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!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Give me a Kari Pap!

Fong’s Special Chicken Curry Puff
Blk 448 Clementi Ave 3
#01-45 S(120448)

I am a huge curry puff fan since SJI days and sadly I have seen what used to be many a good curry puff becomes a lesser quality product due to the course of business expansion. Just look at Old Chang Kee and Selara from the old Rex Cinemas.One can understand the ambition and desire to succeed in every business but when food is concern, it is the more personal and human touches in preparation that often delivers better results, simply because of passion and experience. Machines only produce what is fed into it. They can’t tell you that the potatoes used today are starchier and hence required less water and cooking time, resulting in a mash instead of soft chunks.

I have a deep passion and respect for those who produce handcrafted food items instead of relying heavily on machines. I strongly admire their guts that despite knowing the limitations on the number of pieces that can be produced with a pair of hands, these people still go ahead to run a business against all odds in terms of food cost, labour and ridiculous rental prices in space starved Singapore, not to mention the modest profit enough to get by day in day out. For that, their sacrifice, hard work and long hours are unmatchable.

Fong’s Curry Puff in Clementi hawker centre (Blk 448) is one such business that I know. Over the years, they have been contended to be where they are despite the media recognition and customer support that has been built up. Fong’s curry puffs are made to order and never done in big batches on advance. Hence you always get a piping hot curry puff so much so that I have often been scalded on my tongue by eating the delicious snack too hastily. It has got generous chunks of chicken meat and potatoes and a decent wedge of hardboiled egg. Most important of all, the filling is generous, nicely spiced with their homemade blend of curry powder and moist without being soggy. The thin pastry crust with some buttery notes encapsulates the generous warm moist filling and because of the right spices combination, makes every bite a lovely indulgence. Most importantly, they never make extras curry puffs to wait for customers. Rather you have to wait for them to be prepared if you happen to turn up at a non peak hour. I guess their policy is that the customers will have to chase after the piping hot curry puffs instead of the other way round. So don’t bother if you haven’t got the time to appreciated one of the best handcrafted things in life.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ray of Hope

Rong Guang Seafood BBQ
Blk 120 Bukit Merah Lane 1 #01-07/08 Singapore 150120
Time: 1630 - 2230, Off on Tuesday
Main Outlet: 62787579
301 Ulu Pandan Road Singapore 596469
Time: Daily 1700 - 0000
2nd Outlet: 64688290

While the west part if this tiny red dot island lacks a variety of better and more sophisticated restaurants, there are still many down to earth places with good food except you must be prepared to sweat it out most of the time. Some of the my favourites like Bak Chor Mee, Braised Pig Trotters, Satay Bee Hoon, Hand made Curry Puffs and Tze Char can be found on this part of the island.I have been patronizing Rong Guang Seafood BBQ long before they were discovered by the media and subsequent hub. They started off as a single stall offering the usual standard fared of BBQ Stingray and other seafood plus some simple side dishes like sambal kang kong and fried rice. While the menu wasn’t big then and most customers already know what they wanted before finding their own seats, the food speaks for itself. The special chili paste for the grilled fish and seafood, the wonderful sambal that comes with the fried rice and the generous portions help the business grew quickly by word of mouth.I have had both great experiences and some disappointments for the countless times I have been there but I must say that they always try to do better during setbacks which occurs mainly in transitional periods like new menu extension, new outlet opening, slam night (culinary jargon for full house). Most of their recipes were perfected through trial and error and I am happy to share with all reading this post what are their best signature dishes.

Their Seafood Fried Rice is one of their signature staples. I have never been a fan of fried rice by Tze Char Stalls because other than some wok flavour (hei), nothing else is interesting. Rong Guang’s Seafood Fried Rice is the only one I go for because they make it has always been tasty since I tried it the first time. Besides the nice seafood (prawns and squid rings), they also add in a generous amount of egg, spring onions and cabbage, which are also the essential elements of good fried rice. The accompanying sambal chili was a big booster to the already fragrant fried rice and you can taste the flavours of dried shrimp and belachan. Mixed with the fried rice, it’s absolutely fantastic.

