Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eating in Italy: Gatto Nero in Cernobbio...George Clooney's favouirite restaurant

Cernobbio, by the shores of Lake Como is a beautiful place. The villas surrounding the lake testify the natural beauty and serinity of the place...the rich and famous have long made their holiday vacations here. The villa used by the recuperating Bond in the latest Casino Royale is by those shores, and not too far away, the villa of George Clooney. And yet a short distance the private retreat of Richard Branson. And up in the little mountain...will be a challenging bicycle ride...some 200m elevation, and I counted more than 6 switchbacks on the steep road up to the little restaurant.

A favourite of George Clooney, this restaurant has seen its share of paparazzi stalking the famous actor trying to catch a photograph of him and his latest squeeze. But we were there for an altogether different reason...for the excellent cuisine and the view to die for....the view from my seat, by the window of the town of Cernobbio.

I was invited as part of the press group from A. Lange & Sohne, joining the dinner was organized by BMW Classic Cars, hosted by Press Head Manfred Grunert. The starters...parma ham and cheese

Needless to say, top quality and absolutely delicious. Note the lean-ness of the parma ham...despite the lack of marbling, was very nicely flavoured and packs a nice wallop.

The wines, Italian, of course

And we started with the first course..primo piatti

A dumpling of sorts...the filo pastry was ultra light, and very crisp. The shredded beef filling was tender, almost to the point of melting. But I found it to be a bit over salted.

Secondi piatti

A lasagna of sorts, but not the usual kind. Within the stack was a very bitter Swiss friend seated next to me loved it, but I found the bitter core a bit disturbing. Not my favourite dish.

Main course, was a seared ahi tuna

This was absolutely marvellous. The tuna was fresh...tender, and had a beautiful flavour and texture. The grilling was done just right, with a nice pink interior, and this time too, the chef made a light sprinkling of sea salt, which elevated the taste. Very very good.

For desserts, home made tiramisu

Truly superb. The entire ensemble melted in the mouth, exploding with the flavours of the alcohol, the cheese, the cream and the chocholate. Marvellous.

We had rounds of limoncello and espressos, and at 11pm, fireworks!

As ordered by BMW...the fireworks were part of the finale celebrations of the Concorso d'Eleganza being held at the Villa D'Este just below Gatto Nero. I had also attended the Concorso, where the most desirable vintage cars were paraded, and judged.

Quite excellent restaurant...we were a group of about 20 that evening...perhaps the kitchen was a bit harrassed...and had a touch too much salt in my first course. But service was excellent. And the food otherwise good...other than my disagreement with the bitter vegetable, which I chalk up as my own inability to cope with a new taste. Recommended if you are in the Lake Como area. Beautiful, romantic restaurant.

Tel. 031 512042

Monday, May 28, 2012

Eating in Italy: Far Out! Bellagio

Italy...what a country. Some of my best friends hail from there...the food, the people, the scenery...wonderful.

I am in Bellagio, a tiny little town by the shores of the beautiful Lake Como...and for lunch, I wandered around...not wanting to eat at the hotel. I spotted this little place, somewhat up a slope just by the lake.

Being a tourist town, the waiter spoke good English, and the menu was multi lingual. Of course I wanted pasta...and the special of the day was Very Hot Spagetti in tomato sauce...when I asked the waiter "How hot?" he said, "Very hot...whooh!!"...I took the chance and ordered it anyway...

While I awaited the spagetti, a bread basket, with the typical hard long bread sticks...which I only found in Italy.

This was flat, not the classically round one, and lightly encrusted at some places with salt. Very tasty...I also had the house wine on offer...only Euro6 per half bottle.

Certainly no grande cru, but very excellent table wine. Smooth, flavourful. Deep dark hue.

And then the pasta was presented

Excellent. Al dente as only the Italians in Italy can manage. The spiciness was rather mild to my peranakan tongue. The tomato sauce's sharp tart notes was very nicely balanced with richness of olive oil. Simple, but very nice.

Nice meal, on a costing less than Euro 15 with an espresso.

