Tuesday, March 31, 2009

La Bottarga

If you are ever going to visit Italy, or even if you are travelling to Europe, that might be your best chance to buy this delicacy. Bottarga is a typical product from Sardegna that gained popularity beyond its original region over the past 25 years. Unfortunately, to date I am not aware of an outlet where bottarga can be bought in Singapore.
This is a fairly expensive product, priced at about 10 euros for 100gr. However, it's worth every penny.
There are 2 varieties of Bottarga: Muggine (grey mullet) and Tonno (tuna). The best one in my opinion is the Muggine bottarga, because of its delicate flavour. Bottarga is nothing but the eggs of the fish, treated and dried. The texture is soft and the flavour subtly fishy.
Funnily enough Bottarga can also be purchased in Japan or Taiwan, as they have their own equivalent! The exact same product is called Karasumi in Japan, and it is a typical product of Kyushu. Having tried both, I would say that Bottarga is sweeter while Karasumi is darker and has a slightly smoky flavour.

This wonderful delicacy can be enjoyed in various ways, however it is most commonly eaten fresh, thinly sliced with bread and either butter or olive oil.
The other way to enjoy Bottarga is on pasta, and I have already posted the recipe on this blog. In order to have Bottarga on pasta, it is highly recommended that you 'age' it by storing it in a refrigerator removed from its vacuum package and wrapped in kitchen paper for about a month. Should you come across a place in Singapore where this can be bought your advice will be very welcome, otherwise do buy one of these on your next trip to Italy, Europe, Japan or Taiwan!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

7atenine - Lunch Unlimited


I have seen so many posts on this restaurant that I finally decided to try it. The 'Lunch Unlimited' menu seemed like the best deal, and I decided to try that. The restaurant has a very cool and modern design as you would expect from a newly setup restaurant within the Esplanade. Although I visited the restaurant during the day, I could imagine that the outdoor bar with patio would be a nice spot for evening drinks and dining.

Soft drinks and juices are free flow, as well as the food. They keep serving new dishes until the courses are over, but you can always ask for extra portions of any dish you like. They opened up with a potato salad with beetroot and asparagus. A well presented dish, with a nice combination of textures.

The pasta salad was Japanese style pasta with sesame seed, nori seaweed and a guacamole sauce served on the opposite side of the plate. Nothing surprising, but quite pleasant.

I found the tomato tart a little confusing. The sweet tart base topped with mozzarella and tomatoes and complemented by a sweet basil ice cream was a little bit of a clash of flavours. Being Italian, I believe that there are better ways of combining beautiful flavours such as basil and tomatoes. Well, they tried something different!

The fresh salmon with mango cubes had a smokey flavour and a smooth and firm texture. I thought the salmon was nice, although the mango was more of a decoration than anything else, as it didn't pair up with the salmon. Once again, proposing fusion and innovation is not as simple as it looks...

The squid tempura was without a doubt the worst dish out of all. Quite disgraceful, actually, as you can tell from the picture. This rock-hard, oily lump of batter gave me no reason whatsoever to eat it. Pretty frankly, I can have better deep fried seafood at a MacDonald!

Luckily, the next deep fried dish, the cheese croquettes, was much better. Nicely fried croquettes with melted cheese inside, topped by a sweet chutney.

One of my favourite dishes was definitely the beef roll. A roll of raw, tender beef Italian style, filled with tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan, served on a hot stone. Obviously the more cooked you want it, the longer you have to leave it on the stone. I enjoyed mine as raw as in the picture and ordered another one!

Ranking second for disgracefulness were the risotto and the pasta. I returned them both. The edamame pasta was worse than what I can imagine "spagheddi's" would serve you -although I never adventured myself in there and never will :) It was just a mass of spaghetti, drowned into a creamy sauce that tasted so intensely of garlic I had to spit out my first (and only) mouthful of it.
The mushroom risotto on the other hand, was not what you can call a risotto. I would rather call it a lump of melted cheese. There was no taste of mushroom in that whatsoever, beyond a lump of creams and fat with Parmesan-like taste and overcooked grains of rice emerging here and there... Obviously, these are dishes that you can't really prepare in advance and there is no room for cheating!

On a positive note, the lamb shoulder with polenta was tasty, tender and well balanced by the sauce, herbs and polenta bed underneath. This was a dish worth having!

