Saturday, May 28, 2011

Singapore - Caffe B

I finally stepped into the behemoth structure known now as Marina Bay Sands.  Not without being first unimpressed by parking facilities though.  The fact that there is insufficient parking underground in a facility of this size is just bewildering.  And it didn't even seem like a night where much was going on, except the much touted show, The Lion King.  And the fact that you have to pay double ERP charges over a 100 meter stretch to double back to parking beyond the worker dormitories just made the driving experience there frustrating to say the least.  Good thing I wasn't at the wheel..

The inside of the mall is massive, and thanks to the young man at concierge who could not discern left from right, we ended up taking a tour of the mall, or was that on purpose??

Caffe B's restaurant entrance is in the basement, a little odd but I guess that's to make room for their bar at promenade level which overlooks the water out to where the Fullerton Hotel is, which I have to admit is rather pretty.  Service was very professional and efficient with our waiter refilling our water glasses ever so often, and the serving staff dropping a "bon appetit" when each course is served.  Professional but stoic and impassioned - they seem to be low in energy, and overworked...

The food was decent and competent but really nothing to write home about.  The Japanese chef ensured there were spots of the crossover coming through but overall, it wasn't spectacular.

Bread for the table
Fluffy bread although toasting it made it crumbly and not the chewy kind I like.  But decent and went well with the quality olive oil and balsamic.

To start, we had the Caffe B Antipasto Selection to save us the trouble of choosing an appetiser.  And we thought it would be a good representation of what they have to offer since it was our first time.

Wagyu Beef Carpaccio
Starting with the carpaccio, this was actually a pretty good slice of beef.  Although thin, it was very beefy and melts in the mouth.  The use of an onion aioli was an interesting deviation from the norm and for those who like onions, they will like this, but I thought it might have stolen a bit of thunder from the beef itself.

Millefeuille Eggplant
This was deceptively blah looking but turned out to be quite tasty.  A stack of thinly sliced eggplant infused with what we thought was bits of eel or fish of some sort was good.  Topped off with a little raw fish in soy marinade, the bite-sized portion was a burst of different flavours and textures.

Iberico Ham
Interestingly, for an Italian place, the Chef decides to use Spanish Iberico.  Though a tad salty, each piece went well with the 3 different fruit of melon, kiwi and grape in each roll-up.  And balanced off with a good piece of Parmiggiano Reggiano.

Stuffed Tomatoes
This was a bit blah for me.  One was stuffed with a Ratatouille - not my favouritest way to do vegetables.  The other was a crab meat mayo - tasty enough.

Spaghetti with Iberico Ham in Tomato Herb Sauce
Going into the main event, the spaghetti was very well done - good quality pasta with bite and stained appropriately with a pretty robust tomato based sauce.  The use of Rosemary was a little overpowering but acceptably so since the Iberico was man-enough to match it.

Fish of the Day in Clams and Mussels Broth 
Catch of the day was Garouper.  Interesting since it's more associated with Chinese style steamed fish dishes, but it went pretty well since I do like Garouper anyway.  The sweet, cottony flesh was fairly good in taking up the broth made with our shellfish friends.  White wine and butter made the broth a little more rounded but not greasy.  Would have drunk a few more spoonfuls if it wasn't a tad salty.  The shellfish was fresh but not ultra so since they didn't come off the shells so easily and were overcooked.  But one can overlook it since the main event was the fish, and there was a lot of it even between 2.

To end, 3 ginormous scoops of ice cream.  Each scoop was the equivalent of about one and a half normal scoops, so even between 2 people it was a bit much, after a 3 course meal.  The vanilla and sesame were ok but I really digged the green tea one since the Matcha came through very well, with a hint of what I think is honey.  Sign of the Japanese chef's roots coming through.

The overall experience at Caffe B was enjoyable enough although it won't be one of the places people rave about.  Perhaps a pit stop for ladies who shop and do lunch.

