Sunday, December 28, 2008

Silk Road

Silk Road, located on the 2nd floor within the Amara Hotel, Tanjong Pagar, has been one of my favourite Chinese restaurants for over 2 years. They specialise in cuisine from Sichuan, Shaanxi, Beijing and Liaoning.
Their menu is incredibly vast, and I must admit that I was almost never disappointed by anything I picked from it. Their cooking is consistently of very high standards, especially their dumplings and noodles. I love the open kitchen concept, which adds a twist of action to a comfortable, softly lit and spacious environment. Service needs a bit of work to match the food, but considering the fairly reasonable prices it's something that most would be prepared to accept.

A snack is regularly served as you sit at the table. It is either steamed peanuts with tofu or this pickled vegetable. I love the steamed peanuts, while I find this pickle slightly salty.


My all time favourite, and one dish I must order every single time I visit this restaurant is the shaved noodles. They are served both dry or in soup with beef or seafood. I recommend the dry shaved noodles with beef ($6). These noodles, as the name suggests, are shaved directly from the dough and they have an irregular, rough texture.

The Shenyang combination dumplings ($8) are filled with vegetables, pork and prawns and they are very juicy and tasty even without the sauce provided, which is quite strong in garlic.

The Fried french beans with pork ($13) is one of my favourite Chinese vegetable dishes, and Silk Road serves a very authentic version of the dish as opposed to the sweeter version that is more commonly served in Singapore. The savoury and crispy pork accompanies well fried and textured green beans.

Out of all, the Sichuan eggplant with bean sauce ($13) is the one I enjoy the least. I find that the flavours are too overwhelming and they cover up the delicate aroma of eggplant. Although the dish might be authentically done, it wouldn't be my first choice.

I ended the meal with 2 Chinese desserts. The Yam paste with Gingko nuts ($5) was very smooth and delicate, served warm and well balanced in sweetness.

I love the cotton cake with coconut ($6), consisting in extremely soft and fluffy textured squares of steamed egg white lightly sweetened and dusted in dry coconut flakes. This dessert is recommended if you are feeling full after the meal and you need to end it with something sweet. It is so light that you won't feel aggravated by it!

The total bill was $102, including an Eight Treasure tea ($3) and 2 soft drinks. There is very little to argue about this restaurant. Their food is consistently top notch, offering a variety of regional dishes that are not commonly served in Singapore, the ambience is pleasant and quiet and it's reasonably priced.

Website: http://www.silkroadrestaurants.com/about.html

Summer cocktail

What's best than a refreshing cocktail on a beach on the Italian coast. This is what you call a typical Italian cocktail, very refreshing, simple, based on Italian products that are readily available in Singapore.

All you need is:
  • Limonata San Pellegrino (available at any Cold Storage)
  • Fernet Branca
  • A slice of lemon for decoration
  • Ice


Put 4 ice cubes into a tall glass, pour 1cm of Fernet Branca into it, and top with limonata San Pellegrino. Stir and decorate with a slice of lemon.

Mentaiko Pasta

Although some Italians might not agree, I like some of the original pasta combinations that the Japanese came up with. In particular, mentaiko or tarako pasta is a winning combination of Japanese flavours.

For this recipe, I used a fairly classic way of making a seafood based pasta sauce, as if I was making Pasta alla Bottarga. I also added a seared scallop and a slight regional touch of green chilly on top. The other peculiarity is that I used organic wholewheat farro pasta. Farro is a particular type of Italian grain. You can buy this type of spaghetti at the most popular "Cold Storage" branches.

Ingredients for 2 people:

  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large sheet of Nori seaweed
  • 1 Mentaiko egg
  • Olive oil
  • Green chilly for decoration
  • 250 gr. of Farro organic wholewheat spaghetti or alternative
  • 2 scallops
  • a dash of white wine
  • dried chilly flakes
  • salt

Peel a few cloves of garlic and crush them slightly maintaining their overall shape. Wash and remove seeds from a couple of green chillies, and cut them in Julienne strips. Trim a large sheet of Nori seaweed into very thin strips.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add a handful of rock salt (the water must taste salty but not too salty). In a skillet, sear the scallops until ready and wash with some white wine during their cooking. Remove the scallops and set them aside, put the pasta into the boiling water and stir well.

