Thursday, September 29, 2011

Neapolitan Certified Pizza: Pizzeria L'Operetta

The news is out...the first certified Vera Pizza Napoletana joint recently opened in Singapore. Run and owned by a Japanese gentleman who already runs several Italian restaurants in town...all with the L'Operetta name. As is typical amongst the Japanese, this fellow is very serious about his craft. He spent several years in Naples, obsessing and learning how to make the cuisine exactly as one would experience in, not Italy, but Naples.

Neapolitan pizzas are a legend. Even legendary 3 star Michelin chef Heston Blumenthal went to Naples to learn the perfect pizza...there can only be a maximum of 4 ingredients, and all must be local to no pineapple, lobster or salmon, etc...only traditional ingredients...tomatos are from San Marzano, cheezes - fresh DOP certified mozzeralla, ham...garnished with oregano, basil, olives. They even brought in their own own oven...which is so hot, the pizza has to cook within 90 seconds to qualify for the certification. Amazing.

So how is the pizza?

I had the E Fungi...mushroom:

The crust was soft, slightly chewy...this was not the crispy crust you get in American places. The cheese sauce, and melted mozzarella was perfect. As was the bits of cooked ham, basil and parmesan. Very very good pizza.

My friend Kassra had the Margherita...

Ultra simple...tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, parmesan. I tasted a small slice...perfect balance of sweet and tinge of sour of the tomato, with the wonderful rich texture of the mozzarella. Lovely.

Truly a great pizza joint. And worth many revisits.

Pizzeria L’Operetta
12 Gopeng Street #01-78-81
Icon Village Singapore 078877

Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am-3:00pm
Last Order:2:30pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat 6:00pm-11:00pm
Last Order:10:00pm

Monday, September 26, 2011

Singapore's Best Biryani? Indian Times is a contender...

Regular readers of this blog will know, I have a special love for biryani. And how I often lament the lack of good ones in Singapore, especially when compared to the wonderful biryani we can easily get in so many establishments in India. Of those in Singapore, I do like those served by Mirchi's, but also by Bismillah. Recently, my friend brought me to this place in the Big Splash, and perhaps its been more than 2 years since my last visit to India...but perhaps Indian Times is really good.

The biryani is served as with either lamb, chicken, fish or prawn. We had a chicken and a lamb for our lunch...with a small pot of black dhal.

Pwah! Fragrance like I have not had before in Singapore. As I mentioned, memories of India came flooding back. The rice, is the real deal...beautiful long grained basmati. Beautifully spiced. With a curl or two of deep fried onion as a garnish.

The meats within the rice was absolutely wonderful. Both the chicken and the lamb was literally fall off the bone, melt in your mouth. Not that either had any bone...they have been systemetically removed by the cooks before cooking. The spices are wonderful. The entire dish was piping hot.

Wonderful. Certainly one of the best I have sampled here. And one I will soon be craving to go back to. Very soon.

BTW, the restaurant also serves kebabs and all the usual Northern Indian menu...which I am sure is quite good...but we were there for biryanis...and it satisfied us.

Indian Times
902 East Coast Parkway
Singapore 449874
6440 5686
Open Daily 12pm-3pm, 6pm-10:30pm

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Espresso Joints: Geisha Coffee

Geisha coffee...a local coffee joint...not all espresso, but hinting at the famous Geisha coffee...and I guess, the coy Geishas of Kyoto's Gion district. But I digress...

This is a little cafe, owned and operated by Wang. An espresso machine, more like one in a cookie shop than a true blue espresso bar sits on the counter. I must admit, I am not really familiar with the make...Casadio, it says on the side.

They offer several types of coffee, all roasted inhouse, but what is interesting is that Wang actually use a hottop style electric roaster...roasting batches of no more than 250g each time. But despite the equipment, he is beaming full of enthusiasm. This man loves his coffee. Each batch, is carefully roasted, then cooled, and sealed in ziplock bags, and lovingly stored in his shelf.

I saw him doing a cupping session...his actions were delebrate...careful, respectful.

I opted for the special espresso blend...I forget which:

Good. A little lacking in crema. But the espresso was bright, lively. On the palate, it lacks the creamy, viscousity. But is vivacious, and comforting. A little bitterness brings the taste to fruition. Nice after taste.

Interesting little place, one out of the norm in the equipment it uses. But it goes to show, how passion can show in the products offered by the passionate.

