Saturday, August 29, 2009

Por Kee: cze char or restaurant?

with family

Por Kee is situated right in the old heartland of Tiong Bahru, right next to the famed Tiong Bahru market. In business since 1996, this eatery is like a souped up cze char place...where the food is cze char style, but you get to dine in air conditioned comfort.

The appetizer (shall I refrain from caling it amuse bouche...ha ha) is a very traditional Malay/Peranakan appetizer - the achar.

Home made chilli sauce and achar:

The appetizer (shall I refrain from caling it amuse bouche...ha ha) is a very traditional Malay/Peranakan appetizer - the achar. Achar is the Malay style of pickling vegetables. Seasoned with vinegar, salt, sugar, and left to pickle, then crushed peanuts are added. The Por Kee version is light on the peanuts, but it was good. Even my mom approved the achar. The chilli looked like it was made inhouse, and it packs some power.

Cereal prawns are a mainstay of cze char stalls:

But this was slightly different. Mixed into the cereal was the yolks of salted duck eggs. This added some level of saltiness to the coating, but also packs a rich, savoury punch. The prawns were very fresh, the shells came off easily, and the meat was sweet, succulent and crunchy. A whiff of the sea was found with the prawns, indicating excellent freshness.

Roast chicken was also a standard offering:

This chicken was very good. The skin was light, not oily, but very crispy, and tasty. The meat within was very tender, succulent, juicy, and delicious. Certainly one of the best roast chickens I have eaten. Cafe de Hong Kong also serves a wonderful roast chicken, but Francis adds some nam yue sauce to the chicken before their boiling oil bath. The Por Kee version is unadulterated. BTW, calling this roast chicken is a misnomer...typically the chickens are brined, dried by hanging. The chef then holds the chicken up with one hand while the other scoops ladels of boiling oil over the bird. This allows the hot oil to crisp the chicken, but at the same time prevent overcooking of the meat, and also prevents the chicken from being too oily.

House Special Tofu:

Regular readers of this blog will know I have a soft spot for home made tofu, done well. Here is a classic example. The tofu was fragrant. The "skin" of the tofu was rendered by deep frying and made slightly crisp, but the sauce smothers it, and makes it kind of springy...a bit tougher than the insides to hold the shape, but by no means tough...bite into each piece, the skin gives way to the teeth, and allows the fragrant, smooth interior to spill into your mouth.

Champagne pork ribs

A typical dish in cze char is coffee pork ribs, or mongolian pork ribs, or even butter pork ribs. But this is the first time I have seen champagne pork ribs. I don't know if they really use champagne (or sparkling wine) or what providence and vintage...but the pork was very tender, very succulent, and had a faint champagne bite. Very nice. The meat was a little on the fat side, and perhaps might be better if the chef had chosen a leaner cut, but maintaining the tenderness. Innovative and shiok dish.

The vegetables recommended by the friendly, knowledgable waitress recommended their 4 vegetables dish:

The vegetables were good. Fresh, and expertly cooked so that it is not overdone. The vegetables retained a fresh crunch. The mushroom was fragrant, and the bean curd bits were a bit salty, but complements the dish well.

This is fine souped up cze char store. The prices are very reasonable cze char levels. The cooking is excellent. The ambience is better than most cze chars...airconditioned, nice tables, with table cloth, waitresses who know what they are doing. Recommended!

69 Seng Poh Lane
Tel: 6221 0582
Daily: 11.30am - 2.30pm, 5.30pm - 12.30am

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pizza: fast food or artisanal?

with family

Is fast food pizza possible? Of course the method of baking a pizza is the very concept of fast food...but typically a fast food joint will also have demands on budget and often lack the guidance of a master chef.

Hence, I never eat at Pizza Hut, or Canadian Pizza, or Rocky's Pizza...too many wasted calories. Spizza is a little different. As one enters each restaurant (there are at least 3 branches), one can spy with one's eye, the presence of a wood fired oven (the al forno, as the Italians would say). This wood fired oven is almost a guarantee that good pizza is to be served...first because these ovens are expensive to build, and presumably maintain...and if the owners go to such lengths to get these made, they are serious about their pizzas, and this generally mean the food will be good.

Spizza does not disappoint. The names of the dishes are in non-descriptive Italian names, but here it goes.

We started with my favourite Italian anti-pasti...Parma Ham wrapped around slices of rock melon.

