Monday, March 31, 2008
Firstly, I must express thanks to Panerai who gave me the dining vouchers (for soup and main course) from Absolute Haven. This little restaurant specialising in "modern European cuisine" (read "Western fare that ignores traditional rules") has garnered some loyal fans and glowing reviews, so I was happy to go try it out.
Well, we liked the contemporary, elegant and romantic decor, complete with dramatic stark incandescent lighting and red candle votives. Dark string curtains between some tables added privacy. There's even sofa-style seating at the rear. While this is no fine-dining joint, it's a tiny notch above most casual eateries.
Service was excellent right from beginning. We were asked if we preferred chilled or warm water to start with. Their water is flavoured with strawberry slices instead of the usual lemon, which makes it a nice touch. The waiters also took great pains to explain menu items.
We began with some calamari (S$8.50). This was some really crisp batter, which held their shape well. But it was also fairly greasy. The combination meant that the squid slid out easily when you took a bite. The mango flavoured dip was very subtle but I'm still not fully convinced mango pairs well with calamari. Still, it was a tasty starter.
Their mushroom soup (S$5.90) features pureed shiitake, portobello and button mushrooms with finely chopped pieces still discernible. Served very piping hot, it was a hearty, rustic bowl but severely lacking salt for flavour. Perhaps they deliberately leave it to the customers to season to taste. The other thing that I found was a slightly greasy mouthfeel. While there is no cream in this soup save for the few decorative droplets, it seems they have drizzled on a fair bit of oil.
The soup of the day was pancetta with mixed beans and minced meat. You don't see much in the photo here as it's all submerged. But it proved to be the better of the two soups with the savoury contribution from the bacon and beans. A watery but flavourful broth. Both soups I felt were so rustic, they probably belonged in rougher crockery than the contemporary sloping fine china.
Hubby chose their signature chicken roulade for his main. It's bacon-spinach in sliced chicken thigh with champagne cream sauce, and avocado salad. Chicken roulade is traditionally made with breast meat but Absolute Haven has chosen to use thigh meat (I suspect to cater to local preferences). They managed to keep the flesh moist and skin crispy. Fairly tasty but a wee bit pricey for S$20, we felt. Ah, aren't we just so hard to please!
I sometimes wish chefs would stop with the "artistic" sauce squiggles on the plates, especially when it does not add much to the presentation. Throw out your squeeze bottles, please! Oh, and the avocado salad hiding underneath the greens too. It had a most unacquirable taste.
Stay tuned for tomorrow....I will blog the other main course plus dessert!
Friday, March 28, 2008
Mee Siam! One of many one-dish meals popular in Singapore and Malaysia. A complex dance of spicy, sweetish and savoury flavours, mee siam has its fans across all races here. It's even landed a leading government official in hot soup for not fully understanding its contents but that's a different story.
I didn't like mee siam when I was a kid but nowadays, a good plate can send saliva glands into overdrive. Sorry someone else cooked this dish above, so I don't know how to replicate it exactly, but here's a recipe that looks pretty authentic. Feel free to experiment until you find your preferred balance of flavours.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The CaffeBar is tucked away at the far end of Parkway Parade but you can't miss the posters advertising its set meals. Some pretty good deals here, all day, every day - meaning not just for lunch on weekdays, as these "value sets" tend to be. Three types for you to choose from - Executive Set $12.80, Gourmet Set $18.80 and Cuisine Set is $19.80. You get a soup, a main and coffee/tea. Add $1 to upgrade your soup to mushroom soup (it's not too bad).
I took the Cuisine Set with pan-fried seabass and arrabiata sauce, atop braised fennel. Portion was small-ish (for me) but the seabass was fresh, nicely seared and cooked just right. First time I'm having the bulb part of the fennel plant, which has a very subtle flavour. Tastes almost like boiled nothingness, save for a lightly sweet, peppery, herbal aroma. I can't imagine that this plant is one of the three used in making absinthe.
Hubby chose the spaghetti aglio olio for his executive set. The pasta needed a healthy dose of salt and pepper but became really tasty after that. We loved the kick from the bright red chili padi (bird's eye chili).
Of course, we're always greedy and went for extra dishes beyond the set meals. Looks like they have some fusion dishes here. We had some fun with the Thai green mango salad...
...i.e. tossing it high like yu-sheng! OK, salad tossing shenanigans aside, it was quite tasty. The deceptively tiny portions of dried shrimp and chili added a severe spicy bite to the dish. Yummy!
Did I forget to mention free-flow sliced ciabatta comes with the meals? Well, all right, the breads are a bit forgettable. However, they do offer a nice touch in that you can toast your bread to your heart's desire. Plus free-flow olive oil and balsamic vinegar to boot! All very good if the set meals don't fill you up enough.