The red snapper on carrot puree' was also quite nice, although the extra serving that we ordered was a bit salty. This dish consisted in a crispy pan fried fillet of red snapper, served with a sweet and sour think carrot sauce.

The beef brisket with mashed potatoes was my favourite dish overall. The slowly braised meat was incredibly tender and juicy, the sauce was rich and tasty, balanced by creamy and buttery mashed potatoes. I ordered this dish a second time and it was just as good!

The first dessert I was served was a coffee trifle, which included sponge cake, mousse and coffee ice cream topped by caramelised rice crisps and milk foam. I enjoyed this dessert the most out of the three. Cooling, nice textures, light.

The pineapple crumble was a combination of diced pineapple topped by ice cream and crumble. I am not a big fan of pineapple or crumbles, so this was definitely not my 'cup of tea'.

Finally, the well presented chocolate cake was a rich, thick and intense chocolate cake topped by a chocolate sauce and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream decorated by a wafer of white chocolate. This was a nice cake, although I was so full when this was served, that I just couldn't afford to have more than 2 spoonfuls of such a rich cake... what a shame.

The total bill, including all the dishes described and free flow of juices, came up to a total of $87.10 for 2 people. At about $44 per person, I would say that this is a reasonable deal. You won't love the whole range, but you are served a reasonable variety of dishes and it can be fun tasting them one by one if you are with the right company. However, I doubt I would go back for this. For the same price, I can have a lunch at places like Cassis or Petite Salut (also reviewed on this blog), and although you don't get 14 dishes, you can have 3 well made dishes and you will walk away well satisfied. Personally, I would rather have 3 quality dishes made with care than 14 dishes out of which 4 are bad, 8 are so-so and 2 quite nice. However, I am not discouraging you to try this place as it's good to have a such new offering in Singapore, and I am sure there is a public for it.

Website: http://www.sevenatenine.com/

Matsuo Sushi

Matsuo Sushi is a small sushi restaurant located at Goldhill Plaza. Besides serving what I believe is the best sushi in town, the restaurant has a "family restaurant" kind of feeling. The staff is very friendly and most of the customers are regulars.
Mr. Matsuo is indeed Japanese and he personally prepares the sushi. He has been in Singapore long enough to speak English like a local. Without a doubt you would never even suspect he is Japanese unless you were told!

The menu includes 3 different set dinners, but if you want the best, you can ask for a "Chef's selection" and let the chef serve you what's best on the day. That's indeed what I chose, and I was served a selection of seasonal vegetables and seafood: sunomono broccoli in miso sauce, an incredibly crispy spring onion (or perhaps it was something similar to a spring onion, as it was too good for a spring onion), tamagoyaki with eel, and raw oyster. I thought the spring onion was superb: the perfection and freshness of it, enhanced by the light seasoning, was just incredible.

The following dish was a duo of delicacies: uni and negitoro. These are by far my favourites, and I love them with rice domburi style. Obviously, when you have the opportunity to taste such quality, you would rather have them on their own, with a drip of soy sauce and a tiny lump of fresh REAL wasabi. Yes, at Matsuo they only serve real wasabi, not the powder version.

The sashimi selection was of course as good as it can get. The highlights, in my opinion, were the Aji and the O-Toro. I have been eating Aji quite regularly at most sushi restaurants in Singapore, but this is unlike the rest. It brought back memories of my trips to Japan. The O-Toro was really as it's supposed to be: not a messy and soft lump of fat, but a hard-textured squarish slice of delicately marbled fish. When you raise it with your chopsticks, it shouldn't 'hang' like any other sashimi fish slice... and when finally you put it in your mouth, you don't need to chew. Instead, you can just juggle it in between your tongue and palate, and most of it will dissolve in a matter of seconds. I can really say this is heaven in your mouth!

I really enjoyed these seasonal broadbeans, simply steamed and sprinkled with salt. This is Japanese cooking at its best: a seasonal ingredient selection, served without altering the original flavour.

The grilled fish head was also very well done. The fish was undoubtedly fresh, lightly grilled and salted throughout, while maintaing the delicate texture and flavour. This is the best part of the fish, moist, slightly fatty, soft and meaty.

The Wagyu beef with fried garlic was served quite raw with its own sauce. The meat was tasty and tender, and adding a couple of slices of garlic gave it that slightly bitter favour that made this dish quite unique.

Another highlight of this meal was the Grilled Otoro nigiri sushi. You can only imagine what a prime toro slice lightly grilled so that the marbled fat melts releasing an extra layer of flavour would taste on top of sushi rice!

