Saturday, November 26, 2011

Open Door Policy

Open Door Policy is the latest happening place in Tiong Bahru. More specifically, Yong Siak Street is flourishing with quirky, dynamic and interesting new places such as 40 hands café, a fashionable bookstore and a furniture and art shop. There is a good reason why this is happening in this specific street, which roots down to its unique character.

It is actually the 40 hands owner who has a share in this restaurant, where he guarantees that speciality coffees are served. The quirky setup certainly keeps diners entertained, with the kitchen bringing action into the narrow dining room, natural light filtering from the glass ceiling at the back, the rustic materials such as brick walls, steel and rusted chairs. Such exciting combinations make the place feel "real" and alive, for once away from the polished, aseptic setups that have been out of fashion abroad for quite some time and are also becoming dated on this island.

Chef Ryan Clift from Tippling Club also has a stake in this restaurant as the food concept supervisor. Unlike the Tippling Club which is more experimental, the menu here is very simple and earthy, the kind of food which you would enjoy for a Saturday or Sunday lunch. And it was in fact during a Saturday lunch that I visited the place and tried a couple of their dishes.

The Flamed tuna carpaccio with radish and yuzu salad (S$19) came topped with abundant "radish noodles" in a tangy yuzu sauce. The tuna medallions were lightly seasoned and seared all around them for flavour. I liked the fact that the slices of tuna were thick enough to appreciate the texture of the fish.

The Grilled carrot salad with snow peas, orange walnuts and cardamom dressing (S$16) was a bit of a pleasant surprise. A bed of fresh rocket salad unveiled a warm carrot pureé, which also served as the sauce for the whole salad. Shreds of carrot and walnuts added a bit of crunch. This was really a bit of a welcome twist to what I would have expected from the description.

Unfortunately, the Pork belly with parsnip puree, braised quinoa and celery (S$29) looked better than it tasted. I must say that the amount of meat was incredibly generous, in fact too generous perhaps, for a cut of meat which is so extremely sinful. In this case, less is more. The lack of sauce to complement the meat was where this dish fell short, as the parsnip puré was just not enough to help it come together. On the other hand, both the quinoa and parsnip chips were excellently done.

I enjoyed the Roasted salmon with panzanella salad although the salmon was surprisingly quite raw (they claim it's 80% cooked, but it seemed more like 60%). This was perfectly fine with me, since I like my fish raw, but some customers might return it, if unaware at the time of ordering it. The panzanella dressing was a fantastic combination, and the crispy fried basil leaves were beautiful and aromatic.

We were too full to try the desserts, or perhaps there was nothing on the menu that was tempting enough. I was intrigued by the fact that "Amaro Montenegro" was available in the list of spirits. It is my favourite "amaro", a very Italian drink virtually unknmown abroad. It goes to show that this place really tries to offer something different! Overall, the place offered a good dining experience both in terms of setting and food. Don't expect anything out of the ordinary, but you will get some modern, earthy, no frills food at affordable prices in a cool setting in an up and coming district. I would go back try this again soon.

Open Door Policy

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pain á l'ancienne

Unfortunately, availability of good bread is extremely scarce in Singapore, or should we say non existent. This is of course an issue that is not just limited to this island, due to accelerated times for industrial and mass production, but at least in places like Italy or France, you can find good bread if you know where to shop.
Walking into a Bread Talk or a Cedele branch doesn't quite give you the same sensory emotions as you would get from a proper bakery. The smells and colors aren't quite the same, and in any case you won't find bread with the traditional flavours and textures that can only be achieved through the natural, long leavening times of the classic recipes.

Pain a l'ancienne is perhaps my favourite bread I have produced so far. I love its colour, texture and flavour. The golden brown cracking crust, the white airy crumb, the sweetness that is released as you chew it. I like having this straight out of the oven (after a 15 minutes resting period), soaked in quality olive oil. It doesn't need much more to keep you eating it!

I would like to share my recipe, which is a mix of the baguette recipe I found in my bread book, and some tips from the master baker.
Following, the ingredients for about 4 loaves:

Bread Flour   120g
Water         120ml
Dry Yeast     0.1g (a pinch)
Bread Flour   244g
Water         120ml
Dry yeast     1g
Salt          7g

Two days in advance (I usually start Friday night for bread that I bake on Sunday morning), mix the flour and water (in which you will dissolve the yeast first) for the poolish in a small plastic container that you can hermetically seal. Also, mix the flour and water for the main dough (244g flour and 120ml water), knead until fully incorporated, shape into a ball, wrap it in cling film, and store in a separate tightly sealed plastic container. Put both containers it in a wine cellar at about 12-14C, and let ferment for about 18-24 hours. The poolish should look very bubbly and airy through the plastic container.