Geisha Coffee
175 Bencoolen street #01-55 Burlington Square

Monday, September 19, 2011

Revisiting an old favourite with good friends: Meng Kee Seafood

I did once almost crown Meng Kee as the new king of crab bee hoon...dethroning the venerable Sin Huat...and indeed, if you wish for a nice meal, without being harrassed by the owner/chef/cashier (all rolled into one) or for the meal to take 3 hours, or to eat in air conditioned comfort, Meng Kee was the alternative. Almost, because if the taste of the crab bee hoon was the be all and end all, then Danny's creations (at Sin Huat) still reigns.

I recently re-visited with some friends from Switzerland, and they were amazed with the food, as I was...all over again...rediscovering the wonderful seafood...

The crab was quite large...luscious, I would say. The bee hoon, infused...every single strand...with the beautiful crab flavour was outstanding. The dish was all at once rich, bursting with umami, savoury and tantalising to the taste buds. Truly excellent.

But we started not with such a aural sensation, but with friends have never eaten fish skin. Westerners usually fillet their fish, and throw away the skin...but they were adventurous enough to try.

Aromatic, crunchy, tasty...were the words that come to mind. I imagined the skin to have been deep fried, but amongst the 3 of us, we could not find any trace of grease, or fat. Very good.

We also had steamed scallops with heaps and heaps of garlic

Gorgeous, fat, succulent scallops, lightly steamed, with some soy sauce, and loaded with heaps of garlic makes a wonderful dish...unless you are not the garlicky type...this is magnificent.

The crayfish was also quite good...

The shellfish was very fresh. The meat was firm, with a crunch, but yielded to a sweetness that only shellfish can provide...a blend of sweetness which is not sugary coyness, but from deep within the meat, mixed with a touch of salt and chilli to spice things up.

And we rounded the meal with ohr nee...

My friends had a ginko tree growing in their parent's house in Vaud (province in Switzerland), and they never thought to eat the nuts. Indeed, I am told ginko nuts are poisonous, and only with careful preparation will render the poison harmless...but also bring out a wonderful flavour I so love. And complements the beautiful yam paste which has been lovingly prepared. The dish required 20 minutes of preparation steam the yam paste which is judiciously mixed with lard. The final concoction, laced with pumpkin and ginko nuts, and often with a drizzle of coconut milk. Too many calories? Yes. Tasty? YES!!!

Meng Kee is still a wonderful restaurant to satisfy shellfish and seafood cravings.

556 Macpherson Road
6747 4075
12noon - 2pm
5pm - 11pm

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Espresso Joints: Loysel's Toy

I have written and waxed lyrical about the double ristretto at Papa Palheta...especially when one of the senior baristas are in charge of the machine...they are still my reference standard for, heavy, viscous mouthfeel, magnificent nose, beautiful tasting. And great after taste. Even with the reportly a bit pedestrian Terra Firma blend, this is a magnificent espresso.

Loysel's Toy is another venture by the same folks who own Papa's. And they operate this cafe like a real cafe...not a roastery, where you get free samples of the coffee, and encouraged to tip for your cup. Situated in a kinda of hideaway in Kampong Bugis...not friendly for those who depend on public transport...and even for those of us who drive...parking is in a small URA carpark, some 150m away. Anyway, nitpicking...

They have a beautiful Probat roaster right inside the premises...

I had the double ristretto...

Very good...but not quite as good as the few tens I had drunk at Papa's...lacks the deep viscousity and mouthfeel. Lacks the slight sweetness that accompanies the mild bitterness of a nicely extracted espresso.

The picolo latte's artwork is worth while...nice, defined.

Tastewise, quite superb, but as I have mentioned before, milk tends to dull the espresso experience...and a good leveller.

As this is the place to just laze around with some good friends...kind of like having an open house...I arrived at about 2pm with some Swiss friends...but one of my buddies was already there, and have had his first cup. A bit later, another friend dropped by...had his caffeine fix, and then this fellow's owner came in...

Click for large picture of an high end watch made by an independent watchmaker.

Then another fellow came by...all in, I was there for about 4 double ristretto, one picolo latte...and at nearly 6pm, I had a pot of nice Earl Grey...

66 Kampong Bugis, #01-02, Singapore, Singapore 338987 · Get directions
Tue - Fri: 09:00 - 18:00
Sat - Sun: 09:00 - 19:30

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ban Chang Kueh: simple pancake or not?

Ban Chang Kueh...or ming chiang kuih as it is variously called, is basically a pancake...fried over butter or margerin on a cast iron wok. The flour is cooked till crisp on the outside, and features a very crispy edge, and filled with peanut paste and sometimes sweet corn.

Pretty simple dish...or so we think.

The secret is in getting it just right....just the right mixture of batter, with just the right balance of sweet, savoury...just the right thickness of batter, so the outside is crisp, crusty, but a thin...just right layer of soft, slightly mushy risen flour pampers the palate by providing contrast and counterpoint.

