Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sky On 57: Hawker Fare at Non-Hawker Prices

For the final meal venue with the family friend, I decided to pick one of the restaurants in Marina Bay Sands since she had yet to dine at the newer integrated resort. Taking a break from international cuisines, I thought it would be good to go after local flavours instead and at MBS, there should be no better place to do that than at Sky On 57!

Located at the Sands Skypark, Sky on 57 has local chef Justin Quek showcasing his take on traditional Asian food, fusing it with modern cooking techniques and refined ingredients. Although the restaurant's interior looks good with its elegant decor, the outside scenery is disappointing for now; A large part of the seating area oversees the under-construction Gardens By The Bay and unsightly cargo containers at Keppel Harbour, with relatively little seats facing the waterfront. So book early if you intend to have that view only!

Complementary Bread Bowl

I was hoping that they could pull off some Asian starters but the usual westernised bread appear instead. But don't get me wrong, the selection was fantastic. The onion roll, cheese bun and bread with bacon bits were all very nicely done in their own way, paired with creamy butter that seemed to be infused with truffle speckles but lacking in taste.

Poached egg with Dried Scallops and Mushrooms

This came as part of my 48++ 3-course business lunch. Full of creamy goodness, I guessed that it was a play on the traditional half-boiled eggs. If only they had toast soldiers to go with it!

Sakura Chicken Rice ($28.00)

Served with clear corn soup and greens, the friend commented that the chicken was just alright, losing out to her favourite Chatterbox. I had a bit of the rice and thought that the fluffy grains were well-oiled.

Bak Kut Teh, JQ's Beef Noodles

Served as a $32.90++ executive set lunch, the portion was seriously huge! They probably wanted diners to have the complete Bak Kut Teh experience, thus bundling in the braised trotters and fried you tiao. The core soup, however, was somewhat a letdown. It lacked the peppery punch and leaned towards the diluted side. The bowls of corn salad and fruits seemed rather out of place too.

Somehow, the word "noodles" misled me into thinking it was the yellow, alkaline type so I was kind of surprised to see horfun instead. Then it led to an unpleasant discovery of it being way too flimsy and mushy, that even picking them up with chopsticks became a problem. The soup stock was flavourful with mixture of beef slices and brisket chunks, but you probably couldn't tell that wagyu beef was used if they didn't state so in the menu.

Curry Fish

I thought I would give their most Asian-looking main course a go but sad to say, there was no wow factor at all. Well-spiced curry, overcooked fish meat, crispy pappadum, tangy achar. That was it. Easily obtainable at a fraction of the price elsewhere.

Pineapple Carpaccio

Just as the meal started well with bread, it thankfully ended even better with this visual tease. Sweet pineapple sliced so finely, taken with a scoop of uber-sour sorbet, pomegranate seeds and what I suspect to be grape jellies, it was an excellent play on taste as they all came together to be oh-so refreshing. Captivating!

As much as I want to praise Sky On 57 for bringing Asian fine dining to a whole new level, I can only do so in the literal meaning. The local dishes were not outstanding as compared to the western creations, while throughout the meal my mind kept drafting a list of places for better bak kut teh and curry fish that wouldn't burn a hole in your pocket. You can probably impress business clients who are on their first trip to Singapore but on my own, I see no reason to return anytime soon.

Sky On 57
Tower 1, Sands SkyPark
Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 8857
Check out their rotating lunch menu!

Taken with Nikon D70
Friday, September 23, 2011

Yan Ting: New Age Cantonese!

Our next meal with the family friend had me looking for Chinese restaurants. With excellent experiences at Li Bai and Summer Pavilion, it sure takes some effort to find another place with comparable standards. Off we go to explore Yan Ting!

Being the Chinese restaurant of St Regis, Yan Ting emits air of poshness yet retaining a cozy touch with its warm lightnings and cushioned armchairs. The semi-partitioned tables at the side are also great for smaller dining groups. As with almost all hotel Cantonese restaurants, staff had no issue conversing in the dialect and were attentive to our needs.

