Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (1 Michelin Star)

In the culinary world, there is no book or guide more prestigious than the one published by Michelin. Its' one, two and three star 'ranking' system makes and breaks a restaurant (and its' chef). Having previously had lunch at Sage and taken the degustation menu at Cilantro, we've always wondered how two of these top KL restaurants compare to actual Michelin-starred places.

Which is why when we travelled to the UK for my brother's wedding, we just had to go try a couple of the UK's top chefs - starting with a lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Heston's flagship restaurant is The Fat Duck, but the only option there is a £180 tastings menu, which is a tad bit out of range of our financial muscle.

Dinner's concept is the most unique of any restaurant I've been to. Every item on the menu is inspired by some recipe, ingredient or dish from historic British cuisine (some of which date back hundreds of years).

Dinner does serve up an economical set lunch menu for £36, but seeing as the choices available are limited, we opt to splurge on ala-carte: Starting with the Roast Marrowbone with Snails, parsley, anchovy, mace & pickled vegetables (£15.50). I don't normally eat escargot, but the snails went very well with the roasted marrowbone and toasted breadcrumbs. However, we didn't care much for the pickled vegetables which were very sour.

The Meat Fruit (£15.00) turned out to be my favorite dish of the afternoon. The brioche was good enough to eat on its' own. Buttered and olive-oiled and then charred on the grill, it tasted and smelled remarkably similar to a nice char-grilled steak (!). Spread on the chicken and duck liver parfait/pate with its sweet, mandarin-orange flavored gel, and it was so heavenly we had to ask for additional toast.

The rest of the lunch was somewhat ... of an anti-climax after that. I tried this 'deconstructed' pie for £30 that came fully loaded with a ton of ingredients - including carrots, smoked bone marrow, veal sweetbreads, confit of pigeon, lamb kidney, etc, tied together by a nice thick sauce. I thought, however, that there were too many different "spare parts" such that I found myself wandering between each different meat, not knowing which was the "focus" of the dish.

I don't have the proper name for this dish because it was something new/experimental and wasn't on the menu ... yet.

The Powdered Duck Breast, also £30, comes with Smoked confit fennel & umbles. "Umbles? What are those?" ... is a question we should have asked our waiter before we ordered. Turns out umbles, in the context of this dish, are duck hearts, which tasted remarkably strong and bloody, and I was only able to take one mouthful. The duck, though, was very nice. Sous-vide'ed til pink, moist, juicy and tender.

We also ordered some sides! The Mashed Potato was rich and OH-so-creamy, but the chips, presumably triple-cooked, were simply ordinary despite Heston bandying them about as one of his "signature" dishes.

By this stage we're absolutely stuffed but having pre-ordered a Tipsy Cake for £12, we summon up some additional room in the tummy.

The Tipsy Cake can perhaps be described as a light sponge cake soaked in some sort of alcohol or other (brandy, perhaps), and dusted with powdered sugar. Together with the tart-ness of the spit-roasted pineapple, it was a very enjoyable dessert.

To end the lunch, complimentary chocolate ganache (infused with orange) and a somewhat middle-eastern-flavored cookie.

I think what reduced the experience for us somewhat, was that neither the darling or I are fans of spare parts; and both mains we ordered were chock full of kidneys and hearts - even the "sweetbreads" we had are actually an animal's pancreas and/or thymus gland.

We also feel that Dinner is priced a little on the high side for a one-starred restaurant - there are other two-starred places that you can eat at for less money.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is located in the Mandarin Oriental hotel over at Knightsbridge (5 minute walk from the Underground). Non-Halal.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Soy Garlic Fried Chicken at Bonchon Chicken (Bugis+)

"It is not just Chicken, it's Bonchon Chicken" ... or so goes Bonchon's advertising tagline. Originating from Korea, the franchise has also spread its' wings to the Philippines, Thailand, and the USA, where it's been apparently garnering huge raves.

What we didn't know was that Bonchon has actually also set up shop here in Singapore - at the first floor of Bugis+ (formerly Iluma), so we hitched a train ride to Bugis and ordered up a Large Combo of 10 wings and 4 drumsticks for SGD21.90 to see if the food lives up to the hype!

There are two flavors available - Soy Garlic and Hot Sauce. What's interesting is that the flavors are incorporated into the deep-fried batter, so you get all the flavor but not-so-much of the mess. The large combo also comes with 2 side dishes - we go for edamame and coleslaw.

Verdict? While we enjoyed the crispiness of the batter and the Asian-influenced tastes, we didn't feel close to being blown away. To make matters worse, our batch of drumsticks were pretty badly overcooked. I'm not sure if you can see it in this photo, but the tops of the 'sticks were dry, hard and tough.

Overall, a pretty big disappointment, then. If they can adjust their cooking time and/or temperature I might give them another shot, but dry and hard chicken is inexcusable, especially on a juicy part like the drumstick. Having never tried the outlets in other countries I can't comment on how authentic the fried chicken here is; but for the Singapore version you'd be far more satisfied at 4 Fingers instead.

Also, while we tend to make huge concessions with regards to service in what is essentially a quasi-fast food joint, the service standards here are simply atrocious - standing in line for a good ten minutes being ignored by the entire wait staff isn't fun.

Bon Chon is located at #01-03, Bugis+ Shopping Centre, Bugis.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cooking Exploration ::: Crispy Salmon and Creamy Mashed Potatoes.

Watching cooking shows on the Telly can be very deceiving. The chefs make it seem like the easiest thing in the world to do, but often gloss over important details that the newbie, non-culinary-schoolgoing random Joe wouldn't automatically know. I've lost count of the number of times over the past decade that I've cooked up a dish that ended up being borderline inedible.

Practice makes perfect, though, so today I'm trying out some combined recipe from arguably two of Britain's most well-known chefs!

Heston Blumenthal is the owner of The Fat Duck - a three Michelin starred restaurant that only serves GBP180/cover tasting menus (equivalent of a degustation menu, I suppose). His mashed potato recipe involves half an hour of simmering at 72 degrees before boiling, mashing (twice) and adding butter with potato-skin-infused milk.

I didn't have a ricer, so I did the first mash with a fork before pushing them through a strainer, resulting in a recipe that works! The mash was uber creamy and delicious and totally worth the attention needed.

Moving on to Gordon Ramsay's Crispy Salmon. Ramsay shouldn't need any introduction by now - he's arguably one of the most well known TV Celebrity Chef's around now. Perhaps too well-known for some critics who'd like to see him spend less time in front of a camera and more time in his kitchens.

This turned out to be an awesome no-brainer recipe that anyone, even somebody who's never picked up a frying pan before, could pull off very easily. The results are pretty good, too! Skin of the salmon did turn out crispy as advertised.

Finally, a simple garlic-buttered Broccoli, sauteed/steamed in Olve Oil (with the lid on) over high heat.

So a nice dinner that costs about $7 per person, and tastes better than almost anything you'll get for under double that dollar amount outside the house. The tradeoff, of course, is the amount of prep work and washing up you'll need to do after :)

Incidentally, I'll be having lunch over the next two weeks at Heston and Gordon's restaurants. Couldn't get reservations for their flagship places though, so we'll have to settle for Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Petrus. Stay tuned for the reviews!