Monday, June 29, 2009

Little Nonya

It was no surprise that after the hit TV drama serial, The Little Nonya, all things Peranakan became in vogue... including food.

But long before The Little Nonya, this small kiosk in Bukit Timah Plaza has been faithfully serving up delicious food and nibbles. It all started 29 years ago with a Peranakan lady who ground her rempah (spice mix) with the traditional stone pestle and mortar at the kiosk. Fast-forward three generations to today, she is no longer involved in the strenuous day-to-day operations but her family continues to fly the flag.

Although the current boss, Damien, has switched to using prepacked onions and done away with the pestle and mortar, the food is nonetheless tasty.

Dropping by for a rather late lunch, most of the rice items, such as the Nasi Kunyit and Nasi Lemak, have been sold out. So we made the most out of it... by ordering Mee Siam, Laksa, Mee Rebus and desserts.

I loved the Mee Siam ($4.50) with its tangy assam gravy. Perfect to complement the hard boiled egg, especially the yolk.

The Laksa ($4.50) was my favourite for the afternoon. Oh yes. Rich coconut gravy with spicy sambal and chopped hae bee (dried shrimps) made this truly wonderful. The pieces of tau pok (puffed tofu) and prawns tasted great in this gravy.

As for the Mee Rebus ($4.50), the starchy gravy was liberally flavoured with the goodness of tau cheo (fermented soy beans). Another good gravy for going with hard boiled egg. Though the taste could be a little boring after a few mouthfuls.

Some common ingredients found in all three noodle dishes were the small pieces of tau pok, three fairly big prawns and the single hard boiled egg. Not that it got repetitive, but these are just great to eat with gravies such as these.

Wash all that down (especially on a hot afternoon) with Bandung and Chin Chow at $1.50 each. The rose-flavoured drink was milky and sweet but slightly watered down while the Chin Chow was refreshing.

For desserts, we had the Homemade Fresh Bubur Terigu ($2.20)- a dessert made with wheat. I enjoyed biting into the beads of wheat. Taste wise, this was heavy on the gula melaka (palm sugar).

The "No Horse Run" Bubur Cha Cha ($2.50) had soft cubes of sweet potato and yam in a thick soup of coconut milk and syrup. Pandan (screwpine) flavour was evident and lent a light, sweet refreshing fragrance. The jelly cubes were chewy but could be a little softer.

All in all, these are food whipped up with passion. It is a factor that can only come from the heart- a heart with love for food. But it's not surprising after meeting Damien- the 3rd generation boss with a love for what he is doing.

Nonya Delicatessen
Bukit Timah Plaza
Tel: 6469 1166

Chew On This: I hear they have very good kueh kueh but unfortunately it wasn't available during my visit as Damien's sister was on leave. She's in-charge of kueh kueh while another sister specialises in the desserts. Family business indeed. :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Crabs! Crabs! Crabs!

Lovers of crabs should pay attention. Ellenborough Market Cafe at Swissotel Merchant Court will be launching an Ultimate Crab Buffet ($46++ per adults & $23++ per child) from 25 June to 12 July.

So it's time for crabs, crabs, crabsssss.

Do note that as this was an invited tasting session, the presentation may differ from the buffet offerings.

Salad of Hokkaido Crabmeat with Apple & Walnut was a light-tasting affair with the gentle sweetness of the crab, slight tartness of the julienned apples and textural crunch of the chopped walnuts.

Then the Braised Shark's Fin Soup with Crabmeat appeared. A rather thick soup with a generous serving of skinny flesh from crab legs. Oh yes, fresh crabmeat that has already been deshelled. How convenient! :)

I loved the Fragrant Thai Sauce Crab for its meaty crab pieces in a savoury-tangy-spicy sauce that just coated the pieces.

The Nonya Curry Crab was equally good! I don't get what made this dish Nonya but the marsala mix used in the gravy was good. Leaning a little more to Indian flavours. Yum.

All-time crab favourites Black Pepper Sri Lankan Crab and Wok-Fried Sri Lankan Chilli Crab with Man Tou were there too. The black pepper taste was a tad over-powering for me. I think I would have preferred white pepper.

The chilli crab was saucy and slightly sweet with a little chilli heat coming at the back. The mini-sized man tou was very handy and if not careful, one could easily pop one too many of these deep-fried pillows.

A disappointing item was the Crab Risotto. I felt it lacked much taste and the rice was overcooked. Perhaps a better quality rice or control over the cooking, and a drizzle of crustacean oil would lift this dish.

