Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pasta Fresca da Salvatore and Udders Ice Cream (Upper East Coast Road)

To take advantage of the numerous higher-end landed properties and condominiums along Upper East Coast Road, quite a number of restaurants and eateries have sprouted up serving a mixture of Indian and European delights. Case in point: Pasta Fresca de Salvatore Italian Restaurant.

Opening up with the Parma Ham and Melone (SGD16.90). Having first tried this starter in Nairobi, I find that the version served here in Pasta Fresca is mediocre in comparison. The melon slices were (relatively) dry, and the ham tasted like it hadn't been properly stored before being sliced and served.

For mains, I order the Lasagne Gratinate All'Emiliana (SGD18.40) off the "recommended dishes" portion of the menu, and it turns out pretty bad. Soggy, mushy pasta sheets and bland, poorly cooked-and-put-together meat/sauce - it's pretty shocking that the chefs didn't pay better attention to a dish they recommend. It tasted like it had been fully cooked in the morning and left lying around all day before being microwaved and served up for dinner.

The Pizza Capricciosa (SGD19.90) at least was decent. Heaped with pork salami, ham, artichokes, mushrooms, anchovies and olives, the ingredients on the pizza complemented each other pretty well. I also especially liked the chilli flakes that were served on the side. Crust could have been better though - was sort of an "I can't decide" compromise between thin, crunchy/crispy dough, and fluffier, pan pizza-style dough.

Taking a page out of Eat Drink KL's three-restaurants-per-post book, a short walk away is Udders Ice Cream. This no-frills ice cream shop also has an upstairs seating area and is almost always packed past 8pm.

With a host of fancy self-made flavours such as Lychee Martini, Lemoncello Sorbet (with alcohol!), Mao Shan Wang Durian and Gila Melaka, you'd be hard pressed to find these same combinations elsewhere.

We settle for a double scoop of Snickers Mars Honeycomb Vanilla and Orange Choc Bitters in a cone. The former is rather lacklustre, but the latter ranks among the best ice creams I've ever tasted. Dark, bitter and smooth rich Belgian chocolate Ice Cream spiced with Triple Sec (orange liqeur), I'll definitely be re-ordering this one the next time I'm here.

Pasta Fresca and Udders Ice Cream are 77 and 87 (respectively), Upper East Coast Road. It's not within walking distance from any MRT station, so you'll have to either take a cab, or Bus service #16 from Bedok Interchange. Non-halal.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ramen Champion's Bario and Iroha (Bugis+)

Ramen Champion, in a nutshell, is a Ramen Food Court. There are two shops in Singapore so far - the one in Changi Airport's T3 has four shops which we covered in two previous posts here and here.

The outlet in Bugis+ (formerly known as Illuma) is much bigger, better decorated, and houses six separate Ramen chefs. Ikkousha and Gantetsu also have their presence in Changi, so today we'll be sampling two of the other bowls of noodles.

Chef Kiyoshi Kurihara's Menya Iroha is perhaps the most decorated of all the chefs here, having won the People's Choice award at the Tokyo Ramen Show for an impressive three years running (2009, 2010 and 2011).

We try his recommended Black Negitama Ramen (SGD14.95, regular), which is a thick shoyu based broth. Surprisingly, the broth doesn't really gel with our tastes. There's a lot of black pepper in it, which does overpower the taste of the other ingredients, and we're not really big fans of thick soups.

We then move on Makoto Iwasaki's Ramen Bario. The noodles served here are Jiroken (Jiro style) - which is so different from other ramen shops that some purists even insist on calling it just "Jiro" (without the "ramen").

So what's the deal? Well, for starters the noodles are thick - almost udon-like. There's also a HUGE amount of it, with an equally huge serving of bean sprouts. This particular Ajitama Ramen (SGD14.50) has won awards for being the "Ramen that Most Young Men Like" (I'm sure that sounds better in Japanese); regular Joe's who don't have a teenage appetite will find it likely impossible to polish off the whole bowl.

Taste wise it's pretty good and very porky. Shame that the quantity of meat doesn't match the huge serving of vegetables and noodles.

Unfortunately I can't imagine myself ordering either ramen bowl again in the near future. For Iroha, it's simply a matter of preferences; I prefer my broth more soupy rather than thick. I enjoyed Bario's taste more; but the humongous serving size means that guilt kicks in because I can barely polish off half the bowl.

