Friday, January 30, 2009

Singapore - ET Artisan Sweets

Gong Hei Fatt Choy! May the Year of the Ox be abundant and healthy for one and all!

One of the rare finds that I had the privilege of trying and enjoying every morsel of were the French sweets from ET Artisan Sweets. When I first got the e-flyer, I must admit I was sceptical of yet another home-baker trying to make it good. But of course, the best marketing is the non-avaibility of product and so, I was even more determined to order a bunch of goodies even though the Christmas season was over. After all, who doesn't want to eat dessert??

Their passion for perfect quality is evident.

The use of pure Valrhona chocolate in the Jivara crunchy tart was sin in itself. Just open your mouth and let it all pour in! The advice was to eat it on the day it is baked - well, if you know what you're going to get, you would not wait till tomorrow.

And of course, those macarons! Perfectly shaped and with the right chewiness on the inside of a crisp almond shell, and every single flavour (Passion Jivara, Chocochip, Berry Chocolate and Blackforest) I sampled was good - too difficult to pick out a winner. They all are! And for the sugar conscious, they are not cloyingly sweet like many macarons are.

The goodies come packed in a pretty box too! Definitely something I wouldn't mind receiving everyday. And according to them, if that longing is fulfilled, wouldn't my soul be sweet. That's not so hard to do, is it?
Satisfy yourself at

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hanoi - Wild Lotus

Time flies when you're having fun.. it was our last night in Hanoi and we thought, ok it's going to have to be Vietnamese. But something traditional yet trendy and chic. So we try Wild Lotus on Nguyen Du. Not quite on the main drag but near Hoan Kiem Lake, it was quite a ride from the Intercon. But it did look promising when we finally got there. Walking through traditional doors through a garden with water and rock features, up a winding stairway lined with various buddha statuettes, into a modernesque smoking area, then through curtains into the dining hall. Very well set up.

The menu is extensive. If Ngon brought us street food from all over Vietnam, Wild Lotus is the upmarket version. We decided to try things we had never had. The food was definitely competent and tasty enough, even if the Wow! factor wasn't that big.

Rice Paper Spring Rolls with succulent prawns in them were fresh and light. The dip was not the usual fish sauce but a piquant pale orange jam with citrus hints.

Fish broth was an appetising concoction of locally pickled vegetables and tomatoes with river fish fillet. Hearty home-style goodness.

Our main of pork chops with honey was a tad on the dry side (typical as I said of Vietnamese meats) but made better by the honey sauce drizzled around it.

Our stir fried pumpkin leaves were very good even if a boring dish to have but if you must have fiber, it's both tasty and healthy. And pumpkin leaves are not something you get back in Singapore or Hong Kong.

Dessert was very good, with our banana fritter well fried to reveal hardly any trace of oil. The pandanus sauce, although looking like it leaked from the Hulk, was surprisingly fragrantly sweet and a great accompaniment!

A must-do on the finer dining scene in Hanoi.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hanoi - Press Club Deli

Even the strong need to rest.. and so we take a rest from local cuisine to enjoy a little bit of colonialism at the Press Club, in the swanky part of town. It's like heading for the Singapore Cricket Club or the Hong Kong Jockey Club for a leisurely Saturday lunch and the deli boasts the standard good offerings of classic deli food. Expecting just a reprieve from local cuisine and not much else, we were surprised at the good quality.

My Hot Dog with the works was one of the best I've had in a while, with good quality frankfurter and delicious chili gravy on the top. The cut red chillies are definitely a local touch. And the fries, beats any McDonalds hands down!

The vegetarian quesadillas were more than competent. While I prefer a meat in my quesadillas ordinarily, the grilled vegetables were tasty and made for a healthier choice.

Who would have known, but the Press Club Deli is definitely a nice place to relax, chill and enjoy another side to Hanoi.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hanoi - Green Tangerine

Green Tangerine has certainly acquired a name for itself as one of the few places to finely dine in Hanoi. It was won many praises since it opened 5 years ago but there have certainly been instances where diners have come away bewildered. However, given its reputation, I thought I should try it for myself.

The sense of arrival in the evening is definitely promising. Off Hang Be in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, entering a luscious courtyard and leading into a quaintly restored colonial house is definitely enticing. However, service did leave much to be desired since the 8pm diners like us got herded like sheep to a 2nd floor dining room which had NOT been set for the evening. Standing around, we waited as the staff hurriedly put tables and chairs together and slapping on tablecloths.

The menu was well written and everything sounded yummy and with the expectation clearly set, the food had to be excellent right? Wrong.

