Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bluefin Tuna cutting demo at Isetan

C says:

We headed over to Isetan on Sunday after receiving their newsletter promoting a Bluefin Tuna cutting demonstration. Expecting a rather simple exhibit of a sushi chef slicing up fillets of tuna for sashimi or sushi, imagine my pleasant surprise when I got there and saw the entire tuna (gutted and gilled, of course) waiting to be filleted and portioned. We got there about 15 minutes early so I managed to snag a choice spot right in front (apart from annoying little kids who kept squeezing in front of me).

This particular tuna is from the Okinawa Sea, weighing in at a massive 61 kg and probably just over a metre in length. The fish was airflown, and was so fresh that there was absolutely no fishy smell at all – nothing like the wet market on a Sunday morning. They also specially brought in a Japanese sushi chef, who came with his arsenal of knives. His serrated knive with evil-looking teeth slicing through the fish head was impressive yet slightly frightening, and the way his chef’s knife slid through the thick tuna fillets like butter was truly a sight to behold.

What also threw me for a loop was the almost crazed fervour with which some members of the audience were clamouring to buy various parts of the fish. The head ($50) and each side of the collar ($60 each) had already been pre-booked, and an ugly scene almost ensued when someone had been waiting to buy the meat scraped from the bones, only to find that about 500g had been promised to another customer. At approximately $15 for 100g, these ‘scraps’ don’t exactly come cheap either. But what really got to me was the fairly young and insipid-looking guy who immediately snagged a 382 g portion of Otoro – the prized fatty tuna belly – the minute it was offered, at a whopping $152.

For me, it was just a rare opportunity to be up close and personal with a huge-ass bluefin tuna, and to watch a master at work methodically breaking it down, and seeing exactly what it takes to bring quality tuna to your plate. I took a load of photos but won’t bore everyone with all of them, so here are selected scenes from a very enjoyable half hour today.

A says:

The reason I don’t scuba dive is because I’m afraid of big fish. In fact, I find any animal larger than a fully grown man scary. Luckily, this fish was still smaller than me. And dead.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Another trip to Monster Mash

C says:

First things first – we are not becoming horribly boring, nor do we think that this place is so great that it warrants visits on consecutive weekends. We met M, J and baby E for an impromptu dinner, so we had to go someplace fairly baby friendly in the Holland Village / Ghim Moh area.

Nothing very new to add in terms of the sausages since the last time, except that we had the 2 sausages with mash to share, and the portion size was perfect. We tried two new sausages of the day – Duck and Orange, and Lamb, Lemon and Oregano. Both A and I were hard pressed to decide which we preferred – both were good, although the purported citrus flavours in both were quite undiscernable.

Because the sausage and mash portion was very manageable this time, the four of us also shared the Steak and Guinness pie with chips. I liked the puff pastry – it was light, airy and fluffy, but the beef filling (careful, it’s insanely hot), though superbly tender, was slightly underseasoned and again I didn’t taste any Guinness at all. It lacked a richness and depth of flavour. The chips were more like roast potatoes; they definitely weren’t twice cooked, deep fried French fries as we know them. These are probably much healthier, but not what I expected.

We also had room for dessert this time, and boy I’m glad we did. We ordered a bread and butter pudding and a sticky toffee pudding to share. Both came with a jug of Bird’s (read: instant) custard, another British staple. The bread and butter pudding was really old school –instead of the custard being baked in like lots of modern day bread and butter puddings, this pudding was really just layers of bread dusted with cinnamon, nutmeg and dotted with sultanas. You then pour the custard over according to your taste.

I much preferred the sticky toffee pudding, and I’m not even a fan of this dessert usually. It wasn’t at all stodgy – the sponge was quite light, and the dark butterscotch sauce was prefect without being too sweet. A bit of custard added a final touch. Yummy.

We met B there tonight, who was there with T. Before we left, we asked her how her dinner was and she wasn’t very impressed with her mains. I’ll leave her to post her comments – B?

A says

Despite my aversion to British desserts, these turned out really good. I figure the 2 bangers & 1 mash with dessert is the perfect size.

