Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tiong Hoe Speciality Coffee

Espresso joints abound in Singapore. What a total contrast with 8 -10 years ago. When the coffee giants like Starbucks moved into town and took over the coffee scene.

For many of us, afficionados, this was the dark ages. And prompted us to learn how to roast our coffee in our homes and make espresso ourselves. Thus was born our little group Singapore Coffee Greens. But fortunately, this revolution caught on, and out sprung many speciality espresso shops, owners driven by the same goals to serve freshly roasted coffee, ground on demand, and made with love. The third wave has arrived.

Pride of place, an huge burr grinder with electronic doser, and the Elektra 3 group espresso machine.

 One such curious new wave shop actually arose from the old school Nanyang coffee roasters. Tiong Hoe started out in 1960, and now managed by the second generation. Tucked in the quiet neighbourhood of Sterling Road, I was alerted of its existence by a good friend who lives nearby.

The shop is not really an espresso joint. But rather a shop to sell coffee beans, grounds, and brewing paraphernalia including espresso machines and burr grinders. 

Hundreds of kilograms of fresh green coffee is stored in the room nearby. And the coffee is roasted in a huge roaster in the back. As the company has been around for a long time...the decoration is full of old, beautiful coffee making equipment. Like this vintage test roaster, which apparently has been upgraded with electronics.

The coffees are served for tasting, so there is no prices for the coffees...a small box suggests you tip the barista, a sweet young lady who is very knowledgeable of her coffees. 

The espresso, doppio

Fabulously small...the correct dosage. Thick, syrupy, with a nice, beautiful crema thick and firm enough to support a teaspoon of sugar for at least 10 seconds...viola! Like in Italy! On the palate, it was well rounded. Full bodied, with a mild astringent acid note at the back of the throat, which lingers for quite a while. Quite nice.

The cappuccino came with decent latte art

The milk was nicely foamed, and the art had nice definition. On the palate, the astringent quality of the blend was muted by the milk, as milk tends to do. Not a bad cup. 

Beans are also availalbe. I bought 250g of the blend used in the house espresso

Pulled on my 12 year old machne...Mazzer Mini with Elektra Micro Casa A Leva

The espresso which yielded was quite good. A bit shallower crema than with the big espresso machine in the shop, but I would apply the same tasting notes.

Superb coffees and a great find. And quite a nice relaxing atmosphere to drop in a hot afternoon for a cuppa. Highly recommended.

Tiong Hoe Speciality Coffee
Blk 170 Stirling Road
Singapore 140170
Tel: (65) 6473 1133
Fax: (65) 6473 1187

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hooked on Heads

Hooked on Heads is one of the old shops who have been dishing out delights for quite a while...I am not sure when they began operations, but from as long ago as 2007 I have been visiting this place.

Originally, cooked and served with passion, but my latest experience falls short of all the other visits. Not only did the quality of the cooking falter, but also, and perhaps more dangerously, the attitude of the owner. It is a sad when an old faithful fails. Sad indeed.

We ordered our usual fish fillet curry. Usually this was a beautiful piece of fish, fresh, cooked just so in the wonderfully fragrant curry. The curry was still rather good, but the fish had a foul smell. 

Unfortunate, and these things sometimes happen. But when we told the owner, his reaction rather surprised me, and told me that the passion has left, and the days of the restaurant are numbered. He said, "oh, its the fish belly...if you don't like, don't eat.", and got his server to take back the curry. I am saddened. No apology, no offer to replace with another dish. No interest from him at all.

I have had a taste of the curry, it was still rather good, but not class leading anymore. Happy Fish, a stall in a Food Court is very similar, and I can see the owner of that stall takes great pride in the freshness and the quality of his fish. 

The other dishes were also not class leading...the baby kailan

Was good, but the vegetable was not peak freshness. It lacked the crunch, and sweetness that a good baby kailan has. I will introduce a small cze char stall who does this particularly well soon...and who also does the next dish extremely well...the venerable har cheong kai, But that is another story for another blog post. We push on with Hooked's har cheong kai.