The next evening:
  1. Pull out the two doughs from the fridge 30 minutes in advance, and prepare the remaining yeast, which you will have dissolved into a tiny amount of water, and the salt.
  2. Put the stiff dough in the mixer at the lowest speed, then add the water and yeast mixture, then gradually, spoon by spoon, the poolish. Let the stiff dough incorporate the added poolish, perhaps helping it a bit using a spatula, then add more of it, until it's all incorporated.
  3. Add the salt, then bring the mixer to a higher speed and knead for another 5 minutes.
  4. Put the dough into a large plastic container, and let it ferment at ambient temperature (30C) for 1 hour.
  5. Take the dough out of the container on a lightly floured surface, then stretch it and fold it onto itself. Place it back into the container for another hour.
  6. Take the dough out again (it should have doubled in size), then divide it into 4 equal pieces, possibly elongated. Flatten them out, then let them rest for 5 minutes. Note that you will need to dust this dough with flour, since it's quite lose.
  7. Now shape the baguettes by folding the flattened squares, like in this video. Do the folding twice. Note that the dough in this recipe is a bit more lose than the one in the video. If you are not comfortable with the shaping, you can just fold the dough once and elongate it and roll it a bit. You will still get good bread.
  8. Place all the loaves onto a large piece of baking paper, then enclose them into a large plastic box for raising. It's important that you keep them enclosed so that they don't dry out during the raising process. I place them into a wine cellar overnight, and they will be ready the next morning. Alternatively, if in a rush, they will be ready if you let them ferment at ambient temperature for 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

The next morning, take the box out of the cellar 60 minutes in advance, and switch on the oven at 270C. I highly recommend you have a baking stone (I purchased a lava stone from Hup Kiong cut to exactly the size of my oven, and it works wonders). Make sure that the stone is fully heated, and that will take at least 40 minutes of pre-heating at maximum temperature before you insert the bread. I also insert a pan full of boiling water about 10 minutes before inserting the bread, to ensure appropriate steaming in the oven.
Before inserting the bread in the oven score the loaves and spray them with a very fine water spray. insert them in the oven, and bake until ready (time varies, depending on the oven). You will know when they are ready, as the color of the crust speaks for itself.
Once out of the oven, try to be patient and let the bread rest for 15-30 minutes before cracking it open!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jaan lunch 2011

It has been a while since I haven't visited Jaan... in fact I didn't get a chance to dine there since Chef André left. Recently, Chef Julien Royer took charge of the kitchen moving from his previous job at the St. Regis Hotel. While the food at the Brasserie "Les Saveurs" was more classic French, at Jaan Julien has been given more freedom to present his own creations, while sourcing products from his selection of world class producers. Having beautiful memories of the great food that Chef André used to serve at Jaan when he first started, I was very excited to try their new food style for lunch.

The dining room hasn't changed, which is a good thing for me, since I believe it's one of the most tastefully furnished fine dining restaurants in Singapore. The menu includes an introduction of the Chef's background and his mission statement. I like it as it's really a no-frills introduction, simple and concise. He believes in tradition, combined with creativity and fresh ingredients from the best producers.

Right after ordering the food, we were served an impressively presented thin bread with a "lentils hummus", the Chef's personal interpretation, made from Saint-Flour lentils and chestnuts. The presentation was both modern and artisanal at the same time, with a combination of stone and wooden utensils. Minimalist and warm.

All the small bites that were served with the bread were beautifully presented and were absolutely delicious. 

It was with great surprise that we discovered shortly after the amuse-bouche was yet to be served: a cep sabayon with fresh walnuts and lovage. It came served in a double-walled glass and it looked like a dense mousse.

When the waiter poured an infusion of boiling wild mushroom tea right in front of us, the magic happened and the dish transformed into a mushroom cappuccino. Flavoursome, hot, creamy, sophisticated and yet simple. I must say that with these two unexpected courses, the Chef already built a great momentum to the dining experience, and we were eager to find out what would be next.

The Landes Foie Gras and Rabbit ballotine was a core of Foie Gras, rolled into rabbit breast meat, then again coated with a thin layer of lardo di colonnata to retain the moisture. Decorations of gingered butternut, hazelnut and pickled onions added dimensions of flavour and texture that could be combined with the protein.

