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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Best braised duck sauce for pasta

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm a pretty regular customer at Garibaldi, considered by many foodies in Singapore to be our best Italian restaurant. I've been going there consistently since it opened and, for a good year or so, I had lunch there with colleagues and clients at least once or twice a week. It was near my old office, was both quiet and chic at the same time and served an excellent, reasonably priced set lunch. I also went with friends and family at night, which while a costlier affair was also more decadent. We would often put ourselves into the hands of (then-owner and) manager Beppe De Vito and chef Roberto Galetti. And we would always be rewarded with an outstanding, multi-course feast paired with luscious Italian wines.

Of all of Chef Roberto's very well-executed dishes, I have three clear favorites. His spinach gnocchi served with a gorgonzola sauce, walnuts and aged Balsamic vinegar is smooth, sensual and rich. It's like Catherine Deneuve on a plate. My second favorite is his osso buco with saffron risotto. Chef Roberto's osso buco (braised veal shank) is the best I've had in a restaurant in Singapore. It's soft, succulent, hearty and very, very savory. His risotto is equally delicious.

But the dish that I like above all others is Chef Roberto's Bigola Di Spinaci Al Brasato D'Anatra, i.e. homemade spinach noodles with a braised duck sauce. I really love this dish. So does my darling wife S. She likes it so much, in fact, that she once ordered it as a starter and then, after she finished her main course, promptly ordered an additional serving in place of dessert. I have to admit that I'm often tempted to do the same thing. The duck ragout is made from duck legs and aromatic vegetables that have been slowly braised in stock and red wine. The sauce is powerful and comforting, something like the the culinary equivalent of a full-grown Golden Retriever cuddled up on your lap.

After a lot of pestering, Chef Roberto has finally given me the recipe for this fantastic, signature dish. I tried it out for the first time this past weekend. Because I was a tad lazy and short of time, I didn't bother making my own pasta. The sauce was excellent and surprisingly easy to make. My version turned out quite a bit lighter than what I usually get when ordering this at Garibaldi. I have the feeling that Chef Roberto adapted the recipe a bit, making it healthier, before giving it to me. The restaurant version tastes like there's much more tomato and/or tomato paste in it. It's much stickier and stronger in taste. The restaurant version also tastes like Chef Roberto uses a rich, meat stock instead of the vegetable stock that he recommends in the recipe. That said, a friend who has had this dish several times in the restaurant and whom I also fed this past weekend said she actually preferred the slightly lighter version. It meant, she suggested, that she could eat much more of it without feeling too guilty or getting too full. I highly recommend trying it both in the restaurant (for those of you in Singapore) and also at home.

Chef Roberto Galetti's Braised Duck Sauce

500 gr celery, julienne
500gr carrots, julienne
500 gr onion, julienne
3 kg duck legs
1kg whole peeled tomatoes
1 btl red wine
500 ml vegetable stock
5 bay leaves

In a big pot, sauté the vegetables with olive oil. Meanwhile flour the duck legs and then pan-fry them until golden. Put the duck legs into the pot together with the vegetables. Then add the wine, the bay leaves, and the peeled tomato. Crush the tomatoes into the pot with your hands. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring everything to a boil. As soon as it boils, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, separate the meat from the sauce. Remove excess fat and skin. Then debone the duck legs, mixing the meat back into the vegetables and sauce. Leave to rest.

Cook your noodles. Then reheat a portion of the sauce in a pan with butter, black pepper, and salt. Add some of the boiled/cooked noodles and toss. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and parsley over the pasta and serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

High praise for Iggy's

Regular readers know that I have only good things to say about Ignatius Chan and his restaurant in the Regent Singapore, Iggy's. It appears that big-time foodie and celebrated food writer Kevin Gould feels the same way. This weekend, he contributed an article on Iggy's to The Guardian newspaper.

Mr Gould, among other things, writes, "Ignatius Chan presides over a restaurant that serves the subtlest, most satisfying east/west cuisine I've ever eaten."

Congratulations again to Ignatius, Chef Dorin and Ignatius' wonderful wife Janice.

Read the article here.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

First (and second and third) impressions

One of the things that I've always debated with friends and colleagues is, "How soon after a restaurant opens should one wait before reviewing it?" A related question to this is ,"How many times should someone dine in a place before writing a review?" Another is, "Is there a different standard that amateur reviewers, i.e. reviewers like bloggers who aren't getting paid, and professional critics, who get paid to eat in and write about restaurants, should adhere to?"

In many major cities, the most respected restaurant critics eat in a restaurant a number of times before reviewing it. And they do so over a couple weeks if not a couple of months. Many also dine anonymously, to ensure that they get treated like any other customer. Ask anyone who works in the food and beverage industry when a restaurant is ready to be reviewed and he or she will usually advise you to wait a good 8-10 weeks before going. It takes that long for any new restaurant to identify, iron out and fix any problem areas it may have. Unexpected issues can arise and plague places opened and managed by even the very best professionals. It's only fair, if you're visiting as a critic, to give restaurateurs a fair chance for a good review. And that means giving any new restaurant a couple chances over its first few months to prove itself.

