Monday, October 29, 2012

Argentinian Beef at SALTA Argentine Parilla (ICON Village)

I love steak. If it weren't for such trivial issues as cholesterol, keeping fit, eating healthy, etc, I'd eat it way more often than I do.

That, and the strength of my wallet. Because unlike most other foods, commercial restaurant steaks are either good and expensive (SGD100 plus cuts at Cut, Prive, Morton's, Ruth Chris) or cheap and not worth your dollars (Aston's? Please, you'd be better off buying a nice rib-eye and searing it yourself at home). There isn't normally a decent "middle ground," so we're delighted to find out about Salta Argentine Parilla and Grocer which will hopefully fit the bill.

Salta is located at ICON Village, a 3-5 minute walk South-West from Tanjong Pagar MRT station. It's hard to imagine a mall that's more dead; hopefully the lack of pedestrian traffic doesn't affect business too much. The restaurant's centrepiece attraction is a 15-foot long Charcoal BBQ Grill, on which the chefs grill up chicken, lamb, Argentinian beef, and other meats.

After our orders are taken, we're presented with a loaf of pretty nice bread. What we liked was that instead of a slab of butter, the bread comes with a small tub of some sort of olive oil'ed and balsamic vinegar'ed pâté.

Empanadas are an Argentinan specialty and are remarkably similar to large glazed curry puffs. Except that instead of a curry chicken filling, there's about ten different choices - we try the Cordero (lamb & tomato), Carne (beef & capsicum), Jamón y Queso (ham & cheese) and Espinaca (spinach). They're all pretty tasty, and at SGD10 for four empanadas, great value, too.

Our next starter, the Chorizos Tradicional, goes for SGD25 and is a quite-substantial three sausages in itself. We don't care much for the bratwurst-like white colored sausage because the meat is too 'smooth;' but the other two darker sausages are chunky, lumpy and juicy, and delicious.

We also order the Saltoast for SGD8, because it's marked as "must try" on the menu. It's an interesting take on garlic bread - slow toasted until crispy, with loads of cheese and anchovies; the taste of garlic is drowned out though, for you garlic lovers out there.

Food's been good so far, so we've got high expectations for the Ojo de Bife (Rib Eye steak, SGD35 for 300gm). Unfortunately the steak is let down by being unevenly cooked. Some bites were nicely seasoned; others could have used a shake or two of salt and pepper.

What's worse was that even though we ordered medium rare, the steak was medium-well-bordering-on-well-done on one side, and rare-bordering-on-blue on the other, thus we only had half the steak done to our preferred temperature in the middle. A cooking snafu that shouldn't happen in any restaurant, much less one that specializes in steak.

We're not sure if the photos bring it across properly, but we were served a LOT of food, and at the bill coming in at just $83 for two people, it's pretty good value. Shame that the steak was a disappointment, but perhaps it was an off day for the chef? The other dishes were good enough for us to definitely come back again to give them a second try.

Salta is open for lunch and dinner from Mondays-Saturdays (closed on Sundays). Non-halal.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jalan Sultan Prawn Mee - Singapore's Best?

For someone raised on hawker food in Penang and KL, the "Singaporean versions" of dishes available in the Island Republic are often ... different. Not necessarily worse, just that they're of a different style.

Take, for example, the Prawn Mee. Malaysia's version is a lot stronger tasting, with a sweeter, more concentrated broth. One could even go as far as to say that the sambal and sugar overpowers the taste of the prawn in the soup. Singapore's version has a clearer broth that is less loaded with condiments.

As with all hawker food, there's dozens, if not hundreds, of stalls around the city, so we start off our Singapore-style Prawn Mee review with Jalan Sultan Prawn Mee - an almost permanent member of any "Top x Prawn Mee" lists.

The "base model" prawn mee is SGD5 (same price with or without pork ribs), and comes with a nice number of pretty plump and juicy prawns - as you can see, they're quite sizeable. If you're game for more prawn, though, go for the King Prawn Mee (SGD8) or Sultan Prawn Mee (SGD10). With larger prawns you sometimes run the risk of getting mushy meat; no such problems with the firm and delicious prawn meat served here.

As I mentioned earlier, the soup base is quite a bit different from the Penang style, so it's best not to make direct comparisons. Overall, there's a very good reason why this restaurant always has a steady stream of customers and closes by mid-afternoon: The prawns are big and fresh, and the soup base (although light), is tasty and has a good prawny strength to it.

