Friday, December 31, 2010

Revamping look for 2011...

Dear All, please bear with the revamp...working to serve you better for the new year...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Labskaus in Germany: Rive Bistro in Hamburg

Labskaus...I never knew about this until I arrived in Hamburg. A quick wiki search revealed that the English word for the same is lobscourse...originally lob's course. A stew, popular in ports like Liverpool.

The restaurant was right by the harbour...with a fantastic harbour view...and the interior was decorated much like a typical Parisian restaurant...but perhaps with tables spaced further apart. The place is apparently very popular with the business people in the offices which are nearby.

We ordered the labskaus as a starter

I found it to be quite delicious. The taste reminded me of corned beef or steak tartar (but with cooked beef). The dishis topped off with a fried quail's egg. The beef used to make the labskaus is probably stewed, was very fact it was cooked till it was almost disintegrating...and very tasty. Love the dish.

For mains, I had some we were in a harbour, though some 120 km from the North Sea, the Elbe, which serves the city is deep enough for ocean vessels to dock. I was told Hamburg is the largest port in Germany, and the second largest in Europe after Rotterdam.

The fish was nothing special, but tasty enough. It was fresh, of course!, and was conservatively pan fried with a bit of pepper and salt. And served with a bed of potatos.

The labskaus experience was interesting. Apprantly this is a very popular dish in Hamburg, and the entire north of Europe...even in Copenhagen, though I must say I never came across this dish when I was in Denmark.

The restaurant is also interesting that though situated right smack within offices, and listed in the via Michelin guide, it doesn't accept credit cards, and take only cash.

RIVE Bistro-Restaurant - Oysterbar Hamburg
Van-der-Smissen-Straße 1
22767 Hamburg, Germany
040 3805919

Monday, December 27, 2010

Penang Road Cafe: New King for Penang Food in Singapore?

Having grown up in Penang, the food...especially street food, has a special place in me...though I have left Penang a long time ago, and have lived in Singapore far longer than I have in Penang. I am always on the lookout for a good enough fascimile of the wonderous food you can find in Penang.

For me, living in Singapore, the best I had come across had been Penang Place in Jurong, and Penang Kitchen at Coronation, which I reviewed here here. They represent what is probably the best in Singpaore, but somehow they fall short of the best that Penang has to offer.

Today's review is a new place I happened on...and to cut the story short, could this be the new gold standard for me in Singapore? Is their standard fare like Penang Char Kway Teow, Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee, Penang Lorbak, Penang Laksa, Penang Rojak better than Penang Place or Penang Kitchen?

The place opened about only a month ago, so pretty new. The menu was small, comprising 8 items - those reviewed here plus a fried rice and variations of the CKT and HKM (more/better ingredients). The interior is simply made up...more like a nice cafeteria than a restaurant. The interior is almost totally hard surfaces, making the place noisy when crowded...reminds me a bit of Ivins.

But on to the food...first, the CKT.

The CKT is quite authentic. Fried with nice wok hei. And using the thin rice noodles, no yellow noodles. Overall, very similar to what my mom cooks up, but with more wok hei.

The chef leaves the taugeh a bit raw, which is excellent. This shows good control of the fire, as well as timing. A good cook needs to establish good a jazz musician, using the recipe only as a guideline. And the prawns, which are absent in Singapore CKT, are fairly sized, succulent, fresh, and crunchy...sweet. Bits of crispy pork lard lace the entire plate...which is rather a large serving as well.

Note the slightly charred parts on the noodles above...crisp, smokey flavours permeate because of the wok hei caused by the very hot wok. However, compared to the best in Penang (goggle lady in Lorong Selamat, and Ah Leng's), I am afraid it falls short by quite a lot. But, as a saving grace, these icons in Penang are the gods of CKT, and for Penang Road Cafe, I would rate theirs probably competitive with the regular market CKT in Penang. This is indeed a great praise. Standards I am comparing to are very high.

What about the other dishes?

The Penang Hokkien Mee.

This is another gem. I think the soup is truly excellent. Comparable to the better ones in Penang even...only slightly shy of the best like the Super HKM. The broth is thick, sweet and savoury all at once, with a lingering crustacean flavour. Very nice. The noodles...always beehoon mixed with yellow noodles are a bit overcooked...and though this is quite normal even in Penang, I would prefer a bit more care and not overcook the noodles. The version served by Penang Kitchen was my former gold standard in Singapore. Penang Road Cafe's now unseats this crown, and is now the new gold standard for me.

