Sunday, May 31, 2009

It was more of a photographer's convention
This meal you will probably see repeated in 24 blogs across Singapore. That many of us gathered for the annual food blogger's lunch. I was delighted to finally meet some of the people whose work I have been reading and enjoying for the past few years. Plus some new ones who are quite promising.

This year, thanks to the efforts of Ladyironchef and Hautestuff, we were treated to some of Gunther's best in a specially arranged luncheon. Chef Gunther Hubrechsen went Carte Blanche for our lunch, meaning he will take whatever is best available on the day itself and cook it for you. Yes, all of us signed up for a meal without knowing what we would get. But we knew we would not be disappointed. Gunther has established himself as one of the most respected chefs of modern French cuisine in the region.

Someone observed that it seems more like a photographer's convention than a blogger meetup. Not surprising given the number of DSLR cameras dotting the tablescape, and the endless chatter about equipment and techniques. Are food bloggers foodies first or photographers first? Hard to say, sometimes. 


Starter French bread
We began with French bread, served warm and with gently softened butter. This was refilled throughout the meal, which I thought was quite a nice touch. This tiny baguette may be slightly hard and chewy for those who prefer local soft buns and breads, but I enjoyed the texture.

Japanese tomato
We all thought this was an amuse bouche but it is one of the two starters. The Japanese tomato was drenched in a vanilla foam, accompanied by a lone fava bean and a thin sliver of toast. It tasted almost like a strawberry with that sweet foam.

Cold Angel-hair pasta with oscietra caviar
Cold angel-hair pasta with oscietra caviar. It's also heavily doused with truffle oil and kombu (Japanese seaweed stock). Triple umami overload! Very slurpalicious. I savoured this slowly, and wanted it to go on for longer. Oh, hurrah, it's available on the a la carte menu!


Poached white asparagus, Bouchot mussels
Poached white asparagus, Bouchot mussels, Alaskan crabmeat and I believe the waiter said Hollandaise sauce, but I could be mistaken. And bits of sakura ebi too. 


Grilled Cote de Boeuf, Japanese sweet-corn, sauce Bordelaise
Grilled Cote de Boeuf, Japanese sweet-corn, sauce Bordelaise. This is one of Gunther's signature dishes. Beautifully done to medium rare, this tender slab didn't really need the sauce - only the coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper that was sprinkled on it. 

Grilled Cote de Boeuf, Japanese sweet-corn, sauce Bordelaise
Another view of the beef. The Japanese sweetcorn was provided sweet and juicy contrast to the beef. What I also really liked was the billowy tapioca cracker - it lent an aura of fun to the dish. Keropok!

Fine apple tart a la dragees, rum & raisin ice-cream
Fine apple tart a la dragees, with Havana rum & raisin ice-cream. This has also been raved about. The thin crust reminded many of the Chinese red bean pancake dessert, but the entire combination is certainly more unusual. For one thing, I have never tasted rum & raisin ice cream like this before.


Door gift of Singapore Sling
Each of us were given a door gift of a Singapore Sling cocktail drink. A very pretty bottle. 

I really enjoyed the company that day, and I'm very glad I got to try many of Gunther's specialities in one sitting. Here's to the next annual food blogger outing, which I'm sure will successfully happen as it has in previous years. No committee necessary!

GUNTHER'S
36 Purvis Street, #01-03, Singapore 188613
Tel: 6338-8955
Open daily:
Lunch: 12-2.30pm
Dinner: 6.30-10.30pm
Sundays only open for dinner

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant
Day 2 of the Cuisine & Wine Asia dim sum marathon brought us to Wan Hao at The Singapore Marriott Hotel. Tucked away discreetly on the third level, this traditional Cantonese restaurant is beautifully posh, with gold leaf calligraphy and plush seating.

For this session, Wan Hao served up 31 out of the 70 dishes available from its weekend dim sum a la carte buffet. Brad of Ladyironchef and I had little over an hour to photograph, taste and evaluate everything. It was like the Amazing Race! Rushing from one dish to another, making sure we covered all stops.

It's a gorgeous spread, so let's get on with the food. Appetisers first.

