Mikuni – A Tough to Beat Set Lunch

25 01 2015

Located on the 3rd floor of Raffles City / Fairmont Hotel, Mikuni brings together Teppanyaki, Robatayaki and Sushi, enthralling diners and leading them on a gastronomic adventure across the best of what Japan has to offer. Diners may choose to sit at the general dining area or on any one of the three counters; sushi, teppanyaki or robatayaki to watch the master chefs in action. On this occasion, I chose the sushi counter.

General dining area

Set lunches (11 choices in total) are available daily, with prices starting from $65++ onwards, providing diners with options spanning teppanyaki, robatayaki, tempura and sushi main courses. Spoilt for choice, I chose the Premium Bento Miyabi ($120++), which offered a good mix of the options mentioned. 

Sushi Counter

Starters were simple yet effective and we particularly liked the salad dressing. The thin sheets of seasoned crackers tasted somewhat like Chinese New Year Prawn Rolls.

Next up was three kinds of sashimi; Salmon, Chutoro and Scallops. Not often does one find Chutoro in a set lunch so I was pleasantly surprised.

When the mains arrived, I was totally blown away by the extensive variety and hearty portions afforded onto us.

From top-left clockwise: Kyoto Onion Soup, BBQ Eel on rice, Teppanyaki Prawns with a Golden Cheesy Sauce, a skewer of Grilled Kagoshima Beef, Mixed Tempura.

I was at a loss as to what I liked best amongst the mains, since all were top-class in execution. The draw was really the variety, where I could go back and forth between the different items without ever feeling cloyed or bored with any particular item.

Friend CW seemed to like the Teppanyaki Prawns best, which were garnished with ebiko, slices of asparagus and slathered in a golden buttery sauce.

For dessert, we were given a dense Coffee Ice Cream with Chocolate Crumble. 

Complimentary Matcha White Chocolate and Red Bean “Kueh” were also served as the bill was presented. A nice touch to end off a perfect weekend lunch.

What we liked about Mikuni was the consistent high quality present in every course. While meals here don’t come cheap, I found it fully justified by its value and utility. It will be tough to find a set lunch as awesome as this one.

Dining discounts are applicable to holders of the FAR card and Amex Platinum card.

Mikuni

80 Bras Basah Road, Fairmont Hotel 3F, Raffles City, Singapore 189560

Tel: +65 6431 6156





Bespoke Cocktail Bar Hopping – A 6-pub guide around CBD

2 11 2014

With the cocktail scene alive and kicking in Singapore, Amex has recently launched #ChillaxSG, a one year promotion for Amex Platinum and Amex Platinum Reserve card holders, offering various privileges such as 1-for-1, complimentary welcome cocktails with any order etc, at 16 different cocktail bars from 15 Oct 2014 to 14 Oct 2015.

In anticipation of this promotion, I had the opportunity to hang out with the folks from Amex, as they took two mini-bus loads of lifestyle and food bloggers on a pub hop event to 6 of the participating bars to showcase what was on offer.

1st Stop: The Men’s Room (13 North Canal Rd, #01-02)

Best for: The Laid-back Working Crowd who wants a drink neat, rather than fancy

Unlike some of the other places we visited later in the night, The Men’s Room seemed more like a place to get down with unadulterated liquors, especially whisky and gin. Instead of going hard on the first bar, I had their signature Chrysanthemum Cocktail instead, which would have been pretty nice for a tame night out and much reminiscent of Winebar/Zouk’s Chrysanthemum shots.

Source: Google Maps

Chrysanthemum Cocktails

2nd Stop: Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall (60A Boat Quay)

Best for: The Discerning Hipster

Like a scene out of the 1980s, I truly enjoyed the hipster vibes I got from this place. Like many other bars that concoct bespoke cocktails, you won’t find a drinks menu here and the mixologists get to work by asking about your alcohol and taste preferences.

I had their version of the Old Fashioned which I enjoyed. Typically, an Old Fashioned is a bourbon based drink but Ah Sam gave it a local twist in line with the shop’s theme by infusing the bourbon with Milo. What resulted was an Old Fashioned that had the rich creamy texture of milk. I’m the type of person who needs food to go along with my drinks so I was super pleased to find out that in addition to the well thought out ambience and creative drinks, Ah Sam serves up a mindblowing Hokkien Mee as well, which if served in a hawker centre, would no doubt be drawing crowds. Other food items on the menu include local delights such as Prawn Paste Chicken, Ngoh Hiang and Fried Kuay Teow.

Ah Sam in the flesh

Food Menu

Half-eaten Hokkien Mee and Milo-infused Old Fashioned (with a proper ice cube)

3rd Stop: Spiffy Dapper (61 Boat Quay)

Best for: The Cool Emo Kids

For a slightly more grungy environment with an amazing view of the Singapore river, pop by next door from Ah Sam’s to Spiffy Dapper. When we were there, we were served some decent tandoori and grilled items, possibly from the Indian Restaurant downstairs. If so, I think that’s a plus for allowing outside food, while the mixologists focus on doing what they do best. They did a marvelous job with my Gin shaken with Mint, simple but effective. Like Ah Sam’s next door, there’s no drinks menu here so sit back and let the bartenders get creative and concoct something to your mood and likings.

