Thursday, September 24, 2015

Halia at Botanic Gardens

Here are the highlights of a meal we had recently in Halia. The restaurant has been around since 2001, and have been a favourite for many. They recently had their premises renovated, and the new restaurant is as beautiful as the former. Now even more so with the garden inside feel. But how is the food?

We started with a fabulous lemongrass & ginger tiger prawn salad ($19++)

Fresh mango & tomato salsa, glass noodle & ginger flower dressing. The prawns were large, succulent and very tasty. The most intriguing about this this is the chef's salad dressing. Superb. Just the right balance of all the tastes. And the glass noodles went well with the dish by soaking up the dressing...Very nice.

The next appetizer was the Chilli crab dip ($15++) with crisp baguette

I found this dish brilliant. The chilli crab could have a little more spice kick, but overall it was excellent. Chunks of crab in a piquant sauce. On crisp baguette. Nice. Kin did not fully agree, feeling that the crab could be more substantial. But I was happy. For me, a nice dish.

The for me, the other appetizer, the lime & ginger yellowfin tuna kinilaw was less successful. Kinilaw is a Filipino dish. 

On to the favourite for the evening was the paperbag oven-baked halibut fillet ($40++)

The fresh halibut was baked in a paper bag with mirin sake, ginger broth. And served with sesame Japanese rice, wakame & truffle mayonnaise on the side. The fish was superb. Smooth, creamy, very fresh. Beautifully cooked. The sauce was also sublime. The brilliant mix of miron sake with the ginger broth was magnificent. Loved this dish. Goes well with the rice. 

The next main we had was the Wild Alaskan black cod (140gm. $56++)

With ginger flower sambal, Chinese long beans & pickled ginger jus. We found this dish to be b bit bland. The fish was cooked nicely enough...nice moist flesh, crisp skin. But the long beans were undercooked resulting in a greenish flavour. 

And the Spice Islands marinated lamb loin ($44++) was also a bit ordinary.

Perhaps ordinary is too harsh. The baby back ribs are excellent. The meat just fell off the bones at the prodding of a fork. Very tender. The meat was a tad too lean, lacking in the fats that usually make up flavour. And the seasoning a bit is a nicely concocted barbeque sauce, but no wow factor. It was served with a curried wild rice, charred chilli, pickled ginger & coconut on the side. The rice was hard, but I liked the curry sauce. We note though that we thought this dish to be not extraordinary, the other tasting party thought it was her favourite for the evening. 

Then on to desserts. I only hilight two...first a very unusual ohr nee.

Doesn't look like one, nor actuallly taste like one either.  The "Orh Nee" ($12++) is made from frozen home-made yam parfait, pumpkin puree, candied gingko nuts & lotus seeds. I guess the traditional ohr nee is made by pulverizing yam and cooked over a slow heat with pork lard. This was frozen, a first assault of the unfamiliar. And then the pumpkin puree and candied nuts were untraditional. But it did taste very good. More like yam/tofu ice cream with dressings of pumpkin, ginko nuts and lotus seeds. I really liked it, despite, or because, it does not taste of the traditional hot ohr nee. Nice one chef!

And the Die Die Must Have Chocolate ($12++)

A must have for chocoholics. The chocolate raspberry gnache, cacao nibs tuile, chocolate go fabulously with the marshmallow, raspberry sorbet, raspberry sauce, crispy raspberry and chocolate. Nice sweet end. 

Overall the restaurant had a wonderful ambience. Service was excellent, wait staff being very knowledgable and easy to catch. Food is excellent, mostly. I really loved the king prawn salad, the chilli crab dip, and the halibut. But others present in the tasting loved the cod and the pork ribs. The desserts got all round approval. 

Halia Restaurant
1 Cluny Road, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore 259569
Access by taxi at Tyersall Avenue, near the Ginger Garden. URA Coupon parking on Tyersall Avenue. Free to park on the coach lots after 6 pm.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bread Street Kitchen at MBS

Certainly Gordon Ramsay is a controversial figure. His on-screen persona on various TV shows shows a dynamic personality oft given to explosive outbursts, but also one who is totally passionate about cooking and the restaurant business. When he opened his Bread Street Kitchen in Singapore, it made most celebrity chefs tend to do in our small island.

