Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Durian Season Part 2: Pekan Nanas, Johor

with the Durianistas from my office

Last year, we made a road trip to Kampung Teratai to sample the delights of fresh durians. This year, we decided to do the trip again...but decided on Pekan Nanas which is much nearer...only about 50 mins drive from Johor Bahru.

The durians featured here are not the "branded" styles, but coss grafted, mixed, and kind of mogrel type...what is known as durian kampung (village durians).

The durians were mainly thin flesh, huge seeds. But most of the fruits we had were bitter sweet. None of them were exceptional, but all were very good.

GPS Location:
N 1°34'2.82"
E 103°28'25.32"

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Search for ramen 5: Marutama

various visits

Marutama is the first, and possibly the only ramen shop in Singapore which serves Kyushu type thin ramen in a chicken stock. Judging from the queues outside the Central outlet...though their Liang Court outlet is usually less busy, this must be a popular place, and by inference, serves delicious food. Indeed they do.

They also offer a possibly healthier alternative to pork bone soup.

Their spicy Aji ramen, is built on their chicken stock, with additional ingredients:

The soup was tasty. Earlier reports by other bloggers and my own tasting had the soup as salty and heavy on MSG...but no more. June 09 found the soup to be tasty, had a chicken flavour, but not very salty...perhaps the right amount of salt, and we didn't go thirsty due to MSG "poisoning".

The noodles were wiry, Kyushu style thin ramen, a bit reminiscent of Hong Kong's wanton mee. And went well with the soup. Interestingly, a slice of lemon perched on the lip of the bowl, and the soup was served with minced fresh seaweed.

The bowl came with 3 pork balls...roughly chopped with chives, and filler ingredients. The pork ball is wonderful texture...I suspect they use some chicken cartilage for the bite and crunch. We also ordered it a la carte.

The accompany sauce/soup/stock to the porkballs were different to the soup for the ramen. I think this is pork stock, and was rather tasty.

We also had chicken ramen, with an additional topping of chasu.

Same chicken stock, same noodles. The chasu was rather well done...nice juicy, not too fat.

And a serving of spicy chicken ramen with an additional topping of stewed pork belly.

The pork belly was very well done...stewed slowly...the belly was rendered like jelly...soft, tender...had the requisite amount of fat for a powerpack flavour.

Overall, I would rate Marutama as one of the best ramens in Singapore, but second to Santouka's pork cheek ramen which to me is the ne plus ultra, and slightly below Tampopo's kurobuta shabu shabu ramen, but rank on par with Shinya Menkan's Shinjiro.

Read about the other search for ramen here.

Marutama Ramen
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-90/91 The Central @ Clarke Quay
Tel: 6534 8090
Daily: 11.30am - 10pm

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Durian Season Part 1: Singapore

with ieat group

A surprise to me was that my Kampung Teratai durian report has been getting a lot of hits...probably due to the durian season again...so here is a quick followup of two separate and recent sessions.

The first was consumed on June 12 at Ah Loon & Ah Teck in Singapore...this featured "branded" durians...Red Prawn, D13, Black Pearl and Golden Phoenix. And the second, featured what is known as kampung durian...mongrels of sorts.

First, the Singapore session.

Ah Loon explaining the intricacies of the durian...a short tutorial on what to look for with each cultivar.

We started with Red Prawn, or Ang Heh in Hokkien. As I understand it, this particular cultivar was originally developed in Penang, and indeed the Penang versions are touted to be better. The one we sampled was the Johor Red Prawn.

The texture was very fine. It did not have a red glow as the RP we had in Kampung Teratai last year, but this tasted sweet, fine pulp. Creamy almost to a fault.

Next D13

The D13 was somewhat stronger in fragrance and taste...more intense. There was a slight winey tinge on the tongue. But the flesh was smooth, creamy, and sweet.

We then were served the Black Pearl

The thin waxy coating over the super creamy flesh was indication of freshness. Under the yellow waxy coating, a tinge of black can be observed. The pulp was very smooth, fibre-less, creamy, and sweet with a tinge of bitterness. The seeds were super small, but not shrivelled vestigal seeds, but was presented like a small round marble...um, pearl.

By this time, we were almost full...we had 3 durians per cultivar for each table of 5 adults.

But the Golden Phoenix was not to disappoint..