Ramen Champion is on the 4th floor of the Bugis+ Shopping Mall. Non-halal.

Our Ramen Rankings:
Superb!: Ippudo & Santouka
Delicious!: Nantsuttei, Tampopo & Keisuke Tonkotsu King
Solid: Shin-Sapporo, Keisuke, Gantetsu, Gensuke, Riki, Ikkousha & Bario
Below Average: Marutama, Menya Musashi & Menya Iroha

Monday, August 13, 2012

Muthu's Curry Fish Head @ Suntec City

One of my favorite foods is a good Indian-style Curry Fish Head - with banana leaf rice. If you're reading this and you're from Kota Kinabalu, chances are you'd have probably eaten Krishna's Fish Head at least once. Surprisingly, I haven't really been able to find anything similarly delicious outside of KK, so I'm always on the lookout for a fresh head served in a huge bowl of fragrant curry.

One place I've managed to find that serves a pretty mean Fish Head is over at Muthu's Curry Restaurant. Free flow papadum and vegetables and white / biryani rice on banana leaf comes at $3 / $4 per person.

The fish head itself comes in three prices - SGD20, SGD25 and SGD30. Strangely enough, these three price levels don't correspond to the actual size of the fish head, but instead, they correspond to how much the fish cost at the market in the morning. So on one visit three people could be satisfied with a $20 head, but on the next visit two people might still be hungry after polishing off a $25 head.

The inconsistency carries over to the cooking, too. While the curry fish head is generally pretty good, it does tend to be more delicious some days and not really that good on others.

For about $15 per person and all-you-can-eat rice & vegetables, Muthu's Curry Fish Head has been pretty high on my go-to list of restaurants whenever I'm craving some Curry.

Muthu's Curry has 3 outlets - Racecourse Road, Dempsey Hill and Suntec City.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Singapore National Day Oriental Brunch at Jiang-Nan Chun Restaurant (Four Seasons Hotel)

Happy 47th Birthday Singapore! To celebrate the occasion many restaurants around town have put up special "National Day" set menus at a "special" pricing of SGD47 ... one of them being Jiang-Nan Chun over at Four Seasons Hotel. They've put their popular Weekend Oriental Brunch up for SGD47++ instead of the usual SGD58++, so what better day than today to sample the restaurants' delicacies?

And sample is the operational word here, because with one hundred (!!) different kinds of dim sum on offer, you'd need to be a champion competitive eater to stand any chance of eating the entire menu at one seating.

The darling and I take stock of the nine-page menu and set a pre-stuff-your-face strategy of keeping ourselves to just three or four items from each page.

From the Soups & Porridge page we order:
- Braised Hasma with Shredded Fish Maw and Dried Scallop
- Double-Boiled Morel Mushroom with Chinese Cabbage and Black Chicken
- Porridge with Pork and Century Egg

The soups were a pretty nice start to the meal - they'd had obviously been boiled for significantly long enough for the flavors of the ingredients to be extracted into the liquid. The Porridge, however, was notable only for its' mediocrity - smooth but utterly bland.

Next up, the Appetizers:
- Crispy Roasted Pork Belly
- Chilled Poached Hong Kong Kai Lan
- Deep-fried Fish Skin with Salt and Pepper

I really dug the siew yuk. Nicely roasted with thin, crispy skin, I ended up ordering another serving. The Kai Lan was also pretty nice, if a bit unconventional as it's the first time I'm eating almost-ice-cold vegetables. The Fish Skin ... well, it was sort of like potato chips made of fish skin instead of potatoes.

We then move on to page 1 of the Dim Sum:
- Deep Fried Prawns Dumpling served with Mayonnaise Sauce
- Steamed Pork Dumpling with Shrimp
- Steamed Barbecued Pork Bun
- Steamed Scallop Dumpling with Luffa Melon and Crab Roe

Portions are pretty small - an example being the siew mai, which came in bite-sized pieces; probably not an issue since you can order as many of them as you want. Overall pretty par for the course taste-wise, except for the Scallop Dumpling which had (relative to the size) skin that was way too thick and hard.

- Fried Carrot Cake with XO Chili Sauce
- Deep fried Spring Roll with Crabmeat, Scallop and Egg White
- Baked Flaky Pastry with Barbecued Pork, Bacon and Ham coated with Sesame Seeds
- Deep fried Beancurd Skin Roll with Shrimps

The Spring Rolls were terrible - we couldn't taste the crab meat or scallop at all.

