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 

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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

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

Take a Little Trip Around..

It’s the weekend. Movies, been there. Shopping, done that. What else is there to do on the little red dot? That’s the question that perplexed us one fine weekend and a fine solution we had – we take a boat and head out!

Destination kelong in the midst of the sea, we sped along [ok fine, chugged along] in old school bum boats departing from Changi jetty to the blob in the far off distance. Built predominantly with wood, this floating platform is home to the family that hosted us and it amazes me how people can live in such great content through simple means. Is it the lack of exposure that keeps them content or that one-ness with nature that keeps them whole? Guess I’ll never know eh?

The kelong experience was a change of pace, a different setting for the bunch of us to reconnect to simpler means and enjoy a dinner under the stars. Our dining area bobbled up and down like an unstable buoy in turbulent waters and we enjoyed the sunset as the host family fry up dishes for our dinner.

It was a short, simple but memorable dinner. And I’ll never forget the sunset, nor the ocean. The weekend just past, I tweeted my yearn to pick up fishing just for an excuse to be on a boat, under the vast sky and feeling one with the ocean. Till that happens, kelongs are an interesting experience too.

Patara, Tanglin Mall, Singapore

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Bangkok, Thailand for all the mundane reasons I share with every other fan of the city – Thai massage, shopping, and food. Yes, food. There are times where I find myself missing the flavors of Thailand and Patara Fine Thai Cuisine provides a good fix in a luxurious setting.

Located in Tanglin Mall, Patara Fine Thai Cuisine offers the perfect balance of privacy in a world class setting and refined humble fare with first class service. Last I was here, we had a private dining suite booked for a cosy and intimate affair.

For starters, we skipped the regular orders of curried fish cakes and the likes to savor a chef’s fine skill on display – La Tieng, a traditional filling of Atlantic crab meat, minced chicken and peanuts wrapped in egg nets. Pretty as a package when served, the flavors were a perfect symphony. The sweetness from the chunks [not slivers] of crabmeat, the fragrance of the nut enhanced by the crisp, airy crunch of the egg net was perfectly balanced with the use of herbs. Simply stunning.

What’s a meal without a salad? Yum Som-O was our choice to bring that balance to our meal and it was beautiful. Starting with a base of pomelo, the balance of tartness and sweetness provided a fresh pop and served as a beautiful counterbalance to the roasted coconut and sweet chilli jam that it was tossed in. The salad was topped with succulent prawns for that hearty bite of a protein. It was heavenly and I wished we had extra servings of this simple yet refined dish.

Tom Kha Gai was the soup of the day for us, a mild coconut galangal soup with chicken, it’s perfect for those with a low threshold for spice. This was especially comforting for me as a warmth spread through me in sharp contrast to the cold blast from the air-conditioning vent.

Moving on to mains, keeping in true Southeast Asian dining style, it was a communal treat with dishes served with rice. There are options for individual meals but what’s a meal without sharing and variety? I’m not a rice kinda person but I absolutely loved the Khao Klong, which is brown rice, that they offer as an alternative option to the usual Khao Suay, the usual fragrant jasmine rice. I first discovered the delight of brown rice at another fine dining Thai restaurant in Bangkok. The nutty flavor of the brown rice provides an additional layer to the dishes you’re savoring, there’s no better way I can describe it but to urge you to try it for yourself. Of course, not every restaurant provides you with that option but no harm asking right?

From the meat and poultry menu, we had the Moo Ob Ma Praw and See Krong Kae Yang. I’ll start with the less preferred of the two, the Moo Ob Ma Praw, which is slow-braised pork belly in coconut juice, coriander and cassia bark, was a touch too sweet for my liking. I’m rigid in that I can’t eat sweet meats, my mind just cannot comprehend nor process the flavors that I’m tasting. Meat is meant to be savory for me and I guess that’s why this dish was an immediate strike off for me. I definitely can’t pick on the cooking as the pork belly was perfectly braised, soft enough to melt in your mouth but with that spring that speaks of perfection in technical execution. The Thais do love their sweets and that’s one area I can’t reconcile with.