Monster Mash
26A Lorong Mambong
Holland Village
Tel: 6463-4610
Opening hours
Mon & Tues: 6 pm to 10 pm
Wed to Fri: 12 noon to 2.30 pm; 6 to 10 pm
Sat & Sun: 12 noon to 10 pm

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Monster Mash

C says:

I read about this place a good month or so ago, and suggested to A that we try it but he was always non-committal about it. Then after a review appeared in Urban about a week ago, A had the gall to say “ooh, now I won’t mind trying it”. !!! So he doesn’t trust me, but he trusts that Urban chick. Lovely. Hmph.

Anyway the opening hours that were published in Urban are a little off the mark, so as a result we arrived here slightly early (they open at noon, not 11.30). This is an interesting little British café with outlets in Edinburgh and now Singapore. Kinda strange that they didn’t open something closer to home, but I guess they felt there was a market here for a typical British ‘retro’ café. As the name suggests, their main attractions are their different varieties of bangers and mash. They have 3 different types of sausages and mash on the menu, and every day they have another 3 or 4 sausages of the day, and a mash of the day.

We decided to be at different ends of the scale. A went totally traditional, and had the Monster Sausage (a smooth, slight herby sausage), Monster Mash (just milk and butter) and Monster Gravy (a classic brown gravy). As you can see, the gravy comes in a separate jug for you to pour over your food according to your liking.

I had one of the daily sausages – Pork, Cheese and Chive and I also had the mash of the day, Rosemary and Red Onion, with Onion Gravy made with caramelized onions, red wine and beef stock. I preferred my mash because I found A’s to be a little too plain and floury tasting. For the sausage, mine had more flavour initially, but I think I’m a purist and don’t really like my sausages too funky, so the old fashioned Monster sausage is more my thing.

I’m not sure if you can tell from the photos but the mash portions are HUGE. Props to anyone who can polish off the whole portion – even carb monster A couldn’t. Next time, we’re going for the 2 sausage platter to share; hopefully the mash portion is the same, which will be just nice for two.

They also have other traditional British dishes here – from a classic fry-up, to fish and chips with mushy peas and steak pies. They even sell vegetarian haggis but alas, not the regular sort. Their desserts also look comfortingly stodgy – crumble with custard, bread and butter pudding and sticky toffee pudding, but the mash did us in and we couldn’t eat another bite.

Located in Holland Village next to NYDC, where the old George’s Steak House used to be, this place may have fairly decent foot traffic and I guess the Urban article helped too, cos it wasn’t deserted when we went. Still, it remains to be seen whether they can sustain the dining concept in the long run. Perhaps we’ll come and try the fry-up next, and see how it compares to the one at Penny Black.

A says:

They’ve got a Cadbury Flake Milkshake which rocks. C says it’s a variation of a popular British dessert. I’d definitely come back here just for that.

Monster Mash
26A Lorong Mambong
Holland Village
Tel: 6463-4610
Opening hours
Mon & Tues: 6 pm to 10 pm
Wed to Fri: 12 noon to 2.30 pm; 6 to 10 pm
Sat & Sun: 12 noon to 10 pm

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pasta de Waraku

C says:

Word of warning: do NOT come here if you’re feeling indecisive, because the sheer extent of the selection is mind-boggling. We came here on Friday night with A’s friends, and 7 of us probably took a good ten minutes to read the menu from cover to cover a few times to decide what to order. Check out just 2 pages of the menu, multiply that by another 5 times, and you’ll get some idea of the dizzying array of dishes that are available.

Do note that this is definitely not fine dining, so don’t expect home-made or perfectly al dente pastas. The attraction of this place is the crazy selections and combinations, that will certainly make for a fun and interesting casual dining experience.

A had the Pasta Set, which allows you to choose 2 mini-sized pastas from a selection of about ten. He had the standard carbonara, and something that seems to be unique to Waraku – Japanese-style ‘soup’ pasta. He had the spinach soup version, which was quite interesting but surprisingly quite pleasant. The soup was thin but quite tasty, and overall it was a light and refreshing dish. The carbonara looked promising, with the whole wobbly egg yolk, but taste-wise it didn’t quite deliver. It was a bit lacklustre and flat - I think it needed a little bit more seasoning.

