Thursday, March 31, 2011

Majestic Restaurant: Still good? Or getting old?

Chef Yong Bing Ngen is one of the local celebrity chefs. I have followed his cooking from his days helming Hai Tien Lo and Jade to now at the Majestic. My last visit was some 4 years ago, and I remembered the cuisine to be excellent. I don't know why I did not think of returning to the restaurant these years, such is the availability of choice in Singapore, even good restaurants are not frequented by those who love the food. But I digress. I returned recently...just before my trip to Hong Kong, so chronologically, this post is to have been the Grand Hyatt Dim Sum meal I posted yesterday.

Chef Yong is owner and chef of the restaurant, tucked within the electic and hip New Majestic Hotel at the artsy Bukit Pasoh area, just a stone throw's away from the traditional Chinatown.

We started with the appetizer platter of 4 of their most popular starters:

From top, clockwise: the sio bak, sharks fin with scrambled eggs, soft shelled crab, and wasabi prawns. The platter is good, and there is nothing to really complain about for it was well cooked, and tasted good. But I felt it did not soar to exhibit the deftness and creativity of the chef. I did not feel the spark of genius I had warmed up to in my last visit.

White asparagus was already in season, and we tried the giant asparagus.

I am a great fan of the huge Konig Spargel in Germany, and indeed this was the season. The asparagus served today at Majestic was tender, and not as fibrous. The cooking was milder than I would have liked, though this probably allowed the flavour of the asparagus to peek through. Another good, but not spectacular dish for me.

The beef tenderloin, pan seared lightly was next:

The beef was tender enough, and cooked just right - medium rare inside. Somehow the same feeling I had with the other dishes surfaced again. Competently cooked, tastes good, but no spark which I had come to expect coming out of Chef Yong's kitchen.

The main lobster noodles were next.

The same thread continues. The lobster, no doubt the fleshy Maine lobster, imported from the US or Canada was rather small. As there were three of us lunching that day, it was cut into thirds, and cooked with the noodles. The noodles were braised egg noodles, and was rather tasty - having absorbed the braising liquid and had a good flavour of crustacean. But I felt the noodles were slightly overcooked, as it was served very soft that all the texture and bite had left it. The lobster too, I felt was a tad over cooked.

For dessert, I had the durian ice cream in a deep fried crispy batter:

The novelty of fried ice cream is not quite there anymore, but this was a dish created during Majestic's heyday. And it still shines. The durian ice-cream was nice, rich, and just right in sweetness. The batter was light, and very crisp, and provided nice contrast to the ice-cream...not only in the texture: smooth, creamy vs crisp, but also in heat/cold. Nice.

Overall, this was a nice meal, but I felt a little let down. Perhaps I had worked up my anticipation of this meal due to my good memory of this restaurant from years ago. But I suspect, Chef Yong has perhaps a bit weary...perhaps burning out, and it shows in the lack of brilliance in the food. I hope he is just stuck in a rut which he will rise from soon, for it is a shame to see a talent like his go to mediocre.

Majestic Restaurant
New Majestic Hotel
31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road
Singapore 089845

Tel: [65] 6511 4718
Fax: [65] 6222 3379

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eating Hong Kong: Dim Sum at The Grand Hyatt

I apologise for no post this Monday. I was in Hong Kong, and could not find time to write this blog. But the "bonus" is that the next few posts will be focussed on gastronomy in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong and Kowloon is certainly a gastronomic destination. Not only to enjoy and explore the well developed Cantonese cuisine indigenous to the region, but also for the highly developed cuisines of the world. This trip, I had sampled Cantonese, and also had an incredible dinner at an Italian inspired modern cuisine at IFC. But first, one of the best Dim Sum meals I have had for a long time.

Situated at the 8th floor of the Grand Hyatt at Wanchai, the restaurant commands spectacular views of Central and Kowloon.

The interior is beautifully decorated, with tables set rather far apart for good privacy.

The usual first:

Har Kau:

Nice. Beautiful, almost transluscent skin. Very thin, but resilient enough that the skin does not break. The prawn within is super fresh, crunchy.

Crystal Dumpling:

The skin on this one is even more impressive. Even more transluscent...almost transparent, giving a peek-a-boo to the insides. And again, despite the thin skin, it is elastic and stretchy not to break on the prodding of the chopsticks. The filling is fresh, and very tasty.

The char siew pau is also quite good:

The pastry skin is very light, fluffy. The char siew inside very good.