Restorante Far Out!
Salita Mella 4, Bellagio (CO) -
Telefono: 031/951743

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Roast Meats at Canton-I

I have eaten at Canton-I, a Malaysian owned Cantonese restaurant at Orchard Ion many times. The first time I blogged about them, I was less than impressed. But revisits had me eating the roast meats. And the char siew is certainly one of the best around.

Oops, let the cat out of the bag right at the start...but in all seriousness, this is a classical Malaysian, KL style char siew...darkly marinaded, roasted crisp, sweet, fat. Glistening.

Truly superb. Ultra fat, but wonderful crisp, burnt crust. Magnificent. Really good char siew.

We also had some roast meat on the side

Very good too. But not my best experience of roasted pork. The skin was super crisp, but I yearn for a little less fat under the crispy skin, and perhaps a bit more flavour on the meat...but this is splitting hairs. This sio bak is superb.

A bowl of succulent wanton in soup...

A full, succulent, fresh, crunchy prawn lurks within each wanton. Very good.

A group of 4 of us shared the above...and each individual had his own noodle dish...I chose the ngau lam mien...beef brisket with noodles.

The sauce is a touch salty, but the tendons are superbly done. Soft, delicate. The noodles are done just right.

I now heartily recommend this restaurant for the traditional roasts, wanton mee, and ngau lam mien. Excellent. A bit pricey, but not unusually or unwarranted for an prime Orchard Road location.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Would you drive to JB for Wantan mee? Featuring Poh Kee Wantan Mee

Wantan mee. Some wars are fought over this little bowl of noodles. Do you like the Malaysian style with springy noodles, black sauce, or the Singaporean variety with chilli and tomato, or the Hong Kong style with thin wiry noodles? Each have their preferences. For me, I love them all!

When the occassion arose to drive up north into Johor Bahru to sample one of the famous ones with some of my friends, I went.

Occupying a shophouse, the restoran (or restaurant as it is spelt in Malaysian Malay) is nice, comfortable, offering an air conditioned dining room. A respite with the weather being as it these days...36C being the norm daytime temperature, sometimes soaring to 40C.

We ordered and were served quickly. Large wantan mee, dry.

The char siew was nothing to write home about. Lean, a bit dry. But the noodles were rather nice. Springy, perfectly doused with boiling soup, it was almost al dente. The sauce which smothered the noodles was black, and mildly salty with a tinge of sweet.

The bowl of noodles was accompanied by a small bowl of wantan swimming in broth

The soup was rather tasty, the wantan soft, smooth, delicate, but lacks the punch one gets from the robust flavours offered by wantan purveyors in Hong Kong. Still, rather enjoyable.

We added an order of deep fried wantan

Same wantans, but deep fried to a beautiful crisp. Not greasy at all, but nice and crisp crunchy. The flavours of the meat stuffing did develop a bit more through the deep frying than in soup. At RM2.50 (about S$1) for 10, this was quite good value.

We also added an order of stuffed tofu

I rather enjoyed this...minced meat, stuffed into half a taukwa...a heartier, heavier and harder version of the tofu.

For dessert we spied some lapis cake...which the owner claimed they made we tried some

Certainly not as fragrant or as smooth as the best from Indonesia, but rather nice. I guess about comparable to what we can get in Singapore in the likes of Bengawan Solo.

Overall, quite nice for wantan mee. But for me, not good enough to warrant a journey. But if you are in the neighbourhood, perhaps worthy of your time and tummy space.

Poh Kee
52 Jalan Harmonium 23/13
Taman Desa Tebrau
81100 Johor Bahru

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Takeaway: quick and easy but delicious: Spice Box can't live with them, you can't live without them. Often, we compromise taste for convenience. Today's recommendation is one which tries to blend both. Spice Box is a small stall in two commercial malls which we have grown to love as takeaways.

All in one box...

Convenient, neat. This is the premium nasi lemak meal...$4.20. All in one meals....though the amount of vegetables is rather little...would always need to supplement with fresh fruits

The rice is green pandan with coconut milk. The coconut milk is not very strong, is the pandan. But the rice is quite nicely fragrant. The egg is a little overcooked, but as a readymade meal, can't really complain.

