Monday, May 30, 2011

Memoirs of Food: 3 Years of Blogging!

A birthday Flor Mango Pie for the ever supportive girlfriend and myself

Wow, it had already been 3 years since I wrote my first entry! It seemed not too long ago that I was starting out with my Sony T70, capturing weekend indulgence as a hungry, angsty NS boy. Fast forward 3 years later, the angsty-ness might be gone (I hope so) but the hunger never stops coming!

In true blue business student style, let me start off with some facts and figures. For FY (Food Year, not Financial la) ending May 30th 2011, there were 107 food entries written, 9 travel tales recounted and 5 countries (6th one coming soon!) covered. Viewership for the blog has increased steadily too, to an average of 270 unique visitors a day.

The most popular post was Starz Buffet @ Hard Rock Hotel, followed by Delifrance Breakfast Buffet and 潮州妹 Porridge Buffet (Closed, unfortunately). We seriously love buffet, don’t we?

Just don’t ask me to provide an income statement too, because if food blogging made any business sense, I would have been in receivership already.

Throughout another year of blogging, I had this bugging thought at the back of my head: The popularity of this blog. While viewership seemed to have increased, the number of known responses aka comments written seemed to be limited, given mostly by friends in this community who remained close to my heart. Neither do I know where this blog stands among the Singapore food blogs. Thus I contemplated with signing up for blog awards or engaging in product giveaways just to see if the viewership is a truthful reflection of its known existence. The latter, if you have noticed, is very effective in invoking comments and responses.

Thankfully, and I am glad that I did, I snapped out of it. It all boils down to one simple reason; The very purpose of this little writing space of mine is not to garner fame, but to store memories of my favourite hobby and to share my love for food with anyone, everyone. There is no need for awards to confirm the success, if it is even quantifiable, of this blog. The written records of the awesome meals I had and the ability to excite people with the places I went are already more than rewarding for me!

This leads me to share another viewpoint of using the word “review”. In fact, I’m pretty sure the word was never used in any of my entries. This is kind of anal, but I just don’t like to use it as I feel that it is too heavy to handle. Who am I to critique and make seemingly expert remarks on the hard work of chefs, when all I do is to enjoy the fruit of their labour? Not that I am shirking responsibilities for my words, but after all, I am just someone with my own taste preferences and happens to honestly write my thoughts out loud. That’s it.

TAB Burger. I wish I could offer you a bite out of this

Alright that’s enough chunks of reflections for the year! I would still very much like to thank everyone for reading my posts and hope that every visitor, whether regulars or stumbled upon, silent or outspoken has enjoyed my write-ups or found them useful in one way or another!

Year after year, I would also want to thank my family, friends and particularly the girlfriend for their patient stomachs at almost every meal. Pretty shots are important, but so is hot, fresh food!

There won’t be any cosmetic changes to the site (less lazy, more still loving the layout), but I will probably be doing some re-categorization of labels to make searching easier!

Keep eating!

30th May 2011,
Thursday, May 26, 2011

Baikohken: Show Me The Meat!

The thought of a good bowl of ramen never fails to make me hungry. Solid soup stock, al dente noodles, melting charsiew and the gooey egg yolk. Sounds gratifying just by writing it down! And on my never-ending quest for good ramen, we finally tried out Baikohken!

Located at North Canal Road, the tiny eatery was a short walk away from Raffles Place MRT. Much like a typical ramen shop in Japan, it was squeezy with tables closely packed together. Staff worked quickly to take your orders, deliver them and politely hope that you would finish faster to give up your seats for the queue outside.

By the way, complimentary wheat tea was served at every table, a pleasant gesture in times where restaurants are trying to rip you off tap water.

Gyoza ($6.50)

Though I would always lament how we didn't have much choices for side orders, we would still succumb to the trap of "must share something beside noodles". Furthermore, time after time, I would say how it didn't quite match up to Chinese pan-fried dumplings. No surprises here too, though I welcomed its crispy base and thin, chewy skin.

