Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Food Foundry

I always believe changes are for the better.....

The old Nic was an uninitiated lazy a** who loves reading about food while binging on those hazardous, cancerous potato chips but was never keen on really tasting what he read. He could go on and on about interesting eateries but when asked whether he had been to the particular place, the answer was always no. One event led to another and before he could finish testing all the flavours of those crisps, he started flogging and became an active food enthusiast. He even bought a KL street directory which cost a whopping RM45!

Yupe, he changed. For good. And for real. Take the Food Foundry experience for example.

He read about it in so many magazines. He knew the mille crepe was to-die-for. But when the location was out of his comfort zone, he just sighed and read the next food review, hoping it's just next to his couch. After attending the very retro flogger Christmas party, he finally knew where Food Foundry was. Now, that was not too difficult to find, he told himself. Who said it was, lazy a**??

Ok, let's talk about the food in this "neighbourhood food provider".

The Seafood Marinara (RM14.90) came in a huge portion and looked rather appetising with that luscious red tomato sauce dressing the spaghetti. Seafood was aplenty too. But he was deceived. The first bite revealed a rather overwhelmingly acidic taste. Perhaps the tomato paste was too dense. The seafood, oh his God, the seafood! The prawns were mouldy while the mussels tasted rather "chemicalised". Only the clams were fresh. Was it a reject or did he say something wrong to deserve this? An utter disappointment.

The Slow Braised Lamb Shank With Honey and Spice Sauce (RM24.90) was supposed to be a signature dish. He loves his lamb shanks but he's sorry to say that there was not one single reason for him to even like this version. The shank itself was rather hard (and it was supposedly slowly braised??). So, there went the flaking-the-meat fun part. The heavy "lamb" smell was prevalent too. As for the sauce, sweet was the only adjective he could use to describe it. The mash potato was too chunky and hard. Even if the direction was to provide texture to the mash, the cubes shouldn't have been so largely cut. Let’s not even talk about creaminess. Sad.

Criticism wears him out easily but the review has to go on. The Nasi Lemak with Chicken Rendang (RM7.90) was generic at best. A complete nasi lemak set with a sambal that was neither flavourful nor spicy. So far, best of the worst.

He left the table…….
To choose his desserts.
As demoralized as he was, he hoped the desserts would be as good as what he read.

Mille Crepe (RM8) was what he ordered. It was all he wanted to order. 20 thin layers of French crepe layered smoothly with fresh custards was the description. It was soft. It was delicate. It was sweet. It was moist. It was heaven. He loved the custard which actually tasted as rich as mascarpone. Strike while it’s still cold, really. He licked the plate dry.

He convinced himself to another piece. This time, it was the Cheese Cake (RM8). Yes, the cheese cake was good too. It was cheesy, subtly tangy and optimally sweet. If only the mains were quarter as good as the desserts.

He will be back for the obvious. He knows how to get there now.
But he’s still very disappointed with the mains. Mouldy prawns? Disastrous.

So, Nic really did change. And for that, he wants to thank you.
Yes, YOU!

Food Foundry
BG-8, Happy Mansion
Jalan 17/13, 46400 PJ.
Tel: (+603) 79553885
Website: http://www.foodfoundry.us/index.htm

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sushi Tei @ Ngee Ann City

Sometimes, I like to think of joints as bad words (I refrained from using a more explicit expression).
A commercial strategy.
A taboo.
And yet, you like to engage in that little dirty conversation once in awhile.
Black tie, white lie....

I did that on New Year's day.
With Joyce, my Singaporean friend who flew back from Sydney for the New Year holiday.

It seems like everytime we meet, we will end up having dinner here at Sushi Tei (Ngee Ann City). There's nothing je ne sais quoi about this joint (to me) and yet, that's the first place we'll think of.

Crowded as ever, service was attentive, complete with the high-pitched irrashaimases. The restaurant itself was relatively small, with some shoulder-height cubicles surrounding the kaiten-sushi bar, which was smacked right in the middle.

Winter has brought in some rather interesting promotional dishes/ingredients from Hokkaido. We sampled two of them. Here's the first dish.

The Maguro Zukushi (S$22) consisted of 3 slices of maguro (bluefin tuna's top loin), otoro (bluefin tuna's belly) and mekajiki (swordfish) each. The dark red maguro was fresh and tender while the richer tasting otoro exhibited a softer texture, thanks to the fat spreaded throughout the belly. The mekajiki did not disappoint as it was equally fresh and firm. It was as good as "bad words" can get.

