Monday, June 28, 2010

Swedish cafe: Fika...

For some reason, Swedish food is rather popular in Singapore. The Swedish furnishing giant Ikea runs a roaring business with their restaurant serving up literally tons of Meatballs, Salmon and dessert. I too have eaten several times at their huge Alexandra store, though found their meatballs to be too salty, the salmon a bit frozen tasting.

Kennard, one of my makan kakis suggested we saunter over to Fika after a bak kut teh meal at Bliss Cafe...and we did...Fika as the restaurant was known...according to the restaurant's own website, the word fika in Swedish means taking a break from work...what a wonderful word.

We only had dessert and coffee...and amongst the 6 of us, we shared 3 portions.

First the Swedish Pancakes, thin swedish pancakes sprinkled with icing sugar served with whipped cream and jam.

I found the pancake rather hard...and firm consistency...a bit like just slapping regular flour mixed with some water and egg, and frying it on a griddle. They were like very hard crepe. As you can guess, I didn't like them very much. I am not sure what ice cream they use, but the vanilla served with the pancakes were superb...nice, rich, milky, thick.

We also had Brownies with Ice-cream

The brownie is a dense warm rich brownie, also served with a rather generous scoop of the excellent vanilla ice-cream. The brownie lived up to its name...very nice rich chocholate, with some nuts embedded...moist inside...goes supremely well with eh excellent ice-cream. Satisfying.

And the Apple Crumble with Ice-cream -

The warm apple crumble was also excellent. The shortbread crust was crumbly, and not too sweet, and provided a nice textural counterpoint to the soft, sweet but acidic and slightly sour apple insides. Again perfect with the delicious vanilla ice-cream.

Interesting desserts, had us satiated.

Fika Cafe
No. 257 Beach Road / Arab Street, Singapore
(on the corner of Beach Road and Arab Street)
Mon-Fri 11am-11pm
Sat-Sun 12am-11pm

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ayam Penyet: which one is best?

Ayam Penyet is a typical Surabaya dish...and it sprung up in several places in Lucky Plaza some years ago...its just fried chicken...done very well, with crispy bits, and smashed! yes, as to loosen the up the meat. Eaten with some spicy chilli, it is divine.

One of the more famous ones, which I first tried some years ago in their main branch in Lucky Plaza, is Resto Surabaya. Kin and I thought of having some Indian, and we went to Far East Plaza, to re-live some good experiences we had with Mumtaz Mahal there, but as we arrived...this little restaurant, tucked somewhere in the fifth floor of Far East Plaza...and looks very unassuming...canteen like, I would say...

My eyes sparkled, and we decided to go in...and we ordered 3 different chicken dishes...first ayam pengang with kichap manis:

Ayam Pengang is just plain barbecued chicken. That's not right...Ayam Pangang is a very special barbecued chicken...perfectly done on the charcoal the charred bits are crispy. The Surabaya version is not charcoal roasted, but possibly over a hot griddle...nonetheless, it was perfectly charred bits, but the kichap manis (black sweet sauce) was divine. Kin found it a bit too sweet, but I found it just right. The chicken was a piece of breast meat, and it was tender enough to tease out the fibrous muscle, and with the kichap, very tasty. A bit more kichap manis with bits of red cut chilli floating in it as a sauce adds more punch.

We also had Ayam Opor

Our memories of Opor Ayam as one of our favourite Indonesian dishes was served in the former Sanur...thick, spicy, fragrant coconut milk gravy smothering the perfectly cooked till super tender chicken. Hmm...great memories. So when we saw this on the menu, we ordered was a bit less thick...I mean the was more like soup...but delicious soup it is. The chicken is fall off the bone tender...rendered so by probably steaming and then simmering in the broth. Nice.

And the Ayam Penyet

This was an excellent example. A portion of chicken leg, served with a piece of deep fried tofu, and tempeh. The chicken was tender, cooked perfect. The skin, crisp to a fault. The little bits of super crispy batter lingered over the chicken which was smashed with a chopper's render the (?) and almost falling to bits. The cooking was done so well, even the smaller bones in the leg which was served to us was edible...not only edible, but delicious. The tempeh was also excellent...very flavourful and tasty. The sambal which accompanies is superb too. With great punch, very spicy.

