Friday, October 24, 2008

Singapore - Gunther's

The concept at Gunther's is simple - great produce, cooked simply but in the best ways possible to bring out the natural flavours and to blend them with sauces/condiments which enhance or bring tastes to whole new levels. Everything tastes like it should but just that much better!

Although the menu is going through a seasonal change and some of their signature items were not available, what was presented made up for the slight disappointment. Service was also impeccable, attentive but not overbearing.

J's carte blanche consisted of a first course of the cold angel hair pasta with Oscietra caviar. Tossed with chopped chives, garlic and truffle, and decadently topped with the caviar, the burst of flavours would wake any sleeping appetite.

Her second course of the pan fried foie gras with a sweet preserved apricot was excellent and it had to be the the best I've had in a long while. The foie gras was crisp on the sides but juicy in the middle and topped with toasted finely chopped nuts. Definitely made up for the missing home-made torchon of foie gras, which is a signature.

For her main course, she had the grilled half smoked Anjou pigeon, fragrant of Maghreb. With a fear that the meat would be tough while trying to saw off a bit for me to taste, we were pleasantly surprised that the meat was succulent and tender to the bite.

My own lunch creation of my French must have of the oven-baked onion soup with Leffe beer and puff pastry was made from an excellent beefy broth naturally sweetened by the beer, and the puff pastry was so good I was peeling off the soft bits stuck to the bowl. My main course of braised rabbit with prunes, brown beer and Valrhona chocolate brought raised eyebrows from our friendly server - apparently women rarely order it since they may find it gamey, but if it is the restaurant it is acclaimed to be, I said it wouldn't be. He was pleased and so was I when it finally arrived and I tucked into it. The chocolate did well to blend itself into the dish and not overwhelm. The rabbit was also tender and fell off the bones easily. The prunes were a good touch and stopped it from being too heavy on the tum-tum.

Although stuffed, we were determined to have dessert and shared our server's recommendation of the fine apple tart a la dragees, with Havana rum raisin ice cream. Oh my, this has to be now the best I've had to date. The thin and crisp pastry filled with perfectly cooked apple bits and baked with crushed almonds and icing sugar oozed the kind of warmth from inside you get from sitting with a loved one in a ski lodge by the fire place with it snowing outside.. you get the picture..

Back to reality, Gunther's was still a great place to spend a rainy afternoon in hot and humid Singapore. Perhaps I might try it on a hot and sticky night next time for dinner.

36 Purvis Street
6338 8955

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hong Kong - Simply Thai

For some strange reason, having been in Hong Kong for so long, I rarely get up to the Food Forum on the top of Times Square. My experiences there have not been bad but they have never been Wow! either. This time, in a quest for something different, we head there for a little bit of Thai, beyond our usual authentic Thai hangout the other side of Causeway Bay coincidentally called Thai Simple Kitchen. The 2 are not related.
Simply Thai on the 11th floor of Times Square was a pleasant surprise. A comfortable restaurant to dine at, the food was also very decent.

Having read about their famous "son-in-law egg" I was disappointed to find out that they don't do it anymore. Oh well, plan B, which was the following:

1. Pomelo salad with shrimp (pictured) - very piquant and refreshing from the combination of fish sauce and lime and packed a punch by HK standards

2. Sharks' fin and crab meat soup double boiled in a young coconut husk - naturally sweet from the ingredients, it needed little seasoning to bring out the flavours.

3. a grilled whole fish in banana leaf was good but a tad overcooked. It was a little big for 2 and would be more appropriate for a party of 4. The accompanying dipping sauce of spicy chopped Thai green chillis added an extra kick.

4. the fried rice with basil and minced pork topped with a sunny side egg is the best I've had in a long while.
Although known for desserts eg. the rum raisin souffle, we were just too full. Will need to try that on the next visit to round off an unfinished but otherwise great meal!

Shop 1104, 11/FL Food Forum
Times Square, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
(852) 2506 1212

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hong Kong - Yun Fu

It is true that if you expect a lot in life, love (and food is a love!), you are more likely to be disappointed. The anticipation of something, eg. through reading too much of it, creates a crescendo which may cause an anti-climax.

