Monthly Archives: January 2011

Brunch @ the Greenhouse @ the Ritz Carlton

Caprioskas waiting to be mixed

I’m going to attempt writing this post while trying to sober up from a food and cocktail coma from 3 hours of indulgence at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. There for a friend’s birthday, the festive atmosphere was surely enhanced with freeflow champagne and a choice of mojitos, caipirinhas, Bloody Marys and caprioskas (most of which were doubles). Aside from the drinks, the choice of food we had available was impressive.

“Buffet hack” – chawanmushi with caviar

The best thing about buffets is that you can have a little bit of a lot.  The ability to sample as many dishes as you can want appeals to someone like me who has difficulty making her mind up on what to order and often ends up with food envy for my friends and their choices.  The birthday girl added more choice with her “buffet hacks”, my favourite was her topping chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg) with some caviar from one of the cold starters – perfect.

We all started with cold seafood.  I was focused on oysters, trying the eight varieties of freshly shucked oysters from France and New Zealand and then I spotted a tray of jamon de iberico, of which a small pile made an appearance on every plate I brought back to the table the entire meal.

The awesome roast pork with crackling

My favourite little things at the buffet were a four cheese tart with fig and walnut, the wagyu roast with the best Yorkshire puddings and gravy, the roast pork (mainly for the super good crackling I have to admit) and the very tart lemon meringue dessert.

Four cheese tart with fig and walnut

The four cheese tart came in a pastry shell that was just firm enough to not crumble and was a terrific contrast to the creamy cheese filling, which was the perfect partner to the sweet fresh fig on top.

Yorkshire pudding with wagyu roast

The wagyu roast was so tender – no matter if you sampled a more well done slice from the edge, or an almost blue slice from the middle – and the Yorkshire puddings were the perfect “mop” for the puddles of gravy that were generously ladled over them.

We finished the meal with a generous sample of the 50 cheeses on offer.  I have to admit, after a good camembert and brie, and a wonderfully tangy roquefort, the rest of the cheeses on my plate were there more for the fact that I could actually have that many varieties on one plate.

Lemon meringue

For a five-star establishment, the design and decor of the Greenhouse gives it a slight feel of a buffet in a cheap Caribbean resort – not helped by the live band playing songs like “Guantanamera” – and I think that detracts from the appeal of the whole experience, which is a slight shame, because the food is really very very good.  Perhaps I’m spoiled by the Raffles Hotel Bar & Billiard Room’s more personal serving of their food, along with the more sedate ambiance, but after all those cocktails, I’m sure no-one cared much, and also, for our boisterous birthday table, perhaps it was the best place to celebrate after all.  Happy birthday Chrissy !

The Greenhouse @ the Ritz Carlton Hotel
7 Raffles Ave
Singapore
Tel: 6337 8888

Sunday brunch: 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m

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Australia Day lunch from the Sydney Fish Markets

Cooked large king prawns

Such a famous name, such a fantastic array of fresh seafood, so disappointingly “grotty” – the only word I can think of to describe the place.

I do love walking around the Sydney Fish markets, looking at the amazing selection of fresh seafood, but I’d highly recommend taking away and eating it in the comfort of your own home, or taking to a picnic somewhere more scenic (of which there are plenty of options in Sydney).

Sydney Rock and Pacific oysters

Australia Day in Sydney was last Wednesday and I went with my dad to pick up lunch before I flew back to Singapore.

We kept the selection simple – fresh cooked large king prawns, a dozen Sydney Rock oysters and another of Pacific oysters, tuna and salmon sashimi, with some fresh damper rolls, lots of lemons and salad ingredients to make a fresh salad of avocado, roma tomatoes and cucumber on a bed of mixed leaves, dressed simply with a good squeeze of lemon juice and drizzled with olive oil.

Our deliciously simple salad

Nothing to cook (Pete did make his own seafood sauce of mayonnaise, tomato sauce, lemon juice and salt and pepper), just simply plated up and served with a nice cold bottle of prosecco for us to enjoy the sweet sweet flavours of the sea in front of us. Happy Australia Day !


