The Disgruntled Chef – Modern European Communal Dining

29 04 2012

I have a love hate relationship with Dempsey. On one hand, it’s an awesome place to be on a quiet weekday afternoon. The whole place just exudes serenity and peacefulness, and the typical patrons to the area are well-heeled tai-tais with their other tai-tai friends. You can just take out your textbooks, order a cuppa, steal the occasion glance at the tai-tais and greenery, then press on with your readings. At night, Dempsey transforms into a much more happening place, though a little too commercialized for my liking then.

Participants in the SMU Gourmet Club’s latest food event were eager to try out a relatively new establishment in Dempsey called The Disgruntled Chef, helmed by Chef Daniel Sia. Born and raised in Singapore, Chef Daniel started his cooking career as a junior chef at Les Amis, moving up the ranks to become Chef de Cuisine at Marmalade Pantry and subsequently Head Chef at The White Rabbit. His visualization and dining concept behind The Disgruntled Chef revolves around a fun and casual communal dining experience, where diners can have access to good food without the stifling nature of most fine-dining restaurants.

Sticking to the emphasis on communal dining, instead of categorizing dishes as appetizers and mains, they are instead named “small plates” and “big plates”. I’d recommend having between 3 to 4 people share a plate, so that everyone has just about enough to feel satisfied but not too much as to hinder trying out a greater diversity of dishes.

For the small plates, we started off with the Katies Chunky Chips with Aioli. Essentially, it’s just thick-cut fries fried in truffle oil. Personally, after trying truffle fries over several occasions, I find that the taste of truffle fries doesn’t really vary much from place to place but it’s definitely a must try if you haven’t! Well, the truffle fries isn’t on the menu of The Disgruntled Chef and was served today as part of our special lunch menu so I can’t guarantee that you will be able to order it here on your next visit. If you are really interested in trying out truffle fries, other places that come to mind are Barracks and Skinny Pizza, which serves a shoestring variant of truffle fries.

Call it whatever you want, ostentatious; pretentious, but the Crayfish Mac & Cheese ($14++) spoke to me. We were on the same wavelength and I liked that there was a mix of light cream at the base and gratinated cheddar on the top. This definitely helped to avoid an overly cheesy experience that threatens being too heavy and filling you up too fast. However in my humble opinion, the crayfish is pretty redundant since you can hardly taste its presence anyway.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Crispy Lamb Short Rib with Chili, Cumin & Mint Yoghurt ($18++). When ribs are deep-fried, they tend to dry up really quickly and harden but this wasn’t the case here. A light shell of marinade encased the lamb ribs, while the meat remained tender and juicy. It’s possibly one of the most tender lamb ribs I have had and with a light dab of the mint yoghurt, what you get is a very balanced flavour free from gaminess and whets the appetite for more to come.

Without doubt, my favourite dish today was the Baked Pork Knuckle Terrine with Mash Potatoes and Black Truffle Sauce ($18++). Unlike what I envisioned of a typical terrine, where you get a cold pate-like dish that is eaten with bread or brioche, we were instead served a dish of steamy rounded pieces of meat over a very creamy truffled mash. It looked more like a roulade (rolled pieces of meat) than anything else so later on, I queried Chef Daniel about this and he confirmed the existence of hot terrines as well, though it’s a rarer find compared to its cold counterparts. Anyways, the reason why I found this pork knuckle terrine so divine is possibly because the meat is first cooked in a sous vide machine, where it is placed under a vacuum at low cooking temperatures over an extended period of time to ensure that the meat is evenly cooked, tender and succulent.

Maybe it’s a guy thing but I’d rather splurge on meat than vegetables but for those who need their daily greens, the Baby Spinach Salad with Mirin Dressing & Marinated Egg ($14++) is pretty decent. The Mirin Dressing provides a savoury-sweet tang that contrasts well with the slight bitterness of the raw vegetables.

We had the opportunity to sample 2 big plates as well, though they were not as well received as the small plates.

The Braised Oxtail Stew, Carrots, Kombu & Japanese Soy ($34++) came across as overly Asian, not really fitting in with the European theme of The Disgruntled Chef. However, judging this dish from an objective viewpoint and at the risk of sounding a little harsh, I felt it tasted somewhat like canned stewed pork.

The Roast Chicken with Chermoula Spices, Yoghurt and Roasted Potatoes ($34++) wasn’t great either. The yoghurt was similar to the one used earlier for the lamb short rib but didn’t complement the chicken as well because the chicken’s marinade was a lot more bland, and using yoghurt to tone down the savouriness further didn’t sit well with me.

For desserts, we had the Apple Tart with Caramel Sauce & Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Thinly sliced caramelized apples rested atop a crisp layer of filo pastry and its sour zing went well with the sweet caramel sauce and ice cream. For vanilla ice creams, I employ a simple test to see if it’s of decent quality by just looking out for the black specks of vanilla beans in the ice cream. And yes, the black specks were evident in the ice cream we had here and it was pretty creamy too.

The Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ($14++) was a crowd pleaser, similar in texture to the more commonly found sticky date pudding and great for those with a sweet tooth.

Well, after all is said and done, I’d suggest that just for a while, push aside lessons learnt from your etiquette class that you shouldn’t be sharing food in a fine dining restaurant. The Disgruntled Chef doesn’t serve to function as a fine dining restaurant anyways. Drop your airs, stop acting all atas and share your damn food. After all, caring is sharing.

The Disgruntled Chef

26B Dempsey Road

Tel: +65 6476 5305

Charly T’s – Spreading its Wings

10 04 2012

This was an invited tasting by Charly T’s.

SMU students should know Charly T’s well. After all, its flagship outlet has been operating at NOMU (besides The Cathay) since December 2009. Having patronized them 3 times and counting, I’m no stranger. In my humble opinion, they do a mean roast chicken, one that is way better than Kenny Rogers. So last week, I headed down to their new outlet at 112 Katong (also known as I want to Katong) to check out their latest offerings.

Apart from their signature rotisserie-style chicken, the menu features many other items that are inspired from Charly T’s (the owner’s nickname) travels around the globe, though I’d regard them as mere peripherals compared to what Charly T’s is best known for.

Charly T’s I12 Katong restaurant seats approximately 100 in total, including an 8-seater private dining room designed to reflect Charly T’s eclectic heritage.  With the addition of “Charly’s Porch”, an open-air porch which seats up to 24, guests can watch “live” sports matches on a 60” widescreen, a perfect spot to unwind at night over a selection of house wines, beers and cocktails. For more booze for your buck, head down before 7pm to enjoy their happy hour rates.

Charly T honed his mixology skills while working in London at the popular Lamb and Flag Pub. He nearly lost his job as his fresh juice concoctions were favored over the pubs’ other spirited beverages. These refreshing juice Odysseys ($6.50++) are now available at Charly T’s, with options such as the Green Flash (a mix of green apple, orange and pineapple) and Red Tang (a mix of strawberry, cranberry and lychee). Ironically, I found the Green Flash a lot more tangy than the Red Tang, especially since sour green apple juice is used as the base. Between the 2, I’d go for the Red Tang.

Charly T’s love for Rotisserie Chicken was first conceived in Hamburg, where he grew up in. His signature dish comes in 4 flavours, priced at $13-$15 for a quarter chicken with 2 sides, $24-$27 for half a chicken with 3 sides and $42-$46 for a whole chicken with 4 sides. In line with its new outlet opening, Charly T’s has conceptualized 2 new flavours (Black Pepper and Kansas City BBQ), adding on to the previous 2 (Original and Kampong). Amongst the differing flavours, I felt that the main difference lies in the chicken skin rather than the meat, where the infusion of flavours from the marinate is most apparent, especially since the chickens are marinated for a whooping 13 hours before being slowed-cooked rotisserie style. What you get thereafter is a crisp exterior and juicy meat one can never find in a Cold Storage Roast Chicken.

4 Sauces came with the chicken (from top left clockwise): Chimichurri (A traditional Moroccan sauce of cilantro, garlic and cayenne pepper sauce and our favourite based on general consensus), Sesame, Hot Sauce and BBQ. The chicken is good enough to be eaten nude though, especially when it comes out of the grill piping hot.

To complete the meal, guests can choose from a delightful range of side dishes such as the German Potato Salad, Fresh Vegetables, Macaroni & Cheese and Butter Garlic Rice, which comes as sides to complement the savoury chicken. The sides are available as ala carte orders as well at $4++ per portion.

The Kalua Pork ($16++) from Honolulu, is a spin-off of an indispensable dish found at Hawaiian luaus or feasts. Giving off a hint of smoky flavour, the pork belly is well marinated and slow-cooked. However, I felt that the pork meat was rather stringy and too lean for my liking.

The Chicken Schnitzel Burger ($14++) commemorates Charly T’s many visits to Vienna during his mid-teens. An Austrian-German staple, the dish features an escalope-style chicken coated in bread crumbs, fried till golden brown, and served with a helping of CT fries. The breaded chicken fillets are generously portioned, and rather succulent for breast meat.

I had some issues with the CT Beef Burger ($10.50++) as the beef patty was much too chewy and bland. Its saving grace is that it comes with a side of nachos that goes really well with the hot sauce.

For Dessert, I’d recommend the Apple Strudel ($8++), which is served with a scoop of either French Vanilla ice cream or Hazelnut Brownie ice cream. We opted for the Hazelnut Brownie which I felt could be better if it were richer, creamier and more chocolatey. The apple strudel was really good though, very crispy like a spring roll with saccharine caramelized apple fillings.

