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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

DMBLGIT, The Age and Shanghai

No recipes today, no restaurant reviews. Just ramblings.

Well, I've missed Is My Blog Burning? and Sugar High Friday this month. But I promise I'll get around to posting results of Does My Blog Look Good In This in the next 2 weeks (which means I'll need to get all the appropriate info to judges by tomorrow, gulp!). The judges, for you curious foodies are:

Laura from Cucina Testa Rossa
Michele from Oswego Tea
Monkey Gland from Jam Faced
Tara from Seven Spoons
Lynn from To Short Term Memories
and, well, me.

What a list! I'm very grateful to these 5 wonderful bloggers--all of whose sites I adore.

Have you all read the great article on food blogs by Liesl Rampono in The Age newspaper? While yours truly isn't mentioned (sigh......), some great bloggers like Pim (of course), Anthony (go Perth!), Saffron, and Santos are. Congrats to them and the others featured. Here's a link to the article: READ ME!

Anyway, I'm off to Shanghai tomorrow. It's the tail end of hairy crab season and I fully intend to indulge over the next few days. Thankfully, this trip is a holiday, which means S and two other foodie friends will be going with me. It also means I can travel with my camera gear and take proper notes on what I'm devouring.

So, if ANY OF YOU HAVE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SHANGHAI, PLEASE PLEASE TELL ME. Email me or comment below. Merci buckets, as they say in gay Paree.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

UK eating

It’s amazing how a great meal can all of a sudden put you in a good mood. That’s how I’m feeling right now. Happy, bubbly, energized but at the same time stuffed and sated. But I’ll get to that meal much later. There’s a lot to catch up on.

I flew into the UK last Friday morning, arriving at an ungodly early hour and then caught the first bus from Heathrow to Cheltenham, a beautiful spa town in the English countryside some 2.5 hrs away. Because the town is a popular weekend destination for London yuppies (and partly but less because the Cheltenham Ladies College has become a popular place for wealthy parents from around the world to dump their daughters for a few years), Cheltenham is quite cosmopolitan, with a healthy selection of chic cafés, gourmet restaurants—including a two-Michelin star French place called Le Champignon Sauvage—a disproportionately high number of fancy kitchenware shops—including a branch of my fave HongKong kitchen supply store, The PanHandler—and an enormously well-stocked cookbook store called amusingly Cooking the Books.

On our first day in town, we ate at Raymond Blanc’s Le Petit Blanc, a no-frills restaurant through which Blanc proposes to cook unpretentious, reasonably-priced food. Both my colleague and I had the promotional menu, a two course meal with a glass of wine for 10 Pounds. I started with a pork belly and prune terrine, served with apple chutney. This was followed by deep fried whiting, pommes frites, and tartare sauce (yes, fish and chips). The food, while good, was nothing special.

Amazingly, the weather throughout our visit was amazing… perfect “sitting outside with a cuppa” weather. And the best place that I found to do this at was a very French café called Café Rouge. Here’s a quick picture of the menu that I like, followed by a picture of one of their two al fresco areas. You can see how nice the weather is from that one.

The other place in Cheltenham that I tried and that’s worth mentioning is called very unoriginally The Pie & Mash. Yup, no rewards for figuring out that it’s a pie shop. But it’s a pretty unique pie shop. In fact, it’s the UK’s only 100% organic pie shop. Some purists, of course, might scoff at that. Pies are, they’ll argue, meant to be unhealthy. But I think that this is an impressive effort. Unfortunately, while the owners’ hearts are in the right place, their tastebuds weren’t. Organic is fine. But organic doesn’t have to be bland, which the food here was. Of course, a healthy helping of their organic ketchup and a liberal sprinkle of salt, and my chicken, bacon and leek pie was actually pretty good. Here’s a picture of it.