Next Penang Laksa.

Unfortunately for me, this does not cut it. The stock and soup is not tasty. Lacks the sour tartness, and the richness of the heyko. Also devoid of the undertones of the fish stock. The noodles are also overcooked and very soft. The seems to be a lack of fish flakes, which adorn the better ones in favourite being the one in Ayer Itam Market. For me, this round goes to Penang Kitchen.

What about the lorbak.

Lorbak...or meat with brown sauce...literally translated. This is like the Singapore ngor hiang (5 flavours), but usually done with less spices. More meaty, and with a delectable thick, brown dipping sauce. This Penang Road Cafe version is served without the lor, but the rolls are very good indeed. The skin, made of dried soy skin is excellent, and rendered very crispy. The meat is nicely marinated and very tasty. Excellent. I wish they served this with a proper lor. But good enough to be my reference standard for lorbak in Singapore...close, but not nearly enough to the Kek Seng Malabar Lorbak...and I would like to also see the heh chee...the deep fried, crispy prawn cake.

And finally the rojak

Another winner. Excellent. I suspect the paste to do the rojak is purchased from Penang. The best stores in Penang often offer the paste to take home and roll your own. The famous one in Gurney Drive is one example...and a favourite of my mom's. The Penang Cafe version is quite similar. The chunks of cucumber, bangkwang, pineapple and very small slices of rehydrated dried squid are all there. I would have preferred better tasting and more generous serving of squid. Also perhaps some of the sour tiny mangoes that are used in Penang. But for me, this version is quite good. Well, good enough.

Overall, this little place has set new standards in Penang food in Singapore. The portions are rather generous, and good value for money. The CKT, HKM, Lorbak set new standards for me for Penang food in Singapore. Very highly recommended.

275 Thomson Road
#01-08 Novena Ville
Singapore 307645
Tel: 62563218

Friday, December 24, 2010

More postcards from Germany: Michelin Star in the Baltic Sea

with FM

I took some time off after I completed my photography in Glashutte, and drove to the Baltic Sea, via Berlin. More on Berlin in the next blog post. I stayed in Arhenshoop...a small village with an excellent access to the Baltic Sea...but this was an early winter, as noted in the Dresden and Glashutte posts...and a harsh one. Temperatures by the beach was typically -3C during the day when I was there...but with strong north winds blowing, it felt like close to -15C most of the time.

We drove to another small village of Wieck auf dem Darss...and visited a favourite of FM and his many Germans, they vacation during the summer (Whitsun period) in the Baltic Sea, and it has become a tradition for him, wife and daughter to drop by Haferland to have a meal when they are here.

Reputed to have one Michelin star, the chef of cuisine Kurt Jäger cooks up a storm in this quaint little hotel.

Inside, it was a quaint, cozy smallish restaurant. The establishment has a hotel and an attached art gallery as well...and this seemed to be a common theme with hotels in the Baltic Sea area.

We started with aperitifs, then a nice house white, and finished with a great bottle of Volnay 2001. We later retired to the hotel's smoking room and had a wonderful Partagas Churchil, and a my favourite Talisker. But for now, the food...

We started with the fish soup:

The fish was superb. Lightly cooked, ultra fresh. The hot soup certainly was a treat for the cold winter. The soup itself was like a consomme. Jager had a light touch, not too spiced up, not too much salt. Just a touch to enhance the sea flavour, and the freshness of the ingredients.

Both of us opted for the lamb.

Interesting for Jager to mix two slices of rack of lamb and a tougher saddle of lamb together in one dish. Superbly cooked...again, light touch with the seasonings, allowing the nice meat to blossom to show the flavours of the lamb. Even the sauce was light, unlike the jus served by many other restaurants which tend to be very concentrated and sour. But this was light in taste, and compliments the lamb. The cooking was just right...grilled just shy of medium...slightly on the rare. Accompanied by vegetables and potato.

Dessert was two scoops of home made ice cream...served with some confit of berries. The berries added a touch of acid to balance the richness of the ice cream nicely.

Excellent dinner indeed. And cooking worthy of the star.

