Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Indonesian food in Singapore: Sundanese

with family

The House of Sundanese has been around in Singapore for a long time...I remember being introduced to it by a foodie colleague of mine way back in 1990, where the restaurant was just opened, and was located in East Coast.

I have been a fan ever since the first taste, so during the Eid/Lebaran holidays (Hari Raya Puasa), we went to indulge ourselves in some fine Indonesian cooking.

Now located just by the Fountain of Wealth in Suntec, the restaurant was modeled to look somewhat like a Sundanese home...replete with timber rafters, batik wall decoration and wood fixtures.

We started with some chicken satay:

The skewers of chicken were very tender, and had a nice marinade with a fragrance which permeates the entire meat. The charring caused by the open charcoal fire also complemented the beautiful fragrance with great flavour. Nice satay. And unlike the Malaysian/Singapore satay sauce which has crusched peanuts within, the Indonesian sauce contains peanuts, but pulverised before being made into the sauce, so providing only the flavour of the peanuts, unlike their Malaysian/Singaporean cousins where the crushed peanuts also provide a crunchy texture.

Next was rice to be eaten with various dishes...I begin with the chicken curry

The chicken was stewed in the curry (I think), for a long was so tender that it fell to bits on the slightest a nudge from a fork...and was totally imbued with the flavours of the curry sauce. I love my chicken curry to be so tender that it just falls off the bone, and flavourful...this does not disappoint.

Next we had a barbecued fish:

This is my absolute favourite. A simple dish...sea bass, barbecued over an open charcoal fire, and coated with a very special sweet black soy sauce known as kicahp manis (literally translated as sweet sauce). The sauce is basted over the fish, many coats over several hours. The sauce is only based on the generic kicap manis, as there are also secret ingredients within to provide it with more flavour which in turn allow it to bring out the natural flavours of the fish.

Masterfully grilled, the fish was perfectly done...moist, smooth flaky meat works very well with the sweet, slightly sticky, and crisply charred exterior and skin. Excellent. Shiok.

We also had some grilled squid

Squid, when grilled can very quickly turn into a rubbery mess if not watched properly. But the chef's skills were apparent. Not only was the basting sauce special, but also the master griller watched carefully over the squids, so that it was done just so. At this level of doneness...the squid was succulent, tender, with a springy bite. Again very delicious.

One of my favourite Indonesian restaurants...on par with Pagi Sore I reviewed earlier...and will remain so. The only negative about The House of Sundanese is that I feel the chef is a bit of a heavy hand with the MSG...increasing the umami/savouriness level, but also the dryness of the throat later.

The House of Sundanese
B1-063 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 63341012
Fax: 63341012

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ginza Bairin: it good?

with office colleagues

One of my friends excitedly pulled me aside in one recent wedding dinner to tell me that he found a place which serves katsu of the same quality and taste as the one I had once taken him to in Tokyo. The eatery in question in Tokyo was located at the basement of the ANA building...and is a chain store known as Katsukura. Can it be, I we went to try.

Cash only, the sign says. Order, pay, and go inside and wait for your food...a bit like Mosburger, methinks...not very promising. But the order counter looked like it could have been in Japan...though the English signs are a dead giveaway.

Inside, it was decorated like a canteen...but a tastefully done up one, I must say...and two huge, and I mean huge pictures of the owner.

Each katsu is cooked on that's promising...we waited about 5 mins for our lunch.

First up, my Katsu loin:

Looks quite nice. The pork was deep fried, crispy breaded outer layer...looked quite dry, which is a good sign...the Japanese pride themselves in non-greasy katsu.

Looks scrumptious. But the inside told a different story...the meat look sinewy and tough. And indeed on the palate it was. The muscle fibres were a bit dry and tough. I would have preferred a cut of meat which is a bit less lean, perhaps featuring a sliver of fat to imbue flavour. The breaded batter was very crispy, but a bit thick. The shredded cabbage with the Japanese walnut dressing was ok.

