Category Archives: Mediterranean

Salt Tapas & Bar

Dukkah crusted Tasmanian trout with Israeli couscous in a cucumber, tomato and dill broth

Salt Tapas & Bar at Raffles City is a place to sit back and relax and enjoy lots of little (or larger) plates of tapas with a modern Australian influence. They have a lunch menu on weekdays – where you have a selection of entrees, larger plates and sides.

I started with slow-cooked octopus with celeriac, apple, saffron rouille and dried black olive. The octopus was sweet and tender with no hint of toughness that can sometimes come with octopus (I watched a Greek cooking show where they tenderise the octopus first by bashing it repeatedly on a rock until its “soapiness” is released on the rock. Apparently in commercial kitchens they do this in a cement mixer !). The celeriac and apple were finely julienned and provided a crisp freshness to the rich saffron rouille.

Slow-cooked octopus with celeriac, apple, saffron rouille and dried black olive

For my main I had dukkah crusted Tasmanian trout, Israeli couscous, cucumber, tomato and dill broth. This is the first time I’ve had Israeli couscous and it’s delicious. It has a very satisfying springy, chewy texture that I equated to the tapioca balls in the Taiwanese “bubble teas”.

The trout was perfectly cooked so it was still pink in the centre and that broth it came swimming in – absolutely divine. It really brought that entire dish together with the acidity from the tomatoes and was so fragrant from the dill. And the dukkah crust on the trout gave the dish a lovely nutty flavour and texture.

You can also order a la carte during lunch but I was in a “can’t decide” mood and the only thing I ordered off the lunch menu was a side order of Jamon Iberico. Not because I felt I needed it because the portion sizes are pretty generous here. Just because I could.

Salt Tapas and Bar
#01-22A, Raffles City Shopping Centre
No 252, North Bridge Road

Tel: +65 6837 0995

Advertisements

Quinoea Salad

Quick, healthy and delicious – who could ask for anything more in just one dish ?

Packed with lean protein, you can whip this up for a simple lunch that will keep you satisfied till dinner-time.

Ingredients makes 2 lunchtime servings

  1. 1/2 cup quinoea
  2. 1 cup hot chicken broth
  3. handful coriander
  4. handful flat leaf parsley
  5. cherry tomatoes, quartered
  6. 1/2 small red onion, diced
  7. 1/2 cucumber, sliced
  8. few cubes feta cheese – I used Danish but any feta would do
  9. juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
  10. few tbls good olive oil
  11. few tsp red wine vinegar
  12. salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Bring the chicken broth to boil, add quinoea, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the germ of the quinoea appears
  2. Strain any excess liquid if there is any, fluff up the quinoea in the pot and let cool till warm (just so that it won’t cook the herbs)
  3. Add the vegetables and herbs
  4. Mix the lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper together – adjust to taste
  5. Dress the quinoea salad and you’re ready to eat !

Fettuccine Carbonara

We are in the middle of sorting out the 1000+ photos we took during our trip to the UK and Spain and all the gorgeous food we ate, so in the meantime, I’ve been on a cooking binge, and used my handmade egg pasta to make all sorts of simple pasta meals, like simply stirring through some pesto.

Apart from many fond memories and photos, we brought back with us about 3kg of sliced Jamon Iberico Bellota, the best ham in the world – aged five years. The store we bought from also sold diced off-cuts in vacuum packed bags which we bought a few for just this sort of dish. How to make a simple fettucine carbonara simply decadent.

Ingredients

  1. pasta – use whatever you have – dried or fresh
  2. 1 egg per serve, beaten
  3. 1 – 2 rashers of bacon, sliced per serve (0r 50g diced Jamon Iberico Bellota !)