Speaking of char siew, on its own, this is truly superb char siew:

This is another landmark char siew. Compared to Meng Kee and Oversea in Malaysia, the style is different...the Hong Kong style char siew is sweet, but not as sweet as the Malaysian type. The taste is salty led, with a judicious seasoning which is salty, but with a crust which is beautifully charred and maillared due probably to either honey or malt sugar used to coat the meats before roasting. The Malaysian version is more sweet, almost to the point of being coy, though not quite. I like both. The meat is beautifully fat, and the charred portions are wonderful, and crisp with a heavy smoky flavour. Wonderful.

The cheong fun is also very nice:

Again, the chef shows his virtuosity with the thin pasta (?)...and the prawns within are very fresh, crunchy. The light soy sauce highlights the taste beautifully. Very elegant.

We also had some chicken pie.

Hmm...not quite Dim Sum. The pie is very nice, but for me not really best of class.

We also had a sharksfin dumpling soup.

The stock is truly superb. Probably made by hours of boiling in the kitchen with chicken, pork, bones and other wonderful stock stuff. The dumplings have the same light pastry skin, wrapped around a rather generous serving of loose sharks fin. The concoction is double boiled, and before serving a sprinking of dried, braised scallops are added for extra punch.

What also impressed me was the vegetables. Hong Kong Kailan, huge ones...the base of the stalks must measure at least 1cm in diameter:

The kailan is very tender, and excellent taste. Normally with this huge kailan in Singapore, like Crystal Jade's version here, the vegetable is very hard, and tough. This kailan is very tender, soft. It was served uncut, but the tenderness is easy to easily chomp.

And to round up the meal, fried rice:

Wonderfully fragrant. Bits of crunchy vegetables provide counterpoint to the beautifully fried rice. Though it is fried, the dish is very light, and not greasy at all.

And the desserts are interesting as well.

We started with phee tan sou:

Like char siew sou...the flaky pastry is used, in this case to encase a beautiful slice of century egg, and young ginger. The taste of this little dumpling is delightful. Truly interesting.

And more regular desserts, we had cut fruits and a very good custard bun:

Certainly one of the better Dim Sum meals I have had for a while. Highly recommended as Shiok and Hochiak!

Photonote: This post was shot entirely with the new Fujifilm X100 camera. Only two shots - of the char siew and of the camera itself, is shot with my LX3. My first impressions of this super desirable camera was during the IT Show, and perhaps its the super high expectations due to the internet hype generated by Fuji since announcing it in Photokina 2010 was a bit disappointing. This experience of the camera, owned by my good friend Sean, is much better. Two things about this camera annoys me. Firstly, it is quite a bit larger than I had expected. The X100 is almost the size of a Leica M9. Secondly, the exposure compensation is done by a small dial at the right of the top plate of the camera, and it is all too easy to move this during shooting. In fact, unknown to me then, I shot most of this set at +1EV.

The camera is truly super retro looking. And I just love the looks. The focussing is much faster than the LX3. Perhaps its the setting, but I find it a bit startling that the rear LCD remains blur, and suddenly snaps into focus. The focus speed is faster than the LX3, which is a true slouch in focussing, and perhaps about as fast as an LX5.

One Harbour Road
Grand Hyatt Hotel
1 Harbour Road
Hoing Kong

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Singapore Food Trail at the Flyer

I recently dropped by the Singapore Flyer for a visit to the much touted food court...called Singapore Food Trail, it is yet another food court where the operator claims to bring only the very best of each variety.

Indeed the decor on the place is excellent. Looks like we just stepped into Bugis Street in the 1970s...even the floor was not spared, and dressed up to look like the road, complete with street markings.

A cursory walkaround revealed that the organizers are probably quite good to have collected this group of hawkers. Indeed many of them represented the best of breed. The Adam Road No 2 Nasi Lemak was there. The Old Airport Road Satay Beehoon was in residence. As was many other famous hawkers.

But a look at the prices might frighten one away. The Full House nasi lemak meal in Adam Road costs S$5, and what was also called Full House, I am not sure if portion sizes are different or if additional premium ingredients are used in the Flyer version, but it costs a whopping $7.50.

I ordered some hand made popiah at this stall:

At $2 per roll, and $4 for this plate, rather expensive:

I must say the popiah was rather tasty. It remained dry, and the skin did not tear at any point...which goes to say the maker is rather skilled. The mix of ingredients - the usual radish, eggs, deep fried shallots, diced prawns were nicely done.

I also tried the "famous" Old Airport Road Satay Beehoon:

At $4 a pop, again rather pricey:

But I must say the pinch of paying $4 for the dish vapourised on tasting. This is very good satay beehoon. The sauce was rich, smothering. Excellent flavours, good fragrance, and a great mouthfeel. The bee hoon was done just right, al dente, and provided some bite the richness of the sauce. The sauce also contained some nice ingredients - prawns, squid and slices of lean pork. I enjoyed this dish.