The house signature which is their BBQ Stingray on Banana Leaf is the dish that propelled them to their current level of fame. The lip smacking sambal chili is one of the best that I have tasted around, well balanced with chilies and other fragrant spices. You can’t really go wrong with stingray and its quite a fatty fish so even when slightly overcooked, you end up with crispy edges and the bones being naturally soft are great to chew on and a good source of calcium. Given a squeeze of calamansi lime and some onion chinchialok relish on the side with a good dose of fresh coriander leaves, its absolutely “Shiok!” till you sweat in your scalp. My ultimate fantasy is to serve this sambal with my favourite pickled fennel which I cure freshly sliced fennel with lemon juice, sugar and fresh dill. This can only happen when I pack the fish home instead of having it there.

Rong Guang has since expanded in the last two years, taking on a new outlet at the junction of Clement and Ulu Pandan Roads. The location had been a failure for most previous restaurant ventures and so far RG has not only survived, they have also managed to pack in the crowds on weekends. Parking is ample and the food does the talking.New items on the menu include Guinness Stout Pork Ribs which was very done very well on my second visit than the first when they just opened. I was disappointed on the first round but had decided to give it a second chance. This time round, the meat was tender and not mushy due to an overdose of sodium bicarbonate. The Stout sauce had its winey character with nice sweetness and sesame fragrance. Most important it was just enough to coat the meat and nothing excess like the last round that made us feel that the meat had been drowned by the sauce.

Mee Goreng Seafood Style was well fried and fragrant, the wok hei being a important factor for this dish. My wife N, who is not a fan of Hokkien Noodles found this version going down well with her palate. Noodles were well fried yet moist and the seafood condiments like prawns and cuttlefish were generous. She was tempted to order another plate but I preferred to try other dishes.

Their yam pot still needs improvement on both the yam ring and sauce for the seafood and meat filling. Though the portion was big, the yam ring lacks a five spice fragrance and the pastry was not fluffy at all. Too dense, I would prefer more shortening and flour. The filing could also do better with a little more sauce since the yam was too dense.Most day, sambal kang kong is their staple and sometimes they offer sweet potato leaves as well. The vegetables are consistently well fried but sometimes I prefer them to add a little more dried prawns. One thing though, if u are going to order this, skip the fried rice or the flavours would be too confusing.Another item that I like is their Prawn Rolls or Hae Chor as it is commonly known locally. This time round they were a let down and it was over fried and somewhat a little bitter due to the burnt edges. Other times I have eaten, they came out pretty well, crispy on the outside, nice and moist interior with crunchy bits of water chestnuts. Somehow, there will always be a lousy day for the kitchen and I guess this was one.RG has other interesting items on their menus on a daily basis. Other good recomendations include their Steamed Herbal Chicken, Crispy Baby Squids and Sweet and Sour Pork Ribs (Pai Kuat Wong).


The Moomba Restaurant 52 Circular Road, Singapore 049407
Operating HoursLunch 11am – 2.30pm, Monday to FridayDinner 6.30pm – 10pm,

Monday to Saturday Closed on Sunday & Public Holidays
Seating capacity70 pax

Tel:6438 0141

I had been under a lot of work stress during the week of my wife, N’s birthday. She wasn’t too happy when I preempted her a month ago that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy dinner with her on the actual day due to work. Besides having to baby sit two visiting chef colleagues from Italy, I was juggling with a busy week of workshops and inventory check. I was keen to take N to Sage Restaurant @ Robertson Quay but they were closed and I couldn’t make it on Tuesday either. I was also informed that they are going to be shut for another two weeks for renovations so I might as well wait. N wasn’t keen for Restaurant Ember @ Keong Saik Street either, not because it wasn’t good, but she didn’t like the location for that day so I was indeed getting anxious on Monday. Her feel was Modern Australian/European food for the evening so all the nice ching chong places like Cherry Garden and Royal China are out. I was tempted to call either Robin (Pierside Kitchen and Bar) or Leonard (Moomba) for help. In the end I ask N if she was keen to have her Kurobuta Pork Chop for that evening and luckily she said yes. I call Leonard to see if the item was available on his menu. This chef friend of mine is one of the most charismatic and affable chefs I have known in Singapore. Humble yet full of passion for the craft, Leonard has been with Moomba since day one and I personally have known Leonard since SHATEC days as schoolmates. Enjoying a little celebrity status of his own in the Boat Quay/Circular Road area, Leonard has been feeding thousands of finance related executives over the years with his creative inspirations that have seen maturity and refinement in taste. One call to Leonard and my worries were settled. He happily took us in and will fix up the birthday surprise for N as well.