Kennard had the katsu curry:

The same cut of pork was used...same dry, slightly tough meat...but this time, with the sweetish Japanese curry sauce made all the difference. I tasted the sauce...I still prefer sauce with bits of meat in it like those you find at Curry Favour, but this one is smooth, homogenous, a bit starchy, but quite tasty. Goes well with the dryish pork.

Ken had the katsu don...

Also a clever the sauce and egg topping added to the moisture content, and made the pork katsu quite nice.

Overall, not a bad katsu, especially in no way in competition with Katsukura. And no way dethrones my favourite katsu in Singapore...found in Tampopo or at Tom Ton.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Taste Paradise at ION

Tour of Luxury of Independence by The Hour Glass

I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Hour Glass to celebrate with them the visit of two major independent watchmakers, both of whom, over the years have also become friends to me. Kari Voultilainen and Romain Gauthier both were present for the cocktails at L'Atelier of The Hour Glass at ION and dinner at Taste Paradise at ION.

Kari and Romain are both talented watchmakers who prefer to work on their own, crafting wonderful timepieces with their own names, in very limited quantities instead of working for one of the major watch making houses. Both make very exclusive timepieces with an extremely high value addition, either with high level of finish and additional complication on old movements or creating totally new base movements. My friend Prof. Horolographer covers both these watchmakers and their work here as Part 1, 2, and 3.

But a tasting menu at Taste Paradise is certainly worthy of these greats in horology. I have earlier blogged about Paradise Inn...the Paradise group's lower end, home cooked, local chain of restaurants. The Taste Paradise is their version of Lexus...highend dining, with elements of fine dining. A cellar of fine wines line the corridoor as one walks into the beautifully decorated restaurant.

The degustation menu is set up French style. And presented a la Michelin...each course highliting individual ingredients and optimising the taste.

First course was a starter comprising of very traditional Peking Duck with condiments, Wasabi mayonaise Prawns, and pan seared foie gras.

Very nice presentation, worthy of a fine dining French Restaurant, and certainly commendable for a Chinese Restaurant.

First the Peking Duck:

Quite a traditional serving of Peking Duck...wonderfully crispy duck skin with a sliver of fat and meat, wrapped inside a flour pancake with a spring onion and sweet/savoury sauce. Excellent. And just nicely portioned to whet the appetite and palete to want for more.

The mayonaise prawn wasabi:

This was also expertly done. A fairly large prawn is deshelled, deep fried with a crisp, light batter, and coated with wasabi mayonaise. The slight pungent bite of the wasabi plays hide and seek with the rich, smooth mayonaise, and heightens the taste of the very fresh prawns. The ensemble sits on a small slice of sweet succulent water melon...nice touch.

And the final piece of the three part combination is a slice of pan seared foie gras:

Also excellent. The chef took great care to simply sear the liver just so...each bite provides a sensory experience that only foie gras can provide...the crisp outer layer exploding and spilling forth the fat, smooth, creamy, gorgeous taste of the foie gras. Wonderful.

Next, an innovative dish...Double Boiled chicken and sea whelk soup served in a coconut:

Quite clever this one...the soup was a rich tasting broth, made with superior stock. The chicken was tender as was the whelk, and imparted their flavours and goodness into the broth. The coconut shell serving as container also provided a richness, and mild coconuty flavour.

Next dish was also inspired...a baked cod with miso and crispy tofu with truffle reduction:

Interesting. Neither miso nor truffle are traditional Chinese ingredients. But fusion chefs have, in these last few years manage to marry traditional Japanese miso with cod (also not a traditional Chinese fish), and manage to work truffle into a chinese dish.

The fish was wonderful. Nicely done, it remained slight flakey, and moist inside the miso jacket. As cod is a rich, oily fish, the sharp, astringent miso provided a nice counterpoint to the dish.

The tofu was something else. The beautiful tofu...fragrant, soft and tender...hides inside a very crispy shell and topped with tiny mushrooms and sitting on a pool of black truffle reduction...the description sounds more like a Michelin starred French meal than a Chinese one...except for the tofu. I found this to be truly superb. The tastes, disparate as they seem to be, comes together very well...testament to the genius of the chef. Kudos chef.

