Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Oh Brien's

Phew. After clearing 2 reports, I feel like a new man. Principles of Genetics is truly no joke. Now I have time to post last Sunday's lunch.

I headed for O'Briens at Millenia Walk together with my sis, Pearl, and her friend, Limin, after church. I know it sounds really unlike me but there are days when I feel the urge to eat something light. Maybe it's an innate balancing system to give the digestive tract a rest. So yes. I had sandwiches for lunch that day. No big bowl of creamy soup, no unlimited helpings of bread and no dessert.

I had the Tuna Swiss Melt Toostie ($7.60) which was basically a tuna mayo sandwich. Toostie apparently is O'Briens' term for 'classic thick bread toasted sandwich'. It was slightly thicker than the average slice of Gardenia bread, but it was no monster. A choice of white or brown bread was available. It originally came with Aran Island Sauce that resembled Thousand Island but I had told the staff to go easy on that. They ran out of Swiss cheese so I settled for cheddar and mozzarella instead. In fact I had actually planned to order Turkey & Brie but they had run out of Turkey. Off-peak season or over-hunted last Christmas perhaps?

The tuna filling was supported by red onions, tomato slices, cheese and a lettuce-rocket combo. Over-all I did enjoy the sandwich though I wouldn't rank it as one of the best around. I wished they would increase their measely portion of chips which accompanied the sandwich.

Pearl and Limin decided to share a Mozzarella Wrappo ($6.60) and a Tropical Tossed Salad ($7.60).

The Mozzarella Wrappo looked like what the Incredible Hulk would eat if he goes vegetarian. I found it to be rather refreshing with fresh basil, tomatoes and mixed leaves wrapped in a spinach tortilla wrap. This wrap is vegetarian and tastes as healthy as it sounds. The fresh flavours of the ingredients tamed a little by the soft tortilla.

The Tropical Tossed Salad had bits of chicken, mango, orange, sultanas, cucumber, watercress and mixed leaves tossed in a very fragrant olive oil vinaigrette. This really worked up my appettite with the fresh-tasting leaves, citrusy orange pieces, sweet sultanas and slightly savoury olive oil priming my taste buds for more. But I did maintain my discipline especially with dinner just a mere three hours away. That's another story though.

O'Briens (with various branches)
Millenia Walk
Tel: 68832710
Opens 7.30am - 9.00pm Monday to Friday
9.30am - 9.00pm Saturday
11.30am - 8.00pm Sunday/Public Holidays

Chew On This: All branches are enabled with free wireless broadband (WIFI) access so customers can have a bite and yet remain connected to the world through their laptops, PDAs etc.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Astounding Aston's

Perhaps part of being Singaporean means queuing up for something (even if it's for Hello Kitty) and feeling happy after a good bargain. It was the latter that propelled me to Aston's Specialties again. Good food at even better prices. I wasn't looking forward to the queue though.

This was my third visit to Aston's and my second time blogging about it. On my virgin visit, I queued for about 20 minutes. It became just over 30 minutes on my second. And on my most recent visit, I waited for almost an hour! I still can't believe I had waited for an hour. It must have been the food demon in me suppressing all rational and practical thinking.

We thought most people who had to wait long in the queue would order more food and take their time to eat to make the time spent in the queue 'more worthwhile'. Another very Singaporean trait. But as soon as we got our seats, we realised that while people may order more food, they most certainly won't linger over each dish. Despite the visual presence of a few units of air-conditioning on one side of the wall, the place was stuffy and hot. Aston, please do not ever start selling steamboat in here.

Previously happy with the Prime Ribeye Extra Cut ($14.90 for 250g), I stuck to the same choice and selected a baked potato and pasta salad for the accompanying sides. The steak was done to medium-rare perfection and was as good as I had remembered it to be. Tender, juicy and full of beefy oomph. Kudos to the pasta salad too. I had raved about this here before and still am raving about it. Spirals tossed with oil, some herbs and a hint of citrus really refreshed the taste buds.

After loving attention on the open-flame grill, the ribeye still spotted nice pink insides. Lovely.

But from previous experience, though the ribeye was delicious, 250g of bovine protein could not really fill my stomach. Much less appease hunger. So I had to stock up on carbos which was why I selected the above two said side dishes.

