Friday, February 27, 2009

Singapore - Relish

Great idea, fabulous concept but just a little lacking on the execution.

The menu was definitely inviting... burgers of every kind, with yummy toppings, sauces, etc. It was my first time so the test would be the classic bacon and cheese burger. Am not sure about the cut used but I didn't get enough of an affirmation that I was eating beef. I like my beef, be it steak or burger to have a minimum amount of beefiness to it, if that makes any sense. Salt and pepper is all the seasoning I need to enhance it. Overall the burger was tasty enough together with the bacon and cheese, but for a burger joint, I wasn't blown away.

The Hae Bee Spaghetti was cute. But it probably doesn't do much as a dish if one is not Singaporean or have a sweet tooth. Yeah, it was a tad sweet but for me, better sweet than spicy I suppose.

Dessert was competent - the chocolate cake with the lava inside was a good fix to a mediocre meal but not spectacular either.

For the concept, I hope Relish does well. Maybe it just needs a new chef, or a backup just in case the main one is just having a bad day.

#02-01 Cluny Court (next to Serene Centre)

501 Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259760
Tel: +65 6763 1547

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hong Kong - Thai Simple Kitchen

6 years into business and Thai Simple Kitchen is still reeling in the crowds. They rarely take reservations and you cannot get seated if you don't have half your party with you. Even with generous seating both indoors and outdoors, and in the wake of the financial crisis, WHY?

Thai Simple! Or 泰简单 (a play on the Cantonese sounds which means "way too simple"). But so clever. Good quality hearty Thai food at good value, helmed by a Thai chef who's won many awards. It's not fine dining but it is good.

My favourites:
Appetiser of crispy rice cracker with a light peanut-based sauce. They also do a variation using cold rice noodles and crab meat with the same sauce. Both are great!

Deep fried prawn cakes. Bouncy prawn colloid deep fried to a golden brown and served accompanied with a tangy plum sauce.

Pomelo Salad tossed wtih fish sauce and lime, dessicated coconut and topped with pork floss, is refreshing, even if not spectacular!

Tom Yum Goong with prawns is a rich prawn-based stock, in contrast with the usual clear chicken-based ones. I'm not a huge fan of prawns but I do like a good prawn soup and this is one of them. A tad salty but very tasty and not too spicy.
The pad thai is very competent and is served in an egg net garnished by huge prawns.

What is unique and very good is the "golden pillow". Yellow curry with clams and fresh coconut slices served in a bread loaf that's baked to a crisp on the outside. The combination of textures with the curry is wonderful.

Desserts are also good, my favourites being the pumpkin cake and the layered cake (in green in the background).

If you've never been, it's simply (pardon the pun) worth the wait to try!

Thai Simple Kitchen
3/F President Theatre
517 Jaffe Road
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hong Kong - Pang's Kitchen 彭庆记

Pang's Kitchen has been serving up great Cantonese cuisine in Happy Valley for many years, with a special focus on Shun De cuisine. As most Chinese know the saying, the best food comes from Canton and the best chefs come from Shun De.

My favourites include the Baked Fish Guts - yes, well it tastes much better than it sounds. Baked with eggs and topped off with crispy crullers, the dish is fragrant and the fish guts lend a nice pate-like texture and livery taste to it. No description does this dish justice and even the faint-hearted can try. After all, how bad can a baked casserole be?

The lotus root/minced pork patties and the shrimp patties are also very good and excellent as an appetiser with an iced cold beer.

Other specials like the braised pig trotters in a plum sauce (picture above), strawberry ribs, black pepper beef with sugar snaps, and the steamed fish with yellow bean paste are also worth trying.

Another plus, the daily soups at Pang's are excellent and just like Gramma's!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hong Kong - Ootoya Restaurant (大户屋)

In today's times, when all you see is doom and gloom in the media, you can't help but feel that frugality is a prudent thing. Whether you have a cushy job and have time to spend (just because there isn't much business to be done) or whether you've been restructured out of a job, the general sentiment is still very much how to stretch that dollar.

In these times, places that offer value for your money tend to pack them in. Even in the absence of much fanfare, Ootoya opened to a very healthy crowd. The outlet on the 3rd floor of the Shama Serviced Apartments across from Times Square was swotting flies at 6.30pm but by 7.15pm, you would have to wait for a table.

My first experience with Ootoya was in Bangkok back in 2006 and to be honest, I wasn't blown away. But since this is spanking new in HK, I thought I would give it a shot.

The potato croquette was very creamy on the inside of a crisp shell and no wonder, Ootoya is well known for its Tonkatsu dishes - pork, chicken and even oysters.