The appetiser of beef carpaccio topped with deep fried camembert was competent but nothing spectacular. The dressing did not extract the goodness of the beef and was rather flat.

The first main of duck breast and tomato quiche tasted well. But the poor choice and cut of duck made it taste like chewing old leather. Very unfortunate and I got tired and gave up towards the end of my one piece. I did enjoy the quiche though, very smooth and the tomatoes were fresh and sweet.

I ordered the grilled shrimp because I wanted to try the banana flower salad it came with. The shrimps were decent enough but the salad was way too tart. I did like the stewed apple cup it came it and ate all of the cup.

Dessert was the only saving grace and the molten chocolate cake befitted its label as a French restaurant.

Having been in Hanoi for a week, I suspect that the mixed reviews of Green Tangerine are probably a result of lack ability to consistently execute. The concept and menu are certainly exciting but much more needs to be done to ensure that the customer receives what his expectations are set to receive. Only then can it rank where it wants to be on the fine dining scene.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hanoi - KOTO on Van Mieu Restaurant

As the very wise Chinese proverb goes, "Give a man a fish and he is fed today. Teach a man to fish and he is fed everyday." This is the precise ethos of KOTO - Know One, Teach One - started by Aussie Jimmy Phan of Vietnamese origin. This not-for-profit organisation cleverly uses the growing popularity of Vietnamese cuisine and imparts culinary and related skills to street and disadvantaged youth of Vietnam, so that they have sustainable skills to break out of their poverty cycle. A worthy cause indeed! Visit for more details.
So if you're heading to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, be sure to make time to have a meal or drinks at KOTO, just across from the temple. Makes for a rewarding afternoon, as we found out, and the food is very decent to boot!

We had a snack platter of Vietnamese spring rolls, deep fried spring roll wtih roast duck, and mung been patties with minced pork. Served with their respective sauces, they made for an excellent afternoon snack.

The rice paper rolls were very good too. Served in a bamboo woven flat basket, the ingredients were fresh and crunchy. The shrimp carved off a sugar cane stick were also sweet and bouncy.

Wrap everything in a rice paper and you dunk in fish sauce based dip. Then wash down with seasonal fruit juices or chilled lemongrass tea.

Perfect afternoon.
FYI - KOTO serves full meals also and if you want to try the Bun Cha (which is supposed to be great), go early!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hanoi - Mandarin Restaurant

Of the many reviews we read about Emperor Restaurant serving cuisine fit for Vietnamese Kings, we were disappointed to find out that it had closed. However, our concierge at the Intercontinental kindly pointed us to their sister restaurant, the Mandarin, which was conveniently located at a 10-minute walk away, on Xuan Dieu Street, and overlooking the West Lake.

Serving the best spring rolls I've ever had, these soft "cheong-fun" like rolls filled with minced dried shrimp, served with a fish-sauce based dip, were the perfect appetiser and we polished them off quicker than they could be made. We were royally delighted!

We also ordered the fish soup (which I realised when it arrived is not soup as Asians know it) and in Vietnam, they still make the distinction between soup and broth. It wasn't bad but it wasn't spectacular either since the soup did not have the essence of fish.
We were also happy to get green vegetables after a couple of days and were quite pleased that Vietnamese have a light hand when it comes to vegetables!

The interesting dish of roast chicken and sticky rice was very good separately ie. the chicken was perfectly roasted, and the sticky rice perfectly cooked. However, I'm not sure they were a match made in heaven since there didn't seem to be anything bringing them together. Perhaps we didn't know how to eat it in a way which made sense to the palate but we were pleased enough with it.
Refined Vietnamese dining which would be hard to find outside of Vietnam - worth the visit.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hanoi - Cha Ca La Vong

Little known to the outsider, but the quintessential dining experience in Hanoi is Cha Ca La Vong. Sounds like a little dance but it's actually grilled fish, served accompanied with a medley of greens - dill, spring onions, chinese parsley, mint, etc. So quintessial they even named the street after it. But that outlet is perpetually packed, they opened another, not too far away. Thank goodness!

When you sit down, the waiter brings plates and bowls of different raw ingredients. See above! The one thing to remember is not to put your nose too close... the smell from the fermented shrimp paste solution is undeniably an acquired one.

Some time later, the waiter brings a charcoal stove with a sizzling pan of fish pieces swimming in a turmeric-infused oil.

Throw in as much of the greens you can to cook for a short while. When done, spoon over your bowl already filled with Vietnamese noodles. Drizzle with the shrimp paste and garnish with roasted peanuts, parsley and if you like a bit of kick, the chopped red chillies.
Then enjoy every morsel you put into your mouth. Wash all down with Hanoi Bia (beer). What a slice of Hanoi culinary culture, and how delicious!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hanoi - Restaurant Bobby Chinn

If not for Bobby Chinn's persistence and fixation with Vietnam, Hanoi probably would not have what can be international class dining in the heart of the city, by the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake.