In addition, I also ordered a Spicy Grilled Chicken Spaghetti. But the servers made a mistake and brought me a Salmon Spaghetti ($7.90) instead. Hungry me wasn't going to wait for chicken. Thick flakes of salmon were placed over the spaghetti and bathed in a tomato sauce. While the spaghetti was too limp and over-done (like in a previous visit), the sauce of tangy tomatoes and the salmon flesh were sufficiently tasty. For a tomato-based pasta, I was surprised that there was quite a lot of oil in it. But pasta isn't really Aston's strength.

And my next point is about the soup-of-the-day or more aptly called the soup-of-everyday. It comes with every spaghetti ordered and is also available ala carte ($2.20). No surprise that it was Cream of Mushroom. On all three visits, somehow it has always been Cream of Mushroom. With that said, I have to comment that it has improved since my first visit last November. It now has a bit more taste to it but don't expect much for a $2.20 soup.

Daniel ordered the Grilled Chicken and Sausage Combo ($10.90). The chicken can be done in any of the available styles. Daniel had his with a smokey hickory barbeque sauce. I found the sauce a bit heavy and would try other styles the next time. The chicken thigh was tender and while the sausages looked like those from a can, they had a crunchy bite.

If you think of going at a later time to avoid the lunch/dinner crowd, think again. I arrived at about 6.15pm, got a seat after an hour and when I passed by again later at about 10.30pm, the queue seemed to be equally long. And no, they do not take reservations unfortunately.

Aston's strength lies in the affordable prices (except for 30 cents for iced water), very valued-for-money food, and fantastic beef. With beef of this standard at this price, this hungrycow has been won over.

Aston's Specialties (or Specialities? The signboard and receipt say different things. Anyone can clarify?)
119 East Coast Road
Tel: 91474627
Opens 12pm-3am
Closed on Mondays

Chew On This: While in the queue, I was looking at this menu board. Is it just me or with the maroon backing and dark wood borders, does it look like what the now-defunct Ponderosa used to have?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Good Catch

Big Fish is a two-year plus old restaurant that sits along one of my favourite makan haunts, Upper East Coast Road. And it was also where the Deli Aprecio Club visited last Saturday.

Together with a group of about 23 people, I went down for lunch. Susan had pre-arranged with Big Fish and a four course set lunch was subsequently rolled out.

The meal started with a delicious Pumpkin Soup which was accompanied with warm, thick slices of bread. The Pumpkin Soup was sweet and creamy with a hint of spice that prevented it from being overly cloying.

For the main course, we were served Pan-Fried Sole with Assorted Vegetables. The sole tasted fresh and its flesh was soft and yielded easily to my fork. The assorted veggies consisting of leek, bell peppers, onions and cauliflower, were a little too oily for my liking. I would have preferred them roasted and drizzled with a little olive oil to add a smokey dimension. The only carb on the plate was the mashed potato which was smooth except for the small chunks of potato (purposely done?), giving it an interesting texture. The presentation of the dish was pretty with the colourful veggies adding er..colour and red wine reduction, orange sauce and basil oil drizzled around the plate. Unfortunately, the trio of sauces did not really work for me. While they did not taste bad individually, I would have preferred just one type of sauce. With fresh seafood, there's no need for complicated sauces and flavourings ya?

Paprika, a mild red pepper, seemed to be the choice of garnish here at Big Fish. I first noticed paprika dusted over the Pumpkin Soup and now sprinkled on the edges of the plate.

To round up the meal was home-made (or rather restaurant-made) Brownie with Mixed Chopped Fruits and Mango Sauce. The Brownie was a tad dry but I so like the chocolate ganache layer at the top of it. Thick, creamy and rich, it was not overly sweet and had a slight bitter aftertaste. It also probably had a quickie with an alcohol. But by then, it could have just been my inner wanting surfacing.

Now to the man behind the food. Is that you asking for the fourth course, I hear? It's either a soft drink, coffee or tea. Ok back to the brains and hands behind the food.