Cover the bottom of skillet used to sear the scallops in olive oil, heat it for a few seconds and put the whole garlic cloves into it, adding some dry chilly flakes. Let the garlic slowly turn golden keeping the oil temperature under control, then add a dash of white wine and evaporate it. Add some starchy water from the pasta and keep topping up as the water evaporates and the sauce thickens. This will help you balance the consistency of the sauce, making it juicy and non oily. Remove the garlic, put the chilly into the sauce, cook for a few seconds, remove from the sauce and set aside.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and mix the seaweed into the sauce making sure it's well stirred in (be careful as nori tends to stick together in lumps), then put the pasta into the skillet and stir well. Serve the pasta onto plates and unevenly stir in the mentaiko while on the plate (mixing the mentaiko into the skillet would cook it and spoil its tangy flavour). Finally, top with a scallop and some green chilly.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gohanya-Tsubaki An

Located in the middle of Boat Quay, Gohanya-Tsubaki An is well known by the local lunch crowd for its relatively low priced Japanese menu. Run by some Japanese ladies, the restaurant differentiates itself by serving home-style Japanese cooking for the lunch crowd.


The Oyako Don ($18+) came with a very classic Japanese potato salad and mashed pumpkin salad. The pumpkin salad was a nice combination of sweet mashed pumpkin, raisins and crunchy vegetables.

The Oyako don itself was certainly above average (compared to other restaurants on the same price range). The egg was half set and juicy as it's supposed to be, the rice was moist and the sauce gently added flavour bringing all the ingredients together.

The fried chicken curry ($18+) set was as good as it can get. Crispy, succulent chicken, sweet Fukujinzuke pickles and a thick, mild and sweet curry sauce with chunks of potatoes and carrots.

Finally, we were served a Honey Pudding dessert (included in the meal), which tasted more like a honey pannacotta. The serving is very small but just enough to end your meal with a light sweet note.

I didn't find this restaurant particularly cheap, and although the dishes are authentic and the menu quite consistently proposes a home cooking style, I still believe prices should be a bit lower. On the positive side, a soft drink and a tiny dessert are included, and there isn't too much competition in the area serving a similar sort of food.
The bill was $39.60 in total, so expect to pay an average of $20 per person for a basic meal. This is not a restaurant that will surprise you, however it will consistently deliver simple, authentic Japanese dishes.

Gohanya-Tsubaki An
Address: No. 3 Canton St #01-01/02
Tel: 6334 3510

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pietrasanta

Here I am, once again on my quest for the best Italian food in Singapore. Wearing my Italian hat, I grabbed my courage to try another Italian restaurant which might hopefully be a wonderful new discovery.

Pietrasanta is located in what I consider one of the best locations in Singapore. Portsdown road is a long, dark and isolated road with some new interesting establishments (Klee and Laurent Bernard), and Pietrasanta is one of them. Housed within a colonial property, the restaurant has a large hall with high ceilings, a long terrace and a wonderfully relaxing courtyard. All three are dining areas and they offer a slightly different ambiance.
The restaurant claims to serve Tuscan food (Tuscany is a beautiful region in Italy, notorious for its culinary specialities). Will it deliver its promise?

We were given the menu and a long vocal selection of "specials" by the waitress. Shortly after, the order was professionally taken by one of the owners. He was knowledgeable and very helpful with the food selection and recommendations.

The Grilled Scamorza with Parma ham ($18.90) was incredibly gnummy. This is a real classic. I love scamorza and I was delighted to be able to have this in Singapore! This was a special and it might not be available on a regular basis, depending on availability of the cheese. For those who don't know, Scamorza is a typically Italian medium matured smoked cheese. Particularly nice when grilled and accompanied with ham.