Mr Chows

Shredded crispy duck pancake

Why isn’t shredded crispy duck available in more restaurants ? To our knowledge it’s available in just one restaurant in Sydney, and none in Singapore.

Mr Chows is tucked away in the quiet end of Kent Street in Sydney, near the Rocks.  It serves Peking cuisine, most importantly, shredded crispy duck.  Apparently this dish is quite popular in the UK, which might mean it’s not really authentically Peking (I’ve never had it in China) but I don’t really care of its authenticity, it’s delicious ! Essentially it’s half (or whole) duck seasoned with aromatic five spices and deep fried, then shredded at your table, to be served in thin pancakes with slivers of spring onions, cucumber and hoisin sauce.  Think classic Peking duck, where it’s just the skin that’s served in the pancake.

Crispy beef strips

If you ever go to Mr Chows, make sure you also order the crispy beef strips – thin strips of beef and carrots, lightly battered and fried, and tossed in a sweet, almost honey sauce.

Anyone know of where in Singapore you can get this dish, please let me know !

Mr Chows
33-35 Kent St
The Rocks
Sydney 2000
Ph: 02 9252 3010


A Crown Street gem called Toko

Beef tataki with citrus soya sauce and garlic chips

Toko in Sydney is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit in a long time, and I managed to go there last Saturday night.  The whole stretch of Crown Street from Oxford Street to Cleveland Street has changed so much in the last ten years and it is now just full of great cafes and bars and restaurants that I think epitomises Sydney, especially in the summer when people spill out on to the street to enjoy the warm weather.

Reminiscent of Sushi-e at the back of Hemmesphere Bar, this place is abuzz with people and chatter and music and was packed by 7.30 when we got there (although I think Toko is more izakaya dining – where it’s basically a place to drink with the added benefit of having food to eat rather than a sushi bar).  Luckily there was a table for us (one of the downsides is that you can’t make reservations and they won’t seat you until all your party are there).

We opted for the degustation menu to sample as many dishes as possible from the menu (and to avoid having to make a decision on a Saturday night after a few wines!) and every dish that was presented to us was a delight.

Crispy soft-shelled crab with wasabi mayonnaise

We started with a beef tataki – seared thinly-sliced beef with a citrus soy sauce and garlic chips.  The beef was perfectly seared on the outside while rare in the middle and the garlic chips were a nice contrast in crunchiness to the tender beef.

Next up was what I would arguably call the best soft-shelled crab I have ever tasted.  The batter was light and crispy and there was absolutely none of the soggy oily mess that you often get with soft-shelled crab.  It was served with a wasabi mayonnaise but I don’t think the crab needed anything at all.  Absolutely perfect.

King fish sashimi with ponzu dressing

Third course was I think what reminded me of Sushi-e and their amazing king fish that’s served with a drizzle of smoking hot olive oil, thin slices of king fish sashimi served with a ponzu dressing, with ginger and crispy crushed garlic.  Again, the contrast in textures really worked in your mouth.

Courses that followed kind of blurred after these three as the wines flowed freely, but I do recall seared scallops toped with finely grated daikon served with a drizzle of basil emulsion, seared duck breast with sliced ginger and sansho pepper, and simple zuccini on skewers and corn on the cob from the robata grill were surprisingly super sweet and delicious.

Toko also has a sushi bar in Paddington, but on a Saturday night when you just want to catch up with friends in a bustling bar with the added bonus of a table and non-stop delicious plates of food being served, Toko in Surry Hills wins it for me.

Toko Restaurant and Bar
490 Crown Street
Surry Hills

T: +61 2 9357 6100
F: +61 2 9357 6155
E: info@toko.com.au

Bookings taken for lunch only


From croissants to…chwee kueh

Chwee kueh – steamed rice cakes with preserved radish and chilli paste

It rained early this morning in Singapore and I love rare mornings like this, especially on weekends, when the late-to-rise Singaporeans are still asleep, the traffic’s minimal and it’s relatively cool.  It’s just so peaceful in this usually frenetic city.

