Thursday, June 28, 2012

Paradise Pavillon

Paradise Group is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Singapore dining scene. Their restaurants maintain a rather high standard throughout, but a few of them are outstanding. One is the Taste Paradise, another is their Paradise Inn. And today, we feature their Paradise Pavillon.

The first thing that catches the eye and one's nostrils as one enters the restaurant is the huge ovens used for roasting ducks. Peking Duck is a delicacy in China. Indeed, I have recently tasted the best of the best in Beijing...the Da Dong Restaurant's Peking Duck is par excellence. Da Dong was certainly the best interpretation I have tasted. The very famous Quan Jude, also in Beijing pales in comparison. And in Singapore, Imperial Treasure's Super Peking Duck restaurant in Paragon is one other temple for Peking Duck. And recently, Paradise Pavillon.

The chefs in charge of the ducks, I understand, were trained in Quan Jude, and they use apple wood to produce the fire and smoke to roast the duck. But more on this later.

We were there for a banquet, my mother's birthday dinner, so we began with a special appetizer.

From foreground, the grilled Hokkaido scallop, the chilled Japanese cucumber and cheese bacon roll. All rather tasty, but I feel, perhaps the cucumber was a bit of a "cheat" to a meal which is rather expensive. But from a taste and presentation standpoint, it was very good.

Next up, double boiled superior shark's Fin with fish maw in shark's cartilage soup.

Yes, we do still eat sharks, but we also eat all the shark. The meat is used elsewhere, and in this dish, we have the shark's fin and cartilage. The soup was superior stock, very nice, thick, tasty. The shark's fin provided some crunch and texture which contrasts to the soft, tender, almost melting texture of the fish maw and the firm crunch of the cartillage. For me, this was the highlight of the evening's dishes.

We were then served pan seared king prawns with black truffle

The prawn was certainly very large. Nice, fresh, crunchy. The seasoning was a tad strong, but still quite delicious. I hardly tasted or felt the presence of the black truffle safe for a tinge of the aroma.

Next dish is the steamed live Marble Goby with chilli

This a very traditional dish, though at home, most would use garoupa instead of a live fish like marble goby. The fish was fresh, of course! and the steaming was done perfect. Just a bit pink at the bone, but the meat cooked throughout. Presented in this fashion, the fish was delicious. Tender but not overly so. Sweet, rich, fresh.

The Peking duck was next

Brought to the table whole, like in Da Dong, but an additional cost privillage in Quan Jude in Beijing. And carved insitu

Interestingly, the a sliver of only crispy skin was served to be eaten with sugar...a presentation pioneered by Da Dong, and not practiced in Quan Jude, where the chefs hail from. This style of presentation is also used in Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck.

And the rest of the duck was sliced skin and meat, to be eaten with wrapped around the pancake.

For me, the shadow cast by Da Dong is just too long. Nothing compares to the supreme taste of their duck. So this too pales in comparison. But nearer to home, I think Paradise Pavillon's duck also loses out to Imperial's.

After the duck, a braised edamame tobu with crab meat and chinese spinach in Tham's brown sauce was served

Much like a dumpling...the brown sauce, given its interesting name...the restaurant never did explain who Tham was or why the sauce was attributed to him. The dish was tasty, but not spectacularly so.

Noodles next

Fish noodles...where the noodle is made from fish is getting more common. Fish meat is mashed and made into noodles, and wok fried in shrimp stock. I found this dish to be quite nice. The noodles were more springy than regular flour made noodles...perhaps the mashed protein of the fish entangle with each other to form this springy noodle. And the stock very nice.

And for desserts, two style of pastry

Quite interesting too, but nothing special.

Reasonably tasty dinner, especially banquet style for a table of 12, but I felt a bit expensive for the quality of the food. The shark's fin soup was the highlight, and the Peking Duck, which I was looking forward to all evening was a minor let-down.

Paradise Pavillon
8A Marina Boulevard, #02-01 Marina Bay Link Mall

Monday, June 25, 2012

Crystal Jade Jiang Nan...southern Chinese cuisine

Jiang Nan generally describes the area in China south of the Yangtze River, covering roughly the cuisines of Szechan, Hunan, and Jingsu and Shanghai.

