Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wang Dae Bak: Grill Some Meat, Cook Some Noodles

Its funny how I'm writing this now given where I'm heading next (Major leak!), but Korean bbq has always been enticing for me. Think sizzling meat and boiling stews; what's not to like? While I haven't been to many of them, the one that I can count on for returns visits got to be Wang Dae Bak.

With one outlet at China Square (and another along Amoy Street), the popular place is hard to walk-in on weekends. Decor was really simple and raw; drum barrels as seats (doubling up as storage for your bags), shiny metalic tables and black-painted cooker hood. Place your order and watch the staff work in a jiffy.

Assorted Complimentary Banchan

As with all Korean meals, the accompanying small dishes are good enough to be a meal on thier own. The selections here are pretty wide, always seeing different dishes on my multiple visits. Our favourites were the mashed potato ball, sausages with beans and stewed beancurd skins that kept us munching throughout. Oh yes, chilled tea is complimentary and refillable too.

Bottled Hite - Large ($10.00)

A boys' night out calls for a beer. Actually any nights out with korean bqq should call fora beer. The Korean classic was nicely chilled, light and smooth to pair with what comes next. I forgot to take a proper photo of the egg mixture (peeking out in the corner) that they poured into the mini dam, making a really good fluffy ommelette after some time.

Army Stew ($35.00), Seafood Pancake ($18.00)

If you love your processed meat and instant noodles, this got to be the ultimate comfort food. With generous amount of sliced luncheon meat, sausage and pork belly within, the huge pan of tomato and bean-based soup is excellent to be shared, with everyone eventually attacking the springy noodles. Top up one more noodle cake if it ain't enough!

The other one is a sharing essential as well, having a crispy exterior with soft, floury inside, filled with handfuls of chives and seafood mix (think prawns, oysters and clams) that make every bite flavourful.

Pork Belly ($20.00), Beef Short Ribs ($28.00)

With the oh glorious meat being nicely marbled and fresh, rendering them juicy and tender was just a matter of timing on the hot grill as we DIYed to our liking. Good things do come in small packages.

Total bill for 3 was $130.65 after taxes. Not the cheapest Korean BBQ around but given the quality and portion (of the stew and pancake, not meat frankly), it was indeed a tasty treat. Need another bout of meat and beer soon.

Wang Dae Bak Korean BBQ Restaurant
#01-64, China Square Central
22 Cross Street
Tel: 6225 2646

Taken with HTC One
Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mikuni: The Art of Robatayaki

While teppanyaki and yakitori restaurants are fairly common in Singapore, I think the same can't be said for Robatayaki, aka Japanese-styled barbecue. Eager to be properly introduced to the cooking style, a buddy and I decided to take the luxurious route via Mikuni, with plenty of help from our FAR card membership.

Located at Fairmont besides Szechuan Court, Mikuni took over Inagiku (Gosh i remember that place for their awesome tempuras and unagi) years ago and has established itself to be among the top Japanese restaurants in Singapore. Besides very entertaining teppanyaki counters, it also has a dedicated robatayaki room where the daily selections are displayed and cooked in front of you, served by chefs using long wooden paddles.

Rather than rackling our brains, we had the 158.00++/pax Robatayaki Tour Course which included most, if not all of their signatures.

Crispy Ebi Cracker, Assorted Sauce Dips

Starting with savoury, crunchy nibbles, these were pretty addictive as we looked forward to our meal. There were different sauces and flavoured salts to pair with meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, which I vaguely remembered the thick miso one as my favourite.

Complimentary House White

A little extra for Friday night unwinding that I redeemed using one of my FAR card welcome vouchers. Not a big fan of Chile wine, but still quite easy on the throat.

Hokkaido Sea Urchin and Tenshi Prawn with Mozuku Seaweed, Kampachi with Black Truffle Sauce

Served fresh and creamy, the prized roes were paired with a sweet, crunchy prawn and very fine seaweed, which the chilled combination felt very appetizing. The other, a hot favourite at Savour 2014, was equally delectable (and pretty) with flower petals and a strong truffle fragrance.

Seasonal Fish, Odori Prawn Shioyaki

I can't remember the exact type of fish, but it tasted like cod abeit with a firmer texture that was much to my liking. The prawn too was thumbs up with thick, succulent meat, which the natural flavours were magnified with a bit of salt.

Hokkaido Scallop with Sweet Corn and Asparagus

Cooked in its own juices with a dash of butter, the rich-tasting shellfish was oh-so-good with the broth, which also made nice drizzles for the barbecued greens.

Kagoshima Wagyu, Kurobuta Pork Belly

Gorgeous to look at when raw, tasted even better when cooked as the well-marbled beef cubes were full of robust, buttery flavours with tender texture. The pork belly, however, was the only blemish in the otherwise perfect meal as we found it a tad too tough and dry.