On to the Seafood menu, where we try:
- Steamed Cod Fillet with Preserved Mustard Leaves and Olives
- Steamed Cod with Minced Green Ginger and Spring Onions
- Stir-fried Scallops with Asparagus
- Deep-fried Prawns with Butter and Oat

The two Cod dishes were on opposite ends of the like-dislike spectrum. I thoroughly enjoyed the Cod with Green Ginger - being much less "gingery" than yellow ginger; but the other Fillet was flaky and dry. Prawns and Asparagus in the other two dishes were notably fresh.

At this stage, our already-full stomachs forced us to throw in the towel, which sadly meant ignoring the entire Meat, Vegetables & Beancurd and Rice & Noodles sections, and skipping straight to the Desserts:
- Chilled Aloe Vera with Lemongrass Jelly
- Fresh Mango Pudding topped with Pomelo
- Chilled Longan and Almond Beancurd
- Oven-baked Mini Egg Tart

Egg Tarts could have used a bit more time in the oven at the "baking the pastry" stage, and the Mango Pudding was, putting it nicely, simply not up to par. I liked the Aloe Vera / Lemongrass Jelly though - a nice refreshing end to the meal.

The biggest surprise of the night, for me, was the Peking Duck (1 serving per person only). Despite the restaurant bandying it around as one of the signature dishes, I found it a bit crap. I'm not sure how long the duck skin had been sitting in the sauced-up pancake, but there was absolutely no crispiness left. What's the point of eating non-crispy duck skin? I also didn't like that the restaurant left out the scallion.

While the one hundred dishes available are probably without rival anywhere else in the restaurant world, the dishes do lack in consistency. The dim sum and the dishes were mostly "not too bad," with a few of them being delicious, and a few going on the "would not order again" list. No different from your standard normal distribution, then.

We also noticed that once the dining room started filling up, the kitchen wasn't able to churn out food quick enough. We ended up sitting the entire three hour lunch session, much of that time waiting for food despite "ordering in advance" - which is a first for me in any restaurant.

Jiang-Nan Chun is located on the 2nd floor of the Four Seasons Hotel - within walking distance from the Orchard MRT (walk through ION and Wheelock Place to maximize air-conditioned time). The Weekend Brunch times are as follows:

Sunday (first seating) - 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Sunday (second seating) - 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Saturday 11:30 am – 2:30 pm


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sublime Rib Eye Cap Steak at Privé Restaurant

We're huge advocates of cooking your own steak at home rather than going out to eat at 'budget' steak joints - you get much better taste and quality for your money. Having said that, though, the grill pan method we use at home does have big limitations when trying to cook a proper, proper steak - the lack of any sort of flame or wood/charcoal smoke makes it impossible to do it the same way the (higher end) restaurants do.

Privé Grill over at the Marina at Keppel Bay is one such restaurant that has the specialty kitchen equipment needed - a Josper Grill. They're so proud of it that they've made this Grill the selling point of the restaurant. No celebrity chef, no house specialty dishes. The Josper is essentially a white charcoal-fired oven, and is advertised as the "hottest indoor oven available."

So anyways, we take our seats, browse through the menus, and munch on some bread served with butter and shaved salt crystals (!) on the side. Novel concept, but I found it was hard to properly control the amount of salt I put on my buttered bread without having to resort to using my fingers.

The amuse-bouche of grilled watermelon was ... a little weird, to be honest. I'm all for experiencing new flavors, but grilled watermelon isn't something that I appreciate, apparently.

Moving on to our first Starter of the night - the Citrus Hokkaido Scallops Carpaccio (SGD22). Tossed in Ikura (Salmon Roe), Avruga, Smoked Paprika, Chives and Crème Fraîche, we ghought that the relatively stronger taste of the other ingredients overpowered the taste of the scallops, such that it was no longer the "main star" of the dish but rather just the base.

No such complaints about the Pan-Seared Foie Gras (SGD24), served with Roasted Figs, Celeriac Slaw and a Mixed Berries Sauce, which was delicious. Especially love how the Figs added sweetness to the liver. Oh, and that leaf isn't really a leaf, it's a Mustard Leaf Cracker (with chocolate as the "veins" of the leaf). Awesome stuff.

Our main courses are served with a bunch of different mustards - English, Dijon, Horseradish, and some other condiment. After asking twice we still couldn't understand what the foreign waitress was trying to tell us so we gave up.

