Artichoke Cafe + Bar – Putting Moorish Cuisine on the Singapore Map

27 11 2011

“We believe that the most enjoyable meals are those that are shared. These thoughts are reflected in our menu, which is made up of communal shared plates.

So round up a bunch of people, order a mix of dishes, and enjoy a little bit of this and a little bit of that, rather than 25 bites of the same thing. Feel free to order more than once.”

This pretty much sums up the dining concept behind Artichoke Cafe

Artichoke Cafe’s premises used to house the now-defunct My Secret Garden and while the restaurant has changed, the interior remains very much the same as before, minimalistic and uncluttered. Like The White Rabbit @ Dempsey, the compound housing Artichoke used to be a small chapel as well, adding to the surreal tranquility and serenity echoing throughout the premises.

Artichoke is helmed by Chef Bjorn Shen, whose fiery passion and masterful cooking shows up evidently in his successful endeavor,  effectively putting Moorish Cuisine on the Singapore map. There’s no easy explanation to Moorish Cuisine, a cuisine borne of diverse sources and if you are just slightly more attentive, you might just be able to pick out the African, Middle Eastern and even Spanish influences.

We started off with Moorish Dips ($16+), a tasting of 3 Arabian dips with bread. My favourite was the Roasted Carrot Dip, sweetly spiced with cumin, rosewater and walnuts. The Labneh or Homemade Yoghurt Cream Cheese with house blended Za’atar was good as well, not to sour and extra creamy. From their glossary, I found out that Za’atar refers to a fragrant condiment made from sesame seeds, sumac wild thyme. The third dip is the Hummus, or Chickpea puree with tahini (sesame paste), lemon and sumac. It’s decent but I have had smoother ones elsewhere (thinking of Sofra Turkish Cuisine).

Upon request of C, the Forgotten Grain Salad ($15+) has now returned back on their menu. It’s a really healthy dish, made up of an observable mixture of Wild Rice, Cracked Wheat, Quinoa, Pomegrenate, Nuts, Capers and Sunflower Seeds. Personally, it reminds me much of hamster food for the health conscious for whom I am not.

A dinner special scribbled on the chalkboard not part of the regular menu, Chef Bjorn was kind enough to offer us a complimentary Spiced Chickpea & Spinach Stew with Crumbled Feta Cheese ($15+).

A new item on their menu, Artichoke’s Char-Grilled Local Calamari ($22+) with Cucumber, Aioli & Lime is one of the best renditions of squid I have ever had, springy, juicy and zesty. Marinated with their own ras el hanout (literally means “top of the shop” or the best blend of spices a spice vendor has to offer), this is really the bomb!

We see some Spanish influence from the Pan-Roasted Red Snapper Fillets with Piquillo Pepper Salsa ($28+). The skin is seared well and the fish is fresh.

Admit it, we all have a weakness for Mac & Cheese ($40+). The one served here is an upgraded version though, containing tender Stewed Beef, Kashkaval Cheese, Organic Mushroom and a hint of White Truffle Oil. Whole baby vine tomatoes scattered in the dish helps relieve any excess cheesiness and the portion is large enough to be shared amongst 2-3 pax as a main.

The Date Pudding ($14+) here has officially become my favourite dessert around. Served with Smoked Milk Custard, Cocoa, Peanut Caramel & Sea Salt, it deviates slightly off track from the simple warm sticky date pudding with caramel sauce.

The Homemade Baklava ($15+) is a Sweet Arabic Pastry with Almonds, Pistachio, Walnuts, Filo Pastry, Honey Syrup & Orange Blossom Honey Gelato. Tasting much like Honey Stars with the crunchy nuts and honey gelato, it was fantastic as well though all 5 of us had a preference for the date pudding.

This concluded one of my most memorable meals this year and I’m positive I will be back in a jiffy.

SMU Gourmet Club organized a dinner event at Artichoke Cafe about 2 months back which I attended as well but have yet to post on. So the 2nd half of this post will be mainly pictorial to give you a better sense of what else Artichoke has to offer.