The rich peanut filling...itself providing a counterpoint on its own...the crunchy crushed peanuts dissolve into a rich, creamy concoction as one chews. The addition of the sweet, and slightly acidic sweet corn lifts the flavour a few notches. Providing yet another counterpoint. Magic...when it comes together.

This tiny little stall shows mastery of the art. Not many in Penang or elsewhere do with such success.

Pushcart outside Swee Hong Cafe
Corner of Burma Road and Jalan Pasar

View Larger Map

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Satay in Penang: Satay Hut

Satay is one of the comfort foods. Originally Malay in origin...though, I think if we trace back probably converge with other cuisines in pre-history...the tradition of barbecuing meat on a skewer is found almost in all old cultures. But the uniqueness of the Malay/Indonesian satay is the peanut sauce.

Typically, satay stores are roadside carts...barbecuing their meats on a charcoal fire...with the pakcik fanning the coals to cook the skewered meat. But this was a real cafe style store within a large hypermarket.

We ordered the chicken and the beef...

The beef was a bit on the tough side...but chalk that up to lack of fat in the meat. But the sauce was gorgeous. Truly gorgeous. Very rich, creamy, with aromatic crunchy peanuts. Beautiful. Reminded me of a shop in Centerpoint some 20 years ago, called Satay Anika which served the most marvellous satay I have tasted. Satay Anika's meats were chunky, fat and tender. But they are no more. Alas.

The chicken was a bit more tender, but flavourful. And the same power sauce...

BTW, the sauce looks different in hue, but tasted more or the same. I am not sure if they take the trouble to make two different sauces for beef and chicken. But looking through my photographs (I forget how they looked then), the GH2 saw the colours as different.

They also served a rather nice roti jala

A pancake of sorts, but made by dripping flour onto a hot flat pan by allowing the flour mix to drip on the pan through small holes in the can containing the mix. Resulting in a pancake which looks like a net...the Malay word for net is jala, hence the name. The beef rendang we had was very good. The meat was still a bit chewy, but totally in character with the rendang. The sauce, rich, smothering and wonderfully aromatic.

Disclaimer: The shop is owned by my sister's friend...though when we visited, we did not inform the owner, and she was not at the store. My sister is not known to her staff, so we believe we did not get any preferential treatment.

Satay Hut
Tesco (Tg. Pinang) Tanjung Tokong, Penang 10470

Monday, September 5, 2011

Great food and ambience at the highest point in Singapore: Stellar at 1 Altitude

One Altitude sits on top of One Raffles Place...and the bar on the roof, claims to be the no 1 highest spot in Singapore...some 275m above sea level...quite a bit higher than the highest natural peak in Singapore...Bukit Timah which tops out at 163m.

On the Tuesday evening when we were there, the restaurant one level down from the roof was nicely full...about 70% filled, but when we adjourned to the bar at about 11pm, we found it was full of revellers, enjoying the magnificent view from up there.

Click here for large pic from the bar

A little further down, at the restaurant level, from my seat at the dining table, I could see the Marina Bay area beautifully...

Click here for large pic of the Marina Bay Sands area, showing the Science and Technology Museum

But this is a foodie first a glimpse of the interior of the restaurant:

Beautifully appointed, the restaurant, called Stellar, is part of the One Rochester Group, who also own the One Altitude bar upstairs, and the One Caramel cake and pastry outlet on the ground floor.

I was invited by the nice PR folks at One Rochester, and we were in for a treat...huge meal ahead...thanks to Lily Hamid and Chiew Yen for the invitation.

We started with the appetizers, of course, of which there were 2, in addition to the beautifully fresh baked breads:

Seared Hokkaido scallops and octopus:

Very nice. Great start. Generally, the food is I am going to let the pictures do most of the talking....:-)

The other appetizer is Twice baked gruyere souffle

I love gruyere cheese...but cheese this early in the meal often will sit in the tummy...and hinder further intake of food...usually not a good idea, but in this case, it was made like a soufle...the chef is genius...the gruyere was all flavour but it was also light and fluffy like a soufle. Excellent.

We moved next to the sushi and sashimi course:

This was the platter...omakase style...packed with otoro, hamachi, sowrdfish, salmon, lobster, and caviar - from the sturgeon and salmon.

Needless to say, this was superb. Fresh. Beautiful creamy fish.

I particularly loved the swordfish - mekajiki...

If not fresh, it can have a strong odour...but when fresh, it has a springy and firm texture, and a smooth, creamy taste, with a nice body in the mouth. This was excellent mekajiki.

The sushi platter was not to be outdone...


