Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our trip to Hokkaido - Niseko

C says:

So, for those of you who haven’t “Liked” AteTooMuch on Facebook (and why not, may we ask…?!), you wouldn’t have seen our short Facebook-only update that we were away in Japan. We were there mainly for the Sapporo Snow Festival, and also for A to hit the slopes in Niseko (and me to luxuriate in onsens) for a couple of days. I love Japan – we’ve barely been home and already we’re thinking of when we can plan our next visit. Won’t be for a couple of years though, sigh.

Niseko, or to be precise, the adjacent town of Hirafu, has a wealth of amazing eateries, catering to almost every cuisine and budget. Some of the highlights of this trip were:

Izakaya Bang-Bang

We went to their sister restaurant Bang2 during our last trip, so we decided to try the original this time. The menu is almost the same, but perhaps sitting right at the counter watching the grill master work his magic contributed to the better experience that we had this time.

They’re truly a well-oiled machine. The place was packed, with people almost begging for a table, but no one lost their cool, orders were filled without too long a wait, and I don’t think there were any order mix-ups that weren’t resolved within minutes.

Everything is good here, but if I had to choose some standouts, they’d be the grilled cheese (we ordered the same one as before but next time we may try the camembert), the prawn, the pork collar and the beef tongue.

J-Sekka Deli

The fact that I didn’t hit the slopes meant that in between numerous onsen soaks, I had quite a bit of free time during the day. A new discovery on this trip was J-Sekka Deli, a pretty chic cafĂ© that specializes in local produce, with a deli shop on the side.

They do really good coffees, and were perfectly fine with me plonking my ass there for a few hours just chilling out and reading my book. I liked it so much that I brought A on our last day.

They had an amazing Taste of Hokkaido platter, with smoked salmon, sausage, smoked duck and camembert, all made within the region. 

Another dish that we couldn’t not order was roasted potato with corn, miso butter and slab bacon. What I can say – a winning combination of ingredients and again, all locally sourced.


No AteTooMuch trip is complete without a fanboy Anthony Bourdain trail, since his recommendations for Spain were spot on. He recently visited Hokkaido so we watched the episode intently and tried to visit as many places as we could.

The first was Rakuichi, the tiny restaurant in Annupuri where soba master Tatsuru Rai presides together with his wife Midori. Assuming it was pretty out of the way, we went for dinner, where only a kaiseki meal is available. A la carte is available at lunch time, and now that we know how easy it is to access, we’ll be here for lunch next time to have the cold soba.

Still, dinner here was superb, with nothing but super fresh ingredients used, and prepared simply and perfectly. The sashimi course consisted of an amazingly sweet scallop from nearby waters, and a couple of slices of really intensely flavoured chutoro.

The meal ended with freshly made soba (Tatsuru was literally rolling it out and cutting it just before cooking and serving it to us) in an amazing hot duck broth. The broth was incredibly flavourful, and the freshly made soba was unlike anything I’ve ever had – softer than usual, but still with some bite and a very subtle flavour.

What really stood out, though, was the huge oyster that was very lightly steamed. It was incredibly fresh, almost obscenely creamy, and the juices in the shell were mind-blowing.

We’ll be back, Niseko. I’ll make sure of it.

A says:

Best snow ever!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Latteria Mozzarella Bar

C says:

Thank goodness the Il Lido group decided to cut their losses after a few months, and opened Latteria Mozzarella Bar in place of the awful Jackson Plan. At least they’re sticking to what they know better – Italian food with a focus on mozzarella as the name suggests, rather than pseudo innovative gastropub food. The space is only marginally changed, and the servers are largely the same as well.

At our friends M&M’s suggestion, we ordered the burrata but didn’t add parma ham like they did/suggested. I’m not sure if that made all the difference. M was raving about the burrata to us, and while I must admit that it was a pretty good burrata, I still felt that it was slightly lacking, perhaps in seasoning, compared to the one at Valentino. Maybe Valentino’s burrata has spoiled us for all other burratas; I just know that theirs just needs some salt, pepper and olive oil to complement the cheese. Here, it was served with a red pepper relish which I ended up eating separately because I wanted to taste the cheese itself.

