Who’s Down for some Trippin’?

Trippin’ [defined] – taking a trip/ break/ holiday outside of one’s home country. If you thought I meant getting heady and losing your mind, you’re mistaken and I’ve clarified.

That said, I don’t know a single soul who would shy away from an offer like that, unless, of course, that person suffers from Pteromerhanophobia. Big word. No fear. It actually just means the fear of being on an airplane or other flying vehicle.

What if I tell you that all you need to do to win yourself such a trip is to write? Better yet, write about anything under the sun, write about the things you love. You’re sitting up in your chair now aren’t you? I mean how difficult is that? The things you love, you could gush on and on about it and your pals will probably have to shut your trap for over sharing.  So now that you’re interested, take a good hard look at the picture below. Whistling yet?

That, my friends, is Wineglass Bay, Tasmania, Australia [picture from Fancy]. If you’re not mesmerized yet, I really don’t know what to say. When I first saw this image, I was already picturing myself buried in the soft white sand with the cool surf crashing against my body, the sea spray a relief from the white hot sun beating on my face. If you’re having the same visual of yourself in that setting, boy do I have news for you.

In conjunction with Valentine’s Day, Tourism Tasmania is running a contest for you, yes YOU, to submit your words on things you love. On the theme of ‘Express Your Love,’ tell the folks at TourismTasmania about the object of your affection and move them. If you make them laugh, or shed a few tears, you may be well on your way toTasmania for, wait for it, a whopping 8 days and 6 nights! Better yet, you get to bring that special someone or a pal with you. Aren’t you glad you read this post now? Lucky you.

I know you want the full down low now and I shall not keep you waiting any further. Head over to the LOVE! Tasmania microsite now to get all the details you need and start writing and sharing TODAY!

PS. The banner on the right or pictured below [yep, just roll your eyes over a tad rightwards] also takes you to the microsite. Good luck folks!!!

Epicurious, Singapore.

Following the childhood classics theme from my post on Le Loir Dans la Théière where the cafe took to the theme of Dormouse in a Teapot from Alice in Wonderland, I bring you closer to home and into the world of one of Dr Seuss’ best works – Green Eggs and Ham. Are you kicking up your legs and knocking your feet together already? Cos I know I am.

“Do you like green eggs and ham?” Note: I am not Sam and I love my eggs, not sure if i’d like them green but I guess I did.

Getting back on track, weekends are perfect for brunch and I’ve long heard of Epicurious but never had the chance or reason to visit it… until that fateful day. Taking a long hike over under the merciless sun, I was famished, non-too-pleased about the heat and in need of something cool. In my head I was thinking – the food better be good or someone’s roadkill. As the company I was with knew someone who worked there, the orders were decided upon fairly quickly and the anticipation mounted. 

The relief from the heat came in the form of a jugful of iced lemon tea. It’s not as great as the one I’ve had at Food for Thought but it did serve its purpose. Its essentially Lipton tea with a couple of slices of lemon, that’s what it tasted like to me but I could be wrong.

Roll-up the dishes, mine was an order of green eggs and ham and this brunch girl was in brunch heaven. I love eggs but I’ve never had them green. Color aside, the flavor was out of the park. Aromatic, creamy, well seasoned and surprisingly fresh tasting, a dash of crushed black pepper and I was rolling my eyes back in delight. The portions were generous, I mean the egg was overflowing on the toast, just the way I like it and every mouthful sent my fork diving back in for more. I was a monster on this dish and I was going at full speed. The toast was crisp and substantial enough to taste under the generous portion of toppings and served its role as a perfect complement to the dish. In my opinion, everyone should try this. Egg lover or not. Dairy lover or not. You know how scrambles can sometimes reek of the cream/ milk, this is nothing like that. Manifique.

We also ordered a choco-nana sandwich to share and all I can say is, if you love chocolate, if you love Nutella in particular and if you love banana, this is another winner. I have a sandwich maker at home and on days where there are bananas at home, I make myself a nutella-banana sandwich pocket as a treat. Now this one takes it to a whole other level. I don’t know if its the bread they use, or the method in which they grill the sandwich but the bread remains fluffy with a light crisp to it. Again, generous filling although I did wish there was a tad more nutella in the sandwich but I know that it’d prove to be too much for most other visitors. Chocolate and banana is one combination that can never go wrong but what I love is the icing sugar on top that gives a cool sweetness to the sandwich and the slight tartness of the strawberries refreshed the palate for the next mouthful. Decadent yet simple, exclusively enjoyable.