For a better idea of what you can expect in this unpretentious hole in the wall speakeasy bar, the below is an excerpt from Spiffy Dapper’s blog website which I think describes it perfectly:

“In the middle of Boat Quay, the last remaining bastion of the seedy port town that was Singapore, and hidden away on the second floor is The Spiffy Dapper.

Born out of a need to be real and imperfect, we aim to channel the creative audacity and sense of adventure of the 1920’s.

We make some damn good drinks, but what this place is really about is chilling the fuck out and having a good time.”

Gin Shaken with Mint (left)

4th Stop: The Secret Mermaid (10 Collyer Quay, B1-08 Ocean Financial Centre)

Best for: The True Blue Pro-American Craft Spirit Connoisseur

The Secret Mermaid is the latest brainchild of restaurateur Howard Lo, the owner of Tanuki Raw and Standing Sushi Bar. In the day, the shop space operates under the name of Shinkansen, a Japanese Salad Bar but once dusk falls, The Secret Mermaid emerges. 

Specializing in American spirits, The Secret Mermaid offers a range of craft spirits never seen before in Singapore. For the uninitiated, their tasting flights (starting at $15) comprising of 3 half shots of different types of spirits is an affordable way to get educated without breaking the bank. I was also rather intrigued with the novelty Smoked Salmon Vodka and Bacon Vodka that are available in tasting portions.

5th Stop: Maison Ikkoku (20 Kandahar Street)

Best for: Date nights, for couples who love pyrotechnic displays in a posh setting

Among the 6 cocktail bars we patronized that night, Maison Ikkoku had the most razzle dazzle and pomp. The setting is elegant, with the mixologists friendly and accommodative. The music is not too loud and allows for a decent conversation. Hence, it’s somewhere I would potentially bring a date, to impress her with the well-executed cocktails, liberal use of pyrotechnics for the cocktail preparation and classy bar grub.

For specific cocktails, I would highly recommend the Pina Colada which is served in a seared coconut, the Banana Daiquiri which I found astoundingly refreshing and smooth, and the Passionfruit Gin & Tonic.

Banana Daiquiri

Pina Colada (amazed that my iPhone did such a good job with this pic)

Parmesan Chawanmushi

Smoked Duck

6th Stop: Orgo (8 Raffles Avenue, #04-01 Esplanade)

Best for: Large group gatherings, where space is of the essence

I have been to Orgo before a couple years back and I wasn’t impressed. Fast forward the clock and I still get the same vibes now. Drinks were a pretty standard affair and the place exudes a more commercialized feel compared to the other 5 bars we had been to. What’s going for the place is the view, given its location on the Esplanade roof terrace.





The Halia @ Raffles Hotel – Fun Communal Dining Concept

15 06 2014

You would think that for its location in the iconic Raffles Hotel, the Halia must certainly be a fine-dining western restaurant. This “mistaken” mindset has proven to be slightly burdensome for the eatery, which has continually strived to portray itself as a casual-chic restaurant that isn’t afraid to infuse an element of playfulness into its dishes.

Al fresco dining area & bar

The latest concept adopted by the restaurant, which was also the reason for my being there, is the introduction of a communal dining concept, with dishes being classified as “big plates” or “small plates” for sharing instead of the usual appetizers and mains. The general idea is to bring out the scene of a feast where the table is kept filled with a variety of dishes, rather than having the usual course by course meal sequence typical of western meals.

Apart from the ala carte menu (note: prices of the individual plates are listed below), a communal set dinner is also available daily from 6pm to 10.30pm, priced at $260++ for 4 pax. However given the generous servings, my take is that the set can comfortably feed a group of 5, especially if there are females present. What’s included within the set are a kettle of soup with assorted breads, 4 small plates, 4 big plates, 2 desserts and a jug of barley/lemongrass/ice tea.

Alternatively, for diners who might want to sample Halia’s offerings without the full-blown commitment of dinner, the restaurant also offers very affordable 3-course set lunches at $25++, and a lunch communal set for 4 pax at $160++ which includes soup, 4 small plates, 2 big plates, 1 dessert and a non-alcoholic jug of barley/lemongrass/ice tea.

Upon entering the restaurant, the first signs restaurant’s casual-chic nature presented itself with the interesting old school designs on the communal menu and paper sheets covering the tables. Then came the barley water and utensils in old school tin cans.

Cream of Mushroom Soup, Bread Selection

Goats’ cheese mousse, heirloom tomato, olive, wild honey, dried brioche ($18++)

I didn’t quite take to the Oriental Pulled Duck with Soba Noodle ($18++). The meat was seasoned to be sweet, which isn’t something I’m used to.

On the other hand, the House smoked salmon pate ($23++) is a small plate that I would recommend ordering. Compared to the overwhelmingly salty smoked salmon commonly found in supermarkets (possibly to extend shelf life), the smoked salmon here was significantly less so such that you get a better sense of the smokiness and the natural taste of salmon.

The Chilli crab dip with toasted baguette ($14++) makes for a great starter. It stands out from the chili crab sauce from chinese restaurants since it was slightly more sourish, which whetted my appetite for the feast ahead.

For a secondary cut, I was surprised at how much I liked the Baked Kingfish Collar ($28++). The flesh was remarkably tender and I managed to debone it with ease. The light miso marinade also allowed me to appreciate the Kingfish, without overpowering its natural flavour.

