Monday, July 30, 2012

Down Home with the Neely's: Food Network's fab program

Down Home with the Neelys: a very popular program on The Food Network...last week, both Gina and Pat were in town to promote their new season, and I caught up with them.


Touted as the King and Queen of barbecue, Pat and Gina Neely now go to Season 4 of their popular program Down Home with the Neelys.

Native to Tennessee, they run one of the state's most successful barbecue restaurants...and if you know the American South...you know the barbecue is BIG there!

The couple was super bubbly...just like you see them on TV...jibing, joking, having a whole load of fun...like firecrackers!

They showed a demonstration of how to make some of their fabulous barbecur sauces...its pretty amazing how simple some of these sauces are, and how they delicious they taste.

Interesting afternoon, great food, and a great couple to follow on TV.

Thanks to Stephanie of Webers Handwick, who are the publicity agents for Food Network Asia for the invitation.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Korean in Singapore: Hansang at Square 2

Hansang Korean

Korean food is becoming more and more popular these days. Korean drama and K-pop are icons of popular culture, even here in Singapore. I originally did not like Korean food, but numerous trips to Seoul and Korea has taught me the virtues of the cuisine, and now I am a fan.

I have only recently begun to explore the Korean offerings in Singapore. So this is one of the places I started, right in Square 2 at Novena...which is somewhat of a Korean enclave.

The place offers a la carte barbecue buffet. Unlimited servings of barbecue...limited to one serving of seafood. Reasonably priced.

We started with what turned out to be the best dish of the day...the pork belly...

Certainly not for the faint hearted...the generous marbling on the belly, thick skin and attendent collagen. hmm...

But properly barbecued...it was fantastic. The fat oozes out, almost liquid. The collagen in the skin is firm, a bit chewy, but not rubbery. The charring by the charcoal fire provided a beautiful smokey flavour. Marvellous. We had 3 servings of this magnificent pork.

Koreans are rather famous, and protective of their beef...rightly so...they have some of the best beef I have eaten...similar to the much admired Wagyu of Japan. But Hansang's beef...both the seasoned bulbogi and kalbe were moderately nice.

We had the mandatory single serving of seafood...an assortment of prawns, scallops with a gob of butter.

Nice, but no cigars. We also had Bilimbab and some noodles. They were also good, but not earth shattering...and somehow I did not take photographs of those.

Overall, a simple, family oriented place. Reasonably priced, excellent service. But not one to set standards of Korean cuisine in Singapore.

Hansang Korean Family Restaurant
10 Sinaran Drive
#03-33 Novena Square 2
+65 6397 6752

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh, now in MidView City

Bak Kut Teh: Rong Cheng

Bak Kut Teh is one of the perrenial favourites in Singapore...perhaps a few varieties exist, but commonly, we catagorize them into herbal "Klang" style or the peppery Singapore variant.

Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh is one of the interesting ones in Singapore. Others which I do like are the Ah Hua in PSA, and also Bliss Cafe in Sultan Gate. But a new Rong Cheng store opened in MidView City, near Sin Ming, and as I was there with my friends to visit BikePlus and My Bike Shop, we dropped in for lunch.

The soup was nice and peppery, though not as strong in peppers as Ah Hua, but still, pungent and peppery. The meat served was a whole rib...nice, tender, almost fall off the bone, but not overcooked. Very good. In addition to two ribs, I got a bit nearer to the backbone, with some lean, dark meat on the bone. Nice and succulent too.

I particularly liked the well cooked garlic clove served with the dish. Properly cooked, the garlic retains the beautiful flavours, while the sharpness of the garlic is dulled. Nice touch.

overall, I enjoyed the BKT, and definitely worth a visit when I am in the area. Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh
26 Sin Ming Lane
#01-117 S573971
66841889

Thursday, July 19, 2012

French bistro style: La Kitchenette

New places are sometimes interesting...the excitement of trying out a new place, with its promise of satisfying cuisine. One of my makan buddies noticed this new place sprouting out in Goldhill Square and thought it might be fun to try it out. So off we went, to the French inspired restaurant.