Yun Fu (or Cloud Mansion for those who recognise its Chinese characters) was almost an anti-climax since I thought the reviews I came across might have caused an unnecessary buzz in me and my dining companion J. Of course, the lawyer in me had already placed many disclaimers along the way.

As with most reviews you will read about Yun Fu, it is the decor and the anticipation of walking down flights of steps decked with asian statues into a basement lined with Chinese inn rooms from the "martial kingdom" days, which is innovative in its concept. We walk past the rooms into an open dining area and are led to a table reminiscent of those you might see in a chinese kung fu movie. The innovation is definitely consistent with the Aqua group of restaurants.

J kindly let me order the reviewed specials:

1. we start with the marinated lamb rack roasted with assorted herbs and tea leaves.
- the lamb was nicely pink although the meat was a tad on the chewy side and did not come off the ribs as easy as I would have liked. Because of the cuisine (which is largely Tibetan in influence) it was not strongly marinated and was natural in its flavours so if you are not a lamb fan, this dish is not for you. I am ok with lamb but did find the dish a little on the bland side.

2. the winner for both J and I was the Mandarin fish fillet wrapped in golden salty egg yolk. Deep fried to a golden yellow and served with both the head and tail in tact, and laid out fish bone style, the fillets were fluffy on the inside, and crispy and fragrant from the generous salted egg yolk on the outside. A must-try if you love salted egg yolks as we do!

3. Our fibre dish was indeed fibrous. In fact, a little too much that biting through the aged "heen choy" was too much of a challenge that I gave up. After all, I do have a visit to the dentist soon and the less repair he has to do, the better!

4. Our dim sum of minced pork dumplings with chilli sauce and spring onions were nicely done with the "skin" al dente. The insert of minced pork was ordinary though..

While decent in its offering, Yun Fu was a tad expensive for the quality of food on offer. Good place if you are taking adventurous foreigners for a visit, and if you really have a craving for minority cuisine.

Basement, 43-55 Wyndham Street
Central, Hong Kong
(852) 2116 8855

Hong Kong - ye shanghai

Shanghainese food is not one of those cuisines which attains international appeal easily.. I remember one of my worst (but funny) experiences with Shanghai cuisine was not with the food per se. Whilst trying to impress my CEO from the US back in 2006, I thought that Shanghainese food was in keeping with the company's aggressive growth strategy into China. What followed was an unfortunate comedy of errors.. as my CEO rattled off a string of items he disliked, what I ordered arrived and like clockwork, they were vinegar, sugar and sesame seeds. If anyone knows Shanghainese food, you can pretty much figure out how low I sunk into my chair by the middle of the meal but thankfully, he was game enough and the food was good enough to change his perception.. I got to keep my job of course..

Enough said, I actually like Shanghainese food for the precise things he dislikes although I prefer a chef with a lighter hand since it can get too oily for me. In Hong Kong, and especially in a restaurant like ye shanghai, you can get "internationalised" Shanghai food. And so, even though it has been open for a while, it merits a spot on the blog after my recent visit after a break of about 18 months.

One of the best places to have this appetiser especially if alcohol is being served, be it a cold beer or a nice burgundy... Crispy eel, Wuxi style is little eels deep fried to an absolute crisp and tossed in a sticky sauce of sugar, vinegar and soya sauce, topped with julienned preserved ginger slivers. Great way to wake up the appetite.
In keeping with the Hairy Crab season, we select an old favourite of baked sesame pockets but a stuffing of pure sauteed hairy crab meat and roe with bean sprouts and mushrooms. Perfect crab freshness with some crunch made for an excellent Shanghainese taco and drizzled with quality Zhejiang black vinegar, that much better!

And then, one of the long time favourites at ye shanghai, the roe crab stir fried with hairy beans (from edamame) and Shanghainese rice cakes. This is one of those addictive dishes where you try to lick every morsel because of the tastiness of the sauce and of course, we chose a roe crab instead of a hairy one, because we love the contrast of the fresh meat from the roe crab with the sauce. If you didn't have enough "meat" you might feel a little too sauced out because it is pretty hearty.