The chicken was awesome. Marinate was very nicely done. Beautifully crisp on the outiside, juicy on the inside. Nice. The roasted peanuts and crisp anchovies provided some crunch. And the chilli was sweet, with a tinge of heat.

Convenience in a package.

Spice Box Kiosk
313@Somerset, 313 Orchard Road, #B3-46

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spied this place: Chinta Manis Peranakan

Spied this place after lunch...I guess it had been there for a while, but first time I saw it. Looked interesting and as we have had lunch, went in for some desserts. Traditional peranakan desserts in the form of kueh kueh. Looked great.

The spelling of the shop's name is in traditional Malay...Chinta as in love instead of the new spelling's rendition of cinta. Promises to be traditional, I guess.

A small selection

Clockwise, starting from the green Kueh Dadar: A pandan crepe wrapped around a filling of grated coconut soaked with gula melaka: the kueh dadar was particularly wonderful. The crepe was light, slightly elastic and springy, but nice and delecate. The filling was awesome. The gula melaka was fantastic.

Next, the kueh bengkang...a tapioca cake was also excellent. Smooth, rich flavour. I would have preferred a crust surrounding rich, almost milky interior, but this suffices. Very good.

And at the top, their ondek ondek. Rather curious, I thought, as I bit into one...expecting an explosion of gula melaka as is typical of ondek ondek. But the interior was solid...

Not my favourite, I must say, especially with the unusual filling. I went back to the counter and spied that they indeed had another ondek ondek gula melaka...suggesting that this might perhaps be the one I was expecting. But we already had our left that to explore another day.

Many of the patrons seem to be also eating their dry mee siam (or a fried bee hoon). I will definitely return to sample these.

Chinta Manis Peranakan
Cina Square Food Market
51 Telok Ayer, #01-03, Singapore 048441
6225 4754

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Heartstopper: Char kway teow

Just two pics today...apologies as I am busy preparing for a photographic assignment.

Char Kway Teow at Yong Huat...truly a heart stopping dish...One of my favourites, but cannot indulge too often...perhaps once every 6 months?

And char bee hoon

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rumah Rasa: Indonesian cuisine

Its not always one can find good Indonesian food in Singapore...especially more upmarket establishments where one can bring clients for a meal. Rumah Rasa at Bay Hotel sounds like one such place...though the decoration is more homey, it is still in a nice hotel...right across the link to Sentosa.

This is an invited review

Recently opened with the hotel...some 2 months ago, this restaurant is spanking brand new. The chef in residence is Sharifah, who had cut her teeth at SATS, Raffles Hotel and St Regis before being appointed chef at Rumah Rasa. She prefers to make everything from scratch, all the spices and rempah used are he own concoction, so you won't get the same taste anywhere else.

Well, we were there for a media tasting...with 3 other bloggers. And we had a good time chatting about blogging, food and life. So on to the food...of course we started with drinks...

A special rose water with milk and soda. Interesting twist to the traditional bandung we get everywhere here in Singapore.

Surprisingly refreshing...the efferverscence of the soda perked up the mild drink. Nice.

I also had the lemongrass drink...also uplifted with a gassy soda

Quite a nice pairing. The lemongrass was obviously home made in the house kitchen, and a bit spicy with a good bite.

As a tasting event, we had a lot of food...almost the entire menu. As the restaurant is quite new, many of the dishes were still in development, and there plans to expand the menu. But let's start with a ubiquitious Indonesian dish...tahu telor

Not as crispy as I had expected it, but the flavour was powerful. Eggy, with a nice blend of smoothness and creaminess provided by the tofu...and the sauce was a killer. Wonderfully piquant, aromatic, sweet, and spicy. Magnificent sauce. Loved this dish...if only the eggy bits were a bit more crisp.

We also had a bowl of soup...the equally representative soto ayam

Very nice...the soup was thick, very fragrant, with the characteristic dry shredded chicken strands to provide texture. The small pegedil by the side was a nice touch.

Chickens Ayam Korma...or a typical Indonesian mild spicy stew

Chicken was very tender, spices were mild, light, but very present.

