Sunday, August 29, 2010

Singapore - Tomo Izakaya

For those who haven't seen Singapore in a while, the skyline has changed a fair bit.  While not as bright as the night in Hong Kong, the scene in Singapore has definitely become more vibrant.  

And of course, with the latest addition of the Marina Sands Singapore's 3-tower structure linked by a sky park and infinity pool overlooking Singapore, it's pretty impressive.  Of course, these sights were taken from the Esplanade, a re-done area housing the famous "Durian" concert halls and also a variety of food places.  

Most of the food joints looked a little "blah" though and we would have to guess no one really goes there for the food.  Many seemed to just take in the sights, the indie-rock concerts that were playing outdoors, and just soaking in the atmosphere and prolonging it with more alcohol than food.  Despite the lukewarm welcome by the waitress who said the warm air in the restaurant is "like that one", we settled to do the same with Tomo Izakaya, forgoing our reservation at 7atenine, which was deserted except for one table.  Sorry guys. 

Of the things we ordered, we were most satisfied with the skewers or kushiyaki.  The beef skewer with a minced radish topping was surprisingly good.  The beef, meaty but easy on the palate, not being overly chewy.  And very tasty just with a simple salt and pepper seasoning, which highlighted the meat even better.

The mushrooms wrapped in thinly sliced belly pork and topped with Mentaiko before setting on the grill was also very tasty, made easily so just from the use of the melting pork fat bonding with the seasoned cod roe. 

On a more healthy note, the sesame tofu was also very good.  Unlike usual soft tofus, this had a slightly chewy texture aside from being just soft.  This helps you savor the fragrance of the sesame as you break it down slowly with your tongue.  No need for any biting at all.  The toppings of flying fish roe and scallions add another dimension and freshness to the experience.

Our other orders included the Tomo Caesar salad which in true Japanese style, was lighter than the classic version, but had the yummy bacon bits to lend the addictive flavor against a creamy dressing.  However, the Korean seafood pancakes were a complete letdown and was easily the worst dish of the night.  Full of doughy flour and no hint of seafood, this was just pure starch and very bland at that.  

Dessert was the Tomo Tiramisu, a green tea based mousse atop a bed of Japanese mashed red bean and sponge.  When served chilled, it was like eating ice cream, but after a while, was like eating yucky greasy butter cream with little green tea taste.  

If you're in the neighborhood, you could give this place a chance but stick to the tried and tested favorites.  But after some Sake, you may not notice the difference.  Plus point: this place does serve Calpis Soda, a favorite yogurt based soda from Japan which I really dig.

Esplanade Mall
8 Raffles Avenue
Tel: +65 63330012

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Singapore - Entre-nous Creperie

The advent of crepes in Asia is not new but with recent reviews by food bloggers, I thought I might contribute an entry that I had the opportunity to try when I was in Singapore last weekend.  I like my crepes.  I like that I can make a whole meal out of something so simple but yet have limitless combinations.  I like that savory buckwheat crepes seem to be so healthy and that it feels sinless to eat an abundance of these, notwithstanding that the contents of the crepe might be uber rich.

Aside from Creperie des Arts, Entre-Nous is the only other authentic place I've now tried in Singapore.  Both are owned and run by French so without having gone to Brittany, these are probably as authentic as they can be.

To maximize the visit, I had the set menu which starts with a choice of dry or sweet apple cider.  I'm not much of a fan of too much alcohol but being a sucker for apple juice, the choice of sweet was obvious.  But since I drove, B's choice of dry won.

The seafood and mushroom soup which kicked us off was surprisingly very good.  Very tasty in which both seafood and mushrooms were almost equally represented, the result was well balanced and unlike its looks was not too heavy on the cream.  The French dinner roll was great company too, and you can see the steam escaping as you peel it in half.

The classic of the La Biehat - a buckwheat galette filled with eggs, ham and emmenthal was a yummy combination.  The only slight drawback was that the galette was a little more crispy than the one from Creperie des Arts and less chewy as I would have liked.  But overall, the ingredients were good quality and each complemented the other perfectly.  A great breakfast even at 9 in the evening!  And the salad of loose lettuce leaves drizzled with a wholegrain mustard based vinaigrette was wonderful in its companionship.

