Thursday, April 30, 2009

Singapore - Le Pont de Vie

Le Pont de Vie's new location at Kandahar Street is an elegantly decorated, intimate little restaurant, sited in a old shophouse and in the revamped Kampong Glam area, a neighbourhood rich with history and character. Unfortunately, those are the about the best things Le Pont de Vie has going for it. Its website mysteriously desribes it as a "two star restaurant" - it is unclear how that was arrived at or derived from.

We were off to an uninspiring start - the amuse bouche consisted of 1 small spoon of a strange, curry-flavoured cold chick pea mush, and another of a small dollop of a soggy eggplant and mushroom mix.
The generous basket of bread arrived next, and while the bread was ordinary and sliced thin, the unexpected luxury was the black truffle speckled butter - in retrospect, the only highlight of the meal.

For starters, I had the Chef's Pot of Soup, which was a Prawn Bisque with crab meat. A bisque is typically thick and creamy but the version served did not appear to have any cream save for the few dollops thrown on as garnish and which curdled rather than blended into the soup, owing to the over-microwaved soup. Not unpleasant to the palate although there was a little manuevering required around the curdled cream bits.

My companion had the Baked Foie Gras Black Truffle Puff. It definitely sounded like a winner but execution was flawed. The puff was excessively greasy and made even more so by the foie gras inside. The black truffle did not seem to make an appearance or if it did, was overpowered by grease. It did not help that the accompanying mesclun salad was also drowned in too much dressing, making it soggy.

On to our mains - I took the waiter's enthusiastic and strong recommendation of the Grilled Milk-fed Veal Chop. In spite of him highlighting twice that it was a "very expensive cut of meat", I found the veal tough and slightly overdone, and pretty bland. The accompanying madeira sauce on the other hand was a little too salty and did not harmonise with the veal, nor did the greasy stir-fried spinach mound.

My companion had the Crispy Duck Leg Confit. While the duck skin was indeed crispy, the meat was too dry and flaky. No succulence about it. The raspberry port wine sauce was alright, if a little one-dimensional. Again, nothing to write home about.

For dessert, we opted to share the Bailey's souffle (hoping for something a little different from the more commonly available Grand Marnier). The souffle was a little too wet on the inside for my liking and the accompanying slightly rancid-tasting scoop of vanilla ice cream did nothing for me.

While we tried to keep to the "favourites" and more traditional fare, Le Pont de Vie did not pass any test by any account. And while not the most expensive, I did not feel I should have parted with that sort of money for a meal of this quality. Unless they fix the kitchen, we don't think we will be returning soon.

Le Pont de Vie
26 Kandahar Street
Singapore 198888
Tel: +65-6238 8682

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hong Kong - Iwanami Japanese Restaurant 岩浪天扶良日本料理

Iwanami's specialty is tempura. In Hong Kong, my best tempura experiences have been at Inagiku and Ten Yoshi. I have been told at some of Iwanami's chefs hail from Ten Yoshi and judging from the quality and the name (in Chinese) of Iwanami, I would not be surprised.

Like Ten Yoshi, they do a lunch special which is high in value. My lunch companion ordered the tempura set while I decided to be healthy and order the sushi set (of course with full knowledge that we would pick from each other). Both sets come with salad, chawanmushi, miso soup and a choice of coffee or fruit. The good thing with the sets are that you get to choose the types of sushi or tempura you want. There are a couple of rules with not repeating an order but otherwise, there is no detraction from the value. And judging from the crowd, most people would agree. If you're very hungry or have a healthy appetite, the 16-piece sushi/tempura combination may be your thing.

The tempura selection was certainly wide so no matter what your preference, you can make up the 9 pieces pretty easily. The sushi selection was a little paler by comparison but still very decent so again, a nice cross-section of the usual favourites were available for ordering.

The tempura pieces worthy of mention were the wide fish selection - all of which were very fresh, and sweet. The tempura coat was fragrant but light and made for a good contrast to the freshness of the seafood.

