Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our trip to Arashiyama

C says:

We took a day trip to Arashiyama from Kyoto, mainly to see the famed Bamboo Forest, but managed to fit in some pretty good meals as well.

Unagi Hirokawa specialises in all forms of unagi. Their signature unagi don features perfectly grilled unagi, seasoned with some sweet soy but not so much that you can't taste the unagi, over perfectly cooked rice.

In addition, their unagi and burdock stew, and grilled unagi liver, were really good too.

Just outside the Tenruji temple was a yuba shop that sold an awesome yuba soft serve ice cream, that set the standard for all other tofu ice creams that we subsequently tried on our trip. It had just the right amount of sweetness, balanced with the flavour of the yuba. The other ones didn’t even come close.

Tempura Matsu

Tempura Matsu is slightly further out from the main centre of Arashiyama, but it was well worth the walk. Originally just a tempura restaurant, the chef's experiments soon became more popular than his tempura, and now they're known for an excellent, and very good value, omakase.

Some particular standouts in a very good meal were the fatty yellowtail that they lightly seared on hot stones right in front of us - smokey and almost buttery, this first course set the tone for the rest of the meal.

The rice duo was also amazing. 2 small bowls of rice, one topped with otoro, and another with crab meat mixed with crab brains. Heaven.

Another very interesting dish was the unagi hotpot. They heated a pot of eel broth, and cooked slices of unagi, shabu shabu-style, before giving it to us for dipping in a ponzu sauce. Tasting the unagi without the usual adornments of grilling and sweet sauce was quite an eye-opener - it had the potential to be very fishy but it was perfectly balanced.

Dessert was grilled mochi balls with kinako (roasted soybean) powder, which A fell in love with and again, no other version we ordered elsewhere even came close.

For such a tiny little town, Arashiyama certainly has lots to offer, food-wise. There's even, inexplicably, the only Arinco King outlet outside Tokyo – go figure.

A says:

Tempura Matsu was a highlight of our trip. Well worth the walk and getting lost by the river. The tofu skin ice cream was also a great eye opener. Approved.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kyoto kaiseki

C says:

When you think about food in Kyoto, kaiseki - meticulously prepared and painstakingly presented multi-course meals showcasing seasonal ingredients - immediately comes to mind. Since fine dining Japanese food is (to us) prohibitively expensive in Singapore, we decided to try our fill in Kyoto.


Kikunoi has been endorsed in almost every Kyoto food guide. For us, it also helps that it's been featured in numerous foodie shows and books, including Lucky Peach and The Mind Of A Chef.

There's no doubt that it's quite an experience. From the minute you arrive and are ushered to your own private tatami room to the time you leave and they bow till you're out of sight, you're treated as a special guest. They thoughtfully even prepared an English menu for us, knowing we were tourists.

The presentation of the food was spectacular and, having read Chef Murata's cookbook beforehand, the time and effort that went into each component was mindblowing.

A few standouts were his signature otoro with soy-egg yolk dipping sauce, and the soup. For the otoro egg-yolk dish, he marinates egg yolks in soy sauce for 2 days, then whips them together to form the sauce, which complements the otoro perfectly.

What fascinated me about the soup was the paper thin sliver of daikon radish that covered the surface of the bowl. Because it was winter, that was supposed to evoke images of a pond that had frozen over.

Some of the other dishes weren't quite suitable for our palate, like the fugu sashimi, and the wild boar hotpot using a broth of sake lees. I'm sure only the best ingredients were used, but it's just a matter of not quite being used to the flavours and textures.

Hiiragiya Bekkan

Our second kaiseki experience was at the ryokan where we stayed - a cheaper, more casual sister property of the more lauded and expensive Hiiragiya. We had 2 very good meals there - a kaiseki dinner, and a pretty good breakfast.

While it wasn't as fancy or elaborate as Kikunoi, the food was very tasty, and probably a bit more comforting too. They served their eel lightly aburi-ed, which really brought out the flavours.

Kyoto is known for its tofu, and we had some really fresh tofu here, simply steamed with a bit of dashi and yuzu. The best part of kaiseki is how they just let the freshness and seasonality of the ingredients speak for themselves.

While I'm glad we've tried authentic kaiseki in Kyoto, I think we still prefer more casual dining experiences, especially in a place like Japan, where good food can be had at almost every turn.

A says:

Imho, I found that once you get to a higher level of kaiseki (moderately expensive to very expensive), it's just all very good seasonal product. So the only difference is the prettiness of the presentation and the formality of service. So it really depends on what you're after, just the food, or more of the experience. Having tried both, I'll stick with the more affordable option in the future.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Blu Kouzina

C says:

I'm usually not a fan of Greek or Mediterranean food, so I wasn't particularly enthused when A suggested trying Blu Kouzina, after hearing rave recommendations from his friends.

