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

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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

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.

The Jackson Plan, Singapore

English is as English does. The Jackson Plan along Duxton Hill is a 6-week-old British gastrobar established by Italian restaurateur Beppe De Vito and i’m in love with it.

Entering via the wooden patio on the side of the establishment, you’re greeted with a bright yellow wash and all I could think of was ‘Yellow Submarine.’ Named after Lieutenant Philip Jackson, an engineer who drew up Singapore’s first city plan in 1822, it’s gotta be a tribute of sorts. PS. I only know this because of the establishment and not from Social Studies.

The interior features vintage flower design tiling [which I would so wish it to be translated onto a well-cut shirt], mis-matched wooden chairs and table against deep green washed walls that is some part sterile, inviting and quirky. Being the first diners in the space, we were overwhelmed by the cavernous emptiness and the over-eager wait staff. For some 20 mins, it felt as if we were being watched and about to be killed without anyone knowing. Yes, I admit it must be the result of an overactive imagination but be warned on arriving before 8pm.

We knew from the get-go we’d be ordering a bottle of wine, no doubt, and we ended up ordering a bottle of Prosecco and water on tap [we were specific and the waiter actually proposed – ‘would you like mineral water? it  is filled with minerals which is good for you.’ I was tempted to walk out that instant. If he meant for it to be funny, he failed miserably. The Jackson Plan has a good list of beers, vintage ales, cider and wines, and a good selection of cocktails and punches that will please a diverse group.
 We ordered in moderation or so we thought – 1 starter, 2 mains, 2 desserts. Not over-indulgent right? Being the only diners at that time, our Crab cakes, Quail Eggs, Anchovy Cream was served in less than 5. The egg-fan in me leaped for joy as I broke into the semi-cooked quail egg and watched the yolk seep into the crab cake bed. It was perfection at SGD16.50 an order.
We were spoilt for choice on the mains but settled for the Saltmarsh Lamb, Irish Champ, Chard and the Roast Quail, Trimmings, Bread Sauce to share. The game plan was to attack the white meat before conquering the dark meat so as the flavors would not overpower.
Spearing a well-charred carrot slice into my mouth, the sweetness of the carrot took me beyond and back, leaving me watering for the star of the dish – the roast quail. Slicing into the tight portion of quail and ensuring i have a bit of everything on my fork, it was love at first sight and bite. At SGD25.50 a serving, I am definitely not complaining.

We moved on to the Saltmarsh Lamb, Irish Champ Chard which came highly recommended, with great expectations only to be left slightly deflated. The mash was unbelievable but the star of the dish did not leave me wanting as the gamey flavor permeated my palette, the meat was dry and could not be remedied with generous dollops of the too-sweet sauce. I can’t say to be an expert in British grub but it did not go down as well as i hoped for my taste buds. A serving of this will set you back SGD28.

The stunners of the night were the desserts. Stuffed as we were, we cleaned and polished our plates of Sticky Toffee Pudding and Burnt Custard, Toffee Caramel.

I’m a huge sticky date pudding fan and I thought my find at Artichoke was THE ONE until I sunk my teeth into the Sticky Toffee Pudding at The Jackson Plan. Chewy, sticky pudding soaked in rich toffee sauce blended with an cool blend of vanilla ice cream was worth every last cent of the SGD11.00. I smiled.

Not a huge creme brûlée fan, I sinked my spoon gingerly into the dish only to turn a convert. The vanilla custard was not overtly rich and just perfectly fragrant with a smooth consistency reminiscent of the best bean curd. What won it for me was the contrasting layer of hard caramel that spoke of such skill and dedication that I was instantly won over at the first mouthful.

With our tummies bulging, we drained our glasses of Prosecco and headed to the outside patio to further enjoy the space, the night and to taste their cocktails which looked magnificent.

Settling at the barrels and high stools, I declared my desire to take a barrel home to be placed at the entry way of my home to toss my keys, cell and other knick knacks atop as i kick off my shoes. Of course, I didn’t manage to wheel one home.

An order of Queen’s Cup and the Jackson Punch was placed as we leaned back on our high stools and enjoyed the natural breeze that our little island offered. What’s impressive are the serving portions of the cocktails/ punches – filled to the brim in wide, deep glasses, the drinks were well worth the prices comparative to the standard minimal servings at other pubs and bars in Singapore.

The Jackson Punch is a crowd pleaser made of gin, campari, orange, strawberries, lambrusco for a sweet drink with a kick.

The Queen’s Cup on the other hand proved to be too much of a surprise  – a mix of vodka, tomato, cucumber, lemon and masala, it was far from my expectations for a refreshing drink and I tried my luck requesting for a change of drink despite the sips I had taken. This is where The Jackson Plan sealed its status as a must return venue for me. The Assistant Manager inquired after my expectations of The Queen’s Cup and I admitted that it was my fault as I did not expect the masala to be so strong and all I was seeking was a sweet, refreshing drink to end the night. Smiling, he took my glass and promised to return with the elusive drink I seeked.

Presenting me with The Duxton Punch – a mix of gin, pineapple, orange, morello cherry and nutmeg, I was beyond pleased and I expressed my satisfaction. Such personalised service is rare in Singapore and I was floored by his gesture. In addition, my original order of Queen’s Cup was not added to the total bill and I must say, I’m never going to kick the service standards in Singapore as long as The Jackson Plan stands. And oh, that morello cherry is the bomb.