The har cheong kai at Hooked was very good. Crisp, juicy. It was well seasoned, with nam yu and other condiments, giving it a red hue. It remained the saving grace for Hooked this evening. Still very good. 

And we used to love the hae cho

Still quite decent. But a bit lacking...I cannot quite put my finger on any one single component that this dish is lacking a bit. It was perhaps only good...but why eat good deep fried food, when you can get excellent ones? Especially with the attendant health risks associated with deep frying. 

So it is with a bit of sadness, that I see the passing of a great place to least for me...I probably won't be visiting again soon. Sigh.

Hooked on Heads

Daily: 10:30 - 14:30
Daily: 17:30 - 21:30

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Yoshimaru Ramen Bar

Yoshimaru is one of the traditional places one goes to seek out a satisfying ramen meal. Tucked in one corner of Holland Village, this little ramen bar is also well known for its Ramen Challenge, which now returns from now till June 22.

I was invited to try out the challenge: finish the challenge ramen, which is triple the regular sized ramen, including soup and all contents, and you get the meal for free, enter into a draw which may win you some Lenovo tablets.

Quite huge, weighs about 3kg of food...and the soup is hot...but to win, you need to finish this in 12 minutes. If you don't you will need to pay the $35 for this huge portion.

But I chickened out...I went for the regular and traditional Hakata ramen, in tonkotsu broth...the very same as the challenge ramen, but in a regular portion.

Rather good, I must say. The soup is thick, full of collagen, and very tasty. The egg was very nicely done...firm whites, and nearly runny yolk, and flavoured. The chasiu was good, but in my view not quite exceptional, but on the whole, the ramen is quite good. 

And instead of testing myself with the challenge, we had fried chicken.

I found this rather good, not greasy. The batter was light, and crispy. And the chicken within was still quite juicy.

And added gyoza

These were quite good. The browned side was not quite super crisp, but does the job...and the filling was rather tasty...filled with chicken and prawn meat. I really liked the taste of the gyoza, and would rate this as one of the better ones I have eaten.

Overall, nice ramen place. And with the ramen challenge, makes quite an interesting outing for groups.

As mentioned, this is an invited tasting. Thanks to Ann for invitation.

Yoshimaru Ramen Bar

Mon to Sun: 11.00 am - 11.00 pm

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pasta Brava

Pasta and Italian food is one of the mainstays in most culinary agenda. And in Singapore, we have many potential candidates for best in town. Pasta Brava, tucked in a little corner shophouse in Craig Road is one candidate, and has been around for a long time...longevity must mean they are good...or are they?

The interior is quite beautiful, comfortably decorated like someone's home...with children drawings hanging on the wall...but those are not children's drawings...they are those of the diners who can draw, doodle on the paper table coverings with chalk provided. I guess the best ones are selected and hung...which explains the somewhat random shapes of the paper...I guess cut to exclude stains from the food.

I do love a plate of real squid ink that I mean the sauce is made from squid ink, not those where the pasta is made with squid ink, and the sauce just a simple cream sauce. And they do serve a fine example here.

So dark, the spaghetti is totally blackened. And within are morsels of prawns, squid, clams, mussel and half a small crayfish. The sauce is as it should as hell...and fragrant with a wonderful aroma only freshly made squid ink can provide. The other seafood is marvelously fresh, sweet, succulent. Magnificent dish. I will return for many more of this.

We also had the risotto, which is another reported favourite

And indeed, it too was fantastic. The proper slow cooking method, of dishing out stock ladle by ladle, slowly allowing the flavours to infuse into the rice is paying dividends. The rice was very nice, flavourful. Absolutely mouthwatering. And very satisfying. The mushrooms complimented perfectly. One of the best risottos in town that we have tasted. Very nice.

And a slightly unusual dish in Singapore...I think fairly regular on the menu in Venice, but this is the first time I have seen it here...a bavette pasta, with crab.

