Monthly Archives: September 2011

Blu Kouzina

Grilled sardines with lemon and parsley

***UPDATE*** We finally made it back and were restrained enough to just stick to the mezze menu.  Couldn’t go past the tzatziki, taramasalata and saganaki with figs again.  From the specials board, sardines and a cheese which I can’t recall the name of, but has a similar texture of haloumi cheese.  The sardines were simply grilled with olive oil and lemon juice with parsley, and the chewy, dense cheese was fried on the griddle and served with a light balsamic dressing.

 Saganaki with figs

Again, the warm service makes you feel like you are a guest eating in their home.  Love love love this place.

***END OF UPDATE***

Smoked eggplant dip with herbs

After hearing so much about Blu Kouzina, we did a little pre-planning and made a reservation for a table a week in advance (previous failed attempts to reserve a table were probably because we called on the day we wanted to eat).

The small restaurant is packed to the gills when I get there at 8.15, which is the second seating.  The staff look harrassed and stressed.  I arrived before the rest of my table, and I sat there by myself with no menu, no drink. Nothing.

So far not too impressed.  I finally ask for, and get a menu, and then things started to change.

Growing up in Sydney I had access to authentic Greek food.  Not the tacky restaurants popular with brides-to-be, and where everyone gets plates to smash. I’m talking authentic, rustic, home-made Greek. It helped tremendously that one of my Greek friends and I used to go on exploring adventures around Chinatown (new for her) and Marrickville (new for me) to seek out ingredients, home made treats and other goodies to sample.

Greek food to me is again, all about the ingredients.  The food is usually simply prepared, which means what you are using to cook needs to be good.  From reading the menu, Blu Kouzina promised all that.

And it delivered in leaps and bounds.

We should have stuck to  a selection of the mezze dishes OR the mains.  However, we were hungry and indecisive so we ordered far too much, but the food was just so good that it was hard to avoid the self-induced food coma we all left with.

The owner Effie Tsakiris came to our table and served us a plate of grilled eggplant and feta to apologise for the delay in our order.  It was apparently busier than normal that day and they were short-staffed. 170 people dined that night with five wait staff and three cooks. Completely unnecessary, but such a nice touch.

Our mezze came shortly after – all stupendous, and I remembered to take ONE SINGLE PHOTO I was so hungry and everything was so good.  (We will definitely be going again, so I will add on to this post :)). We had dips – smoked eggplant, taramasalata and tzatziki (which inspired me to make yoghurt this weekend).  The tzatziki was the winner in my eyes – thick, creamy yoghurt with just enough tang and heat from the garlic.  I could have eaten the entire dish by myself.  The other fantastic dish was saganaki with figs – sheep and goat’s milk cheese, baked and topped with a fig compote.  This dish disappeared in minutes.

For mains we ordered the meat plate, which had lamb cutlets, beef skewers and beef balls.  We also had whole grilled snapper, which Effie de-boned at the table for us, while she explained that while she was born in South Africa, the food she served at the restaurant was what her mother cooked and what she grew up with.  Most of the ingredients are shipped in from Greece – which is probably why it’s going to be difficult finding anything similar in Singapore at least.

We even managed to squeeze in baclava – a traditional Greek dessert made of chopped nuts rolled in filo pastry and sweetened with honey.  A lot of baclava that I have tried is often too sweet, and I’m not saying Blu Kouzina’s wasn’t, but it wasn’t so sweet that we couldn’t finish one piece each.

If you are after authentic Greek food in Singapore, this is the place the go.  Absolutely delicious.  Make a reservation well in advance to avoid disappointment.

Blu Kouzina
893 Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 589615

T: 6875 0872

ps – as a bonus the Greek wines there are also incredibly good and really good value !

Advertisements

Sticky honey and soy chicken wings

My sticky honey and soy marinated chicken wings

Marinade the wings the night before and then it will take just 30 minutes to get these wonderfully sticky chicken wings on the table. Just enough time to make the accompanying coleslaw.

Ingredients (for two hungry people)

  1. 8 chicken wings
  2. 1/2 cup light soya sauce
  3. 3tbl dark soya sauce (if you don’t have this just add a splash more light soya sauce)
  4. 3 tbl honey
  5. 1 tsp sesame oil
  6. 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  7. 1tsp liquid smoke (if you are lucky enough to have a bbq, then you can obviously skip this)

Method

  1. Discard the wing tip if you can be bothered
  2. Mix marinade ingredients well
  3. Put the chicken wings into a large ziplock plastic bag
  4. Pour the marinade in to the bag
  5. Zip lock and mix well
  6. Pop into a bowl and into the fridge to marinade at least four hours but preferably overnight – once or twice jiggle the bag around a bit to spread the marinade evenly
  7. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 200C/390F
  8. Double line a shallow baking tray with foil and tip the entire contents of the bag (wings and marinade) in
  9. Pop into the oven for 30 minutes, turning once – the marinade would have reduced to a nice sticky consistency
  10. Serve hot with fresh, cold, zingy coleslaw or they’re even good cold for picnics

LeVeL33 @ Marina Bay Financial Centre

Roast fillet of salmon in puff pastry with asparagus spears and hollandaise sauce

The Marina Bay area is simply buzzing with bars and restaurants all eager to take advantage of the views of the Bay. Admittedly, it’s pretty spectacular, and it’s nice to see slight variations of the view from the different locations.