The Acciughe fritte (deep fried anchovies, $22.90) is a typical home cooked dish. My mother used to make it often, and I was beaten by the temptation of having home food. I would rate it ok, although not the best. The anchovies were tasty, but slightly soggy and not as crispy as I would have hoped for. Overall I was quite pleased with the starters, enthusiastic about the fact that they had some typical Italian products, not always available at your average Italian restaurant. I was eager to get to the pastas!

The Squid-ink tagliolini with tomato sauce and crab meat ($24.90) were quite amateurish. This was a deep disappointment, after the nice starters. The tagliolini were not very professionally made, and they were totally overcooked. Soft and soggy, they were served with a tomato sauce that I would only expect from a beginner trying to cook Italian food! The sauce was messy, with an excess of garlic and tasteless, runny tomato. It hurts when you are paying $22.40 for pasta you could have at any average cafe'.

The real scandal was the spaghetti with prawns ($24.90), another special of the day. I really don't know where to start... beginning with a positive note, the prawns were succulent and juicy. Besides that, the pasta was what I would consider shameful to any Italian chef. Just looking at the spaghetti lying on a pool of oil (without even tucking into it) I could visibly tell that they were precooked. Precooked! I can accept having precooked pasta at TCC, but not at a "Tuscan restaurant" where I am paying such prices! Not only it was precooked, but badly cooked the second time, as the texture was quite raw and just weird. It has been ages since I had precooked pasta, and it did bring back memories! What a shame... the sad thing is that obviously people can't tell and chefs can get away with such shameful shortcuts.

Luckily, we only ordered one main dish. The Grilled Swordfish ($28.90) was served with salad and potatoes on the side. One of the potatoes was undercooked, and the fish would have been fresh and tasty if it wasn't so excessively greasy. Perhaps a twist of lemon would have helped, but as it was every mouthful felt oilier and oilier...

After the bad experience with the pastas and main, we weren't in the mood of investing into desserts and decided to end the meal. The bill was $150.05 in total, including a bottle of water and no wine. I never mind spending for good food, but given the amateurish quality of what we had, I felt totally ripped off.

Au revoir Pietrasanta, shortcuts might do magic with some naive customers, but not everyone!

Pietrasanta
5B Portsdown Road
#01-03 Wessex Estate
Tel: 6479 9521

Cassis - Saturday Brunch

UPDATE: This restaurant is now CLOSED.

I have already reviewed this restaurant before, but I wanted to go back and check out what executive Chef Eric Guilbert has prepared for the new Cassis lunch menu. Some items remained the same since last time I visited Cassis, but there are some new dishes and overall the new version is more interesting and appetising.

I started off with an Asparagus "Vichyssoise" with vegetarian caviar and smoked salmon tataki. Compliments to the Chef, as this dish was absolutely phenomenal. An incredibly light and foamy sour cream that disappears in your mouth, topped by a savoury vegetarian caviar, was accompanying slices of seared fresh salmon. The whole thing was immersed into an unprecedented delicate asparagus creamy soup. The subtle balance of flavours of this dish can only come from a very experienced Chef.

The other starter was a Mozzarella Bavarois with pesto marinated grilled vegetables and crispy Parmesan. I loved how Italian traditional classic flavours and modern French cuisine were successfully combined. As you can guess, the highlight of this dish was the mozzarella Bavarois. I am not sure how it was prepared, but it was a very interesting Bavarois-like textured mozzarella, accompanied by all time favourite Italian vegetables such as peppers, zucchini and aubergines.

The Veal Blanquette, linguini pasta, Olives and Vegetables was a meaningful example of French interpretation of pasta. I liked the fact that pasta was prepared in a French-style, without compromising on quality. The veal was tender and tasty, while the handmade linguini (which were actually more like fettuccine) were served into a creamy and buttery emulsion.