The shrimp tempura was also very good, and the separately battered and tempura-ed prawn heads were a delight to savour. No time to worry about cholesterol intake! The uni tempura was also brilliant - fresh uni wrapped with crisp seaweed then battered for deep frying was an excellent burst of textures and flavours. If not for the rules, one could eat this over and over again!

The specialty of the sushi here is the chef dips the sushi pieces in a soya-based sauce prior to serving. This allows the soy to be integrated into the sushi piece and comes across as more harmonious than if you dip it yourself. A nice touch. Of course, if you like an unusually high salt intake, you can request for more soya at your seat!

From the sushi selection, my favourites were the live local shrimp - which was fatter than the usual and with a bit more bite (it's not as soft as sweet shrimp) but more obvious in its prawniness.

The sweet shrimp's sweetness was a nice follow through from the local in giving the palate a pleasant finish to the prawn course.

Uni sushi was not the best but creamy enough and fresh.

The toro was also decent for a "lunch cut".

But the winner was the negi toro roll, which was a nice delicate balance of flavours of the toro, spring onion and seaweed.

Certainly a good place to lunch in the cosy restaurant - get a place at the counter to watch the action although you must not mind the smell of tempura oil on your clothes and hair when you leave. If you go for dinner (which I have yet to), my impression from lunch is just to go on a tempura frenzy and forget the sushi (which is a little more common in quality).

Iwanami Japanese Restaurant
9/F, Continental Diamond Plaza
525 Hennessy Road
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
Tel: 852-2591 1159

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hong Kong - Club Qing

Club Qing - helmed by Chef Andy has been around for 6 years. Started in the days when private dining became trendy in Hong Kong, Club Qing still draws a healthy crowd after all this time. Thanks to seasonal menus put together with a lot of thought and appreciation for ingredients by Andy and the team, the food uses seasonal produce from all over the world to deliver modern Cantonese cuisine.

Despite having patronised Club Qing on many occasions over the last few years, this is the first time I am reviewing it formally. But as they say, good things come to those who wait... And I assure it is worth the experience.

On this occasion, we chose the current Menu A and added an order of Marinated Sharks' Fin in Crab Sauce and Crab Roe. The specialty of Club Qing is the use of fine grade Chinese tea as intercourses. A clever way to cleanse the palate and makes for good appreciation especially if you like your tea as I do. The teas are also available for sale and I never fail to leave without.
To kick dinner off, a Long Jing Tea is served. A light green tea, it does wonders to warm the tummy and open our appetites.

The 2 appetisers are served together. Andy recommends tasting the Fresh Crab Meat and Cucumbers in Home-made Japanese Salmon Roe Sauce first. Light and tangy, it is served chilled and is a good burst of clean flavours after the warm tea. The other more robust appetiser of Serrano Ham Roll with slightly-baked Portobello Mushrooms is a wondrous combination of the smoky ham with the richness of the portobello, whose flavours are more pronounced from the baking. Perfect with a glass of Burgundy.

The signature dish of sauteed prawns in a Thai style with lemon leaves and curry sauce was well executed. Although not spectacular in presentation, we were pleasantly surprised by the taste. The prawns cooked in their shells retained their natural juices while absorbing the muilti-spice gravy. Even the soft eggplants were worth savouring.
The second signature dish of deep-fried oyster roll with salad and raspberry and herb sauce was better than the first in its novelty. The use of a fresh oyster rolled with salad, before deep frying was excellent since it kept the roll light and textured. What was excellent was the raspberry dip. Very fresh, with the right amount of tang. I couldn't get enough of it.

Although not on the menu, Andy let us have his signature chilled tomato in lychee sauce. A refreshing and interesting combination.. a lychee tomato... or a tomato lychee... whatever, it is a brilliant interlude as it welcomed the next highlight - Sharksfin!!

Even if by no means the best quality sharksfin, the infusion from the crab roe and juices gave it the perfect sweetness from the sea. As you can see from the pic, Andy is generous with his sharksfin, and his skills in braising makes up for the not so perfect quality sharksfin. His use of a rich stock keeps the dish flavourful but not heavy. This is a winner!