Overall, I think the food court is rather touristy, than gourmet. Though some of the better hawkers are present dishing out their best. The food was rather good, and I would highly recommend a tourist to drop by and have a taste of Singapore in one fell swoop. But for me, I would rather pay less and travel to the origins of these stalls and sample them at source.

Singapore Food Trail
Singapore Flyer

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bangkok Jam: same funky decor, same wonderful food.

Fancy calling your restaurant by the infamous Bangkok city jams...Step in to this funky, modern restaurant in Great World City, and you are almost transformed into a swanky eatery that have recently sprouted in the Thai capital. Almost like being in Siam Paragon.

This has been one of the family's favourite restaurants for many years. When they started, perhaps 5 years ago, we stepped in because there was a long queue at Crystal Jade. We were delighted with the food. I have blogged about it once. See this entry for my review. The menu has changed somewhat since the last review, so I thought with a recent revisit, I'd blog about them again.

This is another revisit, and like the others, proved to be a joy.

We started with the pomelo salad:

Large chunks of sweet/sour pomelo, mixed in a spicy, salty, sour sauce with a tinge of sweet. Texture variety was provided ably by the cashew nuts and chunks of very fresh prawns. I absolutely adore the mish mash of flavours, and accents. Brings me back to Bangkok, where the Thais love hot spicy, sweet, salty, sour all in one dish. Lovely!

For mains with plain steamed rice, we had the following:

Roasted pork:

When it arrived, it looked dry...I was expecting the luscious char siew by Oversea which I reviewed recently. But on the palate, the pork was anything but dry. It had a beautiful consistency. The dipping sauce was brilliant. Again the blend of flavours and tastes of sweet, sour, salty, spicy were apparent. Below the slices of pork was more groundnuts, and a concoction of small cubed ginger, thai lime, and chilli. Dished on the fresh iceberg lettuce, add the pork, and a dash of the sauce, and its wonderful. Truly spectacular dish.

We also ordered the Thai asparagus:

It is always amazing what a good chef can concoct with basic ingredients. In this case, Thai asparagus. What is different from the European asparagus (like the Konig Spargel I waxed lyrical about in Germany) is the Thai version is thinner, and more crunchy. Perhaps less fibrous than the European cousing. I also feel the funny smell in the pee is also less pronounced with the Thai variety. Anyway, this dish is stir fried, in typical Thai style, with a dash of oyster sauce. Tasty, though if I were to rate this in a spectacular-ness scale, it does not quite make it high up that scale.

Finally the Massaman Beef curry.

Not quite I had expected, as I had "grown up" with the thick, rich Massaman curry from Thangying. This was more like a stew. I suspect the beef is Australian, as it was probably from a less marbled cut like chuck, and was rather chewy and sinewy. But had great flavour. The curry itself was wonderful. Fragrant, mildly spicy though had a pungent aftertaste. Shiok!

For me, Bangkok Jam is a great restaurant. It is part of the Patara chain. The flagship Patara restaurant in Tanglin Mall is quite upmarket and for me is not value for money. The mother restaurant in Soi Assumption in Bangkok is avant garde, but the cuisine is superb. And for me, Bangkok Jam is excellent cooking, with masterful balance of flavours and quite good value for money. Very highly recommended.

Bangkok Jam
1 Kim Seng Promenade, #02-26

p.s. a reader pointed out that I made an error in writing peanut instead of cashew nut for the pomelo salad dish. I stand corrected.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Best steak in Singapore? enter Wolfgang Puck's Cut

Wolfgang Puck is one of the many celebrity chefs who have opened restaurant at the new IRs in Singapore...Puck's iconic steakhouse at Beverly Hills now open, and packed nightly at MBS. I have eaten at Bar and Grill at MGM Grand Hotel at Las Vegas, and was quite taken by the cuisine - honest, unpretentiously good food, cooked well.

So when Vacheron Constantin hosted a dinner at Cut Singapore, I was excited! It is always exciting to dine with VC, partly because this would be a meeting of good old friends, and partly because David Heng - the VC supremo for the region is quite a foodie, and when he entertains, it is always with style and good cuisine.

VC had brought their collection from SIHH2011 to Singapore, and amongst the many magnificent pieces, they also showed the stupendiously beautiful enamel painting by Anita Porcet - the Metiers d'Art Marc Chagall. See here for more on this piece of art.