We arrived to an unexpected busy Monday evening crowd but Leonard had already allocated our seats near to where he can see us from the expedition area. N was caught in between the Breaded Squid Cakes and Pan Seared Foie Gras for starters so Leonard kindly said he would fix up the Squid Cakes as amuse bouche followed on by the Foie Gras while I opted the Seared Hokkaido Scallops with Leek Mash, Crispy Bacon and Tomato Relish as my starter. As expected, N took on the Kurobuta Pork Chop as a main while Leonard recommended me some fresh air flown Red Emperor Fillets that has just came in earlier in the day. One thing for sure, its best to leave things to the creative hands of a good chef if you want to enjoy your evening with lovely surprises.

The Squid Cakes came nicely presented on two handcrafted glass pieces, sitting in top of a Spicy Sweet Mango Peanut Salsa. The squid cakes were nicely spiced with cumin and fresh herbs and you could taste chunks of squid meat inside. The nutty salsa with fresh mango dices was a nice compliment to the spicy squid cakes. Overall, the marriage of hot cold sensations, combination of sweet sour flavours and spices in this dish made it an impressive starter to more great food coming next. Oh yes! Halfway through our squid cakes, the Chef sent the manager coming by with two elegant glasses of Champagne. What a treat!

The Foie Gras came nicely sitting on a bed of baby spinach leaves with a sweet onion relish. Needless to say, it’s a simple dish that needs to be skillfully executed due to the delicateness of the goose liver. Beautifully seared and caramelized on the outside, the lovely rich foie gras was nicely cut by the acidity from the onion relish giving it a well balanced taste and melt in the mouth sensation. Its pure indulgence indeed!

My scallops were excellent too. Coming in on a rectangular platter, they were nicely seared sitting on a leek mash surrounded with tomato relish and crispy wafers of streaky bacon in between. Hokkaido scallops have always been my favourite. Despite being smaller than its American and Canadian cousins, these ivory coloured scallops were far by sweeter and flavourful. You do not need heavy sauces to go with them and the basil infused tomato relish was a great companion to the perfectly done scallops. I like the juxtaposition of flavours in this special dish.

Main courses are the best of value here in terms of portion size. U can walk, order one and have it, walk out again without feeling in something was still missing from the meal. In fact, Leonard tells us that there are customers that do just that especially for lunch. Much about the huge portion sizes of meat, the asceticism part of it is still not lost as the Chef cleverly balances out with appropriate garnishes. The Kurobuta Pork Chops was sitting on top of well roasted potatoes and pumpkin, enhanced by a sauté of onions and mushroom, a bunch of French beans and an accompanying apple sauce on the side which, I personally feel is not necessary as the meat is already so good. Kurobuta in Japanese language means the black pig, which produces one of the finest cuts of pork in the world. This black pig is also known as the Iberian Pig that gives the renowned Serrano Ham from Iberia region of Spain. N absolutely adores this dish since she tasted it the last time we ate at Moomba with friends. Contradictory to the myth of western style bred pigs carrying a certain “porkiness” in their meat, the pork chop was beautifully done, cooked yet still very juicy.

My red Emperor Fillets came with sauteed potatoes, vine roasted cherry tomatoes and sautéed mushrooms with a citrus beurre blanc. While the accompanying garnishes are de rigueur, it was the sweet moist flesh of the fish contrasting against the crispy skin that made it standout on its own without any sauces. In fact I would be happy with just a squeeze of lemon. I must say Leonard has trained his Sous Chef and line cooks so well in order to keep producing such excellent consistency in their food.