We drowned it all with some selaseh and attap seed drink and avocado juice. Yum! Definitely one of the better Ayam Penyet meals I have had. Shiok lah!

Resto Surabaya
14 Scotts Road
#05-26/26A Far East Plaza
6738 4369

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wellness cuisine: does it taste good? Introducing the Ten Restaurant.

with Eddie S

Eddie is an extraordinary well as a wonderful friend. He re-acquainted me recently to Porta Porta, and with undampened excitement, he wanted me to try out this new-ish Chinese restaurant. Herbal, Traditional, Organic, Wellness cuisine? I remember more than a decade ago, there was an Imperial Herbal Restaurant in the then new Millenia Walk. It even featured its own Traditional Chinese Sinseh, who would take your pulse and prescribe certain food to either fortify a healthy condition, or to alleviate an unhealthy one. Interesting, methot in those days...and this restaurant featured quite frequently in my entertainment circuit, and watching the angmos who were visiting sometimes squirmish experiences...for often times, the prescribed dishes included insects like grasshoppers, or scorpions or deep sea creatures not often encountered by the Western palate.

Somehow, this style of cuisine caught on a bit in the Singapore dining scene, and several of these restaurants opened...including the Magestic Imperial Herbal, where the chef and Maitre d'hotel of the Ten Restaurant used to work.

Sliced lotus roots, preserved in a pickle, and served as an appetizer

The setting of the restaurant was rather quaint...housed in a shophouse in the pretty Purvis Street area, immediately the chic Garibaldi, the Ten Restaurant, curiously at no 7 Purvis Street, holds court.

We started with a welcome drink...cold refreshing home made lemongrass...very nice and fresh, especially after coming in from the ferocious sun outside.

But the teas were quite interesting too...I had the 7 treasures tea...

I have come across 8 treasure tea quite often in traditional Chinese places, but 7? writes, "babaocha, "八宝茶," literally means eight treasure tea in English. A lot of tea imbibers mistakenly believe that it is from the Sichuan or the Jiangzu area of China. Yet, truth be told, it is from the Hui Clan, an ethnic group now inhabiting the Ningxia region of China. Served in gaiwan (porcelain cup with lid), the main ingredient for the babaocha is of course the tea. It could be of any variety but the jasmine tea is by far the most popular. The remaining seven ingredients usually are, sesame, wolfberry, raisin, walnut, flesh of longan, dates and Chinese rock sugar. For those with sweeter teeth, they can swap the walnut with the dried persimmon."

From what I can see the 7 Treasures are very similar...I can detect jasmine tea, and probably another black tea, wolfberry, raisin, walnut, longan, red dates. No sugar.

Doris, the effable business development manager of Ten, spoke fast and a delectable fluent mixture of English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien...explained to me that she uses only the best qality ingredients in her tea...the crysanthynum comes from France, she claims...more fragrant than Chinese ones.

The tea brews well...and could be extracted again with the addition of hot water. And the ingredients could be eaten...quite nice.

We ordered the Set Lunch, priced at $38++, seemed good value. And Eddie insisted I try the blueberry pork ribs as an additional dish. Which we did...

Very innovative and interesting. Whole, ripe blueberries were used, and the juice extracted from the ripe, rich, sweet fruit was reduced to an essence, and used to marinade and coat with pork ribs and then deep fried. Much like, I guess coffee pork ribs or Lohanguo pork ribs. The taste was rather interesting. I found the pork very tasty, and tender...but not too much...there is a slight requisite crunch with each bite. Rather nice. The sauce was a wonderful complement...blending, cajoling the flavour out from the pork...though I found it slightly sweet...but ever so slightly.

The set lunch proper began with a house special: egg white with dried scallop in a crispy potato nest

Nice dish this one. The egg whites were nicely done...cooked just perfect. Albumin tends to become rubbery with overcooking...but this was done very well. The dried scallops added some dimension to the rather mild taste of the egg whites, and managed to elevate the senses. The potato nest it was served on was crisp, and rather firm...well done!