Il Lido, the highly publicized Italian restaurant opened by the charming and affable Beppe De Vito, is the perfect example of such a restaurant. I first went to Il Lido during its opening week. Because I was a regular at Garibaldi, also opened by De Vito, I was very excited to see what he had created in the Sentosa Golf Club and, more importantly, to taste the food. The restaurant itself was stunning. De Vito had spent a bundle making the space beautiful. The food, however, was awful. The plating was ordinary. The food was overseasoned and poorly executed. We left the restaurant disappointed and dismayed. Having experienced countless perfect meals at Garibaldi, I knew DeVito could do better.

A couple weeks ago, my wife S and I went back to Il Lido. Almost 3 months had passed since our first and disastrous visit. We went with two friends, foodies but also well-known local restaurateurs. When we arrived, we were surprised but heartened to see two other noted local restaurateurs and a respected wine distributor also having lunch (at separate tables) that day. Our meal, I'm happy to say, was a revelation, especially compared to our first visit. The food was fantastic. It was so good in fact that I dragged my whole family back to Il Lido for lunch this past weekend. This time, we had a lovely, long and leisurely meal. The weather, almost as if De Vito had planned it, was also wonderful. It was a sunny, gorgeous day. The restaurant was bathed with natural light. The view across the water was picture-perfect.

We started our lunch with a shared plate of delicious antipasti (pictured at the top of this post). We had aged Parma ham, aged Parmesan, grilled vegetables, smoked salmon, smoked duck, butter-poached lobster, calamari fritti, and some very fresh rocket.

Our next course is something that I had eaten on my previous visit and made sure to order again, not just for myself but for the whole table. It was squid ink tortelli stuffed with Atlantic cod with crabmeat in a saffron and tarragon sauce. This was magnificent. Crabmeat and saffron are two things that always go wonderfully together and this dish was no exception.

Chef Michele Pavanello gave my family and me a real treat for our third course. He served us a simple but sinful and sensual portion of risotto with summer truffles. The aroma was lovely, as was the taste. The risotto was served quite al dente. While I liked it this way both my father and mother said that they would have preferred it served a tad softer.

Our last savory was grain-fed grilled lamb cutlets with an Amarone wine sauce and broiled green asparagus. S really liked this dish. The lamb was soft, tender and very, very juicy. I would have liked the sauce to have had a slightly stronger flavor but I had to agree with her that the lamb itself was cooked expertly. Given that the sauce for this course was based on Amarone, S's favorite type of red wine, we thought that it was only fitting that we drink an Amarone with it. We enjoyed the lamb with a half bottle of Masi Amarone 1991.

The rest of my family was too full for dessert. Greedy guy that I am, I still had enough room for a scoop of strawberry ice cream paired with some summer berries and an espresso.

I'm very glad that I gave Il Lido both a second and a third chance. I'm also happy that I spaced my visits out over a few months. Beppe De Vito took the time in between my first and second visits to take what was a restaurant with promise but a lot of rough patches and turned it into a polished stunner, the kind of place where you'd take out-of-town friends and loved ones to show off or celebrate special occasions. I'm definitely going to return to Il Lido. And I'm definitely going to remember to be patient and understanding when trying a new restaurant during its first few weeks. Because making the wrong assumptions too early might mean ruling out what might become one of the city's best dining places in the long run.

Il Lido
Sentosa Golf Club
27 Bt Manis Rd #02-00
Singapore 099892
Tel: 6866 1977

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Classic cocktails and new discoveries

I'm a big fan of a well-made cocktail. I appreciate the combination of skill, passion, creativity and great ingredients that goes into mixing the perfect drink. All of these are important, perhaps not in equal measures, but without the presence of all four ingredients, that post-prandial you've been craving for might just leave you a little disappointed. These days, my tastes run pretty simple. I pretty much stick to ordering classic drinks. A glass of Champagne or some ice-cold sake and I'm happy. If pushed to order a mixed drink, I'll take a bellini, vodka gimlet, mojito or Pim's cocktail over newer, fancier libations any day. Of course, I was not always so simple. In fact, when I was younger, I'm embarrassed to say, I was quite the wanker. My tastes in my early teen years ran to bottled wine coolers. From these disgusting alcopops, I soon found myself exploring and enjoying sickly-sweet, garishly colored cocktails with stupid names like Woo-Woo, Fuzzy Navel and the way-too-popular Sex on the Beach. Pathetic, right? Thank God by the time I went to university I had moved onto microbrewed beers and handcrafted vodkas.