We also sprung for the vanilla panna cotta with berries. Lovely fruit. Nice thick custard below, with real vanilla specks. However, it could have done without the gratituous white chocolate decoration wedge - those always taste awful, don't they?
Incidentally, the owner of Bakerzin set up The CaffeBar for his sister. Also to showcase his desserts and confections. And if only I'd read up on CaffeBar earlier, I'd have known that its signature dishes are duck confit, salmon roulade and clam pasta, made by a chef that the Bakerzin boss specially lured over from an established fine dining eatery. Ah well, I know what I'm having next time.
80 Marine Parade Road
#01-34D Parkway Parade
Tel: 6345 4345
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Hubby brought back some bitesize snacks one day, leftovers from an office party. These were from The Sandwich Shop. We liked the mini pizzas best with the tangy tomato mixture with melted cheese on top. The mini chicken pies and curry puffs were milder-tasting. All still good when toasted the next day.
I vaguely remember The Sandwich Shop (at Hitachi Tower) as a nice place to lunch when it wasn't crowded, which was rare. The salads and sandwiches felt a lot healthier than greasy hawker fare. Still, I didn't go often because it was also expensive (for my wallet).
THE SANDWICH SHOP
at three locations:
One Raffles Link
(click the link for addresses and contact info)
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Wakashachiyaaa!!! Sounds like a Bruce Lee yell, no? Well, they do throw a couple of good punches foodwise. This is a curry udon specialist chain from Japan (Singapore is their first overseas outlet). Didn't really pay much attention to them until I saw the cheese-laden bowl on LiquidShadow's blog. That brought back some memories of Mentsu-dan in Shinjuku, where I first fell in love with udon and where they had this cheese-egg udon that was phenomenal. Ahh, Japan...
Hubby who doesn't like The Central acquiesced to come here for this. We started with the coleslaw with renkon chips (S$6.50, this month's special, available til end March). This was so delicious, and the renkon chips so addictive, we asked for another as soon as we polished it off. We told the waitress they should put this on the regular menu!
Hubby went for the cheese curry udon (S$15.50). The cheese topping did not look as huge as it didn't have any tonkatsu or ebi tempura to rest on. The curry is not bad. I'm not a Japanese curry fan because of its mild and sweetish nature, but I liked this (especially after we put a ton of chili flakes into it). Next time I am coming here to have my own bowl!
I had the grilled eel dish called hitsumabushi (S$18), because I had been craving my good experience at Unasho in Akihabara. I hoped this place would at least meet some standards, unlike local Japanese chains like Ichiban Sushi. Well, Wakashachiya's version was decent enough with good quality ingredients. If you want double the amount of unagi, you can go for the deluxe version (S$27).
Hitsumabushi is fun because you get to play with your food. There are three different ways of eating it. You can divide the bowl into four portions. The first one you can eat as it is - just eel and rice. The second one you can enjoy with condiments of nori, spring onions and wasabi.
The third method is an ochazuke. Pour the hot dashi stock over your eel, rice and condiments to create a "rice tea". The stock here has a strong charcoal or roasted taste, typical of ochazuke. But I still prefer Unasho's more savoury version.
Service here is polite and the lead waitress spoke some Japanese. She was also very conscientious about details and made sure the tables were all laid out neatly, that nothing was out of place. Enthusiastic commitment to the job! Either that or she is the boss of the place!
Well, for a restaurant chain, Wakashachiya is better than expected. I enjoyed myself and will certainly be back again. In fact, looking at these pictures, I'm craving some curry udon already!
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
The Central #03-92/97
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Tomorrow is Good Friday and it is also World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), which falls on 21 March each year. The date is chosen to signify the triplication of the 21st chromosome, the genetic condition that Down Syndrome represents. A good day to celebrate diversity!
Incidentally, WDSD was inaugurated in Singapore in 2006, the year Nadine was born. Before we had her, I knew very little about Down Syndrome. But during my pregnancy I learned it is one of the few genetic conditions the human body will permit for gestation to full term. If a foetus is "defective" and not suitable for life, it generally will not continue. It is stunning the number of miscarriages that happen in very early stages of pregnancy. So any baby that makes it through from conception (itself a statistical challenge!) to delivery is truly a miracle, despite the cliche. And while the ones with Down Syndrome are "different", Mother Nature has decided they have passed the QA test for life.
So what is Nadine like with that extra chromosome? Extra happy, extra loving, extra friendly, extra energetic, extra curious and yes, extra naughty at times. Sure her developmental schedule is more relaxed, and it looks like she isn't fully ready to speak yet at 18 months, but every now and then she will surprise you with how much she knows or can do.
We've been quite encouraged to see more people with Down Syndrome out and about in town. Fewer now are the days when they used to be hidden away at home, not given the chance to socialise or develop skills. We bring Nadine out everywhere we can and it's amazing how many people warm up to her!