So the big question is, is it worth the hype? Prior to going, I spoke to some friends who have been there, and read some of the reports on the blogosphere. Mixed reviews, mostly. We called up to make a reservation for a weekday lunch two days before, and were told they had to put us on the waitlist. Hmm. Are they that popular? The morning of our lunch, they called and said they can sit us at our requested time.

When we arrived, the restaurant was not empty, but not full either. Next to us, 3 tables were empty throughout our lunch. So much for a wait list. The decor was rather impressive. The restaurant is spread over two levels, with a rather long flight of stairs connecting them. We sat at the upper level.

Three of us shared two starters and two desserts, and we each had our own main course. For starters, we had the seared scallops

Nothing really special. The scallops were rather ordinary. The searing was done well, and the carrot puree sauce it sat on was nice. As was the touch of bacon bits, apple and celery cress. 

Next, was the patted salt beef brisket in grain mustard, piccalilli and caraway crackers

The brisket was pulled, and mixed with a sauce which is mildly spiced with grain mustard. The crackers was reminiscent of curry - the caraway (a kind of cumin) showing itself. One of my lunch companions rather liked this dish, while I and the other remained neutral.

For my mains, I had the slow roasted Dingley Dell pork belly

I have read a few positive reviews on this dish. The cracking was very nicely done. The pork itself was only slightly fat, with a thin sliver of fat under the very crisp skin. The meat was nicely done. But at $28 a serving, it struck me that it was rather expensive. I preferred the version offered by Keith Crackling Roast at Pasarbella, where for the same money, the serving would be a bit larger. But would not have the accompanying spiced apple puree. 

My lunch companions had the Dingley Dell pork chop and the risotto with girolle mushroom, peas, green asparagus and aged parmesan.

The pork chop looked like a princly cut. 10 oz, and on the bone. It was grilled beautifully, and done almost nicely medium...slightly pink on the inside, and moist and tender. 

The risotto was a bit of an interesting dish

Looking rather small, and plain, it was in fact rather delicious. The rice was nicely al dente, and creamy sauce smothered it well. The vegetables were very nice, adding great flavours. The peas, asparagus were particularly fragrant and came out well. The cheese was very light, perhaps a bit mellow as it was aged. Nice dish.

For desserts, chocolate fondant with salted caramel and mint chocolate chip ice cream

For me the star of the lunch. The molten chocolate lava flowed easily, was nice, thick, and not very sweet counterpointed with a rich, slightly bitter after taste. Went very well with the salted caramel and the ice cream.

The banana sticky toffee pudding came with muscovado caramel and clotted cream. We found it to be a bit too sweet, but the flavours were excellent. 

We found the service to be attentive and very good, despite many reports that it was rather spotty and can be a bit snooty. Our waiter was all smiles, and ready with recommendations, and was happy to pour us glsses of plain water.

Overall, a rather nice lunch. But given the hype of Gordon Ramsay, I must say I am underwhelmed. The dishes were rather safe, and not innovative...though it must be noted that it was not Gordon's aim to be innovative in Bread Street Kitchen, but rather to serve the staples. And this they did well. I feel the prices are a tad pricey, though no doubt due to the high rental Marina Bay Sands area.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sunday Brunch at Una, One Rochester

Spanish Restaurants are not so common in Singapore. I remember those lazy days in Valencia one beautiful winter decades ago, where we enjoyed the food, wondered about restaurants which were not yet open for dinner at 8pm (they open at 10pm). Great atmosphere, though it was mid winter (nearly Christmas), evening temperatures never fell below 18C, and the atmosphere always had a celebratory feel. Great days. And so it is food. Food that reminds us of wonderful experiences are almost always received with glee and registered as delicious. Its the memory which it triggers what make it special.

So it is with the food at Una. It brought me back to those days in Valencia. Una is a Spanish beautiful restaurant at a really nice address - One Rochester. The setting was exceptional.

We decided to sit outdoors on that Sunday as it had rained the evening before and was a very cool morning. A three piece jazz band playing in the far end of the photograph provided a very nice ambience. But to the food. 

We began with tapas...what else, in a Spanish restaurant. But as it was a buffet, and we had to last the entire meal, we were selective. First up, the Fried Crispy Squid with Black Aioli.