Parma ham is quite a special kind of ham. Known as Proscuitto de Parma in Italy, this ham has received terrior and methodology protection from PDO by the EU. Paired with a sweet, succulent slice of rock melon, this can be one version of heaven. The Spizza version has the ham a bit on the dry and tough side...but very flavourful. My mom even remarked that she found the flavour very nice. The rock melon was sweet, and succulent...and as intended the combination was excellent. The halfed cherry tomatoes provided an astringent touch to cut the richness and sweetness of the combi.

Next the pizza...the Barbera...

The pizza is true traditional Italian style...thin crusted, with flour generously sprinkled. and Cooked to a crisp...but with parts of the insides slightly chewy, and parts crispy like a biscuit. The dough was excellent. The toppings were tomato, mozzarella, hot Italian minced pork, shallots and olives. Not exactly masterful, but nice.

We also had the Sophia:

This was a seafood pizza with the following toppings: tomato, mozzarella, shrimps, mussels, scallops, calamari, fresh Basil. The seafood was fresh, and nicely done.

We also had a plate of lasagna

Older Singaporeans may remember a small Italian eatery run by Humphrey Thio called Milano's at Orchard Point and Lucky Plaza. This establishment used to served the best pizza in Singapore (the Milano Special with a raw egg cracked on the pizza topping after baking), and the best lasagna. Perhaps I was young and my palate too under-developed in those days, but the shiok memories remain.

The Spizza lasagna revokes some of these memories. But albeit, less beef, more tomato and what looks like more oil. The taste was very nice indeed, and worthy of the calories.

Still hungry, we added a serving of Ravioli:

Little dumplings, about 1.5"square, these were filled with ricotta cheese and spinach. And served with a tomato sauce. The sauce was quite superb, nice amount of sour-ness and tang, balanced with the body of the tomatos. They could have been more generous with the cheese and spinach stuffing, but it is good enough to tantalize.

Overall, a nice family restaurant for quite genuine Italian food. Excellent service. Nice environs. I must say the food is quite good, but not inspired or exceptional. Worthy a visit.

Spizza (Bukit Timah)
271 Bukit Timah Road,
#01-09, Balmoral Plaza
Singapore 259708
Tel : 6333 8148
Fax : 6235 0363
Lunch: 12 noon - 3:00 pm
Dinner: 6:00 pm - 11:00 pm

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Search for Ramen 6: Aoba at ION

with Larry, Prof. Horolographer, SJX

Aoba is a Hokkaido ramen-ya with some repute. In fact, it is Asahikawa's oldest ramen-ya. The characteristic of Aoba is seafood based broth, and freshly made ramen. No tonkotsu stock here.

The Aoba store in Singapore is tucked in the basement of the spanking new ION shopping mall...the shop practices a no-reservations policy, so we trotted downstairs, after having a look see at L'Atelier by The Hour Glass...

The decor was typical Japanese, with menu items written on wooden slats all over the shop. Seating was kind of nice, with booths, and tables. Unlike a typical ramen-ya in Japan, no counter seating was offered here.

We ordered the special Zuwei Kani (snow crab soup) Ramen:

On offer at S$16.80 per bowl, and comprising of seafood broth, egg and no less than 3 legs of Hokkaido snow crab, it looked excellent value for money.

The bowl looks very impressive as it was served. The first slurp of the broth revealed that this was indeed seafood stock, and a bit salty. I was expecting to be assualted by the crustacean flavours, but was instead confronted with a mild seafood flavour. The crab legs were a bit difficult to eat - messy having to deal with shell, albeit shell which has been cut open, so as to facilitate sliding out of the meat. As I tasted the crab, it was apparent that the crab is deep frozen, and not the air-flown chilled variety. As a result, the crab tasted bland, and the meat was not succulent but rather tired and flaky.

The noodles were thick Hokkaido style, freshly made, and tasted quite nice.

We also ordered some fried chicken:

The fried chicken was rather ordinary. Nothing special to note.

The crocquet was also rather pedestrian:

Overall, perhaps because of the hype built by the fact that this was a branch of one of the most famous Hokkaido ramen-ya, and the oldest, the ramen I sampled that afternoon was lack lustre...quite ordinary. And the promise of sweet, succulent crab legs were sorely let down by frozen crabs.

As we left, a long line was forming outside the shop...wonder if they know what they are in for?

