Monday, December 31, 2007

Shin Kushiya

C says:

Shin Kushiya, a Japanese restaurant specializing in yakitori, has 3 outlets here – VivoCity, the new Galleria in Suntec City, and Far East Square. We found ourselves at the VivoCity outlet on New Year’s Eve, amongst the throngs of people who were heading there for the Mediacorp Countdown Party. Being decrepit aging folk, we had an early dinner so that we could escape before the whole of VivoCity got taken over by screaming hordes of Taufik fans.

As far as yakitori places go, this one’s pretty good. Food quality probably isn’t as good as Kazu’s, but it’s a lot less of a stressful production eating here. Somehow going to Kazu is always a bit of an intimidating experience, what with Japanese businessmen and people on expense accounts all around you, ordering up a storm. There’s also quite an impressive variety on the menu, both of skewers and other typical offerings like sashimi, sushi and rice/noodle dishes.

To start with, I ordered the Onsen Tamago – a lightly-poached egg served chilled in a bonito broth, topped with chopped spring onions. After getting over the initial misgivings of a cold soup, this was very refreshing; a bit like a lighter and cleaner-tasting version of our Singaporean staple – the coffeeshop soft-boiled egg.

(left to right: gyu karubi, pork neck with mustard sauce, salmon belly with grated daikon, enoki mushroom wrapped with bacon)

We then proceeded to order a whole bunch of skewers. Unlike at Kazu, each order here is for one skewer. At an average of $3 per skewer, it’s one of the cheaper yakitori restaurants, but coming here on an empty stomach may prove to be rather expensive. Luckily we were looking for a lightish meal, and they’re very generous with the quantities on their skewers here. From the first batch, the pork neck really stood out because the meat was quite fatty and very tasty. The beef karubi was a bit on the chewy side, but the salmon was good.

(clockwise from left: teriyaki rice ball, button mushroom, mozzarella wrapped with bacon, squid, scallop wrapped with bacon)

From this batch, what really stood out was the scallop. This definitely warrants a repeat order when we go back. The scallop was fresh, sweet and not overcooked, and what ingredient doesn’t benefit from being wrapped in bacon? Delicious. The mozzarella was quite unique and A liked it a lot, though I found it a tad rich after a while. The squid was a slight letdown – it was very meaty and thick, and ended up being quite chewy.

(left to right: asparagus wrapped with bacon, shitake mushroom wrapped with bacon, pork belly with garlic, salmon belly with mentaiko sauce)

Surprisingly, the plain ol’ button mushrooms in the second batch were better than the shitakes. They were meatier, fresher and fuller-flavoured. The salmon with mentaiko rocked (though anything with mentaiko – cod roe – will probably rock), and I liked the pork belly too.

A was too full for a King William shake from Boost, so we ended up ordering dessert here – a fresh cononut konnyaku jelly, which was quite refreshing.

I definitely want to come back here; if the yakitori was so good, I’m assuming the rest of their Japanese offerings can’t be bad either. VivoCity seems to be our destination of choice at the moment (we’ve got $70 free parking credits from buying a new TV), but I wouldn’t mind trying their other 2 outlets as well.

A says:

Would order the scallop and the salmon ones again. Considering the quality of the fish, maybe I might try the sushi too.

Avoid the squid unless you like it chewy and they (like most places in Singapore) do a lousy zaru soba.

Except for one very blur girl we couldn’t understand at all, the staff are very knowledgeable and quick to please.

Verdict: Not a destination joint, but definitely a top pick if you’re in the area.

Shin Kushiya
#02-120/122 VivoCity
Tel: 6275-8766
Open daily: 11.30 am to 11 pm

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Barracks at House

C says:

I was here a month ago for S’s hen night, and was so impressed with the food that I’ve been meaning to bring A here ever since. We finally got a chance on Saturday, since A’s friends were also keen to give the place a try.

Barracks is the restaurant section of House, the spa destination recently opened by Spa Esprit in the achingly hip (and showing no signs of slowing down) Dempsey Hill area. House itself is the main day spa, with concept treatment rooms on the second floor, as well as yoga and art classes. Barracks occupies the ground floor, and Camp is the bar section adjoining Barracks. Apart from the main indoor dining area, Barracks has loads of space with amazing party potential – from totally private rooms (like where we had S’s hen night… no windows so guaranteed privacy) to glass-walled rooms overlooking greenery, and a great space for outdoor parties if you want to set up a marquee and take a risk with the weather.