The Chinese traditional double-boiled soup of American Ginseng and dried shell fish was very competent but I was feeling a bit full from the sharks' fin and did not enjoy the soup as much as I ordinarily would have.
And so, a timely second Chinese Tea Serving of Iron Kwan-Yin Oolong Tea was good to cut through the many flavours over the last few courses and ready the palate for the next course.

The marinated beef ribs in home-made special sauce was another pleasant surprise. The presentation above could have been prettier but the amount of gravy was justified. Served with steamed "man tow"s, everyone mopped it all up. The traces of preserved chinese bean curd made even more palatable with other "secret ingredients" is in my opinion, the modern rendition of the braised beef brisket - a national dish of Hong Kong, perhaps second only to shrimp wantons. I would have preferred brisket over beef ribs which braise to a higher level of tenderness, but would not complain. Hearty goodness.

The final dish of cold Japanese udon with dried Shrimp and double sauce was also a winner. The use of Inaniwa udon was a good choice especially when served cold - still firm and with a nice chewiness to it. The 2 sauces of a soya vinaigrette and a peanut butter sauce were also excellent when combined over the udon. Combined with the crispiness of the dried shrimps and the fresh and crunchy cucumbers, it made for a nice finish.

True to Andy's Chiu Chow heritage, the third Chinese Tea served was a Dan Chung Tea. This is a better grade than you get in most Chiu Chow restaurants and very fragrant.

Andy’s Creative Dessert of the day was a yoghurt mousse infused with honey. Although I am not a big fan of mousses, I ate this willingly. The tartness from the yoghurt, balanced with honey, combined to deliver in a texture firmer than the common mousse. Simple but it played the perfect dessert role in a meal like this and was careful not to steal the limelight from a perfect tasting menu.

The only peeve I have (which you can get over fairly easily) is that you need to come prepared with cash for payment. And if you are not a regular customer, a deposit is typically required when you make the reservation. Their rationale: many dishes need to be prepared ahead of time (a lot of braising and stewing as you saw) and because no walk-ins are accepted, any un-honoured reservations means a hit right to the bottom line. And for a relatively small set up, I guess that hurts. But as I pointed out, the peeve is worth overcoming over and over again.

Club Qing
10/F, Cosmos Building,
8 - 11 Lan Kwai Fong,
Tel: (852) 2536-9773

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Singapore - Crêperie des Arts

My apologies for being tardy in my posts but I did cap my French-themed week in Singapore with a taste of Brittany at Creperie des Arts. The quaint little creperie tucked at the end of the shophouses inside the Prinsep Street enclave could be easily missed if not for the relatively healthy clientele on a Sunday night, seated al fresco and enjoying the trademark humidity of Singapore. For lighting and climate reasons, we chose a table inside.

The casual joint was decorated in a seafront theme, in line with the origins of crepes/galettes and the owner-chef ie. Brittany. It was a Sunday night and we did not spot the hired help, only his folks and a couple who seemed to be relatives or at least close friends of the family stepping up to help. Needless to say, they gave it a very authentic and friendly feel to the place.

It was therefore easy to take all their suggestions in tow, and made for a very pleasant casual dinner. We started off with traditional French apple cider. Personally I preferred the 2% over the 5% alcohol version. The 2% was sweet apple juice but with a little zing from the alcohol (ok, the secret's out - I can't hold my alcohol). But really, the 5% was a little too flat in taste for me. And by the way, the trick is the later in the evening you go, the more likely you get a free top-up until the bottle dries out, reason being that cider cannot keep overnight since it loses its fizz pretty quickly. Pops was kind enough to give us a bowl of nuts with the Cider, perhaps to stop me from keeling..
To keep us engaged, our friendly Pops also recommended we start with a salad - the simple green salad looked blah - but the dressing was very well done, with just the right degree of tartness from the vinaigrette. It was good so we finished it quite quickly. Thank goodness for the nuts - kept hunger pangs in check since my only complaint was our galettes took a while to get to us.
Thankfully, all worth the wait.
The galettes were of a nice chewy texture and crisp at the ends. Folded into a square with a peeping hole in the middle gives you a glimpse of what you will be biting into.
My choice of the potatoes, raclette cheese and parma ham was brilliant! I love raclette so this was home for me. The salt content from the ham was just a tad high but otherwise this combination will keep me coming back for more.
B's Saint Caradec was also very good - with the fresh scallops wading in the light leek fondue cream sauce. Not heavy at all, and tasty so that you will like it even if you are not a cream fan.
To finish, our choice of the salted caramel crepe was in my opinion the piece de resistance. The salty caramel tasted very home-made and the salt against the ordinarily cloying caramel was excellent in its combination, bringing home and accentuating the flavours from both sides to deliver a dessert you can eat forever.

