Saturday, May 27, 2006

Is it worth the wait?

Buko Nero
126 Tanjong Pagar Road
Singapore 088534
Tel: 63246225

After a few attempts at trying to get a reservation at Buko Nero, I was very frustrated and gave up. Attempt one, I called, but they were on holiday and they had such complicated opening hours that I couldn’t figure it out. Attempt two, I called and got the answering machine, I left a message, but no one called me back. Attempt three, I called and was received by the answering machine again and so I simply I hung up and decided that I couldn’t take anymore rejection. How then did we get a reservation at this seemingly exclusive place? I’m not sure. A friend of mine from our informal Sunday kopitiam kopi-teh group asked if I had ever been to Buko Nero, my reply naturally was, “Nay”. She then went on to relate that me that she had a pretty good meal there, and so I suggested that if she could, she should try to get us a table, and so, that’s how I eat at Buko Nero. But more importantly, was it worth all that hassle?

The space is small but cosy. The white walls and soft lighting gives the place a warm and casual homeliness that you might even forget that you are in a restaurant. The food here is good, value for money and unpretentious. Set lunches and dinners ($35+++ for 5 courses) are available and the a la carte menu changes frequently with a few regular items that stay such as the signature tau-kwa tower and covers quite a lot of ground for a one man show.

We sampled the set dinner and a bunch of a la carte dishes. As weird as it sounds, some items that sounded interesting tasted average and items that sounded ordinary tasted impressive. The signature Buko Nero tau-kwa tower with sautéed vegeteables was to me rather disappointing other than sounding and tasting healthy but on the other hand the predictable dishes such as the mozzarella and tomato crostino topped with parma ham and creamy porcini mushroom soup with white truffle oil are definitely worth ordering. And for pastas and risottos, everything we sampled that we sampled, on and off the menu, were (in order of my preference) risotto with strawberries balsamic vinegar and parma ham, spaghetti with spicy prawns and crab meat and rigatoni with artichoke and Italian sausage ragu and, were perfect for an after work meal—nurturing and gratifying. Almost full bellied, we ended with some set dinner desserts and a sticky date pudding with a caramel sauce. It was a lovely dinner, and at the risk of sounding like a pig, I confess, there was nothing more wanted to do after all that comfort food than to lie down and pass out for the day.

Is it worth the hassle of having to book a month in advance and to attempt calling this phone that never seems to have another person on the other side? Yes, (they have already penned down my next reservation) but with that I recommend sticking to comfort food here, pastas, risottos and dishes with a stronger Italian inclination and be prepared to wait between courses because there is only one person behind the stove.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

The Scoop in My Hood

8 Sin Ming Road #01-03
Sin Ming Centre
Singapore 575628
Tel: 64557585

Has Singapore’s ice cream scene gone artisanal? To a certain extent, I would say yes. Over the past year or so we’ve seen ice cream shops mushroom around our island, many of which are producing handmade ice creams and local flavours. For me, the draw and appeal of local ice cream flavours such as teh tarik or milo appeal is the sense of familiarity. (I recently had a scoop of red bean ice cream, which brought back nostalgia of red bean potong sticks.) One of the many delightful artisanal ice cream parlours serving up a range of these local flavours has found its way to my part of the island. Icekimo serves up 14 different homemade ice cream flavours everyday ranging from the fruity to the classic and local flavours (chempedak, durian, red bean, gula melaka). Only natural fruit is used and the less sugar is used in the ice cream making process so it makes eating here a little less guilty. This parlour is finding its own stride and its own regulars who come to split a fondue or ice cream sundaes and people like me are grateful to have a place to walk in for an occasional ice cream fix. Oh and they have homemade chocolate waffle cones too, which provide a good bitter undertone.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Cooking with Maple Syrup

After hinata’s zucchini flower and fig theme dinner a few months back, I took on the responsibility of hosting the next cooking project. I spent a few nights lying in bed trying to think of what to whip up for the guest that I had invited, I was a little intimidated. The problem with having foodies over is that you cannot serve them bad food and they are discerning eaters. I thought about going with dishes that I have more or less perfected through numerous taste-and-tweak sessions, but I felt like experimenting, so I still had to answer the pertinent question, what to cook? I pottered about the kitchen looking for some inspiration and I found the sweet gifts of maple syrup #2 amber and maple syrup mustard (and delicate and delicious homemade macaroons) that Clement of a la cuisine gave me when we met up in Toronto, alas, I had my answer, I’ll have a maple syrup-themed lunch!