The other starter was pure indulgence: a large raviolo, stuffed with soft, oozing egg yolk, and topped with cheese and truffle, on top of a dense mushroom sauce. Once again, very elegantly presented, pleasant and balanced to the palate. The fresh hazelnuts added an extra seasonal touch to the dish, which unfortunately in Singapore we tend to forget and neglect.

The main dish was an assorted serving of the most rich or flavoursome cuts pork: cheek, belly, short rib, pig's trotter. Unsurprisingly, the belly was the best, with those rich layers of fat and the unmissable crispy skin, followed by the cheek which was tender and coated in a rich glaze. I liked the distinct charred flavour of the short rib, which was quite lean and dry on its surface, but a delicacy that I couldn't resist from grabbing with my fingers and devour like a caveman. The pig's trotter was deep fried into a small ball in classic French style, which has never been my favourite way of having this delicacy, however this was the leanest I had so far and was overall quite pleasant. It is stating the obvious, but any pork lover would have to order this.

The second main dish was fish, for a change: an Atlantic cod with baby squid, Chanterelles mushrooms and summer beans. The fish was well cooked, moist and flaky. The beans were cut into strips and gave a bit of a light crunch to a dish that was otherwise mainly composed of soft textures. While most of the flavours on the dish were quite mild, they were compensated by the pieces of baby squid which were very savoury.

The main dishes were certainly not disappointing, and the momentum was still up there. Then another surprise course appeared in front of us. We were served a palate cleanser, which was essentially a blueberry pannacotta, topped with a 2-temperatures foam.
  As one of the desserts, we tried the cheeses. There was a great cheese selection, with a couple of outstanding soft cheeses. I can't recall the name, but there was a special soft cheese that really had a buttery texture and intense taste I never encountered before in both French and Italian cheeses. The cheeses were accompanied by a selection of crackers and homemade jams, including delicious candied ginger which I wiped all out.

My dessert was a "Choconuts": a Jivara mousse with peanuts and Macadamia ice cream. Clearly, one for nuts fans like me. The eccentric presentation, almost out of a futurist sculpture, somehow suggested I should start from the left (the ice cream), and then progress from the soft textures slowly onto the biscuit and chocolate wafer. Solid caramel, nutty, chocolate flavours dominated this quirky dessert.

...but that was not it! Final surprise, the petit fours. This presentation looked warm and cozy, yet again with a humorous, quirky touch: CaramBar candies! This rosemary based combination of sweet bites included chocolate coated marshmallows, truffles, buttery biscuits, and finally ice cream chocolate coated lollipops. In particular, I liked the rosemary infused melt in your mouth truffles and bouncy homemade marshmallows. I am always an enthusiast for fresh herbs in desserts and cocktails!

In summary, this was an incredibly satisfying meal, full of surprises, excitement, a beauty for the eyes and the palate. In particular, I was amazed by its value for money. There aren't many places in Singapore where you can enjoy what effectively is a 7 course fine dining lunch (3 courses, + pre-amuse bouche, amuse bouche, palate cleanser and petit fours) for just S$52++ per person! On top of the great food, service is always excellent at Jaan, with competent, discreet and attentive staff, and the bright, spacious, breathtaking dining room is certainly a plus for any diner.

Reservations and Enquiries: Steven Drewery at Mobile: +65 9199 9008 / Tel: +65 6837 3322

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Moluccas Room

I was invited to try this newly opened restaurant located along "The Shoppes" at Marina Bay Sands. The restaurant concept is modern Indonesian food, which so far hasn't really been done in Singapore. The Indonesian born Chef has been trained in French cooking and has been working in renowned restaurants in Australia, including Tetsuya. Her vision is to redefine Indonesian cuisine maintaining the traditional flavours, but selecting the best ingredients and utilising French and modern cooking techniques to bring Indonesian cuisine to a whole new level.

The restaurant enjoys a spacious, elegant and contemporary dining room, with plenty of natural light filtering through the venetian blinds around its perimeter. The view over the bay makes it a perfect place for an evening dinner, but it's also a relaxing sight over lunch. The deco is simple and modern, with materials such as stone and wood, and a few Indonesian motifs to recall the theme of the menu.

While waiting for the food, we were served an amuse bouche together with some Indonesian chips and the Chef's signature selection of Sambal. Apart from the garlic sambal I enjoyed the rest, in particular the less mashed one, with roughly chopped chillies, ginger and shallots.

