Saturday, December 09, 2006

Grain Ideas

The whole world loves sushi. It’s healthy, it’s wholesome and virtually you can play anyway around it, with it and still have a great morsel to bite on. You can roll in, invert it, cone it and even shape it to your fancy. It can be vegetarian, paired with raw or cooked meat and seafood and beyond Japanese flavours, sushi has gone cosmopolitan which incorporates many other Asian influences of flavours. It allows the Chef to express his creativity to the fullest and calls for a refinement in skills when it comes to presentation and serving. All sushi must contain vinegared short grain rice and most of the time; they are wrapped with seaweed though there could also be some different variations occasionally.

As the whole world embraces the mushrooming of Japanese restaurants globally, Chefs are inspired to make new types of combinations and creations to keep customers happy and interested. Beyond the traditional raw seafood toppings and regular maki rolls, Chefs have also introduced foie gras, steak, smoked salmon, proscuitto and even ceviche as new sushi ideas. Undisputedly, the culinary world takes references from cosmopolitan sushi masters like Nobu Matsuhisa (Nobu,Ubon) and Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya’s) for new and trendy ideas. Out of traditional borders, Chefs now experiment with all kinds of ingredients and come out with different types of sauces for taste and creative presentation of the new ideas. While traditional sushi and makis will remain as anchor items in every decent Japanese restaurant menu, Chefs are also beginning to realize that these new creations are proving to be an important significant increase to their bottom line due to their popularity and customers’ adventurous curiosity.

There are many rice pairing recipes under the Asian umbrella of cuisines and flavours. Asia being the biggest rice eating continent has many traditional dishes that are eaten or cooked with rice and these provide the platform for the next generation of creative money spinning ideas when menus need to be revamped. There are no right and wrongs in cooking and creating new dishes. Chefs need to use their experience and instinct to come out with the right balance in taste, flavours, presentation, cost issues and feasibility in execution during peak service hours.

From spicy toppings to bland ingredients that require “jerk” sauces to uplift flavours, Chefs will have to find their own unique creations in their own playgrounds while tapping on the multi channels communication media to see what is catching on with customers of today restaurants. They will still need to respect the characteristics of each ingredient and the aesthetics of different cuisines which is often used as background reference to new recipes development.

Chefs cannot ignore “the naturally made in heaven marriages” of certain ingredients like ginger and soy, but they can always refer back to such pairings when creating new ideas through ingredient substitutions, alterations or proportionate adjustments to achieve taste and presentation for new recipes. For example, a tempura battered seaweed roll when sliced across, may served as a platform for a spicy ginger marinated raw tuna topping providing visual presentation of colours and food styling.

Hence, “one should go forth and multiply!”

The Duck, The Monk and The Lobster

Royal China @ The Raffles Hotel
328 North Bridge Road
#03-09 Raffles Hotel Arcade
Singapore 188719
Tel:65 6412 1330

Having had a full day of cooking workshops, we wanted to go somewhere where parking was easy, not too noisy or crowded and we could have some peace while enjoying a nice quiet dinner. We decided to go back to Royal China @ the Raffles Hotel for our favourite Crispy Duck in Crepes and I wanted to try the Lobster Noodle that many have been talking about and their special Steamed Almond Paste Dessert.

It has been more than three years since Royal China took over from the former Empress Room without much change except introducing a new kitchen team with a new menu. So walking in was like a reminiscence of the old Empress Room which we last ate when Chef Yong Bing Ngen was still at the helm.

To be honest, it is not easy to run a private restaurant in a hotel that prides itself as an icon in the hospitality industry. Besides having to live up to the expectations alongside such a fine establishment, standards in service and quality of food and innovative menus have to be constantly maintained. This is not the first time we are eating at Royal China and like other previous times we ate here, there are some hit and misses. For a start, the service this time round was much better although they could do better with a more English language proficient staff to handle reservations and requests. As expected, the restaurant wasn’t that full when we turn up. After all Singaporean customers are spoilt for choices when it comes to food and have no sense of loyalty since new restaurants keep springing up every couple of months. From a positive angle, I expected better service compared to the previous time as the service staffs were not overstretched.