My Red snapper fish, potato puree, winter vegetables, sweet yellow curry sauce was a classic and well executed dish. The snapper was tender and succulent, topped by its own light and crispy skin. The mild curry flavoured sauce added a twist of flavour to the puree and vegetables, as the fish was so perfectly cooked and seasoned I wouldn't want to dip it into any sauce.

I ended my meal with a Cassis jelly and Bavaroise on a fine Sable Breton, almond milk ice cream and fruity meringue. Although I always tend to go for chocolate based desserts, I enjoyed this combination of temperatures, sweet and sour flavours and velvety and crunchy textures. Description and presentation of this dessert are a real temptation, and taste matched expectation.

We were also served a complimentary plate of sweets prepared by the patisserie next door, run by the same owner. The service was incredibly attentive. The staff did their best to make me feel at ease although I went late and they were almost closing.
The final bill for 2 people was $65.05, including a 2 course ($25.50) and a 3 course ($29.75) set lunch. This is an absolute bargain. I don't think you can get this quality of food, ambiance and service for this price anywhere else in Singapore. If you can, let me know as I will be there in no time! I have visited this restaurant 3 times, and I never left disappointed. I can only recommend Cassis for its ambiance, top service and consistent excellence in French cuisine.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Flutes at the Fort - Saturday Brunch

What's unique about this restaurant is its prime location. Situated right in between the main road and Fort Canning, it's walking distance from town offering a very relaxed and green environment. It's an ideal place to go for lunch if you happen to be around the area and you feel like taking a break from the buzz of town.

Their Brunch Menu includes a good variety of French-style dishes with a selection for kids and it's reasonably priced at $25++ for 2 courses and $32++ for 3.

The mushroom salad was served with warm mushrooms, goat cheese and rocket. The mushrooms were quite juicy and tasty, and overall the dish was ok although not outstanding. It lacked of that extra touch to distinguish it from the rest.

This deep fried squid was served on a bed of rocket and cherry tomatoes and topped with mayonnaise. The squid was crunchy and non oily, although not particularly soft. Once again, an OK dish, although nothing you couldn't have at a regular cafe'.

The Eggs Benedict with bacon were the highlight of the meal. Two poached eggs topped with hollandaise sauce on toasted soft bread, accompanied by 4 rolls of nicely roasted bacon and a rocket and tomato salad.

Finding a good egg benedict is not easy, and I have to say this was very well done. Excellent sauce, well balanced in sourness, perfectly poached eggs and crispy bacon to go with. Out of the dishes I had, this is the only one I would come back for.

I ended with a Pavlova accompanied by fresh fruits and topped with raspberry sorbet. This dessert was light and refreshing, with a good combination of fresh fruits including rhubarb and topped by a moderately sweet custard cream. The sorbet topping contrasted the rather sweet meringue with its cool sourness balancing the overall result.

The bill came to a total of $78.86, including a bottle of sparkling water, 1 x 2 course and 1 x 3 course meal. I would be interested to try this restaurant in the evening to taste what their regular menu is like. the brunch menu is nothing outstanding apart from the eggs benedict, but you still get your value back in terms of attentive service and relaxing environment. You probably wouldn't come back for the food itself, but I still believe that the price is reasonable when related to the whole package.

Website: http://www.flutesatthefort.com.sg/

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Basilico

It is a pleasure for an Italian living in Singapore to review Italian restaurants now and then, although I am always afraid of disappointment. Basilico came highly recommended by quite a few people, so I thought I should give it a try.
Located at the second floor within the Regent's hotel, the restaurant entrance and interior is spacious, sumptuous and grand, as only a hotel can offer. A very large hall is dominated by a central buffet table with dinner tables on one side and a pizza counter, a desserts counter and a wines and spirits bar surrounding it.

As we seated and ordered our food, we were served a warm loaf of bread with homemade pesto. The pesto was very good indeed, freshly made and aromatic, with coarse bits of pine nuts rather than too finely ground.
I thought the Tavolo of antipasti ($26), or buffet or starters, had to be tried and so I did.