Looks like mee pok...but this is a very unusual pasta in Singapore...somewhat like spaghetti, but flat and with a slightly convex shape, the pasta was perfect al dente. The bits of crab was very nice and sweet. I love that the pasta (both this and the squid ink above) is served Italian style...with just the right amount of sauce, not like some places in Singapore were after eating the pasta, one is confronted with a small pond of pasta sauce. The sauce is supposed to be dished out just in the right amount, and the pasta cooked just so that it allows the sauce to stick to it, giving it maximum flavour.

We also had the time and tested tiramisu

I loved it too...though truth be told, this is not the best I have tasted...not in Italy or Europe, but not also in Singapore. The old La Forketta served a better version...I haven't eaten tiramisu at the new La Forketta (at Dempsey) to tell if this has been dethroned. But the mascarpone cheese is wonderfully light, and creamy. I cannot quite make out what alcohol was used, but it was quite nice and complimented the sweet and richness. The cocoa powder, though de rigeur, adds a touch of depth, as did the chocolate sauce.

One of the better pasta meals I have had in Singapore for a while. Beautiful ingredients, cooked nicely. Recommended.

Mon - Sat: 11:30 - 14:30
Mon - Sat: 18:30 - 22:30
Closed: Sun & PH

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Revolution Coffee

Espresso joints and hip eateries are sprouting out everywhere these days, where there was a dearth of them some years ago. Here is another hip one, in a somewhat not accessible location in Portsdown.

Revolution Coffee has been around for a year now, but tucked in a building called Infinite Studios, in Portsdown Road, means it ain't gonna get a lot of foot traffic. But for those who work or live nearby, or can drive or better cycle (yes there is space outside for parking bikes) there.

The cafe is quite cozy, and very child friendly...many little chairs everywhere for the little one. And the tables are actually beer crates topped with a timber top. A bit shakey at times...

The main event, of course is the coffee...they feature coffee roasted in Australia by Single Origin Coffee...oh no, not only single origins, but blends, but that's the name of the roaster. And sometimes, as when I visited, feature a local guest roaster. In this case, from Smitten.

Pride of place, a nice Synesso machine. Just love the huge group heads. I tried the house espresso, using Single Origin blend for espresso.

The double shot was nice in volume, with a thick, and beautifully molted crema. On the nose, it was quite fragrant, with whiffs of berries, and a very light sour note. On the palate, it was quite powerful, quite acidic, but somewhat balanced by the viscous thick body. Not too bad, but I would have preferred less acidity...though I have been warned by the owner/barista that the blend was a bit on the bright side.

The food there is quite interesting too...the satay chicken salad

Beautifully grilled chicken, perfectly seasoned. The satay sauce is quite fantastic! But too little! And a bit too much salad...not that I am complaining for getting the greens, but too much for the satay sauce. Also found within the salad are traditional satay accompaniments like the ketupat and cucumbers.

The grilled cheese sandwich was also very good.

The ciabatta was fresh, and nicely toasted, nice and crisp on the outside, while still retaining moisture and very soft within. The cheese was grilled perfectly, and goes well with the ham, well everything goes well with good han...and rockets and caramalised onions. Very nice.

Highly recommended, if you can seek the place is a bit off the beaten path, but then if you do, you will be rewarded with good food, nice coffee and a comfortable ambience to hang out.

Mon - Fri: 08:00 - 17:00
Sat - Sun: 09:00 - 16:00

Friday, May 9, 2014

Technical problems

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sin Hoe Hin: an old hero returns

I used to love the wanton mee at coffee shop in Rowell Road, called Sin Hoe Hin. When the coffee shop closed some years ago, the WTM also disappeared.

Some bloggers reported that they re-appeared in Hougang some time ago, but every visit I made to the coffee shop in question, it was either closed, or the WTM stall was closed. I finally managed to find it open one day, and immediately tried a plate.

The original one as I remembered it was rather close to the WTM served by hawkers in KL. Thick, springy noodles. Thick black sauce, very fragrant with pork lard. And beautiful char siew with very good wantons.