But enough about the décor. On to the most important element, without which the appeal of the location and the ambience won’t have any staying power, in my opinion. The food was surprising very very good. Prior to my first experience here, I honestly didn’t have high hopes for the food here because I assumed they would focus on the spa and other aesthetic aspects of the place, and the food would be an afterthought. I’m very pleasantly surprised that they’ve definitely prioritised the food – the menu is a good combination of some innovation, without trying too hard. They’ve made an attempt to create interesting dishes, without overly strange ingredient pairings, or throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a dish in the hopes of impressing.

We were definitely a bit over-zealous with the ordering, because we ordered way too many starters and hence didn’t have room for dessert. (Think it’s no huge loss cos the last time I came, the starters and mains were way better than the desserts, which were a tad heavy.) We shared the Patagonian wagyu rib-eye, which was both tender and flavourful, and the macadamia-encrusted pumpkin with arugula salad, which was an interesting and very good pairing.

Soup of the day was tomato with turkey ravioli – A ordered that, and I had a foie gras ravioli consommé. My soup was a little bland, but A’s tomato soup was very good. Instead of super-heavy (and super-sour) cream of tomato, this was slightly clearer and lighter – more like vegetable stock with tomatoes added. My only complaint would be that the soups were generally served lukewarm, and I personally like my soups if not piping hot, then at least a bit steamy.

Each order of the mini burgers (they’re called American Sliders on the menu) comes with a pair, so we ordered a bunch to share, and A had his own pair as his main course. They’re in the sandwich section of the menu, and you can choose from a selection of five toppings, including sautéed mushrooms and onions, blue cheese and bacon and cheddar cheese and bacon. Unfortunately, their sandwiches are only available from 12 to 6 pm, i.e. not for dinner, so while you can order the mini burgers at dinner time, only the cheddar cheese and bacon ones are available.

These were really good – they’re a pretty decent size, not White Castle small, and the patty was tasty and not dry. The best part was the accompaniments – their signature sweet potato fries, which are tossed with sugar and salt, and truffle fries, which are tossed with salt and truffle oil. With the almost heady truffle aroma, the truffle fries are seriously addictive, and it’ll take a better person than me not to finish every single one.

The last time I was here I had the Veal Cheek Provencale, which was again a winner. Two meltingly tender braised veal cheeks were served with mashed potatoes, green beans and some crusty bread, and while the portion didn’t look all that huge, it was very substantial. This time I tried the Bay Prawn Capellini, which was a variation of an aglio olio, but jazzed up with lots of what they term “micro-herbs”. The prawns were very fresh but the garlic was a tad overpowering and it was a bit on the oily side.

Needless to say, everyone was stuffed so dessert wasn’t even an option. A did order an iced coffee though, which was a very good brew – smooth, mellow and just the right strength.

This is definitely a “we’ll be back” place, hopefully sooner rather than later. In fact, we’re already planning our next trip one lunchtime so that we can sample all the rest of the mini burger toppings. And more truffle fries. Lots more.

A says:

I was expecting the place to be a bit poser but once you get in, it’s really relaxed. Service, atmosphere and food were all good. Prices were also very reasonable for the area.

Miniburgers are great. Fries are good, but to my barbaric junk food palate, taste just like really good McD fries. I prefer the fatter kind myself. Iced coffee rawked too.

Would definitely recommend this place.

Barracks at House
8D Dempsey Road
Tel: 6475-7787
Mon – Fri: 12 noon to 11 pm
Sat – Sun: 11 am to 11 pm
Trunch: 2.30 pm to 6 pm (sandwiches and desserts only)
Brunch (Sat & Sun): 11 am to 4 pm

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pete’s Place

C says:

Finally, we can cross Pete’s Place off our To-Eat list. For some reason we’ve always been meaning to try it, given its reputation as somewhat of an Italian institution here in Singapore. Friday being A’s birthday, we decided it was as good a reason as any to give it a go.

To be honest, we were slightly underwhelmed. I think its reputation is due to a variety of factors – being located in a swanky hotel on Orchard Road, being slightly gimmicky with the checked tablecloths and brick walls giving it a forced casual Italian trattoria air, and the fact that it probably gained its reputation in a time where good pizzas and pastas were less commonplace in Singapore than they are now.

I think the best thing it has going for it is the bread table. You get a free-flow of really good breads, ranging from dinner rolls to ciabatta to an amazing sun-dried tomato foccacia which was delightfully soft and fluffy. There’s also a selection of 3 butters – sun-dried tomato, herb and plain salted butter. I’m a bit of butter purist; while I like flavoured butters for marinating and roasting meats, give me good quality plain salted butter anytime for my breads, and I must say the salted butter here was really addictive.

Our Caprese salad starter was pretty ordinary. Decent tomatoes, decent mozzarella, and an ok rocket salad. None of the components were remarkable, both on their own and as a combination.