And the main course was baked Kurobuta pork with wild mushroom:

Kurobuta pork is also a Japanese elite ingredient, now becoming more common and popular in the higher end eating places and embraced by western cooking as well as eastern. Kurobuta pork is more flavourful, more tender and more fat than regular pork. Pork fat tends to retain flavours of the feed, and as Kurobuta pork is raised on organic feed, carefully controlled in quantity as well as quality, the pork is usually fresher tasting than say AirPork (from Australia) or fresh Indonesian pork.

This piece of pork was indeed very tender. But I was disturbed slightly by the sweet sauce...marring the otherwise excellent dish (and indeed otherwise spectacular dinner).

Desserts was also inspired...and more a French style presentation with traditional Chinese dessert ingredients:

A combination of a small glass of chilled mango puree, black glutinous rice paste with vanilla ice cream and a baked custard. The mango puree was excellent, and served as a mouth cleanser...sweet and sour, with bits of mango pulp inside. The black glutinous rice went very well with the vanilla ice cream...providing the mouth with the rich taste sensation. And finally the baked custard was a flaky piece of pastry, with a custard core...very nice and also the pastry chef showed restraint in not making it too sweet. Perfect.

I came away very impressed with Taste Paradise. Excellent and inspired cooking, even when serving a party of 4 tables (about 40 pax) is not an easy task for any kitchen, but they proved to be truly capable.

Taste Paradise at ION Orchard
ION Orchard #04-07
No. 2 Orchard Turn
Singapore 238801
Opening Hours
Mon – Fri
11.30am- 3.00pm (last order at 2.30pm)
6.00pm - 11pm (last order at 10.00pm)
Sat, Sun & PH
11.00am – 5.00pm (last order at 10.30pm)
6.00pm - 11.00pm (last order at 10.00pm)
6509 9660

Monday, October 19, 2009

Caprice: Michelin stars justified?

with the Lange Owners Group in Hong Kong

Caprice is an interesting restaurant. In the 2008 Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau, it clinched two Michelin stars. What's also interesting is that the entire executive team, from Executive Chef Vincent Thierry, Pastry Chef Ludovic Douteau, Chief Sommelier Cedric Billien and Restaurant Manager Jeremery Evrard were transplanted from Le Cinq, at Four Seasons George V in Paris. They worked together way back in the glory days when Phippe Legrande lorded over the kitchens and Le Cinq had 3 Michelin stars. More recently, Le Cinq has dropped to two Michelin stars. And the Caprice team managed to also garner two stars to equal their alma mater.

The restaurant is on the 6th floor of the Four Seasons Hongkong with an exquisite location facing the Hong Kong harbour, and an elaborate decor to match.

Huge chandeliers hover over diners, with the magnificent view of the harbour on one side, and Thierry in his open kitchen on the other. The restaurant boasted of a fine wine cellar, and while I did not exactly have a tough time selecting the wines for the dinner, the options were not as numerous as I had imagined or hoped for. We started with a safe choice...Moet & Chandon 2003. I guess there is no need to describe this champagne, safe to say it provided the necessary lubrication for the arrival of the guests (17 in total).

The first course was Langoustine carpaccio, marinated cucumber, wasabi jelly and Ostera caviar.

Excellent starter, and worthy as a signature dish of the restaurant. The lobster was fresh tasting, creamy and sweet. And went exceptionally well with the cucumber, jelly and the caviar. A fine way to start, and of course great with the Moet.

The second course was Paimpol white bean veloute with braised vegetables and chorizo

White beans from the Paimpol region in France is famous on its own right. The semi-dry white bean is speciality of the Brittany region, and done in veloute is quite exquisite. The sauce was rich, velvety (indeed veloute is derived from the French for velvet: Velour). The braised vegetable was either a brussel sprout of a small cabbage, it was totally infused with flavours of the white bean. And a sprinkling of chorizo sausage, typically from the Iberian peninsula. Well balanced, but very rich tasting dish.