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue
B1-15 or 01-83
Tel: +65-68873311

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hong Kong - Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine 新同樂魚翅酒家

Finally hit the highly touted newest 3-star Michelin Chinese restaurant in the latest version of the Hong Kong/Macau guide.  Oddly located in a mass-market mall in TST, decor was comfy, and reminiscent of a brighter T'ang Court.  Comfy chairs and tables that aren't too close to each other like in most Chinese restaurants.  Service was efficient and professional even if impersonal.  And the food?

生磨杏仁露 Fresh-ground Almond Broth
It's not often I start a review with dessert.  But this was actually the star of the show.  Possibly the best bowl of almond broth I've ever had in my entire life, and believe me I've had quite a few since it's my default dessert of choice.  The quality of the almonds used was undeniably high.  And just like all good Chinese restaurants, dessert was prepared table-side.  And as the broth heats up, the aroma of the almonds fills the room.  The broth itself was extremely smooth, and with none of that chalky taste of lesser versions.  Pleasantly sweet but not cloying, it made for a nice finish to an unspectacular lunch.

梅菜扣肉包 or Stewed Belly Pork with Preserved Vegetables
This is a classic dim sum special.  I do love 梅菜扣肉 or belly pork stewed with preserved vegetables Hakka style.  So I never pass up on an opportunity to eat it, not even if it's just one serving slipped into a steamed bun.  Taste was pretty authentic, although I would have been happier with a smoother piece of pork.  This was a tad dry, and the separation of the fat from the meat too distinct.

鵝肝芋角 Yam Pastry with Goose liver
As far as dim sum went, this was by far their best performance of the meal.  A smooth yam paste with a piece of liver enveloped in a fluffy pastry and deep fried without a trace of oil.  So important especially since it could have gone really wrong and turned out a be a whole grease bag.  Deserving of applause here.

鮑魚批 Abalone Pies
Decent but nothing to write home about.  Bits of abalone visible on the inside but without much abalone taste.  Pastry was mediocre so overall, it made for a forgettable course.

鮑汁鵝掌意粉 Linguini with Goose Web in Abalone Sauce
This was by far the biggest disappointment.  The goose webs were tasty enough but for some reason the noodles were as tasteless as tasteless can be.  I think their choice of a linguini was flawed since it could not pick up the supposedly abalone-based sauce.  So I ate the goose web and left the noodles.  And split by 4 people, I was surprised we barely got one goose web each...

黃橋燒餅 Northern Style Yellow Bridge Meat Pasties
These pastries weren't bad but by no means the best.  Even Victoria City's version was comparable if not better.

My conclusion: Sun Tung Lok is probably just not a yum cha place.  Perhaps I gotta do the un-PC thing and just have their sharks' fin and suckling pig dishes.  Maybe I might agree with the 3-star rating then.  Otherwise, it's just a very comfy place to have above average Cantonese food.

Shop 4D, Miramar Shopping Centre
132 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2152 1417

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hong Kong - Sing Kee Seafood Restaurant 勝記海鮮酒家

For city folks, it's not often that you get a chance to get out to the New Territories to enjoy a touch of nature and eat by the water.  Saikung isn't far from the madding crowds since it's become such a popular weekend destination for local families, especially those with dogs.  I swear there are more canines than humans walking on the Saikung promenade.

Of course, Saikung also promises some of the best hiking trails in the territory, and of varying levels of difficulty so there's something for everyone.  You can also take the boat to Kau Sai Chau for a game of golf on the 2 scenic courses a mere 10 minutes away on the water, if you can secure a booking, that is.

Late risers that we are, and it being Easter Monday, gorgeous sunshine beating down with a subtle breeze, it was a brilliant top-down drive day and perfect for a late and lazy seafood lunch and stroll (perhaps dodge since the crowds were out in full force).

View from sitting outside of Sing Kee
All these years, I've only tried the crowded restaurants along the promenade and was no longer impressed after the first experience more than 10 years ago.  This time, we decided on the far end of the promenade, supposedly where Sai Kung's promenade should have started decades ago.  Sing Kee looks out onto boats docked in what looks like a makeshift marina, but it is all rustic and set the backdrop for a lovely al fresco experience.