Dessert was a sweet crepe with the house special Entre-Nous salted caramel.  The crepe was eggy in fragrance and the perfect chewiness and was made heavenly when generously drizzled with the salted caramel.  Not wanting to neutralize my workout but not prepared to leave without seconds, we ought a bottle of the salted caramel which the lovely lady said we can store at room temperature for up to a month.  Sold!  And I've been savoring it on my morning toast since.

Entre-Nous' setting is modern and bright as compared with Creperis des Arts' which is very Brittany country complete with sailor paraphernalia.  But if I had my way, savory at Creperie des Arts and sweet endings at Entre-Nous.

27 Seah Street
Singapore 188383
Tel: +65-63334671

Singapore - Pave

Thanks to Foodie-Ah, we thought a visit to the newly opened patisserie on East Coast Road - Pave, was worth a visit.  The place is very prettily deco fitted and my camera couldn't do justice to the place.  But Foodie-Ah's shots more than capture the essence of the whole concept.

It was fairly late in the evening, so stocks had obviously depleted through the day.  So that pretty much did the choosing for us. 

Of the 3 cakes we left the shop with, I thought the Matcha was the one that lived up to the whole experience.  A combination which included sweet potato puree, and even purple yam, and soft sponge flavored by green tea which had been cultivated in the shade and therefore not as in-your-face as cheaper teas.  A light yet satisfying piece of art which I think is a sign of greater things to come from this lovely place.

The Black Box - or the chocolate banana dessert didn't go down so well with the panel.  The sprinkles of rock salt over the top were in our opinion, over the top.  Perhaps one sprinkle too many?  The saltiness was a tad overpowering.  The chocolate sponge was deceptive and came in a lot tougher and dryer in reality, which was disappointing.  If it tasted as good as it looked, the yummy mashed banana would be an awesome combination for the chocolate.  In short, there is potential with this one but needs work.

The passionfruit cheese cake was a little better but the fruit was overpoweringly tart and the lovely cheese cake was stopped dead in its tracks and couldn't do much to elevate itself, especially also having to battle the salt and honey oat base.

Overall, lovely ideas and we hope they continue to work at it.  It's too pretty a place to have to let go.  The passionate owners reveal that there is more to come and the peeps cannot wait to try.  But there is some way to go before they can justify the $8 price tag on each of the cakes.

93 East Coast Road
Singapore 428792
Tel: (+65) 6342 0677

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hong Kong - Mandarin Oriental Hotel: Host to Club des Chef des Chef

Thanks to @GeoffsTwitchen or @MO_HKG, I got to be part of an awesome evening, and more importantly, meet some of the great like-minded folks behind some of the better blogs out there.  Awesome to have met you all! @hypercasey @birdiegolfblog @womguide @fernandogros @g4gary - #mohkgccc

The venue was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the event was the dinner created by Executive Chef Uwe Opocensky to celebrate the visit by the Club des Chef des Chef - an elite group of chefs who create meals for important lunch and dinner meetings hosted by various heads of state around the world.  We were seated at the Switzerland table and got to know Gregor Zimmermann, executive chef of the Bellevue Palace in Berne, Switzerland.  The hotel plays host to many important people in Switzerland although Gregor admits that he has yet to cook for the most important man in Switzerland, Roger Federer.  [Big Cheshire grin from me here..]

The menu looked promising enough.  It was definitely no less shabby than some of the menus on display of meals hosted by President Obama for Nicolas Sarkozy (this meal lasted 12 minutes apparently although no one said why).  And the wines of the night definitely fitting of the occasion.  Even @
birdiegolfblog our resident wine connoisseur approved.  

If Chef Uwe sought attention, he grabbed it with the first course of the Spiral - a light sugar wound spiral that you're meant to put your finger through, and roll around in the "dirt" of likely black sesame and olives? It was so fine, it was hard to tell.  Unfortunately, there wasn't an interview segment to get at the concept behind this conversation opener.

The Crispy Fish drew quite a few "oohs" from the diners.  Simple in concept especially if you're of Chinese origin, this was well executed with the Garouper coated in a light but crispy batter and well dressed with a white wine vinegar sauce.  