Three dishes down between the two of us [didn’t feature the company’s savory main] and our bellies were splitting at its sides. But. Because the company knew someone there, we were offered a complimentary dessert – the red velvet cake. This, this was splendid and despite the risk of splitting the outfit I was in, I was devouring it by the forkful. This is what red velvet cakes should taste like. Dense, moist, light fragrance of beetroot balanced by the icing between the cake layers and tied together with the cream cheese. By God, this cake is beyond stunning and I would be happy to receive this any time, any day. In comparison with the one I had at Ben’s, my Ben’s referral would have melted on first taste of this cake.

What else do I love about Epicurious? I love how they integrate the old school utensils that we’d typically find at our coffee shops into this Western cafe. Its so tongue in cheek, its so fun, it speaks of the owners’ character. I also love the outdoor sitting area, Quayside,  breeze in hair moments [tho it can get really hot out], sunnies on face and adding a couple of new freckles to my bare shoulders with a book in hand as I await my orders. That’s the life right? I can’t wait to revisit this place but please enjoy yourself the next time you find yourself Quayside.

In the words of Dr. Suess –

Say!
I like green eggs and ham!
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!
And I would eat them in a boat!
And I would eat them with a goat…
And I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good so good you see!

So I will eat them in a box.
And I will eat them with a fox.
And I will eat them in a house.
And I will eat them with a mouse.
And I will eat them here and there.
Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE!

I do so like
green eggs and ham!
Thank you!
Thank you,
Sam-I-am

GETTING THERE 

Ben’s, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Found myself in the state of Kuala Lumpur for business back in November and it was one of those trips where I had some time on my hands, a free spot in the schedule. Delighted but uncertain of the scene in Kuala Lumpur, I enlisted the help of a friend via BBM and found myself in Pavilion mall, enroute to Ben’s.

Ben’s concept is that “great memories are shared over meals, thus to eat is to love.” Eating and love is a concept I identify with and perhaps that is why I felt immediately at home setting foot into Ben’s. Staring at the frames installed through the cafe, one feels an immediate connection to the space and a wave of relaxation washed over me as I sank into the couch. In fact, the overall aesthetic is something I could see myself applying in my future home – raw whitewashed walls, memories enclosed in frames… You get the drift.

Arriving at tea time, I noticed the lack of a crowd but it suited me all the better as I’m not one for people in my face. Without lunch, I was definitely famished but oddly enough I was craving only the sweets. Didn’t help that the ‘help’ I enlisted via BBM had been raving about the red velvet cake since his return from KL and enlisting his help that day, the rave continued and probably even peaked.
Settling myself along the stretch of sofas, flipping through the handwritten menu which I absolutely adore cos it feels so personal, I envisioned the writer in my mind’s eye whose cursive hand is absolutely sexy. If anyone knows whose hand penned those words on the menu, please share. I’d love to drop that person a note of compliment for that impressive hand.

Back to the orders, I obviously settled on the much raved about Red Velvet Cake although I would typically have selected a Toffee Date Pudding as featured in the menu above and a   piping hot pot of tea. Sadly, the Red Velvet Cake failed to live up to the raves. It was not bad but I guess my expectations were sky high from the raves and it fell flat on its face. The cream cheese had too much of a dairy flavour for my liking and the cake lacked the moistness which I guess was due to the overexposure in the fridge. The icing between the layers however, do get the thumbs up from me.

Unsatisfied, I requested for the menu because, as the card reads and I answer – I live to eat. Still hooked on my tarte au citron addiction post Paris I ordered naturally, the lemon meringue tart, psyching myself out for the flavors I would expect. Wrong move. When you’ve tasted something so divine and the impression has never left you, it sets you up for disappointment. We all know this feeling, we’ve experienced it in our daily lives and here I was, experiencing it on a plate. Not that this particular lemon tart was god awful but it just lacked that x-factor from the one at Le Loir Dans la Théière.

When it first arrived, my heart sang. Beautifully browned meringue, rich looking lemony tart with a gorgeous crust. I was seduced… until I sank my fork in. That’s when the melody stopped and my face crumbled. The meringue immediately separated from the tart revealing a glossy almost wax-like appearance on the surface of the lemon tart. That was the first major turn-off. But not wanting to judge a book by its cover, I pierced into the tart and scooped up the separated components for a taste. The flavors were there. The lemon tart had that citrus flavor and complemented the sweetness of the meringue but it lacked the freshness and vibrancy of a dessert as such. You can say this tongue has been spoilt  by Le Loir Dans la Théière and woe is me for my hunt for the same, or an even better version of the lemon meringue tart in this part of our world.

