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
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