Our next dish was Peking Duck served on an almost Belgian Waffle.  This was interesting.  The duck was very well done in its own right.  Tasty slivers of meat, interspersed with crispy skin (the best part) and julienned spring onion, sat atop a slight crispy yet chewy waffle, which was a tad dry.  While an overall bite laced with a sweet sauce wasn't your traditional bite of Peking duck, it was certainly pleasant enough.  

The Tea course was reminiscent of a Japanese teapot soup.  The chicken broth was light and a nice reprieve after the Peking duck.  Poured at the table into a bowl of chicken breast cubes, chervil, gold leaf and flowers, I'm sure there was expectation building up as liquid met solids.  

Beggar's Chicken was served under a brownish green layer which looked to some like a deep-sea cleansing mask or flattened and discolored Hong Kong waffle (鸡蛋仔) batter.  This traditional Chinese dish was a poor man's way of cooking chicken.  By lightly seasoning a whole chicken and sealing it in a mud cask, then burying it in the ground and lighting a fire above to slow-cook it, this method was uncanny in sealing in the juices and retaining the natural taste of the chicken.  

Our servers urged us to break the "mud" open.  We of course did as we were told to reveal a lightly baked chicken breast garnished with preserved vegetables and mushrooms, on a bed of Jasmine rice.  Tasty enough although the few of us who broke up the mud into tiny pieces infused in the rice had a hard time, working through it.  To each his own, but I liked mine as is, without the mud.  Few would disagree.  

Dessert was a pretty Butterfly which flew atop a bed of tangy sorbet, contrasted against a chocolate and hazelnut mousse, sprinkled with honeycomb.  If you manage to scoop a little of everything, each spoonful would be an explosion of flavours and textures.

Our finale of the Bird Cage was delivered to each table by the entourage of servers and even some chefs who joined in the revelry.  A spectacular way to end Chef Uwe's interpretation of Asian decadence, reminiscent of days gone by of rich Chinese businessmen with bird in one hand and pipe in another, winding down after a day's wheeling and dealing.  

Mandarin Oriental Hotel 
5 Connaught Road, Central
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2522 0111

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hong Kong - Kitty's Kitchen 三姐海鮮飯店

Make sure you have GPS to get here.  This is not in the midst of shops and therefore not easy to locate, especially if it's your first time.  Snuck into a low rise apartment block in an all residential area, one would never have guessed to look for dinner here.  And there are NO SIGNS either.  So about 45 minutes later, of which 20 were spent circling Tseung Kwan O, we arrived pretty tired and hungry.

The prompt arrival of the starter revived us though.  The sesame-based sauced drizzled with chopped tomatoes over "crystal noodles" (麻香水晶粉)served chilled were brilliant.  The noodles were interesting, almost like wedges of coconut scraped out from the fresh fruit and therefore fragrant in itself. Add on the cool sauce and fresh tomatoes, this was an excellent way to resuscitate ourselves from the travel.

Contrast the baked shrimps with fried garlic bits.  Baked to a crisp but retaining the fresh, firm and sweet flesh on the inside, this was competently done, even for me - I generally am not a huge fan of this dish.

The soy-braised chicken (秘製豉油雞)was also one of the better ones I've had.  Aromatic from the soya sauce, and still retaining its tender juiciness, this chicken is perfect with a bowl of white rice.  And for some of us, the bonus was that it was served with intestines and liver.  As most know, chicken intestines have been hard to find, on account of the cleaning process, which is long and intensive to get the final clean crunch.  That in itself was novelty for me.

This was one of the most impressive dishes of the night.  It is actually a patty made from hand-chopped squid colloid laced with crunchy vegetables and chestnuts, then lightly deep fried to a light golden brown to offer a crispy outside to a crunchy inside.  Glorious!  Just don't be confused by its apparently unconnected name of 窩貼小唐菜.  If you're there next, please ask Kitty(三姐)why it is so named.

The Chinese-style pork steak was also very good.  Tenderised without losing the flavor of the meat, and totally absorbing the very appetizing sweet and sour sauce, and topped with lightly cooked tomatoes, it is less cloying than traditional sweet and sour pork and much healthier, especially since this one is not deep fried first.