That said, if you ever find yourself in KL do visit Ben’s for some easy downtime and good treats. I may have been a little too harsh in this particular write-up but its because my expectations were wayyyyyyyy up there and its not a fair judgement in my opinion. So have two pots of tea, two desserts or more, just like I did and enjoy a good read if you are alone or a good conversation if you’re with friends.

GETTING THERE

Bistro Soori, Singapore

*please pardon the quality of the pictures. taken on the Samsung Galaxy Tab as the camera was not with me* 

Celebrating new beginnings, having had a new contract signed and an old one terminated, we created an excuse to indulge. You see, we have been on the gym diet for 2 weeks now and these long, full course dinners went out the window the minute we signed with the gym because evenings are the only time we can set foot in there. I do work, you know. So we made a collective decision to sneak in a break, feast and boy was it worth every calorie.

Bistro Soori, as the waitress tells me, is 15 months old and recently saw a change in the head chef and is now helmed by Executive Chef Benjamin McBride. I quote, “Bistro Soori is the symbiosis of an enhanced gastronomic experience within a designed space.” I typically steer away from such marketing speak, as a marketing person myself, because consumers recognise the spiel and may even fail to comprehend it. In layman’s terms, visit Bistro Soori if you’re looking for a restaurant to impress that date or client of yours as it boasts sleek designs, courtesy of the architect owner, Soo Chan [also the principal of SCDA Architects] and the food is belly satisfying, of which I will share more in a jiffy.

Reservations were made at 7pm and we were caught in the jam, as we were fretting over whether the staff had let our table go, my Blackberry started vibrating [i keep my phone silent at all times] and it was the staff calling to check if we were still coming. I loved that they did not threaten to let go of our table but rather, dialed us to ask if we were on our way. I knew that I was going to have a good night there because service goes a long way and I was right.

Arriving half an hour late [fashionably, if you ask me tho I hate being late], we had to valet park as Lim Teck Road and its entire vicinity is a nightmare to get parking after 6.30pm. How do I know? Cos Ember, another one of my favorite restaurants is located just a street down from where Bistro Soori is. Seated, we devoured the menu that was placed before us, decided and ordered in a heartbeat and a half. We hesitated a second with the dessert orders as we had each decided on a starter and main without an inkling on the portions.

No need for introductions, the humble bread. I prefer the foccacia tasting one [bottom slice] instead of the rye-looking one [top slice] but to each their own. Note, bread here is served with butter only. I’m sure you can ask for olive and vinegarette but we didn’t try.

Recalling that we had a movie to catch at 9.25pm, I thought to check with the staff on speed on service only after we placed our orders but were reassured that we’d be out of the joint by 9pm. In his words, “We’re only as fast as you eat,” and with a mutual smile the night was off to a food climax starting with starters [for lack of a better word].

This is one night where I did not suffer from food envy at all, loving both my orders starting with the Foie Gras Duo, Poached Pear, Brioche Crouton, Pink Peppercorn, Gastrique at SGD 21. The serving of foie was generous beyond words and the diner gets to experience it two ways – cold, stuffed and contrasted by the flavors of the sweet poached pear and hot, pan seared and buttery rich with the crisp toast. The crunch of the pink peppercorn was a delightful twist in flavors and also refreshing to the palate. Needless to say, I was impressed from the get go.

Another starter at the table was the Scallop, Pistachio Pesto, Arugula, Pear, Vinegar Gelee, Truffle Vinaigrette at SGD 19. Succulent, sweet, the scallops were plump, moist and well seared combined with the pistachio pesto, the dish was aromatic but lacked something to tie all the different components together. I failed to detect the pear in the dish, the arugula provided a slight crunch and refreshed the palate while the vinegar gelee tasted unlike most vinegar I’ve had in this short life time but every item seems to stand on its on and lacked that unity on the plate.

The slow-cooked short rib was worth every penny given the generous serving. Not the best short rib I’ve had but it got the basics right in being flavorful, moist and tender, breaking upon spear.

Without further ado, we approach the mains.

