Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Burgers at Wildfire: new outlet at 313 Orchard

I have eaten at the burgers at the Wildfire outlet at Evans Road several times...the venue for late night haunts after cocktails where they serve no food. And when I received the invitation to try out the new outlet at 313 Orchard, I went.

We sampled a lot of food, including several kinds of French Fries, appetizers, and burgers...oh yes, beers and sake too. But the standouts for me were the following:

Sinful, sinful...chicken skin, deep fried.

But oh so good. Crispy, tasty, lovely. I can do without the dip...just eat it like it is. The skin comes with tiny slivers of chicken meat, and provided a wonderful contrast. Love this dish!!

And a rather interesting deep fried pickles...

But the burgers are where the real stuff is...famous for their Full Blood Wagyu burgers ($26), but also for the reasonably priced Portobello and Friends 

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Arugula, Semi-dried Tomatoes, Feta Cheese, Grilled Squash and Zucchin with French Fries. $19. 

Salivating yet? Well the burgers are excellent. The beefy taste, wonderful aroma, luxurious umami filled mouth feel is superb. Very nice burgers. 

And wash down with some beers. This one from Lost Coast, on the tap

Highly recommended. And now in a much more convenient location than Evans Road (even though the outlet is actually in the former Dining Room of Eusoff College, where there are many fond memories).

Wildfire Burgers 313@Somerset
313@Somerset #01-28, 313 Orchard Road, Singapore 238895 (Somerset MRT)
Tel: +65 6509 4408
Opening Hours: 12pm – 11pm (Sun – Tues), 12pm – 1am (Wed – Sat)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Omakase at Kakure with Sake pairing

The world of sake is rather mysterious to many of us. Navigating around the various wine appellations is quite a big challenge where reference material in English is readily available. Trying to navigate sake is much more a challenge as there is little reference in English, and many of us already have a difficult time reading the label. It is thus a godsend that a knowledgeable sommelier is on hand to attend to the selection and pairing. 

An extension of omakase restaurant Ki-sho, a space was added for a sake bar: Kakure. Housed in the same amazing black & white bungalow as Ki-sho, Kakure has one of the largest sake lists in Singapore as well as a special barfood menu expressly created for the bar by Ki-sho's sake-loving chef Hamamoto. 

Their sake list has been carefully curated in a partnership between Ki-sho’s chef Kazuhiro Hamamoto and two kikisake-shi or certified sake sommeliers.  

It was thus with great pleasure that we were introduced to Makato Iwabuchi, one of the two Japanese Sommeliers at Chateau TCC. Makato-san was trained as a French wine sommelier before making the switch to specialize in Japanese alcohol. A veritable gentleman, he was knowledgeable, conversant and had the great sensibilities required to work with the chef de cuisine to pair the dishes. 

What followed that evening was spectacular. This is an invited tasting, and we thank Cyndiana and the team at Food News for the invitation and hosting. 

The sake bar is upstairs, and discrete. We began with the some tasting bits which remained on the table throughout.

This was an assortment of pickles, from right to left: Young Ginger, Wasabi Yam, Spicy Sea Kelp, Yuzu Pickled Radish. Interesting flavours and textures. I found the yuzu pickled daikon (radish) to be most agreeable. 

Thus we began our first course, Tsubugai Shellfish and Smoked Salmon:

The shellfish is a Japanese sea snail, and had a typical shellfish texture, much like abalone. And smoked salmon was delicately and thinly sliced. A light smokey flavour was present. 

This first course was paired the house sake, Tatenokawa Junmai Daiginjo, Nakadori Ki-sho Label ($458++ per bottle. Polish rate 18%. From Yamagata.)

Interestingly, it was served in a large Bordeaux style glass. And Makoto-san took trouble to rotate the glass at a 45 degree slant to ensure breathing. The sake was very clear, transparent. Served cold.

The sake is made with Yamadanishiki sake rice, one of the best if not the best sake rice. It is sometimes also written as Yamada Nishiki.