白灼蝦 or quick blanched Prawns
This is almost the quintessential starter to any seafood meal in Hong Kong.  It may look boring (and it is if executed poorly or if prawns are not as fresh as they should be) but Sing Kee's version was actually very good.  The meat of the prawns left the shells with one flick (sign of ultra freshness) and the quick blanch did not age the meat, retaining a fresh, natural sea-sweetness that was very enjoyable.  So good that it was easy to forget the usual soy dip that accompanies the dish.

豉椒聖子 or Steamed Bamboo Clams with Black Bean Sauce
Again, the clam was very fresh and cooked to the perfect point that is crunchy without being chewy.  The sauce was very tasty although the consistency was a touch heavy.

椒鹽鮮鮑 or Salt/Pepper Baked Abalones
This was the favorite of the afternoon.  A huge dilemma whether to stuff ourselves with more than 2 each.  Any fears that the abalone would be tough was quickly put to rest.  Our teeth sank into a crunchy, sweet sucker from Dalian, China, that had layered on textures of tasty crispiness from the deep fried bread crumbs laced with salt and pepper.  So easy to pop into the mouth, chew and savor.  This alone, would be good reason enough to visit again.

豉油皇炒麵 or Dry fried egg noodles with Premium Soy
To finish, one of my favorite Hong Kong carbo dishes.  This is definitely all about execution.  Sing Kee's version was tasty but paled in comparison to Yuet Wah Hui in Causeway Bay.  It was definitely tasty, with hints of the smoky wok it was in, but a tad greasy.  Perfection should leave the base of the serving plate dry, and only slightly stained from the dark soy.  Still enjoyable though, just had to leave the base layer untouched.

Original Flava with Mochis and Cookie Crumbs
And in the spirit of the froyo movement, we went to Mr. Froyo to pick up dessert.  Original flavour with toppings of mochi balls coated in sawdust, and cookie crumbs.  Not bad, but not as good as Yogo.  Still made for a sweet ending to a relaxing afternoon.  Perhaps next time, we might think about doing the hiking thing first before stuffing our faces...

Sing Kee
G/F, 33-39 
Sai Kung Tai Street
Sai Kung
Tel: +852-2791 9887

Mr. Froyo
Shop 65, Sai Kung Villa
Fuk Man Road
Sai Kung
Tel: +852-2388 7848

Hong Kong - Kenjo 見城日本料理

Teacup with Kenjo san's caricature
It's an old name on the Sushi scene in Hong Kong.  And it still commands a crowd.  Despite the recent backlash on Japanese restaurants from the earthquake and resulting radiation disaster in Japan, the Kenjo name doesn't seem to have suffered.  And the jolly ole Sushi chef is still a friendly personality to have moulding your rice into perfect mounds in front of you.  Unfortunately, he didn't do all of our courses, and our overly serious chef wasn't up to Kenjo san's standard.  Still decent nevertheless.

Sashimi was decent and fresh but not spectacular. Hana Sakazuki wins there.  The Baby Tuna was good though, and very pretty....

Baby Tuna
But when it comes to Sushi, Kenjo is by far the most enjoyable.  It really is the rice...  The consistency of each mound of rice, deftly moulded into the same shape for each and every piece, well balanced in stickiness and acidity, complemented each piece of fish, crustacean or shellfish perfectly.

Here are some memorable pieces:


Seared Tuna Cheek

Sea Urchin

Grilled Sea Eel

Edge of Scallop Muscle

Botan Shrimp

Yellow Tail
Cooked food wasn't too bad also, and it's always nice to have a break between all the raw so you enjoy it that much more.  Some might say it detracts from the palate but I have a short attention span, and really don't think the intermission counts against much except to bring a pleasant change.  And all the gurus say, Change is Good.