I haven’t got too much experience in cooking with maple syrup; all I knew was that it was the golden liquid that I enjoy with my waffles and pancakes. So I decided to consult the source, Clement, who pointed me to 2 good recipes and conducted some research of my own. My research was twofold; the first was physical test: I opened the bottle and was greeted by a rich waft smell of caramel then I dipped my pinky finger into the bottle and tasted a strong maple taste. The second thing I did was to gather as much as information as I could, I found out that in Ontario, maple syrup into two broad categories, #1 and #2, the former being lighter in colour and sub-divided into ultra-light, light and medium, this is the maple syrup that we drizzle or drown out waffles and pancakes with and the latter is darker in colour and stronger flavoured, which is also the cooking maple syrup.

I was feeling slightly more educated and so I was ready to cook. The original menu cooked sounded like this: Sweet Potato Soup with Nutmeg and Maple Syrup, Maple Syrup Glazed Salmon with Mustard Mashed Potatoes and Maple Syrup Tart. That was the original plan, but it all went pear-shape when I was preparing my maple syrup glaze that I realised that I only had about two tablespoons of maple syrup left, just enough for the soup, but definitely not enough for a whole tart. Plan B that was hashed that night was to go with something simple and equally delicious, a comforting sticky date pudding with caramel sauce.

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Lunch was filling and drowsy (too much sugar!). To start off, I served hot toasty bread with truffle butter, just for good measure, so that if everything else went wrong, at least the guest could say, we had some damn good butter. The truffles for the truffle butter was a food gift from N, a good foodie friend of mine, who came back from Sydney a while ago beaming and gushing about her meal at Tetsuya (we are jealous) and brought a bottle truffles (for butter) by Tetsuya, the recipe for the decadent and utterly sinful butter and a warning that the butter is addictively yummy that her sister got rather full on it even before their dinner even started. Well, it was some damn fine truffle butter and rightfully so: butter (fat = smooth texture + flavour) + truffles (flavour) = smooth super flavour.

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Not to be outdone by truffles, the maple syrup courses were rather good too. The maple syrup in the soup gave it a roundness and deeper sweetness, but with the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg, it tasted more like a Christmas soup rather than a soup. Good soup but maybe wrong season. The pride of lunch, however, was the plump slab of Norwegian salmon in the oven. I’m proud to announce that I (thankfully) didn’t overcook it and the maple syrup glaze cum sauce that was like nectar punctuated with candied pieces of ginger that mellowed during the reduction process. Credit to Clement for pointing me to the recipe, Thanks!

Cedar Planked Salmon with Maple Glaze
Serves 6

1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh gingerroot
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlican untreated cedar plank (about 17 by 10 1/2 inches; if desired)
2 1/2-pound center-cut salmon fillet with skin
greens from 1 bunch scallions


1. In a small heavy saucepan simmer maple syrup, gingerroot, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste until reduced to about 1 cup, about 30 minutes, and let cool. (Maple glaze may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Bring maple glaze to room temperature before proceeding.)

2. Preheat oven to 175° C (350° F). If using cedar plank, lightly oil and heat in middle of oven 15 minutes; or lightly oil a shallow baking pan large enough to hold salmon.

3. Arrange scallion greens in one layer on plank or in baking pan to form a bed for fish.

4. In another small saucepan heat half of glaze over low heat until heated through to use as a sauce. Stir in remaining tablespoon lemon juice. Remove pan from heat and keep sauce warm, covered.

5. Put salmon, skin side down, on scallion greens and brush with remaining glaze. Season salmon with salt and pepper and roast in middle of oven until just cooked through, about 20 minutes if using baking pan or about 35 if using plank.

6. Cut salmon crosswise into 6 pieces. On each of 6 plates arrange salmon and scallion greens on a bed of mashed potatoes. Drizzle salmon with warm sauce.

* I substituted paperbark for cedar plank.

Recipe source:

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Buy Local: Plug for the New Kid on the Block

I was going keep silent about this place until Wong Ah Yoke, our island food reviewer, lets the cat out of the bag (and food mob invades) about Anderson Ho's new restaurant. However, since our very up-to-date and savvy food blogger, Chubby Hubby has already made a plug for this new kid on the black, i figured i don't think i would do much damage if i added my two cents worth.