Ordering ala-carte for the night, we realised that the menu had a mix of traditional Cantonese fare and modern creations with influences from other cuisines. Condiment dips catered to Singaporeans with the appearance of diced green chillis, while pre-meal snack of candied cashew nuts was a nice change from the usual peanuts.

Roasted Pork, Sliced Pig Trotters

Before even digging in, our first appetiser already looked kind of odd as it was one of the, well, shortest cubes of pork belly that I have seen. It also could have been served more warmed. Thankfully, the skin was executed really well, so crispy that the crunching effect could be heard across the table!

Served chilled, the pork slices had tender lean meat and a gelatinous layer of skin, went nicely with a dip of white vinegar.

Pan-Fried Foie Gras

One of their bold creations! You could hardly go wrong with the fatty, oh-man-can-I-have-more goose liver, but what make it stood out was the pairing with Chinese Zhe Jiang Vinegar (浙江醋) to ease the greasiness. Interesting!

Fried Prawn with Mango

This came across as just good prawn rolls. While it was deep-fried to a crispy, golden brown with fresh and crunchy prawns, the mango taste was barely there as I found just a narrow strip of the fruit in every piece. Went well with Thai sweet chilli sauce.

Stir-Fried Jiao Bai, Garlic Pork Ribs

Before you mistaken it as noodles, this really was our veggie for the night. With the texture of bamboo shoot, Jiao Bai (茭白) are actually vegetables grown in the water and are popular among the Taiwanese and Shanghainese.

But I do notice that Chinese chefs tend to have little creativity in presenting off-menu items (think Li Bai's beef steak) or cooking methods. While they had options to fry it with condiments, we requested for it to be served plain (清炒) and it really looked and tasted as plain as it could get.

The pork ribs also didn't particularly stand out, much like an upmarket version of what you could get at Zichar places.

Oatmeal Dusted Cod Fish

My favourite dish of the night! A twist to the usual cereal prawns, Yan Ting used balls of cod fish instead and it was a joy to eat without the need to deshell or debone. The oatmeal coat was buttery and fragrant, perfect to go with a bowl of rice. Cleared every bit of it!

Hokkien Fried Rice, Beef Hor Fun

Don't ask me if this really is a hokkien dish, but I do know that it is very commonly found in Hong Kong but rarely seen here. Somewhat like Mui Fan (烩饭), it is served with a ladle of gravy stock but has greater depth with the fried rice base. The rendition here was good as the gravy wasn't overly starchy and the grainy rice was flavourful with "wok-hei".

The hor fun had the issue of not being served hot enough, but the flavours were there with tender beef slices. Serving portion seemed a tad small for 6 persons.

Mango Sago with Pomelo, Fried Yam

Ending on a sweet note, I liked how the mango mix was thick and creamy, while recalling the fried yam as simple but satisfying.

Dining at Yan Ting will surely cost you a bit, but the few culinary surprises that they managed to pull off, coupled with the pleasant overall experience will make the money more worthwhile. In fact, I made a return for its dim sum offering just a few weeks ago. That's another story for another time!

Yan Ting
29 Tanglin Road
St Regis Singapore
Tel: 6506 6888

Taken with Nikon D70
Monday, September 19, 2011

Stellar: View Like No Other!

If you have been following this blog, you will know that a family friend from HK will come visit us from time to time. And every time she's here, I will have the pleasure of planning almost all her meals! Having been to Equinox with her eons ago, I chose a place on even higher grounds this time: Stellar!

Located on the 62nd storey of One Raffles Place, Stellar is surely Singapore's tallest restaurant. I don't think there's a need to elaborate on how fantastic the view is, though you do have to choose between Marina Bay and downtown for window seats.

When you are done gawking at the outside, the interior of Stellar deserves some attention too, as the the white theme and elegant design set the perfect mood for a long dinner. Service was really pleasant too, as we were well taken care of by the same young lady for the entire night.