How wrong I was. It turned out to be nothing like what I expected. It's an unassuming, homely neighbourhood joint, without any fanciness or fuss.

We started with a pan-fried feta cheese with honey, which was hot, sweet and oozy, followed by one of the best grilled octopus we've ever had - super tender and incredibly charred.

Their signature dish, the beef skewers, was pretty good, but what really impressed were the lamb chops. Grilled very simply without overpowering seasoning, they were perfectly cooked and incredibly flavourful.

I still don't really like Greek desserts - too sweet for my liking, but A really enjoyed the phyllo dough and almond parcels doused in syrup.

Now I know why it's so hard to get a reservation here at short notice - the place is small and the food is excellent. Not exactly a spur of the moment place, but definitely a must-try for the octopus and lamb.

A says:

I like it. Thanks to my friend SL for the recommend.

Blu Kouzina
893 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6875-0872
Fri - Sun: 12pm - 2.30pm
Mon - Sun: 6pm - 10pm

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Farewell to Ember

C says:

Sorry for the radio silence. We were away, and have been super busy since we got back, so we're still working on chronicalling our holiday eats.

It'll take us another week or two to start posting our holiday stuff, but in the meantime we thought we'd write about our bittersweet meal at the original Ember last night, so that anyone who wants to do the same has one more month before Sebastian and Sabrina serve their last meal there on 30 April.

We each ordered the set, and added the angel hair pasta with konbu and abalone. That was served first, and (what would be a recurring refrain throughout the night) was familiarly perfect.

My chicken and duck liver parfait was rich and creamy and came with a slice of light and buttery toasted brioche. They sold out of the scallop carpaccio so A had the fried soft shell crab with wasabi aioli.

Second course: fried langoustine with lobster bisque for A, and the deep fried tofu with foie gras-mirin sauce for me - another must-have. The sauce packs so much flavour, and the tofu is fried perfectly.

As tribute to our last meal, we ordered both their signature mains - the Chilean seabass, and the 12-hour pork belly. The seabass was, as it always is, perfect. The pork belly was better than I remembered, with tender meat and ridiculously crispy crackling.

We shared the apple tart tatin with vanilla ice cream for dessert, which was again delicious.

We were lamenting to Sabrina, who recognises us as somewhat regulars, that after celebrating our anniversary here for the past 7 - 8 years, now we have to find somewhere new to go.

To our surprise, before our tart tatin arrived, we were served a coconut panna cotta with a candle on the side. The waiter said it was compliments of Sabrina, who told us it was to thank us for supporting them from the very beginning, and an early anniversary celebration.

It was such a sweet gesture, and coupled with every dish being executed perfectly, made last night's meal truly bittersweet. I'm glad to have been a part of their 12 year history, and I'm sure we'll be there when their new concept opens its doors (though not for another year or so), but now we have to create new anniversary memories elsewhere.

I'm feeling rather forlorn now, so excuse me while I go mope.

A says:

Sigh. This last dinner we had there was especially good. I'd advise everyone to go while you still can. I'll now be looking forward to the new place, hopefully by next year.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Saigon Lotus

C says:

Among the new restaurants at The Dining Edition at Marina Square is Saigon Lotus. We ended up here one evening when everything else didn't really call to us. We wanted something fairly simple so we didn't have very high expectations.

As it turns out, the pho here was surprisingly good. It's increasingly hard to get good pho in Singapore these days, with a good beefy broth that's synthetically sweet. The one here tasted like it was a proper beef broth, and the sliced beef and beef brisket was tender and deliciously fatty.

Their crispy chicken wings were a bit disappointing - too overfried and crispy for my liking, but I guess that is how they're billed...

We don't have pho cravings very often, but when we do, it's good to know that we can come here for a pretty decent bowl.

A says:

Very good pho. I hope this place survives despite the poor traffic in the area.

Saigon Lotus
6 Raffles Boulevard,
Marina Square, #02-100A/B
Tel: 6337-4648
Mon - Sun: 11.00am - 10.00pm

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Volunteering at Willing Hearts

C says:

I've been meaning to get involved in volunteering efforts for some time now, but alas, most initiatives (understandably) involve working with children. For those who know me, saying that I'm not good with children is somewhat of an understatement.

Which is why I got excited when I read about Willing Hearts a couple of months ago - a non-profit 'soup kitchen' whose mission statement is to "provide daily meals and other support services to the underprivileged, the needy, and other marginalized members in Singapore, and to assist and guide them towards rehabilitating and reinstating themselves as useful members of our society". To me, the only way for volunteering efforts to be sustainable is to do something that you enjoy/believe in, so what better way for me/atetoomuch than to work with food?!