Shoyu Charsiew Ramen ($19.00)

Before coming, I knew that Baikohken was reputed for their generous servings, especially on the charsiew, so I had to verify this myself. Boy, it was true after all! For a normal order, there were three huge slices of charsiew that were unseen at other ramen places. Each cut was of a suitable thickness with rims of the prized fats. The lean meat however, could have been a bit more tender for my liking.

However, I hate to say that was the ramen's only attraction. The noodles was curly, thin and a tad overcooked in my opinion. The broth, while looking promising on hindsight, could have been thicker and more robust in flavour.

Shio Ramen, Half Portion ($10.50)

Knowing that not everyone could finish their huge portions, they were thoughtful enough to provide half servings, but even that came with one huge slice of charsiew! Shio flavour didn't spark much of my interest either, while the egg was just moderately flowing.

Bill for two was $37.50 with no service charge and GST already in price. Baikohken definitely wins in terms of quantity to price ratio, but frankly I wasn't too impressed with its overall quality. At least now I know where to go for a charsiew fiesta!

7 North Canal Road
Tel: 6534 3808

Taken with Nikon D70
Monday, May 23, 2011

Urban Bites: My First Lebanese Meal!

I think its not easy to venture out of our usual choices of cuisine to try something exotic. First is you have no idea where to go, then you don't really know what to order at the restaurant and third is after eating, there is nowhere to benchmark on how good or authentic the food is, only a personal opinion of like it or not.

Then again if you don't try, you will never find out! With abit of help from MakanDeals (Complimentary $25 cash voucher for NTU Deli Aprecio Club members!), I got my first taste of Lebanese food!

Situated at one of the shophouses along Telok Ayer Street, Urban Bites is a fuss-free eatery serving Mediterranean and Western cuisine. The menu is mostly made up of Lebanese food due to the chef's origins. The girlfriend and I seemed to be the first diners for the early evening, but a steady stream of office warriors strolled in later with a large group of Caucasians having a chatty gathering of sort. One thing to note was that some of the tables were in a fan shape, which made resting of arms rather awkward.

When in doubt on what to order, the easiest way is to look out for "Chef's Recommendation" next to the item, or simply ask the staff! Here we go!

Ayran Yogurt Drink, Sweet ($3.00)

A cool drink to start us off! It tasted like a watery (not diluted) yogurt with sweetener, while a savoury version was available for the more adventurous!

Mezza Platter ($18.00)

This came recommended as a bestseller and perfect for sharing, no reason not to have it!

Unfortunately, despite its colourful and enticing presentation, we couldn't quite get used to the taste of their cold salads, Tabbouleh (Parsley Salad) and Fattoush (Bread Salad), the dips of Hommos (Chickpea Puree) and Motabal (Brinjal Puree) became heavy after awhile and the Falafel (Fried Chickpea Croquette) wasn't really our thing. Don't take my words thinking that it wasn't good, you just have to try it for yourself to see where you stand!

Lebanese Bread ($3.00), Zaatar With Cheese ($6.00)

To go with the platter, we had a portion of their staple bread that had a nice smokey crust and chewy centre. The Zaatar had a base that was very similar to the bread and was topped with cheese and dried thyme, giving it s savoury touch with herbish aftertaste. In fact, both reminded me of Italian thin crust pizza but with very different toppings!

Mixed Grill ($20.00)

Now this, was like very much! The skewers of lamb, chicken and beef were very juicy and flavourful, marinated with herbs that I couldn't quite describe but nonetheless very enjoyable. The garlic mayonnaise went nicely with the kebabs, while the accompanying saffron rice was fragrant and fluffy. Left an excellent impression!

Banana Pancake ($6.00), Assorted Baklawa ($1.00/piece)

Ending with a sweet treat, the made-to-order pancake was good to eat while it was warm and chewy, but that was about it. We were stuffed beyond words (all that dough!) at this point, but to make up for the $60 minimum expenditure condition of the voucher, the girlfriend packed home some pretty phyllo pastries that were stuffed with assorted nuts and honey syrup.