While the Wagyu Beef “Zhajiangmian” ($30++) was visually appealing and conceptually interesting, with the “noodles” being replaced by long thin vegetable strips, it didn’t leave much of an impression tastewise. I thought of it as a fancy salad dish.

While the Twice-cooked Spatchcock of Spring Chicken ($35++) might look uninteresting, its execution was flawless and it turned out to be my favourite dish of the meal. The secret lay in it being twice cooked, first in a sous-vide style (slow cooked under low temperatures) to derive that tender juicy consistency, and followed up with some light roasting to attain the crispy skin and smoky char. What was most surprising was how moist the breast meat was.

In the old wild west, gunpowder containing traces of magnesium, potassium, sulphur and charcoal was sometimes used as a seasoning for meats. Inspired with this, the ‘Gunpowder’ Wagyu Topside Mayura Station ($46++) here was seasoned with charcoal. The beef was first cooked in a water bath at 59 degrees celsius before being grilled, resulting in a nice pink hue to the beef. However, for a indicated marbling score of 8-9, I was slightly let down that the beef still retained some bite to it rather than having the melt in your mouth sensation. The seasoning and accompanying sauce was also a little too savory in general.

Coconut parfait, pineapple, gingerflower, chocolate

Of the two desserts I tried, I preferred the Sticky toffee pudding, date, butterscotch sauce, sea salt, vanilla ice cream ($10++). Simple touches like the light sprinkling of sea salt on the toffee pudding did help to distinguish this rendition as an above average one. After all, who doesn’t like salted caramel?

On the whole, the meal was really enjoyable and the huge selection of dishes present in the communal set menu left me with positive feelings. Many of the dishes were rather creative with influences from various cuisines styles. What I enjoyed most however, were the relatively more straightforward dishes like the Roast Chicken, Baked Kingfish, Smoke Salmon Pate and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Regarding the communal dining concept, you can think of it as a scaled up tapas meal, or a chinese restaurant meal utilizing western dishes. Either way, it is a fun concept for group dining.

This meal was sponsored by Halia. Special thanks to Halia for hosting the invitation.

Halia

1 Beach Road, #01-22/23 Raffles Hotel, Singapore 189673

Tel: +65 9639 1148

Website: http://thehalia.com/raffles/raffles/about-the-halia/





Halia @ Raffles Hotel – A Weekend Brunch Menu Feature

7 07 2013

Halia, which means ginger in Malay, is no new kid on the block. It’s flagship outlet in the Singapore Botanical Gardens has been around since 2001 and has been a popular choice for diners out for dates and other special occasions. While it has been on my to-go list for the longest time, its location proved to be the main deterrence (since I stay in the east). That’s why I’m glad they decided to open a much more accessible sister outlet in Raffles Hotel late last year.

Located at the iconic Raffles Hotel, it’s not unjustified to presume that meals here would be priced at a premium so it comes as a surprise that this isn’t so. Case in point, 3-course set lunches are priced at a reasonable $25++ while their pre-theatre 3-course set dinners are priced at $33++.

I like the interior of the restaurant, which I found rather spacious. Alternatively, there’s outdoor seating as well. While the ambience, price point and food quality (which we will cover shortly) are attractive enough, it seems that Halia @ Raffles Hotel is still a relatively hidden gem as there wasn’t much of a crowd apart from a small private gathering gathered to witness a couple executing their ROM on the Saturday noon when I was there.

On this occasion, I was here to sample their weekend brunch and all-day dining menu. Like most brunch places in Singapore, weekend brunch is no longer constrained to mornings, resulting in the brunch menu being made available from 11am to 5.30pm. I will touch on the Brunch Menu items first.

Brunch Menu Items

For those wanting to live it up a bit, what’s better than some freshly shucked Irish Oysters ($5.50/piece) with Lemon & Mignonette, paired with white wine. As a university senior, I’m not at that level yet, so it would seem overly pretentious if I did that now. Guess I will just have to make do with the $1 happy hour oysters at Tanuki @ Orchard Central for now.

The Pancake ($12++) is a classic brunch item but the ones here come with very thinly sliced bacon, which provides a hint of savoriness that contrasts well with the sweet Maple Butter, Fresh Strawberries and Strawberry Puree. I would recommend this.

The Assorted Bread & Pastries ($12++) consist of a Baguette, Sourdough, Scone, Croissant, Danish, Clotted Cream & Jam. I have only tried the scone and it was a little drier and denser to what I’m used to, quite meh actually. On a side note, the people I know who are fanatics of bread always seem to be female. Not sure if there’s a real correlation or it’s sheer coincidence.

Another item that I wouldn’t bother ordering again would be the Heirloom Tomato ($20++) with Red Pepper Gazpacho, Croutons, Jamon Iberico & Balsamic, which comes across as a rather unaffordable salad dish, given the relative pricing of the other items on Halia’s menu. I’m not sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between a heirloom vs a common commercial tomato anyway.

One of my favourite brunch menu items would be the Mushroom Capellini ($22++) with Fresh Winter Truffle & Herb Oil. The cream sauce while thick, isn’t too cloying and the mushrooms are just simply delish.

The Grilled Breakfast with choice of Eggs done Poached, Fried, Scambled or Omelette style ($23++) comes with an Italian Pork Sausage (much too salty), Sweetened Bacon, Portobello Mushroom, Vine Tomato and Toasted Sourdough. Kudos to the execution of the eggs, which were perfectly poached and scrambled. One of the best eggs I have had in a while.