My tasting notes show that the flesh was bitter sweet, very smooth, fiberless, creamy. The seeds were vestigal...very small. Even though the fruit was not large, it yielded a lot of pulp, and tasted wonderful.

Next, our drive to Pekan Nanas, Johor for another durian degustation.

Ah Loon and Ah Teck.
231 East Coast Road (Opp Jago Close).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Carl's Jr: tasty fast food at last?

on many occassions

Burgers. Fast food, or gourmet? This is a review of fast food burgers. The candidates? McDonalds is ubiquitious - sometimes a good thing, high quality-in the ISO measuring system...meaning highly consistent, but uniformly awful tasting. Burger King is a bit better, but still quite bland, with low quality ingredients, and only passable taste. We used to have Wendy's and Hardy's but no more. I used to like Hardy's roast beef burger. Nice sandwich. But from the same roots, come Carl's Jr.

When they first hit town, huge...I mean really gigantic pictures of the burgers adorn our double deck busses plying Singapore, with the headline, "Don't lick this bus", Its gonna get messy". Cute, with a sense of humour.

We always end up eating the same thing...the Western Double

This is also outstanding for its tasty BBQ sauce on the same, flame broilled patty, and bacon crisps provide the kick. Shiok.

Wash down with either their home brewed iced lemon tea (none of the other fast food joints serve home brewed ice tea...always the horrid Nestea. KFC used to, but now also resort to the awful tasting Nestea) or Diet Coke...and its lovely.

And the Portobello mushroom is quite outstanding.

I find the patty to be juicy, and quite tasty. The melted cheese is excellent, and the extra crunchiness of the vegetables and tomato slices make the burger even more salivating. The sliced portobello mushroom in an interesting sauce tops the taste. Excellent. Way better than Burger King's. And way better than the low end gourmet stands like Botak Jones (way too dry and paper tasting patty).

Carl's Jr
Marina Square
No. 6, Raffles Boulevard,
#01-202/203 Marina Square,
Singapore 039594
Tel: (65) 6720 2720
and numerous locations islandwide

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lao Beijing: another family favourite

numerous visits spanning several years

The Tung Lok Group features quite a lot on our eating places...many of their restaurants offer excellent cooking, good quality food, at mostly reasonable prices. We love Zhao's Kitchen reviewed earlier, and also Lao Beijing. Their higher brow eateries like Tung Lok Signatures are also excellent, but more pricey.

We eat at the Novena outlet very often...these are a selection based on one Saturday lunch.


The name, literally translated as pot stickers, is unfortunate. But these delightful dumplings made of pork and perhaps a bit of prawn filling a hand rolled skin and pan fried are absolutely delicious. Lao Beijing does one of our favourite guotie. Succulent and juicy inside, smooth skin with one side almost burnt to a crisp. Eaten with some sliced ginger and vinegar, or on its own, it is wonderful.

Their shumai is also interesting

Larger than the usual pork filled dumpling, this shumai is made also with pork filling, but the skin is a wonton skin style, and topped with shredded pan fried egg. They do a very good version of Xiao Loong Pau as well...delicious soup within the dumpling, and much better than the ones at Din Tai Fung. We didn't order the XLP this time round.

An interesting vegetable dish followed...spinach in chicken moouse.

Chicken moouse is interesting...it appeared to be chicken meat, ground to a powder, and reconstituted and beaten into a moouse. Then stir fried with spinach and wolfberry. Tastewise, it is not as unusual as it looks or as the description. It tasted of well cooked, tender spinach with chicken. The gravy/soup was very tasty, and it is obvious it is made from superior stock.

Their black pepper beef is beyond reproach

Tender slices of beef - tenderloin I am given to understand is lightly pan fried with black pepper and spring onions. Simple but tasty and works!

Finally, fried rice.

This was very nice as well. Each individual grain of rice was covered with egg. Very fragrant, very well cooked, with great wok hei. Interestingly, there was no trace of grease. Shiok. The large prawns were very fresh and crunchy.

238 Thomson Road
#02-11 Velocity @ Novena Square
Tel: 6358 4466
Lunch 11.30 am - 3 pm
Hi-Tea 3 pm - 5 pm (only for Sat/Sun/PH)
Dinner 6 pm - 10 pm

Monday, June 15, 2009

Baan Khanitha: multi award restaurant in Bangkok

dining alone

I dislike dining alone in Asia...in the US, I can always go to a steakhouse, and have a nice steak...but in Asia, where the food is designed to be eaten communially, I dislike eating alone. In my travels for work, when I have to eat on my own, I usually order one dish wonders...in Bangkok this would be Phad Thai, or Phad Phet Kaprik Moo with rice, in Malaysia a Char Kway Teow, or Hokkien Mee, in Japan a Ramen or a set sushi meal.

