Monday, January 31, 2011

Neuchatel: La Maison du Prussien

La Maison du Prussien is a small, country hotel and restaurant half way up the mountains in Neuchatel. Referring to the Prussian origins of the city of Neuchatel, it offers an interesting respite from the travels across the Swiss Jura and watchmaking districts. Many watchmakers are based in La Chaux du Fonds/Le Loche area, just minutes from the hotel. As are the manufactures in the city of Neuchatel. I was visiting with some friends an independent watchmaker by the name of Kari Voultilainen, a Finnish gentleman, who is a superb watchmaker and lives in the town of Motiers, some 45 mins drive away.

la maison du prussien nauchatel

We checked into the room was no 3, just above the restaurant, and the accomodations were very large, especially by Swiss standards. The timber floor was charming, and there was even a large jaccuzi in the bath. The restaurant in the basement had the reputation of 18 Gault Millau points, so it promises some interesting dining.

The amuse bouche was a combination of pates...all smooth, rich, and originated from fruits and vegetables.

amuse bouche at la maison du prussien nauchatel

The menu looked heavy, but rather interesting, and I was assured of an gastronomic evening. I started with what I perceive what the menu (in French only, no English) describe as a salad of endives and lobster.

salad of endives with lobster at la maison du prussien nauchatel

What an interesting dish. A web-wall of sugar protects the creation from being directly assulted by the diner...a curious leaf of endive sticks out from what seemed to be a rather generous serving of lobster. The wall was crisp, hard, and sweet, of course. But it lends well to the taste of the lightly poached lobster, which was bursting with rich savour flavours as a fresh lobster ever could. The endive was more a decoration, and tasted like, well an endive leaf. Nice salad, even if there was more lobster and fanfare than salad. Enjoyed it.

For my mains, I had the beef with cheese...this was a heavy dish, Kari warned...but at the time of ordering, I thought it a good idea. But first the wine..

savigny les beaune at la maison du prussien nauchatel

We consumed 2 bottles over the course of the evening. The first was in magnificent form. nice round tannins, with a beautiful nose reminiscent of berries. The second bottle was rather more powerful in its tannins, biting the tongue. On the palate it remained the same. We discussed this a bit, as we also found it strange that the sommelier told us that our taster need not taste the second bottle as he had already tasted it himself and declared it fine. Odd, as our taster had tasted and approved the first bottle, and eventually we found the second bottle to be inferior. But not wishing to cause a scene, we went along silently.

fillet mignon of beef at la maison du prussien nauchatel

A thick slice of beef, cooked very nicely medium rare...a bit more medium than rare...but nicely done indeed...

detail showing cut fillet mignon of beef at la maison du prussien nauchatel

The meat was magnificent. It literally fell off its sinews and almost melted in the mouth. The cheese provided able support with richness, and a saltiness which is characteristic of well matured cheese. I found the dish delightful, but after about 3/4 of the dish, I felt it was a bit too heavy, and could not finish it.

For desserts, we had an interesting sorbet of 4 mushrooms...

dessert sorbet of 4 mushrooms at la maison du prussien nauchatel

Interesting dish, allowing the flavours of the mushrooms to show. Obviously hand made in the kitchen by the pastry chef, this provided a nice round-up to the heavy meal.

Petit Fours were served, and as is typical of a high end restaurant, featured some hand made candies by the pastry chef:

petit fours at la maison du prussien nauchatel

Wonderful dinner, albeit a bit heavy. Perhaps I should have elected to go with the scallops instead of the beef. But overall, excellent service, great cooking. Fine food.

Hôtel-Restaurant La Maison du Prussien
Rue des Tunnels 11
CH-2000 Neuchâtel
Tel. +41 (0)32 730 54 54
Fax. +41 (0)32 730 21 43

View Larger Map

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Traditional Swiss meals: Les Armures in Geneva

Les Armures, one of the favourites of my watch buddies when we come visiting during the Salon International de Haut Horologie (SIHH). Some of them love the place so much, they stay at this little boutique hotel up the hill just by the old town of Geneva. The name refers to the gunnery just behind the hotel, with its ancient guns originally trained to protect the city against its enemies.

