Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ban Leong Wah Hoe's Chilli Crabs

Chilli crabs are not something that I crave but every visitor that comes has it on their must eat list, so I oblige. My default is usually No Signboard in Geylang but I think I’ve found a better alternative. And so here it is: Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood. The crabs a fresh and huge and the sauce, although I didn’t think it was chilli-spicy enough, was good and didn’t taste like too heavy on the tomato and sugar. It had a good balance, ribbon egg, tomato sweet and the winning flavour that I’ve had a hard time tasting in all other chilli crabs - a taste of crab in the sauce.

Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood
122 Casuarina Rd
Tel: 6452-2824

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Peperoni – Sometimes size matters

Possibly the largest pizza size available in Singapore, the family size XXXL at Peperoni is funny and gluttonous if consumed by one but reasonable value and tasty for a whole family. Going there is a family occasion. There is something really delightful about having a pizza with a diameter comparable to the length of my arm arrive at the table. Maybe it is the thought that I can eat in a guiltless manner because of the appearance abundance or lack of deprivation of another if I ate more than 5 of the irregular squares of pizza that have been zigzagged across the pizza. Whatever it is…crisp wood fired pizza alone is hard to resist. And in this case, I’m in favour, super-size mine.

Peperoni Pizzeria
6 Greenwood Avenue
Tel: 6465 6556

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sergio Herman, Oud Sluis but in Singapore

Sergio Herman was here in 2008 and even though this was two years ago, I still have very clear memories of this. Very simply, it was very good.

Life has a funny way of working itself out. I tried to get a table and shamelessly pulled every possible string to get a table here in April 2008. I got close. Really close. First on the waiting list but no cancellations and they were running a full house; close but no cigar.

No table at Oud Sluis. The alternative dinner plan was a morning at the Albert Cyup market where we lugged a leg of lamb back to roast up a feast for dinner. Not quite the same thing but since the idea of visiting Amsterdam was to spend time with friends, it was a still a great day sans the road trip to Zeeland and meal at Oud Sluis.

Later in the year, the friend whom I shamelessly persuaded to beg whoever he knew for a table at Oud Sluis called me and said, “Remember Oud Sluis and how you were trying to get a table there? Well…Sergio Herman is in Singapore.”

“What? Where??”

I was a little hesitant because I’ve attended a few dinners with some starred chefs but sometimes I think being out of their kitchen, they are sometimes a little off beat and since most of the restaurants rely on seasonal and regional produce and being away from their restaurants takes them out of their context. But I was assured by the voice on the other side of the telephone line, “I ate at Oud Sluis when it had two stars and I remember thinking, this guy is going to get a third star, trust me, you will like it.” Ok, I want a dinner reservation.

In my rather twisted logic, this restaurant has to be good. I’ve lived in Amsterdam and whilst I love my Dutch friends and they love their stamppot, I am not as enthused by it. I think most people agree with me, judging from the lack of proliferation of Dutch restaurants around the world. So therefore, by my logic, if Oud Sluis in Zeeland could attain three Michelin stars, something really magical must be happening there.

So what happened when Sergio Herman was in Singapore? He cooked at the Cliff in November 2008 and that was one of the best meals that I had in 2008.

From top left moving clockwise:
oyster cracker with freshly shucked oysters and nitrogen frozen oyster liquid, tuna with black radish and seaweed with soya foam, crispy chicken skin with curry aiol
i, 3 ways cucumber (marinated, frozen and foam) with mackerel sashimi and crispy rice and beetroot macaroon with foie gras.

The meal had a fantastic start, some amuse bouche had a little bit of everything and got it absolutely right. The oyster cracker with freshly shucked oysters and nitrogen frozen oyster liquid was crisp to bite followed by an explosion of cold oyster liquid. It didn’t quite look like an oyster but it tasted like an oyster three times over.

The other that I loved was beetroot macaroon with foie gras. A good amuse bouche should leave you wanting another bite. As for this one, we loved the combination of the crisp and spongy with the creamy buttery foie gras so much that managed to coax the waiter for an extra serving. Good amuse bouche.

Sergio Herman cooks cleverly. He uses modern techniques not for the sake of being trendy but as a way to achieve an excellent expression of the ingredient. He dances between traditional and the avant-garde and puts out visually seductive plates and cuisine that is highly innovative, playful and at the same time very sophisticated.

