Monday, August 30, 2010

Fine dining or semi-formal or informal? Friends Casual Fine Dining...

Casual Fine Dining...quite an interesting concept I must say. Neither here nor there at first thought, but if you think about it, kind of makes sense in a casual (and warm weathered) city like Singapore. When I think of fine dining, I imagine the world of Michelin stars, where I would have to dress up...wear a suit and tie...not that I don't enjoy wearing these fineries...see my bespoke blog, but sometimes it makes real sense to just turn up as you are...and have some fine food. Sacrilage? perhaps...but perhaps also fun.

Friends in Jelita is one such establishment. As one enters the restaurant...a rather large space tucked in the second floor for a building where the main draw is the Cold Storage supermarket...the decor is fine dining...

The place seem to be able to look classy and relaxed at the same time. The entrance is strewed with empty wine bottles...suggesting that fine wine and wonderful dinners have been consumed here...the tables were strangely more like an upmarket food court than fine dining...the decor of Food Opera in Ion was more aligned to the fine dining concept than Friends. But the ambience set felt right.

I came to sample the angle hair pasta with truffle oil and caviar. A dish made so famous by the effable Gunter's that it is a must eat at the little French eatery in Purvis Street. The only regret after eating this iconic dish at Gunter is being that one becomes addicted to it for life...and the other one regrets that it is very expensive...a very small serving...hardly a mouthful (ok, two mouthfuls, as one tends to exaggarate about these matters...and yes, I do have a big mouth) of this ingeniously concocted pasta is a princely S$60. True, osteria caviar is liberally sprinkled on it...hence making it so wonderful...And my good foodie friend, Larry called me one afternoon in excitement, saying that the Friend's version is a quarter the price, double the portion, and almost as good.

So I had to try it myself.

Indeed it was significantly larger...smelled wonderful with the air thick with the truffle oil aroma as it was served. Small bits of black truffles can also be found, interspersed with the anglehair pasta....chilled to bring out the taste and fragrance of the truffles. A small dollop of lumpfish caviar...says the menu. It certainly is not Osteria, and looked like flying fish roe prized by the Japanese restaurants. The taste was EXCELLENT. OK, not as good as Gunter's...but at a tad below $15.90, for a portion probably 2 or 3 times larger...I am in semi-heaven. Really! This is very good. Two Thumbs up!

We also sampled the stuffed squid.

The squid was perfectly cooked...nice, tender, but still a bit springy and resillient to the bite. Flavour was excellent, and a breath of the sea can be caught at the nose as one chews on the squid. The insides were stuffed with a kind of flavoured, seasoned rice. And a light tomato based sauce accompanies with great aplomb.

We also sampled the pizzas...

The first was a kind of seafood pasta...Japanese inspired:

The pastry of the pizza was crisp, a tad oily and very biscuit like. The topping were an array of seafood...all very fresh...squid, prawns, bonito flakes and strips of dried Japanese seaweed. We found this to be quite delicious.

The second was, in my opinion, less successful

Pork jowl with apple...interesting combination of ingredients. I found the pork jowl too fat for me to throughly enjoy...and the presence of the apple made the pizza too sweet...perhaps more like a dessert than a regular savoury pizza. Didn't really enjoy this dish.

But overall, this is an impressive place. When we were there at peak lunch hour...about 12:45 on Tue...we were the only table there. Very quiet...perhaps the evenings and weekends are busier...I certainly hope so, for I like this little restaurant. The cold angel hair pasta is quite wonderful to warrant re-visits.

Friends Restaurant @ Jelita
293 Holland Road #02-04
Singapore 278628
(private parking available)
Tel: +65 6463 1011

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Good eats in CBD: Copper Chimney

The Copper Chimney...a name which brings back memories of Mumbai for me. Situated in between the city and the airport along the only road connecting the downtown Nariman Point area to the airport area, this restaurant was a godsent for the tiring journeys as one traveses the city going from hotel to meetings and vice versa. The food was wonderful, the ambience quiet and restful. Lovely.