We took another coach back to London on Sunday, getting into town around noon. After quickly unpacking, I headed over to Knightsbridge for an afternoon of shopping. My first stop was Harvey Nichols, where I enjoyed a late lunch at Wagamama. After Harvey Nicks, I made my way down the road to Harrod’s, home, among other things, of some pretty legendary food halls. Imagine my surprise when entering the baked goods room to see this:

Yup, a Krispy Kreme outlet. Yum. Of course, I joined the queue and 15 minutes later was happily devouring two hot original glazed doughnuts. Yum Yum! That night, I caught up with some friends over a lovely French dinner at a very classy restaurant in South Kensington called Racine.

The next day was a work day and that meant meetings after meetings all day. Our last meeting ended around 530ish. My colleague and I had made plans to meet another colleague, vacationing in London, and cult foodie Kevin Gould at St John for dinner. Kevin’s a huge advocate and fan of St John and its amazing chef-owner Fergus Henderson. S and I have the cookbook at home and while before that night, neither of us had ever eaten there, we were fans too. So, this was a meal I’d been looking forward to for a long time. The restaurant’s great looking, all white and modest, which forces the attention of the diners on the food.

The crowd was also young, surprisingly young given the prices and the prestige of the restaurant. I knew that I had to try the Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad. It was wonderful. The marrow was rich, oily, and full of earthy goodness. I was instructed to dig the marrow out and spread it on the toast that the dish came with. Over this goes the parsely salad, which is dotted with capers, and diced and sautéed small onions. The combination is pretty amazing.

For my main, I had calves’ liver and onions, a traditional English dish that’s been taken up a notch. For side dishes, Kevin had ordered some sautéed sprout tops (these were wonderful), a mixed salad, and a Welsh rarebit. For dessert, I ordered a half dozen madeleines, baked a la minute. This was the only dish that disappointed. Both Kevin and I agreed that the madeleines were only passable.

Yesterday was another busy day. Fortunately, we had a late morning meeting on Monmouth Street and a bit of time before the next one. One of my favorite places to eat in London is Food for Thought, on Neal St. I’ve been popping in there since my university days—especially because back then that was pretty much all I could afford. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a delightful, laid-back and tiny vegetarian restaurant and take-out joint. The food has always been consistently delicious. For lunch, I had a spinach quiche and a salad. It was fantastic. My colleague and I chased down our meals with equally amazing espressos from the Monmouth Coffee Company.

That night I went to Gordon Ramsay. I want to be as honest as possible about my meal there. It was my first visit and despite the fact that some friends of mine aren’t fans (ahem… Kevin), I was really excited. I went with a friend to the branch on Royal Hospital Road. The space really surprised me. It’s the complete opposite of Parisian 3-Star restaurants. While those are often majestic, palatial and fantastical, this restaurant is small and deceptively humble. Both my friend and I had a 4 course meal. I started with the ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque with a lemon grass and chervil veloute, After this, I had a small portion of slow braised pied de cochon pressed than pan fried with poached quail’s egg, ham knuckle and hollandaise sauce. My main was line caught turbot on the bone with coriander, tagliatelle, braised vegetables and a citrus butter sauce. For dessert, my friend and I split a tarte tatin and vanilla ice cream for two. Of the dishes, the pied de cochon and the tarte tatin were the stand-outs. They were truly amazing. The ravioli and the turbot were good. They were executed perfectly, but they didn’t knock my socks off. Which I think I was expecting.

One of the criticisms of Ramsay is that while his team serves up technically perfect food, it’s not exciting, not new enough or different enough. And, after eating there, I have to agree with this assessment somewhat. While the meal was very good, it comes nowhere close to the brilliant experiences I have had at places like Le Cinq. In fact, the restaurant that I have been to recently that I was most reminded of during my dinner at Gordon Ramsay was Gaddi’s in Hong Kong. The meal that David Goodridge cooked for S and I two months back was equally technically competent, and equally delicious. So either Gaddi’s deserves 3 Michelin stars or Ramsay doesn’t. Either way, there’s no way this restaurant is on the same level of a Le Cinq or an Alain Ducasse. That said, it was still a hugely enjoyable experience.