We had the Crispy Aromatic Duck in Crepes (香酥鸭) for starters and this has always been our favourite item. The duck is deboned, marinated in five spices and steamed to tenderness before being blanched in hot oil for a layer of crispiness with the tender meat beneath as you bite. I have always related this dish to that of crispy skin duck confit in French cooking minus the salty dimension. Like wise it is served with a sweetish sauce which in this case is the regular Hoi Sin sauce and traditional condiments like shredded cucumber and spring onions. The staffs were experience enough to shred up the meat quickly and wrapping it in the steaming hot wheat flour crepes so that we could enjoy the crepes still warm. On biting in, we experienced a sensation of crispy bits of skin, aromatic meat and crunchy cucumbers complimented with a savoury sweet Hoisin sauce. One is never enough, two is satisfying and although I could easily eat a few more rolls as a meal, we needed to keep some space for two other incoming dishes.

We had the shark bone soup during the last round here and it was comparable to the one at Hua Ting in Orchard Hotel but slightly less fragrant and more gelatinous in texture. Feeling tired from a whole day of workshops, I preferred a more soupy broth than something thick and gelatinous so we took on a Mini Buddha Jump Over the Wall each. This is a rich soupy both is prepared with superior chicken stock made from simmering old mother hens, paired with gourmet ingredients like mini abalone, fish maw, sea cucumber, sharks fin and dried scallop. Legend has it that chefs in a noble house were preparing this rich juxtaposition brew of gourmet ingredients in the backyard as a new dish while pondering over a name for it. The resulting aromas were so good that it attracted a passing monk who was so captivated by it that it aroused his curiosity to find out what was being cooked behind the wall. As he couldn’t resist any longer, he jumped over the wall to satisfy his curiosity and at that moment, the chefs aptly named the dish after the incident upon hearing the monk’ explanation for his actions.

Since then, this dish has become a signature benchmark for many good Chinese restaurants and is especially ordered during festives like Lunar New Year and birthday occasions. Arriving in a mini casserole each, we open the lid to a delicious whiff of aromas and a full bowl of the gourmet ingredients in a steaming broth. N enjoyed this dish very much as it was her first experience and taking our time, we drank till the last drop of goodness.

Our main dish was the Lobster Noodle featuring a freshly slaughtered Boston Lobster. This has always been their signature dish and I decided to try it this time round with N only as our past dinning companions were not keen on lobster. With a minimum weight of 600g, our lobster was cooked in ginger and spring onion style with the egg noodles braised in its own gravy that is enhanced with oyster sauce and wine. The dish look impressive when it arrived and my first instinct was to taste the noodles first as they have soaked up the sweetness of the lobster juices. The flavour was good and as we started to work on the lobster, we realize that we had gotten a water logged crustacean. The meat had shrunk by more than 50% after cooking and by no means was the lobster overcooked either. I was little disappointed as I felt that the restaurant could have done more to ensure the quality of the seafood since we were paying such a premium price over it. I spoke with our table’s captain and all he could do was to shrug his shoulders and tell us to order the more expensive grade of lobster next round. Would you if you were in my shoes? While the taste of the noodles were great, the portion size was only good enough for one. However we got over with that quickly as we have desserts coming by later.

There are other great dishes that we have tried on previous visits and they include the Wok Fried Bai Ling Mushrooms and their Seabass in Two Ways.

All this while in the course of our dining, the service has been rather pleasant though , as they were attentive but not intrusive. N had chosen the Steamed Almond Paste in Young Coconut while I took on the Mango and Glutinous Rice with Coconut Ice cream. My dessert was plain simple and straight forward and I found the little touch of Black Glutinous Rice on the Mango rather pleasant to the eye and taste. The Steamed Almond Paste was rather good too except its elegance was ruined by the use of cheap tapioca pearls as a garnish. It’s like drinking a hot bubble tea. A touch of apricot kernels or fresh lily bulbs with some honey soaked wolfberries would have been much better instead.

As we settled the bill, I realized that they had also charged for the egg noodles that came with the lobster. Consider that we are paying such a premium price for a lousy lobster; I would have expected the noodles to be complimentary. No, they charged us $5.00 for a bundle that was good enough only for one. Perhaps it was made with lobster eggs and that's why…….

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Comfort Cheeks

Although a Veal Cheeks dish is quite a common item found on the menus of finer restaurants, it is not a cut of meat that is easily available to weekend domestic chefs, nevetheless it should be a wonderful experience to savoir it when deliciously cooked.