While ye shanghai may not be be quintessentially Shanghainese, it is in my opinion, an excellent way to enjoy the cuisine's favourites but not feel like a sinking grease bag afterwards...

Level 3, Pacific Place
88 Queensway
Admiralty, Hong Kong

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hong Kong - Zuma

I have finally completed my trio of concept Japanese restaurants with a visit to Zuma's .. and my verdict is as follows:

For Food (which is most important to me), the ratings are...

1. Megu (see my post in March 2008)
2. Nobu (July 2008)
3. Zuma

But if you want to wow someone with the concept, decor and place, Zuma is it. Trendily situated at the Landmark in Central, it is a 2 storey destination with the lounge seated on top of a sprawling open kitchen restaurant (but without the stick-on-your-clothes smells). The 2 are joined by a very cool spiral staircase. Decor is of course as trendy as you can get and with lounge music playing at just under lounge volumes. Spiffy waitstaff are friendly, well trained and well, spiffy!

The food in our opinion, was pretty good but unfortunately, just not as good as the other 2 I listed. And in general, a tad on the salty side but we thought this might be catering to a more non-Asian palate who like their food a little more salty.

The star of the night was the Grilled ox-tongue with white miso, which was tender with a slightly sweet aftertaste from the miso. Accompanied by a pleasant honeyed wholegrain mustard and cut into cubes, it was easy to eat.

The baby squids deep fried with a light batter and dusted with salt, pepper and fresh cut rings of green chillies, were also well done, although it gets uncomfortably spicy after a few.

The grilled lamb chops were also superbly done with a pink centre and served with pickled garlic and carrots.

Although Japanese in concept, the sushi rolls were nothing spectacular - the salmon skin rolls were a tad too salty and the chu toro rolls were flat, with the seaweed wrap flacid. Tasty enough and if you need your carbs. Our other order of soba in hot broth, with a quail egg, was ordinary.

If the ending is a happy one, everything else can be overlooked. So dessert did not fail - the lemon and coffee crumble served with Hokkaido milk ice cream is as good as it sounds, and is perfect, if you don't like your desserts too sweet. And for me , a not-too-sweet ending is a happier one...

Next time you want to eat, drink and be seen in Hong Kong, Zuma isn't a bad choice.

Level 5 and 6, The Landmark
Central, Hong Kong
(852) 3657 6388

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Singapore - Forlino

Ask anyone today and they have to agree that Facebook is one of the biggest time-wasters on earth. However, in times where I find an old friend and through that time-wasting tool, organise a lunch after what has got to be close to a decade, I marvel at the wonder of the tool.. and since, very coincidentally, R loves his food too, we both decide to try the newest Italian icon in town - Forlino's at One Fullerton on Collyer Quay. The restaurant certainly lived up to the occasion and provided a close to perfect meal.

A table by the floor to ceiling window overlooking that merlion "doing its thing" and the marina bayfront, added to the atmosphere, and R and I agreed that dinner by the same window would be spectacular and very helpful if you needed a huge favour from our respective partners! Service was also impeccable since a stool for my handbag was brought without me asking... very rare in Singapore and impressive.
We decided to go "light" and share some of our courses, while having our own mains.

1. the amuse bouche of creamy soft polenta, topped with melted gruyere and topped with a summer truffle was delicate in texture and taste. Heavenly combination, especially with the freshly baked bread, by Chef Osvaldo's wife. Mmmmm.....

2. the appetiser of an excellent cut of Culatello ham, with sliced peaches and spicy fruit preserve were a nice combination of fresh natural sweetness from the fruit and a subtly fragrant saltiness from the ham.

3. Mains - My traditional Piemonte veal ravioli with truffle was excellent and in my opinion, the deal sealer for me. The al dente raviolis were each individually, painstakingly stuffed with shredded veal which was full of the hearty rich goodness of veal, unlike other veal raviolis where the veal is pulverised to an unrecognisable pulp and taste. I could eat this dish all day, and even though the portion was not modest, I lapped it all up.