The second promotional dish we had was the Soft Shell Crab Roll With Fish Floss (S$6). The combination of rice and crispy, fried food can never go wrong, in terms of flavour and texture. Coat it with the sweet/savoury fish floss and you'll get an appetising maki (rice roll). Cucumber provided extra crunch while the diced avocado gave the roll a creamy texture.

We can never forget our staple, Cha Soba (S$6.50). The smooth green tea flavoured buckwheat noodle was served al dente and optimally cold. The soya sauce dipping was on the bland side, however. I wished they'd provided toasted sesame seeds in the dipping for that added aroma.

As for sushi, we had Jo Unagi (S$5) or premium eel. The cut was generous while the meat was soft. One bite revealed a rich-tasting eel complemented by the appetising caramel-coloured sweet teriyaki-like marinate. What I liked about this dish was the lack of the much dreaded "fishiness" taste of the unagi.

We ended the meal with the Black Sesame Ice-Cream (S$2.80 - one scoop). Though the black sesame taste was prevalent, I thought it was tad sweet. I prefer the minimally sweet version with a hint of savouriness thrown in. Texture-wise, it was rather coarse.

Overall, the quality of the food was commendable. The staffs here were so eager to refill my cup of complimentary green tea to a point where I felt apologetic for consuming so much of it.

With a review like this, it makes my categorizations much more difficult. Will I redefine my take on joints? Am I being too stereotypical all this while? For now, it'll take me more dirty talks to decide if I'm with the light or prefer the dark.

Lovely seeing you again, Joyce!

Sushi Tei
391, Orchard Road
#02-13 Ngee Ann City
Singapore 238873
Tel: (+65) 6737 7997

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Food Republic @ VivoCity

Final installation of the exaggerated Mum visit saga.

We were at VivoCity. One of the latest, biggest shopping malls on the island.

I insisted on an extravagant lunch as the girls will be leaving in a few hours. But they were more interested in shopping. Thank you, Chrismas Sale. And you too, Daiso, for the super long queue and the very affordable S$2.00 items. So, the quickest fix for the hunger pang was doing lunch at Food Republic, a neo-classic food court on the third floor of VivoCity.

Well, I wouldn't call that a quick fix as finding seats during lunchtime can prove to be a game of chess, not with me but Garry Kasparov, that is. Once you've conquered a table, you proudly (and slowly) sit on your victory throne, sympathising those still in search of a seat (complete with the 8-beat tsk, tsk, tsk sound effect that would make any beatboxer proud).

Didn't want to revisit the famous stalls, I went for the rather low-profile Beef Hor Fun (stir-fried flat, broad rice noodles with beef). I must apologise for not remembering the price. But it should be in the S$5-6 range. And it did not take me long to realise why people flock to the Hokkien Prawn Noodle stall instead. The whole dish was bland, with just a minimum hint of soya sauce.The amount of sauce was also overwhelming. As you can see, I had to resort to lots of pickled green chilies to perk up the tastebuds. There weren't much ingredients in the noodles too, except for some beansprouts and pieces of beef. But if you are really hungry and taste is not of a concern, the generous portion should attract you. To be fair, I thought the pieces of beef were fresh and smooth (not from the starch coating).

As stated earlier, Mum really knows best. Not just about their children, but also food. Look at what she ordered. The infamous Depot Road's Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa (around S$6-7) that was worth queueing up for.

Served piping hot, the curry was rich and aromatic, thanks to the generous amount of coconut milk. Spiciness was kept minimum, just the way I like it. The al dente thick bee hoon (vermicelli) was the perfect choice as it was rather bland au contraire to the flavourful curry. Other ingredients in the curry included slices of fishcake, hard-boiled egg, beansprouts and dried beancurd. As with any typical Singapore-style laksa, chopped kafir lime leaves were added to provide a touch of freshness to the dish. Thoughtful, I reckoned. Heck, the aroma was so invigorating, the family next to us couldn't resist but to queue up for a pot of magic.

The girls also bought some fried fritters and soya bean milk. The fritters were huge and soft, with crispy skin to boost.The soya milk was dense and flavourful too.

I'll definitely be back to savour the rest of the hawker delights. Ok, higher-priced hawker delights. And brush up my chess skills too, in the meantime.

My initial plan to wrap up their visit with a light dinner at Golden Mile Food Centre was scrapped as the girls continued their cardio workout until the last hour before boarding the bus back to KL.

Food Republic
1 HarbourFront Walk
Singapore 098585
Tel: (+65) 6276 0521

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mouth Restaurant @ Chinatown Point

Part deux of mum's visit to Singapore.

I am not quite a breakfast person.
Unless it's something worth waking up for, like Hokkien Mee.
Girls, at their age, wake up early (because they sleep early).
So, like it or not, I guess breakfast was compulsory that morning.