Wine Braised Veal Cheeks with Leek Mash and Chanterelles Mushrooms
4 portions:

600g Veal Cheeks or Pork Shoulder, cut into 3cm cubes
1tbsp Dark Soya Sauce
2tbsps Cornstarch/Potato Starch
Oil for cooking
4tbsps Oil
140g Whole Shallots
8 Garlic
1pc Cinnamon Steak
2pcs Star Anise
1tbsp Cloves
2pcs Ginger
2tbsp Taucheo
1tbsp Dark Soya Sauce
1litre Beef Stock or Chicken Stock if using pork
Salt to taste
2tbsps Sugar
1/2tsp Coarse Ground Black Pepper
50ml Shaoxing Wine
Leek Mash:
200g Leeks, cut into 2cm pcs
50ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 large Idaho Potatoes, cut into cubes,
½ tsp Salt
1/4tsp Coarse Ground Black Pepper
4tbsps Cream
80g Chanterelles Mushrooms
150g Yellow Squash or Zucchini
Crispy Fried Onions
Green Chives

Preparation Method:

Marinate veal cheeks with dark soya sauce and cornstarch for 10 minutes. Heat 2 tbsps oil in pan until smoking and seal the meat briefly.

Heat the 4 tbsps of oil in a stewing pot and sauté the whole shallots and garlic cloves till fragrant. Add the dry spice and ginger and cook for another minute. Pour in the dark soya sauce and stock, bring to the boil and simmer till meat is tender, about 40-50 minutes.

Blanch the leeks till soft and blend together with olive oil into a puree. Boil the potatoes till soft, drain and mash. Mix in the leek puree and season with salt and pepper. Add the cream, mix well and set aside.

When meat is tender, strain the stew, retaining the meat and whole shallots. Discard the garlic and spices and bring stew back to boil, add the mushrooms and squashes to cook for 2-3 minutes. Adjust with salt, sugar and pepper to taste. Pour in the wine and simmer for another 2 minutes.

Divide stew into 4 portions and serve with the leek mash, garnished with crispy fried onions and chives.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Eggstra Recipe

I practically love eggs in anyway, soy braised, fried, boiled, steamed...etc.Thankfully I am not one of those who are allergic eggs or I would have been missing out on many things(Food) in life. This recipe is inspired by one of my primary school teachers who cooked a mean but extremely delicious Sambal Telor for breakfast for us during school camp. We had Nasi Lemak for breakfastwith only this dish and cucumbers so all the attention was focused on this wonderful dish with a great sambal chili. This is one of the best memories of my childhood. For the health conscious, you can choose not to deep fry the egg.

Deep Fried Eggs with Sambal Goreng and Condiments
4 Portions

100ml Corn Oil
120g Ground Shallots
½ tsp Belachan Powder
150ml Chili Paste
2-3tbsps Sugar
½ tsp Salt
4 nos Eggs, hardboiled, peeled
Oil for deep frying
1 large Tomato, seeded and diced
2 stalks Spring Onions
3 tbsps Deep Fried Shallots
Lettuce Leaves

Preparation Method:
Heat up corn oil and fry ground shallots till fragrant. Add the belachan powder and chilli paste to cook for another 2 minutes.

Pour in sugar, reduce fire to low and cook the sambal for 20 minutes adding a little water if necessary to thin out evaporation loss along the way.

Heat up oil for deep frying until slightly smoking. Deep fry the hardboiled eggs till golden brown. Slice the eggs into half and arrange on plate lined with lettuce leaves.

Spoon the sambal over the eggs and garnish with the condiments before serving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Chan Mali Chan

Hua Ting Restaurant
Orchard Hotel
Address:442 Orchard Road
Singapore 238879
Contact Details: (65) 6734 3880 or (65) 6734 3872

There are two well known Chef Chans in the Chinese culinary circle in Singapore. Both have been around for more than 20 years and have a fair share of merits and signature dishes. The two that I am referring to here is Chef Chan Chen Hei from Chef Chan’s Cantonese Kitchen 神厨三绝and Chef Chan Kwok from Orchard Hotel’s renowned Hua Ting Restaurant. Both chefs specialize in Cantonese Cuisines and my personal experience with them in culinary workshops and projects have found them to be very humble and down to earth culinary personalities despite their fame and celebrity status. Sadly one of them, Chef Chan Chen Hei is closing his restaurant to fulfill the other dream of his life. That is to write a bible on Chinese regional cuisines. We will miss his three signature dishes but let’s talk about them in a future blog.