Hotel Haferland
Bauernreihe 5a, 18375 Wieck auf dem Darss

Blessed Christmas

May you be truly blessed this Christmas and every Christmas. Picture taken outside the Rathaus (City Hall) in Hamburg.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Carousel Bistro, Bulow Palais, Dresden

The Frauenkirche, from across the Elbe, in the night...the cold, snowy night

The Bulow Palais...a new, main branch from the small hotel...a favourite in Dresden...called the Bulow Residenz. I have stayed at the Residenz several times over the last years, and always have had great experiences. The General Manager Ralf Kutzner, knows how to take care of his guests, and the service is always very personal and attentive. One of the attractions of the hotel is the beautiful baroque styled rooms.

My 42...a rather large suite...with a separate office, living room, bedroom and two large screen LCD TVs and two bathrooms. Almost like your own apartment.

view from the office area, looking into the living room.

Another attraction of the Bulow is the Carousel Restaurant. Awarded one Michelin star from ages ago, when Stefan Hermann used to helm the kitchen, and the star now retained by the equally talented Dirk Schröer. I have dined on Dick's cooking several times with great pleasure. And this time, I opted to try out the less elaborate Bistro...situated just at the lobby area at the new Palais.

It was Christmas...well, almost, there was a terrible snow storm outside...percipitating some 15cm of snow in 12 hours prior to my dinner...but the Christmas decor made a cheer...and if you stay indoors and wark, the freshly fallen snow looks beautiful.

The golden statue of August the Strong, Elector of Saxony (sort of King of the region)...just a few minutes walk from the Bulow

And the lovely Christmas decoration warms the heart:

Bread was served with a scoop of pork lard...

I must say, the freshly baked bread went very well with the pork lard.

I opted for fish...and ordered the Fried Cod with Borsch and Potato Gnocci.

Something about the froth, the crisp skin and delicately cooked fish tells on a starred Michelin chef. Cutting the fish open, revealed a perfectly cooked slice...thick, juicy, fresh, not a second over, not a second under...perfect.

The skin was super-crispy...really superb, and had been lightly dusted with sea salt to enhance the flavour...a bit smoky. The meat was perfect, as I mentioned...moist, smooth, clean tasting, smelling fresh and almost odourless...but with a slight tinge of the ocean. Nicely marinated...very lightly so as not to disturb but to enhance the delicate flavour of the meat. The froth added an extravagance, as it was coy, smooth, rich. The Borsch was a melange of vegetables...and the gnocci had been individually pan fried, and coated with a crust made by slightly burning the skin, but retaining the firm, al-delte texture within. Beautiful dish. Bravo!

Dessert was a creme brule with pistacio ice cream.

Again, a delectable dish. The creme brule was well made...the caramel crust providing shards of sweetness and flavour to the light, creamy inside. The ice cream was home made, I presume...was packed with pistacio flavour, and sat on a bed of preserved prunes which provided some acidity to the rich creaminess of the ice and the creme brule. Nice.

Overall, I think I had a meal deserving the Michelin star...though the Bistro was not so awarded. And as a bistro, rather than a fine dining establishment, I paid significantly less than one would for a temple of cooking such as this.

Carousel Bistro
The Bulow Palais
Königstraße 14
01097 Dresden

Telefon: +49 (0)351 80030
Telefax: +49 (0)351 8003100

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zum Baren

with Kirsten, Sandra and Lutz

I wrote about the hotel and restaurant in OberBarenburg before, and the spectacular cuisine to be found high in the Ore Mountains, far from most of civilization. As I returned this was an early start for winter in the Saxony region. Half a meter of snow fell in 3 days, and temperatures dipped to below -19C.

As we drove up, this was the scene which greeted us...a kind of winter wonderland.

And as we reached, Zum Baren...

Compare with the pics I took when I was last here in May...there was just snow everywhere.

It was almost Christmas, so on the reception was a rather interesting decoration, with peanuts in their shells...

The food is still exceptional in this place. It never ceases to amaze me...small little restaurant, almost in the middle of nowhere...we were the only table for lunch...and such excellent cooking. Kudos to the chef for keeping his/her craft high.

I started with a pumpkin soup...made with Japanese pumpkin (!), and edelberries swimming within:

Needless to say, superb tasting...and nice as it was warming to the body and soul.