The See Krong Kae Yong on the other hand took me to the high heavens and back. The picture does no justice to the dish and I apologize for the bad photography. Each dish comes with 3 pieces only so do bear in mind the serving portions when ordering for the table. We managed to wing an order of 5 pieces as a single serve and that’s what I mean by service excellence as they catered to our table’s needs. Good service aside, this pan seared lemongrass rack of lamb is divine. Cooked to perfection, served medium rare, I was surprised to find myself diving in to the dish with much gusto. Typically steering clear of lamb because of the gaminess of the meat, he chef has somehow masterfully masked the gamey flavor through the clever use of spices like lemongrass. The accompaniments to the dish were more than just artful displays as they enhanced and accentuated the flavors of the main protein. The papaya salad provided a refreshing zing and served as a palette cleanser between bites, while the sweet rice rolls were crisp, savory complements that harmonised the dish. This is a MUST ORDER even if you are not a red meat eater, unless, of course, it’s a dietary restriction.

Having had seafood in our appetizer [crab] and salad [prawn], we decided to explore only one dish from the seafood menu and selected the Hoy Shell Nam Prig Pao. Once again, the presentation of the dish has been distorted and it’s my bad. The scallop was fresh, plump and succulent, as you can tell from the picture above and it was perfectly sauteed in chilli jam sauce with sweet basil.

For a balanced diet, we ordered the Pak Choy Nam Mun Hoy, a simple stir-fry of baby bak choy with oyster sauce.

Beyond stuffed, we hesitated to order dessert as we didn’t feel we would do the dessert justice given the state of our bulging bellies but… we caved, and I’m glad we did. The Kluay Thod Ice Cream Kati was mind-blowing. The coconut battered banana was fried to fragrant and moist perfection. Topped with a generous drizzle of honey that caramelised and adhered to the piping hot fried bananas, the dessert was served with ice cold coconut ice cream that took us all on a sensory journey to pleasure-dom. This is also a definite must order for a perfect wrap to your meal.

GETTING THERE

Mei Heong Yuen [味香园] Desserts, Singapore

Another overcast day [note: in reference to day of write not post], and the way my wired brain works prompted me to dream of snow and when my tummy grumbled, all I can see in my mind’s eye is snow ice.

I remember when I was first introduced to this velvety delight, I was fascinated by the layers in the dessert reminiscent of the soft layers and folds of an unrolled bale of cloth. My mind was rejecting the texture of the dessert even before i stuck my spoon in as it tried and failed to comprehend the velvet folds of each shaved layer presented before me. I’ve had my fair share of iced desserts and nothing comes close to the texture of snow ice – creamy yoghurt; nope, shaved ice in ice kachang; not quite, frozen ice cream; far from similar.. There is just no comparison.

Tracing the history of Mei Heong Yuen [味香园], I was surprised to learn that the brand is rooted in the iconic Farmer Brand groundnuts. I grew up inhaling these peanuts at my grandma’s place and still do, actually. The menu at Mei Heong Yuen [味香园] features 15 different flavored snow ice, all of which are very familiar local flavors like durian and chendol with a mix of familiar and generally well-accepted flavors like strawberry, chocolate and mango.

My favorite offering is the peanut snow ice – fragrant, uncomplicated flavor that is true to the original ingredient. I can easily polish off two servings of this by myself. It is that good.

Being an all-time sesame fan, the sesame snow ice is a crowd pleaser but I do wish the fragrance and flavor of the seed was stronger. The red bean served on the side is divine and I would love to be able to order that just off the menu for a “healthy” snack.

The yin yang twist on the sesame snow ice is the almond-sesame snow ice. A beautiful blend and presentation. I’m not an almond fan but from the reactions I get at our table every time, I gather its a winning taste.