Method

  1. Cook pasta till a little under al dente – it will cook more in the pan – drain and set aside and keep about 1/4 cup of the starchy water
  2. While the pasta is cooking, fry your bacon/jamon until crispy and the fat has rendered
  3. Turn off the heat and remove your pan from the stove – you want your pan to calm down from “screaming hot” or you’ll just end up scrambling the eggs instead of turning them into a sauce
  4. Add the drained pasta and a few tablespoons of the starchy water and mix
  5. Then add your beaten eggs to the pan and gently coat the pasta and ham
  6. Add a few more tablespoons of the starchy water so you have a silky sauce – the pasta continues to absorb liquid so before it leaves the pan it should almost be too liquidy or you’ll end up with sticky lumps of pasta by the time you want to serve/eat
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste – remember to taste as the ham/bacon will already add salt to the dish
  8. Serve immediately

Catalunya

Jamón ibérico “Gran Reserva” served with crusty bread topped with crushed tomatoes and olive oil

I’ve been waiting with much anticipation for Catalunya to open. Excited about the prospect of enjoying dishes created by a crack team with executive chef Alain Devahive Tolosa – who has worked in the wonderfully creative El Bulli – and eating them in the incredible floating restaurant in One Fullerton, was a way of us to experience a bit of El Bulli, especially since we were unable to visit before it closed.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What you get, is a very simple, traditional Spanish menu, including snacks, cold and hot tapas, meat and seafood.

Realising that we were about to do our usual and order everything off the menu (our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs), we agreed that in order to enjoy the food, we would stick to either tapas or mains. Tapas won the toss.

We started with Jamón ibérico “Gran Reserva” – cured Iberian ham, along with the recommended bread with tomato and olive oil. The ham was delicious (it always is!), beautifully paired with the crusty bread with a refreshing topping of crushed tomatoes and olive oil.

Tomato salad with tuna belly and basil

Second to the table was a tomato salad with tuna belly and basil. Perhaps my love of Japanese food influenced my order here – I read “tuna belly” and thought “toro” sashimi – with its delicate fresh flavour of the sea. What was served was cooked tuna belly, which, with toro on my mind, made me think of tinned tuna. What a waste of such a prized piece of fish to cook it completely through. The wonderful creaminess of the tuna belly was completely lost and what we got was flakes of cooked tuna in a tomato salad. Even the sweetness of the tomato salad couldn’t redeem this dish for me.

We then were served calamari, andalucian style, served with mayonnaise. Sadly, this dish was also a disappointment. The batter was light, but greasy and also lacking in seasoning, so it ended up tasting very bland, even with the mayonnaise.

Suckling pig with lemon purée

Redemption came in the form of roasted sucking pig with lemon purée. Suckling pig is obviously a Spanish speciality, and  the chefs at Catalunya executed this perfectly. Roasting slowly for over 12 hours means tender and juicy meat, with perfectly crisp skin. Suckling pig is a very rich dish, and the lemon puree adds fresh dimension that brings this dish alive in your mouth as well as balancing the richness. Our waiter explained that the puree was potato based, and the flavour of the lemon came from the white pith. There was such a zingy lemon flavour that I would have thought it was from lemon oil or the rind and there was absolutely no bitterness that I associate with the pith. Gorgeous dish.

Estrallados – eggs with fries and chorizo iberico

The last savoury dish we ordered was estrallados, eggs with fries and chorizo iberico. This was served to us exactly as it was described – scrambled eggs with fried slices of potato, topped with thin slices of chorizo. This was tasty, although I felt like I should have had that for breakfast, or at least while the sun was still out.

Torrija – fried milk bread with spices with smoked milk ice-cream

The final dish was a great way to finish the evening – torrija – fried milk bread with spices with smoked milk ice-cream. It seemed really odd on paper, it was really odd in real life, but my goodness, how that oddness worked ! I tried the smoked milk ice-cream first – an explosion of smokiness in a mouthful of cold milky ice-cream. And then the fried milk bread – dense and chewy and intensely sweet, the two apart were almost too much for my senses, together, perfectly balanced.