Total bill for two was about $35 after voucher discount. Glad that I tried the cuisine for the first time ever, though it still remained pretty foreign for my taste. A few weeks later, I recommended a friend to bring a friend (who was craving for Mediterranean food) here and she told me that her friend left very impressed by its quality and authenticity! As for me, the tasty kebabs will be the biggest draw for a return!

Urban Bites
123 Telok Ayer Street
Tel : 6327 9460
Not sure if you will like their food? Check out their online menu first!

Taken with Nikon D70
Friday, May 20, 2011

CJ Dining IN: What's With The Flour?

When the girlfriend started working awhile back, her first pay finally gave me a valid reason to freeload, as she treated family to meals and I tagged along without guilt. Don't you worry that I'm bullying her, I can assure you that's nowhere near the truth, really.

Now before my life gets threatened, the story goes that we were thinking of a place for her to bring my mom and grandma for Sunday bunch. Wanting to try new places for dim sum, we eventually decided on Crystal Jade Dining IN!

Located at Vivocity, CJ Dining IN had a more upmarket concept as compared to the CJ Kitchen outlets. Very packed for brunch, decor and furnishing were more lavish and the huge panel glasses gave an excellent view of Resorts World @ Sentosa.

Snacks ($3.00), Tea ($1.20/pax)

By the way, I'm not sure if you know, most dim sum places are actually able to vary dish quantity according to the number of diners. The standard serving here was three pieces in each dish, though they were more than willing to serve in fours for us. At extra cost, of course.

Deep Fried Whitebait ($8.00), Rice Roll in XO Sauce ($7.00)

Our first dish was rather suitable as an appetiser, for the strips of soft fish had a crispy coating and made us hungry for more.

Although the XO sauce was nice, the steamed rolls had no layering effect and sort of disintegrated to form a lumpy mass.

Roasted Pork Belly ($9.00), Congee with Sliced Fish & Century Egg ($9.00)

Looking rather awkward, the foremost 3 pieces were obviously not from the same batch as the rest, though I had nothing to complain about its crispy skin, wobbly fats beneath and tender lean meat.

I always thought that I could rely upon CJ's congee collection for comfort food, but the standard here seemed to be subpar as it was rather plain-tasting and had lesser ingredients as compared to CJ Kitchen.

BBQ Pork Pastry ($5.20), Egg Tarts ($4.40)

We started off on a good note as the 叉烧酥 was simply faultless. Ample drizzle of sesame seeds, flaky, buttery skin with juicy sweetened pork fillings. A really outstanding one!

Unfortunately, things started to get a little downhill as the egg tart skin didn't quite crumble nor had a layered texture. Fillings was eggy and smooth though.

Shrimp Dumplings ($4.80), Pork Dumplings ($4.40)

The 虾饺 failed the skin test completely, torn as I picked it up where it was stuck to the paper liner. I usually wouldn't fault a 烧卖 either, but this was way too plain after getting pampered by the likes of Royal China and Imperial Treasure. Enough said.

BBQ Pork Bun ($4.80), Chicken Feet ($3.50)

The fillings was as good as the pastry version, but the issue was again the exterior being too thick and dry for my liking. As for the other one, it was just as normal as braised chicken feet could get.

Flowing Custard Bun ($4.80)

I remembered when I was young, flowing custard bun wasn't really a mainstream dim sum, but it sure grew in popularity over the years where restaurants compete to create the best rendition!

And the best, definitely didn't apply here. I had no idea what the orange colour was for nor had any taste to it. Yet again to prove my point for bad flour skin, the entire bottom layer was peeled off alongside the paper wrapper. The filling was just alright, could have more volume in contrast to its thick walls.

Total bill for 4 was $85.55 after taxes. We weren't quite satisfied with the quality here, evident in almost all of their flour products having troubles to create a decent skin. A surprising conclusion for the Crystal Jade group which had given me positive experiences for all my other meals. I guess its time to revisit the Kitchen outlets already, just to be sure!