But after 3 Phad Thais this trip, I was getting rather sick of it, so one evening, I decided to walk a short way and sample the offerings from this famous Thai restaurant...Located fairly deep into Sukhumvit Soi 23, the restaurant was housed in a beautiful bungalow. The interior was like stepping into someone's home...except tables were laid out in every room.

Amuse bouche was Miang Kana...similar to the one I sampled in an earlier trip at Krua Apsorn.

The Baan Khanitha's version had a few additional ingredients...from what I can tell, thinly sliced roasted cuttlefish (at about 9:30 o'clock in the picture)

As I was alone, I only had the opportunity to sample 2 dishes...and as each was good for 2 pax, I was rather full..

I had the sweet and sour garoupa (Pla gao sam rod):

Perhaps I did not choose wisely, this was a dish common to Chinese cuisine and I have had it several times in Thai restaurants in Singapore...fresh garoupa, deep fried to a crisp exterior, juicy insides, smothered in a sweet and sour sauce, and generously sprinkled with deep fried Thai basil. Recipe for a great dish. And indeed it was. I had some time fighting with the bones...wish the chef had de-boned it, but the fish was very fresh, and the taste was excellent.

I also tried a rather unusual dish...fish balls, stuffed with salted egg yolk in a green curry (Gaeng khiew wan lock chin pla grai kai khem):

Insert shows a fish ball cut open to show the salted egg yolk. This was a delightful dish. The green curry was rich and rather mild. The fish balls were definitely freshly made, and the salted egg yolk provided a punch and umami rush. Wonderful.

Dessert was one of my favourites...mango with sticky rice...

Would have preferred durian instead of mango, but it was not available. The Thai mangoes are not as sweet or as fine as the best Pakistani ones, but it was beguilling as it had an added tinge of sour-ness. The rice was rich, and the coconut milk gorgeous. A sprinkling of sweet crispy rice made the dessert even more enticing. Excellent dessert.

So what is my conclusion? Very tasty food, well cooked, nice environment, good service. Only complaint is that the prices are a bit steep for Bangkok. I paid about THB1400 for the above with a small glass of Singha draft beer.

Baan Khanitha Thai Cuisine
36/1 Soi Sukhumvit 23, Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok 10110
(+66)0 2258 4181, (+66)0 2258 4128
11.30 am - 2.30 pm,
6.00 pm - 11.00 pm

View Larger Map

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Zhou's Kitchen: eating at Tung Lok's own home kitchen?

with family

Zhou's Kitchen is touted to be the modelled after the Zhou family kitchen...the very kitchen of Andrew Tjoe, restauranter extraordinaire of Tung Lok. Serving home made like specialities, this is a rather newer concept in the very successful Tung Lok chain...which ranges from the high brow high dining venues like My Humble House, to more regular down to earth places like Zhou's Kitchen.

Housed in house like structure at the former beer brewery, the restaurant oozes with some charm.

The decor was quaint, and simple...rather homely.

Wasabi Prawns, a dish supposedly invented by Tung Lok's Executive Chef Sam Leong

Indeed proved to be one of the better ones around...the other being Peach Garden's wasabi prawns. The very fresh, large prawns were succulent, crunchy, and smothered with the wasabi-mayonaise paste. The wasabi had a small kick, and was not totally creamy as some tend to be.

The Hae Cho, a typical Hokkien/Teochew dish also had a home-made feel:

Rough chopped prawns and meat with chesnuts were wrapped with bean curd skin to form a tube, and deep fried. The skin proved very crispy, and the fillihg was very flavourful and rich tasting.

The house tofu, with spinach

Great tofu - smooth, creamy, fragrant...Maybe because this is one of my favourite dishes, but perhaps the base material of good tofu hass either readily available, or many of the chefs have mastered the art of making great tofu. This dish was excellent...but perhaps its my soft spot for tofu. It was fragrant, smooth, rich, creamy. The spinach provided a nice complement.