A great place to hang and have yummy casual food without any guilt! I am told it gets crowded at lunch so remember to call ahead, especially if you don't fancy lunching in the afternoon sun.

44 Prinsep Street
Singapore 188673
Tel: 6333 5330

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Singapore - Les Artistes Bistrot by Nicolas

On this quick visit to Singapore, I relished the opportunity to visit Les Artistes Bistrot by Nicolas on Keong Saik Road. The first missed opportunity came and went given the very mixed reviews I saw. But on the back of Foodie-ah's recent review, I thought this place might be worth a visit. Do excuse the yellow tint in the photos (the lighting in the restaurant was a little too dark)

Being our first time, we went with the 3-course dinner menu. There is a good choice from the menu - about 6 to 8 items you can choose from per course. Between the 2 of us, we went for a different combination each so we could get a sampling of at least 6 dishes.

The freshly baked bread was perfect in its crusty exterior and chewy insides. With good Fench butter, what a great way to break into dinner. To make it even better, the duck rillette served on a soup spoon with some salami kept us happy while the chef worked on our orders.

We chose a starter of Seared Hotate Scallop served with tortellini of coriander, kaffir and saffron emulsion. The chef's emulsion was very good - creamy but without being heavy, with the hints of the different spices coming through. An al dente tortellini bitten into with the freshly seared scallop made for a good burst of flavours through the textures.
The other starter of Lobster Bisque served with a tortellini of blue prawn and basil foam was the winner for me. This rendition was rich in its flavours but not overly creamy or heavy and made fresh by the addition of finely chopped basil. The prawn tortellini was also brilliant, and if I was not paying attention, could have almost fooled me into thinking it was lobster! Even if not, it was very good.

So we were off to a good start.
Our mains did not disappoint - my lamb rack - at the recommendation of the Maitre D, was perfectly done. Not gamey, very tender, with a slightly charred outside, it was perfect in its execution and the accompaying mash was so smooth I was scraping the little glass for every last morsel.
B's 5-hour braised beef cheek infused with olive and sundried tomato tasted like it was braising for 5 hours. Very tender, but not mashy, with the collagen bits visible, you can feel your skin tightening with every bite (ok, I exaggerate). Although the sauce was not spectacular, the beefy juicy tenderness of the cheek was good enough to distract.
Desserts were surprisingly disappointing.

The traditional creme brulee infused with bourbon vanilla was ordinary and a little burnt - someone had too much fun with the blow torch.. The vanilla was a nice touch but not enough to salvage the main event from not being smooth nor eggy enough for me.

The home made ice cream nougat with almonds and honey was much better. A classic combination of flavours, I might have preferred my almonds roasted for a slightly more almondy flavour but it was a nice finish to the dinner even if not deserving of a "wow".

The food at Les Artistes is definitely very decent and its positioning of excellent value set meals in this climate should put it in a good position. After all, you can get a sampling of Nicolas' specials at his restaurant but at more affordable prices.

Les Artistes Bistrot by Nicolas
35 Keong Saik Road
Singapore 089142
Tel: +65 62241501

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hong Kong - Lin Heung Tea House 蓮香樓

It's not an unheard of place. In fact, it's an institution (it's even got its own old-style logo on all of its tablewares). Step into Lin Heung Lau and it's like stepping into old Hong Kong, just table after table of people tucking into old-fashioned food.