Crystal Jade Dining IN
1 Harbourfront Walk #01-112
Tel: 62785626

Taken with Nikon D70
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Genki Sushi: iSushi Express!

Anybody remembers Genki Sushi? Ranking alongside Sakae and Ichiban, the brand was among the early ones to introduce conveyor belt sushi to Singaporeans, before disappearing all together a couple of years ago. Now, its back with a technological twist!

Its quite rare for me to write on such recent meals (this happened last Thursday!) but I thought given the store's location at Orchard Central, it would be better to post this quickly. The mall is another of those that I have no faith in attracting crowds, with eateries hiding in obscure corners and many original tenants calling it a day already. Weekday dinner was a sleepy affair as the place was barely filled up.

Green Tea ($1.50/person)

As with most conveyor belt sushi, green tea here is DIY refillable with a hot water dispenser at the side. The idea of providing green tea powder was good as it allowed us to vary the intensity level!

But as I gleefully turned to the belt to see what was making its round, all I saw was an empty lane with occasional advertisement plates. Huh? Erm.. now what, nothing to eat already?

Of course not! Each table actually had an iPad that was preloaded with the Genki Sushi App, serving as an electronic menu. Just scroll through, add selections your cart and send your order to the kitchen!

And how would the food arrive? There were two railway tracks on top of the conveyor belt, each had a cute bullet train-like carrier that would travel between the tables and kitchen, stopping in front of your table if it was your order. You would then take your dishes and send the train back to the kitchen with the press of a button. Fun and creative!

So technically, it was possible to intercept others' orders if your hands were quick enough, which somehow reminded me of the Mahjong term 截胡. Oh well, don't be evil and irritate the hungry people further down!

Salmon Aburi with Pollack Roe ($2.30), Unagi ($2.30)

One major advantage of the system was that food was, or at least seemed to be fresher. Both of these orders arrived warm as the salmon particularly stood out with its melting fatty bits and smokey roe. Unagi was good too as it didn't have the cold, rubbery chew.

Lobster Salad Gunkan ($2.30), Minced Tuna Belly Gunkan ($2.30)

Despite knowing that probably no real lobster meat was used, this was still one of my favourite sushi creations! The other sushi was the only one that we didn't enjoyed for the night as the raw, fishy taste overwhelmed badly.

Tuna Salad Gunkan ($2.30), Tamago ($1.80)

Two of the most common creations, though the tamago was the only one that came on a kiddish Hello Kitty plate.

Spicy Salmon Handroll ($2.30)

Nothing particularly outstanding, but at least it was decently fresh with a tinge of spiciness.

Petite Oyaku Don ($3.80), Deep-fried Soft Shell Crab ($5.80)

There were also a small selection of grills, deep-fried food and dons on the menu. Given its price, I thought the mini don was quite a steal with the juicy, crispy chicken cubes and slightly liquid egg with sweet onion. Comfort food!

The crab was better than what I would expect from sushi chains too, as it was meaty and thankfully not dripping with oil.

Torpedo Prawns ($3.80), Yasai Tempura ($5.80)

The girlfriend actually preferred the breadcrumb type over the tempura batter type, if she say so then! Vegetables were also very fresh as the mushrooms, brinjals and capsicums were chunky and juicy. I like!

Vegetable Fritters ($3.80)

Arriving in the form of a mini tower, the onion, carrots and potato strips were nicely fried with a thin coat of batter, reminding me of a layer of onion fritters in a hamburger but with more flavours and bite. Strangely addictive! Although I could have done without the tiny shrimps that cost slightly more.

Bill for two was $51.67 after taxes. Don't expect to get blown away by the food here, as it was after all, still an affordable sushi chain catering to casual diners. The meal was more fun with new technology in place and I was constantly amused by the busy train scooting passed me with sashimi and sushi on it. With some of the appealing items (Chilli Crab Mantou!) still unavailable, I am sure of a return!

Genki Sushi
#03-32, Orchard Central
181 Orchard Road
Tel: 62380900

Taken with Nikon D70