I didn’t quite agree with the White Bean Chorizo Leek Stew ($16++) with Egg Sunny Side up, Smoked Chipotle Sauce, Tomato & Fine Herbs. Personally, the stew was too thick and starchy.

All-day Dining Menu

It might not look like much but the Celeriac Lasagna ($12++) with Mushroom, Thyme, Baby Spinach, Lemon & Madeira Cream was the crowd favourite, me included. This says much given that I’m more of a meat lover. It probably had something to do with the mushrooms and the cream sauce, which worked marvelously well together, perhaps even slightly reminiscent of the Mushroom Capellini earlier on. This is a confirm must-order on my subsequent visits.

Fries ($8++) pretty much taste the same everywhere but I did enjoy the Truffle Aioli that came together with the oens here. The orange-coloured Piquant Mayo dip fared just averagely.

One of Halia’s signatures is the Halia Chili Crab ($25++) with Spaghettini, Spring Onion & Egg. It definitely packed a punch with the spices and was executed well overall but my only gripe is that it shows little differentiation from a generic crab pasta one easily finds in a number of Italian joints.

I could feel the Middle Eastern influences in the Sous Vide Baharat Chicken Leg ($28+) with Butternut Squash & Roast, Ginger, Coriander & Red Pepper Salsa. The lightly spiced thigh meat had a smokey flavour and was uber tender. The wonders of sous vide at work again…

Despite being a vegetarian dish, I found the Mushroom, Lentil & Walnut Bake ($24++), Fennel Seed Cream, Sundried Tomato, Mesclun rather intriguing and very flavourful. The walnut and lentil bake looked somewhat like a tempeh but had a much smoother and finer texture.

Overall, a very decent meal at a very decent price. No doubt I will be back shortly.

This meal was sponsored by Halia. Special thanks to Halia and Foodnews for the invitation.

Halia

1 Beach Road, #01-22/23, Raffles Hote

Tel: +65 9639 1148





Le Bistrot du Sommelier II – The Yardstick for French Bistros

16 06 2013

I was starting a 10-week internship the next day so I convinced myself that I had to spoil myself with an awesome meal. After all, I didn’t know what the workload was going to be like and when my next indulgent meal would be. The initial plan was to head for lunch at Restaurant Absinthe at Boat Quay but I guess my due diligence fell short as it was closed for Saturday lunch. But seriously, who closes for Saturday lunch?

It might not have been a bad thing though since Le Bistrot du Sommelier was just around the area. It’s one of my favourite French bistros in Singapore with food quality that had been tried and tested. I last visited them a year ago and the menu has been revamped slightly since then to my delight.

Their affordable Pork Rillette ($9.50/100g) can easily feed 3-4 people as an appetizer. It’s has just the right proportion of fats and isn’t overly salty, very much like luncheon meat in paste form.

We also had the Smoked Salmon with Sour Cream, Quinoa, Onions & Dill, which I found enjoyable as well. The Salmon is just mildly salty and blends in nicely with the sour cream.

The Beef Short Rib with Polenta Mash ($40++) was one of their daily specials but it paled in comparison to the Braised Beef Cheeks that we had as our other main, as the accompanying polenta mash was too sweet and didn’t complement the short rib much. I’m not a fan of polenta anyway.

The Braised Beef Cheeks in Red Wine Sauce, served with potatoes ($34++) is possibly my favorite dish on their menu, especially because of the hearty gravy and tender cheeks. The gravy went great with the dish of short ribs too.

As with my previous 2 visits, I had the Profiteroles filled with Vanilla Ice Cream in Warm Chocolate Sauce topped with Sliced Almonds ($14++). Not as good as I remembered but the crisp choux buns encasing the ice cream is still one of the best around in my opinion. 

I often make the mistake of over-ordering here so be warned. Portions are really huge, hence the usual 3-course meal per person does not apply here. A party of 4 can consider just ordering 2-3 starters, 3 mains and 2 desserts to share or there might be wastage and it’s just cruel to watch such awesome food go down the drain.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier

53 Armenien Street

Tel: +65 6333 1982





Salt Tapas & Bar – Pairing Churros with Sangria

13 04 2013

It was only when Salt Grill & Sky Bar commenced operations did I realize that Ion’s top most floors (level 55 & 56) were open to the public. I paid them a visit last year for a Restaurant Week lunch and left with a positive impression. Following the success of Salt Grill, Australian celebrity chef Luke Mangan must have gained an epiphany that Singaporeans love gourmet food but are rather sloppy when it comes down to dressing for meals and hence launched Salt Tapas & Bar last year, a tapas bar where no one will judge you (much) if you and your girlfriends started giggling and banging tables after a couple round of drinks.

While the restaurant has been operating for a while now, the recent appointment of Chef Matthew Leighton as head chef in March 2013 has resulted in a major revamping of the menu. At only 26 years of age, he has served in the Glass Brasserie in Sydney, as well as The Palace in Melbourne, both reputable restaurants by Luke Mangan. Guess we can call him Mangan’s protege of sorts.

The interior of the restaurants gives off a charming rustic vibe, thanks to the red brick walls and wooden furnishings. The tables are spaced out sufficiently and coupled with the high ceilings, I was pretty oblivious to the noise level and could carry out conversations without straining my voice despite the full house on a Tuesday evening.