Jalan Sultan Prawn Mee is not actually located anywhere near Jalan Sultan. Instead, it's right across the road from the Kallang MRT station. Take the South Exit, look towards your left, and you should just about be able to make out the signboard. Opening hours are from 8am to about 3-4pm, closed on Tuesdays. Non-halal.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Le Malakoff Café-Brasserie near the Eiffel Tower, Paris.

Paris isn't expensive. Before our trip there we had all sorts of people telling us how expensive it is to holiday in major cities in Europe; but we found that all things considered, it's actually quite reasonable.

Case in point: We had this three-course dinner at Le Malakoff Café-Brasserie for a very inexpensive €16 per person. This isn't some run-down restaurant in the middle of nowhere, either - it's on the Place du Trocadéro roundabout barely 5 minutes from the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Drinks, however, are expensive, because Parisians love ordering a drink and sitting around chatting and people watching for hours, thus restaurants price their drinks accordingly. Our café crema cost €4.80!

We both go for the same choice of starter - the Hard Boiled Egg with Mayonnaise. It looks and sounds a little ordinary, but it wasn't too bad. Sort of like a fancy egg mayo salad.

For mains, we also choose the same Beef Steak with Maitre d'Hotel Butter and a ridiculously large serving of fries. We're not sure what cut of meat this is, but it was definitely one of the cheaper parts of the cow (flank steak, perhaps). Taste-wise, pretty decent for this price range.

Desserts wise, the Crème_caramel was solid but not special, and the Ice Cream (we chose Pistachio and Chocolate Mint) was likewise rather par for the course.

So nothing particularly grand or gourmet here, but for €16 I do think it was pretty good value for money. Prices in France are Prix Service Compris (service charge already included), so large tips are not normally given or expected.

Le Malakoff is on the "side" of the Eiffel Tower across the River Seine - walk slightly further away from that platform that everyone stands on to take photos of the Tower, and you'll see it nestled among the 4 or so restaurants along the roundabout. Waiters speak English and there's an English menu, so no worries if your French isn't up to par. Non-halal.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Awesomely cheap crabs and prawns at Yi Jia Restoran, Johor Bahru.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of crabs. It just seems such a huge hassle to have to crack open the shells and pick out the meet a teaspoonful at a time. Not to mention the almighty mess to clean off your fingers afterwards.

I do like eating them, though, particularly if the cooking style is nice, and especially if the crabs are of the large, meaty, and with huge claws variety ... which is why we're in JB's Yi Jia Restoran to get our crab on.

Fried rice, sufficiently well cooked and with good wok hei; but to me Fried rice is little more than flavoured tummy filler.

Moving on quickly to the 'proper' food, starting with the Stir Fried Scallop with Seasonal Vegetables. Delicately flavored as to not overpower the taste of the scallops, this vege dish was pretty nice.

Yi Jia Crispy Chicken was a rather interesting dish. The chicken is pounded out flat like a pancake, and roasted such that the skin crisped and crackled in the mouth - not unlike a nicely roasted suckling pig. Highly recommended.

The Butter Prawn came with the shells on and bathed in a delicious creamy (with a hint of cheese, too) butter sauce. As you can see, the man tau (buns) were already pre-dipped in the sauce, but I'd rather have them serve it separately so I can decide for myself how much sauce I want the bread to soak up.

For the star of the evening, we try the Golden Egg Yolk style of Crab. I've eaten the dry-fried egg yolk style many times in the past, but this is the first time I'm eating it wet-style. I found the sauce also very nice and creamy, and the crabs were big and full of sweet, firm crab meat.

Yi Jia Restoran is located at 27 & 29, Jalan Setia Indah, Johor Bahru. It's actually a fairly long drive - close to 20km - from JB city centre, so you'll need to drive. Try to show up early, too, because the restaurant gets packed quite early in the night. Non halal.

Unfortunately I didn't keep the receipt so I don't know the exact cost of each dish, but the bill came out to slightly over RM40 per person.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Samsui Ginger Chicken at Soup Restaurant, Changi T2

You'd expect a restaurant named Soup Restaurant to, you know ... specialize in hot, double-boiled, chinese soup. But it's actually pretty similar to any other chinese restaurant with a whole range of different dishes on the menu - and only a small section dedicated to soup.

Set menus are available - we go for the Chinatown Healthy Set Menu which is SGD48.80 (before service charge/tax) for two people.

The Double Boiled Waisan & Ginseng Roots with Chicken Soup comes in single-person portions. I'm sure most of you know this already, but "double boiled" doesn't actually mean that the soup was boiled twice. It simply means that the soup pot was placed over another pot of boiling/simmering water, and so it's heated only indirectly by the heat of the steam (and not directly by the flame).