And for my mains, I had a platter from the sea...flounder with scallops.

The flounder was fresh (would have been a surprise as this is high in the mountains, far from the ocean, but since I had fish the last time, I was not surprised it was very fresh), beautiful tasting fish...cooked just right. The scallop was sweet, fresh...with a nice breath of the sea. And the fish sat on some pasta. The sauce was thick, rich, and nicely complemented the dish. Another superb dish. Loved it.

After the lunch, the ladies had a spot of snowball fight...:-)

Restaurant at the Hotel Zum Baren
Talblick 6
01773 Altenberg, Germany

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cafe Uhrwerk: Glashutte

with Unicorn, Kirsten and Christian

Glashutte...a tiny little village...but in Germany, it has the status of a the birthplace of the German Watchmaking industry. Most of the high end manufacturers are based here. From the high end A. Lange & Sohne to Glashutte Original, to Nomos and Wempe and the soon to be relaunched Moritz Grossmann. They are all here...a bit like the Swiss Jura...the little villages which dot the valley...Le Sentier, Le Brassus, La Chaux du Fonds, Nauchatel, et al...

For the photography work I do with A. Lange & Sohne, I am in Glashutte quite often. I either stay in Dresden - the nearest large city...about 29km away or if I am here for longer, at the Heidehof at Dippoldiswalde, about 10km away, and commute by car.

When I first started coming to Glashutte some 13 years ago, this was a little village just risen from the GDR...communist occupied Germany, and has had a repressed economy since the WWII ended. I remember going with good friend and master watchmaker Richard Habring (now with his own workshops in his native Austria) to a butcher shop for lunch as there was probably only a small cafe operating in 1997.

But this year, when I was here in May, I spied a little cafe which opened just behind the DeutschesUhrenmuseum. I ate there several times, and the cuisine is quite good...home cooked food. Very nice surroundings. Comfortable.

So I was to return many times for lunch. This is a typicaly meal there...pasta cooked with goose liver (not foie gras...just the foie without the force feeding, not fat...just natural goose liver). The liver was a bit firmer than foie gras, and did not really melt in the mouth. The texture is slightly powdery, with a nice mouthfeel, probably due to the fat in the liver. But the flavour was robust, a bit like chicken liver. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Hauptstraße 19
01768 Glashütte

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Steaks in Germany

with Unicorn

Steakhouses fascinate me. I have eaten at some wonderful ones like Peter Luger's in Brooklyn, and nearer to home at Mamou's in Manila. I just featured the Cocopazza in Milan, though still waiting to try Dario Cecchini's bistecca alla fiorentina.

But here I am back in Dresden, and one evening, Unicorn and I decided to try Maredo, just right at the Christmas market at Frauenkirche Square.

Situated just next to the Frauenkirche and the Coselpalais...the location cannot be better...right in the middle of the historical city center.

The decor is a bit Argentinian...with silhouttes of cowboys on their horses and cactii.

The menu is in multi-languages...English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese...all catered...afterall this restaurant is in the tourist belt.

I ordered my usual...sirloin...done Chicago Medium-rare...I described medium rare, and charred outside. And the steak was delivered:

Somehow, I feel the chefs or grillmasters are afraid to char the steaks outside of North America. Compare with the superb steak I had at the Las Vegas branch of Smith's and Wollensky recently which was really charred. This steak was not really charred at all.

The inside is what I ordered...medium rare:

I think the beef is from grass fed. Sinewy, very flavourful, but still managing to retain tenderness and not be overly chewy. The taste was excellent...but I suspect this is a rather fresh piece fo meat, chilled not frozen, but not aged. The characteristic nuttiness of the dry aging process, so wonderful in many US steaks, is absent. But this is good steak. Though to have it done right, I guess there is nowhere else but the good old USA.

An der Frauenkirche 12-14
01067 Dresden

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Steaks in Milan: Restorante Cocopazza

Continuing on my bistecca florentina what am I do the standard order for the steak was 1kg...too much for one man. I found myself in Cocopazza in Milan, and they do offer bistecca. But I had to settle for an entrecote...the sirloin of beef.

The display cabinet at the lobby of the Cocopazza Restaurant as one enters entices. I guess, I had to do the next best thing...and go for the entrecote...the sirloin of beef.