The other dish which left an impression was the Flower Crab steamed with egg white and Chinese Huadiao wine (花雕蛋白蒸花蟹).  Crabs were fresh with fall-off-the-shell meat.  And sweet and fragrant from the wine, and just a touch of creaminess from the egg white.  Happiness..

The "tempura" of bittergourd and pumpkin was surprisingly good too.  Well fried to reflect no trace of oil, sprinkled with more fried garlic (which pleasantly did not steal the show), this would have been great as a starter with ice cold beer but it came nondescript in the middle of the meal, while we were distracted by the other dishes.

Minced fish congee(魚蓉粥)was very good too.  Generous bits of fish (likely grass carp) and dried orange peel to lend fragrance and lift it to the next dimension, the congee was boiled down to a smooth finish and needs no chewing.  Enter the mouth, and just use your palate to slowly enjoy before swallowing.  Comforting goodness.

The stir fried rice cakes were an "ok" - tasty but overshadowed by everything else.  It was reminiscent of a non-spicy version of Korean rice cakes.  Not a favorite.

What was surprisingly most disappointing were the vegetables.  Our stir fried Chinese spinach were tasty but the vegetables were too old and overly fibrous.  To Kitty's credit, she tried to salvage it with a quick stir fry which made it more tasty but did nothing to revive the old stems.  The make up dish of shrimp paste water convulvus was better but a little too salty as a last dish, when we had run out of rice and congee.  Oh well, but it was a nice gesture though.

Bad reviews of this place seems to have stopped from about 2 years ago.  And with this experience, I can see why.  Despite the distance, it is worth the trudge (it really isn't so bad once you've figured out how to get there), and Kitty is worth supporting.  And she is great to talk to too!  About food of course..

G/F, 34 Tin Ha Wan Village
Tseung Kwan O
Tel: +852-27013136

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hong Kong - Star of Canton 利寶閣

With the proliferation of new malls in the TST area, comes a natural consequence of new places to eat at.  So with a nudge and recommendation from fellow colleagues, we take a walk to iSquare to try Star of Canton, perched on the 24th floor of iSquare with great views of HK island.  Even on an overcast day, it's pretty cool, so should be awesome in the evenings, when our city's lights come on.

The serving staff are certainly from Heichinrou since true to form, our Ms T was greeted by just about everyone in the restaurant.  So it's no fair to talk about service here.  Someone needs to come incognito to rate that piece.

Since we came at lunch, we ordered a bunch of dim sum to share.

Cool and crunchy jelly fish heads in a sesame oil and scallion dressing accompanied by cucumber chunks were a delight to start.  Jelly fish heads were crunchy yet easy to bite through, probably having been soaked and re-soaked to attain the texture.  Of course, dressing was fragrant and tasty and overall, ensured we stayed cool as cucumbers on a humid day.

Cheong fun with dried shrimps were decent and served prettily in a long plate rather than stacked.  Some aesthetic value here and while tasty, unspectacular.

Since there were 6 of us, we order a lunch combo also of grouper and bittergourd on crispy noodles.  Sauce and noodles were served separately ensuring the noodles stayed extra crispy and survived the walk from kitchen to table.  This was tasty even if noodles were a little greasy - we saw the film of oil on the bottom of the plate after we finished the noodles.  Oops - too late.

The other duo in the combo was the baby Chinese cabbage in a sweet fish stock and chopped tomatoes.  The tomatoes were a nice touch, keeping the stock fresh and light but still tasty.  Of course, it's a health bonus to the yummy noodles we had, and in our minds, neutralized the oil there.

The deep fried batted milk fish was also very good.  Named milk fish for good reason, this fish literally melts in your mouth and is a nice creamy contrast to the crispy batter.  Always a yummy way to enjoy a cold beer although we more than made-do with our Pu'r tea.

Our special order of the crispy pork bun akin to a bo lor or pineapple bun was pretty decent, especially if you like the fragrance of butter.  Very crispy to the point before flaky, it was a nice variation to the traditionally steamed bun although we liked the Snow mountain bun at Victoria City better.