After long agonising minutes trying to decide what to order, I settled on the scallop gratin with a spicy mentaiko mayonnaise sauce. The scallops were a tad overcooked, but the crispy gratin bits on top of the penne pasta were good. I thought the sauce was a bit too creamy though, and lacking a solid hit of mentaiko.

What stole the show for me tonight was the okonomiyaki (the classic Osaka-style pancake) pizza. The thin pizza crust was topped with cabbage, bacon, mayo and a soft boiled egg, and the combination was heavenly. This is definitely something I’ll order again.

The dessert selection is a little less stressful; we went straight for the oreo and banana parfait. The ice cream was soft-serve vanilla – very old-school and perfect with the crushed oreo. The others had the green tea and red bean parfait, which looked very good as well, and the green tea ice cream here is seriously potent.

This place certainly puts the pasta selection at Angus House to shame, but quality-wise it’s not the best, nor does it purport to be. I think it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you’re just meant to have some fun figuring out what to order, then just sit back and enjoy without too many expectations.

A says:

Great selection of pastas. I wouldn’t say they taste fantastic but they are definitely interesting. While portions are pretty small for the price, I’d rather pay for these than badly made Italian pastas.

Also, the outlets are usually crowded and I’d only recommend this place if you don’t have to wait too long.

Pasta de Waraku
Square 2 (Novena)
10 Sinaran Drive
Tel: 6397-6266
Open daily: 11.30 am to 11 pm (last order 10.30 pm)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pasta Brava

C says:

Once again, just like almost all the previous times we've been here, this was an impulsive decision. We were all set to go to the gym tonight, but I was feeling pretty tired and in a rather bad mood, so we decided to indulge instead, since it’s the eve of a nice long weekend.

We decided to share 3 mains again, and once again we shared the wonderful home-made stracci pasta as our starter. This is a great dish – the pasta is silky smooth and perfectly done, the prawns and scallops are tender and fresh, and the saffron cream sauce is made less rich by the green peppercorns. This is another dish that I’ll be hard pressed not to order whenever we come here.

For once, we tried one of their non home-made pastas – I ordered the pappardelle with a ragout of duck and mushroom. While the pasta didn’t have the luxurious silkiness of the home-made ones, this was still very well done, and the ragout wasn’t excessively tomato-ey. It was meaty and full-bodied, yet quite light at the same time, and the duck was surprisingly tender.

We shared the T-bone steak Florentine style – this was an ok steak, but nothing great. The tenderloin side was pretty good, but the sirloin side was a little tough and sinewy at some places. We skipped desserts so the 3 mains between both of us was just nice.

A says:

I think the home-made pastas are much better than everything else. Stick to those and you can’t go wrong.

Note to self: the latte sucked so stick to the cappuccino.

Pasta Brava
11 Craig Road
Tanjong Pagar
Tel: 6227-7550
Lunch: 12 noon - 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.30pm - 10.30pm
Closed on Sunday

Monday, March 17, 2008

Olio Café

C says:

Part of the Olio and Dome family, this cafe is quite an underrated and pretty dependable casual dining option. We usually come to the Suntec City branch, but their latest outlet, and the one most recently in the press, is at Holland Village.

Their best dish, and also the one that they promote as their specialty, is the Capellini Miso Salmon Fillet. The miso cream sauce is just savoury enough without being overly salty, the pasta isn’t overcooked, and the salmon is done perfectly – just slightly rare in the centre. The generous heaping of flying fish roe also accentuates the flavour of the dish. Either A or I will inevitably order this dish whenever we come.

Since A had the salmon today, I settled for the Rendang Lasagna. In contrast, this was a very heavy and incredibly gelak dish, and tasted just like a curry puff. It was interesting, much like the way the BK rendang burger is interesting, but I wouldn’t order it again because it’s just too rich and heavy, and the flavour is too one-dimensional.

The good thing about coming here on a weekday (Sunday to Thursday) is that if you pay with a Citibank credit card, you get one-for-one main courses. I’m not sure how long the promotion will last, but it’s a pretty good deal. I don’t believe in wasting calories on sucky food just because there’s a promotion on, but I would voluntarily eat the food here anyway, so the deal is just a sweetener.