Leonard presented the grand finale with a miniature cake made with Bitter Chocolate Ganache on Chocolate Macaroon filled with Vanilla Ice Cream, Assorted Berries and Vanilla Sauce. After the song and wishes, we deconstructed the entire pastry piece in a small fraction of the time it took to put it together. My wife has a stronger weakness for chocolate than me which explains why I asked if Leonard could put something with chocolate together earlier by phone.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Korean Experience

165 Tanjong Pagar Road,Level 2, Amara Hotel,
(S) 088539
Tel: 6220 7160

The last time we had Korean food was during our second honeymoon to the US. That round wasn’t too pleasant as the restaurant we popped in was quite deserted on a weekend night. Not a good sign of course. Plus the English translation on the menu was so misleading that N was quite upset when the food arrived. After that we stave off Korean food for a while.

My faith in Korean food was revived after watching Da Chang Jin and certainly the Korean heart warming series has enlightened many in the country’s cuisine. Feeling inspired on one weekends, we tried to walk in to Hyang To Gol @ Amara Hotel whom 1 was recommended to by the word of mouth, only to be told that they were fully booked till 9pm.That was how we ended up at Silk Road.(See review in September 06)

This time we were cleverer and N booked the seats ahead as I was running a double workshops session that Saturday. Arriving promptly, the waft of grill aromas from tables that ordered the Korean specialties of grilled meats greeted us before the hostess came by. We could see that the restaurant was packed and another couple was turned away because they had no reservations and were not willing to wait. As the hostess led us to our seats, every table we passed by had a lovely visual displayed of the small bites, which is the signature of every Korean meal and their respective main courses. Air flown US chilled beef is the highlight of the menu and you can choose to have it grilled plain or marinated.

Owner Kim Ho Jea opened the restaurant about three months ago and it has since become a hit among members of the Korean expat community based here. There were more Korean expats and their families eating in that locals and thats a walking testimony on the authencity of the food served.

To me, Korean food beyond the bulgogi selections is a cross between Chinese and Japanese cuisines. Ingredients used in Korean cooking are pretty much the same as the two cuisines with a stronger Japanese influence. One of my favourite Korean dishes is the Glutinous Rice Stuffed Chicken and Ginseng Soup (Samge Tang) to which I must say that Hyang To Gol makes a wonderful recipe here.. This soup can be quite filling on its own as but what makes it standout is the subtle flavours of ginseng, ginger and gingko nuts simmered together in a rich stock. The glutinous rice gives the soup a richer taste with a congee like texture and the chicken meat is super tender from the hours of simmering.

The small side dishes of pickles and marinated vegetables were wonderful to nibble on before the arrival of the other main dishes. From marinated soy beans to kimichi, bean sprouts and other pickes, they represent the novelty of appreciating Korean cuisine and habits. Coming in next was the Grilled Eel with
Kochuchang or Fermented Spicy Red Soya Bean Paste. The eel was mouth melting tender and had a nice aroma from the fermented soya beans. It was very good with the steam rice though I had some problems trying to get used to the Korean chopsticks.

Tangsooyook 糖醋肉 or Crispy Pork in Vinegar Sweet and Sour Sauce was a clear cut adaptation of our Chinese cuisine version. Unfortunately it did not turn out as well as I had expected with less sharpness and sweetness than our Chinese version. Still it was manageable as it was a familiar dish to all.

Our main highlight was the grilled marinated prime rib fillet, which came well seasoned and neatly rolled up. As part of their impeccable service, the waitress will not only set up the stove for you, they will cook the meats to your preferred doneness. Well marbled and perfectly grilled, the meats were tender and juicy with flavours of the marinade coming through with each bite. Throughout the meal, the service was also very attentive but not intrusive. Towards the end of the meal, we were served a complimentary chilled sweet ginger broth with just one wolfberry and a pine nut, which I found it very pleasant yet a tease like amuse bouche. It was so good that N asked for another serving.

Hyang To Gol has not only served us good food, we have also found remarkable service which is rare in Singapore.