Stuffed Piquillos

Manzanilla Olives and White Anchovies

Beetroot Tzatziki with Dukkah

Hanger Steak with Romesco Sauce

Chickpea & Pork Stew with Blood Sausage

Lamb Shoulder with Toum Garlic Sauce

Bon Appetit!

Artichoke Cafe + Bar

161 Middle Road

Tel: +65 6336 6949

Graze @ Martin No. 38 – Contemporary Australian Cuisine

13 11 2011

I have only been to Graze @ Martin No 38 once and it was for lunch. At night, the setting and ambience mirrors that of daytime, quiet, cosy yet classy, a perfect venue for that special date or simply catching up with friends and loved ones. The menu revolves around contemporary Australian cuisine, offering a Charcuterie section and meats off the grill as well.

Chance brought G and myself here today. Our original dinner plans were set for Le Bistro du Sommelier, a quaint french bistro located at Prinsep Place. Unfortunately, our reservations got screwed up somehow and we took a detour to Graze instead.

For starters, we were recommended the Upside down Duck Pie, Dried Black Olives, Mash & Pickled Vegetables ($24++) which we both found really pleasant. Soft creamy mash forms the base of this dish, followed by a middle layer of buttery filo pastry and topped off with marinated duck meat that carried with it a distinct Indian influence.

Another recommendation by the staff, I had the Spiced Baby Chicken, Cracked Bulgar, Broad Beans, Soft Herbs, House Sea Urchin Butter ($34++) as my main. I was expecting to be hit by a wave of intense flavours at first bite but it wasn’t so. While the mild flavours failed to excite initially, my tastebuds quickly adjusted to the natural flavours and I was soon smitten by the complementing urchin butter and bulgar (a type of grain like couscous). I couldn’t make out the taste of urchin but the butter does possess a mild cheesy undertone which I adore. It does help too that the chicken was executed skilfully, succulent and tender with a crisp layer of skin.

G had no complaints about her Pan-Seared Barramundi, Chorizo Broth, Watercress, Salad of Ruby Red Grapefruit, Avocado & Mint ($34++). A common feature that I have noticed about Graze’s cuisine is that they rely a lot on natural fresh flavours, in this case letting the sweetness of the fish speak for itself rather than littering the dish with excessive seasonings and spices.

Graze’s wine list isn’t extensive, featuring a selection of less than 20 wines. We tried 2 different whites today to complement our white meats, the delicate Italian Torresella Pinot Grigio Trentino 2010 ($18++/glass) which was smooth and mildly sweet,  and the Australian Corriole Chenin Blanc, McLaren Vale 2010 ($14++/glass) which we found much too tart.

Bon Appetit!


38 Martin Road

Tel: +65 6509 1680

Pepperoni Pizzeria (Frankel Avenue Outlet) – Possibly the Best Pizza!

7 11 2011

Go to any online forum with a discussion thread on “Where to find the best pizza in Singapore?” and I’m absolutely positive the name Pepperoni Pizzeria will pop up. Operated by the Les Amis Group, Pepperoni Pizzeria‘s Frankel Avenue outlet is the newest of their 3 outlets, the other 2 being located at Binjai Park and Greenwood Avenue, both around the Bukit Timah area. Given the popularity of the place, reservations are highly recommended.

If there’s one appetizer worth ordering here, it’s got to be the Fried Potobello Mushroom with Chicken & Red Wine ($18++). With a portobello the size of both my palms combined, the fried batter manages to remain crisp despite the excessive local humidity. The  red wine sauce is spectacular, rich, fatty and robust and comes with diced bacon, just my kind of gravy.

The Aglio Olio & Peperoncino ($18) or Spaghetti tossed with Garlic and Red Chili in Olive Oil is awesome as well, though priced rather steeply for something so simple. The garlic isn’t that intense despite it’s chunky look and the spiciness is well tuned. Feedback from friends HH and JH is that the other pasta dishes available here pale in comparison, so I’d suggest sticking to the Aglio Olio if you are a first timer here.