Despite my current penchant for classic combinations, I still enjoy occasionally discovering (and tasting) smartly-crafted and unique cocktails. One of my favorite finds of the past few years is the Alberto #1, named after and created by Alberto Alonso, who spent 40 years working behind the bar at the famous but now closed restaurant La Caravelle. It combines fresh lime juice, mint, sugar, and vodka, and is topped off with Champagne. It's a delightful, zesty drink that packs a huge punch.

photos courtesy of American Express Publishing Corporation

I recently had the opportunity to peruse Food & Wine's Cocktails 2006, a cool, pocket-size guide with over 150 drink recipes. While I have to admit that I probably would never attempt to mix many of the cocktails in this book, there were several that did catch my eye and a couple that had me drooling over the book's glossy and well-designed pages. I really like that the recipes are all attributed to bartenders and bars across America. It's a great way to discover interesting drinks and interesting places to drink in at the same time. Many of the drinks in this book have some pretty wacky names, like Label Whore, Heavy Petting, Finding Nemo, Periodista, and The Naughty Greek. In addition to the cocktail recipes, Cocktails 2006 also has a chapter containing 14 very yummy-sounding bar snack recipes. I was particularly excited by the stilton sirloin burgers with onion jam, attributed to the bar at the Peninsula in Chicago (pictured at the top right of the above montage). As a resource, this is a fun, attractive and informative book. I urge any amateur mixologist to pick one up. It's available in bookstores across the USA and off Food & Wine's website.

As a sneak preview, I'm transcribing 3 drink recipes that I find particularly yummy and one snack recipe that I'm sure you'll all love.

Blackberry-mint margarita
From The Hungry Cat, Hollywood, California
8 blackberries, 2 skewered on a pick
10 mint leaves
1.5 ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce sugar syrup

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 6 of the berries. Add ice, the mint, tequila, lime juice and the syrup shake well. Pour into a rocks glass; top with the 2 berries.

Boa 405
From Boa, Santa Monica, California
2 strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 ounce sugar syrup
1.5 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
dash of balsamic vinegar
large pinch of coarsely cracked black pepper

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberries and syrup. Add the vodka, lemon juice, vinegar and ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with pepper.

Vanilla old-fashioned
From Mas, New York City, New York
one 1-inch piece of vanilla bean, split (they recommend Madagascan or Tahitian)
one 1-inch piece of orange zest
1/4 ounce sugar syrup
2 dashes of orange butters
2 ounces bourban
1 orange wheel

In a rocks glass, muddle the vanilla bean and orange zest with the syrup and bitters. Add the bourban and ice. Stir and garnish with the orange wheel.

Truffled popcorn
From Suba, New York City, New York
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced black truffle (optional; I suggest using black truffle salsa)
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup popcorn kernels (7 ounces)
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the truffle, truffle oil and a pinch of salt; keep warm. In a large heavy pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and cook over moderate heat until they start popping. Cook, shaking the pot continuously, until the popping has almost stopped. Carefully pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Add the truffled butter and toss well. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Cocktails lovers looking for an alternative guide should check out The Cocktail by Jane Rocca. I wrote a little about this gorgeous book in my holiday gift guide last December. With 200 recipes and stunning illustrations, The Cocktail is as much an art book as it is a fantastic resource. Like some of the drinks in Food & Wine's guide, Ms Rocca has given many of her drinks some pretty witty names, like Violent Little Ol' Lavender Girl and Tina's On A Taipei Bus. Of the many drinks in this delightful book, the one I'm planning on making very soon is the Geisha Fizz. To make it, muddle 2 lychees in 10ml lemon juice. Then mix 15ml sake, 110ml Champagne, 15ml creme de gingembre with the muddled lychee and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake and strain into a flute. Garnish with a broken kaffir lime leaf.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Pecan sticky buns (or Brioche for Beginners)

It all started because of Monkey Bread. For almost 2 years, while attending Columbia University, I lived on 125th Street and Broadway. Around the corner from where I was staying was a small and humble bakery called The Bread Shop. (Sadly, I've learned through a quick google search that The Bread Shop has closed down -- another victim of the gentrification of Morningside Heights and Harlem that's raised rents and forced out dozens of great "mom & pop" shops.) It was a real neighborhood hangout, a place where local residents and students would stop in for a fantastic baked yummy or idle away an hour over coffee and cake. The two biggest reasons that I went to The Bread Shop were the delicious and cheap Indian vegetarian lunches they served every Tuesday and Thursday and their Monkey Bread, baked fresh daily. Before The Bread Shop, I had never eaten Monkey Bread before, let alone heard of it. There, it was a deliciously sticky "pull apart" bun, smothered in a white icing and flavored with sugar and cinnamon. It was, over those 2 years, one of my favorite sweet carb-laden treats.