4. R's mains of Risotto carnaroli with saffron and bone marrow, was most pretty in its presentation, and when he kindly offered me a spoonful to taste, it matched its good looks. The richness of the marrow was perfectly accompanied by the saffron-dyed arborio, where each mouthful was to be savoured and not swallowed too quickly.

5. Dessert was probably the only thing which was fairly ordinary but it was really our second choice since our first choice of golden apple strudel with Barolo Chinato ice cream would take a whole 20 minutes to make and I had only 10 minutes to order, down dessert and rush for a 4pm flight. So we settled for the summer berries with honey ice cream and crispy pancake. Don't get me wrong, it was not bad at all - the tart summer berries cooked in its own juices with sugar, was tart but nicely so, and made for an exciting contrast to the sweet honey ice cream and thin eggy biscuit of a pancake.

With the above, I hereby declare Forlino's to be the best Italian restaurant in Singapore as at the date of this post, if not, as good as its sister Garibaldi's on Purvis Street!

1 Fullerton Road
#02-06 One Fullerton
6536 9965

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Singapore - Kuriya @ Raffles City

Ladies who lunch know how to live life.. taking time out of a work day to tuck into something meaningful and delicious is a definite "pick me up" .. you don't need caffeine/sugar necessarily although those help. Last week I "lunched" quite a bit.

Kuriya at the Basement 1 of Raffles City was one of the spots I hit and while I've had lunch there many times before, it was "ok". But this time, I had a very pleasant surprise, perhaps made that much better by my new found foodie lunch companion - J.

The captain recommended the Sanma (Pacific Saury) while walking me to my table, and I gladly took her suggestion since it is one of my favourite fishies! J in turn took my suggestion of having the fish done 2 ways - one half sashimied, and one half grilled. The fish was very very fresh, and so sashimi worked out well. The grilled half was perfectly done with the belly portion still soft and runny on the inside, so that the flesh of the fish was cottony soft.

The other highlight was the soba (made in house - a Kuriya specialty) served chilled with generous slices of duck breast, and a soft runny egg. Mixed into the soba soya sauce and thinly sliced spring onions, a perfect burst of flavours.

Going back to work wasn't so difficult either since lunch was pretty healthy and light, but hearty enough to see me through a workout later that afternoon. Now that's a great ladies' lunch!

252, North Bridge Road
Raffles City Shopping Centre, #B1-06/07
6883 2020

Monday, October 6, 2008

Singapore - Ming Kee Live Seafood

Having been introduced to "Crab Bee Hoon" not too long ago, with my first venture into the heartland of Toa Payoh to sample the signature dish of Mellben (see previous post) last month, I was now eager to build on that foundation to try more crab bee hoon variations and find a victor among the warriors... this quest has now brought me to No. 556 MacPherson Road - who would have thought...

And the standings are now Ming Kee: 1; Mellben: 0. Ming Kee wins with the crab offering which was sweet, juicy and meaty. And very very fresh too - the meat literally fell off the shell without effort. Instead of a soup base, the bee hoon was stir fried in the crab's juices and roe. Alas, while the crab was huge and plenty for 3, there was barely enough beehoon to go round and of course, Grandma gets an extra helping just by virtue of her status.

Aside from the Crab bee hoon, the other dishes were more than competent. The steamed parrot fish was just nice although I had to kick up a fuss before the wait staff agreed to remove the burner it was served on. My instincts were right since any moment longer and the fish would have been overcooked till kingdom came.. but fortunately, we saved it from being so and it was cooked just right and the simple soya sauce was fragrant enough mixed with a little oil and lots of julienned spring onions. My only other complaint was that the fish was served shortly after the crab arrived and since we took a long time to devour the crab, the fish was cold by the time we got to it, especially since we were right in the firing line of the air-conditioning vent.

The other winner was the homemade tofu served simply with broccoli and mushrooms so that the focus was on the smooth and fragrant egginess of the tofu. Very good.

Dessert was "Or-ni" or translated - yam mud. Yes, it tastes better than it sounds, and topped with steamed gingko nuts and pumpkin wedges, was very creamy. Our table's complaint: the lacing of coconut cream did nothing except to detract from the fragrance of the yam and made it richer than it needed to be.