The restaurant is stunning from the outside – a floating dome of glass floating on top of the waters at Marina Bay, and from the inside it is luxurious and comfortable, with an equally stunning panoramic view of Marina Bay Sands across the water. Attentive and competent staff round out the experience of dining at this chic restaurant. Dress to impress !

Catalunya
The Fullerton Pavilion
82 Collyer Quay
Singapore
Tel: 6534 0886

Open daily: 12 noon to 2am


Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

the view from Blu’s cocktail bar

Spoil yourself one day and make that trip to the Maldives. And if you want somewhere to stay where all the staff – from manager to bell boy – ove working there (happy staff = happy place), and where every detail is covered, stay at the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. I simply cannot recommend this place highly enough.

Next couple of posts are of a few of the restaurants we ate at while we were there and our favourite was the aptly named Blu, an Italian restaurant, which has a sand bar and where we watched many sunsets while having pre-dinner drinks.

The cocktails are strong and it’s pretty magical being able to enjoy them that stunning backdrop.

Spiced nuts, olives, pickles, onions and breadsticks with rucola dip

Every night we were served some nibbles with our cocktails, with a wonderful rucola dip for the bread sticks. A simple blend of rocket leaves, cream and a dash of mayonnaise. It may sound odd, but try it, the pepperiness of the rocket is mellowed by the cream but it still gives a refreshing zing to the dip.

Stay tuned for more feasting in paradise 🙂


Santi

Perfectly coddled egg with black truffles in a rich pea soup

This amazing restaurant is sadly closed – I’m still puzzled at why Marina Bay Sands closed it, but there you go. So although we will not be able to go back to Santi, I did want to record down the incredible meal we had there so that I am able to remind myself why we will be visiting the family’s original restaurant Can Fabes in Catalonia later this year when we head to Spain.

We ordered the tasting menu that started with bowls of gazpacho with flecks of uni – sea urchin roe – that was an explosion of the taste of tomatoes and the sea. Who would have thought they would go together but the silkily smooth gazpacho exactly matched the texture of the uni and rather than the two flavours battling to overpower each other, they simply complemented each other and seemed to bring out the flavour of the other even more.

Bluefin tuna with avocado, green apple sticks and foam and balsamic reduction

Next up was delicate Bluefin tuna (that the waiter advised was farmed) with cubes of avocado, green apple sticks and foam and balsamic reduction. Again, flavours that I would never dream of pairing together but worked in perfect harmony on the plate.

Next up was a vibrant green pea soup that had been ladled over a perfectly poached egg and topped with black truffles. We ordered an additional plate of jamón ibérico de Bellota  – the best Iberican ham made on the planet – and ate our own fancy version of ham and eggs and mushrooms. Again, food that is so beautifully presented that you begin to eat it with your eyes before the payoff of taste.

Foie gras and lobster with poached nectarine and balsamic reduction

Foie gras and lobster in a balsamic reduction and poached nectarines was served next. All bold flavours that again managed to complement rather than compete on the plate and in your mouth.

Signature suckling pig with celeriac confit on baby turnips and grilled mushrooms

Santi’s signature suckling pig with celeriac confit on baby turnips and grilled mushrooms came next. This was the one dish that I was gagging all evening to try and it did not disappoint. Meltingly tender meat encased in thin crispy skin – absolute perfection. And a perfectly sized portion so that juuust as you were about to think it was too rich, you’d just had your last mouthful.

Green apple salvation refresher

And a perfect time to serve their green apple salvation refresher. Perfect name to describe this dish – even the palate cleanser was a standout.

Dessert of strawberries and blood oranges

We had a choice of desserts and I chose the strawberries with blood orange. This came topped with a quenelle of the green apple ice-cream, a wafer thin slice of dehydrated apple and basil. A wonderfully light end to a spectacular meal.

Santi was a genius. And we’re grateful that the legacy of this great late chef remains – if not at Marina Bay Sands any more, then at least back in Spain. And one restaurant where we will be definitely be dining at in October this year.