But a quaint little place this is. As one enters, the whiff of cheese is rather strong. This was, afterall Switzerland, and this restaurant is one of the places to enjoy raclette and fondue. But I am fond of neither, but have still grown to love this place...for it serves great lamb and other delicacies.

table layout at the basement of the restaurant at Hotel Les Armures Geneva

The occassion this time was dinner with Laurent Ferrier and his team, after a successful launch of his Gallet Tourbillon watch, and a new peek-a-boo timepiece shown earlier that day at the Geneva Time Exhibition (GTE).

I started with a French Onion Soup:

French Onion Soup with cheese gratine Hotel Les Armures Geneva

A thick, rich onion soup...stewed till the onions have caramalised and profuses a sweetness to the broth, a thick layer of toasted breadcrumbs, covered by a layer of cheese and baked. For those who love cheeses, this was absolutly delicious. Wonderful aromas of the onions infuse gently with the cheese. Excellent, and one of the best French Onion Soups I have had in a while.

As a sample, a plate of rackette was served:

swiss cheese racklette

A melted lump of cheese...eaten wrapped around a potato. For the cheese lover, again this was a slice of heaven. I like cheese, but am not totally crazy with it, so one serving of this rackette suffices to satisfy...and it was indeed satisfying. But connoiseurs will eat 5 or 6 servings in a meal. A heavy meal indeed.

Raclette is actually from the French term to scrape, and the traditional method is to start with a semi-solid piece of cow cheese, and with the aid of a flame or heat source to melt the surface. As the cheese melts, a small knife is scrapped into the diner's plate. In Les Armures, this was already done in the kitchen, and the ceremony of scraping or racler (French) is not performed.

For my mains, I had the rack of lamb:

grilled rack of lamb with potato rosti

This was served medium rare:

grilled rACK of lamb detail showing medium rare meat

and with potato rosti...another Swiss favourite. Rosti is kind of like a hash brown, but often served covering the entire plate.

The lamb was from New Zealand, and as fine as it ever was. Tender, flavourful. Rich tasting. The rosti was well done...a crisp and rich crust over the starchy interior.

Swiss food is rather rich, with lots of cheese, butter, potatos and heavy meats (sometimes). And for traditional Swiss, Les Armures is certainly a good option for Geneva.

Hotel Les Armures
Rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre 1
1204 Geneva, Switzerland
022 310 91 72

Monday, January 24, 2011

Geneva: Steaks at Les Relais de l'Entrecote

Geneva, Switzerland. I have had a close association with this little city for the last decade...making my pilgramage at least twice, sometimes up to 4 times a year. Indeed, Geneva is an intriguing city to the uninitiated. Cold...not only in the temperatures during the winter months, but also in the attitude of its inhabitants. Sunday in Geneva, most of the business establishments, including restaurants are closed, and the casual visitor is hard pressed. Until you discover the secrets of the city.

I now have several favourites. From Lion D'Or...a little one star Michelin gem tucked away in Cologny, or Brasserie Lipp, or Les Armures up in the hill at the old town. But also at chain stores like Molina, and hotel eateries like the pizzeria at Hotel Mont Brilllant just behind the main train station. But a curious little eatery, right at Rue du Rhone also claims a place in my schedule...

Perpetually full...with a line queuing outside, even in the bitter cold of winter. This busy, very cramped little place has the reputation for the best steaks in Geneva.

There is no menu in this restaurant. The waitress comes by, and asks how you'd like your steak done...and what wine you'd like. That's it.

The steaks are served in two servings...the first dished out on your plate, a generous drizzling of the butter sauce, and a nice helping of fries. Shown below, the first of my two almost identical servings:

No place to entertain orders of Chicago medium-rare...I just confirmed I want it "a point"...medium. The meat was almost perfectly lean, cooked just past medium, erring on the side of almost being well done. As a result, it was a bit tough, but being chewy had its benefits. The meat was tasty, flavourful. And being smothered in the thick, gorgeously rich sauce is quite nice. The fries were shoestring style....fried almost crisp on the outside, and did not feel greasy.