I was pleased beyond words with my order of shrimp, scallop, uni risotto although I was a tad confused by the dish sitting under mains as risottos usually fall under the starter category, not that I’m complaining. I love how there is an infusion of Japanese flavors with the generous use of uni in flavoring the stock and the overall dish. The seafood that accompanied the risotto were well-seared with the right crunch and texture of fresh and well cooked seafood. The basil leaves provided the perfect accent to break the richness of the dish and kept me wanting more till the last spoonful.

The Cured Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Braised Red Cabbage, Grain Mustard, GoldenRaisin, Pear for SGD 28 was an explosion of flavors in the mouth. It was at once sweet, sour, savory, tangy with a dash of heat in a single bite. I’m not a huge fan of pork but this, I kinda liked.

On the menu is also the Fish Of The Day served with Garlic Nage, Baby Spinach, Red Chili. I’m pretty certain the accompaniments on the dish do not match up to what’s on the menu but the sides were excellent, the touch of tang on the ‘shrooms and broccoli flowers was just beautiful. The cos was not that well cooked with parts of the fish overcooked and tough to the bite.
With two courses polished each, we had little room for dessert and settled on the best representation of fusion for the night – Pandan Soufflé, Strawberry Compote at SGD12. Light, fragrant and heartwarming, the pandan souffle is definitely a dish I would return for although I don’t care much for the strawberry compote that did little to enhance the souffle in any way.

GETTING THERE

Yellow, Orange, Red, EMBER!

Reliable, a place of consistency, is how I would describe Ember.

Multiple visits later, Ember still leaves me heady with content every time I leave the premise. Housed in Hotel 1929, a boutique hotel establishment, Ember serves up a modern European menu set to win your gut the moment you place your order.

Between my multiple visits, I’m pretty certain I’ve tasted almost everything on the menu. Maybe I exaggerate, but that’s the thing about heading out for a meal with a group – you get to pick from the plates of others you are with. Not the best table manners but definitely a good spread without the overeating. The thing is, Ember’s menu rarely, if ever, changes. That contributes to the consistency in quality of food and the loyal customer base who return time and again for that flavour they crave.

Located in what used to be the notorious red-light district of Keong Saik Road, Ember is a modest outfit with simple furnishings and an interestingly homely vibe afforded by the service staff who is alert and ever ready to stop by your table for a chat.

I judge a place by its bread, and that was the case in the entire week I was dining in Paris. No excuse for the capital of bread to let me down even along the dodgiest of streets but I digress. The point is, good bread revs up your appetite like how good diesel feeds a vehicle. The bread at Ember in one word is – addictive. Just take a look at the appetizingly ripe orange colouring on the bread, that colour evokes warmth and harmony and that is the experience of breaking into this bread. Warmed to perfection with a crusty exterior and a lukewarm, fluffy texture, the bread practically invites you to tear into it. As you chew and savour you get the sweetness from the sun-dried tomatoes and a hit of fresh herbs that is just beautifully addictive. There, that word again, you get my drift. Best part, its complimentary and they top it up every time the plate shows its face. Heed – portion control please.

Back in 2010 when I first visited Ember I remember having a lot of fun with the Oyster Shooters. The thing with food is, always have fun with it. If it can’t put a smile on your face, the calories are just not worth it. Our table of five took an oyster each and had each bite with a different sauce and one ‘genius’ actually had his oyster with a sauce combo and he said it tasted good. So go ahead, try your own mix-n-match till you get the right touch.

If you prefer a somewhat lighter starter, pick the toufu salad. I simply adore it. It’s just simple, unpretentious but if you’ve ever tried recreating a toufu salad at home, you would know what an uphill task it is balancing the flavors to create the symphony that is present in this dish. You can guess at the ingredients and you’re likely to have most of them at home and you may think its as easy as washing up the greens, tossing it in a bowl with that white sesame dressing but let me tell you honey, if you think that’s it, you’re sorely mistaken. Perhaps I lack that culinary finesse in the kitchen but I am pretty certain this toufu salad is not as simple as it looks and tastes.

If you like salads but need a richer flavor to justify the value of your course then my pick would be the pan seared scallops wrapped in parma ham served with a zesty salad. Clearly, the main star for this dish is the scallop but what the chef has cleverly done is develop the richness of the scallop and parma ham combination to accentuate the freshness of the accompanying salad. This is a definite wow factor if you’re out to impress a date and you decide to be an absolute chauvinist and take charge to order for your girl.