We flew into Frankfurt this morning, had an appallingly bad lunch at the restaurant that’s in the hotel we’re staying in, and spent the afternoon being amazed at the Frankfurt Book Fair. By evening, I was exhausted. Hoping to eat somewhere close to my hotel, I took a short walk down the road and found a small Italian restaurant called Da Pio. I had some antipasta (aubergine, zucchini, mushrooms, seafood, and onions), followed by a tagliatelle with shaved truffles (yum). The antipasta was really, really good. And the pasta delightful. And the after effect of the good meal is a natural high that’s motivated me enough to sit down and finish this post.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

DMBLGIT 10th Edition

Greetings from Cheltenham, England, where, while travelling, I've just been reminded (thanks Stephen) that I have agreed to host the 10th Edition of "Does My Blog Look Good in This". It's quite an honor to host this event and I am really looking forward to putting together a great team of judges and looking at all your yummy pictures.

Please send the URL to the image you are entering from your September posts to me at Also, please include:

1. the name of your blog
2. where you are located
3. your name (or how you'd like to be referred)

As in all things, there are a few rules:

* You may only submit one photo
* The photo must be food/drink related
* The photo must have been taken by you
* The photo must have appeared on your blog in the month of September

The photo with the highest score based on the following criteria will be selected as the "Grand Champion".

* Aesthetics - "Would it look good on the cover of Gourmet?"
* Eatability - "Do we drool just looking at it?"
* Originality - "Damn! I wish I had thought of that!"

The highest scoring photos for each category will be given the "Aesthetics Champ", "Eatability Champ", and "Originality Champ" awards.

Because I'm travelling, I haven't had time to finalize judges but will be trying to do so in the next few days and will post who they are asap.

And the info you've been waiting for, the deadline for submissions will be October 25th. I will try and post the results by the end of October.

Many thanks and I look forward to seeing the pix.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Birthday meals

Sometimes you have to be in the mood to write. Unfortunately, I haven't really been in that mood for a week or so, which explains why this blog hasn't been updated for a while. For that, I apologize. Fortunately, a lack of eagerness to tap on my keyboard hasn't reduced my appetite. (It did mean, much to the pleasure of my wife S and other dining companions, that my camera stayed home when we did eat out.)

I celebrated a birthday early last week. As you might expect of a greedy guy like me, birthdays translate into a slew of yummy meals. The first among these was Sunday brunch at Au Jardin Les Amis, a beautiful French restaurant in a "black & white" colonial bungalow in the Botanic Gardens. Brunch was hosted by two wonderful friends and fellow gourmands, B and V. When they invited us to Au Jardin, I grilled S, asking her again and again if the invitation was authentic. I did this because last year, another friend had invited me to the same restaurant for a Sunday birthday brunch. He told us he'd swing by and pick us up so that I wouldn't have to drive (meaning I could quaff all the Champagne I wanted). I love the Au Jardin brunch; I believe it's the best Sunday brunch in Singapore. I'm not usually a huge fan of buffets. I've never been particularly taken with the enormous Sunday spreads at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons or Grand Hyatt. Au Jardin's brunch includes a light appetizer buffet, a la carte eggs (the egg cocotte with foie gras and truffles is the one to order), an a la carte main course, an a la carte dessert, and some additional desserts at the buffet. To me, it's the perfect indulgent brunch. But it's not cheap, and it's not the kind of thing anyone can eat often. Anyway, back to last year. I hadn't been to Au Jardin for a few months so I was really excited to have brunch there. Really, really excited. So, when the doorbell rang, I quickly opened the door ready to fly out of the house with S. Instead, I was confronted with a group of 8 friends, carrying buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food edibles, meant of course for the surprise Birthday potluck that S and that dastardly friend had engineered. My immediate reaction--much to S's horror--was to close the door. Of course, a few seconds later, I opened it again and grinned my way through the afternoon, but deep down I felt conned. I was so looking forward to an afternoon of elegant service, good Champagne, the gorgeous setting of the restaurant, perfectly cooked eggs and great French food, that despite the fact that I love my friends, I was let down and made S promise to never again throw me a surprise party (unless that surprise involves taking me to Le Cinq in Paris). So when B and V made the same invitation this year, I was excited but wary. I also realized that we hadn't been for over a year--not since before my birthday last year. Anyway, we did go and it was lovely. We had a bottle of Bruno Paillard Champagne and another bottle of a sweet and tasty Riesling with our food. Amusingly, all 4 of us picked the same menu: egg cocotte, slow-cooked pork belly, and confit of white peaches. It was, to put it plainly, well worth the wait.