The new one, reportly still being made by the same lady and her son, is slightly different. The noodles are still very springy and qq, but perhaps less than I remembered. The black sauce, still present, but a bit more salty than formerly. The char siew was still quite reasonably good, and the wantons were quite good...the boiled ones, light with an elegant skin, and the deep fried ones crispy and fresh tasting.

Overall, I feel it is a bit of a pale comparison to the former self, but still quite good, and still deserves a recommendation.

Jin Hock Food Place
941 Upper Serangoon Road (junction of Simon Road)
Open 8am to 10pm daily except Mondays

Monday, May 5, 2014

Char Restaurant new kid on the block for roast meats

Regular readers of this blog would recognise my love for roast meats, especially char siew and sio bak.

Here is a tale of a rather new, and interesting roast meat joint...traditionally Chinese in character, but with a distinctly English feel to doubt, as the owner is one UK born Chinese young man....plying his trade of traditional Chinese...rather Cantonese/Hong Kong style roast meats by using perhaps some Western techniques.

All the interesting talk is nought, if not for the how does it go?

We began with an order of their 3 meats platter...char siew, sio bak and roast duck

They also offer platters of two meats, or each of the signature 4 roasts (sio bak, char siew, roast duck and roast chicken) in individual servings by the 100g, min 300g. I guess this is for the large groups or for real afficionados.

We dismiss the passable first...the duck was not impressive. Rather normal, and similar in quality as one can easily get in the better hawker centres or food courts. But the two other meats were quite interesting...

The char siew was dark, brooding...promising a crisp, burnt finish to a rich, fatty pork. This is the dark, sweet char siew exemplified by the exponents of the art in KL. And indeed, it does not disappoint.

The sweetness seem to come from the dark sweet sauce smothering the outer edges, seeming applied only when the meat is cooked, or close to being cooked. I think the KL stalls not only coat the meat before slicing with the sweet sauce but as it roasts, building up layer upon layer of sweet, slightly bitter (from the charring) of the sauce, leaving a final beautiful glazing and burnt edges.

I would have preferred a bit more crisp and burning on the outer edges, and a bit less fat. But there was precious little to complain about. Quite, quite good...on the fragrant steamed rice...almost perfect. But just short of what is offered by Oversea (now defunct, and the tradition continued by Garoupa King), and the offerings in KL.

But for me the star was the sio bak, or siu yoke...roast pork with crackling..

Very nicely done indeed. The crackling was very crispy, very beautifully light. The meat was fat, but not too greasy on the palate. Nice. Very nice. Perhaps edged out from being my reference by the folks at Keith, but very close.

We also had the sambal kangkong, which was rather nice too...but suffered from being a bit too oily and a touch too peppery.

They serve nice English ales and ciders as well...though not from the tap, but by the bottle.

Overall, excellent place for roast meats. The ambience is more akin to a very clean canteen than a fine dining establishment. Service was ok...above average. We noticed the owner going around talking to the diners, but he did not come to ours.

Highly recommended.

Char Restaurant
393 Guillemard Road
6842 7759

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Malaysian Cuisine in Singapore: Madam Kwan's

Singaporeans have always travelled to Malaysia and enjoyed the food there...of course the hawker and street fare is awesome all over the peninsula, but also some nice restaurants in KL who serve nice locale food. Madam Kwan's is one of them.