A says

C is just begging for a Citibank (or any other credit card rewards programme) endorsement.

Anyway, we pretty much decided to stick to the Salmon because everything else, while good, pales in comparison.

The iced coffee with ice cream is rocking too.

Olio Café Suntec Fountain
3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-033 Fountain Terrace
Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6238-1109
11.30am to 9.30pm (Sun-Thurs)
11.30am to 10.30pm (Fri & Sat)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Angus House

C says:

It’s been almost 2 years since our first and only trip to Angus House. It’s amazing that it’s been around for ages, and seems to be still going fairly strong. It seems to do consistently decent business – no thronging crowds like at Crystal Jade, but at least they don’t seem to be deserted either.

When S and KH suggested meeting for lunch here on Saturday, we were quite keen to give some of their pastas a try. They have an entire page of their menu devoted to pastas, and besides only 3 generic types – Seafood, Carbonara and Bolognaise, all the remaining 20-over options are unabashedly Japanese. Salmon, salmon roe and scallop feature heavily, and there are some with sea urchin and eggplant as well.

(Spaghetti with salmon and scallop in miso sauce)

(Spaghetti with Pollack roe and scallop)

A and I shared the salmon and scallop with miso spaghetti, and S ordered the Pollack roe and scallop one for all 4 of us to share. Opinions were definitely divided on the spaghettis – I actually quite liked the Pollack roe one; it was quite interesting compared to the safe, tasty but rather boring miso. S on the other hand found the Pollack roe one a bit too bland, and much preferred the miso. To be fair, the Pollack roe one was still no where near as good as the mentaiko spaghetti from En Dining.

The both of us also shared a rib-eye steak – the same one that I had the last time, but I remembered that they serve their meats on a hot plate, so I ordered it rare this time, and it came out perfect. I must say the steaks here really are amazing. The lime butter adds a different and very fresh dimension, and the sauce made from pureed daikon is very good too. The steaks here are very delicate and refined, so don’t come expecting huge hunks of seared, bloody meat. The cuts here are dainty, and the steak is barely seared before it’s placed on the hot plate so no charred or smoky flavour, but the meat is so fine, sweet and tender that this is probably the best way to serve it without masking its natural flavour.

Now that we’ve tried the pasta here, I’d definitely recommend this place for the meats, but I think better Japanese-style pasta can be had elsewhere. Still, nothing beats the extensive and sometimes just plain weird selection, so it may be worth seeing if any of the bizarre combinations catch your eye.

A says:

Our pastas came out a bit watery and I prefer thick sauces. They are very cheap compared to the steaks though.

The steaks here aren’t very big, but they are really good. If you have a steak craving but don’t want to over eat, this is the place I recommend.

Angus House
#04-21 Ngee Ann City
391 Orchard Road
Tel: 6735-6015
Weekdays: 11.45 am to 2.30 pm; 6 to 10 pm
Weekends/PH: 11.45 am to 3 pm; 6 to 10 pm

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Another take on Barracks at House

C says:

For a whole slew of reasons, we celebrated W’s birthday really early on Saturday (Happy birthday, W!); it was quite last minute and we didn’t have time to plan one of our preferred potluck dinners, so we decided to eat out at Barracks since we figured it would be able to seat 12 of us at fairly short notice.

I’m sure by now everyone knows about our love affair with Barracks, particularly their Sliders/mini burgers. However I got increasingly nervous on Saturday night when it occurred to me that not everyone may share our exuberance over the fairly simply executed food here. Fine dining it definitely ain’t, and that’s one of the reasons we like it, but we have fellow foodie friends who are decidedly discerning diners (Haha! How’s that for alliteration?), and I was afraid they wouldn’t quite share our views.

Besides a run-in that W had with a baby bug, the evening started out well enough, with the appetisers going down well with everyone. The one-metre long sausage really was exactly that – a metre long and served in a metal tin to fit. We ordered the pork one and it was very good; even the kids liked it so we had another order.