His diverse racial and cultural lineage has allowed him to really understand the fundamentals of each and to bring them together in surprisingly good harmony. Never one for fusion, I do not want to label Bobby's cuisine as fusion. I must give it the credit that it is cuisine of high standard which brings together flavours from around the globe, true to his heritage. The simple combinations and excellent execution, makes for an enjoyable experience, added to the restaurant's eclectic decor - the red hues from the photos are not a function of the camera but of the whole restaurant, draped in red silk all over, with a collection of Bobby's Vietnamese art.

We started with the crab trio of crab cappucino, crab meat salad, and crab cake. All sounding pretty ordinary, but the infusion of local herbs and spices added to the fresh crab made the dish a resounding success.

My main of lamb shank with gnocchi was tender meat falling off the bone. Only complaint was that the gnocchi was a tad too soggy. Otherwise yummy, and definitely enough for 2 if you are only moderately hungry.

To end, the creme brulee trio was also pretty good. It wasn't as eggy as the one I had at Aqua but the variety of grand marnier, coffee and chocolate made for spoonfuls of different tastes, lifting the monotony.
Definitely synonymous with Hanoi's fine dining scene, it is a must-do for any Hanoi first-timer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hanoi - Quan An Ngon Restaurant

Asia is known for street food (very much its version of casual and fast food) and Vietnam is no exception. However, eating on the streets of Vietnam is not for the fainthearted. So Quan An Ngon delivers to us what we might have ordinarily wanted but were too afraid to try. And it does so, especially at its Hanoi branch, in a beautiful courtyard setting with lush foliage. The bustle from the many "street vendors" in the courtyard certainly adds to the lively experience.

According to our local guide, Ngon offers a great representation of cuisines from the South (where it started its first restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City) to the North in Hanoi, and provinces in between. Lots of noodles, rolls, pancakes, grilled meats, etc. While cuisine is not gourmand standard, it is a great introduction to the cuisine of Vietnam.

The rice paper pancakes we ordered were light and a great appetiser.

The grilled beef cubes with chilli and lime were tasty but the beef was a bad cut and was as chewy as an old leather shoe. The chilli infused salt accompaniment was a nice touch though.

Their version of the calamari fritter was quite different in their use of a cassava flour coat, which was nice but got heavy after a while. Saving grace, the squids retained their tenderness inside the protective layer of the cassava coat.

Dessert of glutinous rice with their local honey (probably from Sapa) was reminiscent of the childhood dessert and made for a sweet ending to an interesting night.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hanoi - an afternoon around Hoan Kiem Lake

Happy New Year and greetings from Hanoi!
New Years' Day was spent traveling to Hanoi and as soon as we landed and checked into the hotel, we started our food exploration of the Hoan Kiem Lake area, near our hotel.

Of course, you can't start a trip to anywhere in Vietnam without the national food, Pho Bo or Beef Noodles Soup. So we head to Pho 24 just by the lake. It is not the best, but if you are not that adventurous, the cleanliness of the joint, and the many people that stream in and out, certainly gives the tourist a whole lot of comfort. For the McDonalds'-type set up, I was satisfied enough with it although my suggestion is to have the pho with beef brisket since the beef slices used tend to be too chewy given the ordinary cuts.

A short walk away, we found dessert. Or rather, curiosity got the better of us since we had never seen so many people squatting or leaning over the scooters along the sidewalk for ice cream. Yes, you heard right. Since 1958, Kem Trang Tien has been serving up ice creams on sticks and more recently, soft serve in a cone.

The soft serve is not served when you order but brought out from a "kitchen" every now and then in trays such as the above. Our choice of each of the coconut and milk ice creams on a stick were reminscent of childhood in Singapore where the ice cream from the traveling vendor is not too milky but has enough of ice in it to allow any kid to down more than one! If you like traditional tastes, try it although the pushing and shoving (there is no queue system) might get you down.

After ice cream, you gotta have coffee so we explore a little bit more and then chancing upon Aqua, which we realised was a full fledged restaurant after we stepped in. But in my opinion, probably has one of the best Vietnamese and French-pressed coffees I've had and the Creme Brulee is traditionally good with enough egg and cream for just the right texture, creamy but firm enough and most importantly, eggy enough! And with the crystallised top, very impressive.

A great start to a promising trip of more foodie adventures.. stay tuned!