When Crystal Jade opens a new restaurant with a new concept, it is always interesting. Having started its roots in traditional Cantonese fare, Crystal Jade has, over the years expanded their offerings to include Shanghainese, Korean, and many of the regional cuisines of the Chinese persuasion.

The latest to their long chain of stores...I was told, now totals more than 110 around Asia is Jiang Nan.

Flower tea, fragrant, beautiful. Promises a great evening of good cuisine.

As we arrived, two starters were offered on the familiar, and one less so...

Deep fried white bait Wu-xi style

I found this to be quite superb and addictive. The crisply fried white bait, coated with sugar is wonderfully irresistable. The fish remained crisp and fresh throughout dinner, which lasted perhaps 2.5 hrs. Very nice.

And perhaps less common in Singapore, but apparently very common in Zhejiang is pigs ear

Marinated in spicy chilli oil and tossed with fresh cucumbers and sesame oil, this was also very addictive. The pigs' ears comprise almost totally of skin and cartilage. And provides a nice crunch on the palate.

Next, we were invited to see a demonstration of and even try our hand at making xiao loong pau.

The avant garde menu now presents XLP in 8 different flavours, well actually 9 if you count the round one in the middle stuffed with custard.

Many readers will know that XLP is one of my favourites...and I often reminisce of the one found at Joe's Kitchen in downtown Manhattan, which to date is my best experience...even surpassing those in Shanghai.

As XLPs go, the offering by Crystal Jade is quite good. The meat was nice and flavourful, the soup, captured within the thin skin is very delicious. And the skin itself, though could be a little thinner while still being resistant enough to allow picking up the pau with just chopsticks, was rather nicely textured and serves well as a tasty container to the treasures within. Surprisingly, I liked most of the contrast to my tasting at Paradise's multi flavoured XLP, where I only liked the original flavoured one. Here I quite liked the truffled flavoured, the cheese and also the prawn in addition to the original flavour. Well done!

Next course was a typical Szechuan hot and sour soup

One of my favourite Szechuan dishes...this is also a classical dish, but with a twist...a "snow mountain" of fresh, soft beancurd adorns. And when mixed into the hot and sour, appetite inducing soup, gives a nice smooth texture to contrast to the crunch of the bamboo shoots and savoury meat.

The next dish drew oohs and ahs as it was served...not only because of its impressive size, but also the beautiful colour and glistening sauce

This was a hot favourite on the table. I found the sauce to be very, coddling in its viscosity. I wished the chef had seasoned the pork knuckle longer or perhaps a smaller knuckle might have absorbed the seasoning better. But I found the meat a bit less rich tasting than it could have been. But having said that, it did not lack flavour, and the texture was excellent.

A series of hot and spicy soups were served next:

Known in China as "sui chu yi" (hmm my Hanyu Pinyin is attrocious!...but I was told, literally translated water cook fish), it is a very popular Chongquing dish, where a huge bowl of flavoured oil...imbued with spices, hot peppers and the typical mala pepper is used to poach fish. Certainly a favourite in China and amongst visitors, but I do admit, this is not a dish I have grown to like.

The Crystal Jade version, however, is pesented with a thick broth instead of just seasoned oil. And available with eel, beef, and other meats. I found the fragrance of the soup to be consistent to what I have found in China, so its authentic. And the taste of the soup to be consistent to what I know. I still have not worked up the love for this dish, but the Crystal Jade presentation is certainly much more palatable to me than those found in China.

From a lukewarm dish to a hot favourite for me...sauteed minced pork with french bean and preserved tamarind served with pita bread

Much more to my liking, and one of my favourites from the evening. Very similar to the Thai Phad Phet Kapow less the chillis and with a beautifully flavoured tinge of preserved tamarind...goes beautifully with the pita. Excellent.

Then a curiosity...titled Not Fried Rice

Certainly looked like fried rice. Smelled like fried rice too! Apparently, legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, the emperor challenged his chef to serve fried rice without using rice. The result was tiny pieces of bean sprouts, chopped to look like rice, diced ham, egg and vegetables was presented to the emperror...