We also find Kaiserschmarrn ($14++) being served here. An Austrian German dessert, Kaiserschmarrn, loosely translated means Emperor’s Mishmash and there is actually a story behind this which you can easily find on the web. It is a type of warm and fluffy caramelized pancake sprinkled with powdered sugar, raisins and served with a generous scoop of French Vanilla ice cream. I would suggest sharing this since it can get a little too doughy and starchy after a while.

Overall, some hits and misses. For the risk averse, sticking to their signature roast chickens are your best bet.

Special thanks to Charly T’s for hosting this meal.

Charly T’s

112 East Coast Road, #03-15 I12 Katong

Tel: +65 6636 4701

Cafe Epicurious (Rail Mall) – Baked Eggs to die for

2 04 2012

*This meal was sponsored by Cafe Epicurious.

Cafe Epicurious was one of the first blog posts I made on this blog almost 2 years ago. When I look back at that post, two things strike me. First is that my food photography skills and photo editing skills have indeed come a long way, from being a total noob to the rookie I am now. Second is that I used to be so much more creative in my writing. I guess right now, the luxury of time is just not on my side, while back then I was still waiting to enroll into SMU. Anyhow, I wonder what the two year later me would say when I looks back at this post?

I was invited down to Cafe Epicurious at Rail Mall for a tasting session. Given that it totally sucks to do a tasting alone (I hate wasting food and worry about the awkward silences that might ensue between the host and myself), Xinli from The4Moose and myself coordinated to go down together on a not so lovely Saturday where I had 2 concurrent project meetings to attend. I find myself blessed to have understanding group mates, who are very supportive of my foodie adventures even at the expense of their GPAs (I like to think of myself as an indispensable group member whose work actually has a bearing on the final project grade 😀 ). I’m a very last minute worker so I hope they know I will pull through at the end.

Unlike the Epicurious outlet at Robertson Quay whose clientele is made up predominantly of expats, local young adults and students make up the core clientele for this outlet during brunch. I find it a lot more peaceful at this outlet, where I can take my time with my meal and do some readings without anyone breathing down my neck. The Robertson Quay outlet is just a little too noisy, hot and crowded for my liking.

We started off the tasting with the Pancakes ($8++). Topped with some lightly caramelized bananas and strawberries, it is one of the better pancakes around. It was really light and fluffy, so finishing all 3 wouldn’t have been a problem for me if not for the onslaught of the other brunch items that the 2 of us were sharing. For drinks, Xinli had a Cappuccino ($6++) while I requested for a Honey Lemon Drink (not in the menu) since I was down with a sore throat.

My favourite dish at Epicurious so far is their Baked Eggs with Toast Soldiers ($14++). I recall that they used to serve it either with a choice of bacon, mushroom or prawns, but now diners get the standard two eggs with bacon, mushroom, tomato & cream, covered with cheese and baked until gooey, to be eaten with a side of Brioche. If you are worried that this dish is too cheesy for one to stomach, you can opt for the Half and Half ($16++) which, allows you to mix and match 2 brunch items at half servings, from the choice of Baked Eggs, Eggs Benedict and Green Eggs & Ham.

For our Half and Half ($16++), we got the Eggs Benedict and Green Eggs & Ham, which is eggs scrambled with basil pesto, prosciutto and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Parmiagiano-Reggiano is the italian name for what is commonly known as Parmesan cheese and just like how sparkling wine can only be classified as Champagne if it is produced in the region of Champagne, France, Parmesan Cheese can only be produced in certain regions of Italy. I didn’t quite fancy the eggs ben today as the egg was severely overpoached and the Hollandaise came a little too tart for my liking, though the consistency of the sauce was just right. As for the Green Eggs & Ham, I would say that the eggs are scrambled well, retaining a slightly runny and creamy texture but what didn’t go for me was the combination of basil pesto. What impresses me however, is the Sauteed Potatoes on the side, which comes slightly crisp but not over-fried and lightly salted. The Eggs Ben and Green Eggs & Ham are available in full servings at $14++ as well.

The Ratatouille Omelette ($14++) is simple but tasty. It is a two-egg omelette filled with a herb, tomato, eggplant & zucchini stew, topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano, very much like an omelette filled with pasta sauce. I couldn’t detect the parmesan though. Funny story back in 2007 when Ratatouille the movie was first screened, I thought it had something to do with the rat’s name. That was back when I was an uninitiated foodie. My dad isn’t a fan of western food you see, so as a child I had little exposure to much french or italian cuisine. So I’m making up for lost time now.

