Friday, February 29, 2008

Bring back Iron Chef!

C says:

A and I have recently gotten addicted to a baking/cooking anime on Animax called Yakitate Ja-pan! – about a baking competition between two teams trying to create a national bread for Japan. It’s 80% informative baking/cooking tips with nuggets of information on Japan’s local produce thrown in, and 20% just plain typically weird anime, but really fun to watch.

Anyway, the judge in the cooking competitions, with his dramatic trenchcoat, gloves and frilly neck piece, reminded me of Chairman Kaga (“Allez cuisine!”), the host and judge of the cult favourite Japanese cooking show Iron Chef. This used to be a filler programme on weekday afternoons on Channel 5, and though I discovered it only halfway through its run, I was hooked from the get go.

*Note: I’m talking about the original Japanese Iron Chef, dubbed into English with a sports commentary-style voiceover that was part of its charm. This is not to be mistaken for the failed spin-off ‘Iron Chef USA’, with William Shatner in Chairman Kaga’s role. That was a disaster.*

Many of the ingredients that were used in the show were alien to me back then, more than 6 years ago, but now that we’re eating out more and developing a more sophisticated palate (har har…), I’m belatedly appreciating the quality of the ingredients and cooking techniques a lot more now. Far from being a mere entertainment programme, the chefs were genuinely skilled, the ingredients of the best quality, and it’s bred some big name chefs like Masaharu Morimoto, Iron Chef Japan, who has since opened his own restaurant Morimoto in New York.

Yes, the show may be over the top, but it’s nothing short of entertaining and it really did open my eyes to the many different types of ingredients and cooking techniques. The image of Morimoto bludgeoning a live octopus with a daikon radish to tenderize it (the octopus) will stay with me always.

Now that I’m a little more savvy about all things culinary, I’d really like to watch Iron Chef again, with a slightly more informed eye. How many of you out there would similarly like a chance to catch old episodes of Iron Chef? If enough of us shout out, hopefully someone at Mediacorp or Asian Food Channel will hear us and maybe, just maybe, bring back good ol’ Iron Chef.

A says:

If memory serves me, Iron Chef was a really fun show. I wouldn’t mind watching it again.

Caution –Yakitate Ja-pan! is a really gay anime. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean. Other than that, the totally random plot and self-deprecating humour make it worth watching. Especially if you’re a fan of baking and anime.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hai Kee Char Kway Teow

C says:

I first came to know of this joint after watching a random show on Asian Food Channel called “$2 Wonderfood”, showcasing the fact that food costing only $2 (duh) can still be found. What amused me about this place was the fact that the host, Ah Ben, counted the number of hum (cockles) he had in his $2 plate of char kway teow, and the total was around 22!

The stall is located at the same food centre as the Margaret Drive Sin Kee chicken rice and the Queenstown Popiah. He only opens in the evenings though, from 5 pm to 10 pm, and is closed on Sunday. Queues are expected and people have been known to wait more than half an hour for a plate of kway teow. When we went on Thursday night at around 8, there were about 10 people ahead of us, and we waited about 20 minutes in all. (I’m not sure how much of the queue was a result of this place being featured on Makansutra Raw some weeks back.)

The reason it takes so long is that it’s a one-man show here. The soft-spoken old man does everything himself, from frying to collecting money to packing takeaway orders. Not including the time he takes to pre-fry the kway teow and noodles (which he does every 6 plates or so), each plate takes him about a minute to whip up.

I guess with the inevitable impact of inflation, the minimum is now $2.50, not $2. $2.50 gives you a pretty big plate, though. I had a $2.50 one with less hum, and A went for a $3 with the whole hog. At last count, he had about 15 hum in his plate.

The verdict? Well, I still don’t think this is quite in the same league as the other char kway teow big guys like the Outram Park one (now at Hong Lim) and the Zion Road guy. The one here somehow lacks a certain oomph that I’ve come to expect from char kway teow, but maybe this is typical Teochew style, which is less oily, less sweet, less salty – less everything, really, which is a hallmark of Teochew cuisine… It was quite clean tasting though, if you know what I mean. It’s just not quite what I’m looking for when I’ve geared myself up for a major artery-clogging binge.
In short, while I think the Hong Lim one is worth the wait, I don't think this one is. Bit of a pity cos it’s quite near us, and the guy is really quite a sweetie. I expected him to be gruff and brusque because he’s harassed, but quite the opposite. He does everything at his own pace, seemingly in a world of his own, and doesn't let the long queues bother him. Don’t think I’ll come back in the near future though – I’d rather use up my calories on a more kickass char kway teow.

