Sunday, January 29, 2012

Singapore - Gunther's Modern French Cuisine

It has withstood the test of time and the financial tsunami, it appears.  Still packing in a healthy crowd on a Thursday night (albeit it is Chinese New Year week), there's something to be said about resilience.  It fell off my radar screen despite a  decent introduction, but only because it's been hard to keep up with Singapore openings, especially since I don't live here anymore.

Since it had been a while, I decided on the Degustation menu, as did the rest of the party.

Since SP brought his own wine, which wasn't bad at all, we just had that all night.  *smiles.  Forget wine pairing.

Amuse Bouche
A warm mini baguette and shrimp tempura to keep us occupied over wine and convo while the menu was set into motion in the kitchen.  Bread and shrimp weren't too amusing so thank goodness for alcohol.

Cold Angel Hair Pasta, Oscietra Caviar
Still Gunther's best and signature dish of all time.  Easily the best of the evening.  Too bad it was a degustation portion only.  So good thing for bread, to help mop the stray caviar which didn't cling to the well chilled and very al dente angel hair.  Stock and truffle bits were very complementary also.

Poached egg, carpaccio of celeriac, Spanish ham
Egg was perfect, and broke into a runny golden hue.  Spanish ham a little too thin to make any impact.  So I didn't really get the use of the celeriac, which seemed to overwhelm, even the great egg.  Perfectly executed dish, but again, perhaps I would have substituted the celeriac, and re-ratio-ed the ham against the celeriac.  But maybe it's just me..

Roasted Carabinero Gambas, Tomato Rice
While not a huge fan of shrimp, I enjoyed this course a lot.  The essence of this imported shrimp from Spain was reduced to an umami-filled stock contained in the shell.  Some of this was used to cook the short grained rice resulting in a slightly sweet, slightly tart, but robustly shrimpy sauce which covered but did not soak each grain.  Flesh of the shrimp was bouncy but not tough and had a sweet finish.  Very good.

US Tenderloin, mash croquette, artichoke, onion tempura
This was probably the most unexciting for me.  The cut was a good one, but I personally enjoy something a lot more "beefy" and most tenderloins fail to deliver on that count.  Accompaniments were competent, but not much more.  So perhaps my least favorite course of the evening.

Plateau of French farm cheeses
Since B brought her own birthday cake, I chose the cheese plate over Gunther's signature apple tart with Havana rum ice cream.  From the foreground of a soft and creamy Brie Savarin to a hard Cheddar taste-alike, and a slightly spicy but creamy cheese, they were all enjoyable.  The only one I couldn't stomach was the Goat at the end.  Not my thang.

Petit Fours
Gunther's petit fours are a happy ending to the tale.  Loved his Canele the most, so well made with a firm crust exterior, and a moist and spongy interior.  Perhaps next time, I will pack the untouched ones.

My overall take:  professional service even if the younger server was a little hard-sell with the champagne and wines.  But otherwise, very pleasant and adequately attentive.  Food was perhaps a 7 (out of 10), not a wow, but decent cozy place to have a small intimate party with close ones, or a business meal with clients.  Acoustics are not bad but can be a tad above the range if it gets busy.

36 Purvis Street
Singapore 188613
Tel: +852-63388955

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hong Kong - Mango Tree

Mango Tree is probably the most talked about Thai place in town after most people slammed the Greyhound Cafe at the IFC.  I've not yet made the Greyhound but the 2 menus are distinct, of course.  While Mango Tree offers traditional Thai dishes perhaps modernised for the international palate, Greyhound's menu is modernity with Thai influences.  So between the 2, their only common denominator is that they are exported concepts from Thailand.

Mango Tree is possibly one of the more comfortable places in Hong Kong to enjoy Thai cuisine.  It's bustling (mind you, it is still difficult to get reservations) but you don't feel the squeeze of Hong Kong in the dining room.  Tables are decent sized and there is adequate distance between tables so you don't feel compelled to eavesdrop on your neighbors.

Lychee Smash
I loved that they had a wonderful drinks menu with something for everything.  But whatever it was, it provided the perfect Thai resort feel and backdrop as you peruse the menu.

Crispy Rice Crackers - served with minced pork, peanuts and fresh coconut dip

Pomelo Salad
Starters were very competent and everything just came across as very fresh.  Sometimes, with Thai food, the authenticity is sometimes marred by the imagination of a dirty street kitchen, which while adding to exoticism, tends to just disrupt the joy with a touch of concern - just a touch.  But here you got the sense that the kitchen was just pristine, especially with the salad that was chilled right.  And the starters did well to suppress hunger pangs while we waited to complete the party.