Grilled Squid with Roe
This was by far the most spectacularly executed grilled squid I've had in a long while, and carefully done to leave all the creamy roe intact, this was something to savor slowly, especially with a cold Sake.  I can almost still taste the memory..  Sauce was also very good.  Sticky enough to cling but not overly gooey nor sweet, as with some lesser places.  Brilliant piece of work.

When we started the meal, we were asked if we chose Sashimi or Sushi, and unbeknownst to us, the pricing is based on course rather than amount consumed.  So although we chose to have more variety but less pieces, and mix the 2, we were whacked hard without concession.  However, I am told that if you just choose the Sushi, it's a very reasonable price.  And seriously, that's really what Kenjo is famous for, and at that quality, quite a steal to eat for dinner.  Strategy for next visit done.

G/F, 30 Minden Ave
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2369 8307

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Singapore - Oversea Restaurant

Make no mistake, this is not Cantonese food.  This is Malaysian Chinese food (of which Cantonese forms a sub-group), cooked the way that a mere 3 to 4 generations ago, was the stuff of weekend family dinners, weddings and other happy occasions. But it is sanitized, in a good way.  This is a lot less greasy than it used to be.  Still tasty and more importantly, delivers the distinct nostalgia we've been craving.

And Oversea has delivered it right to the shores of Singapore.  While I've not tried their original shop in Kuala Lumpur, fans rave about that one and that the one in Singapore is a lesser cousin.  But little to nothing takes me to KL, so who's complaining?

Char Siu or Honey glazed roast pork
This is their piece de resistance.  This is what the kind person who takes your reservations on the phone will remind you to reserve.  They don't seem to be able to make enough of this.  Unlike the Hong Kong versions, this is sweeter, more caramelly in taste, with edges roasted till it's charcoal fragrant and crisp.  A delightful way to start especially since it's served warm.

Siu Yoke or Roast belly pork with crackling
While some rave about this also, I was less than impressed.  If you're used to having this in every other Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong, Oversea's version is a tougher cut, with disproportionate ratios of meat to fat, and the crackling was not as crisp or aromatic as it should have been.

Double boiled chicken soup with Abalone
This was much tastier than it looked.  The clarity is not to be mistaken for bland.  The soup was flavorful from the chicken and abalone but surprisingly the chicken was still tender to the bite.

Scrambled eggs with fish maw
This was another winner for me.  Eggs were well scrambled in a style reminiscent of the old days, when banquets offering a cold dish combo platter used to have this as one of the items.  Fish maw is used in place of politically incorrect sharks' fin but there was no detraction from taste.  Great with the lettuce leaves that are served together as receptacles for the eggs.

Steamed Tofu with dried shrimps and soy
Home-style tofu, period.  A good quality soy that was slightly sweet made for a good sauce.  Otherwise ordinary, since it is a piece of cake to reproduce this at home, especially since the imprinted edges suggested that all you have to do is lift it out of the box in which it was packed.

Eggplant and fish cake in claypot
This was just plain tasty and perfect to down a bowl of steamed rice with.  The addition of little rounds of fish cake was an interesting twist to the classic version but the bouncy pieces made for an interesting crunch to the dish.  

Tofu with Shrimps
We lamented the use of such big prawns in this dish since they were tasteless and failed to impress as a result.  The sauce was created from shrimp roe, and a fair bit of it at that, but lacked a shrimpy robustness about it.  A far cry from Joo Heng's version.  The only element which won here were the tofu pieces.  Very smooth, and encased in what tasted like an egg-based casing, that was well deep fried.

Steamed Patin (Catfish) with minced ginger
This is a great fish to eat, if you like fatty fishes.  The Omega 3 content is probably sky high and makes for an easy fish to steam since you don't have to worry about overcooking it.  The only unfortunate part of execution was that all you can taste is the ginger.  Granted, if you like ginger, you will love this.  However, I'm not a huge fan, and would have preferred a little more fish to come through.

Stir fried Kailan in ginger and chinese wine
Vegetables used were good quality.  A teenage Kailan that made for perfect crunch and sweetness where florets meet leaves.  A light ginger and Huadiao wine sauce enhanced.