For a fruity kick, go for the mango-strawberry duo. Not only are the colors gorge-ass but it packs a fruity punch that will send your taste buds trippin’.

Mei Heong Yuen [味香园] can be found at Ion Orchard and Temple Street. Be warned though, it’s always packed.

GETTING THERE

Chinatown Outlet
63 – 67 Temple street
63-67 号, 牛车水登婆街 
Tel: 6221 1156
(Chinatown MRT)
Orchard Outlet
Ion Orchard, Unit B4 – 34
B4层34号铺,乌节路新地星商场 
Tel: 6509 3301
(Orchard MRT)

La Cantina in Venezia, Changi Village Hotel, Singapore

I’ve been here so many times I can’t even count the number of visits on both hands and I was appalled at how I’ve given this place the cold shoulder on this space of mine. So I’m making up for it by sharing all the dishes I’ve tried at this dining delight and I hope you find at least one dish that appeals to your buds, and I mean taste buds at that.

Nestled at the east end of Singapore, La Cantina in Venezia overlooks the lush greenery and shore of our island to provide a tranquil dining environment. I have rotated my dining experience from outdoor to indoor, lower deck to upper deck [pictured above] and I would suggest first time diners to take the alfresco seating overlooking the sea for an unforgettable experience. That lingering kiss of sea breeze, a sip of good white and you’ll feel all the frustrations and tension melt away from your shoulders as you relax into your seat.

I usually arrive famished from the long drive to what I would refer to as the ‘outskirts’ of Singapore and am always thankful for the hospitable greeting in a basket.

No complications, no fancy-schmancy pretentious appetizers, just straightforward well-baked bread. This home baked goodness evokes the image of an Italian mother dedicating her life to the ‘soul [sole]’ duty of feeding her family of 12 [don’t ask me where I got that number from], never wavering in her dedication and always producing the best for the satisfaction of her family. Served warm with olive vinegarette on the side, I always tell myself to go easy on the bread but ‘once you start, you can’t stop.’

Starting with cold antipasti, the Caprese is a staple order for me every visit for that unbeatable freshness of the tomato, the light creaminess of the buffalo mozarella, finished with the fragrant olive pesto drizzle for simple contrasts of textures and harmony of flavors that lingers on your tongue. Be sure to have fresh ground pepper sprinkled on just before you tuck in for that heightened flavor. Another good option is the Proscuitto E Melone if you’re in a large group and can afford more appetizers.

Just because we’re Singaporeans and we all love our fried food, the Calamari features regularly at our table and is a safe option for the hot antipasti. It’s not the best calamari I’ve tasted but somehow we just can’t keep ourselves from ordering it especially since I have calamari lovers for pals.

A sucker for thin crust pizza,  La Cantina delivers crisp goodness in a slice with sufficient bite and weight that distinguishes and prevents it from turning into a cracker. Pictured above is the Parma Porcini, my choice selection, for its hearty satisfaction – the thin crust is topped with a layer of pomodoro [tomato sauce] for that sweetness and tartness as a base, layer in the mozzarella for the gooey creaminess and touch of saltiness, add to that a generous spread of succulent italian mushrooms finished with a fresh and generous layer of parma ham. Is that a winning combination or what? The menu at  La Cantina offers a selection of 20 different pizza toppings to suit your palette and balance your table’s orders of need for options. If you are seeking a vegetarian balance to counter heavy meat orders, go for the Funghi Porcini that is equally heavenly.

Moving on swiftly to pasta and risotto, I do admit that the choice of 22 different dishes can be daunting to power through but those in the know would agree that the Linguine Al Granchio is the reason why every first-timer visits and why every repeat customer returns. This crabmeat linguine comes with generous chunks of crabmeat unlike the pretentious scrapes we get at most other restaurants. Tossed in a creamy tomato sauce, this is the winning factor of the dish as the sauce is perfectly balanced and leaves the diner diving in for more. I usually add a splash of tobasco sauce for that kick in a bite but it tastes perfect as served.