Foie gras – that rich butter I can’t seem to stay away from. Ember, to my knowledge, has two options for the foie gras lover in us. One, a deeply rich and mellow flavor that kinda reminds me of a mature man [pictured above] and the other, a refreshingly light version paired with apples. My favorite foie gras dish to date remains in that cafe in Paris, paired with poached pears, a symphony of flavors I will never forget. Back home here in Singapore, Ember does well to  satisfy my infrequent craves.

Introducing what I’ve come to associate with the mature man –  a dish so rich and mellow, the essence of maturity or a deep red wine. This pan seared foie gras topped with truffle and poached egg is a dish I would recommend individuals who are truffle lovers, or rich food lovers. When savoring the dish, please do it justice by breaking the poached egg over and slurp up every morsel and drop in combination. It’s an orgasmic experience if I may say so myself. Some companions of mine have mentioned that the truffle is overwhelming but it works well for me so order and savor at your discretion. Everyone tends to different tastes.

And oh, how can I miss the beautiful parma ham crisp that the dish is served with. Thinly sliced and baked [i’m assuming] to crisp goodness, it provides for a contrast in texture to the dish. It’s the first time I’ve had a parma ham crisp anywhere and I must say, if it came in a bag I wouldn’t be able to stop. Surprising, coming from a non-pork lover.

An alternative to the heavy flavors presented above, a classic pairing of foie gras with fruit is the Pan Seared Foie Gras served with Apple. My personal favorite remains to be the pairing that I savored at La Fontaine in Paris where the Obamas also dined when they were there. That dish remains unforgettable but hand on heart, this pairing served up at Ember will delight most ladies or diners who prefer lighter combinations with that rich butter.

That’s all the starters I’ve tried and they are among the most outstanding. My challenge is refraining from ordering these familiar flavors that I’ve come to love and trust, to venture beyond these and to explore the rest of the menu. Till I do that, the shares will remain as such.

Ah, the section where meals are made or broken – mains. I have tried six different mains at Ember and only one of which is seafood. The conclusion is that the meats are crazy good but I have to give the chef credit for his pan seared sea bass. It does not come as a top recommendation if you were to ask your server but this piece of fish is cooked and seasoned to perfection and is probably one of the best cooked fish I have had. The quality control of the food is excellent as well. We all know how easy it is to overcook a fish but on two separate occasions I have had the sea bass, the same moist consistency and sweetness of a good catch enhanced by a simple and light hand. I really am impressed by the quality of the food served at  Ember based solely on this sea bass dish.

I titled this snapshot ‘You can’t go wrong with beef steak’ but in reality, we all know how many things can go wrong with a beef steak. Satisfying for most men, or women who have a red meat crave. The kitchen gets the done-ness right every time, no matter your request and everything plated works in perfect harmony with the main. Nothing I can pick on, also nothing that I can particularly call out.

Two different groups, two rave reviews of the rack of lamb and both by women. Must be good. I typically shy away from lamb for fear of the gamey flavor that accompanies the meat, and especially so with meat this rare and pink. This seared rack of lamb however did surprise me in the taste department with a palatable richness that I quite enjoyed. In all honesty, I doubt I’d be able to polish this plate of lamb as a course for myself but it is a good bet.

That’s a close up for you to see how rare it actually is when served. You can’t dictate the done-ness for this dish and the server will actually check if you’re squeamish about having meat served so pink. Trust me though, given the done-ness, the dish went down well. Even for this chick who can’t quite stomach gamey flavors. In fact, it is hardly gamey.

The wagyu beef cheek was actually my virgin dish at Ember and also what sealed the deal for me as a restaurant worth a repeat visit. Everything you’d expect in a stewed dish like this – melt in your mouth rich flavors, yet able to still distinct the marbling of the beef cheek as you press into the bite. It was definitely a fine experience for me although admittedly, I have not ordered this dish since my first visit there.

As I build up to my favorite repeat order dish, I’d like to take the time to present to you what I’ve dubbed as the ‘crowd pleaser.’ The crisp pork belly has delighted so many table mates that I’ve lost count. Being a general non-pork lover, this dish is outstanding in how the skin is crisp beyond belief yet is contrasted with meat that is so moist and tender that you can’t help but remark at the chef’s skill and finesse. It’s a must order at every table, even if you don’t want it as your personal main.