Chef Anderson Ho, as his book Asia Dégustation testifies, makes gorgeous and powerful flavoured foods. He used to be part of the dynamic duo at Fig Leaf along side Jimmy Chok, but that was quite a while back and how he is flying solo after several years at SATS. I dined at this restaurant on Day 2 of its opening, and like how most restaurant face teething problems in the first month or so, Chef Anderson seemed to be slowly finding his groove in his kitchen as he sent a series of 5 delicious courses to our lunch table. In any case, it is very promising.

The building where it is located is easy to find, but the restaurant itself requires some earnest seeking. Tucked away in the corner of this potentially sore-eye causing, blood red-coloured building, you probably would not spot this place if you didn't purpose to find it. The set up is intimate with a chef's table that will sit 6 and a private room that will host 8.

Our lunch intended 3 course set lunch expanded to a 5 course (thanks chef!): Warm Caesar Salad, Butternut Squash Soup with Parmesan Reggiano, Pan-seared Baby Sea Bass with Garlic Chips and Tapenade, Braised Beef Shin with Risotto and Duo of Créme Brulée. The food exhibited good technique—warm melted cheese with crisp and fresh lettuce leaves and perfectly braised beef shin with gelatinous tendons and an al dente risotto—was satisfying and more importantly showed great potential. In any case, here's our chance to support our chefs. Buy local!

le papillon
28 Maxwell Road
#01-02 Reddot Traffic Building
Singapore 069120
Tel: 63274177

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Singapore my home, chicken rice our dish

Wee Nam Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice & Restaurant
275 Thomson Road
#01-05 Novena Ville
Tel: 62556396

While some Singaporeans were at the polls last Saturday deciding the future of our nation, I decided to perform a patriotic deed by eating our national dish, chicken rice. When it comes to chicken rice, fat is flavour. The only (damn) reason that the fragrant rice is so tasty is because of the rendered chicken fat that is added to the rice cooking liquid. Low-fat and healthier options such as white rice are now available but in my opinion, if you do so, the whole meal is a little as tak shiok. Part of the whole ritual in eating this dish is smothering your cream-coloured chicken fat laced rice with ribbons of sweet dark soy sauce, chilli sauce and pounded ginger and to mix it all together, matching flavour for flavour. Imagine if you opted for white rice, all you will have then is rice + dark soy sauce + chilli sauce + pounded ginger that’s just not as fun (really, I’ve tried the healthy route and I’ve backtracked).

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I, who would usually shun chicken rice because of the garlic-ginger taste that lingers and lingers and lingers, liked it so much that I’ve been there twice in 7 days (I’m not sure if I’m a convert yet) and so I would go out on a limb and say that this is one of the top 5 chicken rice stalls on our island. Other than the good chilli and the succulent chicken, the shui jiao (water dumpling with minced pork and prawns) is also a must have when I dine here, although don’t bother too much with the soup, just zero on for the bobbing dumplings in the soup. Another tip, if you aren’t too much of a rice fan, you can order a plate of noodles that will be dressed with the savoury chicken sauce, which are great to slurp on with the shui jiao and chicken.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dumpling Delights

Qun Zhong Eating House
21 Neil Road
Singapore 088814
Tel: 62213060
Closed on Wednesdays

Chinese pizza

I was recently delighted when my brother led us to this under the radar hole-in-the-wall family-run restaurant. Lying on the fringes of the central business district area, the street was quiet except for this bustling joint. It was packed when we arrived with customers patiently waiting outside as directed by the captain of the service team. Thankfully we were a slightly larger group (by one) than the people that came before us, so the captain deemed us worthy to sit in the medium sized table right at the back of this small place.

Dumplings are the main order in this restaurant and so from the dumpling selection, we selected the traditional Beijing pot-stickers dumplings, Shanghainese xiao long bao and an unusual sounding dish, a Chinese pizza. Let’s start with the Chinese pizza, does it really exist? In this shop, a Chinese pizza is more or less a more contemporary and flatter version (imagine a flat pie) of the pot-stickers. Stuffed with the same scrumptious filling of minced pork and chives as the pot-stickers, the Chinese pizza is made from a rolled out sheet of dough, its edges crimpled with dexterity then deep-fried until its pastry turns a crisp golden brown, producing something tasty, crunchy and interesting. And the xiao long pao were pretty parcels that burst with tongue-burning flavoursome juices.

To fill up and finish off, we had cha chiang mian (peking meat sauce noodles) and a crispy pancake filled with red bean paste. The cha chiang mian was good but nothing much to scream about and the crispy pancake (topped with sesame seeds) oozing with the sticky sweet red bean paste was a satisfying way to end. The best part of the meal: a satiated appetite and a bill under $50 for four.

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