I wouldn't say this is the best steak I have had...but I must say its not bad...and SF42 for a serving, while not cheap, is to be considered rather reasonable in this expensive city. Recommended.

Genève •
49, rue du Rhône
+ 41 22 310 60 04

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Le Chasseur: Talk of the town

Le Chasseur. What an interesting name for a Chinese Cze Char style restaurant in Singapore. The word is French for The Hunter. And it came about because the owner and chef Andy Lim used to run a restaurant of the same name in Mauritius.

This restaurant...I am tempted to call it small, as the atmosphere is congenial and Andy comes out to talk and give running commentaries on his food...but it is hardly small. It occupies 2 whole shophouses just across the road from The Central.

We asked Andy to make his recommendation, and this was the menu...first up, though it takes a full 20 minutes or so to prepare is te claypot chicken rice.

claypot chicken rice

Andy insists on starting from scratch, with the rice cooked in the pot with the ingredients, so as to achieve full infusion of flavours. And also to char a nice, thick, burnt layer at the bottom of the a beautiful smoky flavour. The chicken was very tender..and de-boned. This is a pet peeve...many times for me, a claypot of chicken rice is spoilt by having to weed out the chicken bones. And the home made, tangy, tart, pungent, hot chilli sauce complements it very well. A real winner. And for this dish alone Le Chasseur is worth the visit.

claypot chicken rice

Andy uses Pakistani Basmati rice to make the claypot rice. This is very fragrant, long grained basmati. And very fluffy when cooked, and much more able to absorb flavours than regular Thai jasmine rice. This is the first commercial establishment I have come across which elects to use this much more expensive rice in its claypot. We do use basmati at home for claypots, chicken rice, nasi lemak and when we cook curries. Nice touch.

We also tried the deep fried ter ka...pork knuckles, or what Andy describes in his menu as deep fried pata.

deep fried pork knuckle, filipino style lechon baboy

The style of deep frying the knuckle and the sauce is described by Andy as Filipino style. But this is a much more elegant dish than the lechon baboy in Manila. Though deep fried, the knuckle remains remarkably dry and un-greasy...both in appearance and in the mouth. The skin is a dry crispy crunch. The meat is also fried till almost crispy. The dark brooding sauce provides a bit of acid to heighten the meat and diffuse the richness. Very good. My lunch colleagues proclaim this as superb, and better than the one done by Siang Hee. For me, I feel the taste of the Siang Hee deep fried pork knuckle is better, but also more greasy. Too close to call which I prefer.

Another signature of Le Chasseur is the prawns

barbequed prawns

The prawns are a live prawns...from a supplier who delivers only 1kg a day to Le Chasseur. Interesting...why such small quantities for a restaurant, especially for its signature dish? I am not sure as Andy did not really answer directly, but hinted that the prawns is very special. The prawns are live, and boiled in sea water till medium-rare. Then brushed with oil and grilled. The grilling produces a charred bits of the shell, and legs, and the wonderful smokey aroma which permeates. The prawns itself are very fresh...afterall they were live. And the method of eating, as Andy explains is to open the head like so...

sea barbecued prawn with head peeled open

Suck out the fat under the head. Deshell and proceed to eat the flesh. No sauce is provided for the prawns, the taste is superb. Sweet, crunchy, with a hint of the sea and smokey aromas.

We did have two vegetable dishes...the eggplant and the sambal long beans...but I felt they were good, but not specatacular.

Focussing on the spectacular, we also tried a small portion of the vinegar pork leg...ter ka chor.

pork leg braised in black chinese vinegar

A favourite of many...though not of mine. I prefer the richly braised pork knuckle. But a mandatory dish for ladies who have just given birth during the confinement month, this is a traditional dish. For me, its good, but I find the tart-ness of the acid in the vinegar to be a tad overpowing. But for Ray and Janet who are fans of this style of pork knuckle, this was a great dish. Ray rated this 9.5/10, and Janet rated it 9/10. High praise indeed.