I was surprised when I saw the same name in the CBD of Singapore recently. Just right smack at road level of UIC Building. The first thing you will notice is the large number of Indians eating at the restaurant. This is a good sign, me thot. Kin, who had eaten there before was enthusiastic...her office is just around the corner at One Raffles Quay.

We arrived a bit earlier than the crowd. The food was served from a warmer...a bit like economy rice.

Butter chicken, dhal (yellow lentil), alor ghobi (potatoes and cauliflower) were superb. The butter chicken was very creamy to the mouth, the chicken super tender...almost disintegrating at the probing of a fork, and almost melting in the mouth...a little bite for spiciness as good measure. I thought the dhal could be a bit richer, but Kin enjoyed it very much. The alor ghobi was also very good. The rice used was superb, long grained, very fragrant basmati...and delicately spiced up with saffron, and masala.

Mutton curry, shreded cabbage, peas and carrots, and an Indian scrambled egg was the other plate. The mutton curry was delectable. Spicy, but not too hot...the mutton was also very tender and smooth. Its interesting that they managed to get this consistency in the meat when the goat where the mutton came from was obviously very lean. The vegetables were regular...crunchy juliened slices of cabage. And the egg quite nicely spiced and fragrant. The rice, was fried rice...using basmati with bits of peas, carrot cubes and spices.

Acutally quite a gem in the middle of the CBD.

Copper Chimney
3, Shentonway 01-02 Shenton House
Singapore-068805 (Opp Aviya Insurance Co.)
Tel: +65-63980774/98495006/97853650

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sinar Pagi: rays of delicious hope

Sinar Pagi is a quintessential Malay makan joint. Food served with rice, Padang style, except in Singapore, they don't lay all the dishes out on your table and you pick and eat those you like, and pay for only what you eat. Here you choose the dishes from a serving station, and they serve you what you choose.

I had been eating here for a while...and in an earlier period when my office was just around the corner in Battery Road, I used to walk down with my Australian colleague Drew for a taste of what he called "best barbi chook in the world!". High praise indeed, and I tend to agree with him

Come at the right time...we had it figured back then to be about 1145am to about 1215 is the best time to arrive...earlier, and the ayam pangang (BBQ chicken) is not yet ready...later, and not only do you get chicken which is not immediately hot off the barbi, the queues are long.

The chicken is tender it just falls off the bone. The charcoal fire imparts an unmistakable smoky aroma, a characteristic charring and crisping of the edges of the skin...and the burnt fat makes this dish irresistable. Combined with the smooth, rich, luxurious sauce...almost heaven.

This time, with Kin, we also ordered the beef rendang

The beef rendang is the typical Malay kampung style. No attempt is taken to procure a finer cut of meat. The cut was probably rump...a typically tough, sinewy cut. But the spices infused the muscle fibres, the slow rendang cooking tears down the tough fibres into a managable, though still chewy meat. There is a charm, and indeed a nice taste to eating the slightly tough, almost no marbled meat. The thick, rich, sauce providing ample support to make this an excellent, delicious dish.

We also had the Tahu Telur

A typical Balinese dish...tofu, coated with egg, deep fried, and heaped on it...a load of juliened vegetables - carrots, cucumber, and a sweet, spicy black sauce fortified with crushed peanuts. My reference for a good Tahu Telor was served by the now defunct Sanur in Centerpoint. Crisp egg exterior, moist, soft and fragrant tofu inside, and a wonderful sauce. Sinar Pagi's version is just as good, but different. The crispy egg exterior is there. But the tofu used is the harder, firmer variety, giving it more bite, but also very fragrant. The sauce is thick, sweet, and the peanuts were freshly roasted and crushed...still crunchy. Nice dish.

I like this style of Nasi Padang. Another favourite place for this style of cuisine is at Warong M. Nasir at Killeney Road...but Warong is decidedly more upmarket, and for e.g. the beef used in their rendang is a better cut...more marbled, less sinewy, more tender...melts in your mouth. Both have their good points, and both are just as delicious.

p.s. sinar in Malay means shine...pagi means morning...hence the play of words rays of delicious hope in today's title.

Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang
13 Circular Road
6536 5302
Mon-Thu 9am-10.30pm;
Fri 9am-11pm;
Sat noon-2am.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Crystal Jade Golden Palace

Crystal Jade is one of the more successful restaurant chains in Singapore. Their reputation is almost bullet proof. Their flagship store is the original...taking prime lot in Ngee Ann City. But a few years ago, they opened a fine dining outlet in Paragon...indicentally, directly opposite, and on the same floor as the Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck restaurant I blogged about earlier.

The fine dining restaurant is decorated accordingly...a black and white theme persists, and as one enters, a beautiful glass wine cellar adorns the wall on the right.

The food is quite excellent too...I had lunch there with a friend from Japan. We started with the tofu with vegetables.

Regular readers of this blog would know that I always have a soft spot for well made tofu dishes. This was no different. The home made tofu was silken smooth, superbly fragrant on the inside, and with a slightly more elastic, deep golden brown skin protecting the precious cargo within. The sauce was a superior brown sauce made with chicken stock and seafood. Very good.

We also had the avant garde dish: suckling pig with foie gras:

This was also superb. The crispy, wonderful aroma skin of the suckling pig, complemented beautifully with the rich, creamy texture and the wonderful nose of the pan seared foie gras. Excellent East meets West dish.

We also had the more traditional salted egg yolk prawns.

The prawns were fairly large, succulent...crunchy almost...and was fresh...and they were embraced in loving care by the rich, thick, paste of lightly fried salted egg yolk. Sinful dish, to be sure...but oh so good in the mouth.

We also tried the pan fried carrot cake:

Nice and crisp on the outside, wonderfully soft, tender and almost gooey on the inside. Not exactly the best carrot cake I have ever tried...Taste Paradise's classic rendition of the XO Carrot Cake is superior, but nonetheless very nice.

Great place to entertain in the middle of the city...good ambience, nice food.

Crystal Jade Golden Palace Restaurant
290 Orchard Road #05-22 The Paragon Singapore
+65 6734 6866
11.30am – 3pm, 6 – 11pm

Monday, August 16, 2010

KopiTiam Indonesia Barbeccue stall

Short post this one...but I had a wonderful lunch at the Plaza Singapura food court...the stall selling Indonesian barbecued chicken and fish was outstanding.

Long queues during meal times. I find the fish to be more interesting...I have another recommendation for better ayam bakar, but for the fish...a simple slice of sole...frozen, most definitely. Deep fried, coated with a luxurious and very tasty black sauce, accompanied by a power-zower sambal. Lovely.

KopiTiam Food Court
Indonesial Barbecue Stall
68, Orchard Road
Plaza Singapura

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gen Shu: Comfort home cooked cantonese food

Gen Shu is one of those places which are sometimes easy to miss. A small store in a small hawker center in Toa Payoh. Not very heavy food traffic. But come lunch time, long queues form at the store. All because Gen Shu, who used to be the chef at Mouth Restaurant, in the wisdom of his retiring years, decided to share his cuisine with the masses...hence this store.

The food is rather typical hawker fare...perhaps more than a bit leaning towards Cantonese, and Hong he is true to his roots.

The dishes are one dish meals...but we didn't let that bother us. The 6 of us who descended on Toa Payoh, we had 9 dishes...two chicken rice, two abalone chicken, one pork belly, two chee cheong fun, one fried bee hoon and one pepper beef. Shared.

First off, my favourite of the day...the steamed pork rice

No regular pork rice this. Its chicken, topped with a few leaves of chye sim (remember I told you it was one dish a balanced diet must be catered for)...the yolk of a salted egg, and a layer of pork sitting on piping hot rice. The fragrance is incredible. The pork was minced...and I suspect with some fragrant salted fish, por chye, and other herbs. Excellent dish. Really shiok.

We also had the abalone chicken

More gingery and salty than the chicken rice, but with generous slices of canned abalone sitting on top opf slivers of chicken. This was good as well...though for me, a tad less salty would have been perfect.

The beef pepper rice.

Tender slices of beef, almost swimming in black pepper sauce sitting on top of steamed rice. Again very nice, and kind of homey feel.