Jellyfish with Cucumber
Jellyfish with Cucumber. I love jellyfish. It's a brave soul whoever first sunk teeth into this crunchy sea creature and discovered it edible. But thank god that person did. Jellyfish is such a textural delight. This was a nicely marinated salad, well-tossed with sesame seeds, savoury bits (dried shrimp?) and cucumber juliennes. Served refreshingly cold.


Roast Pork Belly
The Roast Pork Belly is superb. A good cut of meat, evenly roasted and seasoned. Not overly fatty either, as you can see. Just nice. My favourite part is the crackling skin.


Roasted Duck
The Roast Duck is also notably good. I'm not even a fan of duck and I enjoyed this. Moist, tender and tasty - it didn't even need any sauce or accompaniment.


Salmon and Hokkigai Sashimi
Salmon and Hokkigai Sashimi. The sashimi is some of the brightest I've ever seen. No, don't adjust your monitor, it really is that colour. I didn't use any saturation post-processing either. Served thoughtfully on a bed of ice, the sashimi stayed fresh and cold while we took our shots of the other food.


WanHao-Dimsum
Yes, we were supposed to be there for dim sum. There were only five dim sum items presented (out of 12 in the menu), but all well-executed.

Beancurd sheet filled with shrimps (top left) - crackling good. The har gau (shrimp dumpling; top right) and siew mai (minced pork dumpling topped very generously with fish roe; bottom left) are very safe, traditional renditions. Some may find this unexciting, but there's innovation in other items like the asparagus dumpling (bottom right). I liked that one.


Spring Roll with Smoked Duck
Spring Roll with Smoked Duck. The tiny pieces of smoked duck packed a punch in the flavour department! Very clever addition.


Shark's Fin Dumpling Soup
Shark's Fin Dumpling Soup. Wan Hao gives you four choices of shark's fin - others include shark's fin with dried fish maw, shark bone consomme with fish maw, and the last one is below. But yes, there is a caveat - only one order per table. Remember that sharks are high in methyl mercury content - so eat wisely, especially if you are pregnant, or a small child. I love shark's fin, but reports of finning and overfishing are disturbing. So I don't order but I don't waste either. I will eat it if it's already cooked and served. Heck, even the Dalai Lama will eat meat that's cooked and served to him (unless the animal is specifically killed in his honour).


Shark's Fin with Crabmeat and Bamboo Pith
Shark's Fin with Crabmeat and Bamboo Pith - chockful of ingredients! Sorry I can't seem to get the colours absolutely right (the cosy lighting proved challenging in the all-enclosed private dining room).


WanHao-Bowls
Top row (left to right): Garoupa with century egg (first time I've seen century egg used in soup); Wintermelon with conpoy; Seaweed beancurd with conpoy and abalone.
Bottom row (left to right): Beef tendon with white radish, Vermicelli with pork fillet; Congee with sliced fish maw, squid, fish, peanuts, duck meat and jellyfish.

I realise too late that I missed out on taking a shot of the ee-fu noodles. Fortunately Brad has a delicious photo of it - check out his post here. The ee-fu noodles were done beautifully. Well-coated but not wet. Smooth but not oily. More importantly, the noodles retained some bite, unlike the overcooked soggy mess that so many restaurants tend to proffer.


Seven Spices Sea Perch Fillet
Seven Spices Sea Perch Fillet. Boneless fish in crisp, light batter. The "seven spices" looked and sounded a lot like the Japanese shichimi togarashi, but apparently the chef concocted his own mixture for this.

And now we come to the stars of the show - the Chef Recommendations - six premium dishes limited to one order per table. But fret not, the dishes are not fixed size portions. The size will be scaled according to number of diners at the table.


US Kurobuta Pork
U.S. Kurobuta Pork. Lightly seared and braised in dark soy. Brad fell in love with this. The pork is so tender, it's unreal. You'll want to enjoy this in silent reverence.


Chili Prawns
If you like chili crab but hate the hassle of dealing with the crustacean, why not try Chili Prawns - all shelled and ready to eat! The gravy is delicious.


Scallop and Asparagus with Spicy XO Sauce
Scallop and Asparagus with Spicy XO Sauce. Wan Hao's presentation is remarkable. The scallops tasted sublime, and the asparagus done just right, still fresh and crunchy.