The restaurant was busy when we arrived for dinner. We were escorted into a fairly large private room at the back...seats probably 40 packed. But that evening, we were about 30 I think. The decor is elegant...dark with lighting accents. And walls upon walls of fine wine.

But we were here for the food. So on with it!

On the table as we arrived, were the amuse bouche. On the table is a manner of speaking, as actually the attentive wait-staff came around with the servings:

Hot gourgeres, gruyere cheese:

Traditionally this is a savoury choux pastry made of milk, cheese, flour and eggs, and eaten with Gruyere - a typical French/Swiss cheese. The pastry was light, and almost airy, with a hint of milk. And the Gruyere is gorgeous.

Also making its rounds were mini kobe burgers - Puck calls them "sliders"

Like many gourmet burgers, this was slightly ridiculous in construction. The burger is between a small more than 2 inches diameter, but stacked perhaps 6 inches in height...ok, I exaggarate...3.5 inches...but there is no graceful way to eat this burger.

All this structural misgivings is disappeared when you take a bite...the wagyu beef used is absolutely divine - and this is the clever way to use wagyu which I find too rich for a large steak. But cut, and made into a small patty, done medium rare...divine. The brioche buns were nice and fluffy. And the sweet pickes within provided some support to the richness of the beef.

The salad was next. And the serving was rather large.

Butter lettice, forme d'ambert - a French cheese reputed to be the oldest from France, avocado, and champagne herb vinaigrette as a dressing to lift the concoction.

So the steak, which should be the piece de resistance of the evening (um, other than the Metiers D'Art piece)

If looks can be deceiving, this was the prime example. I selected the Australian Angus 300+ days grain fed, dry aged 45 days, petit cut New York fillet 225g. The cut is the standard sirloin. The Australian Angus would typically be grass fed. So the meat would usually be more flavourful, more robust. But as the calfs were grain fed the last year of their lives, this would also mean good marbling, and if done right, can be fantastic. Plus dry aged for 45 days would mean the flavours would be intensified.

I ordered Chicago Medium rare, as usual, and the steak arrived slightly charred on the outside.

Inside it was gorgeous:

The meat was very flavourful. Slightly chewy due to being grass fed initially, but with slivers of beautiful marbling within the muscles due to the grain feeding. Excellent cut of steak, and definitely the best I have eaten in Singapore. Some of my friends had the US prime Illinois corn fed rib eye, and I had a slice (large slice...ahem...) to taste. It was super tender, not as flavourful, but had an intense buttery fragrance, and a melt in your mouth texture. For a whole steak weighting 395g, I think it would be a bit heavy and too rich. But a mix and match with the more sinewy sirloin, it is quite wonderful.

Sides were offered as well, but I did not take photographs. I had the fingerling ptoatoes with smoked bacon and peral onions, soft polenta with parmesan, wild field mushrooms and caramelized carrots, clelery root and rosemary. Did I say David feeds his guests well?...:-) All were excellent.

Then dessert descended on us...individual servings of the calamansi lime baked alaska:

The crust was nice and crisp pastry, very nice flavour and fragrance. Breaking the curst, the creamy lime oozes out. The lime was a good contrast as it was taut and sour provided good counterpoint tthe blackberry at the sides.

And not to be upstaged, the restuarant's signature dessert was served:

A light fluffy, chocolate soufle, with molten chocholate poured into an opening made by the waiter, a scoop of decadent pistacio ice cream, and more molten chocholate.

If one can truly die a scrumptious death by chocholate, this is it. The richness, deep, dark chocholate overwhelms the palate, and one resigns to waves of pleasure....oops...need to regain composure...loved this dessert, though overall, probably a tad too heavy.

The service was truly excellent. The waiters were well informed, and brisk. The steak, as I mentioned is the best in Singapore I have eaten. So I would highly recommend Cut as a dinner venue if you want to impress your dining companions.

Cut by Wolfgang Puck
Marina Bay Sands Hotel Singapore
10 Bayfront Avenue
6 p.m. - 10 p.m., Sunday - Thursday
6 p.m. - 11 p.m., Friday & Saturday

6688 8517

Monday, March 14, 2011

Restorante Otto

Hamilton recently hosted a lunch at the Restorante Otto at the Red Dot Museum. Hamilton is an old US brand, emerging some 100 years ago. Hamilton's initial concerns were in accurate, but beautifully made pocket watch crucial to the then new railroad industry. Their watches are prized by collectors, and feature large dials, with bold arabic markers, and beautifully demaskeened movements, often with elaborate regulation mechanisms. The company survived today, but it is now part of the Swatch Group, and the watches are no longer made in the US, but in Biel in Switzerland.