LeVeL33 is a microbrewery on the 33rd floor of the Marina Bay Financial Centre, that is full of natural light that brings the dark timber interior to life. Add chilled beats piped throughout and the nice ambient buzz of other diners as they enjoy their meals with friends and it’s a lovely place to be on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  You can also choose to eat al fresco next to the balcony, closer to the view – although to be avoided for those with vertigo. On the menu was an all-day breakfast, three types of roasts, along with some bigger portions for sharing.

Roast beef with roasted vegetables and Yorkshire pudding

Portions are enormous and I guess that’s them trying to justify the cost of $40 for a roast lunch. Having said that, the food there is good, hearty fare. The roast beef came thickly sliced, piled on top of roasted vegetables, with a yorkshire pudding and lashings of gravy over the entire plate.

My dish was a lovely and light choice – salmon fillet, wrapped in puff pastry on thick asparagus spears with hollandaise sauce.

We’re keen to check out what the menu is like when there’s more choice, apparently the dinner menu is more extensive, and I’d like to see how they transform into a funky bar at night as well.

LeVeL33
8 Marina Boulevard #33-01
Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1
Singapore
Tel: +65 6834 3133

Open 12pm – 12am daily, 12pm – 2am Fridays, Saturdays and eve of public holidays


HY California

The very dramatically presented soft shelled crab maki at HY California

Wanting to catch a light bite while at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Conference Centre, I went in search of Hide Yamamoto’s HY California sushi bar.  The mall is absolutely enormous, and very poorly signaged (it didn’t help that the interactive shopping guides were all out of order) so it took us a while to find the sushi bar, which is outside the mall, facing the marina.

Tuna and squid sashimi

HY California really functions as a bar, that happens to serve sushi for you to snack on while you drink.  Kind of cool, reminds me of a rainy day my friends and I spent holed up in a robotayaki in Tokyo, where we basically sat and drank sake all day, with food ordered and served from the grill as and when we wanted.

The very friendly sushi chef behind the counter who took our order had just arrived from Japan, didn’t speak very much English, nor was he familiar with the menu. We ordered with another chef and shortly after, our dishes started arriving.

California roll

The menu is limited, but as I always say, a short menu usually means that what they offer, they do well. Nothing fancy, and we ordered our “standard” sushi – soft shelled crab maki, tuna sashimi, spicy tuna rolls. Everything was fresh and delicious, although the rolls could have had a bit more firmness so the journey from plate to mouth wasn’t as messy (and my chopstick skills are pretty good!).

Tuna and avocado maki

I know this isn’t Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant – it’s casual dining, but it’s not at all what I expected, and the whole American rock feel of the place seemed to clash rather than complement the traditional sushi counter.  Would I go back again ? Not really sure. There are certainly other places I would much rather go to, but around the Marina area, I guess if I wanted a fresh and quick sushi hit.

HY California
Bay Level, L1-86
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 7426

Open Daily 5.30pm – 11pm (last order 10.30pm)

Master Crab

Master Crab’s salted egg crab

You had better cook a good crab dish if you want to call yourself Master Crab. That’s what I thought when my friend told me where they had had incredible crab recently. The “restaurant” is actually a tze char stall in a coffee shop. Tze char literally means “cook and fry” and it means that you order off a menu that is similar to a restaurant, just in a coffee shop environment.

There is no airconditioning, cheap plastic tables and chairs and fluorescent lighting that makes you feel like you can get a tan while you eat. Absolutely no frills, and where you can call to book a table, but when you get there, you get the feeling that it’s on a first come, first served basis, as this stall is all about turnover.

We were on a crab mission, though – in particular salted egg crab, so luckily it was a cool evening and they had a table for us to eat. We tried to order two crab dishes – salted egg and white pepper crab, but we were told that there was a minimum of two crabs per type of sauce, and each crab weighed just under a kilo.  With just three of us, we thought we’d stick to one (salt egg) and then order other dishes.

Some of the dishes we had were pretty disappointing – the sambal kankong – chilli water spinach – was really overseasoned and overcooked, and the crispy baby squid was too sweet.  The fried rice, on the other hand was delicious. Lots of wok hei (see my attempt at an explanation of this here).