My next celebratory meal was actually the same night. My parents had asked me to choose a restaurant to celebrate in; I chose to go to one of Singapore's top Indian restaurants, Rang Mahal, located in the Pan Pacific Hotel. Rang Mahal is a ridiculously expensive, chic, dark and elegant space that serves amazing, modern Northern Indian food. S and I rarely come here for dinner because the price to us is a tad prohibitive (the lunch buffet is a tad more reasonable). So I was very much looking forward to devouring some yummy curries. As said, the food here is excellent. Unfortunately, that evening, the waiter who took our order was the complete opposite. In fact, by the end of the evening, I was really pissed off at him. Le me explain. While ordering, the waiter kept insisting that his portions were really small and that we needed to order two of everything. I must have asked him at least 4 or 5 times if he was sure we weren't ordering too much food. He kept right on saying, "No, no, you need all this or it won't be enough." As you can imagine, we had way too much food. The 7 of us ate until we were all ready to burst and we still left more than 1/3 of the food untouched. Which at the prices that Rang Mahal charges came to way too many wasted dollars. We had tandoori chicken; prawns stuffed with crabmeat; grilled baby lamb chops; the most beautifully roasted (I think) lobster; dhal; saag paneer; saag with baby corn and mushrooms; Goan fish curry; and lamb curry. The lobster was breathtaking. The Goan fish curry was also a winner. But the prices and the way we got conned into ordering more than we needed were not.

On my actual birthday, S and I enjoyed a quiet dinner alone at my favorite Chinese restaurant in town, Hu Cui. Hu Cui is a sleek Shanghainese Crystal Jade restaurant on the second floor of Ngee An City. I love Hu Cui's modern Chinese and ultra-hip interiors. And I love the food even more. We sat in comfy leather armchairs at a cute little table for two in the back part of the restaurant. I like this area. It was originally meant to be a hip wine bar for the restaurant. Unfortunately, the bar never took off. There are 4 of these little tables with armchairs, all in a row along the window. We ordered some of my favorite dishes: xiao long bao (of course); river shrimp sauteed with a salted duck egg yolk sauce; crab roe and bean curd sheets; braised pork belly with mantou; braised cabbage with oyster sauce. We hadn't been to Hu Cui for a while, so I had forgotten just how good the food was. I almost fell off my chair when I tasted the shrimp and the crab roe dishes again for the first time in a long time.

Later in the week, S and I had dinner with a big group of friends. Only a few of them knew my birthday had just come and gone, so it was less of a celebration than it was a fun get together. We ate at Wild Rocket. S had arranged a set menu with Chef Willin Low, something we felt was safer given that the restaurant was still less than a week old. The food was good but the service was a tad sloppy, mostly because the place was packed. We had a mushroom cappuccino, followed by a pasta with a laksa lobster bisque sauce and the choice of either a steak or a baked cod (I had the cod). This was concluded with Willin's yummy cheesecake.

It was so good in fact that one of our friends, a bubbly, sexy gal with a huge appetite, ordered herself a second portion. Here she is enjoying her second order, shot quickly with my camera-phone. It does look like she's enjoying it, yah?