For sweets, we tried the alkali dumpling with lotus seed paste.  This was deceptive in its plain Jane looks.  The lotus seed paste was extremely good and not at all cloying.  The generous use of dried fruit peel to give it texture, fragrance and reprieve was well executed and we finished this one without regret. Yums!

The dessert platter was a quite a spectacle.  I'm not a huge fan of these types of sweets but the Osmanthus flower jello was actually very good.  Aside from Osmanthus, the presence of wolfberries and snow fungus in the jello made it very fresh and enjoyable.  Especially after a heavy yum cha lunch.  I took mini bites from the sweet fritters laced with honey (蛋散)or what I call a Chinese Churro were pretty good too.

Overall, a decent place to yum cha if you're in the area.  Certainly one of the more enjoyable and comfortable places in TST to enjoy Hong Kongers favorite pastime.

Shop 2401, 24/F, iSquare
63 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2799 9368

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hong Kong - Senfuku 千福中日火鍋料理

As far as hot pots in Hong Kong go, Senfuku is a mighty comfortable place to enjoy this classic.  In the old days of non-airconditioning, I can't imagine people tucking into this in the hot summer.  And what a hot summer we are having in Hong Kong.  But thanks to air-conditioning, we can now enjoy this virtually all year round, even if traditional Chinese medicine practitioners discourage you from overdoing it, for fear of the consequences.

Aside from a small but comfortable premises, Senfuku's differentiator is the use of very fresh, almost sashimi-grade ingredients for its hot pot.

And speaking of sashimi, it's pretty wide selection is very fresh.  While it's not going to be choice cuts, it's a great way to start a steamy meal.  I especially enjoyed the sea urchin or Uni wrapped in separately provided dried seaweed sheets.  I literally licked off the board used to serve the Uni on.

The Geoduck wasn't bad too and was cool and crunchy, making for a great contrast to the wasabi laced soy sauce it is served with.  For the unseasoned, you can also wait for the hot pot to arrive and dunk this in for about 10 seconds for a still-crunch piece of shell fish, that is sweet.

One of the favorite features of Hong Kong hot pot, though not available at all hot pot restaurants, is the ability to concoct your own dipping sauce.  At Senfuku, you can choose from a variety of XO sauce, sesame paste, hoisin sauce, raw garlic, roasted garlic, extra hot little chilies, coriander and spring onions.  The only thing I missed was vinegar, which I requested for separately.  There is no right or wrong, just mix away and see what you come up with and like.

The best part of hot pot is the beef.  The better the cut, the better your experience.  You want enough marbling so it's juicy without being chewy after it's been dancing around in the pot for no more than 30 seconds.  Any more and you might as well eat shoe rubber.  The cuts at Senfuku were commendable, as you can see from the pic.

The eel was unusual and very sweet after cooking.  Aside from the bones, which some might find objectionable, it is an enjoyable fish to be had.  Also good were the milk fish, not photographed here.

Of course, like any good hot pot restaurant, they make their own wantons, squid colloids, pork balls, shrimp dumplings, etc. in every combination possible.  All decent but the WOW! remains with the beef.  That's where the sweet spot really is.

1/F, Empress Plaza
17-19, Chatham Road South
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-23111812

Note: entrance to building is on Mody Road.

Hong Kong - Canton Room @ Luk Kwok Hotel 粵軒

Last Sunday was pretty busy on the HK dining scene.  I could not get a table at any of my regular joints.  So after much searching, it was with some luck that I managed a reservation at Luk Kwok Hotel's Canton Room.  The reviews looked promising so it was with some excitement that I went to meet M and T, whom I hadn't seem in more than a year.  These Brussels residents might be hard to please given their privilege of living in one of the world's best places to eat.

It was my first time in the hotel in my entire 10 years of living here.  The restaurant was up one level via the escalator.  I was a little worried at the noise when I got there, only to be relieved that the culprit was the neighboring cafe where there was a bustling buffet going on.  Canton Room was pleasantly set in a small area and quiet as Chinese restaurants go.  You can speak at normal voice and more than hear yourself.  We were also lucky to get a corner table by the window, although there is no view except for one of usually busy Gloucester Road, which was quiet on a Sunday.

First up, shrimps in salted egg yolk batter.  This interpretation was slightly different from the usual.  Less crispy, less salty and we thought a little too sweet.  The crispy leaves were a nice touch but overall, it was "ok".