Last week, I told my wife S that I wanted to try making Monkey Bread. Eyebrows raised, she looked at me skeptically and then remarked that the only Monkey Bread she'd heard of was savory. Maybe I had gotten the name wrong, she gently suggested. She even showed me a recipe for an herbed and savory version in the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Determined to find a recipe, I tore through several books in S's baking and dessert cookbook collection (some 2 dozen volumes). None of the ones I looked in had anything called Monkey Bread listed. I epicurioused it and came up empty. I googled it and this time I found several recipes on, but none of them sounded appealing. Most of them called for pre-mixed (canned) biscuit dough.

At S's suggestion, I decided instead to try making Sticky Buns, which seemed like a good idea until I started reading the recipe she recommended I follow -- Pecan Sticky Buns from Baking with Julia by Julia Child and Dorie Greenspan. To make these buns, which sounded divine, I would have to make brioche dough for the very first time. Yikes!

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog regularly knows that I'm not too skilled a baker. When it comes to anything that requires exact measurements, patience and a hot oven, you'll usually find me hollering for S to take over. Unfortunately, with S's doctoral thesis deadline just a month away, I was on my own. Making the brioche dough was nerve-wracking work. Brioche dough is a sticky dough. But baking-novice that I am, I didn't know that. To me, it just looked and felt odd. I was constantly worried it was too wet, too sticky... basically too wrong. Add to this neurosis the process of rolling out the dough, adding butter, rerolling it, chilling it and repeating the process a couple of times and you get one very discombobulated boy. After what must have been the 10th or 11th time bothering S to ask her if I was doing it right or should I add more flour or do something that was not in the book, she chastised me, telling me to stop being such a ninny and just follow the recipe. I should, she said, trust that the famous Ms Child and the fantastic Ms Greenspan weren't going to lead me astray. Turns out (of course), S was right. (Because the recipe I used covers 3 pages, I'm going to forego transcribing it. You can buy the book or just use another brioche recipe that yields around 2.25 lbs of dough.)

The filling for the buns was a combination of sugar (1/4 cup), cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon), and pecans (1 cup, chopped). The dough is divided into two portions. Each one is rolled out to around 11 inches by 13 inches and a quarter inch thick. An egg wash is applied to the lower 3/4 of the dough and the filling sprinkled over it. It's then rolled up into a log, starting at the lower end, wrapped in plastic and frozen for 1 hour. While the logs were chilling in the freezer, I prepared my pans; the recipe calls for two 9 inch round cake pans with high sides. Spread 4 ounces of softened butter on the base of each pan. Then sprinkle 1/2 cup of brown sugar over each pan. Once the logs are hard, slice each one into 7 pieces, each approximately 1.5 inches wide. Lay the slices flat side down and press 3 pecan halves into the top of each. Then place them, pecan sides down, into the prepared pans. Place 6 of them in a circle, with the 7th slice in the middle. Let these stand uncovered for 1.5 to 2 hours. The buns will rise and grow to touch each other.

Pop them into an oven preheated to 350ºF/180ºC for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. When done, quickly invert them onto a serving dish, let cool for a few minutes, then serve.

Given that I'd never made these before, I have to say that despite her making considerable fun of me, S was impressed. My neurosis over making the brioche dough had me yelling for her advice throughout the whole process, but pretty much I had managed to make these on my own. A considerable feat for a very undomestic husband. The only problem is that now S expects me to be able to make brioche for her whenever she wants.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The taste of Spring

S's phone beeped. The text message read, "Are you in town?" Just a few seconds after she replied in the affirmative, her phone rang. It was M. He'd just come back from a business trip to Germany and was brimming with enthusiasm. "I have something for you and your hubby. But you have to pick it up today or tomorrow." Not wanting to spoil the surprise, he wouldn't tell her much more than that. "Come pick it up as soon as possible."

So, after picking me up from work just a few hours later, I found myself walking into the building where M's office is located. Coincidentally, I ran into the mystery man himself, waiting for an elevator. With a huge smile (and I could have sworn a couple of chuckles), he very energetically shook my hand and ushered me into his office. "I have something really special for you. Better than truffles." He strode straight to a large, gleaming refrigerator, opened it, reached inside and pulled out a small, long package, wrapped in paper and plastic. Grinning from ear to ear, he told me, "I got these fresh from a farm for you and S."

White asparagus. No other vegetable connotes a beautiful European Spring than white asparagus. Delicate when steamed to perfection and delicious with just about anything--although many purists will argue that it's best with nothing more than a spot of freshly made Hollandaise--this lovely vegetable is very hard to find fresh in my part of the world and when it is available, it's ludicrously expensive. Being given a whole bundle was certainly a rare treat.

