Monday, August 29, 2011

Seafood in Penang: Bali Hai

Penang is truly famous for its wonderfully tasty street food...but it has its share of excellent restaurants as well. And being a small implication, the seafood must be wonderful...and indeed it is.

Lining the street of the famous Gurney Drive, are rows upon rows of seafood restaurants. But curiously most of them are rather empty...except for one. Bali Hai seems to be doing a roaring business when we dropped in on a Friday evening. Bustling. A display of live seafood lined one wall...

Diners can pick their dinner while the seafood is still alive...and indeed we did. First we started with this little fellow...

Flown all the way from Boston, this lobster was kept nicely chilled...and was rather confrontational when he was being weighed...look at the stance. I guess, if his claws were not banded, he would have attacked me and chopped off a bit of my lens hood. BTW, he was not so little, weighing in at some 1.3kg.

And same fellow...

Boiled, chopped, and with a beautiful soy based sauce, spring onions for garnishing. The lobster was firm, but the meat was sweet and tasty. Very nice.

We also opted for some scallops, baked in cheese

Also beautiful. The scallops were fresh...whaddaya expect...they were live just moments before. The meat tender, smooth, rich, creamy. The cheese added layers of flavour and more creaminess and richness. Delightful.

Bamboo clams

Variously called razor clams, bamboo clams, cigar/cigarette clams...these are curious fellows. Within the thin shell, lies a tough, but incredibly sweet, tasty meat. Coupled with tons of crisp fried garlic with blanched tang hoon and chinese parsley, and a light soy based sauce, this was a recipe for a little slice of heaven.

Certainly an excellent seafood meal. Rivalling any, including the magnificent one I had in Hong Kong at Lei Yue Mun

90, 90A, 90B, 90C & 90D, Persiaran Gurney
10250, Penang
+604-2288272 / 2281272

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eating Malay in Penang

My sister suggested that we go for Malay food one evening when I was in Penang...and brought us to this delightful little bungalow in Kelawai Road. Beautifully refurbished, and with a fine dining air...the restaurant seats, probably 60.

Interestingly also, the restaurant is owned by a chinese family, though all the cooking and staff are malay, and I presume, the cuisine is halal.

But we started with a classic Indonesian salad...the gado-gado

Fresh raw vegetables, cubes of potato, and lightly blanched taugeh piled high, with taukwa and boiled egg...topped with a generous serving of peanut sauce. The sauce was creamy, delicious, with a tinge of lime. The greens were fresh, and crunchy. Great way to start a meal.

And the meal begins...

Sotong Kapitan

Squid, lightly cooked in a marvellous curry sauce...typical of Penang...called Kari Kapitan, this dish is more usually cooked with chicken, but this squid version is equally good.

We also had some grilled prawns

Large, fresh, succulent. Need I say more?

And the piece de resistance for me...the chicken curry

This dish really made the day for me. The curry sauce was rich, piquant, spicy. The chunks of chicken were supremely tender, and tasty. This must be one of the best curry chicken I have eaten at an establishment serving malay cuisine. MArvellous.

For desserts, we had chendol, sago gula melaka and what the Malays call ABC - air batu campur...or ice kachang.

The others were forgetable, but the ABC was outstanding. Interestingly, in addition to the usual ingredients, it featured strips of dried, candied nutmegs...a Penang speciality, and that elevated the dessert from a good but unspectacular ice kachang, to one which shines. Beautiful.

Overall, the restaurant was a winner for me. Excellent cuisine, great service in a space with a nice ambience.

Restoran Ros
67 Kelawei Road

open daily from noon to 3pm for lunch, and from 6.15pm to 10pm for dinner.
04-227 9277.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Penang Food: Cze Char with exceptional curry: Teksen

Sunday August 21 was "Cook a pot of curry day" in Singapore. The aim of the day is to promote racial harmony amongst the multi-racial and multi-cultural people who live side by side every day in our tiny island.

As I had just returned from an eating trip to Penang, I shall feature the best two curries I ate when I was there for both of this week's posts. The first is a Chinese cze char restaurant called Teksen (also variously known as Teik Sin, and Tek Sen).

The place is as nondescript as they come, but at meal times, it becomes chock a block, with people streaming in from all corners...filling up the rather large dining room (2 shop lots worth) rather quickly.

Many came to sample the roast pork, I believe, roasted in-house, and fried with a honey sauce.

I found pork to be hearty...not as refined as those you find in the fine restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore. I found it a bit too sweet at first blush, but as I muched on, there is a certain beguilling quality about the pork. The meat was a bit firm, crunchy, and very fragrant. The honey sauce impinged a sweetness...

Their potato leaf fried with sambal was exceptional

Superior fragrance and taste. The leaves were fresh, young shoots...and tasted wonderful. The touch of sambal belachan and chilli lifted the poor man's vegetable to be a dish fit for a gourmet. One of the best sambal belachan potato leaf dish I have eaten.