I took the opportunity of all of the above to take a 20 minute stroll to Mackenzie Street to Mirabelle with the intent of picking up a bag of buttery goodness – from light and flaky plain croissants to pain au chocolate to croissants baked with ham and cheese. All delicious, artery-clogging treats which we are lucky to get in Singapore.  Mirabelle’s pastries rival the best we’ve had in Paris.

However, when I got to Mackenzie Street, all I saw were metal roller doors.  The friendly girl who worked next door told me that Mirabelle was closed till mid Feb.  Guess even the best bakers have to take a holiday, no matter how much we want them not to 🙂

So I took a slow stroll back to Bugis, enjoying watching the town slowly wake up, and ended up at Albert Centre Food Market. I don’t know what I expected to find there that I wanted – it’s a tough switch from french pastry to local fare – I thought I actually fancied nasi lemak, until I chanced upon a chwee kueh shop.

Chwee kueh literally translated is “water rice cake” and is Teochew dish of steamed cake of rice flour that is most importantly served with preserved radish or chai por.  The rice cake itself has no flavour but it is the vehicle with which to eat the chai por.

Chai por is radish that has been cooked with salt, dried shrimp and sugar in pork lard (hence why it tastes so good).

It was so delicious it pretty much erased the taste of croissant from my mind !  I’m thrilled that I have access to this local treat so close to home and will definitely be going back again.


Chinese New Year goodies

Kueh bangkit

The lunar new year is around the corner, which means lots of celebrations (which go for 15 days), primarily through eating and drinking with family and friends.

Leading up to lunar new year, treats are often shared, and this post is dedicated to my favourite Hokkien festive treats of cakes and cookies.

I have three favourites, although there are many more – kueh kapit, pineapple tarts and kueh bangkit.

Kueh kapit

Kueh kapit are delicate wafers that are made from a very thin batter made of coconut milk, rice and tapioca flour, sugar and eggs, that is poured onto cast-iron moulds – etched with graphic and symbolic representations of flowers, birds or animals – and then baked over charcoal.

I used to make them with my family when I was very young.  My grandmother, the expert who would patiently sit over the charcoal with the cast-iron moulds, would pour the batter to make sure the entire mould was evenly coated and check again and again to get just the right amount of colour on the kueh – too light meant the batter was not cooked properly, too dark meant the biscuit would be bitter. Once the batter was cooked she would quickly remove them from the still-hot moulds (she had chef fingers and didn’t seem to ever burn her fingers on the hot iron) and place them on a plate and then get back to battering the mould to make the next biscuit.  Then it was my sister’s and my turn to work quickly while the crepe was still pliable, folding the round crepe into a triangular fan shape.  (We also got to eat the “mistakes” heehee).  It was time consuming and labour intensive, and I have very fond memories of the family bonding while we made these.

Kueh kapit are also called Love Letters, and the history of these is that they were a way for lovers to communicate in olden times – the edible quality of the messages ensured the absence of proof and consumption of the heartfelt message was also seen as a sign that the lover’s words had been taken to heart.

Pineapple tarts

The origins of pineapple tarts is not as poetic as kueh kapit – pineapple in hokkien is ong lai, which literally translated is “prosperity has come”, and serving and eating pineapple tarts is thought to bring good luck and prosperity to the house. Fresh pineapple is grated and slowly cooked over a low heat until it all the sugars have caramelised.  This mixture is then traditionally placed on top of a medallion of butter pastry. Variations have come about where the pineapple is completely encased in pastry – this is the favourite in our house because I think the pastry seems to melt on your tongue before you get to the almost chewy pineapple.

Kueh bangkit

Kueh bangkit – tapioca cookies – are traditional nonya cookies and their history is hard to find.  From what I can gather, they were originally used for alter offerings for the ancestors and/or for the departed to spend in their next life, and hence were made in the shape of the currency of ancient China. Today they are made in various animal or floral shapes with their own symbolic meaning such as goldfish (prosperity), butterflies (afterlife), peonies (faith) and chrysanthemums (fortune). Each cookie traditionally was marked with a red dot, which I would love to know the meaning of, so please, if you know, post the answer in the comments section.