Now that I see a picture of the bar, I’m reminded that Salt Tapas & Bar has a Ladies night on Wednesdays too. I believe the current promotion is that on every order of a tapas, ladies get 2 drinks FREE (choice of Sangria or Lychee Martini). That’s seriously a good deal, given that a glass of sangria costs $17 bucks here. Oh and the sangria tastes great by the way, would recommend ordering it even without Ladies night. It’s on the sweet end and doesn’t compromise too much on the alcohol.

The menu here is divided into 6 sections, namely “Nibbles”, “Butcher”, “Garden”, “Sea”, “Paddock” and “Sweets”. The sections are more or less quite self-explanatory, so items in paddock would be your meats dishes, items in garden your salad dishes and so forth.

We started off dinner with the Fried Potatoes (Potatas Bravas), Spicy Sauce & Garlic Aioli ($9++), a traditional Spanish tapas dish. Rather tasty and came in a pretty generous serving too.

The Beetroot, Asparagus, Egg, Radish, Rocket, Tarragon Dressing ($12++) wasn’t quite as good. It’s greens after all though objectively, the sweet beets does go quite well with the bitter rockets.

The Pork Sliders, Pickled Cucumber & Chilli ($13++) consisted of a trio of mini burgers filled with pulled pork and pickles. Instead of a solid patty, the pork patty had a consistency which was more of a paste, similar to that of the tuna you find in your subways. Cute as it may be, I thought it was pretty forgettable taste-wise.

Parmesan Truffle Fries ($10++) tastes more or less the same everywhere but the ones here loses its crispness rather quickly so must 趁热吃.

The Roasted Barramundi with Squid, Tomato & Chorizo ($32++) is something I would recommend here. The Barramundi is pretty bland on its own so the zesty tomato base does well to add some much needed flavour to it.

For a tapas bar, I expected better from the Paella of Prawns, Mussels, Chorizo & Chicken ($38++). It was too dry and the rice was unappetizing, very must like soggy clumpy fried rice. A good paella in my view would have the rice absorb a fair bit of the seafood broth and be palatable enough to eat on its own.

Interestingly enough, the star of the Lamb Rumb with Crumbed Zucchini & Salsa Verde ($34++) was the zucchini. The batter was really light and the deep fried zucchini reminded me, in a good way, of the cheese sticks from Burger King which I used to get as an add-on every time I dined there. The lamb was decent and I was impressed by how well the Salsa verde complemented the meat. Salsa verde is a green sauce generally made using parsley, vinegar, capers, garlic, onions, anchovies and olive oil. The one here had a nice mild minty taste.

After a heavy meal, I was thankful for the Berry & Custard Cream Mille-feuille with Elderflower Sorbet ($12++), which was a relatively light dessert made using a layer of of cream filling between 2 layers of puff pastry. I especially liked the elderflower sorbet which was had a nectarous flavour that cleansed the palate.

If you have no time for a meal, do still consider dropping by for the Churros & Chocolate ($11++). Deep fried dough, coated with sugar, dipped in cream and dark chocolate. Sinful as it may be, I think it’s definitely worth the calories.

I like the fun vibes at Salt Tapas & Bar. It’s a great place for meet-ups and you don’t have to be too hush for fear of disturbing other customers. A fair share of hits and misses food-wise but nibbles like the Potatas Bravas and Desserts are worth dropping by for…and not forgetting the Sangria.

Special Thanks to Salt Tapas & Bar for the hosting the dinner invitation!

Salt Tapas & Bar

252 North Bridge Road, #01-22A Raffles City Shopping Centre

Tel: +65 6837 0995





Equinox @ Swissotel – Restaurant Week Lunch

21 03 2013

It’s Restaurant Week again and as usual, I went into a rabid booking frenzy when seats were released. It’s not like I have the time to eat 4 Restaurant Week meals but guess I’m still a true blue Singaporean at heart, scared to lose out when there’s a queue. So while I had rather hard-to-get reservations at Basilico, Brasserie les Savuers and Keystone Restaurant over the course of the week, I had to drop them all, leaving me with just a sole lunch date at the highly acclaimed Equinox @ Swissotel.

Just a bit of advice from me. While the goal of Restaurant Week is to allow would-be diners to sample restaurants’ offerings at more affordable prices, not all restaurant week menus are value for money, so it pays to do some basic research first. For example during the Oct 2012 installment of restaurant week, I actually noted a restaurant that charged $40++ for their restaurant week lunch menu, which was just a truncated version of their normal set lunch menu, meaning diners had to pay more for less choices of appetizers, mains and desserts! Thankfully, that same restaurant isn’t guilty of that this time around (but that’s because they increased the price of their normal set lunch).

Equinox is probably one of the more value for money restaurant participants for restaurant week as the restaurant week menu ($40++) doesn’t deviate much from their usual set lunch ($59++). Their lunch menu comes in the form of a semi-buffet, meaning that appetizers and desserts are buffet style while diners can order 1 main (from 3 choices) off the menu.