Shanghai Blues

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant
#02-53 Parco Bugis Junction. Tel: 6835 7577

My wife N and I were actually heading for Madam Saigon at Liang Seah Street but as they close in between lunch and dinner, we ended up here in Bugis Junction. Preferring to have something light, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant was our choice, as not only they were opened, we could get a nice window seat too!

This restaurant hails from the original famous Nanxiang Xiao Long Bao Restaurant at Yu Yuan Gardens in Shanghai. We first saw it there during the winter of 2004 but couldn’t get in as the place was overcrowded. The branch here in Bugis Junction has been around for about a year but N and I had never got the chance to step in till now.

Similar to the original restaurant in Shanghai, Xiao Long Bao of different grades and stuffing were its specialties as well as the Da tang bao, which is a broth filled pastry that comes complete with a drinking straw. Taking it as a late lunch early dinner kind of idea, we opted for two bowls of house made la mian with different variants, Seafood Spring Rolls, Cold Poached Chicken in Red Rice Wine Lees, Breaded Prawn Balls with Crab Roe as well as the must have Xiao Long Bao.

Food arrived pretty quick and with the Cold Poached Chicken taking the lead. It was pretty similar to Drunken Chicken with a nice infusion of the red wine lees giving it its characteristic wine flavour notes to the bland chicken. Served very cold, it was a pleasant refreshing flavour although I felt it could do better with a sprig or two of coriander and some finely sliced spring onions for garnish and a more enjoyable overall taste.
Arriving in as a group were the selected side dishes and Xiao Long Bao. These little wheat dough steamed buns are filled with a juicy filling that its best to appreciate it by first making a small bite on the pastry skin and sucking out the meat juices. Thereafter you dip it into the ginger and black vinegar dip before finishing it off at one go. Just remember to let the buns cool down a little before eating to avoid getting scalded by the steaming hot meat juices. The Seafood Spring Rolls were more like Samosas as they were each folded in a triangular shape. Expecting the standard run of the house type, we were pleasantly surprised by the unique filling combination of seafood, tofu and carrots. Some diced mushrooms were also added for texture and flavour.

The breaded prawn ball with crab roe and a juicy filling was done very well and eaten with the standard fermented bean sweet chili sauce, it was just great. The coating of breadcrumb cubes around the prawn ball provided a nice crisp to the juicy interior that was enriched with a small amount of crab roe. My wife N mentions that this dish reminds her of her favourite Almond Prawn Ball from Yan Palace Restaurant while I find a more similar resemblance to the Sotong Balls from the Old Kheng Luck Restaurant at Upper East Coast Road in the Seventies.

We had mixed feelings about the two noodles. Mine was Sliced Pork with Pickled Vegetables and La Mian in a Clear Broth 榨菜肉丝面while N had a Braised Pork Ribs with La Mian红烧排骨面. While the broth in N’s bowl tasted richer and a little creamy, her pork ribs were a let down. One would have expected the meat on the ribs to be falling off the bone tenderness after so many hours of simmering. Rather the meat was dry and tough, tasted more like Bak Kua (Chinese BBQ Dried Pork Slice). Even though the ribs may have been cook in a separate recipe, which I thought so since the colours between the ribs and the broth is so different, I would have at least expected the tenderness to be there. N gave up after 3 bites wishing she had ordered something else.

My noodles were better and the toppings of sliced pork with pickled vegetables were fairly generous. On a fair note, both the noodles were good on bite despite some disappointments with the pork ribs earlier. I was told before that to master of making hand pulled noodles, the ultimate is to get an all-even thickness of the noodles with the right exertion of force from your shoulder and arm muscles.

For desserts, we took on a Sweetened Fermented Rice with Wolfberries and Dumplings. It was pleasantly fragrant with winey notes from the fermented rice with nice chewy glutinous rice balls.