The second course was Anago Tempura.

Fresh anago eel tempura with plum and Shiso leaf. The anago was a real pleasure, succulent, fresh, and the characteristic oily mouth feel was present. The tempura batter was very light.  

This was paired with the second sake, we had the Dewazakura Daiginjo Nama ($450++ per bottle. Polish rate 40%. From Yamagata.)

For the third course, we were presented the Saba Misoni 

Simmered Mackerel in Miso Sauce. This is a beautiful dish. The saba was marvellous. My cut was the belly, and it was deliciously fat. And was cooked to perfection. The meat was not flaky, and very smooth. The miso sauce provided a beautiful counterpoint. To pair, it was the Junmaiginjo Murika "Kei" ($136++ per bottle. Polish rate 55%. From Shimane.) 

As the fourth course, we were served the Classic Kyoto soup flavoured with homemade Bonito, Seaweed, Dashi stock, 

Chicken Consomme, served with radish and tofu. Another marvellous dish. Very light on the palate, and very comforting. The pairing sake was the Hououbiden Winecell 2014 Junmai Ginjo ($278++ per bottle. Polish rate 55%. From Tochigi.)

Then the fifth course arrived. And this, to me was the masterpiece: Buta Kakuni

Braised Pork Belly from the Kagoshima Prefecture. The pork was perfectly cooked. Often times, pork belly is stewed to an inch of its life until the fats and oils come apart from the meat. In Peranakan Malay, we say, "sudah pecah minyak", literally the fat has broken. But this pork belly was stewed just perfect...to the point where the fats are about to burst open, but not quite. And will only spill its contents at the gentlest provocation provided by pushing it with one's tongue against the pork on one's upper palate. Ever so gently, the fat releases a plethora of flavours, and nearly overwhelms the senses. Excellent. To pair, a slightly more robust Masuizumi Zenkoji Junmai ($155++ per bottle. From Toyama.)

The sake had a champagne hue, and had a rather pleasant honey like after taste. 

For the sixth, we had a noodle dish:  Ikura Cha Soba

Matcha cold noodles served with fresh Salmon roe and topped with Japanese seaweed and spring onions. The macha soba was quite delectable. Nice to the bite, and with a slight taste of the Japanese green tea lingering. Complimented well with the ikura. For the sake, Tenmei Junmaishu ($140++ per bottle. Polish rate 60%. From Fukushima.)

For desserts: 

A matcha mochi, a macha cake and a kind of wafer macaroon. 

The evening was a marvellous one. The ambience of the venue was truly magnificent. A very beautiful place. And the food was certainly top class. The dishes were haute cuisine style, very small degustation portions. But were prepared with quality ingredients, and very well cooked. Chapeau to the chef, whom we did not meet that evening. 

But this was a sake lair, and it was the sakes which were the stars.

We continued to chat and tried to absorb the atmosphere of the sakes, but truth be told, most of it is beyond my current state of appreciation. But appreciate it I did. I had certainly enjoyed all the sakes that were served, but would be totally clueless to be able to select the right sake for the food being ordered. The Japanese Sommelier had come to good use, and he exercised his craft perfectly. 

Chateau TCC
29 Scotts Road
Level 2
Singapore 228224
Reservations: 6733 5251
Website: www.scotts29.com Opening Hours
6.30pm – 1am
Mon to Sat

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Market Grill: Lobster Rolls and more

The fad of lobster rolls are all but almost over. But there are still great tasting, and there are still a few places who serve a value for money roll. One is Pince and Pints and the other The Market Grill.

I dropped by after not visiting for a while, and found the place to be just as cozy as my last visit.

The grill still offers great steaks...we saw the grillmaster hammering out several during our visit there, and they all looked great...and one of the advantages (disadvantages?) of sitting next to the display grill is the smells and sizzles can be experience in close quarters...mouth watering.

We sampled the Lobster Roll...