The asparagus M gave us were beautiful. They were big, firm, and full of flavor. S and I decided to cook them that same night. We quickly came up with 4 small courses. The first was the simplest and in some ways the best. It was a simple plate of steamed asparagus, served ice cold with some Japanese mayonnaise and some Hollandaise sauce. Our second course was steamed asparagus served under some grilled and oozing Tallegio. Our third course was steamed asparagus plated with some wonderful, slightly spicy, deboned oxtail stew that an Indonesian chef-friend of S's had given us. The last course was a pasta with asparagus that was first steamed then sautéed in brown butter, served with truffle oil and freshly grated Parmesan.

It was a wonderful and delicious gift. I doubt I'll ever be as thoughtful as M. I just can't imagine hand carrying back such delicate treats for anyone other than myself. But you can bet I'm extremely thankful S and I have friends who will.



Please take some time to take part in the 1st Annual Asia Pacific Best Restaurants List. Help vote on what you feel are the best restaurants in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. We need your nominations! For info, click on the logo above.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Greek spinach pie

Once upon a time, a sailor with a speech impediment and overdeveloped forearms convinced a generation of kids to eat their spinach. Eating spinach, he told us would make us stronger, faster and give us the ability to save our loved ones from evil... or at least big, ugly bearded guys.

While Popeye was not my favorite childhood cartoon hero, I shared and still share his enthusiasm for this iron-rich, leafy vegetable. As a kid, like so many others, I hated eating veggies. Spinach was one of the few exceptions. Unlike other greens, which I would only eat if disguised in rich creamy sauces or dressed in meat, I enjoyed the taste of spinach 'au naturel'. As I've gotten older, I've continued to enjoy spinach in a variety of styles. I've previously written about my love for creamed spinach, one of if not my favorite way of preparing my favorite vegetable.

Another favorite spinach recipe is spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie made with phyllo pastry. I used to order it religiously at a Greek restaurant around the corner from my university. This rich combination of feta and spinach coupled with crispy, fluffy phyllo is, when done well, simply delicious. Unfortunately, it's hard to get good Greek food in Singapore and until recently I'd gone years without sinking my teeth into a good spanakopita.

On my recent trip to Vienna, however, I had a fantastic one. My colleague had dragged me into a tiny Greek restaurant around the corner from Karlsplatz for lunch. While she wolfed down what looked like a great slice of moussaka, I happily consumed an outstanding portion of spanakopita.

It was so good in fact that I've been inspired to make my own. After looking at several different recipes in a number of cookbooks, I decided to try the one in Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. From what I read, it looked relatively easy. And it was, until I got to the step that involved separating the thawed phyllo sheets and layering them onto my baking tray. It was my first time using phyllo and while I'd watched others (like my darling wife S) use it, I'd never tried it myself. Many of the thawed phyllo sheets were stuck together and when I tried separating them, they broke apart. After a little patience and a lot of help from S (my savior!), I managed to put the pie together properly. Baking gods be praised... it came out well. I'd even say it was above-average. One of the two friends that we fed it to liked it enough to eat his way through half of the whole tray. For my tastes though, I think it needed a little more cheese and maybe some different kinds of cheeses. The pie tasted, well, healthy. Good, but healthy.

Adapted from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

2 pounds baby spinach
4 ounces feta cheese
4 ounces cottage cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup dill, fine chopped
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
14 sheets phyllo pastry
1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºF.

Wash the spinach, drain and then steam the spinach until soft. Press and drain off any excess water. Then put the leaves in a pan and cook over high heat, drying out the spinach. Mash the cheeses together with a fork. Add the egss, spinach, dill, and nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste.

Find a baking tray or pan a little smaller than the sheets of pyllo. Brush it with the oil. Place half of the phyllo sheets, one on top of the other, at the bottom of the pan, brushing each sheet with the oil, letting the sheets come up along the sides. Spread the spinach mix evenly on top. Then cover with the remaining sheets, brushing each, including the top one, with the oil. With a sharp-pointed knife, cut 2-inch diamonds with parallel lines into the pie, only down to the filling, not right through. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Cut along the cutting lines, this time right to the bottom, and serve hot.


Please take part in the 1st Annual Asia Pacific Best Restaurants List. Help vote on what you feel are the very best restaurants in Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands. For info, click on the logo above.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Asia Pacific Best Restaurants List

IMPORTANT UPDATE: voting is extended to 12 June 2006. If you are a non-blogger, you can email me your results anytime from now until Monday, 12 June 2006 (bloggers, please continue to post your nominations on 2 June 2006).


Announcing the First Annual

I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about Restaurant magazine's survey of the world's fifty best restaurants and how few restaurants from Asia, Australia and the Pacific islands were represented in it. So, in a bold (and perhaps hubristic) move, I've decided to try and build a comprehensive listing of Asia-Pacific's best restaurants.