Previously from hotels such as Goodwood Park and the Mandarin, Chef Terrence has helmed the kitchen here since its opening. He brought to the table a lemon sole and explained about the fish and some ways of cooking it. Other fishes that are available here include halibut, mahi mahi, snapper, rainbow trout and of course the omnipresent salmon and tuna. Most of these are air-flown from New Zealand and Australia.

Is a lemon sole black...

or white?

Both! It's a type of flounder so one side is black while the other is white.

I can't help but liken Big Fish to Greenwood Fish Market. Both serve delicious seafood and have a good selection to choose from. But unlike the latter, Big Fish does not have a market whereby fresh seafood, gourmet sauces and flavoured oils are available for sale. The lady boss, Ms Loi, pointed out that the market for these items there are small and the relatively near-by Blue Lobster does already serve this market. But if you wish to purchase a piece of fish or two or a dozen of mussels for that matter, you can try asking Ms Loi. *winks*

By the way, Big Fish does sell marinated seafood for barbeques so the next time you want a barbeque but are too lazy to go grocery shopping and go through all the hassle of preparing the food, think Big Fish.

Big Fish Seafood Grill
85 Upper East Coast Road
Lunch: 11.30am-2.30pm
Dinner: 6-10pm
Closed on Mondays.
Tel: 64416920

Chew On This: If you like oysters, come down to Big Fish on Wednesdays and with an order of a main course, fresh raw oysters are available at $1 each.

PS: Group pic provided by Pony. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Eat Some Dim Sum!

After much cajoling, a few of us decided to check out Victor's Kitchen. A small hole-in-the-wall place serving dim sum. We had intended to try out this place for quite some time now but procrastination and forgetfulness got the better of us, til now.

As seats were few and patrons quite aplenty when we visited during a Saturday lunch, we were directed to a 'satellite' branch. It's just a turn of a corner from the 'main branch'. The 'satellite branch' is actually just another unit that they have taken up and is only filled with tables and seats. The cooking and 'brain' of Victor's Kitchen are still at the 'main branch'.

For lunch that day (a very light one in my view), we had Tasty Queen Size Siew Mai, Victor's King Prawn Dumpling, steamed Scallop Sausage Carrot Cake, Chicken & Sausage in Glutinous Rice, Yummy Yummy Phoenix Claws, Milky Custard Bun, King Prawn Cheong Fun, Char Siew Cheong Fun, Deep Fried Spring Roll, Nemo's Porridge and Phoenix Porridge. These names were what was found on the order sheet. I found the English names of the food rather confusing (Wala Wala Porridge?) and some even repulsive (Nemo's Porridge = Clown fish Porridge?) But thank God for the Chinese names which made more dim sum sense. So refer to the Chinese names to order.

Nobody eats dim sum without Siew Mai and Har Gao. For me, these two items are the litmus test for any dim sum place. And the Tasty Queen Size Siew Mai ($2.50) and Victor's King Prawn Dumpling ($3.50) here pass muster. I didn't really find them fantastic but they were neither bad as well.

I have to mention that both tasted fresh, with the Victor's King Prawn Dumpling spotting sizable, crunchy prawns. It's skin though, could have been made be more resilient.

The Yummy Yummy Phoenix Claws ($3) or otherwise know as chicken feet was average. While it wasn't awful, it was also nothing to shout or blog about. I felt that it lacked some thing that would normally stimulate me to order more portions of one of my favourite dim sum dishes.

Thankfully there wasn't any orange-and-white-striped clown fish in the bowl of Nemo's Porridge ($3) pictured above. In its place were slices of snakehead fish and century egg. The Phoenix Porridge ($3) was essentially the same except that instead of fish slices, it was chicken. Both were very Cantonese-like, being more of a consistency where the rice grains disintegrate into the porridge water, forming a starchy goo. I noted the absence of julienned ginger (which I dislike biting into) which made some of my friends complain. I do have to state that a piece of ginger in porridge does perk it up with a subtle fresh aroma.

The Deep Fried Spring Rolls ($2.50) were filled with veggies and fried to a golden brown. How bad can deep fried food taste? But then again...

The rest of the items we ordered were much better. In particular, I have to rave about the steamed (not deep fried) Scallop Sausage Carrot Cake ($3). This was one time when I did not even bother about the scallop or sausage and just dived straight for the carrot cake. It was smooth, starchy bliss. My star pick for that lunch.