As for the taste of this particular soup, I have to say that I enjoyed the strong bitterness of the Ginseng very much. Most commercial ginseng soups are watery and weak and have just a hint of ginseng taste. Not this soup though, in which ginseng is the star of the show.

The house specialty is the Samsui Ginger Chicken, which has a bit of a history, supposedly originating from the samsui women in old Chinatown. It's basically steamed chicken, eaten with a fragrant ginger sauce wrapped in lettuce. Which to be honest feels an awful lot like eating steamed Hainanese Chicken Rice (without the rice).

That's not to say that it's a bad dish, because it's actually pretty nice. The chicken is smooth and fragrant, and the ginger sauce doesn't have a very strong "raw" ginger taste as to overpower everything.

The other two dishes, however, were a little lacklustre. The Steamed San Yu Fish Slices are cold and not particularly mouth-watering, and the Ah Por Fan Shu Leaves taste too home-cooked to really justify paying a lot more money to eat in a restaurant.

Some hits and misses, but overall a decent place to go to for some traditional Chinese fair. This particular outlet of Soup Restaurant is located at Changi Airport Terminal 2 and is open for Lunch and Dinner seven days a week. Non-halal.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Petrus by Gordon Ramsay (1 Michelin Star)

Gordon Ramsay is probably Britain (and arguably the World's) most "celebrity" chef. So much so that even people with no interest in the culinary world would probably have seen him from one of his many TV ventures (like Hell's Kitchen or Masterchef, for example).

It's not all a bed of roses for the Chef who currently holds 12 Michelin stars, though. Petrus, reviewed here, was originally opened at the Berkeley Hotel and helmed by Gordon's then-protege Marcus Wareing. The two had a very public falling-out, Wareing split from Gordon Ramsay Holdings, but didn't take the restaurant name with him.

So this new restaruant, then, is Gordon Ramsay's attempt to re-invent or re-introduce Petrus to the London dining scene.

The dining hall is bright and airy, and is circularly centered around the round central wine cellar. What I find odd is that the windows facing the street aren't particularly well tinted, so it gets quite glaring when the sun's out.

We're here for the £30 3-course set lunch, which starts off with an amuse bouche of breaded Venison 'nugget' served with apple slices and tartare sauce; tender, crispy and delicious.

The complimentary bread with salted butter ... was rather ordinary and nothing to write home about.

For starters, I go for the Tartar of Casterbridge beef with toasted brioche, foie gras, baby artichoke and quail’s egg. It's the first time I've eaten Beef Tartare (i.e. raw beef), so I'm not so sure how this really stacks up, but against my expectations it was actually very dainty and delicate-tasting.

Like during our meal at Dinner, though, I don't at all care for the pickled vegetables.

Moving on to the Pan fried and marinated Cornish mackerel with sour cream, compressed cucumber and pine nuts; which oddly enough reminds us of japanese-style saba shioyaki. Except much juicier, more tender, and with less seasoning as to let the taste of the fish shine through the salt.

For mains, I go with the Crispy Suffolk pork belly with black pudding and sage jus. The pork is tasty on its' own, but the addition of the black pudding and the mango/pear/prune salsa really elevate the taste.

Shame, then, that the skin of the pork was not at all crispy. Gordon should fly to any random Chinese city and learn how they make their siew yuk, because the skin is tough and mushy and sticks all around the molars after some chewing, which ruins the experience somewhat.

The other main course we chose was the Poached breast of chicken, lasagna of confit leg, shallots and lemon thyme jus, and it really opens our eyes as to how good a chicken dish can be.

Oh, main courses are served with side dishes of brocolli with lemon zest, and seared potatoes, which were pretty good. Complimentary, too, which is icing on the cake.

After the main courses, another complimentary mini-course of coronet with passion fruit cream. Oh, and with popping candy at the bottom for a pleasant surprise ending.

For desserts, we start with Chocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycomb. This photo doesn't look as good as it should; I sort of neglected to take a photo of the sphere before the waiter poured the hot chocolate sauce over the sphere, melting the chocolate before it re-solidifies over the milk ice cream.

Orange and vanilla baked Alaska, Grand Marnier sauce is the other dessert we try, and is equally as delicious, if perhaps not as flamboyant.

To cap off the meal, yet another complimentary mini-course of four white chocolate balls served in a bed of dry ice.

Overall, the amount and quality of the food, coupled with the impeccable service, was a steal for the price we paid - £33.75 net per person after the 12.5% discretionary service charge. Which makes it all the more frustrating in comparison with fine dining in Singapore where similar food with worse service would easily cost double.

Petrus is near Knightsbridge Metro; but it's situated a fair bit out of the way and needs a 15-minute-or-so walk.