The other chef, Chan Kwok is also a well known Masterchef with a long list of signature items and an equal long list of culinary accolades. A well respected veteran in the Chinese restaurant industry, Chef Chan has been garnering different awards since 1997 with the peak at last year,s World Gourmet Summit event where he was conferred the title of Best Asian Ethnic Chef Award. Still despite the various resounding achievements, Chef Chan Kwok has always remained a soft spoken man of immeasurable humility. Always so ever accommodating with a warm smile, inviting Chef Chan Kwok as a guest chef and demo speaker for some of the projects that I have done has never been easier than with other big ego Chinese Chefs in town who do not even match his experience and culinary prowess. His signature dishes have achieved much public recognition for finesse in execution and refinement in taste. Ask the restaurant captains when you are at the restaurant for their daily specialties which seldom disappoint unless you do not have a taste for it. Some of my favourites dishes include:

Braised King Eel with Roast Pork and Caramelised Garlic
One of their daily specialties not listed in the menu, the chunky fresh king eel is first deep fried to seal in the juices before being braised in a light oyster flavoured sauce with caramelized garlic, superior shitake mushrooms and roast pork. The accompanying blanched Beijing cabbage soak up the extra sauce and the roasted pork provide an extra depth of richness to the sauce which went down very well with plain rice.

Stewed Mee Pok in XO Sauce
I tried this dish during one of Chef Chan’s presentation for a Professional Chefs Workshop and fell in love with it immediately. The all luxurious gourmet XO sauce paired with a humble Mee Pok is like a Cinderella and Prince Charming inspired culinary story. Instantly elevated to a different level of sophistication, the Mee Pok carried very well the taste of the XO sauce on the palate and it was so good that you can even just leave the accompanying prawns out.

Crispy Skin Roast Pork Belly
An intensive skill and patience required recipe, Chef Chan executes it really well with good quality pork belly with a nice balance of fat and lean meat that keeps the meat juicy with a good bite. The benchmark is to get the skin really crisp without be brittle and lovely moist meat with no unpleasant greasy aftertaste. Dip into spicy mustard; it is overwhelmingly delicious for every bite.

Traditional Honey Glazed Charsiew
Another merit to Chef Chan’s expertise in the art of roasting meats, the well marinated Charsiew with fragrance of Chinese five spice and a subtle hint of fermented red bean curd makes this mouth watering maroon red coloured roast pork a must try on its own or as part of Hua Ting’s Deluxe Cold Appetisers Combination.

Wok Fried Grass Carp Fillets with Asparagus
A subtle stir fry of velvety smooth fish fillets given a flash in the pan to retain its moist taste and wonderful texture. The dish relies heavy on the Chef’s ability to control the strength of the fire during sautéing in order to maintain the harmonious synergy of the fresh crunchy asparagus and the delicate fish fillets with light touch of seasoning and stock.,

Soya Braised Chicken with Ginger and Spring Onion Confit
My wife, N proclaimed this to be one of the best she has tasted during her recent cravings for soya braised chicken. The well braised chicken in superior soy had a very appetizing colour and delicious aroma. The meat was very flavourful and tender and N remarked that the next time we come by again, we should just order the chicken alone which is good enough to satisfy her.
The accompanying Ginger and Spring Onion Confit was a pleasure to eat even on its own with plain rice. This is one of the best sauces in Chinese cuisine as it has a wide affinity for many different ingredients.

Deep Fried Sliver Bait with Chilies and Salt
The ultimate beer accompaniment that is so light and crispy, it’s impossible to stop once you get started. Mum commented this was one of the best and Lei Garden’s version doesn’t even come close. An excellent batter is the secret to the success to this simple and humble dish.

Fresh Prawn and Seaweed Rolls
Offered for Dim Sum as well, these plump juicy rolls of marinated fresh prawns in beancurd skin and seaweed are fried to a lovely golden brown accompanied with regular Worcestershire sauce. I would have preferred something more exciting like wasabi mayonnaise but the lovely house made chili dipping sauce with fermented yellow beans made up for the lackluster Worcestershire sauce. Simple yet elegant ly prepared.

Homemade Tofu on Watercress with trio of Eggs ,Dried Scallop Broth
This is a classic Cantonese home style recipe elevated to elegance with Chef Chan’s creativity. Using a piece of nice smooth homemade tofu deep fried with a light egg batter, the chef places it on top of a bed of sauteed watercress, pairing it with a superlative broth of dried scallop and rich stock. Three kinds of eggs, fresh, salted and preserve eggs provide colour and delicious umami flavours to this lovely light dish.