On to the main courses! First up is the U.S. "Creekstone" Angus 280gm Rib Eye Cap (SGD80), ordered and done medium-rare.

The steak was absolutely sublime. Perfectly seared and crusted on the outside, moist, juicy, tender on the inside. I dare say that this was the best steak I've ever eaten, even better than the ones I've eaten over the years at Prime in KL.

If like me you've never heard of Rib Eye Cap, it's the "top" muscle of the entire rib-eye and is apparently the new Holy Grail of steaks. Skip to 1:40 in the video below to find out where exactly the cut of meat comes from.

After that mouth orgasm, the U.S. "Snake River" Kurobuta Single Rib Pork Rack ($52, 280g served with Apple Puree) was both a let down and a disappointment. I was expecting more - this chop turned out a bit too dry and tough for my expectations.

For desserts, we try the Tiramisu Parfait (SGD14), which we enjoyed very much! Privé's spin on the dessert may look rather unconventional but it's great stuff.

By this point in the night we were stuffed, so when we got a complimentary slice of Strawberry Cheesecake on the house (I had totally forgotten that I had ... mentioned to the restaurant that this was an anniversary dinner), we did have a little difficulty in polishing it off.

The night ends with a take-home goodie bag for the ladies :)

Overall we had some absolutely delicious food mixed in with some "eh nothing special" dishes. Service was a mixed bag, too! I very much liked that each table is provided with a cushioned stool to put your bags on. On the other hand, the two foreigner waitresses who served our food had an extremely hard to decipher accent.

Privé Grill is located in the Marina at Keppel Bay complex. It's best if you have a car. You can reach here by Taxi easily, but when the night was done we couldn't get a taxi to come pick us up so we had to walk 25 minutes to Harbourfront MRT to get home. Non halal.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Great Value Buffet at Ssikkek Korean BBQ Buffet (Tampines 1)

I think this is the first time I've ever come across a Korean BBQ buffet restaurant. I mean, I've had my fair share of Korean BBQ over the years, but they've all been alacarte-style, pay for each portion that you eat. So when the darling and I chanced upon this new Korean BBQ Buffet place, we just had to go in and try!

With a decidedly unpronounceable name, Ssikkek Korean BBQ Buffet seems authentic enough in that it's staffed by a half dozen Korean tai tai's. There's a pretty decent variety on offer. On the seafood side there's just Shrimp and Squid, but the meat section more than makes up for it with Pork Belly, Bacon, Pork Shoulder, Beef Short Rib, Beef Rib Eye, Sausages and a few more other cuts, all replenishable as long as your stomach has room. Some of them even come pre-marinated.

The one glaring difference between this joint and a more traditional ala-carte one, is the lack of the customary banchan (side dishes). Instead, there's free flow of soup, kimchi stew (delicious), Korean glass noodles and Pancake.

So the drill is simple; Go to the counter in the middle, grab your meat, and bring it back to your table for grilling. Rinse and Repeat times however many times you want. If you get thirsty, the first (500ml) bottle of water per table is free; you have to pay for any additional bottles, though.

Ssikkek advertises its' BBQ grills as using some sort of state of the art smokeless grill. It uses infrared light or some other unknown technology. Sounds good in theory, but in practice the entire restaurant still gets smoky anyway, so lunch may not be your wisest choice if you've got a business meeting later in the afternoon - you will smell like grilled meat for a while.

I think the no-frills concept works good. Unlike normal BBQ joints where I normally try to order less meat and fill up on the rice and/or banchan (side dishes), I found myself eating easily three or four times the amount of meat. Unfortunately the first two batches were dry and overcooked (due to a lack of grilling skill on my part), but once I got adjusted, the meat is effectively no different from more premium places.

If you noticed from the pictures above, the cuts of meat do have quite a bit of fat on them, so lots of meat means lots of fat and oil - and it does get a bit "OMG FATS OVERLOAD" at the end.

What about the price? Ranging from 14++ Weekday lunch to SGD24++ Dinners, it's unbeatable value for money. You've got to turn up early, though, because the restaurant fills up fast (reservations not accepted), and the queue moves extremely slowly.

Ssikek is on the 4th floor of Tampines 1 shopping mall. The BBQ Buffet concept is a real winner - added bonus for it being fairly near my work place / home. Non-Halal.