*Newsflash* The American Sliders aka mini burgers are now available at dinner time in all their flavour permutations. We ordered the cheddar and bacon and the mushroom and onion ones to share as starters, medium rare of course, and those were fairly well received too.

Unfortunately, when the mains came things started going a little downhill. I ordered the Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin, and unfortunately while there was nothing wrong with, it couldn’t live up to the mini burgers so I’ve decided to screw trying new things – I’m having the mini burgers as my main from now on.

W ordered the Bay Prawn Cappelini, and the pasta was a little overdone. M (of W & M) had the lobster linguine but I think it was a tad too spicy. M (of M & S) and J both had the braised lamb shank, after being advised by the waiter that their initial choice of lamb cutlets was a bit on the fatty side and not up to scratch. Unfortunately, apparently the lamb shanks were a bit tasteless and also no less fatty. Y ordered the Happy As A Clam – soba noodles with clam broth, but I don’t know how that turned out.

(clockwise from top: chai chocolate fudge cake x 2, brownie, sticky date cake, chocolate toffee cake, lemon macadamia tart)

We were able to try some desserts today, and I must say they turned out better than the first (and only) time I had their desserts. Must have been our choices tonight. I had the chai chocolate fudge cake, which was surprisingly light and moist, and a spoonful of the toffee cake was similarly quite positive.

Well, this has certainly reminded me that food opinions are nothing if not subjective. I think I’ll steer clear of strongly recommending any particular place in future, because I always get nervous if/when other people don’t quite feel the same way.

As an aside, one of their PR ladies kept coming up to our table to ask if everything was ok. It was fine the first time, but after the second and the third time it frankly got a bit creepy and overkill. Maybe she decided to target us because we were in a large group; I hope so, because when I next come back here with A alone I just want to sit somewhere, be inconspicuous and just enjoy my mini burgers and truffle fries.

A says:

The PR lady was quite hot but I’m sticking to the even hotter burgers.

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

Dian Xiao Er

C says:

After Cousin C found out that A has started to not hate duck, he suggested that we try the roasted herbal duck at Dian Xiao Er, which has a few locations but we tried the VivoCity one for lunch on Saturday.

The herbal roast duck is definitely their signature dish; so signature, in fact, that they have 3 different versions of it – roast duck with angelica root, roast duck with ten wonder herb, and roast duck with wild ginseng. Each is supposed to have different health benefits; we decided on the ten wonder herb one that allegedly improved blood circulation…

I must say the duck was really good – the skin was crispy and not fatty at all, and the breast meat portions were wonderfully tender and just gamey enough but not too ‘ducky’, to quote A. Being the good wife that I am, I let A have most of the breast meat, and I had the bonier sections that were a bit more tough but still very fragrant.

We ordered the Xiao Er Tofu, which turned out to be a bit like pipa tofu – tofu mixed with seafood paste then deep fried. While the crispy outside bits were quite good, generally this was a bit insipid and bland. The stir fried string beans with XO sauce fared better. I’ve had better versions of this dish before, but at least here they used the slimmer string beans, which I really like because they have a nicer texture without the squeakiness you get when you bite into regular string beans.

All in all, the duck was worth coming here for, but the rest of the food was fairly ordinary. I can’t see this place being anywhere near A’s top dining options in Vivo though, so I don’t foresee a repeat visit any time in the near future.

A says:

The duck was great, but not as spectacular as I hoped. I think I prefer La Petite Cuisine’s Duck Confit. The rest of the dishes were only so-so.

Overall, I don’t see anything else really special enough to make me want to come back.

Dian Xiao Er
#02-137/8 VivoCity
Tel: 6376-9786
Mon – Fri: 11:30am - 2:30pm, 5:30pm - 9:30pm (last orders)
Weekends & Pub hols: 11:30am - 3:00pm, 5:30pm - 9:30pm (last orders)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Golden Pillow 933

C says:

As the name suggests, this place specialises in a curry bread bowl that looks (and feels, almost) like a soft pillow. It’s quite innovative in the sense that to avoid the curry gravy from seeping into the bread and turning it into a soggy mess, waxed paper is placed inside the bread bowl first, so that you can tear away at the bread and dunk it in the curry. Utensils are strictly not very necessary (except to actually eat the chicken), so this is a good picnic option.