With the space for only 4 tables next to what seemed like a bakery, Kitchenette seems to be quite interesting. Freshly baked bread smells heavenly. We were ushered upstairs, to a rather spacious dining area, seating perhaps 40 easily.

The waitress told us the interesting space next door...combining a bar, an Italian styled cafe, a Thai restaurant is also owned by the same people. But at Kitchenette, the menu is French inspired. We began immediately...with a duck pate, a plate of French sausage and some Ceasar Salad.

The breads were, of course heavenly...very nicely made. And with the duck pate which was also expertly made, made a very nice starter.

The sausage was a bit less interesting...this was a huge sausage, sliced and plated with picked cucumbers and pearl onions. I found this to be quite ordinary, and can be easily surpassed by the offerings in many other delicatessens in the city.

The Ceasar's Salad with chicken was rather good, though. The vegetables were fresh, crunchy. The chicken nicely done...skinless breast meat, lightly steamed and then grilled. Nice shreds of cheese and a tasty, but light dressing.

On to the mains...I did not taste all the mains, but to give an idea of the variety, I show the photographs of the other mains eaten by my friends. First the steak

Looks nice. Ordered well done, and served to be what seemed to me to be well done.

The oxtail stew came in a small cup

Smelled good, the meat looked like it fell off the bone.

I had the braised lamb shank...a huge serving

The lamb was ultra tender...the meat fell from the bone at the slightest prod with the fork. Taste-wise it was mild. The braising liquid was not heavily spiced, and perhaps a touch of salt might highlight the taste a bit...though truth be told, I rather prefer it to be a touch light, so the quality of the meat can be savoured. And savoured it was...the meat was excellent. The serving a bit large.

Then came desserts, by which time, I was full, having eaten the leg of lamb...but we shared a chocholate tart and a tiramisu

The pastry was a bit hard, but the chocolate was rich, smothering within. Went well with the small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The tiramisu was rather delicious...home made style, served in a glass. Rich, well rounded taste, and a fitting end to a nice meal.

The wait staff were very friendly and nice, and best of all, the prices are rather affordable, with mains hovering around $20.

Kitchenette
1 Goldhill Plaza #01-11
9am-9pm daily

Monday, July 16, 2012

Eating at the stables: classy dining at Marmalade Pantry

Marmalade Pantry is an old name in Singapore dining...I would describe it as a chic, casual dining environment, where beautiful people meet and greet. Especially so at their rather boisterous Ion outlet. Recently, they opened another outlet in the old Turf Club grounds. A much more homey, country atmosphere, rather more romantic.


Set near the Riding Club, and their stables...one can almost detect the faint smell of the horses when the wind is blowing the right direction. The restaurant took over from another old favourite: Mimolette.

I was there on invitation of Food News, who are the PR folks who do the fine work of promoting Marmalade. And to begin our tasting, some salads.

Pan seared haloumi salad

The star of this dish is the namesake haloumi - a Greek cheese with a high melting point, so suitable for grilling and frying or in this case pan searing. The cheese is usually made with a mixture of goat and sheep's milk. This particular example is made in Australia, and is rather firm, with a nice, firm texture, and a slightly salty flavour. Goes well with the juicy tomatos and greens which adorn the dish with the generous drizzing of olive oil.

The second salad is their Mexican chicken salad

Beautiful Mexican flavours - with the salsa like mix of chick peas, diced tomatos, spiced corn and avocado et al. And nicely supported by the crisply grilled tortila and grilled chicken.

The pastas were next, and as two of their all time favourites were part of our tasting menu. First the crabmeat linguini

Spicy, piquant sauce, but with richness fortified by the exuberant crabmeat. Very nice. The pasta was a bit over al dente, but the dish was quite outstanding in my books. Not quite the coy-ness of the similarly named pasta used to be served at Valentino's (which alas, in last tasting has slipped from its lofty self some 5 years ago), but quite close. Close enough to beat Valentino's current offering.