I chose the truffle and smoked mozzarella risotto, since it’s supposed to be one of their more signature items. Flavours were good, with both the truffle and smoked mozzarella coming through strongly. It was lighter than expected, though finishing an entire portion would still be a challenge. One criticism is that it was a bit too stiff. A really good risotto needs to ooze; this one stayed put and wasn’t going anywhere.

Deciding against an overly rich meal of both a risotto and a pasta, we went with a grilled sirloin instead. This was surprisingly more like a salad. The meat was pre-sliced and served on a bed of arugula, and topped with shaved parmesan. This was pretty tasty, but also probably something you could easily recreate at home.

Still, I can’t really fault the food. It may not have wow-ed us but it was perfectly decent and a damn hell better than The Jackson Plan. My grouses for the evening were with the service. We overheard some specials being recited to another table, so when one of the more established-looking servers came to take our order, we asked for the specials and were told about the lobster pasta, and a turkey roulade of sorts. None of which appealed to us so we ordered off the menu.

After we placed our order, we overheard another table being told of the specials, and there were about 3 more that we weren’t told of – a mozzarella bruschetta, a pizza, and a foie gras spaghetti with veal sauce. That kinda wrecked my mood for the evening, because a big pet peeve of mine is servers not being consistent about reciting off-menu specials.

Trying to get the servers’ attention is also quite a feat. There are quite a number of them but all seemed oblivious to anything other than their immediate task at hand. One guy was intently just slicing bread. Others seemed fixated on bringing food or menus to tables, rendering them incapable of multi-tasking or even looking beyond their immediate line of vision to see if anyone needed any attention. We signalled for the bill, but it took ages, and even longer to get another server’s attention to remind them of it.

Two pet peeves, service-wise, means that the food better be awesome for me to want to return. Unfortunately it wasn’t, and while I won't write them off just yet, it’s not exactly on the top of my “must return” list. Not like Kazu. Or Bruno’s.    

A says:

By no means the best but it does have an interesting cheese selection. Service though is hit or miss with some servers being very good while others being totally lost. So would I come back? Only if I had a craving for savoury cheese starters in the area.

Latteria Mozzarella Bar
40 Duxton Hill
Tel: 6866-1988
Mon – Thurs: 12 noon – 2.30 pm; 6 pm – 11 pm
Fri: 12 noon – 2.30 pm; 6 pm to 1 am
Sat: 5 pm – 1 am

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bistro One Zero Three

C says:

We came here purely by chance on Sunday night. It wasn’t at all on our radar, but we had run out of ideas for something simple near home that we hadn’t tried before. It’s a very unassuming little joint in a row of nondescript shophouses (a few doors down from Manhill), and I’m actually surprised that (a) it hasn’t closed down yet, and (b) whenever we drive by it actually isn’t empty.

We were even more surprised when we walked in, and when we said that we had no reservations, were told that only a handful of tables left. I guess there’s a steady supply of regulars from the condos and houses in the vicinity.

For our starters, we ordered the warm mushroom salad, and the salt and pepper calamari with chili mayo dip. The salad was ok, though the balsamic dressing was a tad thick and goopy. The calamari were exceptionally tender, but the flavour was all but masked by the very thick coating of batter, which we ended up scraping off and eating with the salad instead. It’s a shame – the squid was cooked well enough that it really didn't need to hide behind the thick batter.

A ordered the lamb shoulder rack, which was very well seared… on one side. Strangely the other side had barely any colour at all. For non-lamb eaters this would be good, because the meat didn't have much of a lamb-y, gamey smell, but that’s actually what I look for when I have lamb. The ratatouille that it was served with was the best part of the dish. The vegetables were grilled before being tossed in the tomato sauce, which gave a really good smoky flavour.

I had the Kurobuta pork neck steak, which was slightly tough but had enough fat in the meat so that it wasn’t dry. I think this was the better of the two meats, and it came with some pretty good potato wedges.

The place is definitely very basic, with no lofty aspirations or pretense. While I really don’t think it’s a destination place, I quite like and respect how real and simple the whole set up is, and the food, though not spectacular, is actually prepared with some heart.

A says:

Not bad. Friendly service and decent food. Worth considering if you live around here but not really a destination place.