The rest of the food was again, internationalized Thai cuisine.  Extremely competent and I will not hesitate to bring guests again.  

Tom Yum Goong
 If you like the prawny version ie. packed with a lot of shrimp roe, you will like this.  It is spicy though.

Roasted Duck Curry
Can't go wrong with roast duck in the land of Cantonese roasts so the duck was actually well done.  A little "wasted" in the curry, which was ok.

Thai Egg Omelette
This was a surprising wow.  The perfect egginess and fluffiness combined and oh so fragrant.  Given more substance with the minced pork but even a plain omelette of this quality would have made me happy.

Phad Thai
This did not have the usual Wok Hei (breath of the wok) which I like in my phad thai.  The "dirtiness" of a well used wok would have given it the x-factor but I came away from this one imagining that it was stir fried in an ultra clean virgin stainless steel pan.

Barbequed Fresh Jumbo Squid
This was another very well executed dish.  Perfect bounce of a squid just barely cooked but with slight crisp bits from being over a charcoal fire.

Homemade Ice Cream - Young Coconut

Homemade Ice Cream - Fresh Mango
Ice creams were creamy - in a good way.  Definitely home made.  The party liked the young coconut, which if you are a fan of coconut, you would lap up pretty easily.  The fresh mango was tangy sweet, and made for an easier finish for me since I was pretty full from the meal.

Overall, a satisfying meal in decent surrounds.  There is no rush even if you wanted to tarry after the meal.  And there is enough of a drinks menu to make people happy and almost forget they're in HK.

5/F Cubus
1 Hoi Ping Road
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2577 0828

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hong Kong - Sushi Ta-ke 竹壽司

In my recent compilation of annual faves for 2011, I listed Sushi Ta-ke as "best Japanese restaurant opening".  In my 2 visits, I had the Omakase meal, which essentially means that like a lamb to the slaughter, you just perch and wait for food of the chef's choice to be served up and hopefully enjoyed.  There is a fixed price to the menu so for the uninitiated, there isn't that apprehension over how much you're going to be hit with at the end of the evening.  It's not a cheap place but for the overall experience, it's not totally unreasonable by Hong Kong standards.

Chef Kimijima Yukio with my minced toro handroll
And if you're lucky to be served by Chef Kimijima, you can also be entertained by his sense of humor, smattering of Japanese-accented Cantonese, and learn a thing or two about the food on your plate.

Overall, the raw food was more impressive than the cooked courses.  In the beautiful season straddling the tail end of fall and beginning of winter, nature's gifts were in abundance.

Sweet shrimp and white shrimp duo

Shirako or cod sperm sac

Amberjack sashimi
Duo of prawn and Maguro (back of tuna)
Matsuba crab with egg yolk vinegar
This signature of Ta-ke's was very good.  Sea-freshness from the crab, combined with the richness of egg yolk, but then put in its place by the vinegar.  A clever and well-executed rendition which leaves the diner wondering why Japanese portions have to be the size they are.  Still hankering..

In the cooked food segment, the wow! came from what Chef Kimijima called the egg dessert.  Perplexed since we were hardly midway through, but we quickly realized what he meant.

This is not your ordinary Japanese egg roll.  This was akin to a polenta cake but with all the fragrance and goodness of good eggs, with a sweet finish.  One of the best I've had.  It's just worth a repeat visit to just go and have this although I did not see it on the menu.  Perhaps only offered to diners who are naughty not nice?

After munching on tamago, we were too distracted to really pay much attention to the other cooked food.  I just remembered the simmered dish being a tad too sweet for me, and the grilled fish wasn't my favourite, since I'm not a huge fan of sword fish.

Simmered fish

Grilled sword fish
Preserved radish, cucumbers, alfalfa and toasted sesame
A crunchy and fresh palate cleanser and we were off the to the sushi finale.  And they were a great way to finish.  All pieces were fresh, served lightly sauced so no added soy is necessary unless you're a sodium fiend, and the rice grains perfectly separate but with an appropriate stickiness to bind but not be mushy.

Hamachi with a Yuzu pepper
Sea Urchin 
Miso soup
To end, a good quality miso which was beany but not salty put everything to bed, and concluded dinner on a comforting note.  Nothing to rave about, just a period to the end of a good meal.

Ta-ke is probably some ways away from its Japanese inspiration of Ginza Sushi Koh Konten and isn't quite the Michelin star quality Konten is but it's a pretty decent alternative to the Japanese offerings in the Causeway Bay area.

12/F, Cubus
1 Hoi Ping Road
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2577 0611