I had selected the Meursault Les Tessons from Domaine M. Bouzerau 2006 for the accompanying white wine for this.

The chardonnay showed brilliantly under the hands of Michel Bouzerau. Beautiful floral bouquet greets the nose, and on the palate, hints of cooked apple with a full bodied character. We debated over whether the 2005 would be better, but the Sommelier recommended the 2006 as easier on the palate.

Next course the foie gras:

Duck foie gras, cooked perfectly...the liver was quite a large portion, and served with a crispy macaroon (interesting combination) decorated with small bits of fondant rhubarb and pool black currant jus. The foie gras was excellent - smooth, rich, creamy...full on the palate. The jus provided an elegant counterpoint with slightly sour and vinegary flavours cutting through the fat. I am undecided on the macaroon...a bit odd, and a small piece of gold foil provided some exuberant extravagance. As far as I can tell, the gold foil was tasteless...but I was given to understand it is good for the skin.

We pressed on with the wild John Dory with pumpkin puree, young spinach leaves and an almond butter sauce.

The fish was superb. Fresh, tasting of the sea, and done perfect...not overdone, but slightly...only ever so slightly under done to bring out the flavour of the fish. The John Dory, or what the French call St. Pierre is a white fish with flaky meat, and a smooth texture. Not usually considered an oily fish, it had more flavour and taste than cod. The crispy, crunchy shavings of almonds provided a wonderful texture and also provide a taste structure for the fish to shine. I don't really like complex sauces, and left the pumpkin puree much on its own safe for a quick taste. But the bed of spinach leaves was superb.

Just before the main course, we started the wine service for reds. I had initially selected a red burgundy, and Sean (who provided wonderful support in the organization of the meal) selected a red bordeaux.

First the burdundy: Charmes Chambertin Domaine Arlaud 2004.

I had initially wanted the 2005, as it was a great year for Burgundy, but was told by Cedric that he only had one bottle left...he adviced on the 2004, which he said was a bit more agressive, and had a bit more bite than the more mellow 2005. The 2004 turned out to be quite expressive...energetic, beautiful rose perfumes. On the palate, it had very strong black raspberry note, underlining an elegant finish...the tannins were a bit more agressive, but still very drinkable.

The Bordeaux was a St. Julien Grand vin...the Chateaux Beychevelle 2003.

This was a powerful wine. Strong black currents on the nose, and ripe, firm tannins with good structure on the palate. Really quite a beautiful wine.

The main course was Ibaiona pork chop, with tomato raugail, sweet corn mousseline and barbeque sauce.

Pork from the Basque region in France is famous for its flavour and great taste and quality. The ham from the region carries a protection from French Argibusiness. The pork was simply shallow fried to bring out the original taste. I found the meat a bit chewy, with strong textural muscles of the pig showing nicely, though I would prefer a more smooth presentation of the sinews with fat as one would find on a nice cut of kurobuta pork. The flavour was indeed excellent. As usual, I left the sauce aside, and enjoyed the pork on its own. I must say the Charmes Chambertin complimented the pork very well, as the powerful wine could balance well with the strong flavour of the pork.

Finally the desert: salted caramel opera...arabica coffee, dried fruits biscotti and cappucino ice cream:

This was exquisite. The salted caramel was magnificent. The caramel flavours infused with the salt...a sweet, salty treat. The cappucinno ice cream ably provided support. The biscotti was the taste equivalent to a solo picollo playing in the blast of the orchestra...sweet, coy, and piercing in its crispness. I am still not sure about the sliver of gold foil, but this was a truly wonderful dessert...even with a meal as magnificent as this, the crowining glory.

I leave you with the equally wonderful petit fours...lovely to look at, lovely to eat.