The Pizzas here are thin-crusted and come in 3 main sizes, Medium (9 inches), Large (12 inches) and Family Size (21 inches). Personally, apart from the novelty factor of having a crazily huge pizza,there really isn’t any perks in ordering a family size since it will typically be less evenly cooked. Hence, we ordered a large Salmon (Fresh Salmon, Caramelized Onions & Capers) and Frutti Di Mare (Prawns, Clams, Scallops, Squid Rings & Fish) Pizza ($23++). Yes you can have your pizza half and half here 🙂 My favourite pizza at Pepperoni’s is the salmon, whose flavour has somehow been infused within the pizza. Not sure how they do it but it’s devilishly good.

If you prefer your pizzas on the salty side, go for the Pancetta (Pancetta, Diced Tomato & Soft Egg), Prosciutto Crudo di Parma (Parma Ham & Rocket Salad) ($23++). 

So is Pepperoni the best Pizzeria in Singapore? Very possibly, I’d say.

Bon Appetit!

Pepperoni Pizzeria

 95 Frankel Avenue

Tel: +65 6445 5661

Din Tai Fung (Resorts World Sentosa) – All Din Tai Fungs’ are equal, but some Din Tai Fungs’ are more equal than others

1 11 2011

*This tasting was sponsored by Din Tai Fung

If you think that a meal at Din Tai Fung (DTF) means the usual Pork Xiaolongbao (XLB), Fried Rice and Chicken Soup, think again. In conjunction with their 8th Anniversary, DTF will be launching 6 new dishes and 6 new desserts and drinks to their already extensive repertoire of dishes at all DTF outlets.

For those in the dark, you must know that not all DTFs’ are born equal. At some Din Tai Fung outlets, especially those located at the more up-market locations like Paragon, DTF offers premium items such as their Black Truffle XLB. DTF’s new outlet at Resorts World Sentosa is another example, which plans to cater to the tourist crowd by offering 8 new delectable Asian delights only available at this outlet, in addition to the 12 new items mentioned above.

I will be using pictures provided by DTF but rest assured the pictures are representative of what will be served. Interestingly, I found the plating of today’s dishes nicer than what is shown in the pictures anyways.

Our tasting session started off with a showcase of the 12 new items to be included in all DTF outlets. First off, the Sliced Duck in Crispy Spring Onion Pastry.

3 New Dumplings are also being introduced to DTF’s menu., the Fish Dumplings, the Chicken Xiao Long Bao and the Steamed Angled Gourd & Shrimp Dumplings. Of the 3, I was most taken by the Fish Dumplings which were stuffed with sweet Snapper flesh that I found refreshing to the palate. Having been pampered by DTF’s signature Pork XLBs for the longest time, the Chicken XLBs didn’t bring with it as much an “oomph”, as healthier and less oily chicken broth is used instead of the savoury pork broth. For an even healthier choice, the Steamed Angled Gourd & Shrimp Dumplings promises to enhance your skin complexion. Beauty comes at a price though, as its flavour comes across as slightly muted for my liking.

One of my favourite dishes in today’s tasting, the Handmade springy Noodles with Spicy Sesame Sauce. The chili oil hits the spot and the dish manages to pull its own weight despite its apparent lack of ingredients. I believe an extra order of chicken soup on the side would be the perfect accompaniment for those who can’t take the spice and wish use the soup to dilute the chili.

A play on Yong Tau Fu, DTF has also decided to introduce their version of Green Chili stuffed with Marinated Meat. With its origins in Thai cuisine, DTF specially imports the green chilies from Thailand, and it packs an extra punch compared to usual mild green chilies used in Yong Tau Fu.

Having been periodically dropping by Eu Yan Sang to purchase their Hawthorn Roselle Drink whenever I’m down with the flu, I felt that the Roselle Juice from DTF tastes somewhat similar, just slightly less tangy from the absence of hawthorn. Instead of using normal ice, DTF has come up with an ingenious idea to keep its drinks chilled while avoiding the downside of drink dilution – by adding in a frozen iceball made up entirely of whatever drink that was ordered! So when the iceball melts, the concentration of the drinks remain unchanged.