An alternative to crabmeat is the lobster option which is seasonally available only. When I tried this, I found the flavor to be wanting and preferred the regular Linguine Al Granchio to the fancier version.

Another pasta dish that I can’t stay away from is the Linguine Al Nerro Di Seppia which translates simply to squid ink linguine. A personal affection of mine, it is again not the best I’ve had but if given the liberty to order another pasta dish, this is my go-to due to my simple attraction to squid ink.

Main courses are also available and you cannot go wrong with the Filetto Di Manzo Al Gorgonzola. Medium rare tenderloin topped with gorgonzola cheese sauce, paired with the flavorful roquette, this dish goes straight to your heart. Most times, sides are neglected on dishes like this but the potato chunks on this is roasted perfectly that it actually leaves you craving for more.

If you’re a regular patron and are tired of the regular menu offering, La Cantina offers specials so if you’re not informed upon menu presentation, do check in with the staff on the special for the day. Being adventurous on one of my visits, I ordered the Lambshank Risotto just for a change of pace. The lambshank was cooked just right and the tender slices of meat fell of the bone by the forkful. Didn’t quite agree on the direction as the flavors were pretty mediterranean but I can’t deny the skill that went into the execution of this dish.

Despite my repeat visits, it is evident that I’m not an adventurous eater and am not out to taste test the entire menu. As mentioned, repeat visits are the result of the addictive flavor of the Linguine Al Granchio and I’ve clearly fallen victim to it.

GETTING THERE

Opening Hours: 
Tue to Fri
11am to 3pm and 6pm till Late
Weekends
11am till Late

Tel: (65) 6546 9190 Fax: (65) 6546 9153

Mezza9 Martini Bar – Happy Birthday Singapore!

I’ve been on an alcoholic binge. No more than what I use to inhale back in the agency days but definitely a stark upswing since I moved in-house. That familiar buzz, the freedom of laughter and that overt friendliness were old friends I’ve not visited for a while and it felt good to see them again.

So on the eve of National Day, to cheer a pal up, we went bar hopping to lift some spirits and well, celebrate the nation’s 45th independence anniversary.

We started the night off at Bar Canary at Grand Park Orchard. An outdoor space, it was the perfect spot to start a chill-out night under the stars, figuratively speaking. Between us three, we drained a bottle of white over an exchange of laughter and teasing. In less than an hour, we were on to our next hot spot feeling slight buzzed and me, with a pair of wooden chopsticks in my hair.

GETTING THERE – BAR CANARY

Making our way by foot, we crossed the street and headed towards Grand Hyatt Hotel which houses the Martini Bar at Mezza9. You probably won’t be able to find this glass-enclosed Martini Bar on your first visit unless you ask as its 2 entrances are tucked at the extremes of the Mezza9 which may explain the lack of a massive crowd even on weekends or public holidays.

We settled for a table right next to the bar with panels that allowed for a glimpse of Scotts Road. Upon settling, we placed our drinks after much deliberation and I allowed my eyes to roam, taking in and appreciating the interior decor. The grill and lamp before our table, I absolutely adored [pictured above, center]. To keep the alcohol at bay, a cheese platter was ordered accompanied by cashew nuts, compliments of the bar and let me tell you, those cashew nuts are highly addicted. Roasted to perfection enhancing the nuts’ fragrance with cracked black pepper added to that golden brown perfection, we were practically inhaling those nuts like chipmunks storing nuts in their cheeks for winter.

On to the stars of the night, the Martini Bar at Mezza9 offers a stunning array of 40 different martinis to suit every palette, well except the savory [which Bar Stories will offer]. Deciding to avoid the classics on round one, we ordered the Tiramisu, Lemon Custard and Watermelon martinis to start.

The Tiramisu Martini was as the name suggests and delivered the dessert in a glass the name promised. A concoction of Imperia-Russian Standard, Baileys, Kahlua, Espresso and Banana Liquer, we were off to a rocking start with that drink.