We also had pan fried beef

Slices of very tender beef was pan fried with black pepper. Very nicely done. The sauce was beguilling, and provided just the right balance of salt and savoury. The beef had some texture, but was tender enough to almost melt in mouth.

Definitely a good place for a family meal, not expensive, good service, great food.

Zhou's Kitchen
368 Alexandra Road
The Copperdome, Anchorpoint
Tel: 6473 1123
Lunch: 11.30am - 3.00pm
Dinner: 6.00pm - 10.30pm
Hi-Tea: 2.30pm - 5.30pm (Sat, Sun & PH)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Paradise Inn: Is this really the taste paradise?

on several occassions, with friends and colleagues

The Paradise Group is a chain of Chinese Restaurants which is raising and keeping the heritage of local Chinese cuisine. Many of the restaurants offer very fine food, and because of convenience, I have eaten at the Funan branch several times...proximity to hifi, computer and camera shops...:-)

This review is an amalgam of some of the highlight dishes I have sampled.

Deep fried cod:

This was a very special dish...the exterior batter created a very crispy, tasty shell, and the insides, the fish is just rightly cooked, hot, steamy and moist and delicious.

Salted egg yolk prawns

The richness of the salted egg yolk complements the fresh, succulent, crunchy prawns. Lovely. Crystal Jade Palace at Paragon does a similar version - in comparison, CJ does the smothering salted egg yolk sauce more finely...the Paradise version you can feel the texture of the sauce, in the CJ version less so. Which is better? Six of one and half a dozen of the other. I will eat either any day.

For a slightly different taste, wasabi prawns

Reputation says that Sam Leong, of Tung Lok created this dish...and indeed Tung Lok serves a wonderful version. As does the always delectable Peach Garden (I prefer the OCBC branch, but the Novena branch is good as well) does a superb version. Compared to these doyens, the Paradise Inn's version is humbled, but only slightly...and is good value for money. The wasabi was pungent, but not overly so...though for my rather extreme tastebuds, I would have opted for a heavier hand at the wasabi.

Khong Bak Pau.

Braised pork belly, served with fluffly steamed buns. Triggers umami sensors! Rich, smothering braising liquid, thick slices of fat pork. Wonderful. Compared to the benchmark standard set by the venerable Westlake Restaurant, this one compares well. Weslake would still get the nod from me, because the braising liquid is more tasty, and the pork rather fatter. But Paradise Inn's version is not to far behind, and not much to choose from.

Ohr Nee...a traditional and typical Teochew dessert of mashed yam, pumpkin and ginko nuts.

Delightfully sinfull, carefully prepared with copious amounts of lard and sugar, to counter the dry-ness and stickiness of mashed yam, and sweetened. Then mixed with mashed pumpkin. Finally add ginko nuts, and optionally first pressing of coconut milk. Gorgeous. The yam and pumpkin mix was smooth, tasty. Only improvement suggestion is a less watery syrup...but ensure the syrup is totally combined with the lard and hold the yam and pumpkin in a suspension.

109 North Bridge Road
#02-10/11 Funan Digitalife Mall
Tel: 6338 4018
Open daily: 11.30am - 9.30pm

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rakuichi: a taste of Japan in Singapore

retirement party for Larry the Great, with his friends

When Duncan sent out the confirmations for Larry's retirement dinner was going to be at Rakuichi, I got increasingly excited. I have been to the Far East branch several times, and always they have managed to impress. It was going to be interesting. Good food, great company.

The evening's meal was omakase by the Head Chef.

First off, the amuse bouche of seaweed in a spicy, sour liquid - possibly a vinegar.

apologies for grainy pic...it was rather dark in the restaurant

Next came the appetizer of broad bean, baby squid, Japanese tomato, pi tan tofu, mozuku seaweed served in vinegar and semi-grilled tuna belly

This was a delectable appetizer. It actually manages to tease the palate, after the bitingly sour amuse bouche. The Japanaese tomato was a great surprise, very sweet, firm.

Next up, fresh oyster served with ponzu sauce

This was served as individual servings in a huge ice sculpture. The presentation was certainly first rate.

Each of us got a whole, fat, succulent oyster:

Reminded me of a meal I had with some of my Japanese colleagues in Tokyo some years ago in a restaurant specializing in kaki (Japanese for oyster)...we had oysters for appetizer, soup, main course, and even oyster for dessert and the alcoholic cocktail.