But first, a carafe of vino rosso...the house wine will do...and make it half a liter. Afterall, I had spent the morning working - photographing a piece unique at the beautiful watch store - Orologia Pisa. And most of the afternoon wandering around Milan. I was tired. I deserve it.

The wine was surprisingly good. Served at the correct room temperature, it was at once refreshing as well as delicious. There was hardly any nose to speak of, this is afterall the house pour, but on the palate, it was surprisingly robust, ripe, with berries as a good Rufino will do.

Steak I ordered...and it was served in quick time...the waiter did not ask how I want the done-ness to be done. Assuming that the chef's recommendation was the only option. I know of one or two steakhouses in the US, where the waiter asks for how you want your steak to be done, but never tells the chef, and serves medium rare, charred. Always. Here they dispense of the formalities, and don't even ask.

But it was to my satisfaction. Grilled, with burn marks...beautiful. The piece of meat was rather small...I guess about 200g. But sufficient...afterall this is not the USA, where the portions tend to be gigantic.

And perfect medium-rare inside. The meat must have been grass fed cattle...I would guess this is imported Argentinian beef...the meat had a tough consistency. But it did not bother me, as the flavour was excellent. No wagyu, this piece of needed chewing. I rather enjoyed it.

The meat was served...a la in a traditional steakhouse...meaning, no sides. I ordered what the menu proclaimed "cooked vegetables", and was served a plate, rather large, of boilled vegetables.

Boiled vegs doesn't sound appetizing...and this bowl of vegetables - carrots, cucumber, potatoes, spinach were boilled till very soft...almost mushy. But for some reason, it tasted quite good. With a dash of extra virgin oil, it was quite good.

Restaurante Cocopazza
via Durini, 26
20122 Milano

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Walkabout eats in Milan

I found myself in Milan again, and thought of eating Italian in Italy...hmm, makes my mouth water. Pizza (done correctly!), pasta (made properly), and bistecca alla Florentina.

Duomo Milano, the grand cathederal at the city center industrial city, some say. A place for style, others claim. But for me, Milano is always the big city (figuratively of course), when I spent time in my early career in Monza, attending meetings in a facility at Vimercate.

Tagliatelle alla Ragu...tagliatelle, in a meat tomato sauce at Da Willy, a chain restaurant in Milan

oops, sidetracking...back to food and steaks...It does not help that my friend Massi, a true Florentine, sings supreme about the beef in his home city. Bistecca is a product of Tuscany, where Florence (or Firenze, as the Italians call it) is a part of. I was in Florence as a day trip from Milan (again more later), but unfortunately travelling alone has its cannot order bistecca it is meant for at least 2...typically being sold by the kilogram.

So what is a man to do...but more of that later...

The market was abound with fresh and cured meats:

and beautiful cheeses

I did not have the time to seek out the temples of dining in Milan...but this time, I thought, what if I just wandered around, and ate at wherever I was at...seeking out what the locals and tourists would supp on.

I found the coffee...or cafe as the Italians refer to their espresso, is not always as wonderful as in the best bars (or in our Singapore cafes like Oriole and Papa Palheta, where the ristretto is truly a ristretto. In one of the small cafes I stumbled on...near via Monte Napoleone, I spied a nice espresso machine.

I ordered a doppio (double espresso), and when served, I took a seat at one of the tables...big mistake...which I was to found out later...a doppio at the bar...standing would cost Euro1.8, at the table, with the cover came out to be Euro6. Big difference!

Anyway, the espresso was nowhere near where Papa and Oriole can whip up. It was still good coffee, but not a nice, thick, syrupy pull.

But one of the things the Italians do right is pizza...unlike the Americans with their thick crust, oily pizza, the Italians have theirs done right. Super hot oven, dry, thin, crispy dough. And beautiful ingredients.

Quarto Formaggi...four cheeses. Divine! Interestingly also in Italy, pizza is served uncut. The diner cuts it into pieces according to his own needs.

The crust is thin, baked crisp, almost like a biscuit, and dusted gently with some of the flour.

Curiously in this restaurant, they serve a vino rosso - red wine, house pour in a carafe, chilled. It had an interesting almost efferverscent taste. Very refershing and quite nice.

I round off this blog entry with a look at the classical Italian humour...this huge sclupture outside the Bourse...the Stock Exchange...