Superbly light, un-greasy. The batter is very light, almost tempura like. Very crispy. And the calamari within was nice and juicy. Superb. We also had the crab and asparagus croquette:

Shown above the crab croquette. The size approximately in between a golf ball and a tennis ball, the croquette had a beautiful crispy exterior which gave way to a smooth, creamy, rich and luxurious inside. The crab meat was sweet, and the entire dish well balanced.

Then the Alaskan crab feet

Just look at it. Wonderfully fresh, lightly cooked...probably steamed or boiled to keep the texture and light taste of the crab meat. Chunky, meaty, nicely fresh, great umami. Delicious. Need I say more?

We also order the Una Signature Eggs Benedict

This is quite special. Served on a flat bread...a bit like our roti prata, is the gloriously cooked egg. Done just right. A light prodding of the fork will yield the flowing yolk from the egg. Wonderful. Served with chunks of wonderfully aromatic smoked makerel and bonito flakes with a dash of paprika. Very nice. 

We then moved to the mains. We were picky. Though they had pork, chicken and quail, we stayed only with pork. Here is the grill master.

This man has wonderful control of his grill. Everything we ordered came out perfect. A master. Chapeau Chef!

First the Pinchos Muronos

Pork loin, grilled to perfection. The cut we had was a bit lean, but it was still beautifully done. A touch of smoke from the charcoal grill, insides nicely medium. Pink. Tasty, and very good. A neighbouring table had a cut which was a bit fatter, and I guess, that is even nicer!

But the highlight for me is the Pluma Iberica

This is magnificent. If it were the only thing I ate, it would be worth the price of entry. Beaufifully smoky flavour, Magnificently grilled to medium rare. The meat was delightfully tender. Very tasty. In fact the flavour of the meat was much more akin to a good cut of beef than pork. Really magnificent. The pluma is the loin of the Iberica pig, which is specially bred for maximum flavour and great texture. And the result is really superbly enjoyable.

Highly recommended this buffet brunch. At S$88++ it may seem a bit on the pricey side, but with great food like this, and excellent ingredients (I think the 2 slices of pluma Iberico I ate is worth the $88) it is well worth it. Add S$44++ for free flow of alcoholic drinks.  Naturally the menu selection is much larger, but I only hilighted the items which impressed me most.

1 Rochester Park
Singapore 139212

Thursday, April 9, 2015

58 Minced Meat Noodles in Bedok South

Every now and again I come across a dish which rewrites my impressions of what it used to be. Mee Pok Tar, or Bak Chor Mee and its variants are a unique dish to Singapore. And indeed there are many variants. I enjoy them all, from the Jalan Tua Kong styled ones, to the traditional Teochew styled ones and the Tai Hwa variants. But the subject of today's review, 58 Minced Meat Noodles, changes the game altogether.

I realise this is not a new stall, but only one which I discovered personally recently. I have gone back to taste the dish several times, and each time, consistently it is superb.

Everything is right about this bowl of the long-ish waiting time. 

First the stock is superb, a bit thick, almost a light gelatin texture, very similar to the soup of a great ramen. And liberally sprinkled with the gorgrous minced meat with delicious pork lard crisps and dried flounder. The soup is power packed with umami, and extremely satisfying to drink up. I crave this every once a while, but its a 20km ride or drive to get to Bedok South from where I live. Cest la vie.

Next the noodles are done just right. In Italian terms, it would be just a little soft of el dente. But this is not an Italian dish, and just soft of el dente is just right. Brilliant springy noodles. 

The wanton is a work of art on its own. The large portion, only $3 (and they call Singapore the most expensive city in the world), comes with 4 wantons. Each with a tender, soft skin, wrapping a precious cargo of minced meat, and dried flounder. Each bite delivers a jolt of umami, and intense taste which triggers off all the pleasure centers in the brain. Superb. 

Maybe its just the way I am wired, but this is hands down the best bak chor mee (literally minced meat noodle) I have eaten...not the most elegant, certainly, nor the with the best ingredients, but most satisfying. Bar none. 

58 Minced Meat Noodles
#01-151,  58 New Upper Changi Road

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chia Keng Kway Teow Mee at Ang Mo Kio

I have blogged about the ubiquitious bak chor mee, and mee pok tar and other variants for a while. While I remain quite "addicted" to Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, and Lorong Tua Kong Bak Chor Mee, I recently re-discovered Chia Keng.