Served with fries, and a small salad. The brioche bun is buttered, and toasted on the grill, and a (we understand) 500g of lobster, boiled, deshelled, coated with some lovely herbed mayo pommery sauce. The lobster is cold in the hot bun, and the contrast creates a wonderful sensation in the mouth.

We found the lobster tail to be very chunky but a bit on the tough side. And the pincer meat to be extremely soft and tender. $45 for a serving is quite good value for money, we think.

We also tried the burger

The Chef's original recipe chargrilled burger is with 200g of chuck patty and served with creamed Portobello mushroom, bacon, romaine lettuce. The bun is the typical sesame seed bun. Very juicy, thick patty, with strong beefy flavours. The bacon was crisp and full flavoured. Very nice burger. The 200g patty version we had was $34, and they offer a smaller 150g patty version for $25.

Overall a nice grill. They also have steaks, as we mentioned, lamb and fish. 

The Market Grill
208 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068642
Monday - Saturday
Lunch 1130am - 230pm
Dinner 6pm - 10pm
Closed on Sunday
No reservations policy

Saturday, November 14, 2015

18 Grams Roastery Lab – Wan Chai, Hong Kong

There used to be a few places I usually go to for espresso in Hong Kong. When they are good, they are exceptional, and way better than those in Singapore. We found one near where we were staying for Watches & Wonders, and thought it worthy of a writeup.

Curious name, a friend who is not an espresso geek asked. Not at all, 18 refers to the amount of beans in grams one usually measures for a standard pull of double espresso. Of course, this differs from machine to machine, from bean and roast to the other. For eg, on my Elektra Leva a Casa, on my home roasts, I typically pack 20g of powder into its portafilter. But 18g remains a text book standard for a doppio.

Roastery Lab also is interesting. They do have traditional classical espresso and coffee, including slow cold drip, but also some experimental ones. Like Nitro Espresso.

Yes, this is not so novel anymore...Chye Seng Huat Papa Palheta makes one. But it is still pretty avant garde. Looks like a dark beer, served from a tap. But smells like coffee, and taste like coffee. Nitro coffee is slightly efferverscent. The coffee is treated with high pressure nitrogen, chilled in a keg and served on a draught with a foamy head like a Guiness. The mouth feel is rich, creamy, and seem a touch sweet and less acidic than cold brew. 

And a bit more experimental, perhaps, but a very simple sparkling espresso..

Cream soda in a glass with ice, and over it, pour a double shot of espresso. I found this a much nicer drink than the Nitro. All the espresso elements are still there, and the bubblies from the cream soda make a nice mouth feel. Smooth, with the full taste of the espresso showing. First time I have come across a drink like this, but one which has a low barrier to entry as this can even be attempted at home. 

We also had the traditional espresso...a doppio ristretto

Quite excellent. Note the beautiful mottling on the crema. The crema was thick and rich. The ristretto was very viscous, powerful on the nose as it is on the palate. Beautiful long finish. Excellent cup.

I also tried the picolo latte, actually I had this as my first cup, as I always try to avoid disappointment with a new place. As milk often is a good mask for the sins of the barista.

Superb cup. Just the right amount of foamed milk adding the requisite richness and body to the espresso. This gave me the confidence that the barista knows what she is doing to order the ristretto above.

I also tried a machiatto.

Perfectly executed. The touch of milky foam on the espresso was just right. Nice.

I also had breakfast there, and found the Eggs Benedict with ham to be quite superb.

Hollandaise sauce was good, and the eggs poached to perfection. Probably poached sous vide. Comes with a nice side of fruits. 

Upstairs the very small cafe, it sits perhaps 8 pax max downstairs, is the roaster and a small dining area.

Very nice espresso place. Worth a visit every time in Hong Kong. Centrally located just a few minutes walk from either Admiralty or Wanchai MTR station.