Finally, we were served a miso soup with assorted mushrooms and the heads of the Botanebi that we had for sashimi.

The fruit platter included some mango, watermelon and Japanese strawberries.

I can only dream of the next time I will be visiting Matsuo. Due to the pricing, it's not a place you can visit too often, but I would if I could afford to. The bill came up to $411, including some extra Hotate (scallop) and Anago (eel) sushi. It is certainly not cheap, but then again the Chef's selection is the most expensive meal you can have at Matsuo, as you are given the best. The service is very friendly and attentive, and the Chef himself is extremely skilled not only at preparing your food, but also reading what you like and when to serve you next, as well as remembering your favourites if you are a regular.

The conclusion is, if you can afford it this is the best in town. But it's only worth it if your taste buds are well trained on the subtleties of flavours and textures of Japanese fresh ingredients. If that's not the case, don't waste your money and invest a 10th of it into a meal at Sakae sushi :)

1 Goldhill Plaza
#01-17 Goldhill Plaza
Tel: 6356 2603

Monday, March 23, 2009


This restaurant is now CLOSED
It's great to indulge in desserts now and then... but having such an outlet right in front of your doorstep can be devastating! This is the first branch of what could become a new patisserie chain. They have certainly opened in the right spot. Katong is a vibrant area, with lots of new creative food retail shops opening up around the area. In terms of desserts, I can mention Gobi, Obolo and Awfully Chocolate and they have all succeeded in Katong. Indulgence is designed for take-aways, although there are a couple of seats for those who can't wait and have the urge to tuck into their dessert asap. They are located right in front of the check-out of Cold Storage in Katong Mall, and they are open until late (22:00).

Indulgence proposes a distinctly different style of desserts as compared to its neighbour competitors. Their chef was trained in France, and he produces a good range of classic French desserts. The initial impact is not as convincing of their closest rival, Canele'. However, once you will try some of their deserts, you won't regret of having indulged.

Apparently the most popular choice, the profiteroles ($1.50 each) are filled with a choice of custard or nougat cream. In my opinion, these should be eaten on the first day that they are delivered from their kitchens (deliveries happen on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays), otherwise they tend to dry up a bit.

I find their chocolate pavlova particularly exceptional. I love the way the meringue is internally layered with Valrhona chocolate, topped by a creamy contrast of milk chocolate and nougat mousse. A crunchy "chocolate caviar" tops the creation, adding an extra layer of texture.

It's not actually that easy to find a good Creme Brulee, even when you try it at some French Restaurants. Sometimes it's too 'eggy', sometimes too creamy, rich or soggy. Their vanilla creme brulee has the right balance of creaminess, sponginess and consistency, without feeling too heavy towards the end. They caramelise the top as you order, although they recommend that you should have it within a maximum of 2-3 hours since it's been caramelized in order to enjoy the crispy caramel topping. They also have different flavours besides the original vanilla, including Earl Grey, chocolate, coffee and cinnamon.

My second favourite is their version of tiramisu. It might be the Italian in me, but I can say that although this is not actually a tiramisu (it's a patisserie version, inspired to the original dessert), it's an extremely tempting variation. Like the original dessert, their tiramisu, exposes different layers of textures and flavours, keeping your interest throughout the eating experience!

Finally, I tried some of their pannacotta's, topped with fruit coulis. This has never been my favourite dessert in the first place, although I believe that they do it well. Maybe I am just not too keen on the traditional sweet/sour coulis topping , and I am waiting to see the launch of a more innovative pannacotta in Singapore.

I am extremely delighted to see new businesses such as this opening in Katong, especially when they are genuinely offering authentic, quality, adequately priced products as Indulgence does. They are still working on some new creations, so keep an eye on this space and pay them a visit!

Website: http://www.indulgence.sg/

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Olio al rosmarino

This is a very simple recipe to prepare rosemary oil. This oil is the perfect companion for bread and meat dishes. Once prepared, it can be stored in a jar or small glass bottle.

Wash some whole rosemary branches and do not remove the leaves from them. Pat dry with kitchen paper. Peel a few cloves of garlic and squash with the side of a knife.
Put some extra virgin olive oil (I recommend at least 1/4 of a liter) into a skillet and bring to the heat on a medium fire, until the oil is warm and FAR FROM FRYING TEMPERATURE. If you bring the oil to frying temperature, it will loose part of its aroma. Infuse the rosemarry, garlic, and a few whole peppercorns. Reduce the fire to a very low flame, leave for another 20 seconds, add a sprinkle of salt then remove from the fire and set aside until cool.