Aoba Ramen
2 Orchard Turn
#B3-25 ION Orchard
Tel: 6509 9394
Daily: 11am-3pm, 5pm-10pm

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bangkok Jam: funky Thai diner in Singapore

with family

We have been eating at this funky little diner in Great World City for a while...every revisit is a pleasure. The food is more Thai than fusion, the service by the resident Filipino waiters and waitresses are excellent - polite, knowledgable, and cheerful.

Tod Man Pla is a staple appetizer in Thailand.

Fish, minced, mixed with flour, chilli, spring onions. Then deep fried and eaten with a spicy, sweet chilli sauce with crushed toasted peanuts and cucumber. The golden brown perfection of the deep fried fish cake is supreme testimony that the chef knows what she is doing...pushing envelope of the cooking, so the outer is a bit crispy, fragrant, and the inside is succulent and tender. Tasty too.

Their Yam som-o is also very good:

The salad, a favourite in Thailand, is made with pomelo, prawns, chilli, and toasted peanuts tossed in a special sweet, sour, spicy dressing. The prawn were cut in small bite sized chunks, and were very fresh. Eaten on its own it is very delicious.

We also sampled their green curry with chicken:

The Thai green curry is classically a sweet curry. And this was no exception. The chicken was very nicely done...just so, and not overcooked as sometimes chicken in curries tend to be. The curry was sweet, thick and rich, and spicy. With some prik nam pla (cut red Thai chilli padi in fermented fish sauce) it was satisfying.

Deep fried chicken wings are also a Thai favourite

Again, the chef demonstrated virtuosity by perfectly judging the done-ness of the chicken wings for flavourful, crispy skin, and succulent, juicy interior. Excellent.

We have grown to love this restaurant for the good food, and funky surroundings (Jazz music, artsy pictures adorning the walls), and the good service. A permanent fixture on our dining agenda.

Bangkok Jam
1 Kim Seng Promenade
#02-26 Great World City
Tel: 6732 4523
Mon-Fri: 12noon - 3pm, 6pm - 10pm
Sat & Sun: 12noon - 10pm

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Iggy's: Best Restaurant in Asia?

with Kin and Ainie

Years ago, when Les Amis first started with Justin Quek at the helm, and Ignatius Chan as the Sommelier, I used to drop by for lunch every once in a while, especially when entertaining. The Set Lunch sampler was S$42++ and I considered it to be very good value for the quality of service and cooking. Les Amis was the epitome of fine dining in Singapore, and from thence sprung many establishments of merit.

Justin is a truly gifted chef, and I always enjoyed his cooking. For a while, when he was still at the helm Les Amis, he would sometimes turn up at the Les Amis cafetaria at the Botanic Gardens, and even a simple poached egg, or char kway teow would taste sublime when the master was in the kitchen. But he has set up shop somewhere in Taiwan (and a recent outlet in IFC Hong Kong).

Ignatius went on to set up Iggy's - a fine dining establishment...which recently won the Miele Guide's Asia Best Restaurant. This is no small accolade, in clenching the top position, Iggy's beat Atelier Joel Robuchon (HKG) who currently holds two Michelin stars.

So it was with great anticipation as we stepped into the vaunted establishment...I had made reservations two weeks earlier. The restaurant was rather small...from the discrete entrance, turn right, and you arrive at a bar counter. Turn left and one looks directly into the wine cellar, and the dining set up with one large table for perhaps 8, and 3 smaller tables for 2/3 persons each. The tables were set nicely apart, so as to afford some privacy. Bravo for not attempting to be like some Parisian restaurants, where the waiter has to pull the table to seat the guest, and eavesdropping on your neighbour's table is an art to be practiced.

A Chef's Table is also available, and seats perhaps 8. However, this seems to be set in a dry kitchen, not where the cooking action is. I had eaten at some chef's tables, notably One Market in San Francisco, where we sat right in the thick of the heavy cooking...albeit separated by a glass wall.

The Amuse Bouche was an interesting tomato dish...can you tell?

Almost like molecular gastronomy, the right was a cup of white frothy tomato juice. It looked nothing like tomato, but it smelled right, and tasted like a tomato concentrate...served quite cold. Very nice. On the left is a whole cherry tomato in a very light tempura crust. Very interesting. The crispy yet light texture of the tempura contrasted nicely with the cooked soft tomato, which burst into the palate with the first bite.