The Ayam Pangang...or barbecue chicken was also quite nicely flavoured with seasoning and kichap (dipping sauce) which was unique.

Sea bass, roasted in a banana leaf and spices was next

Cooked nicely through, as is common in Indonesia, the spices were nice and fragrant. The fish fresh.

One of my favourites for the afternoon was the beef rendang

Here the hard effort of Chef Sharifah's own blended spices shine. The beef was sinewy, a little tough to the bite, but simmered for long enough to render the meat a beautiful beefy texture and aroma, coupled with the magnificent spices of the dry-ish gravy. Very good. The style is totally different from the tender, almost mushy beef rendang at Peramakan which is my reference standard for the rendang rempah...but as satisfying.

We also had some prawns with petai

Another winning dish for me. The prawns were large, succulent and fresh. The chilli sauce just enough flavour interest to pick up on some tanginess and acidity. And the beautifully fragrant petai completes the dish for me.

The sayorlodeh, another ubiquitious Indonesian dish

A bit ordinary...the soupy bits a bit dilute. But otherwise nicely cooked.

Dessert was an East Meets West...goreng pisang (banana fritters) with Vanilla ice cream and chocholate sauce

The banana fritters were excellent. Solid, crispy crust on the outside...and within the yielding sweetness of a soft, well ripened cooked banana. I would have preferred the added juxtaposition if the banana fritters were piping hot to contrast to the smooth texture of the ice cream. But even cool, the melding of the two textures was awesome.

We also had a chendol...entire concoction smooth, rich. The gula melaka provided a richness only palm sugar and coconut milk can provide.

A bit unusual this...the red kidney beans had a tad of tangyness I had not tasted elsewhere. And the

Overall, a nice place for Indonesian cuisine. We need more high end restaurants offering Indonesian food...with its rich diversity and choice options for the discerning diner. Rumah Rasa is a start in that direction. I hope to see it grow its menu, offering one person meals, set meals, and perhaps more exotic Indonesian cuisines found pan Indonesia. Great effort, and worth a visit, especially considering the reasonable prices.

With thanks to Dennis She of Publicist PR Communications for invite.

Rumah Rasa Indonesian Restaurant

Bay Hotel

50 Telok Blangah Road

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Satay: Pork and chicken satay at Alexandra Village

Satay...pieces of meat, marinated, skewered on a stick, and barbecued...the theme repeats itself in many cultures...most have their own versions of the same meal. But the Malaysia/Singapore are holds a special satay...slightly sweetly marinaded and with a gorgeous spicy peanut sauce. Divine!

Considering that it is a favourite amongst many, I am surprised that there are not many more good satay stalls here in Singapore. Perhaps its the troublesome nature of having to cook over a charcoal fire, and the smoke which accompanies. The Chinese variant, using pork in place of the original Malay version is even more difficult to find. I used to patronize a stall in the now defunct Commonwealth Food Centre...and most of the others are spread around the island, and for some reason, only open for dinner.

When I chanced on Old Punggol one day in Alexandra Village and discovered they are open from noon every day, we made it a point to return to sample it for lunch. And when we did return, we suspect this was our long lost stall from Commonwealth. Perhaps.

The satay was beautifully marinated and nicely barbecued in the charcoal...with crispy burnt bits adding layers to the flavour. I ordered a mix of pork and chicken. The stall also offers mutton in addition.

Taste wise, quite good. There are bits of pork fat interspersed amongst lean meat...and the cooking was well controlled such that the fats did not melt and spill out, but at the verge of being so...thus at each bite, these little almost melting bits of lard would burst in full flavour in the mouth, adding to the symphony of smoked meat, sweet marinate, spicy sauce, and creamy, crunchy peanut.

The sauce deserves its own was beautifully smooth, but with chunky bits of ground peanuts and a dollop of pineapple puree to give it some acid and sweetness. Very nice.

I am not quite certain if this is the old Commonwealth stall...but it sure does bring back memories of the stall. Highly recommended.

Old Punggol Satay

Alexandra Village Food Centre

120 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-52

Tel: +65 9677 0074 / +65 9824 3730