A says:

Definitely the most value-for-money char kway teow I’ve had in Singapore. Portion is huge compared to everywhere else. And considering how busy the guy is, he still has an amazingly friendly attitude.

I’d like to keep coming back but it’s really not worth the wait. C and I timed him and he takes about 1 minute to make each plate of char kway teow. Yes, it’s hot and fresh, but taste-wise, it’s not as fantastic as I hoped.

On a side note, check out his website at

Hai Kee Teochew Char Kway Teow
40A Commonwealth Avenue
#01-550 Commonwealth Ave Food Centre
Monday to Saturday 5 pm to 10 pm; closed Sunday

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine’s – We’re Two!

C says:

I can’t believe we’re two! Time really does fly, and judging from the number of posts in 2007 compared to 2006, we’re just eating more and more. Our ever expanding waistlines (and everything else) can lay claim to that.

As per tradition, I cooked our Valentine’s Day dinner again, only this year I took leave (I have leave to clear, I’m not THAT devoted a wife) so I was able to spend a fairly leisurely day prepping and cooking, rather than making some items in advance like I did last year.

I made a seared tuna and rocket salad to start, and in case you’re wondering, yes I used my blow-torch again to sear the tuna.

For the main, I got a couple of fillet steaks from The Butcher again, and made a beef fillet with mushroom gratin dish that I saw on Gordon Ramsay’s F Word. Basically, he seared the fillet on all sides just to brown it, then topped it with a mixture of sautéed mushrooms (I used shitake and baby portobellos), cream and egg yolk, grated parmesan cheese on top, and stuck the whole pan into the oven to roast. I wanted an easy carb, so I just steamed some new potatoes and tossed them with butter and some truffle salt that I got from Culina.

The gratin added a new flavour dimension to the meat, but I’m not sure if I prefer this, or just a simple ol’ grilled steak. What I DO know is that the fillet steaks from The Butcher seem to be getting even better. The steaks today, which they cut specially for me because I wanted larger portion sizes than those on display, were even finer, more tender and sweeter than I remember. At $35 for 500g of meat, I think they’re well worth the price.

What’s our Valentine’s dinner without lava cakes; this year I used a new recipe, after my last attempt with the Nigella recipe turned out less than stellar. Unfortunately, they were a failure *sob* They didn’t ooze at all; I guess a minute and a half extra really makes a huge difference, because the practice one I made earlier in the day was too oozy and liquid. Argh I have half a mind to give up on these altogether; my track record has been dismal of late. In terms of taste, hard to believe but I think I’ll actually go back to the Nigella recipe. The one I tried today was little too light and airy, and didn’t have the sinful, almost fudgey texture of Nigella’s.

I’m now on a mission to re-perfect my lava cakes. Wish me luck.

A says:

Starter was great. Main was nice but I think the meat was so good, it really didn’t need all the accompaniments. Too bad about the dessert. Not bad but not great either. Still it was a meal that’s as good as anything from a normal restaurant.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Buko Nero

C says:

We had our day-before-Valentine’s-Day dinner at Buko Nero this year; we were lucky enough to get a reservation at fairly short notice (about 2 weeks) – helps that it’s a Wednesday night I suppose. Anyway, the menu was:

Amuse bouche: crostini with cheese (forgot what kind) and pear
Starter: Smoked salmon and sakura ebi salad with mango and whole grain mustard
Soup: Red miso with silken tofu and crabmeat
Sorbet: Blood orange
A’s main: home-made tagliatelle with parma ham and pea, served with tomato and mushroom-based sauce
C’s main: Twice-cooked Yorkshire pork chop with honey glaze
Dessert: Milk chocolate cake with white chocolate coulis

After a slightly disappointing visit the last time, my faith in Buko Nero has now been restored. Dinner tonight was excellent. Everything was good, but for once the mains outshone everything else. A’s tagliatelle was a little on the salty side because of the parma ham, but it was also seriously delicious. I was worried that the sauce would be very tomato-ey and sour, but it barely had a hint of tomato – instead, it was just full of all sorts of yummy flavours from the mushrooms, parma ham and probably a very good stock.