Pan Fried Gindara with Honey Soy Glaze

Gindara or black cod as it is known in Japan is considered to be one notch more superior than Chilean Sea Bass that we commonly see nowadays. The piece that I had prepared by Chef Chan was very succulent and moist, accompanied by a lovely honey soy glaze with subtle notes of mushrooms on the background. It was so good that I finished in three bites and was so tempted to ask for a deep fried mantou to mop up the extra sauce.

Shark Bone Cartilage Soup with Superior Sharks Fin, Jin Hua Ham and Wolfberries.
Chef Chan’s ultimate signature dish that showcases his culinary prowess, this creamy gelatinous broth has everything that it takes to make except cream. Shark bone cartilage is well known for giving soups a gelatinous silky smooth texture, but it takes a real skilful chef to understand the necessary steps and techniques to achieve that. The fins are always cooked to a delectable slightly crunchy tenderness with generous portion sizes in the accompanying superior broth. A small piece of Jin Hua Ham provides the necessary umami deliciousness dimension to the soup, balanced by subtle sweetness of a few wolf berries. For the ultimate experience, this is a must have

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cooking From The Earth

Flip open any high end restaurant menu and it is not unusual to find dishes with descriptions advocating the use of fresh ingredients supplied by farms within the region of the property. Many restaurants emphasize on the relationship of Chefs with local and regional farmers. These ingredients are prepared in the luxury of new technology oriented equipments in posh kitchen environments. While it is a seductive marketing tool to exploit the freshness of the readily available ingredients as unique selling points, in reality, sometimes too much handling in the preparation process makes the end results not much different to that of using regular supermarket grade stuff.
Like many other chefs who have dealt with farm fresh ingredients, I had the opportunity to try it out again but in the entire reversal way, right down to the environment and cooking. It would be interesting to experience produce straight from the earth to the pan and savouring it from the very hands that cultivates these crops at the location where they are grown. My wife, N and I spent a day in the Sichuan countryside in the mist of a cold December winter doing just that.
Cooking from the Earth

The place:
The ride out of the city took about one and a half hours. Weaving in and out of the chaotic morning city traffic with relentless horning, our driver, Li, had to contest with heavy city smog and potholes as well. Our destination was a farm in Peng Shan village, about 65km south of Chengdu City, Sichuan China. Before arrival, we made a stop at a fish farm where we picked up a grass carp straight from the pond for lunch as well. We had to struggle and rock for another twenty minutes on off-beaten tracks before reaching our final destination. The poor fish by now was total concussed. Well, maybe that would make it less painful to go under the knife. Li took the fish to his parents who where getting ready to cook lunch. Li’s ancestors had passed on the old farmhouse and farming was the main occupation until his generation. Being old means it has no fancy kitchen with modern gadgets but just basic electricity for lighting and water for cooking. Not even a refrigerator.

As Li’s father took out the fish to clean, we walk around the farm to see the vegetables that had been cultivated. Being winter, we came across fields of canola, turnips, round cabbages, napa cabbages, potatoes, pea shoots, red carrots and celery. Citrus fruits like tangerine, kumquats and pomelos were also in season. With some potatoes, turnips and pea shoots, we troop back to the kitchen where Li showed us a slab of freshly made tofu. No machine just an ancient stone grinder. The soymilk was extracted by grinding the soybeans in the grinder, which keeps the milk cool without affecting its quality and taste. A coagulant was added into the soymilk to allow it to set before being cut up.
As Li’s parents prepared the harvested vegetables, Li brought us to a shed where slabs of marinated streaky pork and sausages were hung. The meat was from a pig slaughtered at the beginning of winter where much of it was reserved for preservation through curing or prepared as stuffing into sausages made with skin from the intestines. Li explained that one pig was enough to feed his folks for the entire winter. Nothing from the animal is wasted as the innards are consumed as well, usually first as they do not keep well. After smoking, the cured meat and sausages were hung out to dry in the cold winter air, which helps to preserve and makes it more flavourful. The sausages were similar to Spanish chorizos, as they have been spiced with chili powder and Sichuan Peppercorns, while the streaky pork reminded me of pancetta from Italy. Li took a slab of the cured pork and sliced off a few sausages to be served for lunch.
By now, the carp had been cleaned and cut into pieces. Mrs Li proudly showed us a bowl of homemade spicy fermented bean sauce (Dou Ban Jiang) which is essentially the soul of Sichuan cuisine. Bearing in mind that they do not have the benefits of refrigeration, it is imperative that sometimes these folks have to make their own cooking sauces when town is just too far away for a bottle of sauce. Oh how fortunate we city folks are taking that for granted everyday! This time round, Mrs Li wanted to teach her son how to cook the fish as he had moved to the city and was almost eating out everyday. As mother and son took turns to fry the fish, old Mr Li just made sure that they have a good fire to work on by feeding the furnace with dried corn cobs, husks and firewood. Talk about family bonding, this can’t be better.