Rakuichi's oysters were very fresh, almost live...and the taste of the sea, coupled with the rich, fat taste of the oyster was luxurious as it slid down my throat. Nice!

Next was a piece de resistance, the mixed Sashimi.

This was no ordinary sashimi moriawase you find at your neighbourhood sushi-ya. The presentation suggested that it was something special.

Comprising of very fresh Japanese Kyushu flounder, tuna belly, salmon, amberjack, sea urchin, ark shell and botan prawns. The sashimi was sliced quite thick, and was about as fresh as I have ever eaten outside of Japan.

Zoom in to a slice of tuna belly or toro:

As you can see, the marbling of this tuna is superb. Not quite a cut of otoro like those in Tsukiji, but it was beautiful. Fresh.

Wasabi was a whole root of the plant, served on a platter of sharkskin, partly ground.

This was the proper way to serve wasabi. And the thick root was testament that the Chef had indeed taken his time to select even the wasabi himself. Wasabi grows in cold, clear, running water in the streams of Japan. And large, thick ones are rare. The type normally found in tubes are more horseradish than true wasabi, and even then the wasabi is fertilizer fed. True clean green wasabi is organic, and is not fertilized.

Ground wasabi is extremely perishable, and should only be prepared minutes before being served for maximum taste.

Next was a very special beef. Matsusaka is a grade of wagyu not often found outside of Japan. In fact, I believe AVA does not allow the commercial import of Matsusaka into Singapore. Chef must have hand carried this himself, as AVA does allow a small amount for personal consumption to be brought in.

Matsusaka is prized for being one of the highest grades wagyus available. Finely marbled, in addition to just generously marbled, the flavour and intensity of the beef is amazing. Some slices of semi-grilled Matsusaka beef with burdock sauce. Semi-grilling is important as because of the fat content, the flavours are easily destroyed by heat, so rare is the way to eat this high grade beef.

I preferred the taste of the beef on its own, so removed the sauce and accompaniment, and enjoyed the beef a la naturale.

Next course was a deep-fried barracuda fish.

apologies again for poor quality of the picture. Somehow the white balance is off by a mile here, and I am not able to bring it back to normal with PS

Barracuda is not often finds itself in our local plates. This predator fish is often angled for game, and have a strong taste - similar to tuna. The flesh is very soft, moist, with a slightly oily mouth feel, and immediately melted in my mouth. Two fresh Japanese ginko nuts adorn the Y shaped leaf, and was rather tasty too.

Grilled kinki fish with kinome leaf sauce

Kichiji or “Kinki” fish is a rockfish that is found in Hokkaido. It is a rather rare fish, and seasonal. I would have preferred a more fleshy cut, but the fin/gill portion is considered prized because it is often fatter, though it is a bit more bony than flesh from the body. The portion was expertly grilled, just so, not the slightest bit overcooked...as overcooking a fish is the surest way to destroy its flavour. My portion was sweet, mild flavoured fish, slightly oily to the palate. Very nice.

Next up, Oven grilled abalone with bean curd skin:

Whole abalone half shells were covered with a bean curd skin, and within revealed the treasures of sliced abalones lying on a bed of Japanese straw mushrooms. I found the abalone a bit tough, and as it was cooked on its own instead of being stewed for long hours in rich chicken and seafood broth like the Chinese way of preparation, it was a bit bland. But the Chef managed to draw out the true taste of the abalone.

Next up, another surprise. Aburi sushi - very lightly blow torched tuna belly, flounder, and sea eel

I always love aburi. The light blow torch grilling and a sprinkling of sea salt and perhaps a tiniest bit of ponzu sauce bring out the flavours of fish. This was a delectable dish. Absolutely first rate. Fresh fish, done well.

I particularly loved the unagi...which was lightly grilled in the traditional terayaki style sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

And finally, souo: Asari clams served in clear soup.

By this time, we were stuffed full. The soup was clear, and clean tasting, and the clams were very fresh and succulent.

And the final palate cleanser, mixed fruits served. The grapes were very sweet, and intense in flavour. The presentation, as can be seen is superb.

For me, a very highly rated degustation of fine Japanese food in Singapore, perhaps one of the best I have experienced outside of Japan. Highly recommended.

10 Dempsey Road
#01-22 Tanglin Village (Dempsey Road)
Tel: 6474 2143
Daily: 11:30am - 2:30pm, 6pm - 10pm