Overall this place is good if you want a quick bite and for resting your feet after all the shopping but I would think of specially coming down here just for the food. After all there are a few Din Tai Feng restaurants around and many other smaller outfits run by mainland Chinese serving such fare, which is just as good if not better.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Teochew Muay

Porridge Culture潮粥
242 Jalan Kayu,
Tel: +65 6483 1202
Date of review: 3rd October

To most people Jalan Kayu would be the place to go for pratas and sarabat , which I find totally over hyped and nothing fantastic. Not that I do not like pratas, but I have found better versions many a time elsewhere like Evans Café near Botanical Gardens and Old Simpang Bedok. My wife N and I love Jalan Kayu as one of our favourite eating-places with affordable prices yet has a rustic feel. This place is getting better bit-by-bit slowly with additional car parks, new mix of eateries and a more cosmopolitan crowd. From just a few prata shops and Jerry’s, the number of eateries has increased significantly in the last year to include Spizza’s, Johore Bahru famous He Ji Wonton Noodles and Porridge Culture, which is the subject of this review.

We first stumble upon Porridge Culture late last year when we passed by on the way to Sunset Grill at Seletar Airport. I found the Chinese translation rather catchy so I made it a point to check it out.
Expecting a de rigueur Teochew Porridge eating place, we were pleasantly surprised by its clean and tidy décor rather than the usual stuffy grubby places we have been to in the past in Havelock, Geylang and Balestier Road areas. The semi buffet dinning concept was also a refreshing change. Porridge Culture offers a hybrid of Cze Char and Teochew Muay rolled into one. You must make a minimum order of two dishes from the ala cart menu and add on $3.90 per person to enjoy a free flow of porridge or rice with standard condiments, side dishes and a selection of 3 types of local desserts from the buffet counter. Alternatively you can just eat only Cze Char if you are not keen for porridge. What I like about this system is that not only your food is freshly cooked, you are able to gauge the prices of the food you ordered, unlike most other Teochew Muay places, where you are at their mercy when they come around, make a mental calculation quietly and then tell u how much you have to pay without giving you a breakdown on the costs of each item ordered. Such methods have often resulted in inconsistencies at the many places I have eaten, especially at Havelock and Geylang.

While the condiments and side dishes are pretty standard, I do recommend a few nice Cze Char dishes that we have tried during our last few visits. Steamed fish was their specialties and so far we have tried their Steamed Pomfret Teochew Style and Steamed Black Mullet with Taucheo and Chilies on different occasions. The Pomfret came with a nice broth flavoured with sour plum, tomatoes, tofu, salted vegetables, mushrooms and a few strips of pork fat. With so many tasty ingredients, you can’t go wrong with the resulting broth from steaming the fish. The Steamed Black Mullet was paired with a Taucheo sauce supported by chilies, Chinese celery, onions and mushrooms. While the sauce was very good, I would have preferred if the black mullet was slightly fattier as this would make the meat more velvety.

So far we have had three strikes on the pork dishes from the menu and none was a let down. The Steam Mince Pork with Salted Fish was very well done with a light broth accompanying the delicately steamed pork patty. Coarsely minced water chestnuts were added to the minced pork to provide extra crunch. Overall this was the best pork dish to go with porridge. Honey Pork Ribs King was your typified Pai Kuat Wong but I find a nice balance of sauce and tenderness here with the pork. A generous sprinkling of sesame seeds gave it an extra dimension to the sweet and sour sauce and a small serving comes with a generous portion enough for 4. Most importantly, the chef was skilful in the use of sodium bicarbonate to tenderize the meat without making it too mushy on bite or leaving behind a soapy aftertaste on the palate. The last pork dish we had was during asparagus season in May this year when we took on the recommendation on Stir Fried Pork with Asparagus and Crack White Peppercorns. What highlighted the flavours of this dish was the fragrance of the toasted coarsely ground white pepper corns paired with the smokiness of wok flavours on tender meat and crunchy asparagus. It was a first class stir-fry skillfully well executed.

As a chef, I have always believed that the simpler a dish is, the harder chances of it getting it right in preparation. Chinese style omelets are easy to prepare at home but at restaurant level, it’s another skill demanding dish. The right amount of oil to bring out the aromas of fried egg without greasy aftertaste, the skill in flipping over the omelet and getting a nice colour, to achieve a desired crispy edge and keep the center fluffy, that’s really a need to have experience in taking on this perceived simple task. Yet the Chai Poh (pickled radish) Omelet here at Porridge Culture has managed to achieve all these criteria. It’s so good that you can even eat it on its own without porridge.