The meal:
Besides the fish that was served with the spicy fermented bean sauce, our host had also made a stew of radishes and potatoes, stir fried leeks with preserved smoked pork and ginger, tofu soup with freshly picked pea shoots and the wonderful spicy sliced sausages. All were simple home cooked fare with a rustic countryside feeling. Rice was the staple and the different depths of flavours from each dish were complimentary with rice as the perfect bridge in between. Every bite was a reminder that food can taste just as good as long as it is done the right way irregardless on where you eat. Tofu has never tasted so fragrant compared to commercial ones, peas shoots were exceptionally fresh and tender, the smokiness of the cured pork and sausages provided a rustic touch to the meal, the stew of potatoes with radishes provided comfort and the grass carp with spicy fermented bean sauce provided familiarity, warmth and deliciousness. All I can say is that despite not having luxurious settings or pampering service, we were not missing any of it as we know already know what we are in for. Other than some unusual Chinese eating habits by the Li family which I and my wife are not really too comfortable with, I could find no fault with the taste of the food that was so lovingly cooked. Our hosts were more than happy that city folks like us are able to appreciate such peasant style cuisine which has been an eye opening and learning experience for us.

As we took our own chairs out to the court yard for a short moment of rest and relaxation, we craved for after meal indulgences like a good expresso or wine with cheese and music. Well I guess a tea art session and fresh tangerines with erhu music might be more appropriate. Most importantly, without the sounds or noise from urbanization, the peacefulness is just invaluable for that few moments. While the rest of the world agonizes about terrorism, bird flu pandemics and war, it’s just another day in day out for the Li folks who other than working in their own fields do not really care about the world beyond their own parameters.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cocoa Sensations

The Chocolate Factory
The Pier on Robertson Quay
80 Mohamed Sultan Road#01-11
Singapore 239013
Telephone: 62359007
Fax:: 63000691

Chocoholics will love this new place entirely dedicated to the cocoa bean. Pastry Chef Laurent Bernard is the man behind all its entire range of chocolate related pastries, desserts and fine pralines. The man is a wizard in the art of chocolate making which is an important discipline in the culinary world of pastry arts. Making good chocolates not only relies on good skills and quality ingredients, the environment have to be right too. Such is that a part of The Chocolate Factory is carved out specifically just for the production of chocolates with temperature and humidity controlled. The chocolate room displays all of Chef Bernard’s creations where customers can get to see him sometimes in action too. Using one of the world’s finest chocolate covertures from Amedei, Tuscany, Chef Bernard transforms them into individual elegant pieces of art and indulgence featuring different types of spices, fruits, nuts and flavours.

Besides making chocolates, Chef Bernard also offers a menu that showcases his culinary prowess in the art of pastry. Regular chocolate related desserts like Chocolate Souffles, chocolate garnache filled gateaux cakes and a very smooth Chocolate Pie were some of the items available. Brownies, chocolate cookies and biscottis are also available and there is always the house made hot chocolate to wash down the pastries. A regular selection of different blends of coffee and gourmet teas are available too as an alternative.

The must try here is the Chocolate Souffle which is a test of the Chef’s skills. As the soufflé is baked only upon order, be prepared to wait at least 20 minutes or more if there are other orders in front of you. It is however worth the wait as the well risen soufflé comes with a nice bittersweet chocolate sauce on the side. The hot soufflé drenched with the chocolate sauce is simply heavenly on the palette and it will make the most difficult tantrum throwing lady smile too! The well beaten meringue provides the soufflé with light airy texture and the bitter chocolate comes through during the baking process against the sweet meringue.