The pork belly was a bit terrifying for those on a diet

The pork belly was braised in black sauce...possibly black bean with dark soy till tender, and smacked on top of a bowl of steamed rice. And served with a sprig or two of chye sim. Comfort food. The braising liquid was thick...a bit powerful tasting...more or less masking the taste of the pork belly, which...also due to the long time it had been braised has taken on the character of the sauce. Nice, but for me, not to upseat the pork rice.

Their chee cheong fun was also very nice.

No fuss...this was not made in-situ, this was not stuffed full of prawns or exotic ingredients. Just simple, plain, chee cheong fun, with a dollop of sweet bean sauce, chilli and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds. Very good. In fact, nostalgic and very very good.

The fried bee hoon was also excellent...

The dish doesn't look much. The bee hoon was a bit pale. The ingredients were decidedly low end...bean sprouts, a little shrimp here and there, a load of deep fried scallions, a sprinkling of spring onion...and a dollop of chilli paste. But the taste was rather good. The bee hoon had been infused with a savoury stock...fortifying it and making it delicious. The sambal is very good, providing superb tones to support the savoury taste and texture of the springy bee hoon. Quite masterful.

While Gen Shu is not about to win any prizes for plating, he more than makes up for the lack of artistic wizardry in his plating with pure, genuine, home cooking. All of his dishes taste good...and for me the steamed pork was spectacular. Go early to prevent having to queue for a long time during lunch hours.

Address: 74 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh #01-03 Singapore
5.30am – 1.30pm
(Closed on Mon)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Exotic Seafood for little money: Rabbit Seafood

This little place in Lucky Plaza has been around for a long time...ok, I have been around I remember fondly the Japanese inspired coffee joint, run by a few aunties which occupies the very same shoplot years ago. Strong brew, made by a method which coffee experts would think is completely wrong...their coffee is made by the Siphon, boiled (yes, boiled) and reboiled...twice siphoned. But their King brew is absolutely wonderful...mildly acidic, good body. Strong, with a good kick. Their thick butter kaya toast is also something to look forward to...silky smooth Japanese bread, spread with kaya, butter, toasted. They also serve a very mild chicken curry. But alas, they are no more.

And in their place, Rabbit Seafood has taken root...known for serving reasonably priced sharks fin, abalone, lobster...a serving (very tasty) of sharks fin omellete as shown costs a mere S$5.50.

Omelette with thin, loose shreds of sharks fin, a soup of prawns, and mushroom, and a dessert of cheng thng. A bowl of rice, a small plate of lettuce. Perfect complements to each other. The omelette was very nicely done...very tasty, the shark's fin is in small quantities, to be sure, but makes itself known. The dish is absolutely delicious. Plus they serve red cut chilli padi, and when coupled with soy sauce, takes on a persona of enabler to the omelette and rice.

The deep fried tofu with spinach and mushroom is also interesting.

A rather thick, somewhat gelatinous in texture skin covers the tofu. The texture of the skin is a bit springy, but gives way quickly...I imagined it to have been deep fried till crisp, and then allowed to absorb the sauce till it gains this texture. The insides of the tofu was silky smooth, and a nice fragrance of soy permeates.

The special for the day was two whole baby lobsters (technically these were large prawns, as they lack pincers), coated with batter, deep fried. And served with a anchovy condiment on the side. Also with shredded cabbage, a soup and dessert.

The lobster were rather small. The meat was tasty, but a bit tiny. And the batter covered the entire shell, making it a tad difficult to handle with chopsticks. The dish was very tasty...great crustacean aroma, nicely balanced with a tinge of sweetness and a touch of richness. Very nice. S$5.50 also.
S$8.50the same price. They also have Buddha Jump over the Wall for $8.50. I had tried this in an earlier visit...and it was great value for money.

Overall, the food is quite nice, and actually quite fantastic if you take into consideration the price.