For desserts, we tried the house special black fungus:

black fungus, boiled as a dessert

I found this to be quite good. The fungus was thick, and crunchy. And the soup was nicely balanced sweetness.

But the tau suan was excellent:

tau suan split peas in dessert

The peas used were beautiful. Nice, halfs. The peas are cooked just right...the consistency is not too hard, not too soft. The thick sweet sauce smothered the peas. One of the best tau suans I have had in a very long time.

The restaurant was getting quite busy on a Friday lunchtime, when were almost finished with our meal at about 1pm...we arrived at 12 noon, and it was nice and quiet. Andy recommends reservations for weekends, when it can get rather crowded.

Excellent food, reasonable prices. Definitely worthy of multiple re-visits.

Le Chasseur
31, New Bridge Road (opp Central)
Singapore 059393
11am to 11pm daily

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beng Hiang Hokkien Restaurant

Hokkiens form a large part of the dialect group in Singapore. I believe, with the Teochews, Hokkiens form up to 70%+ of the Chinese population here. As a result, the lingua franca in Singapore when speaking dialect is most usually Hokkien.

The cuisine is also follows suit, though being in the South East Asia, our infuences from the region with hot, spicy food is apparent, many of the origins of the cuisine is derived from old recipes from China.

Beng Hiang is one such old guardian of authentic Hokkien cuisine here. Their restaurant in Amoy Street (Amoy is a dialect of the Fujian Province, where Hokkiens are from).

We ordered a typical Hokkien meal for lunch one we have done countless of times before.

Starters: Fish Maw Soup

hokkien fish maw soup

This is a thick (thickened usually with tapioca) soup, with deep fried, dried fish maw, scallop shreads, crab meat. Tasty and hearty soup. Today's serving was let down by the use of frozen crab, which tasted flat and dull, instead of being sweet, fat and rich that fresh crab will provide. But nonetheless, still tasty.

Hae Choe is another typical dish.

hokkien deep friedn prawn balls hae cho  or hae choe

Filled with minced prawns, sometimes crab meat, and filled with finely diced chestnuts, radish and other vegetables, then deep fried, the hae choe is another Hokkien favourite. This version served by Beng Hiang is excellent. The rich savoury, and juicy tender insides are encased in a crunchy, crispy skin. Great texture contrasts, as well as a very beautiful taste.

The way vegetables are done in Hokkien are also simple:

hokkien vegetables dou miao with dried fish

Simply flash fried in a hot wok with garlic, the dou miao is soft, rich, silky. There is a slight sweet/salty aftertaste with just a tinge of bitterness to round up the vegetable. Complements very wel with the slightly salty, dried fish, which also provides umami power and flavour. Excellent vegetable dish.

Beng Hiang is also famous for their Khong Bak Pau:

hokkien braised pork with steamed dumplings khong bak pau

Pork belly is stewed in a black sauce for hours...tens of hours to render them soft, super tender. The pork absorbs the braising liquid for hours and becomes especially flavourful. The steamed dumplings are light and fluffly, and served together, sometimes is a slice of heaven. Sinfully fat and cholesterol laden...note layer of oil, from rendered fat, on which the pork sits on. But wonderful on the palate. Sweet and salty all at once. The immense umami of the rich pork is irresistable. Very very good. But my favourite is actually served by Westlake Restaurant which I reviewed here. Westlake's version is a bit saltier (negative for me), but the braising liquid is much more flavourful and packs more taste triggers...edges out Beng Hiang's very good rendition. Close, but edge goes to Westlake.

But the Hokkien Char is par excellence.

hokkien fried noodles char mee

The sauce, brown, thick, rich, fullfilling coats every strand of noodle. The seafood is reasonably fresh...if I nitpicked, I would have wanted fresher and crunchier prawns, fresher fish and cuttlefish...but as it stands this dish is excellent. Really good. The sauce is outstanding, and powers the dish very well.

hokkien char mee

One of the best to be found in Singapore. Reminiscent of the old Hokkien restaurants I used to eat in Penang.

