Monthly Cookout: April Edition 2014

The past weekend saw the April Edition of the Monthly Cookout. Every cookout there is always good food but it is always the company that lights up my entire weekend. All my friends who participate in the cookout are at least two years older than me. Not much but they each have a wealth of experience in life and with theire advice and personal journeys, life is much easier and secure. I feel more at ease with them calming me ensuring all is good and not as complicated as it all initially seems to be.

Surprisingly, this month, the food variety was light but not short of deliciousness. Zee’s husband, Marcus, desmontrated his strength in roasting meat by serving up a slow-cooked pork belly. The pork belly was seasoned with tahini. While Western, it still tasted of Chinese. The 3.5 hours roasting caused some seriously crispy crackling that snapped and crackled loudly in my mouth; much to the excitement of many who wanted exactly whatever I was chewing.

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Three desserts were offered that afternoon. Zhu brought a box of “light donuts” which turned out to be the famous Cronut-inspired Crodos that were clearly lightly deep-fried. My sister made mini Orange Olive Oil babycakes, and I prepared my very own Pulut Hitam (Black Glutinous Rice) Steamed Pudding with Gula Melaka Butterscotch Sauce. Western technique, Asian ingredients – now that’s what I call F.U.S.I.O.N.

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My steamed pudding was a huge hit that afternoon and I could not be more delighted. The pud was extremely flavourful, and tender and moist – just how I wanted it to be. Not only was this pud my own recipe but it took a lot of effort just to prepare this seemingly-simple dessert. I brainstormed and researched a full week for the best technique to suit the Asian ingredients. I even gave up drinking last Friday evening just to ensure I will be all lemony fresh on Saturday morning to prepare the pud for the afternoon. What a triumph! Now I just need to find the recipe and post it up here.
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Banh Mi Joy at Nam Nam

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For the first time ever, I had my first main course at Nam Nam this afternoon. The Vietnamese eatery is huge in Singapore and the queues at every branch are legendary. I was craving for a Banh Mi. Having returned unimpressed from Ho Chi Minh City, I was determined to get good Vietnamese food. Nam Nam did just that. I had a Cold Cuts, caramelised 5-spice pork belly, chicken floss Banh Mi and it was so good! The bread surprised me the most by arriving warm and was light and crispy. The triple meat combination: pork belly, cold cuts, and pate, were so juicy and tender when eaten together. What a wonderful joyful afternoon at Nam Nam. I want the grilled chicken Banh Mi next!

Healthy Continental Breakfast Buffet at Sheraton Hotel Saigon

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The breakfast buffet spread offered at Sheraton Hotel Saigon was expectedly International and wide. Included in the spread were Vietnamese selections such as a Ban Mi and Pho station. But it was the two slices bread that delighted and thrilled me the most. They were Gluten-free bread. Nowhere have I seen such special bread offered in hotels before and I happily lapped it up. The white bread was as tough as cardboard but the brown grainy bread below was soft and when toasted, crispy and light. Further there were 9 different types of jam to choose from (!) I was spoilt for choice. As if the healthy bread and delicious jam were not enough, individual packets of peanut butter. Oh heaven!!! What a hotel to remember!

Ho Chi Minh with Singapore Airlines

The past weekend, I went on my company’s firm trip to Ho Chi Minh and my company generously flew us on Singapore Airlines as well as a 2 night stay in Sheraton Hotel, Saigon. It has been years since I flew with SQ so I was most excited about the plane ride for this trip. I was especially pleased to board a new and shiny plane but I was shocked by the meals provided. We had one meal during the short 1.5 hours flight and it was not the single meal but the minimal variety that surprised me. I heard for a while SQ was on a cost-cutting binge the past few years and I reckon what was in front of me proved it. I recalled the days when there was a main course accompanied with dessert, sliced fruits, salad, and yoghurt. It seems SQ no longer feels the need to stuff their passengers.