Very intresting. Taste was also similar to fried rice...but with the crunch of the bean sprouts replacing the mushy carbs of the rice. Very nice, and worthy a try.

Back to the traditional, lamian...

A variety of hand pulled noodles were offered...from thin wiry samples to thick, lasagne like cut sheets.

Served with cold, spicy chicken, century egg and crunchy cucumber in a hot and spicy sauce...not quite the mala one gets in China, but almost there. Quite delicious, I must say. I particularly liked the thick, broad noodles.

And for desserts, two offerings...a pumpkin cake with red bean paste and salted egg yolk and a Japanese glutinous rice dumpling with fruit and cream.

Both were very nice. The skin of the cake in the foreground is made from pumpkin paste, and encapsulates a wonderful aromatic bean paste core with a tiny bit of salted egg yolk for richness. And the rice dumpling tasted like a fresh mochi. Both superb.

This is an invited medial tasting. Many thanks to Samantha Yap of Crystal Jade and JJ Koh and Geri Kan of Linea Comms for invitation and hosting the lovely dinner.

Crystal Jade Jiang Nan
#01-52 VivoCity

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Putien Summer menu...light, cooling, tasty

On Monday, I outlined how Pu Tien make their, I feature the summer menu...inspired by holidays and harvest.

I covered in Monday's post a brief visit I made to the Putien Central Kitchen, courtesy of their management. We proceeded to a tasting of the Summer 2012 menu (now available at Putien restaurants) at their main Kitchener Road outlet.

We began as we had left off...braised tofu

The same tofu as we left off on Monday...but now braised in a braising liquid. Taste? Sublime. The light fragrance of the soy beans still permeates, but now infused with a heavy-ish stock of the braising liquid. Comfort food.

Next appetizer was an amazing winter melon in orange juice...presented like so

Served chilled, this was very refreshing. Winter melon is revered for its cooling properties, here it is cooked, and soaked in orange juice. The melon remained firm to the bite, a bit crunchy, and the orange juice lifting the mild taste with aciditity...a tinge of sourness with sweet.

A cooling soup is a pre-requisite for a summer Chef Larry presented the bitter gourd soup

Bitter gourd...also treasured for its cooling properties, is pureed and cooked in a thick chicken stock. Floating within are morsels of prawn, scallop and crabmeat. Interesting taste as the slight bitterness of the bitter gourd gives way to a light, bittersweet finish, and coupled with the fresh seafood is quite uplifting.

Chicken is next...

Dubbed Ah Yuan Fragrant Herbal Chicken...this is a country interpretation of chicken...similar to the one we get in our local chicken rice. The chicken here, though is slow cooked in a soup made of a variety of herbs. I found the chicken a bit firm to the bite, and the herbs to be light...still distinguishable and not over-powering.

We were next presented with this colourful dish...of prawns in salad

Summer fruits, including melon, lychee are tossed in with a light salad dressing to succullent, lightly fried prawns. The fruits provide sweetness, and the prawns counterpoint which is salty and a faint aroma of being freshly fried. Nice.

Then the heavy stuff...pork ribs...

Beautiful presentation, each spare rib is braised, and paired with Chinese yam...known locally as wai san - which tasted more like a mild tasting potato rather than yam...but I guess all are tubers of some sort. The ribs were cooked till tender...succulent, and maintains a nice texture.

The starch dish also provided some preparation by a chef on his workstation:

Putien's famous fried beehoon with a twist. Cooked with soya bean milk instead of water...and note the bee hoon is thin, wiry, handmade variety, and cooked directly into the hot soy milk without first being soaked in water. This gives the beehoon a light, airy texture that I so love. And infused with soy milk...nice.

Garnished with eggs infused with soy, peanuts, sea weed...this is a must have dish in Putien.

And a surprise...a lai thong of sorts...a cabbage soup in soya milk

Turned out to be the highlight of this tasting. The cabbage is wonderfully tender...not mushy, still retaining its structure, but very tender and tasty. The soup is made from soya milk and I guess meat or chicken stock. Very nice, nourishing soup.