The Lemon Custard Martini came highly recommended from the pal who has visited the bar prior and I admit to being highly skeptical of the order and sipped gingerly at the drink only to find myself wanting to gulp it down. This glass comprised of Imperia-Russian Standard, Advocaat, Vanilla Liquer, Lemon Juice and Egg White. Tad squeamish knowing that fresh egg white went into the drink but man those flavors were so fresh and rewarding, that I was left lusting after the drink after that first sip. Everyone should have this when visiting the Martini Bar at Mezza9.

The bore in me, I ordered a Watermelon Martini to start with the excuse of wanting to freshen my palette before diving in. It was beautiful, simple and understated, a flavor I’ve long been acquainted with as its one of my favorite fruits in the world. A glass of this consists of Tanqueray Gin, Watermelon Liquer and Freshly Squeezed Watermelon Juice.

Soon enough, we were on to seconds and polishing off the cheese platter and cashew nuts like we’ve not eaten nor drunk in weeks. It was also at this time that the clock struck 12 and we toasted to the nation’s birthday. Yea, we patriotic like that.

Round 2 orders were a tad more adventurous and our table was served the following – Rick’s Cucumber [i know, sounds wrong], Hazelnut Martini and Vanilla Snow Martini.

So I’ve definitely found my sex in this drink – Rick’s Cucumber Martini. It’s almost the taste I’ve been searching to recreate since a chance order years ago of a cucumber based drink. A simple mix of Hendrick’s Gin, Fresh Cucumber, Lemon Juice and Brown Sugar with a Salt rimmed glass, I was taken on a sensory journey to satisfaction. This is my kinda drink, I don’t know about you.

The Hazelnut Martini was another winner of the night, finished with a white chocolate praline for a sweet end. The mix includes Absolut Vanilla, Frangelico, Vanille de Madagascar and a White Chocolate Praline.

Round two was reined in with a Vanilla Snow Martini featuring Absolut Vanilla, Creme de Cacao White, Vanilla Liquer and Cream. This did not suit my fancy as a result of my long standing aversion to milk and most things dairy. But hey, my friend who is a regular milk drinker loved every drop of it so don’t pass this up if you’re a milk/ vanilla person.

Round three was an order for the person on your right round and it resulted in a longer than usual deliberation and a deep need to focus and sober up from that giggly high state. Here’s the trio for the table – Espresso Martini, Saint Dragon Martini and a Dry Hendrick’s. The round also kinda gave insight into how well you know the next person’s taste.

The Espresso Martini was an all-round crowd pleaser with its coffee flavor perking up everyone at the table. The glass featured Imperia-Russian Standard, Kahlua, Espresso, Sugar Syrup and a dash of Frangelico.

The Saint Dragon was the order for me and it is very aligned with my preference for use of fresh fruits and vegetables in my drinks. Again, the flavor is as what one would expect but with good execution. The Saint Dragon comprises Imperia-Russian Standard, Saint Germain, Lemon Juice and Freshly Squeezed Dragon Fruit.

My order for the pal was a Dry Hendrick’s, a very masculine drink for a female only because of her preference for a good gin tonic whenever we head out for a drink. Tad strong for me but if you’re a gin tonic person, you should be able to appreciate this drink which consists of Hendrick’s Gin, Noilly Prat and Cucumber.

Round four, also known as the finale round. We’ve moved from bar side to the plush couch at the back of the bar. Snuggled in the comfortable softness and tucking in with glee on the chocolate chip cookies, compliments of the bar. Remember how I mentioned the cracked black pepper cashew nuts were addictive? Well, these chocolate chip cookies are premium and we switched our alliance to the sweet treat as we fought to keep the alcohol at bay with our next round of orders – Almond Martini, Berries Martini and the Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Martini.