We next had the charcuterie taster course...cured meats...not my favourite, but taste I did...I found the cured meats, which were top grade hams sourced from Spain, to be very gamey...

The chef made his appearance before each course, to explain the use of ingredients and cooking method...nice...

And next, the pork course:

The slow roasted suckling pig with iberico jambon and fig stuffing

The meat was ultra tender, full of flavour. Caution for the fat wary, this is a full fat version...full flavour too...

Next a risotto dish, with poached Maine lobster:

I found this to be magnificent. The rice was cooked al dente, infused with the flavours of the sea and the lobster broth. Chunks of lobster were generously mixed into the risotto. And a huge claw stands guard. Very good.

And the protein piece de resistance...grain fed Tomahawk rib eye

This was a huge serving...some 1.5kg or thereabouts...with the bone with marrow.

The meat was excellent. Tender, full of beefy goodness. In comparison to a recent tasting at Seb's Bistro, this was a bit more flavourful, and less tender. Both were good, but I would give the slight edge to Seb's....of course Seb's wouldn't even dream of the same atmosphere of dining almost in the clouds, with Singapore at one's feet.

A closer look at the meat...mmmm

Then comes the endless desserts:

A beautiful chocholate dish, appropriately called Chocholate Seduction. I found this to be truly seductive...the choc was rich, creamy...teasing, cajoling the taste of the gods.

For the choc lover, this first dessert pales the remainding two...but my dining companions proclaim them to be winners...the fresh cream trip called the Tropical Teaser was beautiful to look at...

And the Tropical Vodka Trifle was intriguing...but alas I had not more room...the sashimi and the steak have taken their toll

But of course, I had to have an espresso doppio...

Nice, beautiful crema...the barista knows what he is doing...the taste was good, but not spectacular. Mouthfeel was not as creamy and viscous as I would have liked. Perhaps the beans, though freshly ground were not fresh roasted...I suspect because they probably use commercial beans as opposed to gourmet, roasted in the premises beans which have been rested for a couple of days. But restaurants go, this was reasonable espresso.

Overall, a magnificent tasting. Certainly an aspirational venue for the celebration of a win, or mark of a nice occassion. Magnificent ambience...unbeatable views. And great service makes the excellent foods even more outstanding.

STELLAR - 1-Altitude Gallery & Bar
One Raffles Place (former OUB Building)
Take the private lifts on the side of the building.
T: 6438 0410

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Where else but Lorong Selamat Penang

Returned to Lorong Selamat. Last time I featured the famous Char Kway Teow goggle lady, and this time, the older coffee shop, just a few doors away.

The goggle lady used to operate her push cart just a few meters from this shop, before she got rich from her takings and moved to her own shop a few doors away. Some say that the current CKT stall man taught her how to fry CKT. But all we know that he offers a mean CKT, and also is equipped with his own goggles

The wait was about 30 minutes...a bit less than the other, now more famous stall. And one does not have to deal with the antics of the lady and her assistants. The CKT looks beautiful. But the question is how does it taste? And more importantly, is his better than the lady's?

Well, not quite. My ultimate CKT is still Ah Leng's, with the duck egg and addition of mantis prawns. But coming in a close second is the goggle lady's...the way it is fried, the wok hei is just superior. The goggle man's version is very good, to be sure, but lacks the last bit of...shall I say je ne sais quoi.

The shop also have the usual evils...

The Hokkien Mee is quite good:

In fact, I still remember my school days, when I used to drop by in this very same coffee shop after a movie, and eat both the CKT and the HKM. In those days, some 30 years ago, the only CKT stall by this shop was the goggle lady's. And we also used to cool down with the ice kachang:

And if the occassion is right, and we have a bit of money in our pockets, some lor bak and heh chiee..

Note the bowl of lor...or gravy...which is the identity fo lor bak...meaning gravy meat...translated from Hokkien...not the variety of lorbak served in Penang restaurants in Singapore...which is sans lor. The heh chiee...prawn fritters are a speciality...crispy, and beautifully aromatic of fresh prawns.

This visit, there was also a jew her eng chye stall...which did not used to be there.

The most famous JHEC stall in Penang used to be by a corner at Gurney Drive...but that disappeared probably some 20 years ago. This one served at Lorong Selamat was all right, passes the mark, but does not really hit the spot for me...well maybe I was reminiscing of the good old days.

Anyway, this coffee shop at Lorong Selamat is still worth a visit for Singaporeans vacationing in Penang. As is the CKT at the Goggle Lady's visit both. Highly recommended.

Chuan Kee Cafe
82, Lorong Selamat,
10400 Pulau Pinang

View Larger Map