Their focus market segment is now the affordable, entry level watches, and they do make some rather intersting, and often quite beautiful timepieces. This year's BaselWorld will see the introduction of several interesting timepieces. Embargo on these watches are till Press Day at BaselWorld, so today I will focus on the food at Otto.

The Red Dot Traffic Museum used to house the Singapore Traffic Police. I remember years ago, renewing my driving license at the building. The Traffic Police have now moved, and the premises, beautifully constructed in a colonial style stands proud, housing the arts. Within are a few eateries, and Otto, is probably one of the more upmarket ones. A French restaurant called Papilon was there several years ago, but they are now gone. Alas, for they had nice food.

We had the private room, which was gorgeous...nice interior, inviting decoration and with a view of the courtyard.

We started with the Timballino de Granchio e Avocado con Pomodori Ramati...

Crabmeat avocado on a vine tomato timbale, is the menu's translation to English. The crabmeat was flavourful, if not a bit overpowering...with a hint of fishiness. But the combination tasted light despite the crab.

Next was an assorted mushroom soup with garlic crouton

This was rather tasty. The soup had chunks of chopped up mushrooms. I am not sure what they were, but I guessed at least 3 varieties of mushrooms were used. The broth was thick, creamy, and the croutons were particularly delicious - with a crisp, crusty texture, and a hint of garlic. Nice touch.

For my mains, I had the beef:

I ordered it medium rare, charred on the appeared nicely medium rare inside. But not really the sirloin had been pan fried with gorgonzola cheese and butter. The cheese and butter left a strong fragrance, quite wonderful on the beef. Heightening the taste and elevating it briefly. The greens on which the chef sat the sliced beef on were nicely cooked, but tasted bitter.

And for desserts, what else other than tiramisu...but alla Maniera de Otto

The tiramisu was super soft...almost melting on its own. The sponge cake offered no support and the entire dish threatened to collapse on itself. The piece of biscotti attached to the top of the tiramisu provided the crunch. The dusted chocolate top was a nice bitter, strong chocolatey counterpoint to the sweet, creamy cake, laced with powerful coffee strains, and a hint of alcohol. Overall ok for me as a tiramusu, I have tasted better, and of course worse.

The service was excellent. Smooth, quiet, efficient. The ambience was excellent. The location is very good. Food was above average, and quite fine, though breaks no barriers.

Restorante Otto
Red Dot Traffic Museum
28 Maxwell Road, #01-02 Red Dot Traffic Building
6227 6819

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Zen Zen and Brownie Factory: havens in overcrowded CBD during lunchtime?

Lunchtime on a weekday in the CBD can be a harrowing experience...hordes of office workers descent en-masse to fill up their hungry tummies. Raffles Place is particularly stressful. So when Kin found this place tucked in the Basement of OUB Center...where Burger King used to be...she went in for a taste...impressed, I joined her for lunch on another day.

The place is designed like a fast food outlet...queue to order, pay...get a number, and take a table. The food is served in a few minutes.

We took the set lunches...reasonable value $10 to $12 for a soup, main course and drinks.

The soups were rather good...

The clam chowder in the foreground was nicely rich, fragrant, and had actual chunks of clam and potato. Nice tasting too. The mushroom soup in the background was also very nice...chunks of mushrooms. Nice and rich. And best of all, not too fact erring on being a bit under in the salt department...but I won't complain. I eat too much salt anyway.

The maincourse I selected was the cashew chicken:

A nicely browned, pan fried chicken thigh, smothered with a rather nice brown sauce. A cup of flavoured rice, with one cashew adorning the top. And some boiled vegetables. The meal tasted...healthy...little oil, light on salt. But still managed to be rather tasty. The chicken was quite nicely browned and crisp. The gravy quite good. The rice was well done too...and within the cup, small chips of cashews were found.

Kin had the Basil Chicken Pasta

Not the best...the linguini was over cooked till it was super limp. I am not sure how the chicken was done, probably stir fried, but it retained some of the frozen chicken smell. The vegetables were similar to the cashew chicken. And the pasta sauce...which was to be the main attraction in a pasta dish, was not to be. It was pale, limpid almost, and rather tasteless. I'll avoid this pasta.

Kin had tried their sandwiches in her earlier visit, and she thought they were quite good.

After the meal, we went next door, and had a brownie...this was the Brownie Factory's bestseller:

My neice loves the brownies here. The cake part...if that's what you call rather thick, rich chocholatey. The vanilla ice cream was almost as large as the rather miniscule brownie. And threatened to overpower the taste. Overall, a messy, but very tasty brownie.

Zen Zen and Brownie Factory
Basement 1
1 Raffles Place