The stall is called Kway Teow Mee...but I truly love their mee pok tar.

The above is the $5 version. Ladden with two large, fresh prawns, two hand made fishballs, a few slices of fish cakes, slices of mushroom and lean pork, and two slices of abalone. The noodles were cooked perfectly, al dente, and the sauce was absolutely wonderful. Packing full of umami, flavourful, and the chilli. The chilli is a killer. Not that it is powerful with heat, but powerful with flavour. Almost like some of the XO sauce made by famous chefs...I can taste generous dried prawns simmered in a concoction with fish sauce, oyster sauce, a touch of scallops, a bit of ground deep fried flounder. Superb. 

The prawns were fresh, crunchy type, and very sweet with a wonderful aroma of the sea. And the fishballs and fishcake are handmade each day, and totally satisfying. The two slices of abalone were sweet and very tender, and testament to high quality.

The accompanying soup was totally satisfying as well. Very nice flavours. Very well balanced.

They serve a budget $3.50 version without the goodies, and $7-$15 versions with whole abalones. Might be tempted to try next time if I am not again drawn to the reasonably priced $5 version above.

Definitely highly recommended.

Chia Keng Kway Teow Mee
Blk 453A Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, 
#01-11 Chong Boon Food Centre 
Singapore 561453

Friday, April 3, 2015

Soi 19 Thai Wanton Mee at Ang Mo Kio

As many readers following this blog know, I do have a soft spot for wanton mee. Especially the KL style ones with black sauce, no tomato or chilli sauce, thick, springy eggy noodles and laden with lard crisps, and succulent wantons. But although I have a soft spot for those, I do love all kinds of wanton mee. The wiry, aromatic little bowls served in Hong Kong are special. As are the traditional Singapore styled ones with chilli sauce like those made by Dajie and Eng's.

But when in Bangkok, the curious Thai style is popular, and even though this stall has been around for a while in Ang Mo Kio, I just recently came across some blogs buzzing about it. So I went to try it for myself.

I ordered the cheapest bowl, and it was quite impressive in serving size and the amount of ingredients. The chilli and lard crisps I added on my own. They also offer granulated cane sugar, like they do in Thailand, but I am not one for a sweet noodle, so I declined.

Laden with a deep fried wanton, charsiew and lots of greens. The noodles itself was nice, and springy...cooked el dente. And was served with no sauce...ok, perhaps a touch of pork lard sufficient to coat the noodle strands to impart some flavour. But mixed with the dried chilli flakes and lard crisps, it did pack a powerful flavour. Very nice. The deep fried wanton was very flavourful, and crisp to the palate. As were the greens, they were also cooked well, and was fresh.

The serving came with a bowl of very nicely rich stock soup with two wantons. Beautiful soup, umami rich, and the wantons were reasonably sized with very soft skin and within minced pork with perhaps a hint of prawns. Lovely.

I was told that on peak hours, the queue could be up to an hour long. I was there about 11am and there was no queue. The small portion I ordered was $3.50, and for $4, more noodles can be had. And for $5 more ingredients. I will be back to try the $5 version soon.

Highly recommended. 

Soi 19 Thai Wanton Mee (十九街雲吞麵)
Address: Blk 151, Ang Mo Kio Ave 5, Coffee Shop
Opening Hours: 7.30am to 3pm

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fabbrica at Bussorah Street

Its not often I feature pizza, but I recently went for a tasting at this interesting place in the Arab Street area, and I felt I needed to write about.

The restaurant is tucked in the middle of an area somewhat specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine...Lebanese, Arabian, Malay, et al. But this brilliant place, which serves a wonderful selection of craft beer is rather interesting. The chef is Matteo Boifava, with over 18 years in the kitchens of many restaurants in the world, including  Heston Blumenthal's 3 Michelin starred The Fat Duck.

We started on the table with a soup. The Tortellini in Bordo

The soup was a revelation. The tortellini was made with a mix of pork and beef, and was delectable. The skin of the tortellini was thin, light, and the meaty filling was very nice. The broth, which is made from house made chicken stock is magnificent. Very nice, shiok.