There was also Crabmeat Fried Rice with Asparagus & Flying Fish Roe. I felt this was dominated by corriander. Yay for some, boo to others.

Mooving on to the sweet stuff.

Desserts at the buffet counter featured cakes, chocolate fountain, bo bo cha cha, cheng tng, sweet glutinous rice balls, black sesame paste, bread & butter pudding but but but...

leave space for the Durian Pengat- a dessert that has been long-associated with Ellenborough Market Cafe.

A creamy paste of durians, cream and sugar (gula melaka?), this was quite a good treat to end the meal. Of course I'll prefer the fruit itself but the pleasure of durians without seeds and horrible durian-scented hands can be tempting.

And when I thought it was over. The Kueh Dardar showed up. Not that I'm complaining though. Freshly-made, it had a really soft, delicate texture with a ground coconut and gula melaka filling.

And to add on a small note. There are other offerings beside crabs at the buffet too.

Big thanks to Sok Hoon and Yvonne of Swissotel Merchant Court for the invitation and for hosting me. Also, special thanks to the kitchen staff whom I bet had spent a lot of effort extracting crabmeat.

Ellenborough Market Cafe
Lobby Level
Swissotel Merchant Court
Tel: 6239 1848

Chew On This: Especially if you crave a crab buffet. Happy crabbing!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day Dinner @ Aston's Prime

Man and his meat. It almost seems a natural bonding since caveman times. And so it was apt that we had dinner at the newly-shifted Aston's Prime for Father's Day.

I have tried Aston's Prime once when it was still at Joo Chiat, together with friends from Ieatishootipost. It was a session to garner feedback, especially of the then newly-introduced hotplate. I can still smell the scent of onions gently sizzling on the hotplate.

Back to its new premise at Centrepoint, the hotplate has been discontinued. While there is no more sizzling onions, there also isn't the issue of over-cooking the steak.

Under the warm glow of the UFO-looking lamp, we browsed the menu (kept exactly the same as Joo Chiat's) and made our orders.

We ordered a Baby Spinach Salad ($8.90) because it had bacon veggies are an essential part of a healthy diet. The bacon was deliciously delicious. Bits of meat and crisp in fragrant saltiness. Perfect for raw leaves. The sun-dried tomatoes also provided a slight tangy-ness.

It's Father's Day so dad should go first. Here's his Steak & Apple Sausage ($23.90). The steak was a 200g Angus sirloin done to his favourite doneness- medium-to-well. I had a bit of the apple sausage and liked its meaty bite with a balance of savoury and just a hint of sweetness. He choose Steamed Vegetables and Baked Potato as his choice of sides.

Mum's Veal Chops ($31.90) done medium was as good as I had remembered the one at Joo Chiat too be. But the portion seemed to have shrunk. Anyway, it was tender and sweet with a slight milky, buttery flavour. Mum had the Corn on the Cob and Brussel Sprouts.

Sis ordered the Angus Striploin ($18.90) also done medium, which turned out to be tough. Her sides of Cheezy Potato Skins and Potato Wedges were yums! Great for picking off her plate. Hahaha.

I selected the Angus Ribeye X-Cut ($23.90) done medium-rare, with Baked Potato and Creamed Brocoli. Unlike Aston's Specialties where the steaks are generally 200g and X-Cut means 250g, the steaks at Aston's Prime are 250g (except in combos) and X-Cut 300g. Aston has also changed the meat at this new location from Long Fed to Angus (New Zealand). The Angus Ribeye X-Cut was a thick slab with charred marks on the surface and reddish-pink inside. Tender it was but I feel somehow there wasn't much marbling and the flavour was a tad muted.

But that's nothing a few turns of the salt mill can't fix. Then I realised, it was under or not salted. Duh. A sprinkling of this pink salt instantly perked up the sweetness of the steak.

And it was all washed down with a Barbera D'Alba DOC 2003 ($69 from thehungrycow). Plenty of red fuits, plums and smokiness. It had a hint of tangy-savouriness that reminded me of plump tomatoes. Juicy with low tanins and good acidity.

Note: BYO but $10 for corkage

Aston's Prime
Tel: 6235 0556

Chew On This: As with all the other Aston's outlets, what you see on the menu is what you pay! No GST, service charge. That's outstanding for a place especially on prime land. And the service is pretty commendable too. At this price point and for the quality of food, no other establishments even come close.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tetsu- New Menu, Many Hits

Tetsu previously left me with fond memories not so much of their specialty tonkatsu or kushi, but of the more humble kani tofu, swordfish tataki and udon.