The Cheong Fun was also good. Both the King Prawn ($3.50) and Char Siew ($3) versions boasted smooth, silky yet firm sheets of flour. The King Prawn and Char Siew were juicy and splashed with some of the accompanying sauce, made this hungrycow even hungrier.

I'm not really a big fan of custard buns, preferring savoury over sweet. But the Milky Custard Buns ($2.50) here made me smile. A guy with a bun in his hand smiling may seem a tad perverse but hey it's a damn good custard bun! The slightly chewy dough enveloped a rich, creamy custard. The yellow custard wasn't dry and its sweetness balanced with the saltiness of an embedded salted egg yolk.

The Chicken & Sausage in Glutinous Rice ($4) came wrapped in a lotus leaf. Getting through the leaf and parting open the rice revealed pieces of chicken, mushrooms, lup cheong (Chinese Waxed sausage) and chestnut among others.

The sticky glutinous rice was flavoured beautifully with these ingredients and made for a more substantial filling of the stomach.

All in all, I did enjoy lunch here and certainly won't mind returning. Oh and please don't come expecting refined dim sum or comparing the ones served here to, say, Crystal Jade. They are on quite different scales and pricing. If good no-frills dim sum is what you seek, then come on down to Victor's Kitchen and eat some dim sum!

Victor's Kitchen
Sunshine Plaza
91 Bencoolen Street
Tel: 98382851
Closed on Mondays

Chew On This: Chef-owner Victor Leung and his wife are originally from Hong Kong. In fact Victor was a dim sum chef in a Kowloon Hotel before settling here in Singapore so that their son could benefit from the local education system.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Christmas Flog Exchange Meet-Up

Christmas may be long over for most people but to eight food bloggers, the 13th of January 2007 was the 20th day of Christmas (I think). We met up at Tea Bone Zen Mind Cafe. Very oddly-named, the place was decorated with a mix-mash of new contemporary touches and old world charm. One example is a stylish red Kitchen Aide on the old school green cupboard setting. The latter was used to keep food during the time when my mum was a kid. Netting allowed air to circulate but kept out pests.

I was rather tired that day from the exhaustive first week of the new school semester. But this Christmas Flog Exchange was just too important to skip. Having read most of their blogs, I only knew them by their blogs. Except for a few who had appeared on BlogTV. And this was a good chance to get to know the people behind the blogs.

I have to say I was cautious as I did not really know what to expect. Were the floggers a bunch of chi-chi show-offs? Arrogant? Intimidating? No, no and no. After the initial warming up, I realised that this bunch is very down-to-earth. Very unassumingly comfortable. Casual banter over the Christmas gifts, poisonless puffer fish, sambal, drunk Japanese chef, sperm (Yes. Don't think dirty now.) and food in general brought everyone to a common ground- that is the love for food.

And good food with good company (like this bunch) always equal good fun. In fact, I realised that there were times that our cameras did the talking. For example, after opening a jar of guacamole, there was a distinctive silence except for the flashing and clicking of cameras. For what seemed like a few minutes, nobody spoke. It was then that I was conscious of the soft background music. It was an awesome feeling. Strangers who just met up, quietly taking pictures of food in an orderly queue. It was almost instinctively that the photo-taking was in a certain clockwise order. No cross-flashers, no foreign body part unintentionally coming into the picture frame. And no one complaining that the food was getting cold by the time the pictures were done. For me, it was awesome. Did I just repeat awesome?! I think Callen was pretty amused. Can't blame a group of floggers when we meet for food.

I have to admit that the longgish tables proved challenging when this hungrycow had to lean across to take a picture of Jasmine's Strawberry Shortcake (bought by Superfinefeline from Canele) and suffered a minor quadriceps cramp. The picture of the cake was blur as a result. I'll leave it to Jasmine to blog about the cake.

On to the presents. I managed to get Japanese confectionery from Takashimaya after recces at Mediya and Isetan proved unworthy. There was a good variety and I picked out nine different pieces which were placed in a box and very nicely wrapped. Doubly wrapped in fact. Mochi and jelly with chestnuts, red bean, sakura, matcha, pumpkin and chocolate dominated.