Second course was soup: double boiled duck with pear:

Pear is a typical ingredient used in cooling soups. But the use of duck was a surprise. The soup tasted nice and savoury...I would have thought it was chicken or pork used to brew the soup if I hadn't already read the menu...the pear was delectable. The duck meat was a bit tough...but in these double boiled soups, most of the meats have been exhausted of their goodness, and many times just discarded.

Next the vegetables: apple and lotus with fresh cabbage

Diced apples, with pine nuts, and sesame. In a nice mixture, held together with a dressing I cannot really recognise...and eaten wrapped in very fresh cabbage bowls. Delectable, and interesting.

And the grand finale: Abalone and Sharks Fin in fragrant rice served in a stone pot.

This was a gorgeous dish. The waitress told us not to stir the pot, but to slowly eat it from the sides...mind you, the ingredients seem to be floating in a bubbling cauldron of thick liquid...even the look of the dish was delicious. On the palate, the liquid was slightly on the salty side...later we discussed with Doris if it were possible to allow the braising to be done with less salt, and for salt to be available at the table for the diner to add to taste. I will spare you of the discussion, but we had a fun little argument over when salt should be applied to a dish. A topic for perhaps a full length post another day.

But the liquid hid a layer of rice, which was developing into a crust, and when eaten with the liquid, and accompanied by a slice of the whole baby abalone or a few strands of the wonderful shark's fin, was quite heavenly. Very well done! Bravo.

A dessert of pear simmered with rock sugar was served as a dessert.

Overall, this lunch was quite an experience. Very well done, delicate balance between creative and clever use of ingredients. I quite enjoyed the light, greasless (ok, the blueberry pork was a bit greasy) taste. And rather satisfying. Food for the soul as well as for the palate.

Ten Restaurant
7 Purvis Street
+65 6333 9901
12pm–2.30pm, 6pm–10.30pm

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Canton-i: a gem or not?

with Alan T and friends

I have blogged about the Catonese inspired, Malaysian owned Canton-I restaurant at Ion when it first opened. See this entry for my first views. I have been revisiting the restaurant as a de-facto place to eat with my friend Alan T...who runs two shops in Ion and seldom have time to travel further for lunch...and Canton-I is like his private dining room.

While I found the restaurant to be ok, but not spectacular the last time round, this time, I found it to be quite good.

Especially good was the roast duck and the char siew.

I did find the duck to be rather good the first time round...and in every subsequent visit including this one, Canton-i showed me that they were indeed masters in roasting duck. The skin was glistening, crispy...hiding the smallest sliver of fat to provide the umami punch, and the meat was beautiful...slightly powdery like it should be, and very tender...tasty and flavourful.

I did not find the char siew up to the highest standards the first visit, but this time, they redeemed themselves. The char siew was superb:

Requisite in high fat content, the meat was marinated well...and fully infused with lovely flavours. The roasting was done just right...tender, juicy inside, almost charred though not quite on the outside. The marinate was more Hong Kong style...meaning the taste was led by saltiness rather than the sweet, sticky ones from KL. But nonetheless excellent.

The roast pork was rather good too...though slightly behind the shadow of the other roasts:

The skin was thin, crispy, the fat hiding below the skin was just a sliver...and the meat was wonderful in aroma and done just right, so it is still juicy though had a slight bite.

We tried the Teochew we had two Teochew Ahiah in the group:

And it turned out to be a winner. The tofu was very tender, soft...breaking at the slightest prodding with a pair of chopsticks, and had to be scooped up with a spoon. This was a good the mouth, it was silky smooth, and very nice. Even our famous Dr. Mycroft who doesn't eat vegetables and tofu, gobbled down his share...he still doesn't eat vegetables, but he gave half a thumbs up for the tofu...which is saying a lot! BTW, yes, he is a real medical doctor...

And the finale was wonderful

Fried rice, served in a stone bowl. I suspect the rice was flash fried in a super hot wok...and scooped into this stone bowl for additional smoking and cooking and crusting. The aroma of the wok hei was superb. The rice nicely done. Embellished with bahu, and chicken, it was a great dish. Excellent. Shiok!