Next up: the quintessential traditional Cantonese chicken dish.  Crispy roast chicken which isn't really roasted but bathed in hot oil to achieve the very crispy skin, so crispy that it is sans the yellow layer of fat underneath, making it even more tasty, against the lightly salted meat.  Canton Room's version came complete with the pink prawn cracker more commonly found from the '70s.  It was competent and came well-drained.  However, we couldn't get excited eating it.  There was just something that didn't come together although you cannot fault the dish at all.

The looker of the evening had to be the award winning dish of Canton Room.  A simple stir fry of honey beef short ribs with mushrooms and lily bulbs in a sauce with a sweet finish.  Flanked by little mini mounds of mash, lightly grilled to deliver a golden brown top.  The placement of asparagus shoots broke the monotony of the yellow and creamy with a vibrant green and crunch.  It was pretty delicious and innovative.  We all liked it but to be award winning, we had the expectation that there would somehow be a wow from somewhere.

The Princely Fried Rice was a little disappointing in my opinion.  I like my fried rice dry and grainy so that each grain has already been enveloped by the flavors of the seafood, eggs and crunchy vegetables in this case.  In this case, it was pretty oil-free but not enough to be the way I like it.  And the use of too much ginger overpowered any fresh tastes of the ingredients, which is always a shame.

To finish, I had the almond cream, and we all shared a basket of steamed Malay cake.  I don't know if the history of the cake is Malaysian but it is quintessential Cantonese dim sum and any place offering traditional dim sum must offer this, or relinquish the title.  This version was pure soft chiffon with a pleasant egg and sugar fragrance.  Traditional recipes call for lard, although I didn't smell it in this version.  No detraction though - it was just as good and provided an enjoyable finish.

Overall, there is a lot of competence and potential for the place.  Although there wasn't a wow, it was still an enjoyable dinner to be had.  I'd like to think my choice of dishes may not have been the best and that this place is definitely worth a second shot.

1/F, Luk Kwok Hotel
72 Gloucester Road
Wan Chai
Tel: +852-28663806

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hong Kong - Din Tai Fung

If dumplings are your thing, then Din Tai Fung is your place.  It's not great for much else but the dumplings definitely steal the show.  I'm not a dumpling fanatic but I always leave satisfied.  The only exception was the outlet in Singapore's Paragon.  I haven't verified this but I'm told that there is definitely a difference between a real Din Tai Fung and a franchisee and that's the reason for the variation in quality.  I've had the good fortune to try the original in Taipei and am happy to say the one in TST's Silvercord mall is pretty darn close, and a lot more comfortable.

The winning appetizer to start is the jelly fish and radish salad, julienned to be the exact same size and blanched to be almost similar in crunch too.  Tossed lightly in sesame oil, the only difference between the 2 is the taste of the sea from the jellyfish and the sweet taste of the earth from the radish.

Not to detract from the dumplings, the Xiao Long Bao(小笼包)are perfectly done.  The skin is thin but strong enough to hold a juicy meatball on the inside.  The meatball is loosely packed so as to be able to disintegrate as you pop it in your mouth, and the accompanying soup stock within the dumpling is sweet and satisfying.  Dunked in the accompanying Zhejiang or black vinegar with thin strips of young ginger, it is the perfect mouthful.

The other dumplings we like are the meat and chive dumplings in a vinegared chili oil(红油抄手).  The dumplings are a tasty combination of meat and vegetables also wrapped in a thin but firm and slightly chewy skin which pick up the sauce adequately to give it the taste and with enough heat so as not to overpower.

The other dinner is actually the fried rice with deep fried spareribs (炸猪扒炒饭).  The spareribs are competently done but what is most impressive is actually the rice.  The use of pearl rice grains means the rice is individually tasty and each grain absorbs the flavors of the frying process and firm to the bite.  The  simple accompaniments of egg and spring onions give it rough flavor for you to enjoy the rice just on its own.  If you don't like pork, there is a shrimp version which is equally good.

Stick to the favorites, and you'll have a wondrous meal here.

Shop 130, 3/F, Silvercord
30 Canton Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2730 6928