That's why I was very impressed at their new menu launch which has items that go beyond the deep-frying-centric theme. Chef Kent and his team must have really worked their ketsunoana off.

As this was a tasting session, please note that photos may not accurately reflect the normal serving portion. Prices in brackets are of a la carte orders.

The tasting started off with otoshi. Pretty much like an amuse bouche, the chef creates a small item to start the meal and prime the taste buds for what's to come. This one was a fried chicken ball with mayo.

The starter plate featured Kawa Ebi Karaage ($8), Renkon Chips ($4) and Fugu Mirin Boshi ($10). This translates into Deep-Fried River Shrimps, Deep-Fried Lotus Roots and Dried Puffer Fish accordingly. My favourite here was the river shrimps- crispy and full of crustacean goodness. The course salt further enhanced the flavour. The Renkon Chips were a little disappointing as they tasted flat and without the desired crisp. The dried puffer fish was slighty chewy with plenty of savoury-umami notes. A little akin to bak kwa without the sweetness.

Anago Sushi ($8) was a winner. The freshwater eel (not unagi) had delicate and soft flesh with a hint of smokeyness. And no bones too!

This cow is always excited to see cow on a plate. Plus, if it's one with enticing aromas and a pink interior, I go silent for a few seconds. The Yaki Niku ($16) featured a 200-day grain-fed Australian tenderloin. The texture was typical tenderloin squishness/cottony but the flavour was sweet and deep. The sauce that came with this was salty, savoury, citrusy, tangy. A dish that definitely goes well with rice!

The next dish stunned me. Daikon Fugiyosei (~$25) has to be ordered in advance as the kitchen takes two days to prepare this. A thick ring of Japanese white radish was first braised in a superior broth till all the goodness of the broth had been absorbed. Then scallops, prawns and ikura were placed inside this ring, capped with a slice of radish and steamed. The seafood mix inside this radish 'box' was fresh, simply-flavoured and seemed a little like good Cantonese dish (without dried mushrooms). The flavours were subtle and deft.

Moving on to some fried goodies. The Fish Hire ($14.50) was spot-on with a super crisp-crunchy-crumbly coat of breadcrumbs. The only gripe was that the flesh had a little of the muddy taste often associated with freshwater fish. But thankfully it was nothing that a big squeeze of lemon couldn't fix.

To its right was the Cheese Katsu Roll $16.50). The pork used was lean and hence a tad dry. The whole works of pork, melted cheese and fresh, sweet veggies were alright but I dream a dream of 4 cheese katsu. Sounds good no?

The Katsu Curry Rice ($16.50) had a breaded pork with Japanese-style curry that was mild and comforting with a slight spicyness and sweetness at the end. Oh yes. Steaming hot rice with a puddle of curry to blanket soft potatoes, carrots and breaded pork spells yum.

Chef Kent's Pickled Radish with Yuzu was a perfect palate cleanser with the crunchy vegetable bursting with lively acidity and citrusy fragrance. This is almost a must everytime I pop-by Tetsu.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Extreme(ly) Tasty Makeover!

Before: This blue-eyed beauty with red marbled skin was Kasago- a seasonal fish flown in from Japan. ($38 for 1/2 fish)

After: This isn't the prettiest-looking fish but hey, it's Extreme(ly) Tasty Makeover! The flesh of this fish was firm and tasted really fresh. The inner parts of the fish were a tad more moist than the outer parts so don't miss out on those bits of flesh hidden between bones and small discrete crevices.

No visit to Tetsu would be complete without one of my favourites here. I'm glad the Swordfish Tataki was still as delicious as I had remembered! A pity the Kani Tofu wasn't available at that time.

The tasting ended off on a sweet citrusy note with the Yuzu Ice Cream on Strawberry Sherbert ($5.80).

Thanks again to Rachael of B.e.a.m Consultants for the invitation and Tetsu, Chef Kent and Jason for hosting me.

I think its a pretty good new menu with increased breadth and offerings.