Canton-i Restaurant
2 Orchard Turn
#03-14 ION Orchard
Tel: +65 6509 8368
Daily: 11am - 10pm

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two coffee shops in Sixth Avenue

recommended by Timmy T

My friend, magazine publisher Timmy had always known me to be a foodie...and as we were collaborating on a few projects, we had the opportunity to lunch out a few times. I had brought him to sample the delights of the oxtail stew and beef hor fun at my favourite Prince Restaurant in Coronation Plaza, and he, in turn brought me to sample his favourite nasi Sixth Avenue. A rather indescript coffee shop, at one corner...just left as you look onto 6th Avenue towards Guthrie House of Brasil Churascaria.

The rice was rather interesting...this was regular basmati, to be sure...not the ultra long grain, high fragrance variety served by Bismillah. But the spices were very evenly distributed...almost each grain was close to uniform in colour.

And a chunk of crisply deep fried, chicken sat atop the rice.

The chicken was covered with a crisp crust. Very nicely done...and the insides were very juicy and tender. The accompanying small plate-let (yes, really small) of dhal was rather tasty too. Kin remarked that she liked the dhal...which was not a pure lentil/butter affair, but was rather a bit more watery than the superb sample served by Mirchi...but still very tasty.

We crossed over the row of terrace shops to the coffee shop at the other called Good Good for some coffee. The traditional Kopi Baba...known just as kopi or kopi-o, was rather good. A hint of coffee aroma, thick, heavy body. Good mouthfeel. Timmy had recommended the Bak Chor Mee at this store...

It turned out to be rather good! The noodles were cooked just right...a bit firm, but still soft and flavourful. The minced meat was precious little, but the bowl came with two large fishballs, which almost made up for the lack of bak chor. A tiny sliver of lean pork was included, and curiously a small prawn. The chilli was powerful...both the one mixed into the noodles with a good dose of vinegar, but also the cut red chilli. Packs a punch.

We also sampled a plate of the Malay Mee Goreng served by the cze char stall situated at the rear of Good Good.

Thick Chinese noodles like those used for the Singapore version of Black Hokkien Mee was used. The kee taste and smell was rather strong, but not overpowering. I liked it like that, and is the raison d'etre for ordering mee rather than bee hoon. A tangy, bright tasting noodle...fried to be a bit on the wet, and very tasty. Fragments of squid and some prawns were the ingredients used, as were an egg. Not a bad dish.

6th Avenue Briyani Specialist, 12 Sixth Avenue, tel: 8152-4561, open: 6am to 10pm daily
Good Good Coffee Shop, 24 Sixth Avenue.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Food Opera: fancy food court, or real gourmet delight?

Food Opera...what an interesting name...suggesting the integrally intertwining of music and food...This is the food court, if you can call this a Food Court, in ION. Complete with chandeliers, the entire place looks more like a restaurant than a food court...

Everything is upmarket...the sister food courts by the same company who does Bread Talk are also a bit up market compared to the regular food courts...and christened Food Republic. But Food Opera is higher end. And more expensive too. A case in point...the very nice banana cake served in Toast Box - the coffee vendor (inhouse by Bread Talk themselves) costs S$1.50 a slice. In Food Opera, Toast Box's equivalent is called Tea Place, and the same banana cake costs $1.70.

But reputation has it that the Bak Chor Mee here at the Opera is better, and more "power" use a local colloquialism than their equivelents in Republic. And I tend to agree.

The BCM: top, with chilli, bottom sans chilli. Note wealth of ingredients on these 2 bowls which are the cheapest offered by the store...still a hefty S$5 a bowl.

But all is forgiven with the taste. The noodles are just right, with a tinge of kee, and cooked almost perfect...just slightly soft of al dente. The mixture of ingredients are almost masterful in its composition, amount, and doneness. Each balancing with the other to provide a nice mouthful of noodles and pork. The vinegar is just a tad, not too much as some tend to be, but very nicely balancing the richness of the pork lard which is present in lard crisps as well as the oil used to lubricate the to speak. The mushroom and its thick sauce...just a little to provide punch and flavour and not to overpower.

Certainly one of the better BCMs around...pricey, but given the expensive location, and the quality and taste...I am not really complaining.