Given that my expectations of the buffet was along the lines of a salad bar in Pizza Hut (I do exaggerate sometimes), I was pleasantly surprised by the spread. There were appetizers like Shrimp Cocktail, Cold cuts, Proscuitto, Mediterranean dips like Hummus and Baba Ganoush, Smoked Salmon, Roast Duck Salad, Chilled Seafood (Fresh Oysters, Chilled Crabs, Clams, Mussels & Prawns), Sashimi (Salmon & Tuna), Assorted Sushi (featuring interesting ones like Hokkigai aka Surf Clam Sushi and Herring Sashimi) and unlike some buffets where the food is left in the open for long periods of time, I noticed that food refills here were carried out fairly regularly which is a good sign.

The dessert and cheese line was pretty decent too. Apart from an assortment of cakes, there’s also the chocolate fondue fountain and Ice Cream!

The sushi with bright yellow roe at the bottom of the plate is a Herring Sashimi, something not so commonly found at buffets.

M liked the Watermelon with Feta (plated on the small saucer below) so much that she took 5 servings of it.

There were 3 choices of mains available from the restaurant week lunch menu.

M got the vegetarian option of Wild Mushroom Raviolo with Vegetable Linguine & Mushroom Dressing. Raviolo is simply an oversized Ravioli and this one was filled almost entirely with Mushrooms that tasted excruciatingly sour from the excessive use of vinegar. The faux linguine made from grated vegetables didn’t help alleviate much of M’s suffering either.

I didn’t try the Pan-seared Barramundi with Sauteed Green Beans, Shitake Mushrooms & Herb Broth but G didn’t have any complaints about it.

For myself, the choice of main was a simple one, the Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Curried Sweet Potato, Roast Onion & Zucchini in Cider Sauce. It was the most unhealthy dish I could find on the menu and going by my assumption of equivalent exchange, this would prove to be the most tasty dish.

While it’s probably the best imo of the 3 mains available, it fails to impress, falling short by quite a bit relative to some of the Roasted Pork Bellies I have had. The meat wasn’t as tender as expected and slightly on the dry side. Didn’t favour the mash either since it was more chunky than smooth and the curry flavour didn’t complement the pork well.

For good roasted pork bellies, try Skyve Elementary Bistro & Bar (which does it sous vide style) or Ember Restaurant (my favourite place for set lunch).

Just for restaurant week, diners can also opt to add on a Pan-seared Foie Gras for an additional $10, which I did. It didn’t turn out too well though as it was unsalted (intentionally as I clarified later) and overcooked, which saddened me a little especially since it was M’s first time trying Foie Gras and I always believed that your first time is supposed to be special. Shall bring her to somewhere with decent foie gras next time to atone for this atrocity.

Sadly the pretty desserts didn’t taste as good as they looked. The more palatable ones include the Creme Brulee and the light Ivory Dome White Chocolate Cake.

Coffee/tea is included within the set lunch and Equinox uses TWG tea in case you are wondering.

I guess word on the street is right. Food doesn’t seem to be the main draw of Equinox. The experience of dining 70 floors up with a panoramic view of the Marina area however, is another story.

Equinox

2 Stamford Road, Level 70 Swissotel The Stamford

Tel: +65 6837 3322





Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill – A Fuss-free & Casual French Steakhouse

24 02 2013

As a typical university student still living with my parents, I neither cook nor do the marketing for my household needs (thankfully). That’s why I have been rather out of touch with the food costs in Singapore lately. I’m quite clueless about how much a kg of beef should cost, much less if we are talking about different cuts or breeds.

Recently however, a couple of friends and I have been organizing quite a few home barbeque parties, to our immense enjoyment. It’s probably a syndrome of getting older and lazier, where one would much prefer to hang out at a friend’s place (and decimate their alcohol stash), rather than fight against the swarms of Orchard Road. Going to town just lost it’s coolness appeal overnight. As the budget for each BBQ session might differ, we have been experimenting with different cuts of beef, consequently gaining a better appreciation for the price-quality level of beef ratio.

I was at Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill a couple of weeks back for a tasting session. It’s a French steakhouse with a huge following in France, with over 100 outlets there. While most Singaporeans perceive the typical French restaurant to give off an air of snootiness, Hippopotamus is really the opposite, a casual restaurant with a friendly ambience.

Their menu is rather varied and while they specialize in steaks, a range of Chicken, Pork and Seafood dishes are nonetheless available as well. Mains here typically come with a choice of 2 side dishes (Fries, Potato Gratin, Green Beans, Steamed Vegetables, Baked Potato, Ratatouille) and 1 accompanying sauce (BBQ, Bearnaise, Homemade Thai Chili, Stewed Shallot, Pepper).

There are several cuts of beef to choose from in Hippopotamus, which might leave one lost as to the difference between each. The Skirt Steak ($18.90++), while not as widely popular as the ribeye, sirloin or tenderloin, would be suitable for those who value flavour over texture. I guess being a restaurant specializing in steaks, Hippopotamus’s order winner is their ability to time the doneness of the steak more accurately compared to eateries like Cafe Cartel whose staff might not be as seasoned, given the wider menu range and lower turnover of steak orders over there.

The Grilled Game Hen ($21.90++) is one of their more popular items as well. Interestingly, contrary to it name, a game hen (aka Spring Chicken) does not only refer to a female. It is a young chicken, slaughtered when it is just 30 days old and is priced slightly higher than a regular chicken, given that the meat is considered more tender than regular chickens.

Skirt Steak (top left), Game Hen (middle)

I really like the Grilled King Prawns ($22.90++) which has a slightly charred flavour. A few measly prawns can hardly be a meal for a big eater though so would appreciate if a surf & turf option presents itself on the menu.