Rabbit Brand Seafood Speciality
304 Orchard Road
#02-114 Lucky Plaza
Tel: 6737 9722

Thursday, August 5, 2010

High end nasi lemak...Grandma's

One of my favourite places to eat Nasi Lemak is in a quaint little restaurant in Jalan Imbi in Kuala Lumpur, curiously called Sakura. Sounding more like a karaoke bar than a family restaurant, this place has been in operation for a long time...decades.

The rumour is that the chef of Sakura left and started her own place...known as Madam Kwan's...I suppose that's her name, she too gained great fame...especially that the restaurant is halal...important in Malaysia, where a large Muslim community exists. And located strategically in the high end shopping malls...KLCC, Mid-Valley Megamall, et al.

I heard the chef of Madam Kwan's has now left...the circle of life...and is now opened a new restaurant in Singapore's Paragon. Known simply as Grandma's it promises to serve the same wonderful food as Madam Kwan's.

A very similar menu is presented...with the chef's speciality of Nasi Lemak (also a speciality in Sakura and subsequently in Mdm Kwan's) and Nasi Bojari (never knew its existance in Sakura, but a favourite in Mdm Kwan's), chendol, otah.

I ordered the Nasi Bojari. I am not sure what is the providence of nasi bojari, but all internet searches for it end up pointing to Madam Kwan's...which leads me to believe it was invented there. The only reference taking it further than M. Kwan's, actually quotes her, and is found in a New Straits Times article which states: "Nasi Bojari is from Indonesia where the rice is meant for royalty, and is layered red, yellow and white. "We can’t do it here," said Madam Kwan. So she did the next best thing — frying the rice with bits of chicken, garlic and dried prawns and lightly tinging the rice with red, and yellow from turmeric. "It’s rice for royalty," said Kwan, which is why the Indonesians who come to dine have not had it before. There little bursts of flavours in the rice from the ingredients in it."

The chicken thigh is very large, as it was in KL...the skin looked taut and crispy, and the insides look tender and juicy. A small serving of beef rendang accompanies, and yellowish-reddish-white hemisphere of fragrant rice is the main attraction. Half a hard boiled egg also adorns with a condiment which looked like sambal onions. The chicken was indeed juicy, tender and the skin very crispy. The beef was also tender...but from long, slow cooking instead of a superior cut rendering the sinews still visible but very tender. Excellent dish.

We also had the Nasi Lemak.

Very fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk so that it is creamy, rich and luxurious in the mouth. The condiments are a serving of super rich chicken curry, some sambal cuttlefish and sambal onions with ikan bilis. Shred the chicken, and mix the rice, chicken, cuttlefish and onions till homogeneous...add in more sambal belachan. And enjoy. Shiok.

We also ordered some sambal potato leaves...

This was quite regular...the potato leaves were a bit on the old side...but cooked till tender and the sambal was very good.

They are also famous for otah we had one

The style of the otah was the one wrapped in banana leaf, and barbecued. It was rather tasty...flaky almost, but moist and juicy inside...nearly crisp outside...and there were small bits of fish within. A smoky aroma permeates as it was probably barbecued on a charcoal fire. Nice.

Overall a nice restaurant with good, tasty food...and nice service. Convenient location right in the middle of Orchard Road. A tad pricey for local food, but in my opinion well worth the money.

290 Orchard Road #B1-42/43
The Paragon Singapore
Tel: +65 6737 7931

11:30am – 3pm
6 – 10:30pm daily

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Kuriya Penthouse: Omakase Kaiseki

The folks at Seiko Epson hosted a dinner for Grand Seiko fans in Singapore, and I had the pleasure to organize the event for them. The evening was quite wonderful, and we shared with the participants the wonderful world of the Grand Seiko...from mechanical timepieces, to ultra accurate quartz to the very special spring drive movements. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Credor Eichi - a truly magnificent watch. You can read the watch related stuff and enjoy the pictures at my Photo Blog

The restaurant is very beautiful...perched on top of the roof garden at Orchard Central.

We proceeded to Kuriya Penthouse for the dinner...Omakase Kaiseki. Kaiseki is a Japanese feast, comprising of many showcase the skills of the chef.

We were presented the sake cups for the evening...every one had a choice of a different cup to differentiate.