Food Opera Bak Chor Mee Stall
B4 ION Orchard

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

St. Julien: worth the reputation?

invited by The Hour Glass and Ulysse Nardin

Banquet by The Hour Glass and Ulysse Nardin. UN is a very special watch company. Innovative, always interesting...and its President and CEO Rolf Schnyder is a special friend I have known for a long time since the early days when I started collecting watches. I did a Timezone dinner some 12 years ago with Rolf as the guest of honour at a now defunct restaurant in Novena, and we had great fun.

And St. Julien is a special restaurant of the three great French (or French inspired) kitchens in Singapore...the other 2 being Les Amis and St. Pierre (Iggy's is a bit more avant garde than French, in my view). Chef Julien Bompard has made a name for himself around the world before settling down in Singapore and opening his signature restaurant at the Lighthouse...a interesting building, perched at the edge of the Fullerton Bridge, and with a wonderful, though small dining room overlooking the Sheares Bridge.

The interior of the restaurant was beautiful as well...nice decor...while still retaining the small, quaint feel.

The starters were presented, an assortment of niceties:

A scoop of Avruga caviar, a medley of cod and potato with rosemary oil. The caviar was quite good...not a bit of the sometimes oily taste, and not too salty either. Smooth, luxurious, explode in your mouth umami flavour.

Next up, the soup of a lobster bisque with a Hokkaido scallop.

A whole scallop, braised in a thick, rich sauce. The soup was robust, rich tasting of crustaceans. The scallop was fresh, sweet, and very nice.

The Foie Gras was then presented pan seared in a mushroom sauce with Argan oil:

This was beautiful, not only to look at, but also to taste. The foie gras was a rather generous slice, cooked perfect. The outside seared almost to a caramalised crisp, the insides still soft, tender, gooey almost...and bursting with the fat and umami. Wonderful. Very good.

For my main course, I had the confit du carnard, with a mesclun salad and orange sauce:

This was a bit disappointing. Especially with a chef with the reputation of Julien Bompard, the duck leg was delivered in a state I would reject. The skin was not crisp, having probably sat in the heater for too long...and as I had suspected, when I cut it open the meat was dry, a tad over-seasoned with salt, and lifeless. No charateristic duck flavour, no sweetness, no tenderness. Disappointing.

Meanwhile, the wine selected was excellent. I forget the names, though remembered they complemented the food very well...including the heavy red I had with the duck. Delicious and full.

Dessert was a chocholate combo:

This dish presented a glimpse of the brilliance of the Pastry Chef. The dark, rich chocolate was well complimented with the condiments...the chef had the balance to present this not too sweet but just enough to round off the meal.

Le Saint Julien - Restaurant
3 Fullerton Road #02-01
The Fullerton Water Boat House Singapore 049215
Tel: +65 65345947
6509 0908

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kia Hiang: old, but not forgotten

with Malyn, Kennard and Joyce

I remember this almost dingy restaurant tucked in the corner at International Plaza even during my days when I was working around the corner at Anson Road...and when Malvyn suggested lunch there, I thought it was a splendid idea.

He made the reservations at 12:15, and I had arrived early, as I tend to do, at just before noon...yes, they have the reservations...but the waitress was insistent, almost to the point of being rude to me, that unless and until all in my party is present, I am not to be seated. She pointed at another Japanese gentleman standing outside, suffering from the same fate as I.

She further warned me that if my friends did not appear within 5 minutes of the reserved time, she will give the table to another party. At that point in time, the restaurant was almost completely empty, and if my friends arrived at 12:20, they couldn't have turned that table, so I see no benefit in not allowing me to seat at my reserved table. Allowing me to have a seat to wait for my friends is the only polite and sensible way to treat a customer. I felt like walking next door to eat at the Japanese, but controlled myself.

My friends arrived on the dot at 12:15, and they sat us.

The food came in furious time...very fast.

The taugeh, was tasty...very lightly seared, with fragrant salted fish, served on a hot plate. Nice, but nothing spectacular.