So, overall, my impressions of Caprice was truly excellent. For my taste, I prefer food where the chef allows the ingredients to shine and whose genius is to coax this to occur with as little intervention as possible. Judged against this impossibly difficult and admittedly very personal yardstick, Caprice gets a good score, but at this level of competition, I preferred Iggy's in Singapore, where we had the first LOG Peer Dinner in Aug 25. Caprice's food is more elaborate, with complex sauces and condiments...perhaps more French. Iggy's more contemporary. Of course, I would be extremely happy eating at either.

Much appreciation and thanks to Sean Li and Stephen Luk whose assistance in-situ in Hong Kong made this dinner so memorable.

Sixth Floor, The Four Seasons Hotel
8 Finance Street, Central
Hong Kong
Tel.(852) 3196-8888
Fax.(852) 3196-8899

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dining in Hong Kong: doesn't get fresher or better than this

with Prof. Steve Luk and RobG

Another short trip to Hong Kong...this time to host the LOG Peer Dinner...but more of that later (the dinner was held in Caprice, a Two Star Michelin Restaurant in coming up). But the evening before the dinner, I had an awesome meal with Steve and another friend Rob at the Eastern side of Kowloon...a busy fishing port called Lei Yue Mun.

Razor clams...wonderful dish, very tasty

The entire place looked like a fishing village, complete with fishing jostling for space with sleek exotic speedboats of the elite. Onshore, the village was dotted with small stores, like market stalls, but each with tanks on tanks of live seafood. Everything which swims can be found here...from clams, to lobsters, to crabs to geoduck, to fishes of all varieties, to shrimps and abalones.

The name of the game is to pick your seafood from someone you know...or risk getting ripped off...and ask them to send the pick to your favourite seafood restaurant which share the village. Allegedly, you can buy your seafood from any of the stores, and have them send to any of the restaurants, but in practice Steve said that he only patronises one store and one restaurant.

We started the meal with steamed prawns:

The prawns had a hard shell, but were superfresh...hey they were alive some 10 mins ago. Simply steamed, they tasted gorgeous. Sweet, crunchy, flavourful. Very nice dipped into a slightly spicy soy sauce or even just deshell, and just pop into your mouth.

Next, razor clams...

These were very large, each with a diameter probably an inch across, and 6 inches long. The first time I had razor clams was in Venice, Italy. The clams were very fresh...Venice prides itself in the freshest fruits of the sea in all Italy, but the clams were cigarette sized...these in HKG were larger than most cigars. The clams have been cut (razored!) and probably fried with some oil, crisp deep fried shallots and a wonderful sauce. They were magnificent. The meat was characteristic in its slight toughness...but razor clams are prized for this tough consistency, cruncy to the bite, and sweet tasting.

We also had mantis prawns.

Looking quite alien, these were prawn like creatures, but do not have the characteristic huge heads of prawns. The shell is a thick strong exoskeleton, kind of indicating that the meat inside is worth protecting against predators. Indeed it was. Using a small scissors supplied by the restaurant, the shell is cut open and exposes the meat...large chunks occupying the entire animal...which were some 4/5 inches long. The meat was very savoury sweet, slightly crunchy, and absolutely delicious. The deep fried shallots and garlic with cut chilli completed the taste experience.

Fish was next...this was a live garoupa:

expertly steamed...just right...kind of medium rare...the meat was fully cooked, but at the edges where of the bones and meat, it was slightly rare...the fish was live, so freshness was not a concern. The meat was very good. Firm to the bite, but yet still soft and tender. Fleshy, juicy, sweet. Excellent fish.

We also had some scallops:

Each shell was roughly 3 inches across...quite large fellows. These were steamed gently. And a heap of rice vermicilli and deep fried garlic was heaped on top. The toppings complemented the scallop meat perfectly.

Finally, we had pepper crab:

This was more regular. The crab was a bit on the small side, but the meat was still very tasty. The crab was quite fat, despite the petite size, and there was good meat. Compared to the other dishes, which were all spectacular, the crab was more average, and not as spectacular...though still very tasty.