My first experience trying to order from here was over 5 years ago and it wasn’t very positive – they never delivered my order to a friend’s party and when I called to rail at them, they claimed that they had delivered it the day before. I vowed never to patronise them again, but I think a 5-year grudge is more than enough to make a statement…

I decided to give them a try again on Thursday night, and ordered some food to be delivered to my folks’ place since my uncle and aunt were joining us for dinner. Delivery is free for orders over S$30, so I ended up ordering 3 dishes – the chicken curry pillow, gailan with oyster sauce, and a sang choy bao (lettuce rolls with a chicken, prawn and turnip filling that you roll yourself).

Initially it didn’t bode very well. I called on Wednesday to place the order for the next day, and ten minutes after I put down the phone, they called me asking if they could deliver earlier because it was raining. I said “Hello??!! My order is for tomorrow!!!” They checked and said “Oh yes yes, ok tomorrow”. Eep! I called again on Thursday afternoon just to make sure, but I was only able to heave a sigh of relief when I got the SMS from my dad that the food had arrived – right on time so no complaints in the end.

Apart from being a novel idea, the golden pillow itself isn’t half bad. The bread got a big thumbs up from everyone – it was very soft and slightly sweet, just like KFC’s bread rolls from days gone by. The curry was ok but not fantastic, given that I’m quite particular about what constitutes a good chicken curry.

The gailan was very good – very fresh and green, considering that we only ate it about 2 hours after it was delivered. The sang choy bao was a little bland, and needed some of my grandma’s belacan to spice it up. It wasn’t bad but I don’t think it was worth $12, given that the golden pillow was the same price for something much more substantial.

Well, I think I’ve more or less overcome my phobia of their unreliability. While I won’t be ordering from them on a regular basis, it’s always nice to know that they’re a pretty reasonable and convenient option.

A says:

The bread was surprisingly good. Curry was not bad, but the whole thing is more gimmicky than anything.

Golden Pillow 933
Tel: 6323 8933

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Magic of Chongqing Hot Pot

C says:

This is one of our default family dinner places, because one of my aunts is friends with the owner. We had an extended family dinner here on Saturday night, in appreciation of family and friends who rallied round and provided amazing support when my paternal grandfather passed away last Friday after 94 long years. As a short tribute to a wonderful man, he'll be missed by many, but at the same time I'm grateful that until a couple of days before he left us, he was nothing less than completely healthy and independent, because he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

If you like steamboat, this is the place for you. It may not be the cheapest, but it’s an a la carte buffet with really good quality ingredients, and a wide variety of them too. The luncheon meat there is superb, as is the belly pork. They also have very good side dishes like beef tendon, gyozas, spring rolls and xiao long baos, for those that are too impatient to wait for the soup to heat up to cook the food.

You get a choice of soups – traditional chicken, chicken and preserved vegetable, and Szechuan mala. Usually at family dinners we just have the chicken, but at an extended family dinner today, we had half and half of the chicken and mala. While I’m all for spicy food, now I realise why we usually just go with the chicken soup. The food tastes much better and much cleaner when it’s cooked in the chicken soup. The mala just messes with it a little, and with such good ingredients it’s a shame to mask their natural sweetness and taste with the mala soup.

The desserts here rock as well. There’s a lot to choose from – ice cream, fruit cocktail, fried niangao with icing sugar, water chestnut cake, and arguably the best, fried mantou with a condensed milk dipping sauce.

Unfortunately, A’s never been a steamboat fan, and this place hasn’t changed his mind (although why he can eat shabu-shabu, and not steamboat, is beyond me. Atas!!!...). So I can pretty much with certainty that we won’t be coming here on our own, and I have to rely on more family dinners to come back here and pig out.

A says:

The food’s okay but not really my thing. I do like the sauces they give though. And the desserts are great.

The Magic of Chongqing Hot Pot
19 Tanglin Road
#04-06/07 Tanglin Shopping Centre
Tel: 6734-8135
Open daily: Noon to 3 pm; 6 pm – 11 pm