Should I bring them for Teo Chew Porridge? Or Che Zai Mian (Rickshaw Noodles)? Or Ah Kow's Bak Chor Mee at Hong Lim? I was torn. I called up Mr. D (one of my Singaporean food guides) and he suggested Mouth Restaurant for dim sum (Chinese-style tapas for breakfast). Great! I've always wanted to pay a visit since it's one of the oldest teahouses in Singapore. Just couldn't find the time, everytime.

It was surprisingly quiet on a public holiday morning, much to our delight. Perhaps we were early (10.30 am to be exact). 10 minutes after we placed our orders, the first dish arrived.

The Century Egg Congee (S$4.00) came in quite a huge portion. The bowl was deeper that it appeared to be. Served warm, there were plenty of ingredients in the congee including century egg slices and chicken shreds. Taste-wise, it was as generic as it could get. The scallion and crackers provided extra crunch and flavour.

I enjoyed the pipping hot Steamed Carrot Cake (S$3.30) for its softness. The inclusion of shredded radish in the cake gave an interesting texture while the dried shrimps and onions topping provided a touch of savouriness. The soya sauce was basically of no use as the dish itself was already flavourful enough. In fact, it could further dilute the cake if kept too long.

The shrimps in the Har Gao or shrimp dumplings (S$3.90 - 4 pieces) were tender and juicy. The starch skin was somehow thick. I noticed that this restaurant does not provide the sweet dipping, unlike the Malaysian teahouses. I prefer to do without any dipping to savour the original flavour of the shrimps.

Another dim sum staple was the Siu Mai or pork dumpling (S$3.90 - 4 pieces). The chopped pork (lard included) wrapped in a wanton-like skin was tender and dense. Being steamed, the pork flavour was preserved. This is the best way to judge the freshness of the cut. It was fresh, by the way. I also applaud the idea of not topping the dumpling with dyed sago seeds as it does not serve the purpose of providing a rich and savoury taste as exhibited by crab roe or salted egg yolk.

The Chu Cheong Fun or Char Siew (barbequed pork) Rice Noodle Roll (S$4.10) was a letdown. The flat noodle was too thick while the char siew tasted rather bland. As with any Chu Cheong Fun, the sauce is the key ingredient to add flavour to the otherwise bland dish. Mouth's version was rather salty without a hint of sweetness to it.

There are not many restaurants that serve Kun Tong Gao or Seafood Dumpling in Soup (S$4.90). With that said, I knew I had to try Mouth's version. The large dumpling was filled with mainly chopped shrimps. There was nothing interesting about the filling. The soup had a hint of seafood but was rather bland. Perhaps a soup boiled with other interestingly flavourful ingredients would have turned the dish around.

Last on the list was another staple, Char Siew Bao (S$2.80 - 3 pieces). The steamed buns were fluffy with a moist and sweet char siew filling. The taste was rather normal.

The bill came up to S$50.38 for 3 pax (inclusive of the uninitiated condiments and towels). Service was efficient.

How do we judge good dim sum? Is a typical taste a good thing? How do we know if it tastes generic? What sets great dim sum from the good ones? Is freshness the only criteria there is? These are some dim sum questions that I'm still contemplating on. With that said, I shall leave my conclusion of the Mouth experience in your hands.

Dim sum aside, I must say I enjoyed the time spent catching up with Mum and Aunt. After dim sum, the girls went for round 2 of shopping at OG (again!).

Mouth Restaurant
133, New Bridge Road,
#02-01, Chinatown Point,
Singapore 059413
Tel: (+65) 65344233
Website: http://www.mouth.com.sg/

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Newton Circus Food Centre

Do you remember the times when the devilish prefects in your school were tasked to conduct a spot-check on your hair, clothes, shoes and bags? That's how I felt (almost) when Mum and Aunt decided to visit Singapore during last year's Christmas week.

As I'll be picking her up at the bus station after work, I had my office attire ironed well (really well), my shoes cleaned and my facial hair trimmed. A small flaw and I'll get it from her. "Who in the world would employ a sloppy guy like you", "I'm having headache looking at your untidy outfit", "Please trim you goatee, you look older than me!". Ok, perhaps I'm exaggerating, but please do not underestimate the capability of your Mum. Afterall, Mum knows best.

At last, the evening came. And complained, she did. Not on my appearance though. It seemed that there were some entry issues with some of the passengers on her bus. A sigh of relief, let me tell you.

After a frenzy shopping spree at OG (the girls loved that place!), we went to Newton Circus Food Centre despite knowing how touristy the place has become. For old times sake.