The Lunch menu was offered with either 2 appetizers plus main or 3 appetizer plus main. We elected to do the smaller of the two. For $55++, I think it extraordinary value for money, remembering that Les Amis used to charge $42++ in 1994. The menus change periodically.

Amongst us, we actually had 6 different appetizers. Here are 4 of them:

The mozzarella salad:

Fresh Burrata mozzarella, vine-ripen tomatoes, basil, aged balsamico and extra virgin olive oil. Excellent, and light fresh. The mozzarella was very soft, tasty, and provided the richness to the veg.

The French Onion soup:

We found the soup to be a little too rich...almost sauce like...not too different from what is typically served in France, thick, rich, salty. But for our delicate palates...perhaps a bit too salty and sauce-like. If there was any disappointment, this was the only one. The croutons were covered in cheese and very crisp.

Kurobuta pork ragout:

This dish was supreme. The kurobuta pork cheeks were truly melt in your mouth, and cooked in the pappardelle sauce and mushrooms. The pork complements the sauce, the mushrooms supports the pork. Outstanding. No one ingredient stands out, and the whole is superb.

Seared tuna:

What seemed like several slices of very good sashimi grade tuna, seared slightly on the outside, but rare on the inside, and dressed in a soy based sauce. The taste reminded me of a Japanese interpretation, and the tuna was truly very good.

For mains, I had the confit du canard:

I have written quite a bit about confit du canard. Please see earlier entry for information on how it is cooked, my gold standard, and how some local outlets compare. See also my entry for Lolo Dad's in Manila for the Filipino take on this classical French dish.

As adviced by the waiter, the skin was only slightly crispy. And the meat a bit less salty than usual. I would have preferred a more crispy, more Maillarded skin. But found it to be quite enjoyable.

The meat was tender, soft, and tasty. There was little gamey flavour, and the chef was wise to have held back on the salt. In comparison, perhaps memory plays interesting tricks, the confit du canard was very similar to my Singapore gold standard set by Sebastian's, perhaps a tad saltier, and ta tad less crispy.

Ainie had the Iggy's burger with wagyu and white truffle sebayon. I somehow blotched the sharp pics. But this was a mini-burger, about 2 inch thick, 2 inch diameter. I had a small cut to taste, and it was excellent. The wagyu patty was very nicely done (medium), slightly crisp on the outside, nice, moist and almost rare at the core and smothered with the thick, almost solid sebayon sauce. Very nice.

Kin had the lamb:

Presented almost rare, the lamb loin was excellent, testament to the quality of the cut, and the care taken in the cooking. Very tender, Kin found the meat to be slightly gamey, but I found it perfect.

Desserts are always a welcome treat in the great restaurants. Iggy's did not disappoint.

The Souffle was wonderful:

The dough had risen significantly, and presented itself as superbly light. The souffle was served with a glass of frothy, iced pina colada and ice cream. Very nice.

An interestingly named Chocholate

A slab of very rich chocolate, with accompanying mascarpone ice cream with lime zest, and a wall of caramalized sugar. The chocolate was very rich, heavy tasting. Almost too rich for me, but would be perfect for chocholate lovers.

I had the French Toast

A small square of French Toast...done to perfection...bread, coated with a milk, egg mixture, deep fried to a crisp. Served with a chocolate cylinder and home made maple ice cream. This dish was quite heavenly.

Overall, this is a superb restaurant. Service was excellent, discrete, knowledgeable. The Assistant Manager Pawan was a gem. So is this Asia's No 1? Well, this is an impossible question to answer. Iggy's certainly one of the best, and I am certainly going to count on eating and recommending it more often.

The Regent Singapore
Level 3
1 Cuscaden Road
Tel: +65 6732 2234 (Restaurant)
Tel: +65 6732 5693 (Office)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Black or White?

Regular readers of this blog will realise that I have made some changes to the template.

The background is now white instead of black. And the text is now made larger. I am quite pleased with the new layout. But would like your feedback. Which do you prefer? Please tell me.

No food pics...but perhaps a pic of a dream watch...the Lange Pour le Merite Tourbillon. Owned by a friend.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Trilla in Manila 2: Lolo Dad's Cafe

with the G family

I first began coming to Manila for regular business trips since the early 1990s. I used to dread the trips as for some reason I could not manage to understand and appreciate the food. The meats - pork, chicken, beef, and buffalo were very gamy. I had great trouble with balut, and various other exotic cuisine.