18 Grams Roastery Lab
10 Johnston Road, Wan Chai
Tel: +852 2520 5100
Fax: +852 2345 7367
Email: info@18grams.com
Sunday-Thursday: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Day Before Public Holiday: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Old School Tim Sum: Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong

A visit to an old school tim sum (dimsum) place in Hong Kong is quite an unusual experience for the uninitiated. Service in the traditional Western or Japanese construct is almost non-existant, and what there is is efficient rather than polite. With a touch of tension all built in.

First when one arrives at the restaurant, in this case Lin Heung Tea House in Central Hong Kong.

One makes one's way into the restaurant...not as easy as it sounds, as it is likely to be very crowded. The restaurant seats 300 per sitting in about 50 tables. And it is often very crowded. The first task at hand is to find a table. The wait staff will not help you on this other than the cursory "there's a place there". Most of the waiters are old men, who are as grumpy and curt in their responses as can be.

Once one finds a table, and it is mandatory to share a table. Regulars already know this, as well as those who have read their guide books, and they will make way for one to sit...small gestures like a small shift of the chair to allow one to slide over. A nod of acknowledgement.

Once a table/seat is obtained, one needs to capture the attention of one of the waiters. The waiter will then take one's order for tea, and disappear. When he re-appears, he will hand over two cups (if one is alone) or the one cup one per pax, a basin for rinsing cutlery and a tally card. If one is solo, the larger of the two cups is used for tea making, and the smaller one for drinking. One steeps tea in the larger cup and pour it into to the smaller one to drink. If one's party is more than self, then a pot is served instead of the larger cup. The rinsing bowl is filled with hot water, and one is expected to rinse the cups, chopsticks and spoon in it to cleanse them.

The food is served on traditional food trolleys. The idea is for the trolleys to make its way around the tables and the diners choose when the trolley arrives. However, the place is usually so crowded that the trolley almost never makes its round. Diners rush to the trolleys as they exit the kitchen and wave the tally card to the trolley lady. She will take the card, puts her stamp on it and serve one the dish ordered.

And the food?

It is rather good. Portion size is quite large. The style of dim sum is more robust and basic rather than Michelin starred (like Tim Ho Wan). This is not fine cuisine. This is basic, hearty food. Well done. And quite delicious.

The experience of eating is part of the fun. It is rather hectic, but should be experienced at least once. For me, I try to get a chance every visit to Hong Kong.

Lin Heung Tea House
60-164 Wellington Street
corner of Aberdeen Street, in Central, Hong Kong.
蓮香樓 | 蓮香居 | 蓮香老餅家

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tsui Wah Restaurant in Hong Kong: Airport branch

Must stop every time I leave Hong Kong, if I have time...the Tsui Wah Restaurant at Airport. Don't mistake this for the Tsui Wah Eatery in the Departures area, after clearing Immigration and Customs/Security. This is before you enter the Immigration. 

After check in, swing upstairs and have the last doze of Hong Kong food before departure. Even if you have access to First Class lounges within, forgo it...eat here.

The last trip I was there, we (4 guys travelling together for the Watches & Wonders) ate and ate in the territory, and had a farewell meal here as well. 

First all of us had the iced milk tea

First the statement: served in a bottle which is cooled by a bucket of ice. The message is that the tea is made just right, and dilution by melting ice will spoil the taste. Indeed, it was excellent. The tannin in the tea was apparent, but was assuaged by the richness of the milk. Nice balance. 

I had the Prawns w/ Tossed Noodles

A noodle classic using bamboo noodle, like those in Hong Kong's wanton mee. The noodles tossed in oil with prawn roe and  XO sauce. It is then mixed with succulent fried prawns on top. Superb. Some might find it a bit dry as the noodles had little sauce. But the combination of prawn roe (the little red dots) and the wonderful prawns were indeed mouth watering. 

One of the famous dishes is the Fish Balls & Fish Cakes w/ Flat Rice Noodles in Fish Soup

Tsui Wah claims their fish balls are made daily with handpicked yellow eels and over 10 types of fresh fish. The noddles are flat rice noodles, which we call here in Singapore kway teow, were very soft and light. The fishball is very springy, fresh fish fragrance. Beautiful stock completes the picture. 