The last but definitely NOT the least, the duck leg confit. I’ve not been able to break the spell of ordering a different main since the first time I stabbed my fork into this dish. It is pure amazement and a smile is curling on my lip as I revisit the past encounters where I’ve sunk my teeth into this duck leg. The meat falls off the bone and each bite is accompanied by the crisp skin and tied together beautifully with that rich sauce and sauteed mushroom. A symphony of textures and flavors. I love it. Period.

No meal is complete without dessert and I have a mere three to share, shame on me, I know. Starting with the sticky date, a must order when you dine with me because I’m such a sticky date nut. This one was underwhelming in every sense and I have never ordered it again. Nor thought about it for that matter. I’m just cringing recollecting this particular dessert, which is a very bad sign. 

Moving swiftly on, the tragedy that was the sticky date dessert buried, the apple tartine is absolutely divine. Perfectly caramelized, just the way I like it with that slightly charred perfume housed in a well baked puff pastry, this dessert is a hot pick at the restaurant and I highly recommend it. And oh, it is served with ice cream.

The best for last, presenting the chocolate fondant. There’s no turning away from this. Dark chocolate, fresh vanilla bean ice cream, moist cake, rich & gooey chocolate fondant. As them folks in Hollywood say, it is ‘amazeballz’. No regrets with this order.

So yes, I’ve presented a selection and it may be hard to pick a favorite, as I have experienced. Being the habitual eater I am, I have since settled for this standard order – tofu salad/ scallops with salad to start, duck confit for mains, ending with the chocolate fondant for dessert. Go ahead, make your own selection. Better yet, try something I haven’t.

So what makes Ember a place that has become a staple for me? Quality and consistency. These are the two ingredients that have won Ember a place in my heart. No other restaurant I have visited has been able to churn out the same consistency of flavor time and again no matter the period I’ve been away. Its that sense of reliability where you know you can return for that distinctive flavor or dish that you crave. That is also why, I have been and will be a repeat customer till the chef takes his leave or decides to put aside his discipline and pride.

GETTING THERE

Le Loir Dans la Théière, 4ème arr, Paris, France

Here’s my confession. Me and sweets, we go a long way back but Maze by Ramsay in London introduced me to the wonder that is citrus based desserts. You see, I’m under the impression I’m a compartmentalised eater. Savoury for mains, sweets for desserts and no room for anything in between. I now know I am wrong. That oft chance that was the lemon combo comprising a lemon refresher, lemon tart, confit lemons, Jersey ripple ice cream at Maze by Ramsay in London changed by compartmentalised eating ways BUT was nothing compared to the experience that was the tarte au citron at Le Loir Dans la Théière.

After shopping the lanes of Rue du Roi de Sicille and circling back to complete Rue des Rosiers in my hunt for vintage goods, it hit me that it was a little after 3pm and we hadn’t had lunch. Referring to my bible of research print outs we decided to check out Le Loir Dans la Théière to hang up our wearied limbs for a rest and to refuel for the day that remained to be unfolded.

I still remain undecided whether my research yield an inaccurate address or the shop had relocated several shopfronts down the street but my word is, as long as you’re on Rue des Rosiers, keep walking until you chance upon a maroon red door close to the intersection that is Rue Pavée.

TIDBIT – translated, Le Loir Dans la Théière is ‘Dormouse in the Teapot’

The cafe is inspired by the fantasy that is Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland and once through, you’ll see and experience the whimsical and the quirky as you pass in the enclosed space.

The touch I was really captivated by was the presentation of the tea time specials in white marker on mirror. We’ve all seen the chalk on board raw presentation but trust the French to bring a touch of elegance, class as well as hygiene to the regular chalk on board write-up.

So, how can you tell the popularity of a place? Easy. The rate at which items sell-out. Arriving at the tail-end of tea meant that there were no mains for us to choose from, lunch service is over ma’am [you should totally know that] and desserts are on display at the counter. We turn, empty plates on display with few to spare. We despaired but wearied and famished as we were, we buckled down and placed our orders. Despite the limited choices, it was a sweet reward. So imagine if you had options.

Starting with beverage, and I know this may come as a surprise to many but a good cuppa of hot chocolate, or au chocolat chaud in French, is a rare find in this capital. From day one, I’ve been on the hunt for that molten richness that would slide down my throat and invigorate my entire system but I had been repeatedly disappointed by cup upon cup of thin, over-creamed versions of hot chocolate. Persevered I did and Le Loir Dans la Théière answered my prayer with a jug so rich it can serve as a meal for an individual with enough to spare. This is a must order if you’re a hot chocolate fan.