Store into a small glass bottle or glass jar as pictured, including the rosemarry, garlic and peppercorns. Seal and shake a few times every hour or so, ensuring that the rosemarry is fully covered in oil.
This can be stored at room temperature up to a year.

Gnocchi alla norma

I have already posted a recipe for gnocchi in a previous post. This is a very slight variation on that recipe. "Salsa alla Norma" is a typical Sicilian tomato sauce that includes fried aubergines. This is my version which is much lighter as the aubergines are not fried, and yet they have plenty of flavour. For this recipe, I recommend buying Japanese aubergines which can be fount at most Cold Storage or Japanese food outlets. They are smaller in size, but full of flavour and look great when presented with this dish.

Slice them into 5mm slices and rub with a little salt, then set aside for about 15-20 minutes. You will notice that they will have "sweat" out excess water, which needs to be pat dried with some kitchen paper or cloth. Done that, heat up a large frying pan and don't add any oil. When it's nice and hot, cover it with the sliced aubergines, but only as many as you can fit (you might have to do this 3-4 times in order to cook all the slices). Grill the first side until golden brown, then turn them and do the same with the other side. Once ready, remove and set aside.

Finally, cook the gnocchi and sauce as described in the other gnocchi recipe, serve and decorate with the grilled aubergines on top. These will taste fantastic once mixed with the tomato sauce!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Crystal Jade Shanghai

This is the 3rd time I had lunch at this restaurant part of the Crystal Jade group, located in the new Changi Terminal 3. As the name suggests, their menu brings some of the Shanghai flavours to Singapore.

The Steamed Beancurd with Prawn and Shrimp Roe ($16.80) didn't taste as good as it looked. It was slightly under salted and I just felt that there was nothing there to bind the flavours together.

The Poached Noodles with scallion and dried shrimps ($7) were quite special. These noodles are very simple, but tasty and delicate. Making a parallel with Italian food, they make me think of "spaghetti alla bottarga" for their subtle fishy flavour.

Although they are not a Shanghai speciality, I ordered the Long Beans with minced pork ($12) only to complement the meal with some vegetables. These were well prepared and tasty as I would have expected.

I was particularly interested in the Sauteed Diced Chicken with Diced Asparagus in Spicy Sauce (served with pancake) ($14 ) because of the way it's served. The dish is a fairly normal stir fried chicken with corn and mushroom, with a subtle smoky flavour. Very tasty on its own. This is served with some thin pancakes that look like mini-tortillas, comparable to the ones used for Beijing duck. I felt like I was eating a Chinese version of Mexican fajitas, and a healthier one too.
The total bill was $71.30 for 2 people, including drinks, peanuts and towels.

Overall, this restaurant serves some interesting, well priced food and you wouldn't regret trying it. Obviously the atmosphere isn't the coziest due to its location, in the middle of the terminal, but it is quite relaxing due to the spacious and quiet surroundings.

Website: http://www.crystaljade.com/crystal_jade_shanghai_restaurant.htm

Basil-poached Sea Bream

This is another one of Gordon Ramsay's recipes from the "F-Word", except I used sea bream instead of black bream. You can watch the full preparation video here. It's a quick and easy recipe, and things can hardly go wrong. I still prefer my fillet pan fried rather than poached, but on the positive side this is healthier and easier to cook as you just can't burn it! You can obviously try this with other fillets, such as sea bass or red snapper.

Score the fillet on the skin side, season with salt and pepper, then place some basil leaves in the middle of some cling film, drizzle with olive oil, top with the fillet and basil leaves again, then fold into a tight parcel. You might want to double seal it with another sheet of cling film, to ensure that water won't leak into the fish. Do the same for each fillet. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and gently drop the parcels into it. Cook for about 11-13 minutes, depending on thickness of the fillets.

While the parcels are poaching, prepare some shallots and toughly chopped streaky bacon. Heat some olive oil and add the shallots until coloured, followed by bacon and fresh thyme. Fry the bacon until golden and crispy, then add the pees and saute' with some white wine.