The standard in HK CCT: roast goose

Not as good as those in my favourite Yat Lok, but still very good. The skin was crisp, and the goose meat was flavourful and a bit flaky...such that it is not tough, but yet not powdery...a kinda optimum state in between. Yat Lok somehow manages a more crispy skin and an even more flavourful meat. 

And another standard, Fried Flat Noodles with Beef

Another standard in HK. The noodles were similar to the soupy fish ball noodles above, but sliced perhaps wider. So the same soft, tender texture is found. But instead of being blanched in stock, the noodles are wok fried. The wok hei created a wonderful smokey, burnt flavour and aroma. The beef was done just right, and very tender. Some might find this dish a bit greasy, but such is a plate of fried kway teow.

As I mentioned, this is a must stop place to eat before boarding. But make sure you have plenty of time to partake of this pleasure. Highly recommended.

Tsui Wah have many branches all over Hong Kong and many other countries. The main outlet in Wellington Street, just across from Yung Kee is another great branch, but not all the branches serve food which is equal in quality, even though Tsui Wah uses a central kitchen to ensure uniform quality.

Tsui Wah Restaurant
Hong Kong International Airport Branch
Shop 8T007, East Hall, Terminal 1, Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau.
Business Hours : 07:00-00:00

Monday, October 26, 2015

Capital Cafe: Hong Kong for truffle scrambled eggs

One of my favourite things to do in Hong Kong is to eat at a Cha Chan Teng. Especially for breakfast. Not all Cha Chan Tengs serve an equal breakfast. I don't know why their set is almost always a kind of ham macaroni with eggs and toast and coffee or tea, when most of the time, the macaroni is really not up to par. Australia Dairy Company is one of the best for their scrambled eggs, but fails miserably for the macaroni.

This time round, as we were staying on the island, we decided not to cross the channel to Kowloon, and try out Capital, which is reputed to be a close rival in terms of taste of their scrambled eggs. Plus, they serve it with black truffles. Interesting.

The place was not difficult to find, a short walk from Wan Chai MTR.

No queues. And as we approached, the lady by the counter smiled at us, and ushered us to our seats. Hmm...no brusque waiters. No forced sharing...ok, we shared the table, but the two of us shared a table for 8 with another couple.

Could this civilized CCT rival Australia Dairy? We ordered a buttered toast, a scrambled eggs with truffle on toast, and iced milk tea.

The tea: HK$21 for cold HK Style milk tea. Nice, with a light tannin bite. Smooth mouth feel, and the aromatic tea cutting through the creaminess of the milk. Quite nice.

The buttered toast. HK$9. Nice too. The bread is nice and thick. And toasted lightly, buttered on one side. Fragrance of the butter was not overpowering, but pleasant, and the bread within was moist.

And what we came for:

The scrambled eggs were done perfectly. A thin light "membrane" and within the eggs were just cooked that it looked like it might ooze, but not quite. The fragrance was nice,  and tasted very good. Rich, creamy, tasty. Compared to the Australia Dairy version, this one lacked the salty creaminess of canned soup (reportedly used by Australia Dairy). And was a bit milder.

And the truffles? Kind of disappointing, I think. I was kind of expecting slices of black truffle (ok, wishful thinking as the scrambled eggs with truffle on toast was only HK$42 (less than S$8), it was hard, slightly crisp grains, which lacked any depth of flavour or fragrance. I think the truffles were probably Chinese origin and possibly dried before being crushed. We asked the lady by the counter the origin of the truffles, she did not know.

But overall, I enjoyed the scrambled eggs on toast. And a positive alternative to Australia Dairy. Now to find the steamed milk that is done so well in Jordan...:-)

Highly recommended. Read the history of the cafe. Its quite interesting too.

Capital Café 華星冰室
Shop B1, G/F, Kwong Sang Hong Building, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong (10 min walk from Wan Chai MTR) Tel:+852 2666 7766
Opening Hours: 7am – 11:00pm