Finally, another friend took S and I out for a celebratory dinner on Saturday. I mentioned that I've never been a huge buffet fan. That's true, but at the same time, I've been dying to try The Line, the Adam Tihany designed buffet restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel, since it opened. S had been; in fact, she had lunch with Anthony Bourdain when he was last in town. And she said it was surprisingly good. I'd seen it as well. It looked fun. All white and shiny with modern orange lights and video screens. So when asked where I wanted to go, I suggested we try The Line. Once seated, we ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and attacked the buffet. The stations are beautifully designed and all the staff at the restaurant surprisingly friendly and cheery. The food was good and the great attitudes of the staff made the meal that much better. I specifically enjoyed the fresh oysters from the seafood bar, the California handrolls from the sushi bar, the baked tortellini with ham in cream sauce, the a la minute roti prata, the laksa and the Cantonese roast meats. Sadly, while they had a pretty sundae section, the vanilla ice cream was lousy. Overall, it was a fun night and I left slightly converted. The Line is one buffet that I wouldn't mind returning to again.

Anyway, that's the bulk of last week's eating. I'm actually taking off to the UK (Cheltenham and London) and then Germany (Frankfurt) later this week for a work trip. I'm hoping to update while traveling so stay tuned.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Wild Rocket

Yesterday, S and I decided to be among the first folks in Sillypore to try Wild Rocket. I should state that visiting a restaurant on its opening day is the kind of thing professional food writers usually try to avoid. No matter how hard a restaurateur and his team have prepared, there are always bound to be some small problems in those first few, frenetic and very stressful weeks. But since we weren't visiting Wild Rocket for any other reason than this blog and, of course, to support chef-owner Willin Low, we went anyway.

The restaurant is cute. It's very airy and casual, the kind of place you can go in shorts and flipflops or in Prada and a pair of Louboutins and not feel out of place. The menu is small, offering just a few choices for starters, pastas, mains and desserts. That said, all of the choices looked good and we had a hard time deciding what to try. In the end, we ordered the cauliflower cream with crabmeat soup, the laksa pesto spaghetti with quail's eggs, seared ribeye with wild rocket and sweet potato, profiteroles with vanilla ice cream, and a strawberry cheesecake with maple walnut ice cream--and shared everything.

The soup (pictured above, being eaten by S) was good. But I have this theory that cauliflower creams are best served cold. When chilled, the cauliflower taste comes forward. When hot, it becomes almost too subtle. This soup is served hot, which while tasty, thus didn't taste all that much of cauliflower. It really depends on what your personal preference is. The crabmeat was a yummy touch, though.

I really enjoyed the laksa pesto spaghetti. (Note that pictured above is a half portion.) The pasta was cooked perfectly and the pesto had a great fresh herb flavor. The dish also had just the right amount of spice.

S really wanted to try the seared ribeye (again, the picture is of a half portion), and I'm glad we ordered it. It was extremely juicy, flavorful and cooked just right. While I would have loved a side dish with some Bernaise sauce or, my own favorite steak topping, some coriander pesto, the steak was more than able to hold its own unadorned. The sweet potatoes--I think they were either pan-fried or oven roasted--were excellent. They were crispy on the surface and soft and sumptuous inside.

Of the two desserts, both S and I enjoyed the strawberry cheesecake, served unconventionally slightly deconstructed and in a martini glass. It was a winner. S announced rather emphatically, "I would come back here just for this!"

Overall, it was a good lunch. The service was excellent. We each had a glass of the house white, a sauvignon blanc, that while a tad green at first went very well with the food. The prices are also pretty reasonable, somewhere akin to those of Blood Bros Project Shop café. Over the next few weeks, the standard should improve. We did, as mentioned at the start, go on the worst possible day for evaluating any restaurant. I, for one, intend on heading back again soon, both in the evening to see how the restaurant looks at night and also for Sunday brunch; they showed us the brunch menu and it looks absolutely yummy.

So, if you're looking for a reasonably priced, simple meal, please check out Wild Rocket. It's a nice, casual owner-operated restaurant. And, like any young business, it needs your support to survive.

Wild Rocket
Hangout@Mt Emily
10A Upper Wilkie Road
Tel: 63399448