I tried an assortment of 'affettati' or hams and cheeses. I thought the 'aromatzzzato al tartufo' cheese was of particular relevance: a very interesting medium cheese with a pungent truffle smell and flavour. Out of all the hams/salami I tried, the pancetta was amongst the best you can have, and the Parma ham was lean, soft and sweet.

I then tried some scallops topped with parsley sauce. They were meaty and juicy. I would say excellent, except I would have preferred them warm/hot which I realise is hard to do with a buffet. The beef carpaccio was also well done. Thin slices of tender and lean beef laid on top of a rocket salad base and topped with bits of grated Parmesan cheese. Olive oil must be added at your own discretion.

Finally, the prawns and mussels were rather uninspired and had no particular 'Italian flavour'. It seemed to me that they were available simply for those who expect seafood to be present at hotel buffets.

I ordered 'Orecchiette with scallops and broccoli' ($25) as my main. I wasn't incredibly impressed with this dish, although it was technically well made. I just thought that the fish flavour wasn't a good match with the rest of the ingredients, including the orecchiette. It was a but overwhelming after a few mouthfuls.

The 'Maltagliati with tomato sauce and polpettine' ($27) was definitely nicer. The homemade maltagliati were superb in texture, perfectly matched by a classic tomato sauce and small meatballs that had a very classic southern flavour.

I ended my meal with an 'affogato al caffe' ($11) which was properly served with espresso coffee on the side, poured on the ice cream right in front of you. It was topped by whipped cream and a crunchy "cantuccino" biscuit, to dunk into the hot coffee.

The bill came to a total of $170 including 2 large bottles of water. The service was impeccable, with an Italian waiter who was knowledgeable and attentive.
We were finally served a complimentary nonalcoholic 'Strawberry Puree with Italian nougat', which I thought was a very nice gesture.

I was not disappointed with Basilico. I would be curious to try more of their dishes, including their a la carte 'antipasti' and 'secondi' to form a more accurate opinion of the quality of their cooking. I can say that their starters buffet is good value for money as it offers a variety of quality Italian products that would be otherwise hard to access in Singapore.
Their cooking style is very classic and the pastas I had were well prepared. Basilico is not cheap, but considering the good service and the fact that it's located within a hotel in a prime area, prices are easily justified.

For reservations: 6725 3232

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hiang Ji - Char Siu

This place is now CLOSED
Hidden behind the stairways of a pedestrian overpass is this Katong coffee shop that serves amazing Char Siu rice for only $3. Specialised in meats, their Char Siu, pig's trotter, duck and chicken are the recommended choice.

The coffee shop itself is actually very spacious, with some large round tables and air conditioning, and some smaller tables outside.

The Char Siu is absolutely amazing. Sweet, tender and juicy, it melts in your mouth.

The chicken rice perfectly accompanies all their meat dishes and it's fragrant, firm and moist.

The preserved vegetables ($1/$2) are the perfect match for Pig's trotter and rice.

The pig's trotter is very strong in flavour and very lean once you discard the skin. It comes with juicy peanuts cooked in its own sauce.

The menu is primarily focused on meats and vegetables, apart from the curry fish head. Portions are large and very reasonably priced. Their 'Soy Sauce Chicken' is served with ginger sauce as well as the usual chilly sauce.
If you live in Katong you should definitely try this place.

Hiang Ji Roasted Meat & Noddle House
57 East Coast Rd Singapore 428773 (opposite Roxy Square)
Tel : 6440 9171

Gobi - Chocolate Therapy

I have been a very happy Gobi customer over the past 1.5 years. Their desserts are in my opinion among the best in Singapore. Although their selection of cakes is limited to about 6 cakes, these are all so good that I have been happily going back to Gobi to purchase birthday cakes for my friends or even just to enjoy them over the weekend. Their main branch is located at The Central in Clarke Quay. Their kitchens are in Katong Mall, which is next door from me so I can conveniently order and pick up directly from there.

