I miss it already.

But I had come for the braised pork belly served on Japanese rice.

Served in a rather large bowl, the braised pork belly was smothered in a beautiful dark sauce. A half boiled egg...cooked just so...not runny, but solid enough to remain jelly like...quivering...seasoned...lovely. The egg tasted had been seasoned and infused with some herbs and soy sauce. The pork was sufficiently was tender...almost oozing by itself. The lean part had absorbed the braising liquid, and tasted wonderful. The fat tasted...well, fat. Smooth, bursting, flavourful. This was Dr. Mycroft's favourite dishes, and indeed one of mine too.

The Japanese rice, untraditional as it may seem for this dish...a Peranakan favourite...worked very well...providing a starchy fragrance. Very nice.

I also had a Bailey's Cream Souffle. The souffle is made on order and needs some 15 mins to prepare.

It came, light as air (indeed it was mostly air, but the trick to a good souffle is how the chef manipulates the ingredients to provide the required air to lift the pastry, but not too much that it becomes a bowl of air. The Bakerzin example was excellent. Light, moist, nice sweetness. Pour the Bailey's Cream over it, and enjoy.

Millenia Walk
9 Raffles Boulevard
#01-23/24/25 Millenia Walk
Singapore 039596
Tel: +65 6837 2422
Operating Hours:
Sun to Thur: 10:30 am - 10 pm
Fri, Sat & Eve of Public Holiday:
10:30 am - 11 pm

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Breakfast at Antonio's: Tagaytay, Philippines

by Guest Blogger RobG and photos by TessG on their visit to Tagaytay
Thanks Rob & Tess.

Antonio's recently came to international fame when it was listed as one of the the Miele Guide as one of the Top 10 Restaurants in Asia.

Antonio's turns out is an extension of owner/chef's Antonio Montilla's country home in Tagaytay, a rural province known for its cool climate due to higher altitude, more or less an hour or so away from Manila.

Its pretty much what one would call the local version of French Laundry in terms of similarity to the farm-to-restaurant format. The Owner and Chef - Antonio was once a flight attendant for PAL who turned his knack of entertaining guests and interest in culinary arts into his chosen calling.

The interior of the place can be called pseudo Spaniard with Philippine touch.

Place seated 60 before but has now expanded quite a bit while still retaining cozy ambiance. Meals are served like fine dining restaurants with waiters clad in all white and well versed in serving with professional flourish usually reserved for high end hotels. They have two settings. 7am to 4pm daily is their breakfast/lunch setting which is what we had. 7pm onwards till 11pm is their finer dining setting which allows only reservations and no walk-in patrons. The cool air, the rustic interior plus the fantastic cuisine all combine to make dining at Antonio's a trip to remember, resulting in gustatory and sensory overload.

Mesclun salad = glazed walnuts, dried currants, dried cranberries, blu d' avergne crumble, dark raspberry vinaigrette. Can't identify what veggies were used but all are certified organic as supposed to be from his own garden in the back...

Quattro Formaggi is one's usual omelette, in this case though there only a touch of of salt as aftertaste. The wheat bread accompanying the omelette was toasted just right with the 4 cheeses, gruyere/blue/cheddar/mozzarella in just right with the organic eggs used. The eggs' flavor or lack thereof all come together with the 4 cheeses to give it a distinctly healthy aroma. I have to add that the wheat bread was toasted to perfection giving it just the right snap when teeth sank into it...

The rancher's egg was pretty much just a tossup of something resembling a tomato based puree of goat cheese, olives with an over-easy scrambled egg left on top.

The House Burger came with potato chips which curiously was supposed to be eaten with this mayonnaise and jelly. Meat was cooked medium well, easily around 12 oz of lean meat. Not juicy at all but due to good cooking, meat still came out tender.

Antonio's Restaurant, Tagaytay
Bgy. Neogan
Tagaytay City, Cavite
(0918) 899-2866

Photonotes: All photos by TessG with Panasonic Lumix DMS LX1.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pepper Crabs: Eng Seng...still good after all these years...

with office colleagues

ieat has written a few blogs about Eng have many other bloggers, word of mouth-smiths, and reviews.