The mains fared slightly better; or rather, mine did. A ordered their Pizza Pam Pam, which is apparently their house special. It was described in the menu as half a calzone filled with 3 cheeses, and half a pizza topped with sausage, garlic and chillis. We therefore expected exactly that – half a calzone, and half a pizza. Instead, it was actually a standard semi-circlular stuffed calzone, which then became the base of the pizza. As a result it was slightly on the heavy side, and not particularly outstanding as either a pizza or a calzone.

Luckily my main was good enough to make up for it somewhat. I ordered an Italian pork sausage risotto – ironically it was the daily special so we can't even go back expecting to order it again. The risotto had a pretty good texture, and wasn’t too rich or heavy. I expected the pork sausage to be in minced sausage meat form, or perhaps slices of a chorizo type sausage; instead, the risotto was topped with 3 large cross sectional discs of a rather large Italian sausage. The sausage was superb – I’ll be honest and shameless and just say that I enjoyed it so much because it tasted like really good quality Spam. Serious. I enjoyed every bite of it and I think even non-risotto fan A preferred this to his Pam Pam.

The desserts were again a bit hit-and-miss. My dessert again suffered from a slight mis-description. I think it was described as a chocolate cream with amaretto crust and whipped cream – it was actually a glorified chocolate creme caramel, and I only discovered the amaretto crust during my last few bites, as it was almost non-existent, and ended up all but dissolved in the sauce.

A’s tiramisu was much better. I dare say that this is second only to Perla’s tiramisu at Valentino’s. The mascarpone cheese was creamy and rich yet still light, the sponge still had some texture and wasn’t over-soaked to within an inch of its life, and most importantly (for A, anyway), it had a strong coffee flavour but not so much alcohol.

Well, I’m glad we tried it, but I don’t think we’ll be going back. If I wanted Italian, I would go to Valentino’s any day, or if I didn’t have the luxury of a week’s notice, then at least Pasta Brava.

A says:

Let’s not forget that it was one of the first Italian restaurants in Singapore.

Anyway, bread and tiramisu were great – definitely amongst the best in Singapore. Coffee was also good. Not much to shout about for the rest.

So my verdict is that it’s worth going if you’re in town and suddenly feel hungry for Italian. But I wouldn’t make it a real destination joint. Valentino’s and Pasta Brava are way better.

Pete’s Place
Basement, Grand Hyatt Singapore
10 Scotts Road
Tel: 6732-1234
Lunch: 12 noon to 2.30 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 10.30 pm

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Farewell to Renaldo’s (burgers)

C says:

Ok that’s it, this is getting out of hand. We’re creating a specific category entitled “The A&C Curse”, because it sure doesn't look like the curse is lifting any time soon. For the less-informed, the A&C curse has afflicted many joints that we are particularly fond of, but may not be the most oft-patronised – cult favourites, in a sense. In the past, these have included Tamade, TeaSpa, Papi, and King George at Adam Road.

Renaldo’s at Crown Centre has now joined the club – the one place where we could always depend on for a good, no-frills, extremely satisfying burger. I’m deeply traumatized.

We drove by recently and I noticed that the store had been boarded up. I had a sinking feeling, but still harboured some hope that they were closed for renovations. So I tried calling their number, in the hopes that they may have a pre-recorded message along the lines of their being closed for upgrades from X to X, and will re-open on X to serve you better. Well, there was a pre-recorded message, but it said “This is a Singtel announcement. The number you have dialed is not in use.”

STILL undeterred, I called their Eastwood branch (which only sells strudel, no hot food), clinging to a desperate hope that they may have relocated their food operations somewhere else. Alas, tis not to be. It’s completely gone, no more hot food, and they have no plans to start selling their hot food at their other branch(es).

Unless… the lady I spoke to was merely an employee, and isn’t aware of any long term plans? I am forever hopeful, even as we bid farewell to Renaldo’s burgers. *sniff*

A says:

I’d list Tamade, King George and Renaldo’s in the list. Not so much Teaspa or Papi.
Our other favourites (La Petite Cuisine, Buko Nero, Valentino's, Tampopo and Ember) seem to be doing well so I guess they’re exempt from the curse. So far…

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas cookies

C says:

Every year I make some sort of baked good for Christmas, to give to some relatives as Christmas gifts. Mainly because it’s easier than having to rack my brains year after year thinking of something to get them.

This year I ‘sold out’, and decided to make something that looked better than it tasted. I made cut-out Christmas cookies, but instead of traditional gingerbread, which looks nice but the blend of spices somehow doesn’t have universal appeal, I made vanilla/lemon and chocolate cookies.