The other must try is the Chocolate Tart With Fresh Strawberries, Chocolate Tuiles and Whipped Cream. Filled with extra smooth garnache, the elegant tart was the perfect accompaniment to the Lemon Verbena tea that we ordered. The pastry crust had a buttery fragrant but was not oily or greasy at all on the palate. My wife N commented that this was one of the best chocolate tarts she has ever tasted and I fully agree too. In fact it would be nicer if it was served with dark chocolate ice cream but the whipped cream was fine too.

For a pair of Chocoholics like us, it was an afternoon of sweet talk and pure indulgence.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Teh Si Kosong (Tea with Milk no Sugar)

The V Tea Room
#01-02/04 SINGAPORE 039802
Sun - Thurs: 1pm - 10pm
Fri - Sat: 1pm -11pm
Tel333 1965

My wife N, who has ¼ British blood in her heritage has a penchant for all things with Anglo Saxon associations. English Tea, Marks and Spencer, Harrods, Fish and Chips and the Raffles Hotel are some of the things and icons that can set her rattling away in the Queen’s English. Anyway one of the latest Anglo culture to hit us this year is the opening of the V Tea Room in Esplanade Mall. Designed to look like a typical Victorian Time English Tea Room with all the necessary props and even staff in housemaid uniforms, N has been nudging me to check it out for weeks and until we found time during the last long weekend, we finally made it there. From the pictures featured the media reviews and write ups, you would presume the place to be reasonably big but actually it is not. At most, it can only take in 30pax in a full capacity. So it makes sense to make a booking first before coming down.

Stepping in, my feel was that the décor and layout made me feel like I had just stepped into the tea and coffee retail department of Harrods in London. In the middle of the room, there it stood a cake display with the house specialties in it. Looking through the classically written and designed menu, the prices also look like those in Harrods. Written in Victorian manuscript, it takes two point five seconds longer to understand each word.

Being an English concept, the cakes offered were typically European favourites and liqueur flavoured tea cakes are one of its specialties. Besides cakes, it also has home made ice creams, cookies in elegant boxes with elegant prices. A small savoury menu compliments the pastries and sweets together with an extensive selection of tea blends, regular and flavoured coffee. I must say that the service here is very good and from the time of reservation till sitting down with the menu on hand, the servers have taken all that is necessary to make us feel comfortable. What I am impressed is that they also have good knowledge on the items in the menus and other products that is sold in the tea room, right down to explaining to you how the various different types of cookies are made and their taste profile. Certainly you don’t get this kind of service often in Singaporean restaurants.

Having skipped lunch, we ordered a Mortadella Sausage and Cheese Quiche, Shepherd’s Pie with Meat Loaf and House Special Mushroom Sauce, Three Queens Liqueur Tea Cake and Home Made Hazelnut Ice Cream. For tea, we took on an Early Grey-Lavender blend and a Lychee Rose Blend. Tea is served from dainty trolleys with traditional English tea service and fine bone china. All has been well until the food we order arrived. Bearing in mind that we are paying a premium price for such a concept on everything we ordered from the menu, I expected the food to live up to the service and décor as well. We got a large wedge (it better be) of quiche with two thin slices of Mortadella Sausage and some unexciting cheese topping. I was wondering given the price we are paying for and all the time we have, why can’t they bake us a nice small 4-5inch tartlet instead of giving us a slice of a pre baked tart? The Emmental Cheese flavour was missing and the custard was full of onions. It tasted plain, buttery and unexciting at all and I don’t understand why they serve it with sliced Valencia oranges which happened to very sour on that day too. That was a first disappointment and just as we put down our forks, the Shepherds Pie arrived. I can accept if they try to be a bit innovative in presenting the pie in a different way from the regular mash potato topping on top and the meat stew below. However our Shepherd’s Pie came the other way. The mash potato wasn’t creamy at all and in fact tasted more like Potatoes Au Gratin so I looked into the menu again to make sure what I ordered was right. Yes! It says Shepherds Pie with Meat Loaf and I am staring at two slices of rolled up picnic ham. FYI, meat loaf is supposed to a thick slice of a cooked meat terrine and it tastes something like premium luncheon meat. You can’t put rolled up picnic ham and try to pass it off as meat loaf to your customers like that. It’s heaven an earth to bite into a slice of picnic ham and a real meat loaf. To rub it in, it was picnic ham and not shoulder ham despite the premium price tag. The special mushroom sauce was a thicken version of foodservice mushroom soup with a few slices of button mushrooms and a cup of cream poured in. It totally lacks body and a proper mushroom direction. I mean rather than just the measly few pieces of button mushroom, why not some dried porcinis? That would have really helped. Food Cost is not an excuse here, after all we are already paying such a premium for it, which for that, better flavour mushrooms should be expected.