The Epicurious Burger ($18++) is listed as IS Magazines’s top 10 burgers in Singapore. After the first bite, I thought to myself, “Is there really that few burger joins in Singapore?”. I have no qualms about the fries, in fact I find it amazing and I definitely award brownie points for the lime aioli which tasted heavily of lemongrass with a suggested thai influence but what I felt could have been improved was the beef patty, which tasted artificially salty and not very juicy nor tender. As for bacon, what’s not to like?

This is also what I’d like to call the burger method of critiquing, you first start with a good point (the fries) so that you don’t seem to be scolding a person directly, then proceed to the body of your message (the patty) where you criticize the object but never the person, and end off on a good note (the bacon). Management Communications 101 😀

There were a couple of misses but the whole experience was surely positive, and I’d still rate Epicurious as a brunch place worth visiting.

Special thanks to Cafe Epicurious for the hosting this tasting session. I enjoyed the brunch much!

Cafe Epicurious

392 Upper Bukit Timah Road

Tel: +65 6894 5926

Seah Soon Teck Teochew Porridge – A Spread worth Spreading Around

1 04 2012

*This meal was sponsored by Seah Soon Teck Teochew Porridge

I sometimes get questions on why I rarely feature hawker stalls on my blog. It’s definitely not because I only eat at restaurants! The truth couldn’t be more far off, since I spend bulk of my meals at Kopitiam or Koufu when in SMU. I think the main reason is that restaurants often have an underlying theme or dining philosophy that they want to bring across, which is often showcased in the decor or food presentation. On the other hand, there is hardly anything to comment about for a plate of freaking orgasmic chicken rice, plus lugging a dslr to a coffee shop to snap a picture of chicken rice does make one seem really touristy.

So when I do blog about a hawker stall, I make sure that there is really something extra special about it that warrants a blog post and I got to say that Seah Soon Teck Teochew Porridge does possess such qualities.

I was invited down for a tasting when it opened for business at its present premises in March this year. I was glad to get the opportunity to sample a potential place where I can do my future takeaways since I live around the area.

The manager Alvin was very generous and gave my friends and I quite a spread but I will focusing purely on what I feel is worth ordering if you do take the chance to visit.

Prior to this meal, I had never heard or eaten Pig Aspic, also known as Pig Trotters Jelly. It’s a delightful appetizer that is served chilled, best eaten with a douse of chili sauce. I also liked the Shark Aspic, which had significantly less gelatin and more shark meat. I have have shark meat elsewhere before but it was always too tough and chewy for my liking. The shark meat here is significantly more tender, with a texture reminiscent of sting ray meat, albeit slightly chewier. It might be a little bland so for a flavour boost, dip it with the accompanying sesame peanut plum sauce.

The squid is excellent too. It is fresh and not overcooked, leaving the sotong meat springy, soft and creamy.

I am very distrusting of economic rice stalls’ pork belly dishes. I love pork belly and cai fan stalls always seem to screw them up somehow. Fortunately, Seah Soon Teck’s pork belly dish is competent, though it would be better if the braising sauce was more robust.

I recently did a community involvement project in a rural China village and I witnessed the whole process of how a pig is slaughtered, how it is skinned and “prepared”. “Prepared” is a nicer way of saying cutting an incision along the middle front of the pig (from the mouth to where your belly button will be), where the tongue and all the organs will just spill out, waiting to be cleaned. I used to be a fan of Kway Chap, but after seeing how pigs intestines are cleaned, I haven’t had it in over a year. Although the partially processed poop is squeezed out of the intestines, I don’t see how one is able to clean the insides of the intestine thoroughly. However, I made an exception today and I’m glad I did, the large intestines were flavourful and devoid of any questionable odours, not to mention it had a melt in your mouth texture. I ended up finishing almost half the plate.

Now one thing definitely worth ordering here is the Braised Duck. I swear this is one of the best braised ducks I have ever eaten, and in my opinion can possibly match up against Lim Seng Lee Duck Rice, which is a braised duck stall that many of my NUS friends swear by. A key difference between the two duck rice stalls is that the duck here is more chunky, providing more bite (compared to Lim Seng Lee which is more tender), and also more flavourful as the braising sauce has been fully infused into the duck.

Last but not least, you have also got to try their homemade meatballs, which look a little like fishcakes made with a visible combination of prawns, meat and fish. While I have eaten similar fishcakes at a couple of economic rice stalls, the one here takes the cake and goes extremely well with the plain porridge.

Special thanks to Seah Soon Teck Teochew Porridge for the meal invitation! With the current quality it is dishing up, I’m sure a revisit from me is just around the corner.
PS: Anyways, just visited them again today to da pao dinner home coz I’m down with the flu. Realized I might have been a little to quick to say that their duck is better than Lim Seng Lee’s but going back as a paying customer this time, I can at least confidently say now that the food is good and portions are generous. Dad’s a fan too.
Seah Soon Teck Teochew Porridge
283 Changi Road
Tel: +65 6749 0668

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