For starters we had a selection of sate. Each one was served with its own sauce, although they didn't actually need extra sauce as they were perfectly flavoured. The Sate Padang Lidah Sapi ($27 for five skewers) was the biggest surprise. I have been familiar with beef tongue since I was a child, as it's commonly eaten in Italy. Having it as Sate was a bit of a novelty. It didn't actually feel like eating tongue and I wouldn't have guessed it if I hadn't been told, but the tender and succulent texture of this skewer was one of the highlights of the lunch. The charcoal grilled Angus Beef ($25) and Sakura Chicken ($22) skewers were also outstanding, although the beef tongue is really what I would come back for.

To clean the palate, we were served a Soto Ayam Lamongan ($15), a spiced chicken soup with shredded chicken. The flavours were clean and delicate, and half way through it I enhanced the flavour by adding a touch of squeezed lime which gave it a tad of sharpness.

Udang Blado Padang ($35) was a fried king prawn with sambal and cherry tomatoes on top of a grilled aubergine. I found this slightly under salted so the flavours didn't really strike my senses as hoped.

I was a lot more excited about the Ayam Sakura Tangkap Aceh Selada Mangga ($19), a green mango salad served with deep fried chicken and herbs. The chicken was crispy on the surface and juicy inside, but the crunchy herbs really added another dimension to it. A well executed classic!

Here comes what in my opinion was the best dish of all, the Ikan Bakar Jimbaran ($35). This fillet of sea bass was cooked sous-vide and brushed with a dark, slightly sweet, intensely flavoured sambal sauce. The roasted cherry tomatoes and pickled cucumber slices completed the range of flavours, freshening up the dish. The thick cut of sea bass was tender and succulent, and there was no unwanted "fishiness" to it. I would highly recommend trying this to any fish lovers!

Next, another surprise from the Chef: Angus Steak Rendang ($35). Instead of the classic beef Rendang, this dish combined a French steak with this well known classic. You can actually ask for the steak to be done to your preference, and it will come cooked to perfection, tossed in a rich Rendang sauce. While I personally prefer a braised cut to go with this kind of sauce, all of my dining mates enjoyed this dish the most for innovation and flavour.

The last savoury dish of the meal was a Confit Sakura Ayam Tuturaga ($33), a confit of succulent chicken cooked in its own fat (all rigorously free range!), served in a sharp curry sauce. This was certainly a beautifully executed combination of French cooking techniques, which brought out the Indonesian flavours while maintaining the natural juiciness of the meat. This would be another one of my recommendations.

Frankly speaking, I am not a big fan of Indonesian desserts, but the dessert is where the Chef could really make use of her French cooking skills to cater to a more international palate, while bringing Indonesian flavours into the equation. The dessert platter came with two creme brulee and one ice cream. I started off with the Gula Melaka ice cream. Perhaps because I like this kind of sugar and I am happy to eat it on its own, this flavour was absolute perfection for me. The wonderful rounded sugary flavour, with mild tones of caramel and licorice, was true heaven. For obvious reasons, I equally enjoyed the Gula Melaka Creme Brulee, which was less intense and less sweet than the ice cream, with the bonus of a light, crispy shell on top of it. I wasn't too keen on the Sri Kaya Creme Brulee ($17), coconut based with pandanus flavour, since it had that "Indonesian dessert flavour" that I usually tend to avoid, but you would surely like it if you are accustomed to that taste.

Chef Alicia Tivey introduced herself and explained some of the techniques and thinking that went into her dishes. It's always wonderful to hear from inspired Chefs who have such dedication and believe in creating an experience for the customer.
The Moluccas Room might come across as slightly expensive for an Indonesian restaurant if you simply compare it to other restaurants of the same cuisine, but that wouldn't be a fair comparison. Besides considerations on the location and service, you must acknowledge that the ingredients used are of the finest quality, all selected by the Chef, just as you would find in a fine dining French restaurant. Therefore, this cuisine is positioned at that level both in terms of food quality and price. If you are looking for regular Indonesian food, then this might not be the place to go, but if you are looking for a South-East Asian fine dining experience then this restaurant is really a rare find, and it is guaranteed to deliver to its promise.

The Moluccas Room
Address: The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue, L1-81
Tel: 6688 7367 (10am – 10pm)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jewels Artisan Chocolate - Mooncakes 2011

Following up from my favourite mooncakes from last year, this year I got another box of Jewels mooncakes. Out of the ones I tried, Jewels snowskin mooncakes are the only ones that compete with the ones from the Raffles (and that's not by chance, since it's the same hands behind them), except I actually prefer the Jewels selection of flavours.