The queues used to be long...and as suggested by ieat, you needed to call up to make sure they have crabs. But we decided to play it cool...and only sent an advance party to chop seats at 6pm...the rest of the crew of 8 arrived variously from 7 to 7:30. Perhaps its due to the poor economic situation, but there were no long queues, plenty of crabs. Ah Hoon - the owner, whom some described as a Crab Nazi, was taciturn as usual...but did her walk around and even joked with one table.

We started with the deep fried, stuffed yutiao, and mee goreng.

The noodles were thick, yellow kee noodles. Fried Malay style with a bit of gravy soaked into the mee...and with vegetables, diced tomato and was rather tasty. Unlike those served by mamak stores around the island, this mee goreng was not tainted with red coloring, and the noodles retained the kee yellow colour characteristic of Mee Goreng in Malaysia. But my favourite Penang Mee Goreng store will add tofu, deep fried tofu crisps, and even deep fried prawn fritters. In the Penang version, the cook would ladle a spoonful of mee rebus kuah into the fry, and allow infusion till the noodles have a wet texture, but with no gravy.

We also ordered the Joo Her Eng Chye...cuttlefish with kangkong, sesami seeds in a sweet spicy sauce...another very popular Penang for me, this demands a comparison...

The style is similar to a favourite store of mine in Gurney Drive. The cuttlefish used was similar...the large, cuttlefish, with huge tentacles. But the Gurney Drive version was fresh, sweet, and the texture firm. The Eng Seng version had good texture, but was bland tasting...The sauce which was pungent and spicy, was a bit watered down. The kangkong was a bit on the old side in Eng Seng's serving, but still edible.

Then a first serving of 2 Chilli Crabs:

This was very good. We asked for mantou, but for some reason, Eng Seng does not serve mantou but offered about half a loaf of regular sliced bread.

The gravy was very good, but I feel, loses out to the wonderful gravy dished out by No SignBoard and Jumbo. Both were more intense, and flavour-full than the Eng Seng.

We had a small interlude from crabs, and had a beautifully cooked plate of sweet sour pork ribs:

The sweet and sour sauce was beautiful...a masterful mix of sweet and sour. The meat was succulent and juicy. Nice dish!

But the piece de resistance is the pepper crab.

For the 8 diners, we ordered 8 pepper crabs. Smothered in the gorgeous black pepper sauce, this was the dish which puts Eng Seng up there with the stars when it comes to pepper crabs.

The crabs were fresh...of course, they were live about 10 mins before being served...and the black pepper brought out the fat, juicy, creamy meat much more than the similar crabs which were served with the chilli sauce. The pepper sauce was wonderful. And the way the sauce infused itself into the crab meat is amazing. The stuff of legends.

Eng Seng had cracked the crab shells at all the strategic places, that a nutcracker was not needed. AF even ate her share of crabs without using her fingers...and managed to attack all the savoury meat with just her chopsticks. Kudos to her style. The rest of us, of course got our fingers involved in the eating process...I thought it makes eating more fun with the fingers...and the ability to lick the remnants of the wonderful sauce off the fingers was a special treat.

We discussed having durians (Four Seasons was just across the road), and ice cream for dessert, but when we finished, we had no room left.

Eng Seng Seafood
247/249 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: 6440 5560
Open evenings only (4:30pm till they sell out...about 9pm.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pasta, truffles, and cheese: Da Mario Pizzeria

with Prof Horolographer and Dr. Mycroft. Recommended by Prof Massi

Massi was quite excited about this little Italian place, "you gotta try this", he exclaimed."Its special!". Massi does not mess with words like this, especially when speaking about his homeland food...and being Italian and Florentine, he was particularly proud of his heritage and Italian cooking.