This list, however, depends entirely on you, fellow bloggers, readers and friends. And in such, anyone and everyone is welcome to take part in this. I'll make this caveat right away: any survey is only as good as the people who take part in it. And it's only really credible if a lot of people take part. Also, no survey is perfect. Nor can it be truly definitive or objective. Zagat isn't. Nor is Michelin. Both simply represent a statistical summation of what a percentage of the population feels (for the former, a wide range of people, for the latter a small group of anonymous "experts"). So too will this survey be a summation of what you guys tell me. That said, let's try and put together one damn fine list! In general, all voters will be asked to nominate either 8 or 6 restaurants (depending on where you live), but via different criteria. Here's how I propose that this will work:

For people in Asia-Pacific (which includes the Indian subcontinent, the Central Asian states, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, North Korea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands):

1. Nominate what you believe are the best 2 restaurants in your home city / country. Please write at least 1 sentence per restaurant explaining why you've made your decision.

2. Nominate what you feel is your favorite restaurant in your home city / country. (This may or may not be different than what you consider your city's "best". But for many, it will. For example, in Singapore, I might rank Crystal Jade La Mien Xiao Long Bao as my favorite restaurant, but it would not be what I would consider one of the city's top two restaurants.) Please also write at least 1 sentence explaining why this is your favorite.

3. Please nominate what you believe are the 3 best restaurants from outside your own home city / country that are located within Asia-Pacific. Please write at least 1 sentence per restaurant explaining why you've made your decision.

4. Please nominate what are your 2 favorite restaurants outside your own home city / country that are located within Asia-Pacific. (Again, for example, I might pick Yu'u in Melbourne as a favorite but it would not make my "3 best" list.) Please write at least 1 sentence per restaurant explaining why you've made your decision.

scenes from some of Asia's top tables

For voters living outside of Asia-Pacific:

1. Please nominate what you believe are the 4 best restaurants located within Asia-Pacific. Please write at least 1 sentence per restaurant explaining why you've made your decision.

2. Please nominate what are your 2 favorite restaurants located within Asia-Pacific. Please write at least 1 sentence per restaurant explaining why you've made your decision.

For bloggers:

Please post your survey results on 2 June 2006. You can include the logo I've created. There is a big version available here and a smaller version available here. Please also link back to Chubby Hubby. Also, and very importantly, please email me a copy of your post/results. I'll need a soft copy so I can compile the results.

ALSO, if you wouldn't mind talking about (i.e posting about) this survey on your blog, encouraging others to take part, I'd be eternally grateful.

For non-bloggers:

Please, please also take part in this. Email your results to me at by 2 June 2006 (EXTENDED TO 12 JUNE 2006) as well. We will need as many voters as possible to make this a comprehensive survey.

Compilation and publishing:

I will, by the end of June, publish on my blog a summary of the results. Ideally, we will be able to work together to come up with a great list. In addition, I will seek sponsorship to try and publish a book containing the full results, with edited descriptions, full addresses, etc of each restaurant on the survey. If successful, every person who takes part in this will get a free copy of the published book. (If by chance you represent a company that would want to sponsor the publication of this survey, please, please, please email me).

When you email me (this goes for both bloggers and non-bloggers), please include your full name and mailing address. That way if we do get sponsorship, I ensure that I will be able to mail you a copy (plus credit you if you desire).

So, let's start judging. This will only work with your help. And I do so hope it works. Asia-Pacific has for far too long gone without a proper "best restaurants" standard. In the USA, there's Zagat; in Europe, there's Michelin. It's time to build one for Asia-Pacific.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The best way to use fruit

When I was young, my mother would often make banana cake for me and my brother. Her version was wonderfully moist, buttery and delicious; it was and still is one of my favorite childhood treats. These days, though, my wonderful wife S makes it for me. My mother has long since hung up her apron. The odd thing is that while I love banana cake, I'm not really a big fan of bananas. At least not in their natural state. Batter one and deep fry it and I'll happily gobble it up. Purée it and use it to flavor a batch of gelato and I'm a happy camper. But give me a raw banana and I'll probably leave it on my plate. I guess I'm kind of weird. I like fruit flavors but don't like most fruits.

Another fruit-flavored cake my mother would make--a variation of her banana cake--was a lovely aromatic and light orange cake. She didn't make this cake, however (and much to my chagrin), as often as she did the banana version. I like oranges you see. It's one of the few fruits I enjoy eating. And I love orange-flavored foods. Whether it's sorbet or duck, I have a thing for foods enhanced with this sweet, tangy and sticky fruit. Recently, I've discovered an amazing orange cake. PS Café's flourless orange cake is stunning. Served warm with some vanilla ice cream, it's one of the reasons I keep returning to this super trendy restaurant. I've also learnt that it's incredibly (some might say 'frighteningly') rich. Over a recent dinner, one of the café's owners let slip that each of these deliciously moist and tasty cakes uses 20 egg yolks.