For desserts, lychee mango pudding

Almost ubiquitious...but with a Putien twist, served with lychee and promagranade instead of the customary candied cherry.

Another magnificent menu. I am quite impressed with the ingenuinity that went to the menu preparation...hats off to Chef Larry Li Gongba. I am also impressed with the use of purist ingredients...almost all from Putian itself. And the quality of the cooking.

This is an invited review. Many thanks to Ann Chan at Linea Communications and Ringo Chew of Pu Tien.

Putien Restaurant
127 Kitchener Road

Monday, June 18, 2012

Putien Tofu...great stuff...but how is it made? it or hate it. In Asian cuisine...especially Chinese, Japanese and Korean, tofu features prominently as a key ingredient. One of my challenges to my European and American friends who proclaim their love for Chinese food is if they like or even love tofu. If they do, they have crossed the threshold of appreciation.

But how is tofu made? Well, there is tofu and there is tofu. Like the eskimos who have perhaps 10 words describing snow, the Chinese have perhaps as many describing tofu. One such variety is the hand made tofu presented in Heng Hwa cuisine as interpreted by Pu Tien Restaurant. I have featured them several times, as I love the pure, clean taste of their cooking (and will feature their Summer menu this Thurs).

I visited Putien's Central Kitchen where meat, produce is received and prepared for the restaurants. The kitchen is exceptionally clean, and each food preparation area is kept seperate to prevent cross contamination...meat and fish are handled in a different room as vegetables, for example. But I was there to see the tofu on we go

What makes their tofu so special? Well, it it totally hand made. Yellow beans are ground and simmered in water till a milk is extracted. This milky liquid, known as tau huey water is the nutrient rich soy milk used as a substitute for cow's milk and is a popular all day drink in Singapore.

To this milk, a saline is added. Chef Larry Li Gongba at Putien tells me that in a commercially available tau huey (smooth bean curd, usually served cold by the likes of Lau Pan in Old Airport Road Food Centre), the process of extracting the curd from the milk is done by adding gypsium and then gelatin added for the smooth texture. But the Pu Tien's version is only a mild saline solution is added slowly to the milk, till it curds.

Once curded, the curds are dished out...and can already be eaten

The curds are crumbly, and has a very mild taste, only the fragrance of the yellow bean permeates. This curd is ready to eat, but Putien does not serve this.

The curds are put into a wooden container lined with muslin cloth, and the water content pressed out, leaving the solids. This process is similar to making cheese.

And the resultant bean curd is cut into strips and deep fried in vegetable oil at 100C. A higher temperature will brown the curds, and lower will not create the texture needed. Only virgin oil is used. A new batch of oil is used for every wok full of bean curd. Of course, the used oil is not wasted, but as it is bean curd infused, it is used in cooking in the kitchen later.

Virgin oil is needed because if the oil is reused, it will get dark, and impart the colour and flavour to the bean curd.

The lightly fried tofu is delicious. The heat of the oil causes the small air bubbles caught within the tofu to expand, giving a wonderful airy texture. The skin is sligly crisped, and with a bit a sea salt, delicious to eat. This lightly salted, lightly fried tofu is then sent to the restaurant kitchens to be incorporated in to the Pu Tien's dishes.

note: the restaurant name is Putien, while the name of the city in Fujian, where the cuisine comes from is Putian.

Putien Restaurant

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Forlino: Italian standard in Singapore?

Forlino is a rather well established Italian restaurant at the Fullerton Hotel. Tucked into one corner of the bay-side building right on top of the car parks, the restaurant commands an excellent view of the bay area. Recently, Omega hosted a Press Launch to showcase their BaselWorld2012 novelties. I attended the event, which I cover some of the watches, and here is the report on the food.

We started with Angus Beef Tenderloin carpaccio with truffle infused honey

Doesn't look like the description? Looks more like a pastry with some shaved truffles. Ah, but the pastry sits on top of the beef carpaccio. Interesting nonetheless. The ingredients were not overpowing in any way...a polite dish, shall we say?