And spagetti carbonara...this is a hard one to nail by many cooks...

But the chaps at the Marmalade kitchen did well. A perfectly poached egg sits on top of a decadently rich, creamy sauce, littered with chunky, crisp, flavourful bacon bits.. I know my friend Dr Mycroft would love this one.

On to the mains. Their signature steak and eggs

We ordered it Chicago medium rare...charred on the outside. And it was delivered as ordered. The beef was, I guess, Australian grain fed...given the chewy sinews and lack of intermuscular fat in the form of generous marbling. But the meat was well grilled (in which I mean lightly grilled...) and was flavourful, delicious, albeit a bit on the tough side of good. The sauce on the side is a good take, as this will allow the diner to choose how much or little (I like it sans sauce) they prefer. The smashed peas provided a nice counterpoint. Well deserving of a signature dish.

We were next presented with crispy pork belly

Looking more like two large ribs, the pork belly drew smiles and oohs around. I found the pork to be very nicely seasoned, and tender. The crispyness remained on the skin, which remained so even with the natural jus drizzled over the meat. Some celeraic and apple slaw provides the bit of acid to cut through the fat (yum) of the meat.

And beef cheeks

Touted in the menu as 120 days grain fed beef cheeks...with horseradish mash, field mushrooms and pearl onions and asparagus. The cheeks were super tender, almost to being mushy, as beef cheeks tend to be. Despite the French label, I don't beleive I have ever seen a laughing cow, so the cheek muscles are I guess not heavily exercised, which attributes to the tenderness of the cheeks. Comparing to my gold standard for this in Singapore, Marmalade's is less structured (in that it is too tender, perhaps too much braising), and a bit too mushy. Brasserie Wolf is still the standard bearer for me in this department.

In any tasting event, especially where there are bloggers...cameras are whipped out and before the food can be tasted, photographs must be taken. The restaurant was rather dim, in keeping with the romantic intents of the environment, so we had a small private studio, at a prep table used by the waiters to stage the dishes.

Which leads us to the desserts...of course the famous Marmalade cupcakes were a feature, as well as the Lemon brulee tart, a granny smith and stem ginger pudding, a sticky date pudding together with the Red velvet cupcake, Elvis cupcake and the Hummingbird cupcake.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am not much of a dessert connoisseur. I did eat, and taste all the sweets. For me, the standouts were the lemon brulee tart - very sour and perky. And the sticky date pudding.

Beautiful environment, really cozy and romantic. And a nice menu, with many specialities to choose from.

Many thanks to Jasmin from Foodnews and Marmalade Pantry at the Stables for hosting the tasting.

The Marmalade Pantry (Fairways Drive)
55 Fairways Drive, Singapore 286846
6467 7748
Tue–Fri: 3pm – 11pm, Sat–Sun: 10am– 11pm (Closed on Mon)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Super Tree Dining: Eating in style at the Gardens by the Bay

The Gardens by the Bay just opened last week. This billion dollar gardens, set in the reclaimed land of Marina South is an amazing combination of the natural beauty of bonatical speciments interspersed with man-made monstrosities like Supertrees. And greenhouses. But today's post is about dining options while at the gardens.

At time of writing, I think the only dining option is the newly minted concept of a mixing fine dining with Singapore hawker favourites.

Click on image above to see a large panorama (1920 pixels wide) of the dining environment. Each of the participants -- Peach Garden Noodle House, Hill Street Coffee Shop, Casa Verde, Canele, and Texas Fried Chicken occupy a lot along one wall. Dining is free seating, and diners are free to pick and choose from any of the outlets and share on the same table. Like a very high end food court.