But recently, as late as 3 years ago, the Makati, Serendra and Rockwell area has developed into a dining havens. Greenbelt offer cuisine at international levels. I ate at Felix at Greenbelt 5, and it was a sublime experience. I have eaten at Abe and Mamou at Serendra with spectacular cooking. My good friends RobG and Ted have both recommended Antonio's at Tagtaytay, which I have yet to visit. But this trip, I made a sojourn to Manila City (a pigeon flight path measuring no more than 4km)...a journey which took about an hour from the Glorietta area in Makati.

Lolo Dad's...Lolo in Tagalog means a term of endearment by the eldest grandchild - Michelle Ayuyao. The building it is housed in used to be the residence of the father of the current owner and head chef. Set inside a tranquil garden, amidst the very busy Manila City, as one enters the compound, a sense of peace prevails.

The place is rather small...seating perhaps no more than 8 to 10 tables. But prominently displayed is a large display kitchen occupying place of pride.

The menu is a continental fusion mix...offering very interesting choices. The choice of ingredients used was excellent, all very high grade, best of class. We had the appetizer sampler, comprising of two plates of every appetizer offered:

Clockwise from top right, Seared Duck Foie Gras with cranberry compote, highland greens and black vinegar reduction, Dungeness crab salad and soft shelled crab Parmigiana, grilled prawns, Romaine Ceasar salad with Salmon Gravlax and crispy Pancetta and a six minute boiled egg.

Delectable! Some highlights...

The pan fried foie gras was excellent. The piece served was reasonably large, perfectly pan fried to a golden brown crispy exterior...and inside soft, almost liquid liver...fat and wonderful. The foie gras was smooth, and had no veins.

Appetizer plate 2:

Again from top right, clockwise: Gratinated red onion soup with Gruyere cheese gratinee, Goose Liver Terrine, Mesclun salad with grilled lobster tail, Lightly seared Tuna Loin with grilled watermelon and artichoke salad.

The foie gras terrine was again magnificent...smooth, rich, creamy. The lobster tail was also outstanding.

Very nicely grilled, just so...the meat was sweet, tender and very delicious.

Very fresh tuna, possibly sashimi grade is lightly seared, accompanied by Parmigiano cheese. Very nice.

We also ordered a serving of oysters:

Alernating: baked oysters with foie gras on angelhair pasta and garlic and herb gratinated oysters with Parmigiano Regiano cheese.

A sorbet was served mid-course to cleanse the palate

A home made raspberry sorbet was served on the reversed cover of a chinese tea pot. Inside the tea pot was probably a piece of dry ice, making a trail of mist (of CO2). The sorbet was very nice, provided the acidity to cleanse the palate before the assault of the main courses.

I had the confit du canard:

The plating presentation was excellent. A leg of duck, crisp, succulent was presented on a bed of figs, roasted potatoes, and spears of asparagus. The skin was very nice and crispy. The duck meat was a bit on the salty side, and falls short of the best I have tasted. The duck was a bit lean, and the muscular fibres were slightly tough.

The fish was also plated very interestingly:

The pan fried Chilean sea bass was done with a Dungeness crab crust and served with a sauce of potato puree and tomato cream. The bass was very nice and succulent. The meat was firm, indicating freshness. The sauce tasted like a lobster bisque, perhaps the infusion of the Dungeness crab crust had imbued it with this flavour.

The Roasted beef tenderloin was served with a veal cheek ragout

The beef was excellent. The meat was lean, but it was very tender...almost tender enough to cut with a fork. And the taste of the beef was very good. The ragout provided a nice support to hold up the flavours, not only complementing but also enhancing.

Finally, the piece de resistance...the Herb de Provence encrusted rack of lamb, served on a Roquefort cheese risotto:

The lamb was so good, we had two servings. The meat was tender, nicely done medium rare. And all the gorgeous flavours of a lamb was present. Juicy, meltingly tender (yes I said that, but it could stand emphasis), wonderful. The risotto was sublime. The Roquefort cheese provided a strong flavour to anchor the risotto which was cooked to perfection. This was excellent. The risotto is worthy a dish on its own, perhaps accompanied by some truffles. But it was also a brilliant idea to serve it with the lamb.

Truly a specatacular meal. Other than the Confit du Canard, every other dish is excellent.

Lolo Dad's Cafe
President Quirino Avenue
Manila City, National Capital Region, Philippines
Telephone: +632 524 2295
GPS: N14.572369348822628, E120.99234580993652

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