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For my flight to Ho Chi Minh, we were given two options: “fish” or “beef”. A lot of passengers picked the first option but I was most intruged by the “beef” option. Years back, SQ served up the most delicious Braised Beef Brisket on the way to London so I wondered if I was going to luck out this time. I did not but the “beef” option was not bad albeit a bit random. Tender beef slices were drowningin a thick sweet coffee gravy accompanied with egg fried rice and stir-fried vegetables. The coffee was most unusual and the gravy leaned towards the sweet side. Few did not like but I like the strong coffee taste and the contrast between the sweeet gravy and salty vegetables. The vegetables were surprisingly not overcooked or soft. They still retained a bite.

For dessert, it was a square block of banana cake with, weirdly, some vanilla cream below. It seemed redundant to me. Banana cake on it’s own will be tasty and needed no cream to amp it up. Wholemeal bun was served too but the air stewardess forgot to put one on my tray. When my friend reminded her and asked for it to be heated up, they promptly came back with aromatic warm buns. I had a gin and tonic too. It was served to me promptly and I was a happy tipsy.

On my flight back to Singapore, the meal was again small but very delicious!
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The two options were Chicken Pasta or Vietnamese Pork Rice. I peeped over to the other seat which had been served and immediately asked for the rice. The air steward laughed when he saw my action and agreed that my option was better. Surprisingly the unappetizing-looking chicken pasta was more popular and my friend had to “settle” for the pork. There were an unusually high number of caucasians on my flight though.

It turns out I was having Cơm tấm Sài Gòn, Saigon Broken Rice. How cultural, SQ! Two thick BBQ pork chops were served on a bed of rice with traditional Vietnamese pickled vegetables on the side. This was VERY IMPRESSIVE. The BBQ pork was burnt at the edges but this created a smoky crispy edges. The sauce accompanying the pork was well-seasoned and perfect with white rice. I was very happy.

The dessert was a disappointing pandan and coconut jelly but it was refreshing and did not add on to the heaviness from the rice. The nutrition-less white soft bun was sinfully soft and I gladly gobbled it all down.

What the variety lacked in made up for in the inflight enterainment system. The movie options alone were so extensive. I managed to watch Ilo Ilo and I was soo grateful. What a remarkable film but it could not have been more perfect than watching it on Singapore Airlines!

Sooorrryyy

I have been quiet lately. The past few days I have been been clearing my annual leave by sitting at home and enjoying boredom. This afternoon, I fly off to Ho Chi Minh for the weekend; a firm trip. Not much time to roam around as it will be packed with an Amazing Race activity and DnD but it is still a getaway. With plane tickets (SQ!) and accomodation (Sheraton!) provided for, I am even more excited – cheap thrill!

Sitting at home, lazing around is not a good thing. I am less inspired, my brain has “closed up”, I am less energetic and less adventurous! Here is hoping Saigon can WAKE ME UP!

Bye!!

Dibs Restaurant & Bar

Last night I had dinner at the newly-opened Dibs with my Bestie and the food experience was close to a revelation. Dibs describes itself as “serving up modern European cuisine” but called it is basically Asian-Western Fusion food. I read a few favourable reviews and knew I had to check it out. Luckily, my Bestie was equally game. It was a Thursday but by 8pm, all the tables in the restaurant were occupied; a good sign and a relief that there were other thrill-seekers like me other there. We decided on three of their widely ordered dishes and I found it strange when the food took a while to arrive. Then I realised all three were meant to arrive at the same time. No big deal as I was elated to see the crab cakes!
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Here is what we had yesterday evening:

meat butter – $15
veal marrow, teriyaki, bonito, parsley, baguette
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This was served alongside the baguette which I did not touch. The marrow was thankly flavoured due to the teriyaki sauce and the large pieces of salt provided much-needed seasoning to the bland marrow. The silky, buttery and oily texture of the marrow was contrasted with the bonito flakes. While enjoyable, marrow is always lost on me, and I have never understood the hype of it.

crabcakes – $30
crabcakes, bisque, leeks, togarashi
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I was most looking forward to this dish. Ever since I saw pictures of Ruth Chris’s Crab Cakes when it first opened in Singapore, I have been craving for this ever since. Dibs provided an unusual way of serving the cakes by providing Lobster Bisque and grilled Leeks to complement the crab. The crab cakes were so good. The smooth Lobster bisque was rich and creamy, and acted like a loose gravy to the fried cakes. The grilled leeks were lovely with it’s subtle sweetness; contrasting perfectly with the savoury crabs and bisque.