The omelette was interesting:

This looked like a fairly typical Chinese Omellette...fried quickly in a very hot pan, with lots of oil, so the sides are almost charred crispy, because the searing heat is only applied for a short while, the insides can sometimes still be almost liquid...half cooked. I love the taste of this style of omellette. But the Kia Hiang chef has something else hidden under his sleeve. Within the eggs, he had stuffed silky tofu, and minced chicken. This made the insides of the almost crisp shell very smooth and soft, and the chicken provided some bite. Nice touch.

We also ordered the pork ribs:

More like pork chops than ribs, these were rather large, flat steaks with bone attached at one end. It was rather fat, so was tender. The seasoning had some kick...adding dimension to the pork. I would have preferred a leaner cut of meat, especially with my recent experiences in Germany, but this was ok in taste.

Next the dish we came for: herbal spring chicken.

When it came in a claypot, it looked like a large head of cabbage. Opening the leaf of cabbage revealed a whlole spring chicken. The sauce was a wonderful, mild brownish black sauce, which smothered the tender spring chicken. Splitting the chicken open with a spoon...the chicken was rendered to disintegrate at touch with the intense heat from the cooking, revealed a bit of moey chai...typical of Ti Wang Chi (Emperor's Chicken) which gave the gravy the characteristic flavour. The dish was excellent. Very nicely done, mild tasting, but yet excellent flavour.

Overall, a very good meal, but the rude-ness and the misguided policy I experience at the beginning put a bad taste in my mouth even before I began my meal. Would have been a lot more pleasant if they had been more flexible.

10 Anson Road
#02-29 International Plaza
Tel: +65 6220 7169
Mon–Sat 11am – 3pm
Closed on Sundays & Public Holidays

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Feasting in Lebanon: Fadel at Birkfaya

with Walid M

My good friend Walid, who is as proud as any Lebanese can be...was particularly excited when I said I will visit him in Beirut. We planned several excursions, including a short drive up North to the city of Byblos...which is the oldest continuosly inhabited city...7000 years of civilization, and 17 different cultures are within the city.

But back to Beirut...this was quite a beautiful city...despite being war torn in a Civil War between the Christians and Muslims.

The city is marked with monuments and religious buildings from both...a church:

And a beautiful mosque

both right downtown, within a few hundred meters of each other. Today, Beirut is mainly a thriving, city. As I walked the city, it felt totally safe. Especially the restaurants area in a block known as Martyr's Square:

And the clock...interestingly by Rolex...ok, sponsored by Rolex:

But I digress...Walid drove me some 1800m up the mountains to a city called his favourite restaurant: Fadels.

All the vegetables, fruits and herbs are grown in-situ in the restaurant...offering a super fresh perspective.

The typical Lebanese meal starts with some starters, known as the Mezze:

The famous, and typical Tabouleh - diced parsley salad with burghul, tomato and mint, Fattoush - 'peasant' salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and mint, and Hummus - dip of blended chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, and typically eaten with pita bread. I particularly liked the hot chick peas dish - wonderful aroma and taste. We also had raw beef, in a dish much like steak tartare, known as Kibbeh nayye. Eaten with Lebanese unleaven bread - pita, it was quite delicious.

Of course we had to have wine...fine Lebanese wine, from Chateau Kefraya.

Le Chateau Kefraya 2002...a particularly good year, I was told...a complex mixture of Cabernet-Sauvignon, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, the wine presents itself a deep purple, brilliant...quite beautiful. On the nose it is light and complex, very fine liquorice. On the palate, I found it well balanced, spicy, woody, and with good body.

The lamb falafel (I am not sure what they are called...falafels are typically only made from chickpea patties, but this one has lamb. was particularly superb:

And the main courses...kebabs...

First the lamb:

Superbly tender lamb, skewered, barbecued over a charcoal fire. Very nice. Again, not as marbled or fat as we normally expect to have lamb in the West or in Asia, but nicely lean meat, a bit chewy, but very flavourful and still tender.

Chicken was breast meat:

Again, superbly tender, not a hint of dryness as grilled chicken breasts can sometimes tend to be. Smooth, flavourful meat.

A truly unique experience, and wonderful food...fresh as it can be, and prepared with a care and attention that can only come from a chef who is proud of his work, his country and his cuisine. Magnificent and highly recommended.

Dahr Street, Naas, Bikfaya
T: 04-980979 - 03-259979