Next, the Primi Piatti of fregola with seafood, bottarga and zucchini. 

Fregola is not a common pasta in Singapore. It is a kind of cous cous, made from semolina dough rolled in small balls and toasted. Quite typical in Sardinia, I was told. The texture was nice and el dente, firm to the bite, with some springiness. The seafood broth was rather strong and nice. With prawns, squid, scallops. 

Next the pizzas...these were cooked in a wood fired oven, and made Sardinia style, with a thick, soft dough, which rose to be rather fluffy and crisp on the outside. 

The house pizza: Pizza Fabbrica is a vegetarian option which features pumpkin cream, fior de latte, broccoli, and sun dried tomatoes

The taste was very good. The pizza dough was nice, fluffy but with a consistency which is rather springy. The pumpkin cream was magnificent. And provided with excellent counterpoint by the tart sweetness of the sun dried tomatoes and smooth, cream. Very good. Two thumbs up for this pizza.

But the other two pizzas we tasted was not to be shamed. The Pancetta fungi caprino e scalogno was next

Same dough, so same excellence. The toppings were the fior de latte, and a rather magnificent pancetta. Savoury, and beautiful flavours which blend well with the mushroom, scallions and oh, so wonderful goat cheese. Another winning dish.

And finally black truffles on a pizza...somebody's gotta do it

And am I glad I found it here. The delicate and yet unmistakable flavour of black truffle wafted through the restaurant as this was being served. Again, same pizza base, magnificent as with the others, with fior de latte, porcinni mushrooms, scamorza cheese and freshly shaved truffle. Very good.

For desserts, a special dish. Instead of a traditional tiramisu, Fabbrica presented us with the Birramisu...

Made from Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout instead of coffee, the dessert was interesting. The stout was brewed using espresso beans so the flavours carried through as rather robust notes I must add. And the entire concoction was masterfully made, such that it was sweet but not too sweet, and very pleasant. 

Rather interesting...first time I have come across stout brewed from coffee beans.

Overall, a wonderful place to dine in. With great food, and a variety of craft beers to accompany. Recommended.

Pizza Fabbrica
69/70 Bussorah Street
S 199482
tel: 62910434

Monday, February 2, 2015

Onya Sayang: Peranakan food in Paya Lebar

I have written about Dulu Kala, a Peranakan restaurant started by the grandmother and parents of Zan Ho. And since then, Zan has become a chef of his own reckoning, and opened updated versions of Dulu Kala, which he calls O'nya Sayang.

I was invited for a tasting at their newest outlet in Paya Lebar Square.

We started off with the interesting dish, totally tradition based, but updated. The Ayam Buah Keluak Fried Rice

Interesting take. Stir fried rice, seen in the background with keluak filling, onions and chillis. Very fragrant fried rice.And a bowl of chicken with buah keluak. The rempah (spices) are made from scratch, and like most peranakan recipes are from secrets only known to family. 

Next up, we had a kind of seafood with rice, topped with a fried egg

I found the gravy, made from house made spices to be very nice, the dish was let down by slightly less than fresh fish and prawns which, though were sweet and rather tasty, was a bit mushy within the shell. 

Another innovative dish is their lorbak noodles

In our family, we would have called the braised pork Tauyu Bak, though Lor Bak is still a descriptive name. The pork belly is braised in a black sauce with house spices till tender. A boiled egg is added to the braise and absorbs the braising liquid, and the dish is poured over the noodles. Interesting, and perhaps totally untraditional. But I found it to be very savoury and nice. Good touch!

Bakwan Kepeting (pork balls in a soup with bamboo shoots) is a typical Peranakan dish

In this instance, the interpretation is truly traditional, and wonderfully so. The bakwan was superb. The texture - bouncy, springy, crunchy to the bite but still tender and juicy. The soup was nourishing, and very nice.

I have mixed feelings with Babi Pongteh, another classical Peranakan Dish

The pork was very tender, the spices quite interesting, but this was not my idea of a babi pongteh. Perhaps my family recipe is not similar...but the main elements - pork belly, potato, a thick mildly spicy braise. This version is still rather delicious, no doubt. And quite satisfying.