Bistro 103
103 Pasir Panjang Road
Tel: 6476-6373
Lunch (Tues – Fri; Sun): 11.30 am – 3 pm
Dinner (Tues – Sun): 6 pm – 9.30 pm
Closed Monday

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Enmaru, ION

C says:

We're clearly not sick of Japanese food, even though it's been less than a week since we got back. When Enmaru first opened at ION a few months ago, we dismissed it as a typical soul-less joint, but after reading a few positive reviews since then, we decided to give them a go.

Enmaru is an izakaya (pub) style establishment, specialising in yakitori. Some of the dishes that I'd read about were clearly their house specials, as there was a separate "Our Specials" menu that listed everything that we wanted to order.

One was the Fujiyama Soba - cha soba served on a hot stone so bits of it get nice and crispy. It's topped with shaved bonito and some slivers of pork belly, and you're given a thin broth to dunk the noodles into.

This was definitely an interesting concept, but didn't work quite as well in practice. Initially the crispy bits added some nice texture, but after a while it became all crisp and no noodle. Plus the dipping broth was a tad too diluted for my liking.

Their other specialties fared much better. First was the Ibushi Yaki - tender pieces of chicken thigh that are smoked as well as grilled, imparting an incredible aroma and flavour. The smokiness and the char made this really addictive, and the cabbage mopped up the residual sauce and juices really well.

They have a giant minced chicken ball called Tekone Tsukune, which at $7.80 is very reasonably priced given that this thing is huge. The meat is super tender and juicy, has some herbs inside to cut through the meat, and some crunchy bits of cartilege which to me define a good tsukune. Better still, it's served with a raw egg yolk for dipping, which I always look for when I order tsukune. The yolk adds a wonderful richness and flavour, and makes all the difference.

They clearly do their chicken dishes very well here. The assorted chicken skewers we had were also excellent. The liver was good, the heart (ordered separately; not part of the assortment) was excellent and the wing was perfectly cooked.

The cherry tomatoes wrapped with bacon were also surprisingly good. Careful cos the tomatoes really retain heat, but they were bursting with sweet, flavourful juices.

I'm not wild about the fact that with the exception of the giant tsukune and the yakitori assortment, all other skewers have a minimum order of two. It makes it harder for us to try a variety, plus if you pick a dud then you're stuck with two of them.

Like the pork belly with apple skewers that we had. The first bite of pork was good, but otherwise there was way too little fat on it, and the meat became really tough and dry. That tempura thing in the photo was scallop and bacon, and in my opinion would've fared better without being tempura-ed.

Their chicken dishes are clearly their forte, so if you stick to them, you won't be disappointed. I'm going for their chicken skin with ponzu sauce next time. Can't wait.

A says:

Great service and great chicken dishes (although I’ll probably give the dry pork skewers a miss). A definite option in Ion.

2 Orchard Turn
#04-11 ION Orchard
Tel: 6636-7282
Open daily: 11.30 am to 3 pm; 5 pm to 10 pm

Friday, February 17, 2012

Room Coffee Bar

C says:

Sorry for the silence! For those of you who didn't see our Facebook update, we’ve been away in Japan. We're still working on our holiday post, but in the meantime we thought we'd better come out of hiding, lest our fans think we've disappeared for good.

Room is one of the few Western establishments at ARC (Alexandra Retail Centre), which I reckon allows them to charge slightly higher prices than I would expect for the food that they offer.

A's smoked duck sandwich was quite a tiny portion for $15, and though it was pretty tasty, it was more of a cheese and caramelized onion sandwich than a smoked duck one.

I had the spaghetti bolognaise - a more decent sized portion for $15 as well, and it was good in an old school way. I would've preferred the sauce to be less watery though. It didn't really coat the pasta and I had to scoop up the sauce separately.

Bottom line - the coffee's pretty good, and the food is quite tasty but a bit overpriced for what you get.

A says:

Very good, but honestly, I think the food’s rather expensive given the location and setting. It is the best thing in the building though, so if you have to eat around there, that would be my recommendation.

Room Coffee Bar
460 Alexandra Road
#01-18 Alexandra Retail Centre
Tel: 6438-4230
Mon – Fri: 8 am to 8 pm
Sat – Sun: 10 am to 7 pm