The experience at Ming Kee was awesome and our only regret is not having enough people to order more dishes. But with that in mind, my strategy for the next visit is simple, as you will see. I can only hope it is not too far away.

556 MacPherson Road
6747 4075

Friday, October 3, 2008

Singapore - Kaiho Sushi

In our quest to conquer Little Japan down at Cuppage Plaza, we decided to venture without reservations into Kaiho Sushi on Level 3, which we hadn't tried previously. With no reviews or recommendations to go on, we bravely took a counter seat (ok, there were no other seats available).

Bernard Tang, the sushi chef helming the place, welcomed us and got us drinks. My companion got a sake which was light and sweet but looked like water which rice was washed in and left for a few days - voila! Sake is born! But seriously, it was very pleasant though not for the serious sake drinker.

It being a Thursday night, many things we ordered were unavailable eg. the geoduck, fugu (puffer fish), Asari clams, etc. We therefore ended up with the following:

For starters, slivers of Aji with natto - not my favourite, it was a little too salty for me. The Aji was fresh enough but I avoided too much of the natto. Thankfully, it was only an appetiser portion.

The Kisu tempura was crispy enough although it was just a tad too much flour for my liking. But the fish maintained its fluffiness which I like in my Kisu and was not overcooked.

Although named Kaiho Sushi, I didn't think the Sushi Mori we had was that great. The rice was not evenly vinegared and we had our meter busily running from "decent" to "so-so" to "uh-huh" across the 7 pieces and the additional maki. Some of the pieces were too chewey and made it difficult to take bite sizes off.

What was tasty was the substituted scallop (they were out of geoduck) baked with spicy mentaiko sauce. The fresh soft scallop was just cooked just right and the spicy mentaiko which I have a weakness for as I believe it makes anything yummy, was good enough on its own.

What was very average was the grilled minced fish paste with miso. This turned out to be what I thought were bits of left over fish topped with miso paste then quickly baked. Very ordinary even if presentation in a shell over a bed of sea salt made it prettier than it tasted.

All in all, a mediocre experience for us and as a result, made the price we paid seemed less justified.

Singapore - AllanBakes

Unless you live in the West Coast or have a very good reason to be in that part of Singapore, you probably would not venture to The Village Centre on South Buona Vista Road. The building still looks neglected although Harry's has opened up on the ground level, right next to Cold Storage. I was there in the day time but am guessing things might liven up in the evenings..

Looking for a coffee joint, there were only 2 listings on the mall directory - conveniently next to each other. Great, we love options! Of course, when we get to level 2, and then there was one. One had shut down!
So we peek into AllanBakes.. ok, the stuff looked decent even if there were local influences. I was really looking just for a good cuppa but the desserts looked enticing enough. I ordered a Lingonberry (lingon what??) cheesecake and a gula melaka cupcake.

According to Allan, the Lingonberry is from Sweden and a quick check with Wikipedia confirms that the Lingonberry is a staple in Scandinavian cuisine. Like most berries, it is a tad tart though not overly so. And so, the Lingonberry cheesecake which Allan bakes is a nice balance of cream cheese, cut through by the fresh acidic qualities of the Lingonberry making it easy to down and not too heavy like most cheesecakes.

The gula melaka cupcake is actually the Singaporean "wa-ko-kueh" flavoured with palm sugar - one of my favourite sugars in the world. Palm sugar has a flavourful sweetness from the coconut where it's from but without the heavy (sometimes oily) aftertaste of the coconut.

As for that cuppa I was looking for, Allan serves an aromatic Gingko flavoured coffee which his friend roasts and he will only sell limited quantities and only if regulars so demand. The coffee was served with sugar and milk added, and although I like my coffee without sugar, I did not complain because it was such a fragrant blend that what's a little added sugar in the system. Plus, it was a nice combi which I liked enough to order a second cup of.

Now that I have discovered AllanBakes, I will drop into the Village Centre more often than the once-in-10-years I've done, and sample more of his goodies. Even if I don't, the good news is that Allan caters!

Check him out at