The thing about cut-out cookies is that they’ll never taste as good as buttery drop cookies (like Cat’s Tongues) – because they need to retain their shape and not spread, more flour has to be added, so they end up being slightly on the harder side. But this also means they’re hardy enough to last, and can stand up to some heavy duty icing. Sigh. Hence the perennial dilemma of taste vs aesthetics.

Well, I made a whole range of Christmas shapes, from snowflakes to ‘gingerbread’ men (both clothed and…er…not). When A saw the bells, he said they’ll make a good shield if turned upside down, so I made one of those. Then, that inspired me to make the Transformers too.

On that rather random and decidedly un-Christmassy note, here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas filled with laughter, love and good food.

A says:


Anyway, at least my darling wife C has mad cookie skills.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Duck fat vs lard

C says:

We haven’t been anywhere new of late, so as a result I’m getting introspective… while enjoying a particularly good duck confit at La Petite Cuisine, I was savouring the crispy duck skin and marveling at the awesome flavour of duck fat. Adding just a little bit of duck fat to anything, from salad dressing to French fries to roast potatoes, gives it so much depth and flavour. Just like how hawkers here add lard to practically everything to boost flavour.

Just as lard is indispensable in Chinese cooking, duck fat probably plays the same role in European cooking. The question is – which is inherently more flavourful? If we were to compare two plates of char kway teow, one fried with lard and one with duck fat, I wonder which would come out tops in a blind taste test.

A says:


Sunday, December 16, 2007

What’s the meat of kings?

C says:

After two meals at Tampopo where every single dish we ordered had an element of pork, A and I got to thinking what meat we could absolutely not give up. At first I’m inclined to say beef, because we love a good burger, and a good steak will never fail to send me to meat heaven.

But thinking about it some more, I’m actually inclined towards pork, only because it plays such a fundamental role in so much of what we eat daily. Besides actually having it as a main dish, like roast pork or ribs, there’s bacon, ham, sausages, xiao long baos and for that matter almost anything in a dim sum menu, bak kut teh, ramen, katsu, char siew… the list really does go on.

Anyway, how about you – what meat could you not live with?

A says:

Friday, December 14, 2007


C says:

I’ve come to the conclusion that this place is highly underrated. We were here twice in the past week, because we wanted to check out LCD TVs at Audio House, and each time we left really satisfied.

Usually I order the Black Pig ramen, but I decided to try the Kyushu ramen on Monday night. Instead of thin shavings of pork, this one was more like the usual ramens – a big slice of char siew and a hard boiled egg (hard on the outside, gloriously oozy on the inside) in a milky pork bone broth. What kicked it up a notch was the dollop of mentaiko (cod roe) that was added on top. When stirred into the broth, the savoury mentaiko really adds a whole new flavour dimension to the already flavourful broth.

On Friday night, A had the Kyushu ramen and I decided to try the Hari Hari Nabe – a sukiyaki-type dish that comes with a simmering pot of dashi stock, vegetables, shimeji mushrooms, tung hoon and seasoned and minced black pig in a bamboo tube.

This is the perfect meal for me. Because tung hoon is made from mung beans and therefore isn’t technically a carb, this could almost qualify as a healthy dish, if only there weren’t so much of it. One serving is huge and is probably enough for 2 to share, and a good deal at $19.90. The minced pork was really well seasoned and very tasty, even more so when dipped into the kick-ass dipping sauce that contained, among other things, ponzu sauce and grated daikon.

While the waitstaff do tend to start hurrying you out by about 9.15 (last orders at 9.30) and brandish the bill at you before you’re done cos they need to close their till, generally they’re very polite and friendly. We’ve come to the conclusion that this is a very convenient and pleasant place to have a quick dinner after work since it’s only about 5 minutes away.

A says:

Note to self: the portions are quite big though so don’t other too many extras.

#B1-50 Liang Court Shopping Centre
Tel: 6338-3186
Opens: 11.30am to 10pm daily (Last order 9.30 pm)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Relish by Wild Rocket

C says:

Relish is the latest restaurant to join Chef Wilin Low’s Wild Rocket family. Located on the second floor of Cluny Court, this is a place dedicated to all things burger-related. There are about ten different burgers on the menu, ranging from the classic Wild Rocket burger, to a BBQ Pork burger, and an homage to the Ramly burger (called Ram-lee Burger).

Given our (or rather A’s) love of a good burger, we were quite excited when A’s old friend S told us that Relish had opened. The place can’t have opened for more than a week, so we made our way there on Sunday night expecting to be one of only a few tables. To our surprise the place was almost full – I guess word travels fast, especially since Wild Rocket has quite a legion of ardent fans.