Tofu salad was also very good as the tofu was not just soft, but had a nice bite to it akin to yuba from Kyoto. Accompanied by seaweed and silver fish which added taste, enhanced by a light soya sauce vinaigrette and dusted with toasted sesame seeds, very appetising.

The steamed clams (sans shells) on rice with miso was fresh and tasty, even if a tad on the salty side. Not spectacular but makes for a hearty dish on a cool spring evening.

The Hambaagu steak used good quality mince and did not lose its nice beefiness in the mincing process. Served hot on a bed of fragrant onion rings on a hot plate, sizzling with the meat juices mixed with an ume like sauce, it was not difficult to wolf down all with a steaming bowl of rice.

To end, the dessert looked like any other from a Japanese restaurant - matcha ice cream with Azuki red beans. But the trick is to use the spoon and dip right to the bottom and mix all the ingredients by folding towards the centre of the glass. Only then can you reach and savour the glorious chunks of sponge cake and black sugar syrup and tofu with the ice cream and beans in every mouthful. This in itself, is worth a return visit.

Exceptional quality for your dollar!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hong Kong - an idyllic day on Cheung Chau

As you step off the ferry onto Cheung Chau, the unmistakable waft of drying and dried seafood envelops you. Of course, this is an acquired smell but like it or not, it is synonymous with Cheung Chau's history which began as a fishing village.

Of course, with the smells you do actually see it all in action..

Shrimps drying in the sun... and these are not those tiny ones we see and use in SE Asian cooking, these actually qualify as prawns and they are! Bigger than what we are used to and probably sweeter in any stock it makes its final appearance in.

Stalls like these with a guhzillion varieties of finished product (ie. all sun dried) line the streets of Cheung Chau. From anchovies, to shrimps, to oysters and fish roe, you name it and they probably have it.

With the sights and smells, I wasn't terribly impressed with the local fare. The strategy was to try as many things as we could but there are always limits given the small group.

Lunch was not spectacular. But the one thing I hadn't tried before was baby oysters in cheong fun. Sounded weird but the combination of the oyster juices with the sweet soya sauce was pretty good - and this my dear reader, was the humble beginnings of the grand dame of Chinese cooking - oyster sauce! (My theory but it has to be true!)

The afternoon's most impressive meal was at Cheung Kee (张记)- touted as being fishball specialists since 1959. And it is the best bowl of fishballs I've ever had in Hong Kong because of the texture. Springy as the Chiu Chows meant them to be, the bouncy texture captured the freshness of the catch in the little ivory ball. Very good. Perhaps a craving might make me brave the choppy ride back to this sleepy village..

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hong Kong - Naozen

Naozen isn't one of those places that calls out to you if you want a Japanese meal in Hong Kong. Given its location on busy Wellington Street in Central, it isn't bad at all, except that it gets over-shadowed by Yung Kee for roast goose (across the road) and Tsui Wah (possibly Hong Kong's most famous Cha Chan Teng just right next door). It wasn't until the recently published Hong Kong Michelin guide that reminded us to visit again and we weren't disappointed. Despite its tired traditional decor, we felt as if we could have been in an old but time-tested joint in old Kyoto where the food speaks loudest.

Known for its beef, we decided to share a Sukiyaki set and order extras to give ourselves variety. And boy, was that wise, since the Sukiyaki set was by itself ample for 2 especially if you're not hungry.

The set started off with one of my favourite vegetables - chilled blanched rape blossom with a light dressing.

Followed by seasonal monk fish liver in a ponzu dressing - decadent yet light.

Sashimi of ark shell, yellowtail and chutoro were good quality cuts and generous as part of the set.

Dobinmushi or tea pot soup was competent but not spectacular.

The grand finale of Sukiyaki did not disappoint. Tender thin pieces of Wagyu grade beef in a sweetened stock of vegetables and tofu served in a heated pot were great for the chilly weather in Hong Kong. And eaten during the Chinese New Year season, as comforting and homely as the Chinese Hot Pot.

Our extras of deep fried tuna cheek were done Tonkatsu style and tasted like the tenderest of Kurobuta pork. Very good especially with the thicked Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard.

The minced tuna belly on rice was also surprisingly good and not overpowered by the spring onion, which looked to be overly abundant when served. But mixed well into the tuna and premium grade rice, drizzled with a little wasabi-laced soya sauce, made for a rewarding dish for the senses.
Dessert of sliced mandarins were boring, but given the portions of food we had, that's about all we could stomach.

A hearty yums!
21-25 Wellington Street Central
+852 2877 6668