The star of the place, the dessert that would make me propose to anyone at all – the famed tarte au citron. Many, I know will say this dessert is overkill. Too sweet, sugar rush, dental troubles and dare I say it? – THE CALORIES. But hey, you and I, we both live once and if you’re gonna count miserable numbers for the rest of your life I feel for you and I’ll eat on your behalf. The meringue on this lemon tart is “c’est magnifique,”  and the sweetness is balanced by the tartness of the lemon tart. Très bien.

The other  treats we had at Le Loir Dans la Théière did not disappoint either. The peach tart and citrus sponge with glaze were good by most standards but stacked against the winsome  tarte au citron, there is no comparison.

Oh! Word of caution. The servings are giganormous so please do order in moderation.

HOW TO GET THERE

Address: 3 Rue des Rosiers, 4ème , 75004 Paris

Reservations: +33 1 42 72 90 61

By tube: Stop at Saint-Paul, Le  Marais.

Pistoletto. Serpentine. Kensington. London.

What do you do when you find yourself caught in the drops of London’s perpetual gloom and you’re in a garden, vulnerable to the elements, to be more specific, Kensington Gardens?

Here’s what we did. We ducked into the next available roofed shelter we saw and we found ourselves at the doorstep of the Serpentine Gallery. The unacquainted, I was excited. I mean, what do you expect when you chance upon a place so named the Serpentine Gallery. In my mind’s eye, I saw multi-media presentation of serpents… you get my drift. Yes, I took it literally and yes, I was wrong.

The Serpentine Gallery is a modern and contemporary art lover’s hideaway and as we chanced upon the place fairly late in the day, we only had time for one exhibit – Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Mirror of Judgement.

I’m no connoisseur in the appreciation of modern and contemporary art but I loved Pistoletto’s use of raw materials [i.e. corrugated cardboards] to create an accessible maze of individual carved out spaces that is at once whole and separate entities reflective of the distinct point of views he tries to convey in his work.

The experience is almost one of self-discovery as you navigate the maze and approach each new space with hopefully, an open mind. Each space pays homage to a different religion – Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, beckoning the viewer to explore the depths of their reflection beyond their religious views. At least that’s what I got out of it.

Watch The Telegraph’s interview with the artist for more insights.

The feature that still haunts my memory is the one in the entrance/ exit – a well-shaft with a mirror placed at the bottom of the installation reflecting the circular skylight from the structure of the Serpentine Gallery. The sense of depth and wonderment hits you all at once and when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the reflection against the wide sky, the sense of insignificance and yet, a strange empowerment hits you. I walked away from that first instillation somewhat bewildered, in awe and curious.

Since my return from London, I’ve had the time to work on some background research and learn more about the exhibition I chanced upon as well as the man behind the work. Pistoletto has been referred to as the poet of the mirror, sage of the arte povera movement, both elements markedly distinct at the Mirror of Judgement exhibit. I am humbled at having had the honour of being exposed to his work and I do hope more Singaporeans get to be exposed to such exhibitions – on this dot of ours or when they’re out there exploring the wide world and all it has to offer.

Just for fun, while Googling information on the Serpentine Gallery, I chanced upon this Youtube video titled – Peggy Sue: Lover Gone [live @ Serpentine Sessions, Hyde Park]. Had to throw this in for the sentimental value of the nickname Peggy Sue which the Director at my ex-agency bestowed on me.

Break the Routine

Instead of the everyday – ‘How are you?’ and the routine reply of ‘Good,’ I’d better appreciate a different way of making your presence felt. Break the routine before everything else falls into pieces.

Shot: Postcard, Serpentine Gallery Bookshop, Kensington Garden, London, United Kingdom

I’ve got an Open Door Policy

At time of visit, 3-week old Open Door Policy was a serious charmer. Laid back wooden interior, shop house exterior charm, it was a perfect marriage of old meets new. Wine cellar-esque display, open kitchen concept, over-friendly [in a good way] service staff, I knew I was won over the moment I took my place at the table ahead of the rest of my table guests.

Nestled in my semi-corner, nursing a Pimm’s Club [cocktail of Pimm’s, citrus, cucumber, ginger beer], I had the luxury of time and space to survey the interior and I must say, I was impressed.