Their otak dish I truly loved. Served with a small portion of sambal kangkong, it was quite nice. Again, not in the traditional style I am accustomed to, as in our family, otak is steamed in banana leaf. This was, to me, perhaps a more Melakan styled dish. The otak was grilled. But I must say, it ramains very nice on the palate. Good chunks of fish with nice springy filler. Tasty.

But the desserts blew me away. One of my favourites, sago gula melaka:

Truly superb. Worth the trip just to eat this. The sago was cooked just right, with the a touch of very creamy coconut milk and a generous portion of gula melaka. A scoop of coconut ice cream crowned this magnificent dessert. The coconut ice cream was exactly as the name suggests. It tasted of a creamy iced santan. The gula melaka was special. Very fragrant, coying sweet, and luxurious mouthfeel. Fantastic! I enquired, and Zan told me that the gula melaka was sourced from Surabaya, where the quality is even higher than in Melaka. 

The same coconut ice cream, which is sourced from a manufacturer in Thailand, is used in the chendol, which is also a winner in my view

This reminded me of the version by Mei Heong Yuan, where shaved ice, made from coconut milk is dished out on top of chendol, attap steeds, red kidney beand, piled high. There, the gula melaka is served on the side, where one can drizzle to one's heart's content. Here the base of this dish is the same coconut ice cream as in the sago gula melaka, and the same superb gula melaka. With the traditional chendol ingredients. Quite superb.

I found the dishes in O'nya Sayang to be very homey feeling, with a somewhat traditional taste. One which does not totally agree with my family's Peranakan family's recipes. But the nature of Peranakan cuisine is such. Each family has its own secret recipes, and often times, these are not even shared with other members of the family, only to be handed down from mother to daughter and sometimes son.  

The packaging at O'nya Sayang into individual meals is very innovative. The traditional Peranakan meal is taken on a Tok Panjang (long table), where the dishes are shared by all. Very traditional families eat in shifts...the men in first shift, then the children, then the ladies and finally the servants. But the offering of individually sized, balanced meal portions is very nice. 

And as mentioned, the desserts, a twist to Peranakan tradition, are divine. Highly recommended.

O'nya Sayang @ Paya lebar square
60 Paya Lebar Rd, Paya Lebar Square, #B1-30/31,
Singapore, S409051
Tel: 67838140
Fax: 66848168

Monday, January 19, 2015

Forest Restaurant: Chinese New Year Menu at Resorts World Sentosa

Chef Sam Leong is one of the most celebrated local chefs around. Always known for innovative use of ingredients and beautiful plating of Chinese dishes, he set up his own restaurant in Equarius Hotel in Resorts World Sentosa.

I was invited for a tasting of the new Chinese New Year menu. And typical of Chef Sam's meals, it is themed...this tasting seemed to be around the coconut.

We started with the Four Treasures Soup

Zoom in, the soup looks coyingly sumptious. 

The superior chicken stock is used to braise the fish maw, sea cucumber, crab meat, Hokkaido dried scallop and served in a young coconut. The taste is mild, allowing the ingredients to shine, and shine they did. Very delicious tasting, thick, filling and satisfying soup, with a light hint of the young coconut.

Next Boston Lobster

Fresh Boston lobster, wok fried with green chive juice and fresh lily bulb. Magnificent. The lobster meat was tender, sweet, and the done-ness just right to be slightly crunchy. The lily bulbs provide a more hearty crunch, as did the vermicelli bed the concoction lies on. Delicious!

Next, a slightly western twist, Sakura chicken roll

Again, using the superior chicken stock as a base, the Sakura chicken is tolled up with dried oyster and black moss and served with yam puree. I found the chicken to be delectable, with a very light, mild chicken flavour...mind you, not the offensive type found in frozen chicken, but a delightfully beautiful aromatic chicken flavour which permeated and harmonized with the black moss and dried oyster. A sprig of asparagus provides an able counterpoint. 

And for desserts, chilled coconut jello

Home made coconut juice jello, served with aloe vera and sea coconut topped with popping candy. Magnificent. The jello was incredibly smooth and supple, and had a light taste of young coconut, and went superbly with the sea coconut and aloe vera. The popping candy providing some fireworks...wonderful way to end a meal.

Truly superb cuisine, And I have to take my hat off to Chef Sam Leong for creating such magnificent dishes.

Forest Restaurant
Resorts World Sentosa
Phone:6577 7788