Artichoke Cafe and Bar

Pan-fried hamoumi with mushrooms and avocado on toast

Tucked away behind Sculpture Square on Middle Road lies a quaint courtyard where Artichoke starts. On a Sunday morning, the small cafe was busy and bustling with groups of friends catching up over cups of coffee and brunch.

The menu is Middle Eastern inspired, and I ordered the haloumi with mushrooms and avocado on toast, and the toasted sourdough was barely visible under a mountain of rocket, shitake mushrooms and pan-fried hamouli. I do have a bit of an issue with shitake mushrooms in non-Asian cuisine, preferring plain old button mushroom with my toast – I think shitake have a slippery texture that I’m unused to, at least for breakfast. I ordered a side of scrambled eggs which was equally enormous, and cooked absolutely perfectly, creamy and just cooked through so their still wobbly, again, reminding me a lot of Bill Granger’s famous scrambled eggs.

I think the service lets this charming cafe down – there’s plenty of staff, they just didn’t seem to be well connected to the kitchen. One order, and three different waiters came to tell us at different times that the sausages, apple juice and fries were not available that morning.

Given that Artichoke is a stone’s throw away from my home, I think that it could be a regular weekend breakfast/brunch destination. The only problem is it’s popularity. Walk-in diners on that Sunday morning were basically turned away as the place was fully booked. So plan ahead and book if you want a seat. I’ve heard the dinner menu is pretty awesome as well.

Artichoke Cafe and Bar
161 Middle Road
Inside Sculpture Square (beside NAFA)
Tel: 6336 6949

Open:
Brunch: Sat & Sun 11.30am – 4.00pm (last orders at 2.45)
Dinner: Tues – Sat 6.30pm – 11.00pm (last orders at 9.45pm)
Closed Mondays


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 !


Terrific Tapas in Tanglin

Calamares – lightly floured and deep fried squid rings

Well, it’s not officially in Tanglin, but Orchard Road didn’t sound as good 🙂

Good tapas seems to be very hit and miss.  Which surprises me because the preparation of the dishes is relatively simple – tapas relies on good produce to speak for itself.  The few places we’ve tried in Singapore are more for convenience – like Que Pasa, because it’s a lovely place to have a bottle of wine rather than because of the food (although the food there is certainly passable).

Marinated mixed olives

Trying to find a restaurant that was open on the second day of Chinese New Year seemed to be a problem, and we were thrilled that Bodega Y Tapas on Orchard Road was a) open and b) had space for us.  It was busy when we got there, which it always seems to be when I pass it, and we were quickly ushered to our lounge chairs to have our dinner indoors.  The space indoors doesn’t allow for larger groups but it’s a nice intimate area to have dinner for two or maybe three people.

The tapas menu is extensive, which made choosing difficult, but one of the benefits of tapas is that you can sample lots of little dishes.

A generous bowl of marinaded mixed olives started the meal, which worked wonderfully with the sangria that I ordered.

jamon iberico de bellota

Then came 80g of jamon iberico de bellota – ham made from free-range pigs fed exclusively on black acorns and aged for 36 months.  I love that it was hand-carved from the actual leg of the ham – it adds a certain rustic feel to the ham and I swear it makes it taste better than the machine-sliced iberico ham that you get in the hotel buffets.  Although, to be fair, serve it to me any way and I love this stuff.  It’s the sort of ham that you chew and chew and almost don’t want to swallow so that you can savour the intense flavour of the ham (including the fat) in your mouth.  I recall a very good tip from Chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club, which was the longer you chewed jamon Iberico, the better the flavour, as it “excites” all the different taste bud sensations on your tongue.

Cold cut meat platter

We also ordered a platter of cold cuts – the waitress was a bit vague on exactly what was on the plate but we had two types of pork sausage (one with and the other without chilli), air-dried beef (sort of like bresaola but with a more jerky appearance, served with a drizzle of olive oil and slivered almonds) and a dried sliced pork loin.  Also on this dish were baguette slices that had a dollop of delicious finely chopped tomato salsa that you could almost serve as gazpacho.  It was light and refreshing and absolutely worked with the cured meat.