At 10.30 pm on a public holiday eve, the foodcourt was as noisy and crowded as it could get. Not a bad thing though. We managed to secure a table with the help of a waiter from one of the stalls. Now, I wouldn't call that thoughtful, would I?

We had Char Kway Teow or fried flat broad rice noodles (S$6.00-medium) from Thye Hong (Stall No. 58). For the price, the portion was humongous! The noodles were firm and coated with a generous amount of sweet dark soya sauce. Other ingredients included squid, prawns, beansprouts and cockles. The seafood were all well-cooked. A dollop of chili paste added a touch of spiciness to the noodles. Overall, there was nothing spectacular about it. I've tasted better ones The one at Zion Road Food Centre, for example. Have yet to try out Margaret Drive and Old Airport Road Food Centre's though.

One will not leave Newton Circus without trying the Oyster Omelette. I just picked the nearest stall and ordered a medium-sized serving (S$6.00, if I recall correctly). I forgot the name of the stall but it has a "Homemade" word to it. Couldn't remember the stall number either. Well, the omelette had a crispy skin and was quite aromatic. I wished it was less oily though. Oysters were aplenty, mostly placed on top of the egg. I enjoyed the tender and smooth texture of the morsels. Take that with the garnishing cilantro leaves for added freshness.

Where has the popiah stall gone? This is one of the popiah stalls that I fell for as it included shrimps in the filling, not forgetting the juice too.

Everytime I bring my overseas friends to Newton Circus, I tell myself it will be my last visit. And yet, it's always included in the itinerary somehow when there are other options like Lau Pat Sat and Hong Lim (personal favourite). Another unsolved mystery.

As I contemplated on this rather silly thought, the girls were already fast asleep in the cab.

Newton Circus Food Centre
500, Clemenceau Avenue North
Singapore 229495
(Just across the Newton MRT Station - use the overhead bridge)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sri Paandi @ Brickfields

I left solitude by himself at Chinoz.

We left The Gardens.
We suddenly craved for pork.
We headed towards Lucky Garden.
We knew not this place.
We couldn't even find a parking space.
We didn't know where we were.
We kept on driving.
We stopped, somehow, at Brickfields...
We couldn't stop the only pork noodle stall from closing.
We resorted to Banana Leaf Rice instead.

We loved the colours.
We missed the aroma.
We enjoyed the music.
We washed our hands.

We were hungry.
We asked them to pour the rice like yesterday's rain.
We drenched our gluttony with fish and dhal curry.
We were happy they served beetroot.
We were delighted with the crispy roasted chilies.
We loved the refreshing thairu and cucumber/onion salad.
We enjoyed the chips, papaddum and colourful crackers.
We thought the coconut chutney was dense and rich.
We thought it went well with the spiced, tender fishcake.
We licked every bit of that sexy, red, tangy, zesty lime achar.

We knew we needed more.
We knew it's meat we were looking for.

We liked the dry chicken curry.
We liked the tender chicken bits.
We were drunken by the curry leaves' scent.
We were burnt by the fiery, aromatic reduction.

We couldn't tear ourselves from the mutton.
We couldn't resist the rich, spicy reduction.
We needed more rice.
We couldn't praise the chewy mutton though.

We gained weight.
We lost fluid, sweated a bucket.

We had a lassi, a soft drink and tonnes of water.
We thought it was cheap (RM22.20).
We meant 2 pax.

We were teased by the crabs and squids.
We will return to try other dishes.
We will bring friends.
We, that's you and me.

Sri Paandi Restaurant
254, Jalan Tun Sambanthan,
Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: +603-2274 0464

Thursday, January 10, 2008

chinoz @ THE GARDENS

A comfortably lonely word.
A state of mind that everyone needs at a moment in time.

Pair it with a hearty meal and a good read....shear bliss.

It was that very idea that got me driving to the Gardens on a beautiful Saturday morning in December before meeting a friend later in the afternoon.

One is spoilt for choice at The Gardens but one can't help but be attracted to the sophisticated green-coloured setting of Chinoz, complete with cosy beige-coloured chairs. And recalling Lianne's Valrhona experience, I knew this was the place to be that morning.

Instead of the churros, I opted for the Hot Chocolate (RM17), Valrhona chocolate, that is. The warm cup of rich, smooth melted chocolate, diluted in milk was optimally sweet and got more addictive with every sip. Throw in a marshmallow for added sweetness and texture. A rather expensive but wonderful companion to the Saturday's paper.

Christmas tunes played by the piano man in the distant created an even more relaxing ambiance. That's before the afternoon crowd started thronging in.