A quick check of their website told me everything I needed to know - the kitchen operates daily, 365 days a year, from 6 am to around 4 pm. If, like me, you're interested in kitchen prep work, you need to get there early to help with the meals for the day. Otherwise, you can also offer your services to pack the food into containers for delivery, or even to help out with deliveries later in the morning/afternoon. Large groups like corporate teams need to inform them in advance of their visit, just so they're prepared, but individuals can just show up to lend a helping hand.

Y and I decided to go together so that we wouldn't be alone and clueless on our first foray there. We got there at 7 and spent a very enjoyable few hours washing and cutting copious amounts of radishes. The camaraderie in the place is infectious - we happened to be there with a large group from Marina Bay Sands, and though it was the first time for most of us, everyone got into the swing of things very quickly. 

It's heartwarming to see small groups of retirees showing up together, and even groups of schoolchildren were there packing mandarin oranges. I left promising to return soon. Given that the bulk of the kitchen work is done in the morning, and depending on how much I want to contribute on a particular day, I can either take a morning off work, or just get in to work a little later than usual. Yes, I do have to wake up extra early and drive to MacPherson, but I figure it's the least I can do.

A says:

So proud of you. You go, girl!

Willing Hearts
50 Genting Lane
#04-06 Cideco Building

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bam Tapas and Sake Bar

C says:

For lovers of small plates like us, 3-month old Bam at Tras Street looks set to be another new favourite. Opened by Chef Pepe, who used to be chef de cuisine at Santi at MBS, Bam may bill itself as a tapas bar but don't expect ordinary tapas like croquettas or garlic prawns. Instead, they offer exactly what we love - small plates of inventive tapas-inspired dishes, often with other influences thrown in as well.

Portions of each dish are just nice for 2 to share, and if you're like us, you'll probably need about 5 or 6 to be pleasantly full. Remember to save space for dessert though - this is one of the few places (for us) where the desserts really are worth ordering.

The Roasted Eggplant with Lardo and Romesco Sauce started out ok enough - till I got a mouthful of the lardo. The thin sliver of lardo was lightly torched on top of the eggplant, and packed a ton of flavour.

The Grilled Octopus with Gem Lettuce and Lentil Vinaigrette was so good that we promptly ordered another one (we were there with W and M). The octopus was really tender yet meaty, and wonderfully charred and smokey. This dish really brought us all back to Spain.

The Pork Ear with Burrata and Anchovy Vinaigrette was a very interesting dish. I liked the different textures of the creamy burrata and the crunchy, slightly gelatinous pig's ears. I would've liked a bit more burrata though, so I'm not sure if this is on my order-again list.

One of their signature dishes is the Sakura Ebi Omelette with Melon and All-i-oli (Catalan for aioli). I liked the creaminess of the omelette (I hate overcooked omelettes) and the umaminess of the sakura ebi, but I'm not sure that the melon was all that necessary. Next time we'll try the other egg dish on the menu - the Kampong Egg with baby squid and chorizo.

Don't go low/no carb while you're here, because all 3 of their pastas were outstanding. The Foie Gras and Chestnut Ravioli came in a light, delicate broth that was packed with flavour, and the Mushroom Rice with Scallop and Idiazabal Cheese was a risotto lover's dream.

What really shone though, was the Pasta a la Plancha with Prawns and Sake Butter. The tubes of pasta were literally cooked on the plancha (flat-top), giving it a wonderful al dente yet crisp texture. It was served with the most amazing sauce and sake butter that we all but licked off the plate. Awesome.

As far as the meats go, we had the Calamari and Beef Tongue, and the Grilled Quail with Leeks. I enjoyed both dishes, but everyone else wasn't as enamoured as I was. Apparently the Wagyu Onglet is better, so perhaps we'll try that next.

Desserts are definitely worth a try here. The Bailey's sponge with chocolate cremeaux comes with a huge dollop of the lightest, airest Crema Catalan I've ever had, and lightly torched too.

As good as that was, the other two desserts were more standouts. The coconut sorbet with pineapple and tea granita was really light and refreshing, and the lemon zest ice cream with caramelised banana was perfectly balanced - just when the ice cream seemed a bit too tart, the cubes of banana helped to sweeten and mellow it down.

They've only been open for 3 months but already they seem to be doing pretty well. We should probably head there again sooner rather than later, before it starts being on everyone's radar and it gets harder to snag reservations.

A says:

Rock. Especially the desserts.

Bam Tapas and Sake Bar
38 Tras Street
Tel: 6226-0500
Open Mon to Sat: 6 pm - 12 mn
Closed Sundays