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This brought out the crab cake snob that I never knew existed. It was almost entirely crab with no hints of flour as a binding agent. The stuffed crab meat were seasoned with onions and cayenne peppers and were so light it came apart easily when I greedily tore into it. Crispy thin pankocrusted-exterior contrasted very nicely with the interior.

charred lamb – $28
lamb ribs, coriander, root vegetables
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Boy oh boy was this quite magnificent! My only complaint was the small portion; just two and half ribs?! The ribs were described as “exceedingly tender” and this showed when it fell apart onto the plate when I tried to lift it out. I would have preferred the top of the lamb to be more charred and crispy but damn, the meat was too tender for me to think about it!

Dibs was enjoyable but I would be more tempted to bring my family and friends back if the food portions were bigger and heartier. I understand it is a small plates concept but somehow I can still imagine bring friends back to other small plates establishment like Lolla but not Dibs. Still, this establishment proves that Fusion can be so so wonderful and any stigmatism should be shelved.

Olivia Cassivelaun Fancourt, The Arts House

I must tell you about my only Restaurant Week dining experience. It was a three course lunch at the aforementioned restaurant in the Arts House which is located just behind the Sir Stamford Raffles statute by the Singapore River. The food was “exquisite modern French cuisine“; basically French inspired but much Asian infusion. OCF’s food was surprisingly, and even shockingly, superb! When we pushed open the heavy door, we entered upon a small beautiful restaurant that was heavy on wood accents, and amble comfortable grey cushioned chairs. We sat by the counter and faced the open-planned kitchen. All the kitchen staff were Asian so I was excited for the Asian interpretation of classic French cuisine. And Chef Jonathan Koh did not disappoint. He knocked it out of the woods and astounded us with his interpretations of the French cuisine!

I was all ready for Restaurant Week to pass and boast about how I gave it a miss because it was not worth out and the whole concept just out to cheat diners. But when my sister showed me pictures of OCF and the food was all beautifully and expensively-lookingly-plated plus a 3 course lunch would cost $25++, I knew I had to dump my ego and seize the opportunity. So let me show you what we had.

We started off with warm pillowy-soft slices of sourdough bread complimented with a butter shaped into a pyramid sitting on a stone slab (commonly seen in Steakhouses where the grilled meat will be served on them). The sourdough bread was perfect with it’s tender interior contrasting with the crispy exterior. It reminded me of the delicious sweet bread in Australia. I swear the bread there are magical and so fond memories came flooding back to me as I was savouring the slice in OCF.

For starters, I had the L’(Euf sur L’(Eur << OCF Signature >>

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Eggs on Eggs, Cured Salmon. This was essentially a prettier, more expensive Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce. Nothing special, to be honest. The sauce was bland and did not register in me. The cured salmon tasted exactly like supermarket-bought smoked salmon. But waittt, this was the only disappointing dish because the other starter, which my sister got, was much better!

The Les Coquilles Saint-Jacques

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Hokkaido Sea Scallops, Capellini Pasta, Truffle Fragrance. This dish and the combination of flavours are very common in Singapore due to our deep love for truffle-flavoured food. Having said that, the pasta tossed with truffle oil and little green garnishers and served cold was extremely light, and cooked to al dente. Plus the thin scallop slices were so so fresh. This dish may be simple but could easily be butchered. OCF did not let that happen.

Then the main courses arrived and that is when OCF really shone. My sister had the Le Cochon; Iberian Pork Cheeks, Carrot Puree, Roasting Jus.

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While the pork cheeks were expectedly tender, it was that bright orange carrot puree that was outstanding. It was so smooth, so velvety, subtly sweet, and so very heavenly! There must have been a lot of butter and cream involved but I found myself generously smearing them on the two pieces of pork that I had.   

I had the cutely named Le Boeuf.