Black Pepper Beef Tenderloin
Black Pepper Beef Tenderloin. Again, unusually tender beef, coated with a robust black pepper sauce.


Sea Perch Fillet with Garlic
Sea Perch Fillet with Garlic. These tasted so much like cod. I loved the light, clean taste of the sauce, and how the garlic enhanced the taste of the fish.


Drunken Prawns
Drunken Prawns. And golly, were they drunken! These boys would never pass a breathalyzer test - we could smell the alcohol on them! And that's some very tasty stock they're sitting in. The prawns are incredibly fresh, as with many of the ingredients used in the dishes here. Restaurant manager Mr Song Cheng Wah says the hotel owner is extremely particular about freshness and quality. So it's a matter of fastidious pride that the restaurant serves the best in this respect.


WanHao-Desserts
We tried almost all their desserts. Mini egg tarts (top left) done to flaky perfection. Herbal jelly (bottom left) done the traditional way. A truly exquisite mango pudding (centre) with real bits of mango. And lemongrass jelly with lime sherbet (right), clearly a modern addition.


Eight Treasure Hashima
Eight Treasure Hashima. Wow, unlimited hashima? I'm sold! This was a lovely dessert, clear and refreshing without being too sweet. Again, Mr Song says they want to offer premium ingredients and good value. The brunch was put together after quite a bit of field research on other buffets at Chinese restaurants. Man, I'd like to have that kind of job!


Durian Mochi
Durian Mochi. A novel way of presenting durian without its smell (which not all diners may appreciate). Pop one of these into your mouth and luscious durian will melt its way through the thin, chewy mochi skin.


Good Chinese Tea
Wash it all down with some good Chinese tea. It will make you forget all the grease and cleanse your palate for more food!

For what it offers, the Wan Hao weekend brunch is a steal at $55.00++ (adult) and $30.00++ (child). Note that there are two seatings: 11.00am to 1.00pm or 1.00pm to 3.00pm. I nearly made a reservation for that very weekend itself, but held back knowing the dim sum overdose I was going to have.

Big thanks to Grace and Myra from the marketing communications team, as well as Mr Song for their warm-hearted hospitality. Thanks also to Jackson of Cuisine & Wine Asia for organising this. We enjoyed the session very much.

I am definitely going back some day when I can sort out my weekends. For a brunch like this, a bigger group makes sense, so you can try many more things. Who else wants to go? :D

WAN HAO
Level 3, Singapore Marriott Hotel,
320 Orchard Road,
Singapore 238865
Tel: 6831-4615
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Main reception at Hai Tien Lo
Hai Tien Lo is no stranger to most people who know Cantonese cuisine. Helmed by Master Chef Lai Tong Ping, this award-winning restaurant is one of Singapore's popular sky dining destinations. Located on the 37th floor of Pan Pacific Hotel, the restaurant commands a breathtaking view of Marina Bay and the city. Even the bubble lift that brings you up is a sensation not to be missed. Pure vertigo.

Anyway, this is my first visit, at the invitation of Cuisine & Wine Asia. Day 1 of the dim sum marathon that would see us chomping though six restaurants.

Steamed prawn paste topped with fish maw and savoury gravy (S$5.40 for 3 pieces)
Steamed prawn paste topped with fish maw and savoury gravy (S$5.40 for 3 pieces). I love fish maw, so this one naturally won me over. Each fine dumpling was topped with a chewy, crunchy curl of fish maw - textural fun.


Steamed shrimp dumplings (S$4.80 for 3 pieces)
Steamed shrimp dumplings (S$4.80 for 3 pieces) or har gau. Every restaurant has this staple. But how do you make yours stand out? Hai Tien Lo added finely chopped Chinese celery to its rendition. It perked up the shrimp flavours in a refreshing way. Thumbs up!  


Steamed chicken feet with black bean sauce (S$3.90)
Steamed chicken feet with black bean sauce (S$3.90). I liked this, specifically because it had a detectable chili bite (hey, I love chili padi). But many others at the table prefer chili heat that's more subtle and in the background. 