Now to the crab.  I’ve subsequently heard that other crab dishes here are only so so, but the salted egg crab, my goodness, it’s worth it to visit just for this dish alone.

Firstly the crab was super fresh. The meat was flaky and sweet and smothered in a golden yellow sauce that is finger licking good. It’s rich and thick and has a wonderful balance of salt (presumably from the salted egg) and sweet and it is, quite simply, magnificent. I love pretty much anything with salted egg, and I wondered if it was too Asian for D’s more Western palate, but he loved it almost more than I did !

I am now wanting to try Let’s Clap ! At Railway Mall where they apparently do a dry version of salted egg crab. That would be such an intense taste sensation.

So is Master Crab the master of all crab places ? Absolutely, if what (and all) you want is salted egg crab. Leave everything else for another place.

Master Crab Seafood Restaurant
Blk 19 Ghim Moh Road #01-229
Tel: +65 6314 1868

Open Daily 5pm – 10.30pm


Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine

Cold angel hair pasta with oscietra caviar 

We all have favourite restaurants that we’d be happy to go to every week, and others that hold a special place in our hearts (and tastebuds and tummies).

Gunther’s on Purvis Street is one of them for me. And for one dish in particular, and that’s chef Gunther Hubrechsen’s signature dish of cold angel hair pasta with oscietra caviar. It’s a dish that I have not tasted in maybe two years, yet the very mention of it puts a smile on my face.

And so we ended up at Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine last Saturday. I always wonder how accurate my memory of food is and thankfully Gunther’s lived up to all my great expectations.

Japanese tomato with Iberico ham

We were shown the tray of specials for the evening, full of wonderful produce like fresh sea urchin, Maine lobster, French artichokes, wild mushrooms, Grade 9 wagyu beef and Japanese tomatoes.

I had had Japanese tomatoes before, and was blown away by the sweetness and intense flavour of it.  Here it was served (we ordered it as an appetiser) with thinly sliced Iberico ham and a balsamic reduction, and the intense saltiness of the ham seemed to bring out the sweetness of the tomato even more.  Divine pairing.

Then came the angel hair pasta. I don’t even know how to give this dish justice. From the moment it is served to you, the smell of truffles fills your nose. the pasta is served delicately chilled, tossed with chives and truffle jus and with a generous dollop of oscietra caviar on top. Perfectly seasoned, the flavour that hits your palate when you take that first bite is almost indescribable – I wish I had taken a photo of my friends’ faces instead. And I think the firm texture of the oscietra caviar, making them burst like flavour bombs in your mouth, just add the final touch to a truly magical dish.

Baked egg with Iberico ham and mushrooms

We also had what I consider to be posh ham and eggs and mushrooms, but served this way, I would be happy to eat them for breakfast every day !

Roast black pig with compote of apple and crispy potatoes

For mains I ordered black pig with compote of apple and crispy potatoes. It would be so difficult to make such a thin cut of pork not be too dry, yet Gunther nailed it and the meat was roasted to tender and succulent perfection.

Fine apple tart a la dragées with Havana rum raisin ice-cream

I finished the meal with the signature fine apple tart a la dragées with Havana rum raisin ice-cream. Certainly not what I expected, this tart came out literally wafer thin and of wafer texture, so you get a crispy mouthful of sweet apples and nuts. Lovely and light, especially after all that rich food we had consumed. I was excited about tasting the Havana rum raisin ice-cream but I found the flavour sadly lacking the punchy taste of the rum.

Gunther’s is not the sort of place you would go to every week, but this visit will keep me smiling for a few years or at least till the next time we visit.

Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine
36 Purvis Street #01-03
Tel: (65) 6338 8955

Open from Monday to Saturday
Closed on Sunday
Noon – 2.30pm
6:30pm -10:30pm


Penang Road Cafe

Char kway teow 

My mum’s back  in Singapore, and even though she is stopping over to visit en route to Penang, she still nodded enthusiastically when I told her that I had read a review of Penang Road Cafe and would like check it out with her.  It seems that the fate of every person from Penang is the endless pursuit of authentic Penang fare, no matter where they are.

As you enter the cafe, you are enveloped by the smell of spices and wok hei. Wok hei, literally translated is “wok air” and it is the flavour, tastes and “essence” that you get from frying your food in a very hot wok.  It’s a term that is often used to describe dishes like fried flat rice noodles (char kway teow) and fried noodle enthusiasts often rank the dishes according to this, as it reflects on the expertise of the chef and also the authenticity of the food.

There is a very limited menu, which makes deciding very easy, and to me, makes me think that they specialise in a few dishes, and (hopefully) do them well. And they sure do, here.