The pork chop was again slightly Asian inspired – almost like char siew, with the honey glaze, but a damn tasty version. Needless to say, the fattier parts of the chop were the best, and the leaner part was a tad dry, but paired with the sauce, the mashed potatoes and some killer caramelized pearl onions, and everything just worked.

Dessert was again top notch. Chef Oscar has made milk chocolate cake many times before, but tonight’s was particularly light and fluffy, and pretty much melted in your mouth.

Random comment: Maybe it was a coincidence that today is the 7th day of Chinese New Year (known as “ren ri”, or “everybody’s birthday”), but the menu tonight seemed slightly slanted towards the new year. The salmon starter could’ve passed for a mini lo hei, the soup was pretty Asian, and the blood orange sorbet was yet another nod towards new year fare.

As much as we were keen to make our next reservation after this very good experience, I think having a few months in between visits helps to ensure that we don’t get too jaded, and allows us to better appreciate the good food.

A says:

Not coming for a few months really has made coming back much more memorable. This was one of the few times where the mains were better than everything else. I’m looking forward to our next visit.

Buko Nero
126 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6324-6225
Dinner: 6.30pm to 9.30pm (Tuesday to Saturday)
Lunch: Noon to 2pm (Friday and Saturday)
Closed Sunday and Monday

Saturday, February 09, 2008


C says:

After a very enjoyable lunch experience with my friend S at Canele’s new Raffles City branch a couple of weeks ago, I was pretty psyched for A to try it too, in particular the dessert crepe that I had. So on Saturday we headed down to their outlet at the basement of Paragon for brunch.

This time wasn’t quite as pleasant as my previous experience, unfortunately. For our mains, I ordered a Croque Madame and A ordered the Herb Foccacia with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. There was a smaller selection of main courses here than at Raffles City, but to be fair, Canele was always meant to be a dessert café, with some simple salads, sandwiches and pastas thrown in for a more balanced menu. The new Raffles City branch has a much expanded food menu that includes at least 3 more selections in each category, and a new baked rice category as well, but I think this is the exception rather than the norm for Canele.

My Croque Madame comprised of thick slices of toasted white bread with gruyere cheese, ham and a sunny side up egg. Healthy this certainly wasn’t – in fact I think there was another fried egg lurking in between the slices because I had oozing egg yolk coming from somewhere but the egg yolk on top remained intact – but it was quite yummy. I still preferred the baked rice bolognaise that I had at Raffles City but again, it’s unfair to make the comparison in the first place.

A’s was a little more boring and made less of an impact. While the egg was nicely scrambled, the smoked salmon was a little bland and lacked the distinctive flavour and savoury oomph of a well-smoked salmon.

Ironically, the one dish that I specially went there for turned out to be the most disappointing. I ordered the Nougatine crepe for us to share – a crepe filled with Nutella, served with nougatine (hazelnut) ice cream, vanilla Chantilly cream, caramelised filo pastry and drizzled with salty caramel. In fact, here’s the description on the menu (take note of the words ‘salty caramel’ – I’ll get to that in a bit):

The one I had at Raffles City was great – it tasted like a Snickers bar, and the salty caramel sort of muted the sweetness of the rest of the ingredients. However, when I tasted this one, the caramel was a bit sour, so at first I thought it was off and asked the kitchen to check. I mentioned that I had it at Raffles City before and it was distinctly not sour. After checking with the kitchen, the waitress informed me that it’s meant to be a passionfruit caramel, so the sourness is intentional, and in fact Raffles City had used the wrong caramel.

I find this a little hard to believe, but after a second tasting I had to admit that the sourness definitely did have a distinctive passionfruit edge, so at least I knew it wasn’t off. We finished it because we didn’t want to make a scene, but I’m not exactly pleased by this event. If I order something on the menu that clearly says “salty caramel”, I’m sure I’m not alone in expecting that to be what I get. If they want to change it to passionfruit caramel then fine, but change your menu accordingly to reflect it then. I’m still not sure who cocked up – did Raffles City really use the wrong one, or did Paragon make a mistake and try to pin it on Raffles City?

Has anyone else tried this particular sweet crepe at any of Canele’s outlets? I’m just curious to find out which version is the “correct” one.