Imperial lobster dumpling
Imperial lobster dumpling. This is not on the regular dim sum menu, if I remember correctly. It's a specialty given out at the weekend brunch (which feature more than 60 items, including all the dim sum here). One serve only. It's huge! See the way it dominates the entire steamer basket? It's like a giant har gau, but with lobster meat added. The Chinese celery features here too.


Special steamed crab meat and shark's fin with jin hwa ham stock wrapped in dough (S$12, single portion)
Special steamed crab meat and shark's fin with jin hwa ham stock wrapped in dough (S$12, single portion). This billowy dumpling was suspended in a delicately-flavoured stock. I believe this luxurious soup is also a single serve only in the weekend brunch. You can opt not to have shark's fin if you so prefer.


Steamed vegetarian dumplings stuffed with water chestnuts and mushrooms (S3.90 for 3 pieces)
Steamed vegetarian dumplings stuffed with water chestnuts and mushrooms (S3.90 for 3 pieces). Fiercely coloured but tasted tame and gentle. I'm sure it must have been difficult making so many fine pleats in the skin. 


Deep-fried sea perch wrapped in vermicelli (S$5.40 for 3 pieces)
Deep-fried sea perch wrapped in vermicelli (S$5.40 for 3 pieces). The seafood taste was very strong in the filling, and overpowered even the thick bundles of vermicelli. I thought the filling was salty shrimp paste, until I learned it was actually fish.


Scallop dumplings
Scallop dumplings. I could not find this on the menu, it may be a new item. Scallop slices on top of shrimp and spinach. Look at how thin and translucent the skin is. 


Stuffed vegetarian rolls wtih bamboo pith, pine mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, carrots and bean gluten (S$3.90 for 3 pieces)
Stuffed vegetarian rolls wtih bamboo pith, pine mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, carrots and bean gluten (S$3.90 for 3 pieces). Hai Tien Lo has quite a few vegetarian items, for those who don't take meat or seafood. This one tasted really good, and didn't even need the carrot puree sauce at the bottom. Would please even carnivores, I'm sure.


Pan-fried rice flour rolls with crispy conpoy (S$3.90 per portion)
Pan-fried rice flour rolls with crispy conpoy (S$3.90 per portion). Love the crispy bits. The rice rolls were compressed into neat little slabs, but this may have caused it to be too dense and plain-tasting in the centre. 


Poached Beijing dumplings stuffed with chicken and prawns in chili vinegar sauce (S$4.20 for 3 pieces)
Poached Beijing dumplings stuffed with chicken and prawns in chili vinegar sauce (S$4.20 for 3 pieces). Pretty decent for a chicken and prawn dumpling.


Deep-fried crispy yam pattie layered with mashed golden pumpkin (S$4.20 for 3 pieces); Deep-fried bean curd sheet stuffed with chives and prawn paste (S$4.80 for 3 pieces)
Deep-fried crispy yam pattie layered with mashed golden pumpkin (S$4.20 for 3 pieces); Deep-fried bean curd sheet stuffed with chives and prawn paste (S$4.80 for 3 pieces). These perhaps suffered from their generous size - I had slight surfeit even when finishing one. But it could be because we had too much food already!


Bird's nest egg tarts
Finally, dessert. Bird's nest egg tarts. I remember these won the approval of the magazine photographer. Light, and just very gently sweet. With bird's nest you can actually see and taste!


The spread at Hai Tien Lo
I told you we had a lot of food. There were also char siew bao, fried vegetarian spring rolls, steamed carrot cake with waxed meats, and siew mai with fish roe.  But guess what one thing we all could not stop eating? The little appetiser plate of honeyed walnuts with sesame (see bottom of lazy susan). Those were SUPERB! Made inhouse, of course. 

So yes, dim sum is available daily for lunch, and at the weekend brunch. When the Integrated Resort is complete, you'll have some of the best views to go with your dim sum treats!

Many thanks to Cindy and Merissa of Pan Pacific Hotel for hosting us, and to Jackson of Cuisine & Wine Asia for organising the session.