Made from tapioca flour, eggs and coconut milk they are sweet bite-sized morsels that bursts into dry powdery bits when bitten and then immediately melt in your mouth. The perfect kuih bangkit has to be dry and crispy and light as a feather and almost ‘hollow’ sounding when you tap it. Apparently horrendously difficult to perfect, I am quite happy to buy ones that someone has slaved over to make.

Actually, all three of these, as well as most Chinese New Year treats, are all time consuming and very fiddly to make.  I suppose from my experience from long ago with the kueh kapit, the idea is that it is not just about the eating of the treats, but it’s time spent as a family making them and promoting family unity for the lunar new year.  More to come on other food around the new year. Gong xi fa cai !


Peramakan

Udang goreng assam – tamarind prawns

After a week of eating local food with my visiting family, serving food that makes the entire table go “yum” is no small feat, something that Peramakan managed to do last night.

We’ve been there before and made the mistake of ordering dishes with the same curry sauce but with different ingredients – eg eggplant, ladies fingers, chicken, prawns etc.  But with a little planning (and a check with the wait staff) you can have a table full of completely different curries.  My dad commented that it seemed hard to believe that curry with the same base ingredients of onions, garlic and chilli, can taste so different from dish to dish.

Beef rendang

We ordered the beef rendang – beef that has been slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices for hours until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, which allows the meat to absorb the spicy condiments.  It’s a classic nonya dish and Peramakan does it very well.

We also ordered ikan panggang – half a baby red snapper marinaded in spices and grilled, served on a banana leaf.  Think chilli stingray but with fish – delicious.  The peranakan fried rice was also great – a simple dish of rice fried with dry prawns, eggs, squids, prawns and sambal belachan, garnished with sliced red chillies, fried shallots and coriander/spring onions.

The udang goreng assam or tamarind prawns were also a hit – fried whole prawns still in the shell and then covered in a sticky sweet tamarind sauce.

If you’re looking for delicious and authentic Peranakan food, this is the place to head to.

Peramakan
Level 3, Keppel Club
10 Bukit Chermin Road
Singapore 109918
(5 minutes drive from Vivo City/HarbourFront)

Tel: 65 63772829

Open everyday, including Sundays and public holidays for lunch and dinner.
Lunch: 11:30 am to 3:00 pm (last order: 2:30 pm)
Dinner: 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm (last order: 9:30 pm


More of Le Chasseur

Crispy pork knuckle

Le Chasseur did it again – with chef and owner Andy Lim cooking up a stellar spread of delicious MSG-free food.  The menu is so extensive we recently went again just so that we could try some of the other dishes.  The only thing that we ordered again was the curry chicken which was again a firm favourite on the table.

Pork and watercress soup

The showstoppers were the soups – we ordered pork and watercress soup, where there was a generous amount of bright green watercress in the soup, rather than the brown, overcooked stalks you can get in other establishments – as well as the pork knuckle.  Be warned, it’s big !  Served with a vinegar and shallot dipping sauce to cut through the richness of the meat, it was cooked so that the outside is crispy yet the inside stays tender and moist.

The other dish I loved was the barbecued squid, cooked so that it was tender and not at all rubbery, the edges charcoaly crispy and sweet.  Next time I have to try their barbecued prawns, one of their specialities.

A definite blink and you’ll miss it hole-in-wall, if you’re planning on going when it’s busy, I’d recommend you book.  And make sure you get all your order in at once – the service there is awful and any requests after you’ve put your order in are pretty much just ignored.  With some planning, though, you’re guaranteed to walk out with a full tummy and a big smile on your face.

Le Chassuer
31 New Bridge Road (opposite the Central Shopping Mall at Clarke Quay)
Tel: 6337 7677
Open 11am – 11pm daily


Grandma’s Kitchen

Assam fish head curry

We’ve been to Grandma’s Kitchen in Paragon a few times before, and have always loved the delicious local fare they offer there.

During peak times it gets loud and noisy there but it’s a great place if you’ve got a big crowd and/or have children (who will add to the noise and other diners won’t mind as much).  This is the situation we had, when my 2 1/2 year old niece was visiting.

I have to say that for a chain restaurant, the food they serve is pretty good – probably not the most authentic, but the variety they offer is terrific and tastes great !