The ambience is pretty casual, but the sort of people that make up the clientele prevents it from being 100% laid-back. I do like the décor of the place, especially the old school wrought-iron gate at the entrance, but all I can say about our experience that night is – teething problems. We overheard the couple next to us sounding increasingly frustrated as the evening wore on, as they waited longer and longer for their dessert. Apparently they’d ordered two strawberry cheesecakes, and after waiting ages, only one arrived. When chased for the second one, only then were they told that the restaurant had run out of strawberries.

We were slightly more fortunate, in that besides the food taking an inordinately long time (though we were forewarned when we placed our order), there were no major cockups. A ordered the Spiced Lamb Pita Burger with Mint Hummus, and I had the Bacon & Cheese Burger.

A’s burger turned out better than mine. The patty was pink in the centre and therefore still tender and juicy. Surprisingly, though I was asked how I wanted my burger done – Medium Rare, Medium Well or Well Done, what I was served in no way reflected my medium rare request. The patty was actually quite hard and dry. Again, teething problems, I suppose. An interesting thing about this place is that they suggest some interesting burger-beer pairings. Coincidentally, the beer that sounded the most appetising was also the best match for the Bacon & Cheese burger - the Pink Killer, a light and refreshing grapefruit-flavoured fruit beer.

We shared the Pandan Panna Cotta for dessert, because A’s preferred choice of a Coconut and Gula Melaka milkshake wasn’t available. The dessert was a little disappointing – instead of being creamy yet light like a crème caramel, it was quite thick and heavy.

While I was less than impressed on Sunday, and there are many other places, both new and old, that I’d rather go to for a satisfying meal, because this place is right next door to our weekend hangout Serene Centre I’m still interesting in coming back one day to try some of their other burgers. Maybe after they’re ironed out their kinks somewhat.

A says:

I hope the service problems were just teething issues. While you can see that the staff do put in a great deal of effort, they just don’t seem experienced or capable. The guy at the next table waited 20 minutes before being told his dessert was out of stock, and two tables down, some guy had water spilt on him.

I suppose it had something to do with the crowd. As we found out later, Relish was featured the night before on Chubby Hubby’s blog, and in the papers that very day.

Anyway, the food was good, but not worth the price tag. There’s an interesting selection, but if I wanted a good burger, I’d rather go down the road to Renaldo’s.

In fact, the only things this place has going for it are the spacious settings, and the beverages (if you like wussy beers and/or sweet coffee).

So, my final verdict is that I wouldn’t come here unless I was in the area, La Petite Cuisine was too crowded, and I was too lazy to go anywhere else.

501 Bukit Timah Road
#02-01 Cluny Court
Tel: 6763-1547

Cream Bistro

C says:

This is a good place to come to if you can’t quite decide what type of cuisine you feel like, yet don’t mind if the food isn’t true-blue authentic. Located in Pacific Plaza, facing Shaw Centre, I don’t see this place ever getting too packed, so it’s quite a welcome respite from the bustling crowds in town.

The menu here has a little of everything – Japanese udons and dons, generic pastas, sandwiches, Thai tom yam noodle soups, Korean kimchi soups, and typical bistro mains like pan fried salmon and grilled cod with mashed potato and salad. What we ordered on Sunday certainly reflects A and my inherently differing tastes. A had the salmon pasta, and I had the kimchi kway teow soup.

A ordered the salmon pasta without actually reading the description of the dish properly. Expecting a typical cream sauce salmon pasta, he was a bit surprised with the tomato-based one that arrived. This didn’t quite do it for me – it was no better than food court/hawker centre-style pasta. A didn’t seem to mind it, though. I’m just not a very big fan of plain tomato-based pasta.

For some reason I felt like a hot steaming bowl of soup, so the kimchi noodle soup with fish was calling to me. The menu says it comes with three types of fish – cod, salmon and something else, but as far as I can see, I only got one type of generic white sliced fish. Not that I’m complaining – the dish was pretty good, and the portion was massive.

We also ordered the Thai stuffed chicken wings as a starter; surprisingly, this was actually the best part of the meal. At $8 for 4 wings, this was pretty good value, and very tasty indeed. The stuffing was a mixture of meat (not sure whether chicken or pork), mushrooms and tung hoon, and the sweet chilli dip was a perfect accompaniment.

We’ll probably come back here if either (a) we don’t feel like having anything else in town, (b) everything else is too crowded, or (c) we’re too underdressed for anything more posh. We’ve also got a one-for-one main course voucher that we have to use within 2 months, so if nothing else we may be back to take advantage of it.