But I started this with the curry, and I feature the wonderful sour and spicy pot of stingray curry:

Again, exceptional. The stingray was ultra frash...soft, tender, moist meat. Wonderful texture. The curry was an assault on the senses...wonderful aroma, sour, spicy, salty...were the flavours detected. Most wonderful. And fitting tribute to the multi-racial society of Penang, and by extension on Cook a Pot of Curry day...Singapore.

apologies for poor pictures, as the interior of the restaurant was dimly lit...and I had to shoot at low shutter speeds...should have used the mini-tripod.

Restoran Teksin
18/20 Lebuh Carnavon
off Cambell Street

View Teik Seng Restaurant Shifted to New Outlet at Carnarvon Street in a larger map

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Espresso Joints: Jewel

Jewel is another new espresso joint. The place is owned by a former banker Adrian Khong...

No roaster, but pride of place is occupied by the La Marzocco Strada.

Adrian pulling shots

What's interesting about Jewel is that Adrian insists on serving only single origins...including the espressos...a bit unusual for a cafe...though I have done SO at home for a while...when I was first learning to pull espressos and roasting about 10 years ago.

Single origin tend to be more one dimensional, lacking the mix and blend of beans of different flavours and tastes to allow the layering to tickle the tastebuds.

I had the Brasilian SO espresso...only doubles are served.

A little thin on the body, and a light crema. No mottling or bold colours is expected in a SO pull. On the palate it was rather refreshing...allowing the brasil to show its flavour and intensity, and as multi-dimensional sensation...just one level of beans. SO allows one to appreciate the single beans. And for this Jewel ought to be commended.

1 Shenton Way
7am-9pm weekdays
8am-5pm Sat
Sundays closed

Monday, August 15, 2011

Espresso Joints: Smitten

They just keep sprouting up everywhere...enthusiastic, espresso loving, these new generation of cafe owners are young, energetic, and committed to provide good espresso and nuture the espresso culture. Today's feature is yet another of these new upstarts...aptly named Smitten...this place is run by husband and wife team of Darren Chang and Hong Yuan.

The alchemist elf...running away with his potent it seems...the place is neat. With a huge roaster at the front of the store...Roasting day is Tuesdays, when they are closed.

The brewing machine is from Kees van der Westen's Mirage Idrocompresso...a 3 group machine...which is lever operated! Beautiful machine.

The owner Darren Chang...beaming...well almost...this young fellow was in the navy defending our shores before venturing into the cafe business...

Pulling my espresso...each pull is 60ml of water through the pistons...

a bit too much even for a triple Darren watches the pull for blonding...and when it starts to blond, he pulls the cup, allowing the rest of the brew to drain.

The result..

The house blend. The mouthfeel is rather good...bold, viscous. On the palate, the taste is a bit mild, but with a nice finish. The acids were mellow, just detectable to lift the brasil based beans a touch.

The picolo latte is a bit large:

Lionel who had the latte declared that the milk was a bit too much, masking the taste of the espresso. Darren offered an explaination that the glass was a bit too large, resulting in having too much milk to fill it. He will be changing the glass soon...similar to the ones used by Papa Palheta...which I think is the best picolo latte I have tasted. Just enough milk to round the edges of the espresso, but not so much as to mask it.

Darren's latte art is quite good too...

60 Robertson Quay
#01-11 The Quayside

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Crystal Jade celebrates 20th Anniversary

Crystal Jade celebrated their 20th Anniversary by a historic signing of a 3 year partnership with World Vision...a humanitarian organization dedicated to children, families and their communities. The celebration was held at NEX Mall, just outside the Crystal Jade restaurant, and all proceeds, estimated to be about S$100k, will go to the charity.

But as a foodie blog, we get to sample all the Crystal Jade restaurants in one place. Crystal Jade Golden Palace, Kitchen, La Mian Xiao Long Bao, and My Bread, among others were present.

I did try and sample some of the dishes:

Har Cheong Kai...

Nicely done. Crisp, fragrant outside, wonderfully juicy and tender meat within.

I particularly liked the beef spare ribs, done with a beguilling dark sauce, and topped with shaved bonito.

The curry chicken was done Hong Kong cantonese style:

Low on spices, but high on taste. Very creamy mouthfeel. The chicken was tender, and fully infused with the curry. Lacks the bite and punch of a good Indian or Peranakan chicken curry.

The Peking Duck made its appearance:

I covered this delightful dish in an earlier blog on Crystal Jade. Same wonderful duck. Same beautiful, crisp skin.

Only the serving style was modified for the fun fair like an open cardboard box, with a toothpick as a utensil.

The roast pork was presented similarly:

But aside from the presentation to suit the environment, the taste and texture of the dish were all there. Very nice.

Thanks to Crystal Jade and Linea for the invitation to the event.

Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts

Numerous outlets island-wide

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pepper Lunch Express: steaks on a budget

Food Courts in Singapore sometimes have nice stuff to eat...though I sometimes shudder at the chain stores from foreign shores who have landed on ours start to muscle their way into the Food Courts.

Pepper Lunch is a tepanyaki like place, which used to have a few restaurants scattered around our island....but I think in the last 2 years or so, have shrunken their presence, and now also available in some Food Courts as Pepper Lunch Express.