Complimentary Snacks, Kyoto Nishin Soba

Somemore nibbles as the pressed anchovies and cuttlefish made excellent alcohol companions. Carbs for the night came in the form of soba in a light, soy sauce-based soup, along with a tasty herring fillet that took me by surprise, in a good way.

Kyushu Musk Melon

I'm starting to understand why the fruit is so extravagently priced, as I honestly cannot remember tasting a melon that's as naturally sweet as this. Glad to finally taste its magic without having to burn a hole on buying one.

Total bill for two was $191.85 after FAR card discount and taxes. While a meal at Mikuni certainly don't come cheap, I think it is something worth saving up for with its excellent ambience, thoughtful presentation and of course, top-notch food quality. Definitely heading back to max out the FAR card benefits on it.

Level 3, Fairmont Singapore
80 Bras Basah Road
Tel: 6431 6156

Taken with Nikon D7100
Wednesday, April 02, 2014

SzeChuan Court: Dim Sum Attempt

I'm usually not too adventurous with dim sum places in Singapore, reason being that I stick to the good ones (think IT Great World) and have encountered too many bad ones. But since my Feed at Raffles membership counted Szechuan Court as one of its restaurants, I guess there's no harm to try it out on weekends.

Housed within Raffles City/Fairmont Singapore, the Si Chuan restaurant had a modern, cheerful decor with plenty of natural light. Service was prompt and courteous, with Cantonese being exchanged regularly between patrons and staff. The ala carte dim sum menu changes once every few months, so this particular visit carried mainly Chinese New Year creations.

Roasted Pork ($28.00), Yam & Pumpkin Cake ($6.80)

Regrettably, we had to start our Sunday brunch on a low note as the roast pork was tough and a tad salty, with the crispy skin turning chewy rather quickly. A pet peeve was that the belly meat came with the bottom layer of soft bone; a big nono for me. The other item pulled the score even as we liked the texture of mashy pumpkin and yam, crispy exterior and how it had the fragrance of sesame seeds.

Scallop Siew Mai ($9.80), Mixed Mushrooms Dumpling ($8.80)

With the first one being a decent attempt on the classic topped with a touch of luxury, we were also happy with the latter for its thin skin and chokeful ingredients, giving off a faint truffle-like smell.

Char Siew Bun ($7.80), Prawn & Yam Fritter ($8.80)

The staple bun was alright without being overly sweet and had pine nuts within, while the 芋角 wasn't the best I have tried with yam bits being too chunky.

Steamed Glutinous Rice ($8.80)

For the carbs, we had the piping hot glutinous rice with savoury chicken bits within and a slice of sweet waxed sausage. Fair but nothing outstanding

Total bill for two was $52.85 after FAR card discount. With relatively high pricing, small portions and above-average quality, I probably wouldn't be a regular here. Then again, as a Si Chuan restaurant, I shouldn't expect too much out of its Cantonese selection. Besides, I'm not exactly complaining with FAR card privileges (while it lasts!).

SzeChuan Court
Level 3, Fairmont Singapore
80 Bras Basah Road
Tel: 6431 6156

Taken with Nikon D7100
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cục Gạch Quán: The World of Traditional Vietnamese Cuisine

It would be rude of me to visit HCMC without sitting down for a proper Vietnamese meal, so a little research and recommendation by my Vietnamese friend (always good to have a local's approval) had us visiting Cục Gạch Quán for lunch.

Occupying an entire terrace house, Cục Gạch Quán feels like home the moment you stepped through the doors, filled with casual wooden tableware, colourful curtain drapes and antique furnitures everywhere. It would be a good idea to make reservations, though I gambled that the place would have walk-in tables for a late lunch. While the thick menu can be quite daunting at first, the friendly waiters are always keen to recommend some dishes for your visit. Thankfully, the English menu didn't tout a higher price too.

Fresh Fruit Juices

I realised that regardless of what you choose, the juices always turn out to be pretty sour if you drink it on its own (served with honey though). While my friend had an Orange Juice, she helped me order an exotic one with the scientific name of Spondias Dulcis, aka the Ambarella fruit. Honestly, I still don't know what that was, but nonetheless sourishly refreshing for a start.

Pork and Shrimp Salad

While most people raved about Thai salads, I found the Viet counterparts more to my liking. Lightly tossed in a sweet-tasting dressing, the mix of fresh vegetables, nuts, crunchy prawns and pork belly strips resulted in a very appetising starter.

Fish Stew in Claypot, Mixed Rice in Fish Stew Sauce

Served simmering in some sort of bean paste sauce, the fish chunks were well-marinated and good to go with rice, which you could also opt to have it fried (more like a mix I suspect) with the same bean paste sauce to add a savoury touch.