I am determined to return and introduce this gem of a find to my crowd, and it is my sole ambition to try every item on this menu. Till then, stay tuned or let me know what you have tried.

GETTING THERE

Vineyard @ Hortpark, Singapore

Barely a week into service, Vineyard @ Hortpark has left me speechless. In a good way.

I shall not wax lyrical about the flora and fauna that is the Hortpark, we’ve all heard the spiel. The true gem is Vineyard – nestled in the midst of the al naturale setting, with the theme amplified through its wood interior and faux fireplace [which I personally find gimmicky but will let it pass on accord of the tasteful experience I had], it tops my list as the ideal chill out spot for a quiet weekend if you’re a wine lover.

Vineyard as i discovered, offers an array of handpicked wines from over 50 vineyards and marries the selection with the best of Thai, French and Italian cuisine. If you’re a food snob like me, the first inkling of suspicion would have bubbled forth by now. I mean, a restaurant with no clear direction in its offering can’t be all that promising – kinda like jack of all trades, master of none right?

But I was pleasantly surprised.

Settling in post a long week and yearning to round it off on a sweet note, we settled on two desserts while basking in the comfort of the space and one dessert captivated my heart in more ways than one.

Lets start with the Hazelnut Crunch Bar served with Fresh Berries and Passionfruit Coulis. I am a huge fan of hazelnuts and chocolate and this dessert definitely hit the mark in terms of flavor and the right amount of bite. Paired with the sourness of the berries and aromatic passionfruit coulis, each mouthful packed a burst of flavors so distinct and yet worked in such harmony that it left me craving for more. Was this the stunner? Believe it or not, it was not.

Enter the stunner. Elegantly plated, i remained disinterested up till my very first bite. You see, I’ve always been a sweets kinda girl and desserts that are anything but usually do not top my list and my expectations for this Warm Lemon Lava Cake with Chantilly Cream, Sesame Tuile and Mixed Berries was at a negative. There I was, breaking into the dessert, wishing it was a warm chocolate fondant. Watching the lemon glaze ooze from the center of the dessert, I was less than excited as I would usually be cutting into a chocolate fondant. And then, the AHA moment arrived.

The warm lemon glaze encased in that golden brown cake was baked to perfection. The cake’s buttery flavor with a hint of vanilla scent was unbelievably intoxicating and then the tartness of the lemon glaze hits you and the combination kept me going for the next mouthful until the dessert was fully devoured and all i could do was stare at the plate in disbelieve. Me, the Queen of Sweets with zero tolerance for anything that detracts me from sugar rush moments had actually fallen in love with something so tart. The Warm Lemon Lava Cake has conquered me and I raise my white flag as i fall off the Sweets pedestal. That contrast of flavors and textures is enough to drive me crazy. That sesame tuile? BREATHTAKING.

Needless to say, I’ll be back for this dessert in no less than a week. Paired with the wide range of wine offerings and quiet atmosphere, Vineyard is that unpolished gem I want to hug tight to my chest and keep it secret from the rest of the world.

GETTING THERE

Khanom Beaung, ขนมเบื้อง – The One Thing I Die and Go To Heaven for Whenever I’m in Bangkok

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been to Bangkok – be it for work or play, but I sincerely doubt i’ll ever tire of the city nor this sweet treat, Khanom Beaung, ขนมเบื้อง [kʰanǒm bɯ̂əŋ]

Known as crispy pancakes in English, Khanom Beaung is a popular Thai street food that will satisfy that aching sweet tooth of yours. Resembling tacos or crepes, this crispy snack is made from several ingredients including rice flour, pigeon pea flour, egg yolk, palm sugar and a pinch of salt. As all good dessert chefs know, a pinch of salt only serves to enhance the flavor of any dessert.

This sweet treat is said to have been introduced in the Ayudhaya Period of King Narai’s rule by a Thai born Japanese-Portugese-Bengali lady, Marie Guimar de Pihna also known as Lady Witchayen, who played a pivotal role in introducing new Portugese influenced dessert recipes to the Ayudhaya court which was sold during royal festivals. This dessert was later introduced to the commoners some 50 years later.

To prepare this treat, the ingredients are mixed with water and beaten together to form a thin batter. This batter is then spread out on a preheated griddle in an oval shape to form the crust. What’s interesting is the required tool to spread the batter – Kra Ja [a flat spreader], pictured below.

Once this mini ovals are crisp and ready, the coconut cream is plastered on. This cream is an intoxicating concoction with a consistency similar to meringue if left out with a strong coconut flavor. Let me just add that it is diabolically sweet.

To finish, the pancakes are topped of with a selection of toppings of your choice – grated coconut, grated small shrimps for a contrast of flavors, strips of eggs, coriander leaves, chopped onion, sweetened pork, raisin or persimmon. It really depends on what the vendors offer and which ones you select. You may want to try every flavor just for the experience but personally i love the ones topped with the grated coconut for a consistency of taste. Tip – the orange toppings typically indicate a savory taste while the yellow toppings are sweet.

To complete, the vendor uses a spatula to lift the pancake halfway and push it down such that the shape resembles that of a taco which makes it easier for you to pop it into your mouth.

You can typically chance upon this sweet treats along the streets of Bangkok but if you are that unlucky, head on down to MBK Center at 44 Phayathai Rd., Patumwan, level 5,  where you’ll find an aisle catered to serving this and it costs about 10 baht per piece. The food hall at Siam Paragon, 991/1 Rama 1 Road Pathumwan, also has a store serving this dessert.

bon appetit all!