Salt-egg prawns

The usual suspects were ordered – rendang beef, curry chicken, nasi lemak, chicken wings, chicken rice – and this time we had a group large enough to order the assam fish head curry.  They only serve this as a large shared dish and the whole table was impressed.  With no coconut cream/milk, the curry had a good tangy sourness from the assam (tamarind) with a generous serving of fish head (red snapper), eggplant and ladies fingers.  The version with coconut cream added is more popular but guess my Penang heritage makes me just love the clear version sans coconut cream that is almost consomme-like.

Hainanese chicken rice

We also had the Hainanese chicken rice, where the chicken comes delicately seasoned with a dressing of light soya sauce, sesame oil, coriander and shallots.  The chicken was beautifully cooked as well, on the right side of just cooked, with the meat soft and almost slippery.

One of the more unusual dishes we ordered was salt-egg prawns, where the prawns are dipped in a salt-egg batter before being quickly fried so that the prawns come out delicately and saltily crispy.

Another local restaurant staple where you can make reservations, and that doubles as a nice respite from Orchard Road madness 🙂

Grandma’s Kitchen Paragon
Paragon Shopping Centre
290 Orchard Road
B1/42-43
Tel: 6737 7931
Open daily 11.30am – 10.00pm


Restaurant Ten

Herbal black chicken double boiled tonic soup

My parents have just spent a week in Malaysia and arrived for their last leg of their holiday last night with the request for dinner as “something simple please – we’ve overeaten this trip!”.  A bit of research and I found a restaurant near their hotel called Restaurant Ten.

Their site claims: “Our cuisine is modern Asian Chinese served on individual plating. Our desire is to serve every diner with nourishing and hearty wellness cuisine lightly infused with herbs or paired with aromatic condiments. The strong emphasis for balance and wellness is communicated within our restaurant name. “Ten” reveals the restaurant’s story concept of advocating ten core ingredients, which hold a permanent placement in the dining menu. The ten ingredients, otherwise known as the “Ten Nourishments”, are Sea Salt, Charcoal, Highland Tea, Wolfberry, Japanese Yamm Abalone, Sea Cucumber, Snow Pear, Blueberry and Pilose Antler.”

Crispy prawns on seaweed

Restaurant Ten’s menu was certainly different from the usual Chinese restaurant menu.  Lots of braised dishes and herbal soups and also, sadly, lots of sharks fin (which was not one of the ten ingredients but still featured highly on the menu).

Braised pork belly served with steamed buns

Anyway, we ordered the herbal black chicken double boiled tonic soup to start, followed by braised pork, served with buns, crispy duck (which we also found out came served in buns) and crispy prawns on seaweed.

The soup was delicious – a delicate consommé flavoured with the chicken meat and herbs like ginseng.  I could have had just that, with a bowl of rice for dinner, and was a lovely way to warm the stomach and start the meal.

The prawns came out nothing like I expected.  They reminded me more of wasabi prawns I am seeing more and more on menus.  Battered and deep fried and served on rectangles of nori seaweed, these were served with a sesame mayonnaise and a beetroot sauce – almost luminescently pink and incredibly tasty – hard to describe but think sweet beetroot-flavoured mayonnaise.  The batter was light and crispy and not overly seasoned, the prawns fresh and not bicarbonate-of soda-crunchy.

Crispy duck

The duck and pork were both also good but nothing spectacular and this post is loooong.  I’m not sure the deep-fried dishes we ordered were the most “healthy” but I loved the fact the food was not the usual overly seasoned/oily/MSG laden food you get in Chinese restaurants, and I think the food tasted so much better for it.

Restaurant Ten
7 Purvis Street #01-01
Tel: 6333 9901
Open daily: 12.00pm – 2.30pm, 6.00pm – 10.30pm

PS:  More research told me that this was a reincarnation of the old Metropole Restaurant at Clarke Quay, which closed down early 2010 due to the expiration of their lease.  I’d been there once and was charmed by the way that the food there drew its roots from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – balancing yin and yang, to the point where on some nights there would be a TCM doctor in the restaurant who would recommend dishes based on his prognosis of your health.