Remove the parcels from the water, unwrap and serve on top of the pees, bacon and shallots, topped by some of the basil leaves left in the parcels.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Herb crusted rack of lamb

This recipe is inspired to Gordon Ramsay's recipe from the "F Word" TV series. You can view the full video here. I added some Italian polenta as the staple and asparagus as a side vegetable. I also made some lamb-Marsala sauce to top up the lamb and polenta, for extra flavour.
One discovery I made while shopping for this dish was the cost of lamb in Singapore, which I find pretty ridiculous. I paid $40 for a rack of lamb at "Espirito Santo" in Parkway Parade. Cold Storage also had a rack of lamb for about $30, but it was much smaller and it looked pretty flat - lacking of the most interesting, meaty part. If I have to spend that much, I would rather top up with an extra $10 and get the real thing. However, lamb seems to be a real treat over here!

Heat up an oven at 220C. Start from scoring the fat side of the rack, then seasoning the lamb, evenly covering it in salt and pepper all over the surface. Put it into a pan, drizzle with olive oil and cook it all around it until golden brown. Make sure that the whole surface is nicely crisp and brown. Put the pan in the oven for about 8 minutes or longer, depending on the thickness of the meat.

In a blender, put some breadcrumbs (I used Japanese panko, which you can buy at any Japanese store), parsley, fresh thyme and rosemary and add a drizzle of olive oil. Blend thoroughly until you produce a fine green breadcrumb.

Pull the rack of lamb out of the oven and brush all over it with Dijon mustard. Once it's well coated, roll it onto the herb crumb ensuring it's well covered.

Put the lamb back in the oven to crust it for 2-3 minutes. In the meantime, bring some lamb or meat stock to the boil onto a large pan (about 3 ice cubes per person, see my post on how to make stock), and once it starts bubbling pour some Marsala wine to taste, evaporate and reduce to the desired consistency, then remove from the heat.

Finally, remove the lamb from the oven, let it rest for about 5 minutes and carve along the bones. Arrange onto a plate on top of the optional polenta cake drizzled with the sauce.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gobi - Fantasy

I have been buying cakes regularly from Gobi since they first opened. Their laboratory is in Katong Mall and you can also collect from there, although they now only accept orders either by phone or from their main outlet at "The Central".
Their cakes are definitely unique, top exclusive creations. I have been eating their "Chocolate Therapy" for about 2 years and I am still not bored with it. I can also recommend their "Ivory Tower", so light and creamy and ideal for coconut lovers.

This time, I bought their "Fantasy" selection of assorted mini-cakes.
You can buy them and slowly eat them one by one over the weekend, to taste the full palette of flavours, ranging from fruit filled giant macarons to mini mont-blanc and chocolate cakes.

In summary, if you are a dessert lover and you haven't yet tried Gobi, you must!

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

Gnocchi di Zucca

"Gnocchi di zucca" means "Pumpkin Gnocchi", and it's a very old, classic dish from the north of Italy. Like regular gnocchi, it's extremely easy to make if you follow this recipe, and its success largely depends on the quality of the pumpkin itself.

Chop 700gr of pumpkin into chunks as pictured, and place it on a baking tray, together with 6 medium tomatoes and a handful of shallots. Bake at 180°C for about 1 hour or until the pumpkin is soft enough and cooked throughout. Remember to remove the shallots after about 20 mins, before they burn.

Mash the pumpkin with a fork until smooth, then add some salt and 130gr of plain flour. Stir well until there are no lumps left, then beat an egg and add 3/4 of it to the mexture and stir well.

At this point, you expect a smooth, runny dough that you wouldn't be able to roll and handle with your hands. It shouldn't be too watery, but not firm enough for kneeding. Your "gnocchi dough" is ready.
Blend tomatoes and shallots with a couple of leaves of basil into a food processor, add some salt and set aside.

Fill a large saucepan with abundant water, bring it to the boil and add a handful of salt as you would for pasta. Now with the help of 2 spoons, take some of the mixture and shape it before releasing it slowly into the water by scraping one spoon onto the second one. Repeat this until you finish the mixture. While releasing the gnocchi into the water, keep an eye on the ones that raise to the top, as it means that they are ready and they need to be removed gently with a small colander and set aside as pictured.

Heat a wide frying pan, pour a dash of olive oil, then add the tomato sauce and quickly fry for 1 minute together with a bunch of basil leaves, adding salt and a little water if the sauce dries up too much.

Finally, place the gnocchi on a plate, top with the sauce and some optional grated pecorino cheese.
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