HAI TIEN LO
37th Floor, Pan Pacific Hotel
7 Raffles Boulevard, Marina Square
Singapore 039595
Tel: 6826-8240
Open daily
Lunch: 12noon to 2.30pm (Weekdays)
Dinner: 6.30pm to 9.30pm (Daily)
Weekend A La Carte Buffet Brunch: 11.30am to 2.30pm (Weekends and Public Holidays)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cuisine & Wine Asia (May-June 2009 issue)
I am the "Dim Sum Queen".

A new nickname bestowed after I survived an intensive dim sum tasting marathon covering six restaurants in five days. Simple math tells you there was one day that we reviewed two restaurants back to back. Oh yes, it was quite crazy, to say the least. But also incredibly fun!

This is a special feature by Cuisine & Wine Asia to compare some of the finer dim sum restaurants across town. For the May-June 2009 issue, they invited food bloggers as guest tasters.

The bonding that happens when kindred souls come together is amazing. Most bloggers usually eat meals with friends or family, who may not be as patient about our penchant for photographing food. But when everyone at the table is a fellow food blogger, we all understand.

Some of us even started meeting up on our own after that - witness the Hua Ting outing.

My heartfelt thanks to feature writer Jackson Sim and photographer Danny Lim (Sr), whose company we also enjoyed tremendously.

So over the next few days, I will put up the posts (in chronological tasting order) on

I may intersperse other posts in between, to spare you the satiety of too much dim sum in one week. But actually, good quality dim sum is just so delightful, I can't quite get sick of it. In fact, I went for more dim sum at Jing the weekend after the marathon, so technically, I tried 7 places in that one week. (Cue Rob Schneider: "YOU CAN DO IT!!!")

Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy the forthcoming posts.

*royal wave*

.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cheok Kee is at Stall no.27
Cheok Kee is a name that many associate with duck rice. But did you know they also serve curry fish head and curry chicken noodles? These were specialties offered at the famous Macpherson outlet, which they have closed. But you can still get it at their East Coast Lagoon Food Village branch. Fourth generation Cheok Kee chef Louis (that's him on the left) runs the newly opened stall at no.27, just diagonally across from the duck rice stall.


Assam Curry Fish Head
The Assam Curry Fish Head (S$18) comes in a huge claypot that's bubbling hot. People who are used to the Indian-style fish head curry may find this version quite unusual. It's extremely rich, for one thing, with the generous use of coconut milk. The curry is also rather sweet, with the assam lending just a mild tangy note. A sweet and sour curry - some will like it, others maybe not. I thought it was quite nice with rice, but best enjoyed in cool weather.


Assam Curry Fish Head
This is my messy claypot after I stirred things up. Look at how thick it is. They use red snapper head, which is cooked until the flesh is just tender and not overdone. The vegetables too, are done just right. Not mushy or overcooked. This huge pot is enough to feed four to five adults, easily.


Delicious curry chicken noodles!
What really took me by surprise were the curry chicken noodles (S$3-4). They were delicious! This dish is something I rarely eat because most places do a pointless job - bland, one-dimensional curry. But this one is flavourful - you can tell they used good stock as the base, a nice curry blend, and some lemongrass. Louis revealed that he adds some pandan leaves too, for fragrance. How odd but it works!


Curry chicken noodles
You can choose the type of noodles. Yellow mee tends to be a bit starchy, so you can opt for beehoon or kway teow or any mixture. I would come back for this. Yum yum.


Braised duck with thick, lush gravy
Well, since we were at Cheok Kee, we had to try the braised duck rice as well. It certainly did not disappoint. Soft, tender and boneless duck meat. Slathered in a thick, lush gravy.


Braised duck with rice
Forgot to take shots of the chili - they serve both the sambal version and the watery sour type. Those were quite good, which makes the duck taste even better. The rice too, is infused with dark soy and dried mushroom.


Cheok Kee's duck rice always sees a long queue
There's always a long queue at Cheok Kee's duck rice stall, especially on weekends. Their assam curry fish head and curry chicken noodle stall is just a few stalls to the right. Many thanks to Princeton for this recommendation, and to Louis for the kind invitation.

CHEOK KEE (assam curry fish head and curry chicken noodles)
Stall no. 27
East Coast Lagoon Food Village
Tel: 6244-2422
Open daily 11.00am til 10.pm
 
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