I do wish more could be done to integrate such kids into mainstream society though. Sesame Street featured some in this clip from the '70s - always a pioneer they were! With a trippy intro scene that was revolutionary for its time!
Well, since it's WDSD tomorrow, here are three simple things you can do for Down Syndrome awareness:
1) Tell three persons it's World Down Syndrome Day tomorrow. And ask them to tell three others.
2) Learn more. Know that Down Syndrome is not a disease, but a condition. And that people with Down Syndrome are people first. Their lives can be very much improved if just given a chance to be like everyone else.
3) Smile and wave at any disabled or special person/child you see. Stop and say hello. They have survived many odds to be where they are today.
So anyway, here's the food shot for the day! I baked some hot cross buns - my first attempt! And for some of these, instead of a cross, I put three thick stripes representing three chromosomes (trisomy) for World Down Syndrome Day. I (very) loosely followed Spicy Ice-Cream's recipe but my results don't look like hers because I took too liberal a creative licence! Mine turned out soft and fluffy, not sticky and chewy.
Oh well, we are all about celebrating diversity, aren't we? In human beings as well as hot cross buns!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The last leg of the food trail took the visiting guests to Chinatown. Actually just across the street from Maxwell Food Centre where they last ate. So convenient, huh? Singapore is really too small. But I'm not complaining.
I guess Seetoh just had to show them the Austrian guy who set up a stall in Chinatown selling German sausages. Erich's Wuerstelstand has now expanded and includes a corner shop closeby, called Imbiss & Backstube (means Snack & Bakery, if I'm not mistaken).
We tried the Bosna - "special German pork sausage in crispy bun" (S$5). The sausage was quite tasty, but the bun was too hard and chewy (like a baguette). Not too appropriate, we thought, as the hard texture was distracting.
The only other tiny problem we had with this thing was - OMG DEATH BY MUSTARD!!!!!!!
I looked at the array of muffins and rustic rye breads but was not tempted, so I just took a pretzel (S$1.50). Alas, it was disappointing. The texture was almost like ordinary bread. Tastewise? I lost interest after my first bite. Werner's Oven's laugen brezels are WAY better. Heck, even Auntie Anne's are better!
The final stop of the trail was at Traditional Desserts, a couple streets away. It's also known as Mei Heong Yuen Desserts. I didn't really like the atmosphere or the cold steely gaze of the mainland China waitresses. But their popularity must mean something. This place specialises in hot and cold Chinese style desserts (including favourites like peanut/sesame/walnut cream) and savoury treats like steamed carrot cake.
We had room for only one dessert - mango sago with pomelo (S$2.50). Our portion was extremely thick, creamy and sweet, so much so that we relished the slight bitterness of the pomelo sacs. But it was fine when we added some cold water to dilute it. A refreshing end to the street food marathon.
40 Sago Street
65-67 Temple Street
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The KF Seetoh food trail continued to nearby Maxwell Food Centre, where the visiting guests sat down to a feast of local treats. Sorry hubby could not remember where most of them were from as he took a backseat to let photographers do their thing. But we tried one stall - Sunto Gyoza, in the middle alley.
Now, these are more the Chinese style guotie/potstickers/jiaozi than the delicate Japanese-style gyozas. The fried ones were unexpectedly delicious, with the thin skin fried very crisp. Don't be too shocked by the green-looking filling - seems they pulped the chives to integrate them right into the mince! Separate chili and vinegar with ginger dipping sauces, both excellent. I am definitely coming back for more of the fried dumplings!
Yes, again, no surprises here. Tian Tian was chosen as the chicken rice representative for Singapore. I didn't go for it because the queue stretched all the way to the car park. The chicken rice is good but not THAT good for me to join the madness.
En route to Maxwell market, the guests took a tour of the City Gallery at the URA Centre. You can find out lots about what's being planned for your neighbourhood here. Like we found out that there is a large rectangle earmarked for land reclamation hugging the shoreline near my block! Someday East Coast Park won't be a beach anymore!
Monday, March 17, 2008
Hubby recently had the chance to meet local food street guru K.F. Seetoh and go along on a food trail he organised. This was for a couple from the U.S. who had won a trip to Singapore. Now hubby is not a foodie but he thought the trail was interesting enough to replicate for my benefit. It's a bit different from the one Seetoh designed for Anthony Bourdain but it still covered quite a lot of ground for a two-hour tour. I'm going to break it up into three parts over the next few days, so here's part one - Amoy Street Food Centre.
First up, literally the first stall in Amoy Street FC - char kway teow (fried rice noodles, S$2.50) from the stall with the generic name "Fried Kway Teow". A richly savoury and greasy platter, slightly more wet than most versions. It reminded me of the Apollo kway teow at Marine Parade but without the raw garlic overload. Much more palatable. Good wok hei with crunchy bean sprouts but I still prefer my kway teow a bit more dry.