I would highly recommend the restaurant...the cooking was very good...but again, for the chef, his genius was not in concocting wonderful, complicated sauces, but to merely allow the fresh, high quality seafood to shine with simple cooking techniques, and good control of the fire to ensure sufficent done-ness and balance with not overcooking it. Inspired!

Lung Yue Restaurant
41 Hoi Pong Road
Lei Yue Mun, Kowloon
Hong Kong SAR

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Dining in Hong Kong: Tien Heung Lau

with Prof. Steve Luk

The flavours of Hangzhou tempted Steve and me to venture to Kowloon to sample it. Touted to be the best Hangzhou restaurant in China, not only Hong Kong...yes, including Hangzhou...I needed to taste for myself.

We started with a curious (to me) starter...I am not sure what the pickled vegetable was...but it tasted gorgeous. Crunchy, and firm to the bite.

The first course was freshwater shrimps stir-fried with Longjing tea leaves.

Smallish, freshwater prawns, expertly stir fried. The prawns were soft, mild, and sweet. Very nice dish. I could not taste the tea leaves...not was it evident by looking at the dish.

Next we had the deep fried fresh water eel.

Fresh water eel was coated in a light batter and deep fried to a crispy consistency. The eel had not retained any of the muddy freshwater taste as sometimes eels do, but the outer crispy batter/skin gave way easily to the soft, rich taste of the eel meat. Coupled with a beguiling brown sauce, this was truly excellent.

We had a nice plate of dow miao, but though this was done very well, it was nothing exceptional...just good vegetable.

The pĂ­ece de resistance for the evening was the hairy crab roe noodles.

At first whiff, it had a slightly fishy odour, but with the accompaniment of a vinegar and ginger sauce, the fragrance of the crab meat and roe was exhilirating. The dish tasted divinely wonderful. This is a must eat dish in this restaurant.

A fine meal...I was told there is no longer a regular menu, but the waiters (who all look like they have worked there for the last 30 years) will steer diners to a few of their classical dishes...of which I sampled.

Tien Heung Lau Restaurant
18C Austin Avenue
Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
tel: 23689660, 23662414

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Steaks: Hong Kong - Jimmy's Kitchen again

with Julian

Regular readers of this blog know how I savour every opportunity to eat a good steak...and this stands repeating...a prime cut of Angus, suitably dry aged, done Chicago medium rare...with charring on the outsides, cool pink insides. Gets me everytime.

Especially since my last visit to Jimmy's was quite favourable. See here for review.

I trotted down with my friend Julian to Jimmy's..

Julian ordered the USDA Prime Angus Dry Aged Ribeye.

The cut of beef that was served did not look like the typical ribeye...but a steak cut resembling a sirloin. But indeed it was ribeye...I imagine that the cow must have been quite large.

I had asked for both steaks to be done Chicago medium rare...charred outside, and medium rare inside. The ribeye looked a bit slightly over cooked for our specification. Julian thought it to be very good.

I had the USDA Prime Angus Dry Aged Striploin.

Unlike those from Astons, there were no grill marks...and it looked like the steak has been cooked on an open grill. The markings remind me of the steak I grilled in wahcow's a few months ago.

My striploin was done to near perfection...the insides were wonderfully pink, though I would have preferred a bit more charring on the outside...more in line with Peter Lugers or Mamou's.

But the steak tasted very good. The flavour of the ageing - intensity of the beef, fullness of the foie gras flavour was more intense than Aston's. But perhaps the lesser amounts of charring which brings out these flavours, making them even more intense, causes this steak to lose out ultimately to Mamou's. But they are quite close. Again Mamou's is a ribeye on the bone...a more flavourful cut, more marbled.

So overall, one of the best I have eaten in Hong Kong...rivalling Ruth Cris' at Lippo Centre, and definitely better than the horrendously expensive Morton's at Sheraton TST. And bests my most favourable steak experience back home in Singapore.

Here is a review by Jason, a Hong Kong local of the the main branch in Central.

Jimmy's Kitchen
Kowloon Centre,
20 Ashley Road, TST
Tel: 2376-0327

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