Chilled honeyed sea coconut and longans
Dessert was quite blah.  It was refreshing, but again something you can create out of a couple of cans of honeyed sea coconut and longans.  The lemon wedge was the twist that cut through the cloying canned syrups.

While some comment that Oversea is pricey for what it is, and they're not far off, but in this day, where this style of food preparation is few and far between in Singapore, it is probably still a steal since it's all about instant gratification and not having to speed down the North-South highway for 3 hours to get the same thing for less.

100 Beach Road
Shaw Leisure Gallery
Shaw Towers
Tel: +65-6294 2638

Friday, May 6, 2011

Singapore - Capricci

It's never fair to overly judge a first visit.  Given the crowd, there must be a variety of reasons why the restaurant commands the clientele.  Tonight, I wasn't impressed however.  Hopefully, we just caught them on a bad night.

The ambience of the place is as it was when Oso occupied this space, just darker.  Lighting was very low at our table in fact (which explains the quality of the photos) so quite  few tables of love-birds surrounding us.  However, I'm sure they were lamenting the table of 20 women celebrating a birthday just across from us.  20 of any specimen is not going to be quiet affair.  I was also in the direct line of fire, having been shot by a professional photographer's flash about 100 times.  If these could make holes, I would have bled to death in about 15 minutes flat.  I digress however, since a restaurant can't really control the patronage.

We shortlisted off the host's recommendations, our only instruction to her being "If you would like us to come back, what would you suggest?"

Burrata Caprese Style with Cherry Tomato and Salad
I enjoy the milkiness of Burrata and its chewy texture, without being overly rich.  Served Caprese, it is outstanding as an appetiser, waking up the palate with a garden freshness, and with any acidity well balanced by the cheese.  That's the theory.  The execution here didn't match up.  A first bite and both of us knew something was not right with the dressing.  The oil and vinegar combination was a lot heavier than usual, but unlike the richness of aged Balsamic.  This was tart yet greasy, and tasted almost like it was a tad "off".  Worried, we decided to send it back.  Service was impeccable here since our friendly host gladly took it back and the chef served up a new version with a light drizzle of just fresher extra virgin olive oil.  Much closer to theory.

John Dee Grass Fed Beef Tenderloin Tartare with Truffle Oil, Shaved Parmesan and Arugula
Our other appetiser of the beef tartare was enjoyable.  Good produce, although I strained unsuccessfully to get a whiff nor hint of the truffle oil.  Still enjoyable since this was real Arugula, and not the tasteless variety commonly sold in supermarkets here, that's all heat and nothing else.  Any concern we had from the waiter who asked if we wanted our beef tartare rare, medium or well done, was laid to rest.  The awkwardness of pondering his question merely made for a laugh afterward.

Paccheri with Homemade Italian Sausage, Porcini Mushroom and Parmesan  Cream Sauce
There is a fine line between al dente and undercooked.  Unfortunately, this one stood on the side of the latter.  Sauce was passably tasty although really nothing you couldn't do at home.  The sausage by itself was decent though and scored extra marks for being just right on the sodium counter.

Sous-vide Cod Fish Fillet Drenched in a sauce of seafood, anchovies, and cream topped with crispy corn
This one sounded a lot better on the menu that it tasted.  It wasn't bad at all but it just didn't taste sous-vide.  It tasted like cod generally tastes, sitting in a quarter bowl of soup that apart from the description on the menu, you would not have had an easy time deciphering the seafood content nor the anchovies.  I love corn but somehow it was odd combination.  This is almost reminiscent of going home, rummaging through the fridge and putting whatever is in there into a one-dish meal.  Probably OK for the home, but to pay restaurant prices for this is questionable.

So perhaps we made the wrong shortlist off our friendly host's recommendations.  We didn't try the other yummy sounding spinach souffle, nor the braised lamb shank.  Oh well, if someone else invited me, I may do that.  I'm just unsure at this time whether I would pick up the phone and make a reservation again soon.  A pity since the service was really quite good - friendly, professional but without being intrusive.  A gem anywhere these days, really.