Last weekend I had a Chocolate Therapy once again. This, together with the 'Ivory Tower', remains my favourite cake. Alternate layers of chocolate sponge and chocolate mousse lay on top of a cereal crunchy base. A soft chocolate sauce wraps the whole cake, topped by a light spread of whipped cream and an extra thin chocolate wafer. Overall not too sweet and not too bitter. You will definitely love this cake unless you hate chocolate, it's as simple as that.

I highly recommend Gobi's cakes for any occasion. They are beautifully presented and boxed and they are always appreciated. The only drawback is that I have been irrevocably appointed as 'the official cake buyer' within my circle of friends.

Website: http://www.gobi.com.sg/

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chiharu

Chiharu is a new Japanese restaurant opened by Mr. Loh (who recently opened Braise, a stunning French restaurant located in Sentosa also reviewed on this blog). Given his impeccable track record I was particularly eager to try his new restaurant, and even more so this time as Japanese food is what I am into.
Chiharu is located on Bukit Timah road, next to 6th avenue. The dining room is spacious, with double height ceilings and an elevated dining area, an exposed wine cellar, a bar and a sushi counter. Soft lighting and a simple and dark decor based on wood, glass and metal create the feeling of a traditional style Japanese restaurant.
The kitchen is supervised by the ex chef of Shiro, a reputable and exclusive Japanese restaurant that closed some time ago.

After taking a look at the menu, it became obvious that their food style is plain traditional. Dishes are subdivided into the main Japanese cooking techniques (agemono, nimono, yakimono, ...) and include a fairly large variety of Japanese classics.

We started with a selection of Nigiri sushi: Shima Aji ($12), Kampachi ($10), Ika ($8), Uni ($20). Rice and fish were of good quality and well assembled. I particularly like their style of ika nigiri, as they slightly roasted the surface of the squid slice. The only negative note is the sushi soy sauce plates, which were so deep (like mini cups) that dipping your nigiri into the sauce is a real challenge (if you follow the proper protocol). I appreciate design, but it needs to be functional.

The Gyu Tataki ($45) was quite nice, if it wasn't for its price. The quantity is ridiculously small and the wagyu beef is not the best I had (I would doubt that it's actually from Japan). A dish of this size and quality would be more adequately priced at $25 at most.

The Tara Teriyaki ($15, grilled cod with teriyaki sauce) was reasonably priced and very well prepared. The fish was extremely firm, moist and perfectly flavoured. The accompanying pickles were also a nice classic touch.

The claypot dish Nasu Yanagawa ($15, aubergines in claypot with eggs) was mild but tasty. They used proper Japanese aubergines, thinly sliced to fully absorb the flavour of the broth, mixed with simmered scrambled eggs and burdock root.

The Renkon Hasami Age ($15, lotus root deep fried and stuffed with chicken mince) was well presented, served with a couple of tasty green chillies and salt on the side. The lotus root retained its crunchiness and juices, while the coating was thin and crispy. This dish is not so commonly found in Singapore (it used to be served at Shiro) and it was an interesting find.

The Kaki and azuki Yokkan was a seasonal fruit serving of excellent Japanese persimmon. The fruit was crunchy, ripe and sweet, accompanied by a couple of cubes of red bean paste, very recommended with green tea.

The most interesting dish was the Kuri Yokkan ($8), which was actually a crunchy version of the japanese tea dessert classic. Filled with bits of juicy water chestnut rather than the more rich and filling classic autumn chestnuts, it was a light and cooling way to end the meal.

The total bill including tax and service charge was $180 for 2 people (including a diet coke and green tea). It isn't cheap, but it's the sort of price you would expect for this quality of food considering that the wagyu beef alone was $45 dollars. Another consideration is their service, which needs substantial improvement when related to this price range.

Taking into account that they have opened only 2 weeks ago, I think Chiharu delivers an overall nice experience, although I expected slightly more originality in their dish selection. There was very little on the menu that was unique both in terms of products and seasonal dishes. They have experienced chefs and the potential to innovate and distinguish themselves, but I am yet to see that spark in Chiharu.

Chiharu
779 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6769 1929
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