In between clearing away the first dishes and desserts, our server went through the entire cookie list and sampling with us. Don’t be mistaken that we got to bite a small chunk for each variety, you only get a small button and hopefully you can spread that all over your mouth to enjoy the flavours.

Desserts came soon after and we witness the three pourings of different liqueurs over our tea cake. It’s a secret blend of Kahlua, Grand Marnier and Baileys Irish Cream liquers. The tea cake is baked with a generous amount of macadamias and dark chocolate, served with an orange butterscotch sauce. The taste and combinations of liquers made the cake more interesting although I found the orange sauce a little too overpowering. Still it was a comfort from the two disasters earlier.

The finale was the Homemade Hazelnut Ice Cream. I appreciate the generous coarse bits of hazelnuts in the ice cream and it does look and tasted home made. How to tell the difference? Commercial ice creams have emulsifiers and stabilizers in their recipes hence the ice cream does not melt that fast into a watery mess, but still thick and creamy. Home made ones tend to melt much faster and becomes more watery. However the ice creams taste more natural, fuller and you can play with more exciting flavours.

Overall, I felt that the V Tea Room was selling more of a lifestyle concept than its food or drinks. Its chic appeal will attract those who would love to go there to see and be seen. Ladies will have a weakness for such places because it represents the haute couture of lifestyle living and all the pampering attention lavished on you.I am not such a fan for these places but if my wife wants an experience, I will oblige.

On my own, you probably find me next door at Max Brenner Hot Chocolate or Chocz Café on the 2nd level. As for their food, don’t even bother other than the pastries which are still worth some consideration if you have a deep pocket to dig into.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mee Tarik!

Lan Zhou La Mian
No 19, Smith Street, Singapore 058933
Tel: 6327 1286
Opened Everyday

Ever since the last time I ate a really good Zha Jiang Mian (Chinese Version of Spaghetti Bolognese) at the old Marina Square food court, I have not been able to find one that matches in terms of taste and authenticity. Not until I was recommended to try Lan Zhou La Mian for its fresh noodles and great taste. The opportunity came when a visiting chef colleague from Italy was in town. After his presentation on making fresh pasta; we took him down to this place to show him our Chinese equivalent. Lan Zhou La Mian is run by Chef Wong Seng Wai,whom some of you may recognized him as the chef in some local ads for credit cards dinning privileges. I was impressed with not only by his demo skills on hand pulling the noodles, I was also captivated by two noodle dishes that he provided for sampling. Chef Wong also explain how the noodles had to be pulled with equal amounts of strengths onboth shoulder and arm muscles. I took my wife, N, down on the following Saturday to checkout more items on Chef Wong’s menu. This time round we had two kinds of noodles, Zha Jiang Mian and Hokkien Fried Prawn Mee, both using freshly made wheat noodles, Potstickers and Chicken Chop with Plum Chili Sauce.

There are many versions of Zha Jiang Mian available in Singapore and most are crappy with no idea what an original should be. Some horror stories include using mixed frozen vegetables to bulk up the volume of the sauce in order to offset the cost of using more minced pork. Other times, there was no character in the sauce, no pungency of fermented beans and chilies, just colour. When Chef Wong’s version came out, I recognized it instantly as similar to the one I had at the old Marina Square food court. The sauce had the right colour and a nice glossy shine. With the freshly made noodles cooked to perfection and a good sauce made with fermented beans, minced pork and chilies, the simple topping of finely shredded cucumber completed the whole picture.

A whiff of “wok hei” greeted us when the Hokkien Fried Prawn Noodles came. N was totally floored by this dish especially when she ate fried prawn noodles with “wok hei” for the first time. The dish was well executed with precise handling of the noodles in the wok and the accompanying ingredients. Fresh prawns, lots of scrambled eggs and garlic chives made this dish really wonderful that N was tempting to order a second round if we weren't going to have desserts later. The potstickers were slightly smaller than the regular ones but the quality was in terms not any less good. The pastry was nicely done with a juicy filling and a fragrance of garlic chives. In fact they were one of the juiciest potstickers that I have had.

The Chicken Chops with Plum Chili Sauce was nothing to shout about and was over fried too. Nevertheless, the first three items had already won us over and next time we will know better what to order. I have heard that their Xiao Long Baos are excellent too!