Penang hokkien mee

As a starter we ordered loh bak – strips of pork, marinated in chinese five spices, mixed with onion and water chestnuts and then rolled in tofu skin and deep fried. I can only think of why I have no photo of this is because it was so delicious that I was too busy eating it ! Melt in your mouth crispy on the outside, juicy and sweet inside, all it was missing was the thick dipping sauce that I am used to it being served with. At Penang Road Cafe, they serve it with a simple chilli and ginger sauce, which adds a nice heat to the dish.

The char kway teow – a classic Penang dish of wok-fried thick flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, chives, egg and chinese sausage and cockles – came next. Definitely where the wok hei aroma came from, with the noodles charred and crispy edged and the overall dish permeated with a delicious smoky flavour.  We ordered the special, which came with more prawns and cockles and also crab meat.  Not sure if the addition of crab meat worked here – if it ain’t broke…This dish is one of the standards of which many people rate entire restaurants/cafes just because anyone can fry noodles, but only a few can do them like this, and do them well.

The third dish that we ordered was the Penang Hokkien mee – rice vermicelli and yellow noodles served in a rich pork and prawn broth. Again, this is one of those dishes that is very popular and quite difficult to find where the stock is not “boosted” with sugar and MSG, leaving you thirsty for hours after eating it.  The hokkien mee at Penang Road Cafe was great – you get a mouthful of broth that is both savoury and sweet from hours of slow cooking the pork bones and prawns.

We would be so happy to go back there again to work through the menu – only so that we can run out of dishes and start at the beginning again !

Penang Road Cafe
275 Thomson Road
#01-08, Novena Ville
Tel: 62563218, 97862079

11.30am to 2.30pm
5.45pm to 9.15pm
Closed Mondays


Raymond Blanc’s tomato essence risotto

Raymond Blanc’s tomato essence risotto

It’s been a little nuts in my household with visiting family and work taking up all my energy, so it’s wonderful to carve out a bit of my downtime to share some of my latest food adventures.

I want to start with a risotto transformed into something magical through the use of tomato essence as the base stock. This recipe comes from the awesome Raymond Blanc. I made a few adjustments/ommissions – not because I want to mess with the genius of this recipe, but simply because of what I had in my pantry/fridge.

The Raymond Blanc recipe is here. He has some good tips, and I’ve repeated the ones which I thought were most useful in my adaptation below. It takes some preparation time just because you need to extract the essence from the tomatoes before you can begin, so plan ahead. It’s worth it !

Ingredients (to serve two as a main or four as a starter)

For the essence:

  1. 1.25kg tomatoes – it’s vital that you use tomatoes that have tons of flavour.  Poor quality tomatoes will give you a tasteless essence.  I used baby roma tomatoes
  2. 1/2 onion, peeled and chopped
  3. 1/2 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
  4. handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
  5. good pinch of sea salt
  6. pinch sugar (optional)

For the risotto:

  1. ½  onion finely chopped
  2. 1 clove garlic, crushed
  3. 30ml olive oil
  4. 200g risotto rice
  5. 7 pinches sea salt
  6. 2 pinches white pepper
  7. 300ml hot water
  8. 300ml tomato essence (recipe above)

To finish the risotto:

  1. 1 tsp butter, unsalted
  2. 40g peas, shelled
  3. 40g broad beans
  4. 40g baby carrots, washed and sliced
  5. 20g Parmesan, finely grated
  6. 4-6 cherry tomatoes, roasted
  7. sprigs of baby herbs to garnish

Method

Making the tomato essence:

  1. In a food processor, blitz all the ingredients together 3 times for 2 seconds each, using the pulse button. Don’t over blitz the tomatoes to a purée, as it will break down the tomato skin and give a completely different, coarser flavour. The colour will also be red, whilst we are looking for a pale gold colour, which is the heart of the tomato
  2. Allow to marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 3 hours
  3. Hang in a double folded muslin cloth to collect the liquid (I put the muslin over a strainer over a bowl), pop in the fridge and let gravity do its job for at least a few hours.  Reserve
  4. The pulp can be used to make a soup or sauce for pasta or chicken or could also be used to add into the risotto in place of the extra vegetables

Cooking the risotto

  1. Bring the water to the boil
  2. Soften the onion and garlic in the olive oil on a low heat until softened
  3. Stir in the rice and continue to cook on medium heat for 2 minutes until the grains of rice appear translucent
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Add the hot water, lower heat and and stir until it has all been absorbed
  6. Repeat step 5 with the essence, cover and simmer for 20 minutes to cook *** this recipe does not call for the traditional method of cooking risotto where you need to continually add stock and stir
  7. After 20 minutes add the butter and the peas, beans and carrots, and cook for a further 5 minutes stirring continually – this will help to encourage the natural starch in the rice to give the dish that wonderfully creamy texture
  8. Taste for seasoning
  9. Serve, topped with freshly grated parmesan, roasted tomatoes and herbs