Luckily, the flavours haven't really changed from last year, since their selection has been largely appreciated, except from a new signature flavour: the Korean Black Garlic. Chef Then Chui Foong has been playing with this ingredient in combination with chocolate for quite some time now. In particular, I thought that her Korean black garlic ice cream was innovative and delicious. I bet she has been waiting for months for the mooncakes season, to come up with her ultimate black garlic creation. The fermented clove of black garlic placed in the middle of the mooncake releases a deep, licorice like flavour with a smooth tone of acidity. It is quite a unique taste with a tinge of garlic flavour, but extremely tamed, without the pungent, aggressive aspects of regular garlic. A must try!

My second favourite remains the salted caramel truffle. I like the combination of the gentle saltiness of Palm Island sea salt with the crunchy winter melon seeds.

The dark chocolate crunchy pearl mooncakes are quite familiar to many, since they are also sold by the Raffles Hotel. This mooncake will be appreciated by those who love chocolate, mint, and a bit of crunch. Really something quite different from the other classic truffle mooncakes, the mint-chocolate combination reminds me of the classic "After Eight" thin chocolates!

Besides the Espresso truffle flavour, there is also a Champagne truffle mooncake on the menu, which is the all time favourite for most and Jewel's one is outstanding. After all, I am such a big fan of their Perle Noir chocolate, which is basically made from the same Champagne truffle you would find inside the mooncake, surrounded by crunchy pearls!

I got bitten so many times by sloppy snowskin mooncakes that nowadays I can hardly trust buying them from random places, and Jewels remains on top of my list.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bucatini al cinghiale e burrata

Excited about the long awaited burrata I received yesterday, I thought of repeating something similar to the pasta I improvised some time ago and I liked so much to still remember over it a year later. I didn't go shopping in the morning, so I decided to make do with whatever I had in the fridge from last week. I still had some wild boar salami leftover from my last trip in Tuscany, so I thought of putting it to good use.

These are the ingredients I dug out of my fridge to make this pasta:
  • A slice of smoked guanciale
  • 3 slices of Tuscan wild boar salami
  • 3 tinned plum tomatoes
  • Half a piece of celery
  • Half a carrot
  • 3 spring onions (white part only)
  • Many sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 small burrata
  • 100ml chicken stock 
  • Red wine 
  • Sugar and salt to taste 
The preparation is very simple. Dice the guanciale and the wild boar salami (of course, you can use normal pork salami as wild boar cannot easily be found in Singapore).

Chop very finely the carrot spring onions (I used spring onions as that's what I had in the fridge, but onions or leeks will be equally good), and celery.

I was pretty excited to open the box of this mini burrata, produced in Puglia by Centro Latte Stasi.

I love this moment, cutting through the outer "sack" of the burrata, watching the cream leaking out first, followed by oozing clots of burrata. beautiful. Of course, I couldn't resist from having some of this before finishing my pasta. I wouldn't put all of it on the bucatini anyway.

Start off by frying the guanciale in olive oil, and once well browned, add the carrots, celery and spring onions.

Add a splash of red wine (a third of a glass) and quickly let evaporate on high heat. Once well evaporated, add the chicken stock, and simmer over medium heat.

Once the chicken stock is half absorbed, add about 3 whole canned plum tomatoes and chop them directly in the sauce while stirring. Keep reducing over low heat and add salt and a small pinch of sugar should the tomato be excessively sour. Keep adjusting as you go.

In the meantime, boil some water in a large pot, salt it and add the bucatini. They usually take 10-12 minutes to cook. Continue to cook the sauce, and after about 8 minutes from adding the tomatoes, add a few sprigs of thyme and if necessary top up the sauce with some of the boiling water from the pasta pot in order to prevent it from drying out. Let the thyme release its flavour into the sauce over low heat.

Drain the bucatini once ready, then toss into the sauce pan and serve into serving bowls. Top up with some fresh burrata cheese, grated black pepper, and a drizzle of real extra virgin olive oil (proper strong, full flavour. I used a Sicilian one here, which is sold at Gattopardo). Garnish with fresh thyme.

I was captured by the intense flavour of this pasta, which will definitely be a repeat. The gaminess from the wild boar was balanced by the chunks of creamy burrata, and the thyme flavour added a touch of freshness to the whole dish. And once again, I ate too much...
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