Lightly floured and deep fried anchoview

For warm food we had chorizo – simply fried, and calamari and anchovies, both lightly floured and deep fried, which, for me, were the winners of the evening.  The calamari was soft and tender – not overcooked or tough, and served with a garlic mayonnaise – quite standard, but probably the best I’ve had in a while, and the anchovies just needed a squeeze of lemon juice over them to be eaten whole.  Again, I love anchovies, and these reminded me of the fantastic ones we had at Valentinos.

All in all, this is a brilliant find for D and I and if our dinner last night was anything to judge the rest of the food there by, I know we’ll be back again to work our way through that menu.

Bodega Y Tapas
Orchard Hotel
442 Orchard Road
Tel: 6735 3476


Dolmades

Dolmades with tzatziki

After a week of eating out with my parents while they’ve been visiting, I felt like I needed to a) eat something home-cooked and b) spend some time fiddling around in the kitchen.  The answer: make dolmades.

Healthy and time consuming, it’s the perfect panacea for me, and adding that my office is closed between Christmas and New Year, meant that I had all the necessary ingredients to make them – food as well as time.

Dolmades – Greek stuffed vine leaves are delicious and adaptable to what you feel like on the day.  Tonight I felt like pork in the stuffing.  You can substitute that for any other kind of meat (it’s traditionally made with beef or lamb mince) or take it vegetarian and leave the meat out altogether.  Serve with a good dollop (or bowl!) of tangy tzatziki.

Ingredients (to make around a dozen average sized dolmades)

  • 1/2 cup of uncooked shortgrain rice – you can use white or brown (I used brown tonight)
  • 1 cup water for white rice, 1 1/2 cups water for brown rice
  • Handful pinenuts
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 150g pork mince (or more if you prefer a meatier version.  Leave out for a vegetarian option)
  • Handful dill
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vine leaves x 12 plus a few extra to line the bottom of the saucepan
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Tzatziki to serve (recipe below)

Method (for stuffing):

  1. Cook the rice by simmering the rice in the water for 10-15 mins for white rice, 40 mins for brown rice
  2. Toast the pinenuts in a frying pan.  Set aside
  3. Brown mince.  Set aside
  4. Gently sweat the onions
  5. Add the browned mince, rice, pinenuts and dill and season lightly

Method (for wrapping):

  1. Line a heavy-based saucepan with a few vine leaves
  2. Take a vine leaf and place on a large plate with the raised veins of the leaf underneath and the stalk away from you.
  3. Place a spoonful of the stuffing in the middle across the leaf
  4. Fold the bottom part of the leaf up first, then roll, wrapping the parcel with the left and right sides of the leaf, until you have a little parcel
  5. Place on top of the vine leaves in the saucepan.
  6. Continue to pack them snugly in the base of the saucepan as you make them
  7. Once you have wrapped them all, pour over the olive oil and lemon juice – you can also add some of the brine from the jar of vine leaves (which will add salt, hence seasoning the stuffing lightly)
  8. Weigh down with a plate
  9. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for an hour
  10. Once the hour is up, turn off the heat and let them cool in the saucepan with the lid on
  11. Store in the fridge with a generous drizzle of olive oil

Tzatziki – mix in a large bowl:

  1. 1 x 500g tub natural yoghurt – look for the ones which are naturally set in the tub as they are thicker – strain out excess liquid
  2. 3 medium lebanese cucumbers (or equivalent), skin and seeds removed and then grated – sprinkle salt over to draw excess liquid out and then squeeze the grated cucumber to get rid of as much liquid as possible
  3. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  4. Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
  5. 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  6. 2 – 4 tbs finely chopped mint or dill
  7. Salt and pepper to taste
  8. Cover and let sit in the fridge for a few hours for the flavours to develop