The Almond Martini was pleasant but inferior to the Hazelnut Martini in my opinion, a concoction of Imperia-Russian Standard, Amaretto and Lemon Twist.

Another fruit based martini, no prizes for guessing who ordered it but the Berries Martini was the perfect way to round up the evening of drinks with its sweet, tart flavor and a refreshing zing provided by the mint leaves. The Berries Martini is a combination of Imperia-Russian Standard, Mixed Berries, Cranberry Juice and Mint Leaves. Satisfaction it was.

Last on the list is the Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Martini which is everything the name promised with no hidden nuances. I was shocked to learn that cayenne pepper was used in the drink but I guessed it did something to elevate the flavors and tie everything together – a mix of Absolut Vanilla, Baileys, Kahlua, Creme de Cacao Brown, Nutmeg and Cayenne Pepper.

You may have noticed we did not order the classic lychee martini and I’ll bet it tastes fabulous but with a selection of 40 martinis to choose from, why stick to the regulars? Till next time, I bid you adieu.

GETTING THERE – Martini bar at mezza9

Hours: Monday to Sunday 11.00am to 2.00am

Reservations: Please call +65 6732 1234

Dress Code: Smart Casual [strictly no singlets, bermudas, shorts or slippers]

Valet Service:  Available until 2:00 am daily


‘Tis Addiction, The Bar

It’s no secret that I’m addicted to Bar Stories and with good reason too – good banter, tinkling laughs topped with cocktails fixed to your crave. Find me another place that can afford that level of personalised service or I’m not moving. Period.

haji lane

Housed in the renovated shophouses of Haji Lane, its a gem of a find along the Lane I’ve come to love. The fact that its housed in a shophouse creates that immediate affinity. Shophouses strike a chord in me like no other and when I first entered I remember smiling to myself, looking around and taking in the intimacy, soft lighting and quirk of the place, wishing it were all mine.

On my first encounter, we were seated on couches by the window and I was expecting a menu of some sort listing available ingredients for selection. Refreshingly, no menu was produced and instead I was queried on my taste preferences to which I shared – sweet, refreshing, hint of mint and Jeremy, declared the Black Forest Mojito the first drink of the night for me. I’m not used to not knowing what to expect and was a little peeved when I tried to request for a drink that was more out-of-this world only to be put in place by Jeremy with a simple ‘The drink will surprise you enough.’ So I resigned myself to the order and allowed the eyes to roam before the first sip..

.. and Jeremy was right. The refreshing burst of berry flavors with the cool of mint leaves danced in my mouth and I was in ecstasy. The sorbet provided a sour twist of coolness on the tongue and I was thrilled till the very last sip. Fortunately, we managed to get our seats ‘upgraded’ to bar side and I would recommend for everyone who visits Bar Stories for the very first time [and subsequently as well] to always sit by the bar. Full access to bar side entertainment, drink creation and even the occasional test taste of concoctions. It be sheer delight.

The second drink I had that night was a specific request for something with cucumber and a refreshing twist. Lead bartender/ mixologist, Jeff, fixed me a Cucumber Saketini of sorts that included the following ingredients – crushed cucumber, sake, galangal and lemon. It did not live up to what my palette was craving but I give him full credit for creating a drink in mere minutes from my ridiculous request. Call me a snob, but I do believe that same drink would have tasted better if he had used Japanese cucumbers instead of our regular species of cucumbers which lacks that certain level of freshness and flavour.

Chng Sue-Anne Anoir Nan

On my next visit, I sat myself right at the bar counter and challenged Big Zach to give me a drink to pick-me up, specifically, a recreation of liquid toasted marshmallow. I saw him register the challenge, I felt myself place faith in his skills and on a delightful journey he brought me on. Watching him create the drink was as fulfilling as tasting it, indeed the journey is as rewarding as the end result. There were points I thought to myself this is not going to work out as he pulled out cream and milk which were products I shy away from every single day of my life but in his hands, magic. After layering the flavors in a glass to create the body of the drink, he frothed a good amount of milk and gently topped the glass with it before flambéing the concoction before me. You know that feeling of warm love, of contentment and satisfaction? I experienced all of that in that one glass.