My favourite of the night, scallops “black and white”. Beautifully plated with complex “black and white” elements – Jerusalem artichokes in jelly and sliced, grilled scallops, black truffle, olive oil powder, nitrogen frozen yuzu shots - that meshed well together in a familiar but fresh way.

seabass marinated as canneloni, escabeche of shellfish and scallops, emulsion of citrus and granite of green herbs

langoustine with smoked eel, potato and cucumber, miso-verbena vinaigrette

grilled sole, oyster, shellfish, combava vinaigratte, cream of salicornia, algae chips

scallops "black & white"

As for the rest of the courses, here’s the run down of the menu – seabass, langoustine, sole, scallop, lamb and triple dessert extravaganza (that’s what’s written in the menu). The seabass, langoustine, sole and scallop followed the same vein of clever cooking but the lamb unfortunately didn’t stand out all I remember of it was that, it was a well cooked piece tasty lamb that didn’t quite interest me. The dessert, despite being a tad sweet for me helped create better memories after the lamb.

tripe dessert extravaganza from left to right: chocolate 'tattoo', cremeux vanilla and structures of caramel, macaroons and rose gel, ice cream of ducle de leche and ice cream "lollipop"

So before we left, thanked the chef (repeatedly) for the marvellous meal. I left the dinner table with glee and just one question that has yet to be answered: if this is Sergio Herman and Oud Sluis out of context – I already like it very much – what would Oud Sluis be in Zeeland?

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Robatayaki - Akanoya & Takumi Tokyo

In my very loose definition, a Robatayaki is a Japanese grill over charcoal where the menu of fresh ingredients are laid before you and you point and choose what you want for dinner. The thing about authentic Japanese restaurants is that sometimes the menus are built in a way that exclusive to the Japanese speaker so the best part about this type of Japanese restaurants is that in terms of ordering, it is hard to get lost in translation. So if it looks like a scallop, it is a scallop, if you point at it, they will serve you a scallop. Just remember to smile and to bow politely when you enter and when they shout Irashaimase.

Great robatayakis outside Japan should do two things. They should firstly transport you to a different world - one that will loudly welcome you and maintain this rustic noisy lively atmosphere and slightly overwhelm you with the beautiful meticulously arranged display of food that you will sit in front; and they should always present the best and the freshest ingredients.

I always have fun at robatayakis. You ogle at the food in front of you and point at whatever you fancy (but this can be dangerous for your wallet), the order gets shouted out and the chef shouts a confirmation, then you sit back and wait for your food to get served on a long wooden paddle to you. It entertainment factor is quite cool. Entertainment aside, I like the idea of the robatayaki, it is rustic and more importantly, it is very ingredient driven.

This dining concept has been around for a few years and in those few years I've been to two and have had reasonable meals with shell-shocking bills.

At Inakaya robatayaki, now known as Akanoya Robatayaki, (correct me if I'm wrong) was the first robatayaki to open here, my dining companion and I went a little overboard with the pointing we started at the vegetables, pointing to corn, sweet potatoes, matsutake and then moved on to the fresh array of seafood where we couldn't decide what to have to we decided to just order everything that we wanted from the crabs to the scallops and added chicken and beef to the list... before we knew it, we ordered almost one of everything. Plates of food kept coming off the grill, onto the paddle and directed at us. We, there were three, unabashedly finished everything, and having tasted almost everything, I thought it was good but not outstanding and my main issue is that it freshness quality did not hit the mark for me. What it missed with freshness it did not in the bill and that I didn't feel that was justified.

On another part of the island or Keppel Bay to be exact is Takumi Tokyo offers a great view, as opposed to a conventional dark wooden atmosphere, and fantastic tasting sake. Like the other robatayaki, the freshness - near pristine ingredient - quality missed the mark but there were some bright sparks in the meal that we had. At Takumi Tokyo they have set menus but my preference is the pointing method. Overall, food was good and the great items that we had were the homemade cream cheese as part of the appetizers, seasonal fava beans that were cozy up in their thick cocoons, the glistening mackerel and the onigiri that was seriously aromatic from the toasting treatment and very crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Finished with a crisp floral sake, very lovely.

So, where does robatayaki stand? On entertainment and experience value, it ranks very high. On food, good to very good. On service, very good. My suggestion, if anyone is reading, the vegetable section is a little neglected, I would like to see more seasonal = more freshness = more flavour.

Akanoya Robatayaki
1 Tanglin Road
#01.01 Orhard Parade Hotel
Tel: 6732-1866

Takumi Tokyo
2 Keppel Bay Vista
#02-01 Marina at Keppel Bay
6271 7414

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