27 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: +65-62216761

Monday, May 2, 2011

Macau - Restaurante Espaco Lisboa 里斯本地帶餐廳

This was easily our best meal in Macau on this trip.  It was a trudge, and if you know the taxi situation in Macau, you know the exponential factor that adds.  But thankfully, we were in the Cotai area, and the taxi line at the Venetian moved very quickly.  It is about 15 minutes to Coloane from Cotai, where Espaco is located, and the drive would have been scenic if it hadn't been sundown already.  I think we passed a penitentiary facility.  It's fascinating that such facilities are in some of the best spots in the world.  Guess it makes it difficult for escapes, although the rest of us are always trying to escape to such spots all the time for vacation!  The irony of life.

The restaurant is set in a short row of what looked to be 2-storey residences inside a quaint little lane.  It's not far from the water although I don't think you can see it from the restaurant.  We didn't opt for the balcony seating and chose the ground floor area, which is a cosy and homey little area with a cute bar area that also houses the dessert fridge and the cashier.  The picture is deceptively deserted since shortly after, even the ground floor area filled up and the noise levels went up many decibels when the large table got filled up with a loud and noisy group.

We sat down and started demolishing the little pot of olives at the table.  Well preserved to be tasty but still crunchy, this had little salt but retained the full flavor of the olives.  So good it needed no alcoholic accompaniment.  My ginger ale was good enough.

Clams in a white wine sauce
This one took us unawares.  We like our clams and in a white wine sauce, we like them even more.  But this white wine sauce was so good we used whatever bread we had to soak up every drop after we were said and done with the fresh bouncy clams.  The use of butter in the sauce made it that much more robust, but not reaching the point of greasy creaminess so that less would have been more.  The juice from the lemon wedge cut through the richness to make it easily addictive.  So, we were craving for more and would have tipped the pot into our mouths if the restaurant were indeed deserted.  Too bad Ms Manners was looking.

Duck Rice
According to the friendly owner, this is their piece de resistance.  A casserole of shredded duck covered with rice and baked in the oven topped with bacon and Chorizo sausage.  So simple yet so good.

Duck rice - deconstructed
We mixed it up to reveal the shredded duck buried in the rice.  Morsels of duck, rice, and bits of bacon/Chorizo made for mouthfuls of tasty decadence.  Forget that this was not healthy dish, with the different fats from the different meats, but that was precisely why there is so much flavor in its simplicity.  And the bits of rice which came into direct contact from the oven's heat had become crisp and added the lovely snap, crackle, and pop we all look forward to in any baked rice dish.

Grilled Sardines
To up our Omega 3 count after the duck rice, we thought grilled sardines would do the trick.  The owner warned us that since sardines are not readily available in Macau, they ship theirs in from Portugal frozen.  But they were still good.  Tasty with a touch more bittersweet as you approach the belly, the type of flavors you would enjoy if you enjoy Mackeral.  However, this is not for those who don't enjoy their fish since there are a lot of bones to maneuver through.  The trick is to debone before you start to eat.  If you can take out the centre bone slowly and leave the attaching "rib cage" area intact, you save yourself a lot of headache later.  Simple dish served with grilled green peppers and a boiled potato and a wedge of lemon for a twist of tang.  Provincially good.

Sawdust Pudding
This one got us "good".  I've had many disappointments with this one, but since the food had been so wonderful, I thought how bad can dessert be.  But it's just me.  I just don't get this one.  I don't get the attraction of layering sawdust over cream.  I dislike each and even if happily married, I still dislike them as a unit.  So there.  My only regret is not having gone for the egg pudding.  And I would regret it till my next visit.

I would visit again.  It was worth the trudge.  Coloane does seem like a lovely area and perhaps a lunch visit next time, with a walkabout would do the trick.  Apparently Lord Stow's Bakery (the original) is right on that same row.

G/F & 1/F, 8 R. das Gaivotas
Coloane Downtown

Tel: +853-
2888 2226