That same night, I was blown away by another of Big Zach’s creation. I was going to go down the regular route after being satisfied with the Toasted Marshmallow Flambé with a Kyoho Grape Martini but Big Zach challenged me back with a taunt. Why go for something regular? Licking my lips, trying to make sense of what my palette craved, I was struggling to come up with words/ ingredients to guide Big Zach on the next creation and so I said – ‘Go crazy, create me something you think I’d like.’ Silence. A serious look crossed his face and again, ingredients flew. It was a blur, I didn’t quite manage to register all the ingredients but I noted rose syrup [another ingredient I absolutely loathe], organic apple juice and topped with saffron. Viola, he placed the drink before me and declared it The Lover. I smiled, took a sip, felt my smile grow wider as I savored the nuances and notes of the different ingredients. Sheer genius this one, sheer genius the creator, sheer genius the place.

Since then, I’ve been back numerous number of times, each time with different folks as I shared my excitement at discovering this gem of a place. Bar Stories brought out the alcoholic in me, so much so I returned there 3 nights in the same week. I did tone it down and my most recent visit on Saturday reminded me of the simple joys this place brings me.

Turning up on a Saturday is never wise and I was glad Jeff opened the space downstairs, belonging to A Thousand Tales to accommodate us. Settling ourselves at the counter, I declared my want for something sour and refreshing and Jeff declared a Mai Tai [pictured above] to start. Jeff then proceeded to recommend the Mangosteen Martini [pictured below] for my pal as the fruit was in season. What bummed me was that I couldn’t watch them create that Mangosteen drink. Nevertheless we were off to a good start.

We tackled our next drinks with flourish. Anything with Pimms for the pal and a cocktail of gooseberries and passionfruit [pictured below] for me. By then, we were a good way intoxicated and I was itching to get bar side.

Patience paid off and Jeff arrived triumphantly announcing we’ve been upgraded bar side and I trooped on in glee. Seated, we picked up the pace with an order of Kyoho Grape Martini each and that sweetness, well, it’s unrivaled.

Whilst polishing off our martini’s, we spied a concoction of strawberries and frangelico in the mix and our curiosity was piqued. A quick query and we learnt that the drink in progress was a dessert in a glass – Strawberry Shortcake and an order was placed. I must say, these guys are good at recreating desserts in a glass. Now the question I have is, which do you think holds lesser calories? – The actual dessert or the liquid recreation? Any case, be sure to give the strawberry shortcake a shot.

Having craved that Toasted Marshamallow Flambé for a week-ish now, I was not going to be denied the drink and signalled to Big Zach for two orders of that wondrous creation that lifted me on that dark day. Unfortunately, recreation is not one of his fortes and that spirit of inspiration was amiss that night. Nevertheless, I am confident that that magic touch will return.

We rounded off on a good note though. Despite being on break, Big Zach went back behind the bar to create a Jam Donut Shot and I urge you to give it a whirl if you’re seeking something sweet. I do have a person in mind who I know will fall head over heels in love with this shot.

Oh and if you’re looking for some chow to keep the alcohol at bay, don’t fret. Bar Stories serves up a simple menu of bar foods and even desserts to keep the hunger pangs at bay.

So you see, I’m addicted. While the concept of bespoke cocktails is definitely not new but the experience is rare on this little red dot of ours. I’ve since learnt that there’s another establishment along Telok Ayer that serves bespoke cocktails but till I visit, Bar Stories will remain a staple for me. And oh! What makes Bar Stories unique? The place is kitted out with designer pieces and you can purchase any of the furniture there or below, at the A Thousand Tales furniture store to take a piece of the pleasure home with you.

PS. As the boys chime, I repeat, ‘Please avoid Fridays and Saturdays!’

GETTING THERE