I'm glad that Sam, my wishee, liked it. I couldn't get winter themed ones as requested by her because by now, winter was over while more New Year and spring influenced-flavours abound.

Check out the macarons! It was a gift from June, my wish-maker. She went to Canele to get them but unfortunately some tai tai in front of her grabbed the last few macarons. In the end, she got these from Bakerzin. Thank you so much for the effort. In fact, June had originally wanted to bake a white chocolate and Earl Grey-infused batch for me after digging through her cook books. Now, that's a thought that I appreciate. Things like flipping through cook books and digging for a particular recipe all take time and effort. I'm going to try my hand in making a second attempt after she emails me the recipe. :)

And she got a beautiful set of serving plates from Ivan.

Talking about effort and time invested, Sam probably deserved much credit for making guacamole, salsa and Mexican wedding cookies. Each was filled into a nice glass jar, attached with a hand-written card, recipe and a decorative ribbon. Unfortunately her wishee was unable to turn up and fortunately for the rest of us there, we had the fortune to savour these delicious treats.

The guacamole had unusual ingredients such as grapes, pear and pomegranate seeds but these worked well with the creamy avocado. The salsa too was yummy with garlic, tomato and basil. They make perfect companions eaten with tortilla chips. The Mexican wedding cookies were slightly crunchy balls with a nut core and icing sugar dusting. It was my first time eating them and if not for courtesy sake (read MANNERS), I would have devoured the whole jar. Besides, I had already polished off the last two cookies that Mia baked. Not so nice to finish off all the food though that seems to be my normal function la.

The other only guy present was Ivan. I've always admired his photographic skills. His pictures on his blog and his entries on Slow Food never fail to make me hungry. I've got to thank him for sharing a tip or two. Things like flash can be such a pain some times. Food bloggers, you know what I mean.

Ivan was also the one who recommended the cha ye dan (tea leaf egg) at Tea Bone Zen Mind Cafe. He heard from two of his friends that it's done very well here. At $3.50, it's probably the most expensive cha ye dan that I've eaten. Apparently cooked with 30 plus herbs for six hours, I was wondering if this cha ye dan would turn out to be a century egg. But after waiting for a rather long time, it certainly did not disappoint.

Look ma, no shell. Yes, just a boiled egg slightly stained brown with the herbal liquid. It looked like a normal cha ye dan placed on fancy crockery. But it was only after using the flat metal spoon to pierce through the egg that I realised the beauty of the cha ye dan here. What oozed out was yellow creamy yolk. Slightly cooked til some bits are just starting to harden, the yolk was unlike the yellow, dry powdery stuff that we've come to expect from eating too many cha ye dan at pasar malam. The runny egg yolk mixed with the brown herbal broth tasted really good. Rich but not overly-herbal. I was impressed with this cha ye dan. But if the egg yolk is too runny for your liking, do what Superfinefeline did and ask the staff to change it for you. Food should be eaten the way you personally enjoy it.

The menu at Tea Bone Zen Mind Cafe consists of mainly teas (Earl Grey, Oolong, Red Date, Masala...) and a few finger food. I ordered their Lemongrass Tea ($10) and requested for it to be iced. A long stalk of lemongrass in the tall glass added visual impact and also doubled up as a stirrer. Ingenious. The tea was really refreshing and just what I had needed to wash down the cha ye dan. The citrus flavour of the lemongrass shone through nicely. I'm not sure what tea they used but I did enjoy it. All of their teas, come with a small side item for your nibbling pleasure. With my Lemongrass Tea, I had two curled up pieces of 'fish crackers'. It resembled a crispy version of those rolled cuttlefish snacks.

It was awesome (again) to meet up with local foodies and to get to know the faces behind the blogs I read. I'm looking forward to more of such outings.

Tea Bone Zen Mind Cafe
38A Seah Street (Look out for the stairs just besides Soup Restaurant.)
Tel: 63335400

Chew On This: Tea Bone Zen Mind Cafe has a series of stairs leading to it and also another spiral staircase leading to the top floor. So it might be inconvenient for those less mobile or with quadriceps cramp.

ps: Group pic provided by Mia. Thanks!