Overall, this is a treasure for Hokkiens. Beng Hiang holds up traditional values well. The restaurant is large enough to be the venues of large celebrations, like traditional Chinese weddings with ease. During a typicaly lunch, it gets fairly busy.

interior chinese hokkien restaurant

Beng Hiang Restaurant
112 - 116 Amoy Street
Singapore 069932
Tel: (65) 6221 6695
Fax: (65) 6220 2906

Mon - Sun
Lunch 11:30am - 2:30pm (last order)
Dinner 6:00pm - 9:30pm (last order)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Museum cuisine? Try Novus at the National Museum

I often dismiss restaurants in museums. Often, these are convenience eateries targeted at tourists. For one, I would take a walk and eat at one of the many restaurants nearby the Louvre than dine within. But Singapore is a bit different...I think. Within the walls of the National Museum are two restaurants - Novus, my feature here today, and Chef Chan's (which, BTW is closing or closed). There has been rumours for months, that Damian DaSilva (formerly of Big D's Grill) will reopen his Soul Kitchen there, but so far nothing.

Anyway, back to Novus. Set as a modern European style dining establishment, the premises are smartly decorated...tasteful with clean lines, and nice and bright.

Here is a 180 degree panorama. Panoramas are multiple images stitched in the computer to provide a wide view of the surrounding. This means the picture needs to be displayed wide, in this case 1920 pixels across.

I opted for the set menu, at An amuse bouche starts the Executive Set Lunch. 3 courses at S$38++.The Amuse bouche is a kind of whipped, foamed soup.

amuse bouche

A bit underwhelming...and quite forgettable.

I started with the foie gras parfait, with fig, grape, vanilla, mesculun leaves. This was an additional supplement of S$8 to the set price.

parfair of foie gras with fig, grape, vanilla and mesculun

Unlike the usual pan fried foie gras, or even a cold pate of foie gras, the foie gras was whipped into a light parfait, and served on a slate plate with the vegetables and fruits. The foie gras was smooth, creamy with a light taste of the liver.

I had the beef cheeks as my mains:

amazingly tender melt in your mouth angus beef cheeks

This dish is spectacular! Described in the menu as hickory smoked black angus beef cheek, it was served with baby beets, spring onion, mushroom creme and triple cooked french fries.

The cheeks were literally melt in your mouth. The taste was rich, savoury, and very, very mild beefiness. I loved the mouthfeel as it gently disintegrates, leaving a hint of aftertaste. Lovely!

tasty french fries from sweet potato

For dessert, rum infused pineapple:

dessert rum infused pineapple with mascarpone ice cream, chocolate and caramel

Rum infused, the pineapple was soft, tender, and sweet with only the slightest hint of rum. Served with mascarpone ice cream, chocolate and caramel, it was very good. The acidity and slight tartness of the pineapple balancing well with the richness of the ice cream, and the chocolate and caramel rounding up the body quite nicely.

Service was quite good and reasonably attentive, but the food took a long time to be served...this on a Thursday afternoon, where there were only 2 other tables besides ours.

Overall, I think the food to be rather good, though given the alternative offerings available these days, a tad pricey.

The fries tasted like they were sweet potato, but very nice and mushy inside, slight crispy crust on the outside.

Address: 93 Stamford Road #01-02 National Museum of Singapore Singapore
6336 8770
Mon–Sat: 11.30am – 2.30pm, 6.30pm – 10.30pm
Bar: 11.30am – 2am

Monday, January 10, 2011

Favourites: Char Kway Teow

I have featured CKT it is one of my favourite ways to increase the cholesterol to my need to indulge sparingly. Penang CKT is a firm soul favourite. But the Singapore version, with sweet sauce is also loved. The latter version, my favourites are the Outram Park CKT, now in the Hong Lim Temp Market, and the Yong Huat version. I used to like the one served by Hai Kee when he was still at Margaret Drive...but I feel, especially after the avian flu scare of 2004, his CKT has been becoming more and more bland. So I don't feel Hai Kee deserves my small calorie and cholesterol budget anymore. One of the favourites of fellow Singaporeans is the Hill Street in Bedok...but for me, to use an acronym of the Gen Y-ers...CMI...cannot make it.