Tanglin Mall
Opens: 11.30am-3pm for lunch, 6-10pm for dinner
Tel: 6836 3112

Chew On This: Some items like the 200-day grain-fed Australian tenderloin, Daikon Fugiyosei and Kasago are subjected to availability. So do give Tetsu a call and enquire beforehand!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Peaceful Bento Lunch Amidst the Madness

The Food Republic at Suntec City Mall scares me especially on Sundays at meal times. The queues and the throngs of people that cramp into that area is like watching arteries get clogged and an impending heart-attack happen. Hey, in fact my heart tends to beat faster by me just trying to make my way pass the area.

But thankfully there is an eye of calmness in every storm. And this was Hamoru Japanese Restaurant. We found a few empty seats at the sushi bar counter and promptly plonked ourselves down.

A wait staff offered us some complimentary green tea while we browsed the menu. I wanted to do a-moment-of-inner-peace thing.

Then the Bento B ($13.90) arrived. Consisting of salmon terriyaki, assorted tempura, agedashi tofu, rice and miso soup, this bento was plenty to eat. The salmon was nicely grilled over charcoal while the tempura prawn and veggies were decent with a thin batter coat.

We also had another bento- Bento C ($12.90). This one had saba, chicken terriyaki, chawan mushi, rice and miso soup. The saba was grilled simply with salt and had a nice smokey aroma. I liked the chicken terriyaki too, for it was tender and flavourful. The chawan mushi was smooth and eggy comfort.

And while you're at the bento, why not order some sashimi as well? We did and found the Shima Aji aka Yellowjack ($15) and Mekajiki aka Swordfish belly ($9) to be great! They were generously sliced, very fresh and sweet.

The Otoro ($12) was disappointing however. Little taste, stringy and without the fatty-ness that creates a flavour sensation in the mouth.

A somewhat bastardised Japanese food to try here is the Shiok!!! Maki ($15)! I'm serious. It comes with three exclaimation points after the word 'Shiok'.

The sushi roll is constructed with charcoal-grilled eel, avocado and rice wrapped with aburi-ed salmon and dressed with mayonnaise (and cheese?) and tobbiko. Put the whole thing into your mouth and it was SHIOK! Sweet. Creamy. Savoury. Briny. Smokey. Fresh. Luscious. Chomp chomp chomp.

I'm glad I gave this place a go instead of avoiding the whole food court crowd. In this case, empty seats does not mean bad food.

It's good I took those seats!

Hamoru Japanese Restaurant
Stall 1
Food Republic (Suntec City Branch)
Tel: 6820-8569

Chew On This: The other Food Republic at Wisma Atria has a Koh Grill & Sushi Bar which is also run by the same folks behind Hamoru. For the ladies out there, if you want an affable boyish-looking chef, Chef Patrick is based at Hamoru.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

SLA @ Barossa!

After missing the previous Steak Lovers' Association (SLA) dinner, I was glad to have attended the most recent one at Barossa. It sounds a little primitive but there's nothing like a bunch of friends who gather over their favourite meat.

A set dinner was arranged for the SLA and so here's the story.

Dinner kicked off with a BIG bowl of Roasted Wild Mushroom Broth with Country Toast. It was hot, creamy and rich-tasting with sweet and earthy mushroomy notes.

The meat for the night was Roasted Stockyard Angus Prime Rib-Eye (250g), Baked Potato & Market Green. I was a little shocked to see my steak massacred into just 3 or 4 strips. But oh how lovely was each strip of beef. The execution was perfect. A nicely charred surface with pink-ish red interior. Each bite was slightly chewy and extremely flavourful with a rounded sweetness that was elevated by the crystals of coarse salt sprinkled over the steak. Certainly no beef about the beef here.

I was sad that with only 3 or 4 strips, the beefy moment I had so enjoyed was short-lived. Desserts came knocking.

The Baked Apple Tartine.

The Barossa Baked Alsaka was a lot of fun to watch with blueish flames that engulfed the white spikey ball. Fresh caramelization in the works.

Baked Belgium Waffle with Vanilla and Dark Chocolate Ice Cream.

There was a butter pound cake too but it evaded my lens.

To unwind and lubricate social cohesion, we had wines. An Italian-dominated line-up in an Australian-named restaurant, enjoyed by folks from different countries. Uniquely rojak Singapore.

More lubricantssss.

Happy people at the end of dinner. Some had already left before we remembered we had forgotten to take a group photo.

Many thanks to Thomas for once again making this happen and to all fellow SLA-ers for their company. Thanks for trying my wines and hope you guys enjoyed them.

Esplanade Mall
Tel: 6534 5188

Chew On This: Cos Barossa does an excellent steak!