Next and not surprisingly, is www.sgkueh.com. Seetoh and owner-chef Michael Tan are good friends. But Sgkueh's offerings are worthy of recommendation. It's my first visit but I was wowed by the signature yam paste ("or-nee"). Smooth, luxurious and rich with just the right balance of sweetness. It's been said this yam paste is too good for a hawker centre. I heartily agree! Now I don't need to go to a restaurant to get good yam paste! It's a mouthful of heaven in a little pot.
We also tried a couple of the "innovative" items from Sgkueh. The "tau suan" kueh really tastes like tau suan in solid form, although I still prefer my tau suan warm and gooey. Just that bit more comforting. The aloe vera kueh to me, tasted really funny, like jelly gone wrong, but for some unfathomable reason, hubby absolutely LOVED it. Well, more for him.
I'd heard about some disgruntled customers complaining of rude service and deteriorating quality (since they opened their main kitchen in Ubi). Nothing unpleasant so far, for me. However, I do think that a stall that so prominently touts its name as a URL should have a better and more updated website. Sgkueh is also opening an outlet at #03-18 Golden Shoe/Market Street Food Centre. No opening date stated though.
A sarabat (milk tea) stall is a must-see for first time visitors to Singapore, for a demonstration of teh tarik (pulled tea), and if possible, a hands-on experience as well. The visitors possibly tried some of the neighbouring stall's herbal drinks and desserts as well. They may also have stopped for curry puffs here.
Amoy Street Food Centre has many more gems which could not fit into the schedule (or tummy space). Apparently the couple came back the very next day to sample more things!
Sunday, March 16, 2008
My second visit to Cafe Oliv made me a little worried. It was Saturday night at 8pm, peak dinner hour, and we were the ONLY customers there for most of the duration. Not a good sign. I remembered the food was reasonably good at decent prices. Had the food standard deteriorated?
Well, I tried the lamb shank (S$17.90) - a truly generous hunk of tender lamb sitting atop a bed of creamy mash, and heavily doused with gravy. I'm not a connoiseur of this dish but this was not too bad. Very flavourful. Gave little Nadine her first taste of lamb and she relished every bite.
We also shared a seafood linguine (S$11.90), which hubby enjoyed. I thought it was all right but the cream got to me after a mouthful too many. The prawns were done "crystal" style (like the Chinese restaurants tend to do) - some like it that way, some don't.
I remember their BBQ ribs (S$15.90) as a highlight of our last visit. This time round they failed to win hubby's favour though I still thought they tasted fine. The only quibble I had was the mass of solid white fat surrounding the soft bone parts. If the ribs were well-grilled, these should have melted somewhat. Why were there still so much of it in solid form? Too quick a blitz after being in the freezer too long? Hmm.
They now have even come up with set meals that include soup, main course, dessert AND drinks (non-alcoholic, of course). Another plus point is that all their prices are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Despite decent table service, there's no service charge or GST, so your final bill is not inflated by 17+%. So technically, if you want to compare their prices to other cafes/bistros that do charge the extras, you should mentally take 20% off Cafe Oliv's prices for a fairer picture.
Well, their food is OK for those prices. I don't know why Cafe Oliv is not doing better but I really do wish business picks up soon. Otherwise I fear we may not see it around for very long.
220 East Coast Road
Open daily 11.30am til 11pm
Friday, March 14, 2008
I saw on Werner's Oven's website that they offered breakfast. Some of the items sounded really nice, and we've had good mains here before for dinner, so we decided to try their breakfast last weekend. Well, we weren't expecting a real German breakfast but even what we got served was really very ordinary. The grilled sandwich with ham, cheese and tomato was well-grilled but the tiny portion made for disappointment at first sight (object above looks bigger than in real life).
We had highest hopes for the biggest platter on the menu. Alas, it was nothing extraordinary, tastewise. Like the rest of the dishes, it had this really "homemade" quality, but I mean this in the amateur sense. You could probably whip up something better at home. The strong herbs and spices in the German sausages also may not be to everyone's liking.
We thought the buttermilk pancakes could have been a lot better too, both in terms of taste and presentation. The pallid appearance matched its dull flavour. Worst of all three, it fared.
I suppose you could treat yourself to the many bakery items they offer if you're not keen on the cooked breakfast. We didn't try anything that day though I remember their laugen brezel is nice.
Werner's Oven does have some nice rustic breads. I used to love these until I started baking my own. But for a much more satisfying breakfast, I'd head over to the nearby Swiss Backerei anytime.
6 Upper East Coast Road#01-01/02/03
Open Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays)
8.30am - 10.00pm