Next the Garganelli with Forest Mushrooms and crunchy pancetta

Garganelli is a kind of pasta made flat, and rolled on a stick (like chopstick) to make a tubular structure capable of holding sauce. A bit like penne, but the penne is made as an extrusion in a tubular a straw, and cut to length. The pasta was el dente, nicely done. The light egg flavour was mildly fragrant and melded well with the flavours of the forest mushrooms which were decidedly more robust.

For mains, a choice of halibut or striploin...I had my neighbour had to leave early before her main course for a meeting.

My originally intended main was the angus striploin in rosemary sauce. The beef was done throughout with a touch of rare in the core, and nicely browned on the outside. Very nice steak.

The fish was even better!

Crisp skin...perfectly cooked meat. Fresh produce. Excellent plus plus.

And for dessserts, a dark chocolate and ameretti pudding...

How can you go wrong with chocholate and ameretti pudding? Impossible! The pastry chef did well with this. Not only was it beautiful to look at, including the host's logo on tasted heavenly.

Forlino certainly showed why it has been at the forefront of Italian cusine in Singapore for a long time. Good ingredients, great cooking, and a beautiful restaurant coupled with attentive service.

Forlino Italian Restaurant
#02-06 One Fullerton
One Fullerton Road
6877 6995.

Monday, June 11, 2012

World's best Crab Bee Hoon? Sin Huat

Sin Huat has some notoriety in the dining scene in Singapore. A stern owner, who is grumpy waiter, chef and cashier all at once. But the food is to die for...especially the signature crab bee hoon.

I have taken many luminaries from the watchmaking world to this litte, dirty eating house by the red light area in Geylang. From Grandmaster Philippe Dufour to my good friend (then CEO of GO) Dr. Frank Muller, they had their taste of the genius of Danny. This time round, I had the opportunity to take the Watchonistas...Alex Friedman and Marco Gabella from Lausanne there for a taste, when they visited.

Both Alex and Marco are exceptional foodies. When I was in Switzerland, they brought me to some wonderful culinary adventures, and for this I wanted to return the favour.

We sat down at 8pm...having warned both that the service will suck and be very slow, and we will have to deal with a nazi-like owner/chef, we had a surprisingly pleasant evening. Danny came trotting by soon after we sat down, and even smiled at us. He recommended, I am using the term lightly as Danny had a sense of authority in his tone that almost told us to order what we had. First off, the vegetable kailan

Even this had the mark of the chef. The vegetables were fresh, crunchy, and control of fire in stir frying this was exceptional. Superb.

We had scallops in black bean sauce.

Sorry about the picture. The live scallops were steamed with garlic and ginger, and totally covered with the black bean sauce. Delectable dish, but frankly I found the steamed garlic scallops at Meng Kee to be better.

Next dish is a semi-signature of Sin Huat...the gong gong...or sea snails in special chilli sauce

A marvellous dish. Of course, the gong gong were fresh...they were live! But the secret is to get them cooked just little cooking, and they are raw...too much, they turn rubbery. But get them just right like this, they are succulent, with a springiness that is indescribable. Dip in the hot, spicy sauce, and temporary nirvana is achieved.

We also sampled the frogs with essence of chicken

Alex and Marco were used to eating frog legs...afterall Lausanne is in French speaking Switzerland and both are Italian origin with a long family history of culinary excellence. But Danny chose to serve the entire frog, sans internal organs. They gamely tried. And were surprised at how delicious it was. The meat was sweet, succulent. Very good.

Then, within 2 hours from ordering...typically one needs 3 hours or more for a dinner in Sin Huat...he is sometimes slow between courses...the piece de resistance was served:

The bee hoon infused with crustacean flavours is the actual star. The two huge, meaty crabs merely play a supporting, albeit important role. Each strand of the bee hoon is coated with a glistening, sauce...promoting it from a mere noodle to a magnificent tasting specimen. The explosion of flavours, tastes were exceptional. This is what makes this the reference standard for crab bee hoon. The crabs were enormous, and the meat was succulent, fresh and chunky. Excellent plus dish...and why one endures the attitude and the unsavoury environment to dine here. Danny retains his crown as chef of the best Crab Bee Hoon in town, and perhaps the region or the world....

Sin Huat Eating House
659/661 Geylang Road
6744 9755