A says:

Passable food. Passable prices. Very good service though. Perfect for a simple no-fuss meal in town.

Cream Bistro
9 Scotts Road
#01-04/0/06 Pacific Plaza
Tel: 6733-8373
Sun-Thu: 11am - 9.30pm
Fri-Sat: 11am - 10.30pm

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Espirito Santo

C says:

I’m sure almost everyone who watched Makansutra Raw a couple of weeks ago saw this place featured, and drooled as KF Seetoh crunched his way into some delectable pork crackling. I desperately found an excuse to traipse to Parkway Parade on Saturday (buying cookie jars from Howard’s Storage World) so that we could give this place a try.

After watching the Makansutra footage with the pork crackling, I knew I had to have some sort of pork dish; the question was – the pork rack, or the pork belly? The pork rack looked a little too lean and potentially dry for my liking, so pork belly it was.

I know it’s hard to really go wrong with pork belly, but this one was very good. It actually wasn’t too obscenely fatty – just one layer of fat under the skin, and not that thick a layer, at that. The fat was flavourful, the meat was very tender and not overroasted and dry, and the crackling… wow. It was light, crisp, and everything I imagined it would be.

A had the lamb chops, which were okay but not as good as the pork. The lamb was very tender though, and good quality too, not full of fat and gristle.

I was very impressed when it was time to pay. Even though I’d already presented my Citibank credit card, the cashier voluntarily asked me if I had an OCBC credit card instead, because you get a whopping 20% off until February 2008. It’s so refreshing to have an establishment offer such information, rather than sheepishly having to ask each time. Well, this just gives us yet another excuse to come here again before the end of February – there are at least 2 more dishes on the menu that I’d like to try, including the Wagyu burger.

A says:

Good: Food and service
Bad: Price (expensive) and setting (cramped with shoppers hovering around you)

Espirito Santo
80 Marine Parade Road
#B1-83B, Parkway Parade,
Tel: 6440-8867
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 10am to 9pm

Friday, December 07, 2007

Buko Nero

C says:

After a rather long hiatus, we made our way to Buko Nero again on Friday night. Menu for the night was:

Amuse bouche: Chilled green pea soup
Starter: Beef carpaccio with grapefruit dressing and shaved parmesan
Soup: Chickpea and spring onion
Additional starter: Wonton skin ravioli with veal puree filling and truffle red wine sauce
Sherbet: Mango with blood orange foam
C’s main: Oven-baked quail with plum
As main: seared Angus beef sirloin with sea salt, rosemary and garlic; served sliced
Dessert: Almond and honey cake

I’m not sure if it was what we ordered, but besides the ravioli (which we’ve had before), nothing really blew us away this time. Chef Oscar’s cauliflower soups are definitely his forte – the chickpea one wasn’t quite as tasty, and the texture was a tad powdery, probably because of the inherent nature of chickpeas.

I’ve decided I quite like the taste of quail – it’s more tasty than chicken, yet not too gamey and very tender. Tonight’s was pretty good, but no better nor worse than the one at Au Petit Salut / Bistro Petit Salut.

A’s main smelled incredible while it was cooking, but the first bite was a slight letdown. The meat was a little chewy, though to be fair it was sirloin rather than fillet/tenderloin. However, subsequent mouthfuls fared much better – the roasted garlic and rosemary really accentuated the flavour of the meat.

Dessert was very good – a very simple buttery cake topped with sliced toasted almonds and drizzled with a very fragrant honey.

We haven’t made our next reservation yet, what with all the impending festive feasting. I hope our eventual next visit is a little more characteristically “wow”.

A says:

After not going back for so long, this was a bit of a disappointment. Have I become too jaded?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Our trip to Hong Kong and Macau

C says:

We’re back from our too-short trip to Hong Kong and Macau, where we satisfied two urges – jumping off the Macau Tower, and stuffing our faces silly. Without further ado, here’s a rundown of the gastronomic highlights of our trip.

Hong Kong

We had so many recommendations for Hong Kong – from friends, colleagues and eating guides – that 4 days just wasn’t going to cut it. There are definitely places that we didn’t get to visit, but there’s always next time, because surprise surprise, A actually didn’t hate it, and is fairly keen on coming again (yay!).

Somewhere near the top of the list is probably Mak’s Noodles. The portions are tiny, but they’re also a good excuse to have more than one bowl per person. We tried the zha jiang noodles with chutney pork, a plain dry noodle with oyster sauce and prawn roe, the wonton noodles and beef brisket noodles (clockwise from top left).

Next time I’m not wasting time with any of the others, because the wonton noodles here are simply in a class of their own. The broth is insanely sweet but not in an MSG way, and the noodles are thin, springy and flavourful on their own. The wontons themselves are ok, not spectacular, but I’m more interested in the noodles and the soup.