Wanting to create a slightly healthier orange cake at home, I recently poured through S's and my ever-expanding cookbook collection. After reading a few recipes in a number of different books, and partly because I had just met the man, I decided to try Damien Pignolet's Serious Orange Cake recipe, from his sexy cookbook French. The cake--especially (well, mostly) because S helped out--was relatively easy to put together and was really delicious. The syrup, spiked with Cointreau, that is soaked into the cake gives it a yummy, slightly moist texture. Because I'm a sucker for all things "à la mode", I follow PS Café's service style and serve it slightly warm (i.e. nuked in the microwave for a few seconds) and with some of S's fantastic homemade ice creams.

Serious Orange Cake
1 orange, weighing around 150g, washed well and diced, pips removed
200g sugar
3 eggs
150g self-raising flour, sifted
a small pinch of salt
180g butter, melted and cooled a little

orange syrup
60ml orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1-2 tablespoons Cointreau

Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Grease and line a 24cm diameter springform cake tin with baking paper. Place the diced orange in the bowl of a food processor with the sugar and process until very smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the flour and salt and combine for 30 seconds. With the machine running, add the butter all at once. Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes; test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer--it should emerge clean and dry.

While the cake is cooking, make the orange syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the orange and lemon juices and the sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add the Cointreau to taste and simmer for 1 minute more.

When the cake is ready, remove from the oven but leave in the tin to cool for 5-10 minutes. Use a bamboo skewer to pierce the cake all over, then slowly spoon the syrup over the cake and leave until completely cool before turning out.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Iggy's is the 4th best restaurant in Asia

photo courtesy of Iggy's

Regular readers know that I'm a huge fan of Iggy's, the fantastic Modern European, over-the-counter fine dining restaurant in the Regent Hotel here in Singapore. Owner Ignatius Chan and chef Dorin Schuster have, through perfect service, exquisite food, and a wonderfully serene setting, created what I believe is one of the region's best restaurants.

I was thrilled, therefore, to recently receive in the mail the 12 April 2006 edition of Restaurant Magazine. This is the much-hyped, much talked about and much written about issue that contains the article, "The World's Fifty Best Restaurants". The list is based on surveying 560 "experts" around the world. The top fifty are profiled over 52 thrilling pages. Also included in the article are various sidebars. Two that peaked my interest were "Best Five in Asia" and "And the next fifty are..." According to the survey, Asia's best restaurants are, in order, Buchara (India), Felix (Hong Kong), Spoon (Hong Kong), Iggy's (Singapore), and Wusabi (India). In the "next fifty" ranking, Iggy's comes in at number 98. It is, it must be noted, the only restaurant in Southeast Asia in the world's top 100.

So, let's all raise a glass and congratulate Ignatius and Dorin for this accolade. 4th Best in Asia. By implication, the very best in Singapore!

Now, while you're all furiously punching +65 6732 2234 into your cellphones, booking hard-to-get seats at Iggy's counter, I'd like to segue into a small rant. Because, despite being one of the 560 voters who took part in Restaurant's survey, I have huge problems with it. The survey, once you examine who the voters are and where they are from, reveals itself as being Eurocentric and thus biased. Of the 560 voters, 280 are from Europe, 78 from the Americas, 47 from Africa, 31 from the Middle East, 31 from Central Asia and Russia, 62 from Asia, and 31 from Australia and New Zealand.

Further, when voting, the chosen "experts" are required to vote for / nominate 2 restaurants from their own appointed region and 3 from outside of their region. The Far East, comprising Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Micronesia, Nauru, N.Korea, Philippines, Singapore, S.Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, is amazingly considered one region. There were 31 voters from this region (As mentioned, I was lucky to be one of them). In Europe, however, France was a region on its own, with 31 voters. Similarly, the UK & Ireland; the Benelux countries; Spain & Portugal; Denmark, Sweden and Normway; Italy; Austria, Germany & Switzerland; and the Baltics were distinct regions, each with 31 voters. Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Georgia had 16 voters; Eastern Europe also had 16 voters. If you consider that every voter was asked to pick two restaurants from their own region, we get a minimum 560 required votes cast for European restaurants. In Asia, we have only a minimum of 124 required votes. Further, voters hailing from the Far East region are barred from voting for any other restaurants from the 20 countries in this region. A voter in France, however, can cast his or her 3 extra votes for restaurants anywhere in Europe outside of France. S/he can vote for restaurants in Spain, England, Germany, etc. Anyone can see that this survey is thus biased towards restaurants in Europe. No surprise then that 39 of the survey's top fifty are restaurants from Europe. From the "next fifty", 35 of 50 restaurants are based in Europe.

To me, what immediately screamed out that there was something fishy in the pages of Restaurant Magazine was that there was not one restaurant from Japan among the world's best 100 restaurants. After doing a little digging and a little math, as you can see, it's obvious the survey is stacked against restaurants not located in Europe.