Modern with rustic touches through the use of brick wall effect and cork wood type storage areas, the overall effect of the interior does nothing to overwhelm but the sense of thought and spatial flow is evident in the set-up. I also love how all the table ware is already set-up and that touch of glass on every table just adds to the overall effect of communal dining.

Back to my order of Pimm’s Club, SGD17. Best cocktail I’ve had? Nope, not by a long shot but please my palette it did. Will I order it again? Yes. In all likelihood though, it’d be a bottle of white the next visit. Old habits die hard, so they say.

I’ll start with my favourite of the six starters available, the watercress soup with soft poached hen’s egg, SGD12. Admittedly, I was only drawn to it for the promise of a poached egg and was half expecting the soup to be served a la Chinese style with pork ribs and stalks of water cress boiled to soft perfection but I wasn’t let down. A thick and flavourful concoction that would turn every non-veg eater off, the soup was comfort in a spoon down to the very last mouthful. When served, make sure you break the poached egg in and stir it in well. I’d say it’s a not-to-be-missed when you pay a visit.

Another crowd pleaser, in fact, so good someone at the table ordered a second portion for his ‘dessert’ as he wanted to end the meal on a high is the steak tartare with truffle mayo and potato chip, SGD19. I’ve always been squeamish over steak tartare as I’m highly sensitive to the gamey flavour that comes with red meat but this dish was perfectly seasoned and the tartare carried a pleasantly refreshing citrus zing. The bread that accompanied the dish was well toasted and those accompanying chips, crisp perfection. And can I add, the presentation is superb. Served on a cutting board with bread stacked high on what I’ve come to identify as a receipt spike, it was a feast for the eyes before the belly.

The crispy chicken wings with curry, yoghurt and cucumber salad, SGD15, was underwhelming and we were left puzzled at what we had actually just devoured. I’d say, you can give this a miss unless you want to experience the feeling of being left underwhelmed.

So we had more than half of the available starters on the menu with the halloumi cheese with olives, white anchovies and crusty bread, SGD19, rounding off the list. I was first introduced to halloumi cheese at Artichoke and I loved how the texture had the consistency of toufu with a lightly salted flavour. So when the friend ordered the dish, I was already mentally recalling the flavours I had savoured at Artichoke and I guess expectations were set and it did not measure up to what I’ve had but good, nevertheless.

The famished and in need of satiation despite technically downing a starter each, we swiftly moved on to mains with three meats and one fish for the table. Let’s start with the only seafood on the table, the pan seared sea bass with artichoke, potatoes and rocket salad, SGD27, was well seared but again, I pretty much had an idea of what sea bass perfection was in my head and it did not meet that mark. For seabass perfection, try Ember and until I uncover another gem of a seabass dish, Ember will continue be my go-to.

Next up, the confit duck leg, puy lentils, sage and smoked bacon, SGD26, was satisfying but again, not the best I’ve had. It still is a good option given the narrow menu available.

My order of 48 hour cooked braised beef cheek with mochi potatoes, carrot puree and snow pea tendrils, SGD29, was well worth the penny and I felt a satisfied grin plaster itself on my face as I sliced and savoured each bite. Mochi potatoes, never had it, awesome. Carrot puree, too sweet, under seasoned and stood out like a sore thumb on the plate. Beef cheek, tender perfection.

Best presentation prize for mains has got to go to the pork belly with parsnip puree, braised quinoa and celery, SGD29. This dish ties with the beef cheek for best mains of the night for me. Not the best pork belly I’ve cracked my knife into but the use of quinoa and parsnip puree, brilliant. Honestly, I would give anything to dive into a plateful of quinoa right now. The bite still lingers.

Bringing on the sweets, I knew from first look at the menu that I would be having the chocolate and pistachio souffle, creme anglaise, SGD15. It’s the first time I’ve encountered a combination of its kind and let me down, it did not. Lightly fragrant and easy on the palette, I fell in love from the first dip.

According to the wait staff, the two desserts you can’t leave without were the souffle and the panna cotta and so order that we did, like obedient students in a well-disciplined class. The lime panna cotta with coconut sago, cashew nuts and mint, SGD13, was ok. Tad too complex with too many flavours which didn’t necessarily create a harmony for the palette if you ask me. I say this dish can be better refined and simplified.

Currently four weeks old, Open Door Policy is definitely getting some notice with its simple, well-executed menu. Not surprised if it continues to enjoy a full house turn out night on night. Be sure to make a reservation if you intend to venture out for a nibble.

GETTING THERE