I was there for the media launch event, and a huge menu was prepared for our lunch, after the customary speeches. Each participating outlet elected to show off several of their favourites. I start with Hill Street Coffee Shop:

Conceptually, like a traditional kopi tiam of old, the store takes its name from the iconic Hill Street area. Offering interesting local delicacies.

First the kopi.

And a very delicious and enticing variant of the more common butter kaya toast...instead of toast bread, the white bread is steamed

I found this to be excellent. Steaming bread makes it a bit more springy, and the texture very nice. The kaya was fragrant, sweet. And the semi-melted butter completed the palate experience.

A Hokkien Prawn Mee was also served:

Excellent. Fragrant, crustacean flavours abound. The chilli had a nice punch.

Their signature Kampung Rendang Chicken Nasi Lemak

The chicken rendang was rich, tender and beautifully rendered (no pun on rendang...haha). The rice had a beautiful coconut flavour and was nicely complemented by the tart acid of the achar. The texture contrast was offered by the crisp and crunchy nuts and deep fried ikan bilis. Chilli was also nice with a good kick.

Laksa...Singapore's favourite

Very rich broth. Chilli picked up a punch to cut through the richness. With sliced boiled egg, prawns, fish cake to complete the dish.

On to Peach Garden's offerings...First the Steamed Xiao Loong Pao with goose liver and double boiled shark's bone cartilage soup.

This is XLP with a difference. Not only the traditionally made XLP was done well and tasted good, but the XLP also sits in its own broth of shark's cartilage soup...a thick, collagen soup which felt so supremely nourishing. This is by far my favourite dish of the day.

A special kampung chicken rice was also served

The rice is made with basmati...as we make it at home...the chicken is imported Malaysian kampung chicken...note the yellow hue of the skin, characteristic of the kampung chicken. The meat was tender, but also provided a bit of bite, and had a chicken-ny (sorry, seems to be the best way to describe the flavour...beef - beefy...so chicken - chickeny). Of course, a typical chicken rice is proped up with great condiments...chilli, ginger and black sauce.

More common is the prawn dumpling noodle

Quite de rigeur, nice but not special. Everything is right...the dumplings had each a large, succulent, crunchy prawn. The noodles were done perfect. The broth nice.

And a special pau...steamed chicken bun with baby abalone

I found this to be very good. The pau skin was tender, airy, fluffy. The meat nicely seasoned. The small baby abalone provided an additional treat - sweet, succulent with the springy, slightly tough texture of the abalone contrasting to the lightness of the pastry.

The Peach Garden desserts feature a selection of shaved ice served in their own skin...so to speak...

Casa Verde, already a successful outlet in Botanic Gardens, extend their botanical aspirations to Gardens by the Bay with their second outlet. The salad was fresh, colourful and fun

Being Italian inspired, the outlet specializes in pizza and pasta...here are two of their more unusual offerings. First the Sfilatino...a wet Italian bread served with cheese and a tomato, bean dip.

And every kid's favourite - baked macaroni with cheese

And there was more! From Texas Fried Chicken...which boasts of using only fresh chilled chicken from Malaysia...their huge fried chicken...in crispy spicy and also traditional batter

I must applaud them for using fresh chicken...no frozen chicken taste...just smooth, succulent with a wonderful crunchy batter covering.

Their firewrap...a tortila wrap with fried chicken breast and vegetables. A nice all in one meal.

And Canele Patisserie wrapped up the heavy eating afternoon with pastries...everyone's favourites: Macarons

This edition is their special summer macarons...with fresh fruity flavours. I am not too much of a sweet tooth, so found the macarons a bit too sweet, but the flavours were robust.

Not much of a sweet tooth, but with a soft spot for ice cream...their chocholate caramel ice cream was heaven!

Wow, what a meal. Nice place to dine, beautiful environs, good food.

This is an invited review. Thanks to Hsu Lin at Ninemer for the invitation.

Supertree Dining
Gardens by the Bay
7:30am to 10pm daily