The pepper steak...sliced cut of sirloin, seared and cooked on a hot plate, with a knob of superb seasoned butter. And plenty of bean sprouts and some long beans served with a bowl of rice.

Quite superb, I must say. Especially for the price (S$9.50) is quite good value. The beef was tender, and once the desired done-ness is reached, I usually pick the pieces up and put them atop the bean sprouts to prevent further cooking. Quite delicious.

So is the pepper chicken...which came with the rice to be mixed in-situ.

I do detect judicious use of MSG, but this is perhaps par for the course...tasty food, good prices.

Pepper Lunch
numerous places in many malls
Funan Digital Mall Food Court

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Espresso Joints: Jimmy Monkey

Following on my story of the new coffee joints, we explore Jimmy Monkey today.

Tucked at the residential estate of 1 North, this little cafe sparkles with the enthusiasm of the owner...who hails from Melbourne - Michael Ryan.

Passionate about coffee as they come, Michael spent two months at the Seatle factory and actually helped build the Slayer espresso machine which takes place of pride behind the bar. The machine, the first in Singapore, is a beautiful piece of machinery...

Massive, wonderfully made, this is the espresso machine to behold:

The gruppa, all three of them are made very large and heavy to ensure temperature consistency. The pump is external to this huge machine, ensures good pressure at the heads on demand. A PID device controls the temperature which is measured at the head.

And the barista...

But how's the coffee? I had a double ristretto:

The extraction looks beautiful. Thick, creama, molted. On the nose, it was aromatic, dark...perhaps a touch foreboding. On the palate, it was a bit bright...this made from Jimmy Monkey's house blend, a touch sour...but fully characteristic of the beans. The mouthfeel was deep, viscous, full body. Nice.

The latte art could do with a bit more definition. I didn't taste it, but as we know, milk will mask the taste of the espresso, making it milder, more rounded, taking the edges off. I began a discussion with Michael...and we talked at length about roasting, blending and pulling shots. How some shots are better suited for straight up espresso, some ristretto, and others need a touch of milk.

A 1.5kg sample roaster stood at one side...

We also tried the chocolate lava cake...

Superb. I recommend this as well....the molten lava oozes out at the most agreeable viscosity...

Jimmy Monkey wears my badge of approval for espresso. Highly recommended.

Jimmy Monkey Cafe & Bar
9 One North Gateway
#01-51 One-North Residences

Monday, August 1, 2011

Espresso joints: Orange Thimble

The coffee scene, especially the gourmet variety is begining a revival...I have been a keen observer of the scene since its early years some 20 odd years ago. Begining with the little Japanese inspired cafe on the second floor of Lucky Plaza which served me my first taste and whiff of Blue Mountain coffee...quaint little place...on industrial raised flooring, with caring aunties making siphon coffee, and excellent, super mild chicken curry, and a killer thick toast. I miss the place, its coffee and the aunties.

And a bit later, the starting of Coffee Club in its inaugural cafe in Jalan Mambong. I witnessed the meteoric rise of Coffee Club, and its eventual decline. And the rise of the Starbucks and others. Interesting times. But somewhere along the way, the love and passion for fine coffee became lost in the commercialism in these stores. In disappointment, this began my journey in roasting, and pulling my own espresso.

But the coffee scene began a rennaissance some 3 years ago. First with the local coffee boys upping the ante...with Ya Kun and Killiney going regional. And then, with rivals like my friend Byron's Good Morning Nanyang Coffee, and others of the same ilk, viz a viz Ah Mei, Coffee & Toast, and Toast Box. These carried the flag for local, baba/nanyang coffee.

Then, with the appearance of passion driven coffee nuts like Oriole, and later Papa Palheta. We see the rise of Fourty Hands (IMHO, not worthy of my badge of honour, hence no review from me). But of those who do, Loysel's Toy, A Curious Teepee and of course Oriole and Papa. And more recently, Orange Thimble, which is the subject of this review, gains my badge. I also noted Jimmy Monkey which is subject of a future review is also another such place.

Haven for coffee nuts. Coffee which is freshly roasted (of course, rested for at least 24 hours). Freshly the right pressure, right temperature. With correct grinding, tamping and barista technique.

Orange Thimble is one such place.

A three group La Marzocco takes place of pride.

Apologies for handshake in the picture...the barista workarea was a bit dark, but I cannot help but tremble at the sight of such a magnificent machine. Also a Mazzer Major with electronic dosing. The barista exhibited good technique. And the result is good, smooth, intense coffee.

A capuccino:

I was having coffee with some watch collector the mandatory watch poses with the coffee...

And the picolo latte:

We even had a spot to eat...the freshly made bread pudding was quite delicious, albeit the serving is a bit small:

The coffees are highly recommended. The place, at least when I visited...barely 2 weeks after it relaxed and has a bohemian atmosphere...we lingered for close to 3 hours, and felt totally relaxed on a Friday afternoon. Nice.

Orange Thimble
56 Eng Hoon Street,
In Tiong Bahru.