Stir-fried Pumpkin Flowers with Sliced Beef, Vegetable Soup with Crab Meat

Now this was definitely a first for me, since I didn't even know that pumpkin had flowers. An interesting, tasty greens for the meal. The soup also felt very homecooked, with a subtle sweetness coming from the crab meat.

On the second visit with my Singaporean buddy, we encored some of the dishes but also had Caramelized Pork Stew and Chilli Prawn Stew that were really satisfying as well. I can't remember the prices, but would set you back about 20-40sgd per pax. If you want a cosy introduction to Vietnamese family-styled dishes, Cục Gạch Quán is surely a great place to start.

Cục Gạch Quán
10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh,
District 1, Saigon
Tel: +84 8 3848 0144
Directions: This place is a little out of the way in city centre. So just hail a taxi la

Taken with Nikon D70 and HTC One
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

3G Trois Gourmands: 7 Courses of French Indulgence

Being a former French colony (with baugette becoming oh-so-important in Banh Mi), I was keen to make time for a french meal in Ho Chi Minh City. After much research and advices, 3G Trios Gourmand came out tops and oh my, what an experience it turned out to be!

Located a little outside city centre in expatriate-centric District 3, 3G Trois Gourmand is housed in a villa-turned-restaurant with an outdoor swimming pool and guest rooms available for booking. Despite making an overseas reservation a couple of days prior to visiting, only the alfresco tables were available which made shooting really difficult. For the second visit a month later, I learnt my lesson and booked way in advance, finally getting a table in the cosy dining hall.

Menu-wise, I went straight for the 7-Course Dinner at USD45 (nett!), choosing 3 starters, 1 mains and 1 dessert. They have a 5 and 6 course choice too but really, just go all out! While the staff were friendly and well-trained, I was lucky to have restaurant owner Gil himself taking my orders and making rounds on my first visit, cracking jokes with us and mentioning that he makes frequent trips to Singapore, for the casinos apparently!

Truffle Scrambled Eggs

Creamy with whiffs of the prized fungus, I could eat this for breakfast everyday.

Duck Foie Gras Spring Roll, Lobster Tail With Artichokes

The selections of starter available is pretty daunting to pick just three. During my first visit I had a pretty good crabmeat salad and duck ravioli, while on the second attempt the spring roll was excellent with melt-in-your-mouth foie gras that came with a playful foie gras macaron and foie gras terrine. The lobster tail was fresh and meaty paired with good ol seafood bisque foam.

Scallops With Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Succellent scallops panseared and topped with a pinch of caviar, served on a bed of smell-so-good mashed potato and the same seafood bisque foam, this was awesome enough for me to have it on both visits.

Lime Sorbet

A light, refreshing palate cleanser to prepare you for the mains!

Pork Roulade, Beef Cheek With Foie Gras

While the roulade was thumbs up for its tender, fatty texture and served with greens and ommelette, the real star got to be the oh-so-good beef cheeks that was topped with a decadent piece of foie gras. While they also have grilled tenderloin on the menu, this had to be the one mains to order for beef lovers.

Homemade Cheeses

Think you are done? Not quite and be ready to be mindblown by amount of homemade cheeses served next. From fresh truffle cheese and cheese with spring onion, to mid aged one which I couldnt remember the variants, to really ripe old aged and harden ones that I honestly couldnt quite stomach (or sniff). Besides the truffle cheese, my favourite was this mid aged cheese with red wine and grapes, lending a balance of sweetness to the savoury overload. In case you are wondering, even if you were to come here alone, the same amount of cheese will still be served. And no one, according to the owners, have finshed all of them. Ha!

Apple Tart Upside Down With Vanilla Ice Cream

Desserts weren't exactly the restaurant's strength, as we found them to be too sweet for our palate regardless of whichever choice made. Still, I liked the combination of my warm tart and ice cream.

Petite Four, VSOP Tariquet Bas Armagnac

As if you aren't full by now, they had one last mini macaron (lime!) for you, and a really, really strong brandy (56%, I think) to erm, help you digest.

My Vietnamese friend and I with the friendly owners in the wine cellar

With chatty, sincere English-speaking service and memorable food served in a charming villa, it was one of the best meals I had in a very long while. If you have time for only one fine dining meal in HCMC, this had to be it. Note: I remember them mentioning that the restaurant will be shifting but I couldnt exactly remember where or when. Do give them a ring beforehand to confirm!

3G Trois Gourmands
39 Tran Ngoc Dien Street, Thao Dien Ward,
District 2, HCM City, Vietnam
Tel: (08) 3744 4585
Click for Website and Menu

Taken with Nikon D70 and HTC One