If freshly cooked vegetables are a must for your meal, the Sambal Kang Kong is one of Porridge Culture’s best performances. As renowned Singaporean born Hong Kong based food critic and gourmet author Chua Lam puts it; Tasty foods are not healthy, healthy foods are not tasty. The sambal kang kong here is done unreservedly with crispy pieces of pork lard which lends its important function to bring out the fragrance of minced dried shrimp and sambal chili. A comforting note to those health freaks who now read this part of the review with horror, the chef at Porridge Culture certainly knows the benefits of using pork lard and how much is to be used to keep the dish pleasant and not over greasy. The sambal sure does pack a good wallop with the nice balance of spices such that you still do get flavours of other ingredients and not just plain chili hot.

Desserts are complimentary when you go for the semi buffet concept and one of their best offers is Pulot Hitam (Black Glutinous Rice Porridge) with Coconut Milk. Other occasional offerings include Red/Green Bean Soup. Bubor Terigu,Yam Paste (or nee), Bubor Cha Cha and Gingered Sweet Potatoes Broth.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sunny Moon Delights!

Sun with Moon Japanese Dining Cafe
501 Orchard Road, Wheelock Place #03-15/16/17
Singapore 238880
Tel:6733 6636
Fax:6737 7840


Date of Review: 3oth September 2006

One of the main faults of our local food critics in the media is the failure to check on consistency of standards when reviewing restaurants especially those with big names. Most reviews are written almost immediately after one seating, which can make or break a restaurant. In US, it is more professional to visit the restaurant twice or more especially for those with a big name before a review is written. This helps to ensure that the kitchen team is consistently on its toes. I tend to apply that principle in my reviews too where possible. Hence it might have taken me too long to put something here for one of the most modern contemporary Japanese restaurants that I have visited, Sun with Moon Café at Wheelock Place.
Before this review was written, I had visited SM café four times with different groups of friends and during which I managed to sample a few signature dishes more than once. Reservations are always necessary each time I was there. This time round, it was a friend who book the table and I ask her to request the chef to reserve two portions of the Grilled Ginger Marinated Pork Cheeks as this is one of the hottest items of the menu that gets sold out pretty fast. Last four times I was here, I did not get to taste it. Given the size of our group, we had the capacity to try many more dishes this round. We chose some nibbles and cold appetizers to start with, followed by different types of kamameshi (Japanese version of “clay pot rice”) for everyone else except me. I opted for Cold Zaru Soba with Tempura instead. SM café prides itself with modern tastes and contemporary presentations on artistic chinaware. The restaurant has got an extensive beverage list of sakes, home mixed cocktails and selected beers. We were given a cosy private dinning area where I could also snap to our hearts content on the food ordered for this blog.

The cold nibbles were first to arrived. The Salmon and Advocado Roll with Ikura was a combination of chilled fresh salmon and creamy advocado wrapped within a thin delicate piece of Vietnamese spring roll wrapper. Served with salty trout roe and lemon, it was a smooth creamy sensation on the palate with an occasional salty burst of flavour from the fish roe. Another cold nibble we had was the Composition of Marinated Salmon and Tuna Belly wrapped in Soy Bean Skin with Ikura. Flavours were more intense here with taste of miso and ginger but less creamy. Visually it was more stunning than the Salmon and Advocado Roll but my wife N like this dish as much.

Arriving in tall glasses next was the Ebi and Potato Spring Rolls with Two Dips. This item is offered, as a Chef Specialty, which I personally felt, was very innovative. 2 pairs of spring rolls one fill with mash potato and the other with blended prawn meat were rolled up into long cigar shapes and deep-fried to a nice golden brown. Using the Japanese instinct in the art of Ikebana (floral arrangement), the crispy rolls were served in tall cocktail glasses where the little space pockets in between each roll was cleverly filled with colourful red and green coral lettuce. A few stalks of spring onions were also beautifully inserted to provide a contrasting background. The piping hot rolls were served with two dips, one that tasted like a tofu mayonnaise and the other a Thai sweet chili sauce. I would say this is dish does indeed has a fun character with a nice presentation. Another “fun” dish we had was the Yasai (vegetable) chips. It consisted of delicately sliced lotus roots, yam, zucchini, pumpkin, sweet potato and other kinds if vegetables lightly fried to a nice crisp.