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U.S Dry Aged Beef, Koshihikari Rice, Sauce Bordelaise. This dish was a triumph! It arrived in front of me with the two pieces of beef boldly pinkish red - perfectly medium rare. It was juicy and beefy. The asparagus was still crunchy. And that little disk of bone marrow atop was extremely tasty thanks to the salty Sauce Bordelaise. I never understood bone marrow but I guess a seasoned-to-death sauce is required to bring out the charismatic nature of it. But it was the Koshihikari Rice that was the star of the dish. Each short rice grain was plump and luscious. There were generous amounts of both white and black sesame seeds that turned up the Asian flavour to another notch. Eating the beef and rice together did not feel like French dining to me but it was precisely this Asian component that set me right at home in OCF. It was comfort food and I still pine for this dish. 

For desserts, OCF was only too amazing and demonstrated a reason for their longevity. I was a right spoilt brat to request a change to the only dessert offered on the menu. It was a chocolate dessert and I just wasn’t feeling it. I just had a slice of Fullerton Hotel’s Chocolate Manjari Cake.  A three-layered ultra rich chocolate cake made from a thick layer of chocolate mousse, topped with a bitter chocolate ganache with a crunchy nutty bottom (a colleague’s birthday). It was divine but I was also chocolate-out at that point. The kitchen did not flinch when I requested a change and asked if I would like “apple” to which I said yes, of course. At that point, I was fully expecting a whole apple to be placed in front of me but no, not even close. What I got was this…

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La Pommes. Look at it! Isn’t it the cutest dessert you have ever seen? And not only did it look inviting, it tasted even better! Thin layer of densed sponge cake, little balls of Vanilla Poached Apples that were so juicy and crunchy. Then topped with the most refreshing Granny Smith sorbet with that thin crispy caramel crisp to provide the crunch factor. Seriously refreshing and strangely, clean-tasting! I am so glad I changed the chocolate dessert. I love chocolate but to excel in a non-chocolate ending provides endless joy for me.

Olivia Cassivelaun Fancourt was a wonderful experience. I got a return-visit 15% off voucher and I can’t wait to use it but I reckon I am going to gift it for someone else to discover the unexpected joy the same way I did.

Pork Chop Fried Rice from Din Tai Fing; the most blissful dish I ever ate

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People rave and run to Din Tai Fung for Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) but for me, it is the Pork Chop Fried Rice that makes my life so much more magical, special, and blissful. On this trip, I was probably the only diner who did not bother with the soup dumplings or the other delicious-looking starters. I wanted to go to heaven and all I needed was this plate! Sometimes I will order their Chilli Wanton but for this particular trip, I wanted to give myself, my whole self, to this plate of egg fried rice.

And boy did I reach heaven on my first bite and remained floating until the very last grain! Each grain of short-grain rice still remained distinct with a bite. Each grain was also well coated with beaten egg making every mouthful full of eggy bites. The fried rice was also especially clean. No brown or burnt bits yet it still tasted smoky and heavenly fragrant. The five-spice marinated pork chops atop are always thick, juicy, and exterior crispy. Din Tai Fung triumphed in creating this seemingly simple and effortless plate.

This plate was so good. I was trying my very best to exercise mindful eating by eating as slowly as I could and savouring every small bite, in the hopes that I would eat less of this fattening dish fried with oil. But dammit, after half hour, I still could not resist the last grain on the plate! Every bite was so danm comforting. I screamed out (in my head) at every bite. I didn’t want it to end. I considered ordering a second plate but my waistline called out to me. I went home to rave about it to my Mummy. I saw the look in her eyes. Her eyes twinkled. I know we will both go back for it. The only question is, shall we each have one or one to share? I know my Mummy will want to share so I must start thinking of reasons why we shouldn’t.

I feel so lucky to have been served this plate. I feel so lucky I have no egg allergies (actually there is such a history in my family but I can’t be bother to find out for myself). I feel so lucky to be single and not married to a person whose religion prohibits consuming pork. I feel so lucky this plate can be so easily attained. But mostly I feel so damn lucky to be a Chinese!

Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse

I passed the Bar last Friday, and a family treat to a steakhouse was in order. I knew it couldn’t be just any random steakhouses but one that must be reputable, and open on a Sunday afternoon (because we do not like heavy dinners.) After much thought and research, it had to be Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse. Morton’s and Bedrock were not open for lunch service on Sundays, and I have already been there many times. Ruth Chris and Cut were out of my budget (I am saving that for promotion to senior positions). Wooloomooloo was low on my list, I have been there twice and unimpressed plus they had some annoying and restrictive Sunday Brunch menu for $68++ per person. Forget it.

So Bistecca, it was and it was a good choice! The food was delicious and the steak was most impressive; my family were thrilled and so satisfied with the food! The best part of Bistecca was not only were there magnificent steak options on the menu, there were also pastas (which I had been craving for) and quite unusual ones too. My family allowed me to order whatever I wanted so I got for us all to share three pastas for starters, a 1.1kg Costata accompanied with four sides.

Annoyingly, I deleted some photos thinking I uploaded them onto this site but did not. Thank goodness I kept the really good dishes for keepsakes. But I still lost pictures of the Crema di Spinaci: Cream of Spinach with home-made spicy sausage, Patata: Tuscan fries rosemary crushed garlic, Beetroot Salad with Aged Ricotta, and the desserts: Tiramisu and Chocolate Tart. But without further ado, here is what we had on Sunday afternoon…

Starters: Warm bread with Olive oil. The bread was so tender and moist but the best part was the waiter happily bringing us a new tray even before we finished the two on our tables.

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Orecchiette in a Parsley Pesto, Roasted Prosciutto, Cherry Tomato, Pecorino Cheese and Vernaccia

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The roasted proscuitto called out to me. When it arrived, I was delighted to not see a green cheese-rich pesto. The orecchiette was wonderfully al dente.

Coniglio: Tagliatelle with Rabbit Ragout, pancetta and wild mushrooms

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It was the rabbit ragout that called out to me. When it arrived, I was disappointed to see a dry-looking pasta but this was quickly redeemed by the ultra tender and juicy rabbit. It was a more tender version of chicken thighs. Very impressive.

Granchio: Squid Ink Tagliolini with crab, fennel, chili and lemon

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I did not quite recall this. It left no impressionable impact on me.

Overall, the pastas were surprisingly light and unintentionally, perfect starters.

Now on the main course:

Asparagi: Charcoal grilled asparagus

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This was highly recommended on the internet and rightly so. Each asparagus were large and sturdy looking to the point of SOLID. Smoky and cooked through but still retained a bite – it was a very luxurious asparagus.

1.1kg Costata, Wagyu F1 bone-in rib eye, MBS 6+

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Joy. Pure joy. So so full of meat even between the huge bone. My Dad and I had the time of our life tearing off the meat from the bones because we firmly believe thats where the tendiest pieces are. Each slice was charred and crispy on the outside, pink and tender on the inside. So worth every penny of mine and I knew it was worth it when my family was still talking about it a day later; we all could not get enough of it! I firmly believe another visit will happen very very soon.

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Unabashedly, I grabbed an extremely rare piece, and another that was pure F.A.T. The pure fat piece was rich and so so soft. I felt like I was floating on clouds the entire time it was in my mouth.  It was the stuff of dreams, y’all!

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Three sauces were served alongside the magnificent meat; Salsa verde, Gorgonzola with mascarpone fresh herb, and Pepper with Balsamic reduction. They were not very memorable but then again, with the 1.1kg Costata, it was hard to remember anything else.
The desserts were also not very memorable but I love this place! I came for steak, it delivered, and more amazingness ensued! What else could I have asked for?!

Popeye’s, I’m so behind.

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So bad for the body but so good! The chicken skin so crispy and full of flavour. The buttermilk biscuit was even better than the I last had it, years ago. Extremely crispy exterior, tender soft interior. The Cajun fries, so beautifully irregular coated in a thin crispy batter.

An emotional day called for a heavy sinful lunch. I shall spend the rest of the day repenting.