Chinoz offers an extensive menu, ranging from pastas to sandwiches to a limited array of local delicacies. Wanting something fuss-free that morning, I had the Steak Sandwich (RM28). The portion was alright while the sides were rather generic; shoestring fries and lettuce. However, I did enjoy the simple, refreshing vinaigrette on the lettuce, complete with chopped onions. The bread was warm and soft. Taste-wise, rather generic. The steak was dry, hard and freshness was questionable as the "beefy" scent was rather strong. Other ingredients in the sandwich included rockets, caramelized onions, tomatoes and mustard dressing.

Total damage for a blissful breakfast: RM51.75. The food here is not cheap but a few more visits are required to confirm the overall quality of the food. The staff was very attentive, by the way.

It could have been perfect if not for the steak.

Food aside, the moment spent to myself, for myself was priceless. Solitude never felt so good...until my friend called to complain about the problematic parking condition at The Gardens, that is. And that was also the moment I had my last sip of the Valrhona chocolate.

chinoz @ THE GARDENS
G212, Ground Floor
Lingkaran Syed Putra
59200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603-2287 8277

Thursday, January 3, 2008

City Of Angels - Here I come!!!

It's rather hot,
Los Angeles it's not,
Bangkok, a exotic spot,
The food, I love a lot.

Will be in Thailand's City of Angels from tomorrow til mid next week.

Have a great weekend, people!

Miharu Sapporo Ramen

Nope, this is not what I had for the new year celebration but a gathering that took place 2 weeks back.

When Michael suggested Miharu for a gathering of ex-colleagues, I was elated. This is, afterall, one of the most famous Japanese ramen shops in Singapore. Marutama fared just alright (for me) and I was eager to make comparisons.

Since it was a working Tuesday, we expected some latecomers. To keep our mouths occupied, we had Gyoza (S$6.00 - 6 pcs). Despite the crisp skin, I thought the pan-fried dumplings tasted rather generic and bland. To enhance the taste, we had it with a soya sauce/chili oil mixture dipping. A more generous pork filling would be appreciated too.

Next up was a cold side dish called Cha Shu Sumiso-Ae (S$7.00 - 4 pcs) which was basically sliced cooked pork drizzled with mustard/miso (fermented soya bean paste) dressing and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The meat was tender and the dressing tasted rather interesting as it combined the sharpness of the mustard and the sweetness of the miso. Sesame seeds added aroma to the dish.

Another side dish that we had was the savoury Manju (S$7.00 - 4 pcs). The skin of this Japanese pancake resembled that of the previous gyoza's, only thinner. I enjoyed the gooey (melted mozzarella-like) texture of the skin. The outer layer was crisp. The filling consisted mainly of chopped chive, which was fresh and aromatic. A much better alternative to the gyoza.

The last side dish for the night was the Kakuni (S$8.00) or boiled pork belly. The rather fat cut was adequately soft but not as good as the ones at Marutama. The soya/mirin sauce was rather sweet. A touch of mustard added edginess to the taste.

The star of the night arrived looking rather appetising with that rich brown broth. The Miso-Tonkotsu Ramen (S$12.50) consisted of Sapporo Nishiyama noodles topped with halved hard-boiled egg, nori (seaweed) sheet, char shu (roasted pork slice), bamboo shoots, scallions, sesame seeds and corn. The flavouring ingredients for the broth included tonkotsu (pork bone) and miso. I enjoyed the al dente ramen, which has a slightly curled structure. The tonkotsu and miso provided the soup with a rich, creamy taste while garlic added aroma. This restaurant also proclaimed that they use the best kelp from Japan as a flavouring ingredient for the broth. As flavourful as it was, I wished the savouriness was kept minimal.

Others had the Tokusen Miso Ramen (S$12.50), which was similar to the Miso-Tonkotsu Ramen. The only major difference was the broth where a special miso paste was used instead.

I have a soft spot for Japanese beer. So, how could I leave without having a pint of Sapporo beer (S$7.50)? I like the smoothness of the body, a very different "lager" altogether. However, I still prefer Asahi.

The bill came up to S$193.62 for 6 pax. Service was pleasant, to say the least.

The menu was quite extensive, as compared to Marutama's. Taste-wise, I prefer Miharu for it's rich broth and springy noodles. I'll be back to sample more ramen. In the meantime, if you know any good Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen shops, please let me know. It's my favourite ramen of all time.

We had so much fun poking at each other while reminiscing those on-job training days in Japan. Let's do this more often, guys!

Miharu Sapporo Ramen
76, Robertson Quay,
#01-11, The Gallery Hotel,
Singapore 238254.
Tel: +65-67338464