I have to wail, though. After traipsing along Wellington Street to find it, on the very last day on our way to the Causeway Bay MTR station, we suddenly noticed that there’s a branch right on Jardine’s Bazaar, like TWO MINUTES walk from our hotel! AAARRGGHH!!! And with later opening hours than the Wellington Street branch (they close at midnight compared to 8 pm for the Wellington Street one), this place would’ve been a great stop for a first night meal, instead of the claypot rice at New Chui Wah, which I liked but A really didn’t.

I brought A to Yung Kee, where we had the pigeon, fried rice, porridge and vegetable. I wanted to try their goose liver lup cheong bun, but that’s not available at dinner so instead, I asked them to fry the Hong Kong gailan with some lup cheong just so I could try it.

Their home-made lup cheong was heavenly and for me, the best part of the meal. It was really fat, but very rich, smooth and fragrant. If we hadn’t headed off to Macau and flew straight home instead, I would’ve bought some back. Never mind, next time.

The pigeon wasn’t as good I remember, but the fried rice and the porridge were pretty good. That being said, while Yung Kee probably warrants a pilgrimage each time just for old time’s sake, I do appreciate my friends’ comments that the standard has dropped of late. Maybe next time we’ll just come and have a light meal, and take out some lup cheong.

Another place that’s worth a mention is Tasty Noodle and Congee House. This was a surprising find because while the main outlet is in Happy Valley, they’ve opened a more convenient branch in the IFC Mall. The beef hor fun here RAWKS – every mouthful is full of flavour, probably because each morsel is coated with oil. It also has an unbeatable wok hei, and the beef is tender without tasting chemically tenderised.

The you tiao chee cheong fun here is also very good. Expecting a rather hard crunch that could potentially injure the roof of my mouth, I was surprised to find a crisp yet yielding texture. Not at all heavy like I imagine it would be.

Turns out the owner of this place also owns Ho Hup Kee, which is a noodle and congee shop near Times Square. The beef hor fun there is good too, but second to the one at Tasty. However, at Ho Hup Kee I had the best bowl of porridge. I ordered the pig giblet one, which came with pig’s stomach, intestine, liver and meat balls. I’m quite the innard girl, but somehow the stomach and intestines didn’t do it for me – the intestines were crunchy rather than the smooth ones I’m used to, and the stomach was a bit flat-tasting. The liver, however, was amazing. I’ve never had pig’s liver so fine and smooth before. It was perfectly cooked so it wasn’t tough and grainy. The porridge itself was the star here, though, and the ingredients secondary. The porridge was smooth, silky, and packed full of flavour. They probably use an incredible stock and spend hours simmering the porridge to reach that texture.

We tried egg tarts from two bakeries – Tai Cheong and Honolulu Café. The Tai Cheong ones use shortcrust pastry with ground almonds, whereas the Honolulu ones are puff pastry. We did a taste test, and both of us prefer the Honolulu ones. At first bite, the Tai Cheong ones are quite good because the shortcrust pastry has more bite, and is both buttery and a tad salty. But the Honolulu ones still won in the end – the crust is buttery, light and flaky, and the custard is soft and perfectly set. A far cry from the egg tarts you get here.

Of course, no visit to Hong Kong is complete without Krispy Kremes. We couldn’t bring any back, because we went to Macau first, and the ferry back bypassed the area in the airport with the Krispy Kreme store. We tried the limited edition Chokkolate Original Glazed, but they were a tad heavy and I still prefer my plain ol’ Original Glazed.


While we’re on the subject of tarts, you can’t go to Macau and not try the ubiquitous Portuguese egg tarts. Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village, Macau is supposed to be the pioneer of these tarts, and apparently still bakes some of the best ones. While I prefer the Hong Kong style ones, A prefers these because the custard is sweeter.

At Café Nga Tim, we finally tried the infamous Bacalhau – a salt cod that’s at the heart of Portuguese food. Granted, we had it in fried rice so that may be somewhat of a cop out, but you can’t blame us for not wanting our first experience with it to be neat salt cod! Turned out pretty ok – it was like a milder, softer form of giam her.

I’ve written about Fernando’s before - I was so enamoured with the food when I went there for an office trip that I really wanted A to try it too. Turns out he was less than impressed; maybe it’s because their absolute best dish here, the roast suckling pig, really isn’t his kind of dish. Though I’ll never figure out anyone who doesn’t like crisp crackling that just breaks apart at the slightest nibble, or juicy, tender pork.