My challenge to Restaurant Magazine is to make this survey more equitable. If you are going to call the Far East one region, then Western Europe should likewise be one region. Let's make the number of voters from the Americas, Asia and Europe more realistic and closer together. There's no reason other than pure calculated unfairness that Europe should have 3 times as many voters as any other geographical area.

I'll wager that if Restaurant makes positive changes to its survey, doing as I suggest, we'll find next year that there are many more Asian (and American) restaurants moving into the top fifty. I'd even bet that Iggy's would move up dramatically, if not into the top fifty (which I believe it deserves to be in), then at least a good 20-30 places. For now, at least, I can comfort myself in the knowledge that Asia's 4th best restaurant is just a phone call and a 15 minute drive away.

Iggy’s is located at level three of The Regent Singapore. Call (65) 6732 2234 for reservations.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Damien Pignolet's (friend Eve's) delicious dessert

The very yummy cake that chef Pignolet whipped up during his cooking demonstration

One of the restaurants that I’ve always wanted to eat at but have not gotten around to visiting yet is Bistro Moncur, located in Sydney, Australia. My good friend J, who runs the sumptuous blog Kuidaore, went there a while back and has raved about it ever since. Chef-owner Damien Pignolet is known for his exquisite, refined yet also classic renditions of French food. Many consider him to be one of the fathers of French cuisine in Australia.

I had the pleasure this past week of not only meeting chef Pignolet but of eating a meal half-prepared by him, attending a cooking demonstration conducted by him, and sharing a lovely meal with him at Sin Huat Eating House. I say “half-prepared” because chef Pignolet cooked half of the dishes served at this multi-course extravaganza, while host chef, Chris Millar of Poppi, cooked the other half. All of the food was wonderful—chef Millar really out did himself with a delicious boneless, rolled and stuffed suckling pig course. But for me, the high point of the night was an amazing dessert that chef Pignolet calls “Eve’s Chocolate Cake.” Regular readers know that I’m not a big chocolate person. And because I tend to like milk chocolate a bit more than dark, my wife S, who is a real chocolate fanatic (snob), considers me a bit of a heathen. But I loved this cake. It was rich without being overpowering. And it had a wonderful light and semi-moist texture—derived from a combination of baked and unbaked batter (yup, unbaked… I’ll get to that in a moment). Sadly, because I was so incredibly stuffed, and because the Eve’s Chocolate Cake was presented as just one thing in a large dessert sampler (and greedy me wanted to taste everything), despite my taste buds spurring me on, I couldn’t finish the portion served to me.

Luckily, just a few days later, I was presented with another heavenly slice. And not only did I get to eat every last crumb, but I also got to watch chef Pignolet make this dessert. Of course, in the hands of a professional chef who has probably made this hundreds of times, the process looked really simple. With my rather clumsy baking skills, I'll probably mess this up somehow.

Chef Pignolet conducted his class in the swanky Miele showroom in Singapore

The recipe for this cake and many more delicious dishes can be found in chef Pignolet’s gorgeously designed cookbook, French, which was just recently published by Penguin. The beauty of this cake lies in its texture. It has a wonderfully moist top which acts a bit like a sauce but isn't (am I making any sense?). It’s actually unbaked cake mix which is spread over the baked cake. And since this cake is flourless, this unbaked mixture is essentially a chocolate mousse or pudding.

Chef Pignolet explained to us that the recipe is named after his friend Eve, whom gave him this recipe in exchange for one of his. I urge you all to try making this and tell me how it turns out. I’ll be doing the same and hopefully (fingers crossed), my product will be as tasty as chef Pignolet’s was.

Eve’s Chocolate Cake
360g bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits
50g soft unsalted butter
12 x 65g eggs, separated
50g caster sugar
a little extra bittersweet chocolate and cocoa to decorate

Grease a 26-28cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 150 Degrees C. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a bain-marie of hot (but not boiling) water and then work in the soft butter. Beat the egg yolks with 30g of the sugar until pale. Then combine them with the chocolate and butter mix. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Then beat in 20g of the sugar until stiff. Beat ¼ of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mix. Fold this gently but thoroughly back into the remaining egg white mixture. Transfer ¼ of the cake mixture into a bowl and refrigerate. Pour the balance of the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes. It should remain slightly moist in the centre. To test, press the centre with your finger after 30 minutes – it should hold the indentation. When the cake is ready, invert it onto a serving platter. Remove the ring and base. Leave it to cool completely. The cake should collapse and leave a crater in the centre. Fill the crater with the reserved cake mix and scatter with the extra bits of chocolate. Dust lightly with cocoa and serve with whipped cream.

Recipe comes from French, published by Penguin, copyright owned by Damien Pignolet.