There are 2 options for Fish, the Cod Fish ($36.90++) and the Barramundi Fillet ($22.90++), both nicely grilled to derive a blanket of crispy skin. I prefer the Cod but for those who prefer a less fatty texture, go for the Barramundi. Portions are slightly underwhelming though imo.

Cod Fish

The US Pork Chops ($19.90++) was a bit too lean and unseasoned for my liking but I guess that’s where the sauces come in.

A host of desserts can be found here as well, such as the Warm Chocolate Cake ($11.90++), Roasted Pineapple ($7.90++), Lemon Meringue Pie ($10.90++), Chocolate Hazelnut Cake ($8.90++), Creme Brulee ($7.90++) and Chocolate Mousse ($7.90++).

While I found most of them run off the mill, the Chocolate Mousse did tug at my heartstrings. The bittersweet chocolate is sinfully good, making a stopover for tea here worthwhile. In fact, I think this was probably what I enjoyed the most during the tasting.

Warm Chocolate Cake ($11.90++)

Roasted Pineapple ($7.90++)

Lemon Meringue Pie ($10.90++)

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake ($8.90++)

With the exception of the Chocolate Mousse, honestly, nothing else was very much different from the standards you get of Jack’s Place or Astons. It’s food that is meant to be fuss-free and casual after all, something I might grab for a quick lunch or while waiting for a movie.

Special thanks to Hippopotamus for the invitation and organizing the tasting.

Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill

6 Raffles Boulevard, #01-204/205 Marina Square

Tel: +65 6338 5352





Park Palace @ Grand Park City Hall – A CNY Menu to Consider

19 01 2013

With Chinese New Year quick approaching, a key question on everyone’s mind would be where to hold our reunion lunches and dinners? Initially, I admit that of the many restaurants considered, Park Palace @ Grand Park City Hall was definitely not one of them, but that was before I had a chance to sample their CNY menu last week, where I left the restaurant extremely satisfied. It was the largest scaled tasting I had been to so far, where around 30 curious individuals were gathered and eager to find out what Park Palace had to offer.

Available from 21 Jan 2013 to 24 Feb 2013, their CNY menus are priced at:

·         $78++ per person (a maximum of two persons)

·         $288++ per table (for four persons)

·         $438++ per table (for six persons)

·         $588++ per table (for eight persons)

·         $788++ to $2388++ per table (for ten persons)

Keeping true to the tradition of CNY, we started our meal with the Golden Shunde Yellowtail Yu Sheng ($88++). Literally translated, Yu Sheng (魚生)  means raw fish in Chinese but its pronunciation also functions as a pun to signify abundance (余升). Unlike the usual Yu Sheng which is sweet due to the use of sweet plum sauce, this version was more on the savoury side, as a soy based sauce was used instead. Young kids would definitely adore this as well because crispy fried vermicelli has replaced most of the icky shredded vegetables.

I had 2 favourite items for this meal and the Imperial Suckling Pig ($238++) was one of them. The skin (wrapped in steamed flat man tous) was super crispy yet not overcooked and didn’t feel oily at all. I could have easily polished off the entire pig’s skin if not for social decorum dictating I leave some for others at my table. Do order it in advance (24 hours notice recommended) as prior preparation is required for this dish.

Lazy Less hardworking people might take to the Golden Happiness Crispy Grouper, whose meat was filleted and deep fried, saving us the trouble of having to separate the meat from the fish bones. The batter was light and the accompanying plum vinaigrette sauce added some much needed flavours to the otherwise relatively bland fillets.

The Chinese New Year Flambe Pen Cai ($248/$428++ for 6 or 10 pax) was my other favourite dish. Our dining experience was made a little more exciting as the chef flambeed the Pen Cai in front of us, pouring the ignited brandy into the claypot as a finishing touch, which is supposed to enhance the aroma of the Pen Cai. It’s so ironic that it’s called Pen Cai, which literally means “bucket of vegetables”, when there’s so much seafood treasures to be found inside such as abalone, dried & fresh scallops, slices of sea perch, deshelled prawns, sea cucumber, roast pork & duck, soy sauce chicken, mushrooms, gingko nuts, lotus roots, cabbage and broccoli. A very hearty dish which goes down well with rice.

The Imperial Suckling Pig – Oven Baked with Lemongrass was made using what remained of the suckling pig we had earlier. The meat was pretty tender but given that it had already cooled down by the time this was served, it wasn’t as mind-blowing as the skin we had earlier.

When I saw that we were going to be served the Auspicious Glutinous Rice with Foie Gras and Preserved Meat, I initially thought of a bak cang (glutinous rice dumpling). Guess I was more pleased to see it being presented the way it was, where I could savour the foie gras by itself if I wanted to. Personally, I found this dish to be a little too heavy with a much too high rice-to-foie gras ratio, but it’s definitely a creative play on glutinous rice.

We were served the Steamed Mini Pumpkin Dumpling with Green Bean Paste for dessert. Very cutesy and intricate, so full marks for presentation but taste-wise, it was purely an over-glorified ang ku kueh.

Park Palace had far surpassed all expectations, with each dish I tried displaying a unique quality, be it in terms of taste, execution or simply aesthetics. So if you have not made CNY reunion meal plans yet, Park Palace is definitely somewhere to consider.