A says:

Service was slow as there was only one woman at front of house when we got there. She was very helpful and impressed me by serving customers in the order they arrived, even though we skipped the takeout queue and went straight to a table.

Overall, the store there seems to be more for takeaway desserts than for proper meals. Food there is pretty good, but there are plenty more dining places I’d rather pick from at Paragon.

290 Orchard Road
B1-25, Paragon
Tel: 6733-8893
Open daily: 11 am to 10 pm

Monday, February 04, 2008

Xin Wang Hong Kong Café

C says:

Hong Kong-style cha chan tengs are the new donut stores. They’re popping up all over Singapore, and ironically the chain that started the whole phenomenon – Happy Valley Hong Kong Café – is in my opinion the worst.

Anchorpoint has recently gotten a facelift, and judging from the queue of cars entering the car park even on a weekday night, its new status as a mini-outlet mall (Charles & Keith, Club Marc and G2000 are some of the stores with outlets there) seems to be gaining favour with shoppers.

The old Oscar’s food court is gone; a smaller Koufu food court has now opened in the basement, and in Oscar’s old location is Xin Wang Hong Kong Café. Eating there is a simple but pleasant experience. Staff are polite but can be a tad overenthusiastic, and there are literally hundreds of items to choose from. Even someone like A is hard pressed to not find something he can eat.

I’ve already seen quite a number of other dishes that I’d like to return to try, but this time I decided to go for something quite unexpected – the BBQ eel hotpot congee. Sounds bizarre, I know, but somehow this works. The texture is similar to Teochew porridge rather than Cantonese porridge – i.e. the rice is cooked separately and simply added to the soup, so each grain is distinct and separate. The eel was quite tasty and generally not bony (a few bites had a couple of bones), and the egg when stirred into the whole mix thickened and sweetened it even more.

A ordered the instant noodles with luncheon meat and egg – my first choice until he stole it from me… This was decent but not as good as the one at Streets. Portion is quite small so it’s a good choice for a light meal.

The yin yang here is more tea than coffee, so it’s not as good as Streets or the HK Trolley Noodle place. Still, we’ll definitely be heading back to try their other offerings. Oh, another plus – they’re open till 2 am daily, so you know where to go if you have any late night hunger pangs.

A says:

Not as good as Streets but definitely not bad. Unless I’m craving Swedish meatballs from the Ikea across the road, this would be my top pick for air-con dining around Queensway.

Xin Wang Hong Kong Café
370 Alexandra Road
Anchorpoint #01-07/08
Tel: 6474-4498
Open daily 11 am to 2 am

Sunday, February 03, 2008


C says:

This place has been on our to-visit list for a while, but it took a Makansutra Raw feature and my brother’s subsequent visit and recommendation to drag ourselves to VivoCity to try it for ourselves.

Which came first, the speciality or Makansutra? Almost every table ordered the pork knuckle – I don’t know whether that proves that it’s one of their best dishes, or whether everyone was there to try the knuckle that had been featured positively on Makansutra. Note that it isn’t on the menu, but do ask for it because it appears that it’s always available anyway.

Thus far, my best experience with German pork knuckle has been at Baden Baden restaurant, until the standard deteriorated slightly. The one at Brotzeit is quite different, and I think more authentic. The Baden version, though very tender, is drenched in a clear gravy which tends to make the crackling a bit soggy, especially if you eat as slowly as I do. Brotzeit serves the gravy separately, which allows for the crackling to be enjoyed in all its crispy glory.

Brotzeit’s crackling was good, but slightly on the thick side. The meat was very tender though, and almost falling off the bone. Instead of roast potatoes, it came with a rather interesting cold potato salad, and quite a heap of sauerkraut. Needless to say I’m on knuckle overload, and the next time we come we’ll try the sausages instead.

We also tried their liver pate with German bread. The pate was very very good, the bread – not so much. It was dry and hard, but slathered with enough butter and pate, and it was edible.

The restaurant’s quite cold inside, so I would recommend a table outdoors as long as it’s not raining.

A says:

Food is good. Service is good. Portions are big so even though this place is not cheap, I think it’s still a good deal.

Definitely a place you can come to share food and drinks with friends.

Brotzeit German Bier Bar and Restaurant
VivoCity #01-149/151
Tel: 6272-8815
Opening hours: Lunch 12 noon to 2.30 pm, Dinner 6 pm to 10 pm