So what's so special? Well, its pasta...spagetti to be specific. Tossed and mixed inside a block of cheese...grana padano to be specific. Then drizzled with truffle oil, and generously toppped with shaved black truffles. Can we get more special?

Grana padano is an Italian cheese, very similar to Parmigiano. Indeed the method of making Grana is similar to Parmigiano. Generally considered to be similar in tastes, the Grana is generally less complex and less pungent of the two. Grana is produced under the strict control, though the region is rather large...unlike Parmigiano which can only be produced in Parma and Regiano.

Chef Mario told us that Parmigiano is usually eaten with bread and seldom for cooking, and that Grana is the most popular cheese in Italy.

Mario begins by scraping the cheese with a special knife - the cotello per Parmigiano, which is also used for scraping Parmigiano cheese. With the Grana Padano, this produces a grainy like cheese...the Italian word for grain is implied by the name, the cheese is grains of rice when scrapped.

When sufficient cheese is made, a portion of spagetti is cooked quickly in a pot of salted water...I noticed Mario used freshly made spagetti...which was shrink wrapped...looks like local mee.

Some hot water is added to the cheese, and the noodles are dumped inside the cheese wheel. More vigrous mixing by the Chef.

And then scooped into a serving plate. Truffle oil is added. Out comes a box of gorgeous frozen black truffles. Even before cutting the truffles, the fragrance floats into the room...aromatic and pungent...a wonderful fragrance!

Quickly shave bits of truffle on the pasta...

and VIOLA! pasta is served:

The pasta tasted wonderful. The spagetti itself was rather soft, not al dente, but soft like well cooked local mee. The cheese was powerful, semi-melted, it had a strong salt base. The truffles dominate in the nose of the dish...I liked it quite a lot. We had two large servings ($24 each), and were quite satisfied.

We also sampled some of Chef Mario's particular, the two which stood out were prepared in his own kitchens.

The ubiquitious tiramisu

The tiramisu is home made...very nice. Rich, creamy, with a hint of coffee and liquour.

Interesting restaurant...small, cozy place...Affable chef, who seems talented, sincere and honest. Will be re-visiting.

Da Mario
60 Robertson Quay
01-05/06 The Quayside
Singapore 232252
Tel: 62357623
Closed Mondays
Tue - Sun Lunch 11:30am to 3pm, Dinner 6pm to 10:30pm

Photonotes: All pics shot with Lumix LX3 at ISO 200, f/2. in camera AWB. Except for Tiramisu, shot by Mycroft with Nikon D700 with 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 at 105mm, f/4.5 at ISO3200. Exposure 1/30s. WB rebalanced with PS.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Weasel Coffee: Second roast

My first try at roasting and brewing espresso from the Weasel Coffee I bought from Vietnam was a mini-disaster. I could not estimate the roast profile, and the coffee over-roasted. The report is here.

My second try was far better.

The peaberry beans are rather larger than regular beans. Measuring about 4 to 5mm in length, and rather fat, round diameter.

The extraction, shown here in video is classic text book. Movie is 9MB.

The first 9seconds is the pre-infusion stage, where the handle of the Casa a Leva is down, allowing hot water at low pressure to pre-infuse and wet the grounds in the porta-filter. From about 9s to 16s, I executed 3 Felini moves, where the lever is raised a little, and lowered before the pressure forces espresso to appear. This technique is seen in the Felini movie well discussed in lever machine fora. The hot, pressured water takes from about 16s to 19s to appear as droplets of espresso, and from 19s to about 25s is the first pour, the lever rising 25s, the lever is lowered again before it reaches the end of its travel to start the double shot....about 4s the water to rushes into the machine, and the lever is released at about 29s. The second shot pours from 27s till about 50s. Total pour is about 28s.

Note the pour is heavy, high viscousity, slow pour, characteristic of a good pour.

The resultant espresso doppio:

The creama is thick, good colour. The taste was lingering...good mouth feel, with a sharp tinge of acidity impinging on a base balanced with thick, liqourice like body. Rather delicious. Nice fragrance. Very long finish.