The Sakizuke, or what the French call amuse-bouche is first served:

Scallop with broad bean topped with sea urchin. The seafood was incredibly fresh. I was told by Paul, the restaurant manager that it was purchased that very morning from Tsukiji, and airflown. The scallop was enveloped in a kind of jelly...firm, but like jelly - jiggly and resilient...the scallops within was sweet, a bit of bite, but very rich and umami. The uni was superb. Smooth, creamy, rich. Texturally, it provided a contrast to the scallop's sinews.

Sashimi: Today’s sashimi 3 kinds

Fresh river prawns, sea bream and red snapper. All marvellous. Fresh, wonderful sea fragrance.

Shinogi: Toro sushi & Japanese beancurd with salmon roe

Interesting that Kuriya chose to call this dish shinogi...which in Japanese refers to the blade of the sword or katana. Interesting also, because Seiko has a line of watches called the Ananta, which is also inspired by the Samurai's sword - katana.

The toro was excellent, needless to say. Though I would have preferred Otoro, which is fattier, and more flavourful. The toro was clean tasting, fresh, and very good. Almost as good as being in Tokyo...though not quite. In the sushiyas around Tsukiji, the fish is even fresher, even more flavourful...perhaps its the environment, perhaps its the skill of the master sashimi chef. But I feel the sushi and sashimi in Tokyo is decidedly better...creamier, sweeter, nicer texture, better moutfeel...and yes...cheaper.

Next course is traditionally called yakimono...or broiled/grilled item:

This was a special dish. Sweet river fish, Ayu is deboned, grilled over a small charcoal fire...almost like smoking the fish meat. The resultant fillet has a wonderful smokey flavour. The ayu is sweet...the meat almost creamy, flaky. Very nice. The bones are not wasted. They are deep fried till crisp, and are eaten as it is. The taste is subtle, but highlited with some sea salt in the seasoning, wonderful. Coupled with the sprig of spring onion. This was my favourite dish of the evening, and a true gastronomic star.

The deep fried item was next.

This was home made Japanese corn ball...hmm, interesting description. And the jalapeno perched on top of the balls were enticing. The pepper provided a small kick...though by no means spicy, but the flavour of the jalapeno permeated with each bite. Alternating a bite of the pepper with one of the corn ball was an interesting textural complication within the palate. The corn ball is very springy in texture, resilient to the bite, almost. And had a fine, delicate, sweet taste. Coupled with the slightly sourish, a touch pungent/spicy jalapeno. Nice combination.

The Takaiwase was next.

Takaiwase refers to a simmered dish...usually a vegetable and meat/fowl simmered seperately and combined into a masterful dish. This was no different. The eggplant was very smooth, creamy, soft. The duck was rendered very tender and while the flavour of the duck remained, it was not overpowering, but provided a nice counterpoint to the eggplant.

And the Shizakana rounded up the meal, with a delicate, wonderfully aromaed unagi in a hot pot with rice.

Presented beautifully, the unagi was a beautiful anago (sea eel), broilled carefully, and laid out to rest on a bed of shredded egg, and rice, then allowed to sit in a claypot to complete the cooking and what I call aromatization of the dish...where the flavours infuse and blend together to produce the wonderful perfume.

Presented individually, mixed up, the dish was a treat.

Dessert was seasonal fruit, and an added petit fours...Mizuomo was offered in the form of green tea cakes.

This was very delicate. Subtly sweet, with a strong hint of green tea. The body of the cake was light, and nicely sponge like texture.

The service was excellent. The waitress was very knowledgable, and took care to explain each dish to us, and highlight the special ingredients used. Overall, an excellent experience. Great Kaiseki meal. Great omakase dinner.

Kuriya Penthouse
181 Orchard Road #12-02 Orchard Central Singapore
6509 4222
Daily: 12pm–2.30pm, 6pm–10.30pm

Photonote: shot with Canon 5Dmk2 with EF35 f/1.4L, with EX580ii flash pointing to the roof. Though I shot the photographs, camera is coutesy of Prof Horology. Shot in large jpeg, iso400. I processed the pictures with CS4.