But one which delights me often, and warrants a drive to Old Airport Road is Dong Ji...a bit unusual...perhaps more like a hybrid between Singapore and Penang versions.

Served with seafood...unusual in Singapore (except for cockles)...the more expensive S$4 version comes with prawns and squid. The seafood imparts a very beautiful fragrance. The CKT is rather dry, though in the frying process, the uncle does seem to splash quite a bit of water. He also adds a dash of sweet black sauce, it tastes savoury rather than sweet...perhaps a hint of sweetness to lift the taste a bit.

Wok hei is super. Note the charred bits, which impart the smokey flavour. Wonderful.

The old uncle who fries the CKT is a bit of a grumpy old fellow...never smiles..grunts in Hokkien when you order. But good CKT.

Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow
Old Airport Road Food Centre
Opens daily
8am till 2pm

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Men Men Don Don...Japan in Singapore?

A new shopping center in Singapore...curious crowds great numbers...jamming the car parks, the entrances and exits, the toilets, and the walkways. The newly opened NEX is no different. Even on a Wednesday lunchtime, when I was there...the place was rather crowded. Good for business...well, only time will tell. Crowds always descend on new malls. Time will tell.

ASG and I strolled down the seemed there were many food outlets there, including two food courts - one small one by Food Republic and a larger one by Food Junction...along with literally tens of small food shops.

In one little corner, almost tucked away in B2, lies a very small shop...with its kitchen occupying perhaps 60% of the shop space, what was left was a small walkway with tables for 2, and a counter. Curious name too...Men Men Don Don...I guess referring in plural that they have noodles (men) and rice (don). The shop served Japanese fast food...the various dons, some ramen. Not a specialist like many in Japan tend to be, but the cramped quarters do remind me of the little shops that dot the train stations in Tokyo.

A cheerful girl took our orders...

I had a unadon.

The rice was rather generous...probably almost twice as much as a typical serving of chicken rice. And for S$7.90, I was served one tail's worth of eel. The fish was smothered with sauce, which spilled over onto the rice...just like they do in Japan, and a liberal sprinkling of sliced dried seaweed adorns on top. One bite on the eel, the taste and texture is excellent. Mild, with no mud flavours, tender...almost creamy meat is concealed within the skin...which was a bit firm in consistency and had a springy texture. Memories rush to Tokyo's little unagi shops...yes, it was that good. I say!

ASG had the hotate don

I had a sample of one of his scallops...tasted good too. The scallops were served whole in a mixture of egg and the same generous sprinkling of dried seaweed. For S$5.90, this was even better value.

We agreed it was worth another visit...perhaps we could order 3 bowld of different meals, and share. The salmon sashimi with ikura on rice looked very tempting. As were the various onigiris.

Men Men Don Don
23 Serangoon Central Mall (Nex), #B2-10

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sausages in Germany

When I think of street food in Germany, I think of sausages grilling in street stalls. All manner of sausages...rindwurst, brockwurst, currywurst - an institution in Germany...a sausage, sliced, with a mild curry gravy.

And being available everywhere, it must be terribly competitive...though I think there are probably one or two large industrialized suppliers to all the street vendors.

I had one as a sample by the Christmas Market at the Hamburg Rathaus.

But unsurprisingly, they are all very good, and almost the same.

This was cooked just right. The skin was springy, had a tough-ish consistency and the inside was nice and firm. The meat tasted very good, the smoky flavours imparted by the charcoal grill added to the flavour. I found the yellow mustard a bit weak, but I guess the German palate is more delicate than my fire breathing, chilli eating acceptable.

Available almost everywhere in Germany.