Most reviews rave about the great dim sum it serves. But as I found out, Lin Heung Lau also does a mean repertoire of traditional home-style Cantonese cuisine. Although it stays open to fairly late (about 11pm), we realised very quickly that all the specials are sold out by then. The old waiter who served us tapped his feet with a wry smile while we desperately pored the menu, pointing to one after another "sold out" dish, and him responding with shake after shake of his grey head. He probably does this every night at the same hour.
So we thought.. ok, we're here for leftovers... finally, we managed to create a dinner of 3 dishes and a Vegetable. No soup even. Sigh..

Starters of the shrimp and squid colloid balls were a great appetiser. Fried to a golden brown, with bits of garlic and chillies, pepper and salt, there was a smoky taste which balanced the flavours of the sea well.

Bite into it, and you see honest to goodness shrimp and squids. The real McCoy.

The simple silver fish omellete was a beautiful yellow - such was the quality of the eggs used. Pan fried with fresh silver fish, they omellette was fragrant and not oily - difficult to do in an industrial wok.
I rarely snap Chinese vegetables since I usually order mine sans oil and sauce but the Chinese spinach with 3 eggs (regular, salted and century) with whole garlic bulbs, was fresh in its taste and was accompanied rather than overpowered by the condiments, as is traditionally intended to be the case.

Our final dish of lemon chicken was reminiscent of the old restaurants I grew up with and the use of dark meat was a pleasure to savour. None of that chewiness but a succulent, juicy meat, coated in a crisp flour coating and drizzled generously with the lemon sauce. Even the leftovers I heated up in the oven 2 days later managed to retain 80% of the crispness - that's a real measure of how good the deep frying was. The lemon sauce here is not my favourite but it was definitely not poor by any standard.

If the above were indeed leftovers, I could definitely eat leftovers everyday! Also, my very pleasant surprise at the quality of the food here could just find me dragging myself out of bed on a Sunday morning to jostle with the crowds for their famous dim-sum.

Lin Heung Tea House
160-164 Wellington Street,
Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2544 4556

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hong Kong - Cambo Thai 金寶泰國菜館

Kowloon City is one of those places which is today known for its collection of good quality eateries at prices that are hard to beat - a fact close to the hearts of the locals but best kept secret from visitors, especially so now that the international airport has moved from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok in 1998.

Kowloon City retains its old flavour - with the historical walled city in the neighbourhood, a collection of old-style eateries, and is a great place to explore if you are a foodie. But hurry since I see quite a few sites and magazines have already started to tout these areas as "places of interest" for the HK visitor!

The myriad of Thai supplies shops in the area also means that this is the place to go to if you want some authentic Thai. On this occasion, we pop into Cambo Thai. Don't expect exquisite fine dining but open your mind to some different but tasty and I would believe highly authentic Thai goodies.

Prawns seem to take centrestage here and there is even a caricature of the "boss man" lying on the famous plate of Prawn sashimi, garnished generously with garlic, chillies, on a bed of cabbage and carrot salad, drizzled with fish sauce and lime. Great appetiser!!!

Still on the prawn theme, their take on the usual Thai shrimp cake is fabulous. Here, they mould them into balls (they are not little though) so they can hold a decadent shrimp roe based gravy right in the middle. There are warning signs in the restaurant to bite into them delicately for fear of squirting. Lovely burst of flavours as it is accompanied by a sweetened plum sauce and a must-try for the prawn fanatic.

The Crab yellow curry was very tasty although not spectacular by Thai standards but worth a try if you like an eggy gravy.

Another winner was the rice noodle soup with different parts of the beef, including brisket (which was very tender), tripe (nice crunch but not chewy) and beef balls (bouncy and beefy - tasted homemade). The stock is sweet from the beef, and the generous amount of bean sprouts and spring onions kept it fragrant and light.

It gets busy at peak hours but there are 2 entrances, one of which leads to Cambo Vietnamese. So there is ample seating. Don't worry, they are owned by the same boss. You can tuck into some Viet favourites since they do those as well. I just might get round to trying those soon.

G/F, 15 Nga Tsin Long Road,
Kowloon City,
Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2716 7318