Lemongrass Juice is highly popular Thai drink. While I’m personally not a huge fan of lemongrass, many others at the tasting session felt otherwise. It does remind me a bit of Sugarcane Juice with Lemon though and I’d imagine this would make an awesome drink at East Coast while feasting on BBQ Stingrays and Satay. 

Recently, my mum has been blending random vegetables and fruits and presenting it to me as a drink. With no added sugar and with much too dense a consistency, I’d immediately cringe whenever I hear the roar of the blender in operation. While DTF’s Blended Juice, made from the combination of fresh Pineapples, Celery and Carrots, tastes much better (or much less worse), I believe it’s not something most of us are used to, especially if you like your drinks and juices on the sweet side.

My favourite of the 4 new drinks happened to be the Earl Grey Lemon Tea. Somehow, it possesses a greater depth of flavour compared to the usual lemon teas.

Almond Pudding coated with Black Sesame Dressing. While I’m a fan of almond jelly, I felt that the black sesame didn’t complement the pudding well.

The Mango Pudding however is a different story. The pudding tastes delightful, with generous chunks mango cubes scattered within the jelly.

Now let me touch on the 8 new dishes made available only at the RWS DTF outlet.

The crowd favourite had to be the Nonya Curry Fish Head in Clay Pot ($26++). You know, it does say something when claypots are being drained off its contents by professional food editors. Really quite a remarkable feat that a Chinese restaurant can come up with such an authentic Nonya dish, with a rich aromatic curry rather than the watered down curries common for most fish head curries.

My family is really into fish. Like how most Cantonese families must have their soups in every meal, my family must have fish. When I was younger, Dad always told me how it’s good for eyesight, and I often shrugged it off. Fast forward a decade or so and I’m starting to believe him. My family of 5 all possess near perfect eyesight! (Disclaimer: Genetics might be the real cause). Cod isn’t cheap in Singapore, I believe it costs close to $40/kg at the wet markets, so DTF’s Hong Kong Class Steamed Cod Fillet with Superior Soy Sauce ($21.80++) is rather affordable for its portion. You can hardly ever go wrong with cod, but I found today’s one slightly overdone. Apart from that, it was alright.

Homemade Beancurd & Sea Prawns on Sizzling Hot Plate ($16.80++). DTF makes its own egg tofu from scratch from a central kitchen to ensure freshness and quality control. 

Cantonese Sweet & Sour Pork ($14.80++). 

I found the Beef Sirloin with Aromatic Black Pepper Sauce on Sizzling Hot Plate ($19.80++) too peppery and the beef too lean.

The Crispy Prawns in Creamy Dressing with Plump Lychees & Juicy Peaches ($14.80++) is another dish I’d recommend. The prawns are fried in a tasty light batter but do avoid smearing too much creamy dressing as it might get a bit too cloying. Well, I sense DTF’s efforts in addressing this issue by adding some lemon juice into the prawn batter, which works pretty well.

Crispy Chicken Wings Marinated in Shrimp Paste ($8.80++). Marinated for over 4 hours in DTF’s homemade shrimp paste before being deep fried for 5 minutes, the wings are kept juicy on the inside while crispy on the outside. 

Szechuan Wok Fried Diced Chicken with Sun-dried Chilis and Toasted Cashews ($14.80++).

I had a wonderful time talking to Hoong An, one of the three founders of Hungrygowhere, who so happened to sit next to me for this tasting and coupled with the discovery of a few gems among DTF’s new dish offerings, I truly had a wonderful time.

Thanks to Din Tai Fung for the invitation!

Bon Appetit!

Din Tai Fung (Resorts World Sentosa)

26 Sentosa Gateway, #01-217 Resort World Sentosa

Tel: +65 6686 3656 

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