Special thanks to Park Palace for hosting this tasting session.

Park Palace

10 Coleman Street, Mezzanine Floor Grand Park City Hall

Tel: +65 6432 5888





Paulaner Brauhaus – Singapore’s Longest Standing Microbrewery and 2 Affordable Ways to Get Smashed

11 10 2012

The concept of microbreweries was first conceived in Singapore in the early 1990s, by a small brewery called Orang Utan Brewery, located where Zouk now resides. The market just wasn’t matured enough then and it winded down shortly after. Next came Paulaner Brauhaus in 1996, currently Singapore’s longest standing microbrewery. Brewerkz was another early player which opened in 1997. Over the years, names such as Pump Room, Archipelago Brewery, Level33, Reddot Brewhouse and Tawandang have also jumped on the microbrewery bandwagon and added vibrancy to our domestic beer market.

I first visited Paulaner slightly over 2 years back for a friend’s birthday. We had the Sunday Brunch Buffet, which is still ongoing and comes with either free flow soft drinks or free flow beer at $48++/$58++ respectively. This time however, I was back  for an Oktoberfest dinner event organized by the SMU Gourmet Club.

In light of the Oktoberfest festivities, a German band was playing what I guess were German drinking songs and going around dancing with selected audience members. The party was still pretty mild at this time, especially since the night was young and few had had their fill of food and drink.

I started off the meal with the Caesar Salad with Air-dried Pancetta Ham and Garlic Croutons ($14++). I would say its not worth the money as there’s better alternatives on the menu. Come on, you are in a German Restaurant! Act like it and order some MEAT!

It’s weird that there’s Sauteed Escargots with Herb Garlic Butter ($16.50++) on the menu, since snails are more of a French dish. Still, it’s prepared rather legitimately here and the snails are plump and juicy, with a savoury garlic butter sauce that I didn’t hesitate to soak my garlic bread in.

Someone took our preordered meatloaf by mistake, so being the magnanimous individuals we like to think we are, we swapped for their Munich’s Famous White Sausages with Freshly Baked Pretzel ($13.50++) instead. The pretzel is not worth mention but the sausages and dipping sauce are. The sausages are on the salty side but is toned down by the tangy mild BBQ-like sauce.

I’m still on the fence about the Potato Rosti with dry Smoked Ham Gratin with Gruyere Cheese ($13.50++). It’s nothing to shout about really, and the fried potato strips weren’t even crispy when the dish was served but there’s something about rosti that one finds it hard to complain about. You know that feeling too, it’s akin to complaining about hash browns and you just don’t!

Never leave Paulaner without having their Paulaner’s Famous Grilled Pork Knuckle on Sauerkraut with Gravy and Bread Dumpling ($29.50++). It’s one of the better grilled pork knuckles I have tried so far and for some reason, it came conveniently deboned. The meat is suitably moist with a nice layer of crackling and the portion was indeed generous enough for 2 to 3 people to share comfortably while allowing for stomach room for other dishes. The only thing I didn’t like in this dish was the Bread Dumpling, which tasted like a dry savoury muffin with random bits of vegetables inside.

The biggest surprise today came from the Sirloin Steak 250g with Sauteed Mushrooms, Roasted Potatoes & Seasonal Vegetables. It was done as per request of medium rare, well marinated and tender. I had no qualms eating it without any condiments. The Roasted Potatoes are great too, lightly charred on the edges for that crisp texture and light smoky flavour.

Paulaner offers 2 types of fresh brews on a regular basis, the Munich Lager and Munich Dark. Seasonal beers are offered at special times of the year so instead of the regular brews, only Oktoberfest Beer was available today. Beer girls were also going around with German Pear Schnapps. I tried a shot and it’s rather potent, the beer girl said it’s stronger than tequila but it definitely tastes better with a refreshing fruity aftertaste.

At the end of the meal, the band came out for a second set and fuelled with food, Oktoberfest Beer and Pear Schnapps, the crowd was really participative, standing on chairs while following the lead of the lead singer with his hand gestures, truly uncharacteristic of typical Singaporeans. I loved the spontaneity of it all and would return just to soak in the atmosphere again.

PS: Don’t tell mommy you heard it from me but for the love of booze, I have 2 suggestions on how to get smashed whilst on a budget. While it’s not cool anymore to buy booze off the shelf, especially when there’s fresh beer from all the microbreweries around, canned beer is definitely the cheapest way to get smashed. Specifically, Baron’s Strong Brew. At 8.8% alcohol, it’s one of the stronger brews around and three 500ml cans will translate to roughly 11 shot of vodka, all for the price of $19.50 (assuming $6.50 per 500ml can).

If you have slightly deeper pockets, I would suggest Bar on 5 @ Mandarin Orchard. I know you must be thinking I’m mad for suggesting a hotel bar as a cheap way to get smashed but with their current promotion for non-premium hard liquor (ie.Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker Black Label, Smirnoff) at $250++ for 3 bottles, which comes with mixers and some generic bar snacks, you can get smashed on approximately 9 vodka shots with just $35 bucks. Did I mention you can store your bottles there up to 2 months if you can’t finish? Awesome Possum 😀

Paulaner Brauhaus

9 Raffles Boulevard, #01-01 Millenia Walk

Tel: +65 6883 2572








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