Sunday, July 29, 2007

Old Times Sake

Whitebait and Kale
1 Orchard Boulevard
Camden Medical Centre
The other day as we fished next to Marina South Pier, N and I were reminiscing some of the earlier restaurants that we have been to during courtship days and how things have change since. Some have closed down, some have lost their shine with poor management while there were a few that have held up well against the odds of running restaurants in Singapore where many in the dinning crowds are known more for being hippy than their loyalty. One such place that survived well was Whitebait and Kale. This was one the nice places that I took N to back in 2003 when it first opened with Chef Kan Bright San at helm. The menu was pretty much Aussie inspired fare and signatures includes their Crispy Whitebait with Home Made Tartare Sauce, Snapper Pie and Linguine Pasta with Crabmeat in a White Wine Sauce.
Fast forward to the present, Chef Bright has since left, so has many of the pioneer staff but that is common in the trade. People come and go; a new chef also means a new menu. Currently with Chef Nabil Tan at helm, the menu is still characteristically Aussie with a good measure of Eastern Mediterranean elements in flavour. Daily specials are scribbled on the boards which are subjected to availability.
As N wasn’t in the mood for meats, we decided to play with starters on the menu to a Tapas like dinner. Starting with a bowl of lightly battered whitebait as nibbles, the house made tartare sauce resembled more to a thousand island dressing instead in terms of colour profile. I didn’t quite understand the part on adding a red tinge to the traditional white coloured sauce. But on the taste, it did have a resembling character to the real Mc Coy. Problem with the white bait is to nibble on it fast while it is still hot. The moment it cools down, as the heat decreases, the fishiness aroma increases and so does the perceived greasy aftertaste.
The seared tuna was kind of a let down when it arrived, not in taste but doneness. The taste elements of the lemon honey and radish salad were good but the over cooked tuna made us felt like we were eating a huge chunk of canned tuna. We believe that this could be a great dish if done right the next round.
On my side, I had chosen calamari as my starter. A whole calamari was marinated with a spicy harrisa sauce before it was grilled and sliced up into large chunks. It was supposedly to be served with tabouleh but the tabouleh turned out to a couscous salad with dried cranberries, pine nuts and mint which is not what it should be. (Real Tabouleh is a mixture of chopped parsley, tomatoes, onions and cracked bulghur wheat in lemon juice and olive oil). The name was rather misleading but to be fair, the taste of the couscous salad was still good. Personally I would have preferred the real Tabouleh that comes with stronger herb notes and zesty tanginess. This would have certainly perked up the smoky char grilled calamari to a more robust appeal.
In between the two earlier appetizers, N and I decided to pull in one of the appetizer specials on the board. We choose the deep fried mozzarella that came with tomato onion salad and a pistachio crusted avocado puree. The crispy panko coated slices of deep fried mozzarella partnered very well with the slightly tangy tomato onion salad and can actually make the pistachio crusted avocado look redundant. However I must say that the avocado puree was absolutely delicious on its own, creamy, buttery and slightly sweet. So good it was I was tempted to ask if I could have a bowl of nacho chips….
Just before the main course, N needed her fix of oysters and this couldn't be a better time to check out one of Australia’s best oysters from Coffin Bay. The name sounds eerie (it was named after somebody noble not the wooden box) but most food aficionados will know that this region produces one of the best shellfishes, scallops and oysters because of its pristine waters. The season runs from June to August so the oysters are in their prime. The entire flight was gone in less than 10 minutes and seeing N’s satisfaction, they must be pretty darn good!
Somewhere the service screwed up with the main courses so I ended up eating my duck confit alone. N had ordered crab cakes and the service captain had either heard or keyed the wrong order in when something else turned up at the table. Rather than making her wait longer, we worked on the confit first. The crispy skin duck leg was not oily at all despite being cooked in all that duck fat. The meat was not too dry and sufficiently moist and tender enough to be flakes with a fork. The fig and vincotto glaze worked beautifully with the slightly salty meat on the palate, balancing out with sweetness and some tangy sensations. Vincotto is a sweet, velvety vinegar with the subtle overtones of spices, grapes, prunes and has a similar characteristics to authentic balsamic vinegar but with different profiles. It is made from two varieties of grapes, Negroamaro and Black Malvasia grapes. The grapes are dried on the vine or over wooden frames, and then the 'must' is boiled gently until it reduces to one fifth of its initial volume. The syrup is then poured into aged oak barrels along with the mother, or starter, of the vinegar. It is aged in these barrels for four years to allow the taste to develop. A simple stew of giant white beans in tomatoes, garlic and olive oil provided the comfort element to the dish
Finally N’s crab cakes arrived after a second prompting and one of the cakes had been presented broken. The consolation was that the wreckage revealed chunks of real crabmeat, intersperse with fresh capsicum and onion dices, fresh herbs and spices. They were binded by mayonnaise and not excessive breadcrumbs so that we could still taste the real ingredients instead of being masked by the starch on bite. A small dollop of chutney that was nicely made with bush tomatoes, enhanced the overall taste of the dish with its own natural sweetness. Though the service was late and the presentation a little off key, I still enjoyed the taste of the crab cake.
For the sweet endings, I was curious to find out about the panna cotto with a muscato wine jelly on a rosemary scented cantaloupe soup. The panna cotta showed up with real specks of vanilla, a testimony of a superior product. The soft clotted cream went very well with the herb infused cantaloupe puree what had a subtle hint of rosemary. I also found that N’s profiteroles with macadamia ice cream and chocolate dip came more like an ice cream sandwich. The ice cream had been spiked with a generous amount of macadamia nuts and was presented with a modernist touch. Dipping each part of it into the bittersweet chocolate sauce was pure indulgence with freshly brewed coffee.
Well overall I am glad that WBK is still around as most restaurants in Singapore only have a shelf life of 2-3 years. Though there are some hits and misses in the menu writing, just take the inconsistencies with a pinch of salt unless u are a fussy diner. The misses did not taste anyway bad on their own after all……
PS. It was a difficult environment to take good pics without flash due to the super dim lighting so this was the best that I could manage with my digi cam without flash so as not to distract other diners with their food.

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