The history of Madam Kwan's is rather interesting. Started by her son Dato Rudy Foo, the restaurant offers signatures of Madam Kwan, also known as Kwan Swee Lian or Sakura Kwan. I caught up with Dato Foo in an invited media tasting in Singapore recently, and asked him about the relationship with the Sakura Restaurant in Jalan Imbi, KL. According to him, Madam Kwan, or Kwan Cheh, as she is know in KL, was a beautician in Japan. She returned to her native KL and opened a beauty salon in Jalan Imbi. But somewhere within her is the yearning and longing to cook and share her passion for food. Soon after, she started a restaurant where the beauty salon was, and called it Sakura's. Sakura became famous, mostly for the nasi lemak, and awesome chicken curry. It was probably one of the first air conditioned restaurants, other than hotels, who offered local fare like nasi lemak, curries, and noodles. During the 1998 financial crisis, the restaurant changed hands, and Kwan Cheh started a small stall selling nasi lemak in 1Utama. Her son, Rudy, then was a stockbroker, and decided to invest in a restaurant in Bangsar, as a business, but also to help refresh her dignity. When KLCC started, they were invited to start a restaurant within, and the rest, as they say, was history. Now with 6 outlets in the Malaysian capital, and 1 in Singapore, they are set to expand, and showcase Malaysian cuisine to the world.

Two new dishes were being added to the menu, the first was otak otak fried rice.

The dish was created by crowd sourcing...the Madam Kwan's management went to their facebook page, and asked fans to suggest a new item for their menu. The one which got the most votes was the otak otak fried rice. Interesting that not more restaurants offer this dish. It was quite good. The wok control and powerful fire was apparent in the wok hei. The otak otak is made in-house from fresh spices and herbs and a smooth, springy fish otak otak. Marvellous. I just wished there were more otak...:-)

The next new dish is the petai fried rice.

This is a rather common dish in Indonesia, but the dish presented by Madam Kwan's was more familiar. The petai was fresh, succulent...the petai bean itself being rather large. Beautiful flavours. Very nice...but of course you need to like petai in the first place...and needless to say, I adore petai.

We also sampled the staples of the restaurant...the nasi lemak

My all time favourite. Wonderfully fragrant rice. With a magnificent, ultra rich tasting, mildly spicy chicken curry, sambal ikan bilis, dried shrimp floss and achar. The flavours are just perfect. The richness of the chicken curry balances with the acid of the achar and the sambal ikan bilis.

and the nasi bojari

Interestingly, a google search of nasi bojari ends up only with all results pointing back to Madam Kwan's. Yet, Dato Foo reveals that he did try to patent the dish and trademark the name, but the application was rejected by the Malaysian authorities, as it was supposed to be a rather generic Indonesian dish. Interesting.

Anyway, the dish is rather special. A tricolour rice made with stock, spices and chicken and prawns is served with a beautifully deep fried chicken leg, and beef rendang and assam prawns. Again the selection of the dishes were inspired...the richness of the crispy skin and tender juicy meat of the chicken, the opulence of the beef rendang, and the acidity of the assam prawns were just right.

We also tried the fish head curry

A very fresh red snapper head, is steamed and cooked with the curry and made complete with lady's fingers, tomatoes, long beans, brinjals and dried beancurd. Tasted very home cooked to me. All the coconut milk used in Madam Kwan is freshly squeezed...none of the industrialized canned or tetra-packed stuff. And one can literally taste the coconut flavours. The spices for the curry are made fresh from scratch, no curry powder is used. I found the fish head curry to be very good, but not exactly my taste. For me, it was a bit too rich (lemak)...but I am partial to the peranakan style fish head curry. But loved the fact that there were tons of vegetables in the dish.

For desserts, the banana fritters were a clear favourite

I understand pisang emas, or a smallish, Malaysian banana is used, very ripe, coated in batter and deep fried till crisp. Served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. How can one argue with that. Very nice.

But the highlight for me was the chendol

Fresh chendol, with red bean paste sitting on a bed of shaved ice soaked in coconut milk. The over it, pour a beautiful, fragrant and sweet gula melaka. Wonderful.

A version of bubur cha cha was also served

I found this to be good, but perhaps lacking a bit in the dice ingredients. Sure, there was pumpkin, yam, and sago, but would be nicer if there were more of those, and slices of ripe banana and some of the tapioca gummy, chewy thingies. Or at least, that's how bubur cha cha is served at home.

Overall, the food is very good. Service staff were knowledgable, and because this was a media tasting, service was excellent. The restaurant is rather large. Recommended.

Madam Kwan's
Truly Malaysian Cuisine
#01-155 Vivocity