The piece de resistance for the night was the Foie Gras Canape with Mirin Teriyaki Sauce. Three generous juicy pieces of pan seared goose liver on butterhead lettuce with toast and a sweet rice wine soya glaze brought out the best of one of the worlds finest gourmet ingredients. Needless to say, they were the first to be cleared off the table.

Follow on were the arrival of “Yin Yang” Crab Croquettes and Crispy Tonkatsu Sushi Roll with Spicy Sauce. The “Yin Yang” crab croquettes were two breaded potato croquettes each filled with a creamy crabmeat based filling and deep-fried to a golden brown, which upon breaking, oozes out to a nice contradiction with the crispy panko breaded crust. As implied by its name, we were served two sauces and a dollop of whole grain mustard to accompany this lovely item on the menu. The two sauces we had were sweet and sour spicy tonkatsu sauce and Japanese style tartar sauce.

The highlight of the menu was the Grilled Ginger Marinated Pork Cheeks. Char Grilled and slightly overcooked, it still tasted alright though I would have preferred it to be slightly less cooked. Nevertheless this was a good break in between the deep fried items that had been coming in.

More food were coming in and this time round were the two sushi rolls that we had ordered. The Soft Shell Crab Roll was topped with creamy avocado slices had a nice contrast texture between crispy and creamy, cold and hot. The Tonkatsu sushi roll was nothing to shout about, but what captivated me was not the panko crusted pork cutlet in between but the quality and standard of the sushi rice that wrapped around it. I am a strong believer of in the art of sushi making by hand and eating each morsel was enough to tell me that a good amount of attention has been paid to get it right. I believed if we had ordered their Alburi Sushi that night, it would sure to turn out perfect too!

Tempura Moriwase came next and all I could say was this was one of the finest tempura I have had eaten so far in a moderately priced Japanese restaurant. It could rival that of some other fine dinning Japanese restaurants in terms of presentation, taste and price. The batter was light and all items (prawn and vegetables) including a very artistic looking fan shaped noodle piece, which were well fried to a delicate crispiness. Together, my Tempura Soba arrived too and the deep-fried items were equally as good as the main platter. The noodles were nicely cooked with slight al dente texture and the condiments interestingly presented. A soya dressing made with quality soy sauce completed the wonderful sensations of piping hot tempura and cool soba noodles.

One by one the kamameshis started to arrive and the aromas of the well seasoned rice was embraced with eagerness to tuck in. Kamameshi are the Japanese way of cooking rice in a seasoned broth with chestnuts, broad beans, and various meat and seafood toppings, served with various condiments like pickled ginger and seaweed. We had variations of Unagi and Asari Clam, Beef Yakiniku, Chicken Teriyaki and Seafood. All the variants had their own merits and were equally tasty till the last grain polished off.

Desserts were simple and direct, which we ordered to share. The tofu cheese cake come in a bird cage with an nice touch of origami in the form of a folded flying crane. With a nice base crust, the cheese filling was perfectly done, neither too sweet nor heavy. A small garnish of blackcurrant compote gave it an elegant touch, as well as a nice contrast to the creamy tofu cheese filling. The Marcha Babaroa which is Chilled Green Tea Parfait with adzuki red beans was next and one could tell the dessert had real green tea powder to provide the bitter flavours in the background. The Chocolate Ice Cream Parfait I would say is just a non culinary skills oriented dessert put together to make children happy. No Japanese dinning experience would be completed without the taste of mochi or glutinous rice balls that sometimes coming with fillings. Sweet teriyaki sauce poured over the poached rice balls make this dessert an acquired taste for novices.

Overall we had an enjoyable experience and service was generally good and attentive as we ate.