Well, while A seems pretty keen on heading back to Hong Kong, I don’t think an extended trip to Macau is on the agenda any time soon. Plus Fernando’s really is a place that you need to come in a larger group, because there are so many specialties that two people are hard pressed to order any more than 3 dishes. Any takers?

We’ll leave you now with a couple of hilarious menu entries, both from Portuguese restaurants in Macau.

A says:

Day 1
Ho Hup Kee – Good and cheap beef kway teow, but I prefer Tasty IFC.
New Chui Wah – I don’t like claypot.

Day 2
Café De Coral – Nothing outstanding but it’ll be hard to go wrong at this HK chain.
Happy Garden – Good and cheap. A definite find opposite swanky Harbour City.

Day 3
Mak’s Noodles – Rawk. I recommend the chutney pork noodles.
Honolulu Café – Nice and light egg tarts. Caution, the crust is super flaky and will disintegrate on touch though.
Main St Café (Citibank Tower) – Bloody rip-off HK$46 milkshake that didn’t use real ice cream
Jungle Juice – Much better gwai loh sandwiches at the top of the Peak
Yung Kee – Good, but considering how many people swear it’s THE place in HK, highly over-rated. Best service of any place we went though.

Day 4
Tasty (IFC) – Best overall meal with everything being excellent.
Tai Cheong – Sweet egg tarts but the pastry was a bit heavy.
Pret A Manger – I couldn’t resist a salmon sandwich, but was let down by the lack of salmony goodness.
Mak’s Noodles – So good we went back for more.
Honolulu Café – Ditto.

Day 5
Krispy Kremes – Can’t not have some.
Macau Ferry Snack – Surprisingly good. I guess paying for the Super Class is worth it after all.
Camoes – Good, but it’s all a bit too touristy. (As evident by all the large tour groups eating there.)

Day 6
Nga Tim – Definitely value for money.
Lord Stow’s Bakery – The egg tarts definitely lived up to their reputation. Best egg tarts of the trip. Absolutely perfect.
Boost – Got a much needed shake from this stall at the Venetian food court. Was looking for a simple coffee or OJ after a huge lunch but couldn’t resist the call of a King William’s Chocolate Yogurt Shake
Fernando’s – After all of C’s raving about the place, I was very disappointed. I think I just don’t like Portuguese/Macanese food.

Day 7
Horrible food poisoning left me without any appetite and running from toilet to toilet. C claims it was from the yogurt shake. I refuse to malign a good milkshake.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


C says:

When KH told us that we were meeting up for dinner at Pontini at Grand Copthorne for his birthday, we assumed that we’d just order a la carte in the restaurant. When we got there, we realised he’d booked a private room, and arranged a feast for us. Check out the menu:

First up was the lobster salad, which was perfectly deshelled – the tail and head were just for decoration. It was served on a bed of rocket and sliced beans, and though I expected the rocket to somewhat overpower the lobster, surprisingly it didn’t.

The porcini mushroom soup was a huge concentration of flavours into a tiny little teacup. Simple and a little predictable, but very flavourful nonetheless. Next up was the cannelloni-like pasta tubes filled and topped with a duck and mushroom ragout. This was actually one of my favourite dishes of the night – the pasta seemed a bit thick, but turns out it needed to be more substantial in order to withstand the strong flavour of the ragout.

By then, fullness was starting to creep up on us. The next course was the sea bream, which came in a rather huge portion given that it was still considered a pre-main course. This was pretty good – quite light and delicate, but man, it filled us up. Didn’t help that between this course and the main course proper, KH was insane enough to order a few pizzas for us to share, cos he wanted us to try them. Out of the vegetable, seafood and meat pizzas, no surprises that we preferred the meat one.

A and I both felt like beef, so we both ordered the tenderloin, instead of sharing one beef and one duck confit. The beef was very good, if a tad predictable, and I couldn’t help half wishing I’d ordered the duck instead, because there were some oohs and aahs coming from the people who’d ordered the duck.

By then you can imagine we were about to explode, and before dessert we even had a slice of cake! A had the tiramisu and I had the milk chocolate parfait, which was almost like chocolate mousse. Not bad, but I actually preferred the Le Royale birthday cake.

This looks like a pretty fancy place, so not somewhere that we’ll go without an occasion. It’s more Italian fine dining than Italian home cooking, like Valentino and Pasta Brava, which is more our thing.

A says:

Very good on all courses except the dessert. My favourite course of course was the lychee sorbet. Although in all honesty, we have to try the regular ala carte before I can make a proper recommendation.

2nd floor, Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel
392 Havelock Road
Tel: 6233-1133
Lunch: 12 pm – 2.30 pm
Dinner: 6.30 pm – 10.30 pm