Complimentary Bread

Frankly, I was expecting something more exciting from a place of this calibre, but the bread munchie was surprisingly simple with a single slice of baguette. Oh well, at least it was warm and fluffy!

5 Type Sashimi Moriawase ($55.00), Tempura Futomaki ($20.00)

Freshness is key to sashimi and was what they promptly delivered. I particularly liked the scallops that came in between slices of zesty lemon for that refreshing touch. The maki came highly recommended by the staff but turned out to be really average. With crabmeat and avocado within, the battered skin didn't feel crispy, while it just had too much rice and too little ingredients on the whole.

Braised Cod Fillet ($40.00), Waldorf Salad with Kurobuta Pork Lardons ($22.00)

The five of us ordered a different main each and I got to steal a bite from all! The fish was pretty good but nothing mind-blowing, while the other was a salad that I would approve with hands and feet. Fresh apple cubes, crunchy walnut crumbs and a generous sprinkle of the crispy lard bits. A darn yummy one!

Truffled Risotto ($48.00), Roasted Suckling Pig ($48.00)

Cooked with poached Maine lobster, the risotto's texture was just right with the earthly smell and taste of prized truffles, much enjoyed by the family friend! I thought my mom's kurobuta pork belly was wasted to be served minced, but pairing it with apple & pear jelly and smooth mashed potato worked well anyway.

US Prime Sirloin ($65.00)

Served on a warm stone grill, my medium steak gave a good beefy chew with juicy flavours. I rekindled my love for bone marrow after the last encounter at L'Entrecote but alas, it just wasn't as memorable at Stellar. Crispy fries and shredded greens to complete the course!

Five Petites Platter ($30.00)

Helmed from the kitchens of sister cafe 1-Caramel, presentation was very pretty as the ladies awed at it. The Earl Grey Creme Brule stood out for its strong taste while I personally favoured the Sticky Date Pudding, the chocolate selections, however was only soso.

Even if you don't have the stomach for a glass of after-dinner wine, do remember to go head upwards for the rooftop bar, 1-Altitude. The night lights are even more spectecular here with an unobstructed city view. Don't get tipsy enough to climb over the edges!

While Stellar's food quality was decent, it was not necessary the best when comparing item for item. I felt that the price premium probably went to the view anyway. That being said, food sometimes do play second fiddle to ambience and Stellar probably fit into this category; a feast for the eyes!

Stellar @ 1-Altitude
1 Raffles Place, Level 62
One Raffles Place
Tel: 6438 0410

Taken with Nikon D70
Friday, September 16, 2011

Oriole Cafe: Lunch Without The Rush!

Weekday lunches always seem to be a hurried affair, be it at work or at school. Either you are pressed for time and have to stuff that rice down to keep the stomach happy, or your mind is bothered by deadlines and tasks till you don't really know what you are eating. Unless of course, you don't have classes or are on leave for the day, then its time to sought out that nice place for a chill-laxing lunch. Off to Oriole Cafe & Bar on such a day!

Located at Pan Pacific Suites, Oriole Cafe had made waves with its award-winning coffee creations awhile back. The hype seemed to have died down abit but nonetheless popular with the lunch crowd, packed with mostly office warriors who didn't seem to have a "1-hour only" break. Seeing that there were set lunches available, the girlfriend and I shared a 18++ set with additional ala carte items.

Iced Tea (Set Lunch), Iced Coffee ($6.00)

I couldn't quite remember what was the tea flavour (Lychee, perhaps?) that came with the set, but it wasn't too memorable and just served as a thirst quencher in our sunny climate.

I was looking forward to my coffee after hearing much about their cold brew technique and how it reduces coffee acidity. Alas, it didn't quite wow and gave a "that's it?" afterthought. Maybe its just me not knowing how to appreciate "kopi kosong", should have went for their signature Piccolo Latte instead.

Salmon Quiche (Set Lunch)

Served hot with a handful of refreshing greens, the buttery crust had a custard-like centre that was eggy and savoury. If only it came in a bigger portion!

Cubano Sandwich ($14.00), Cuban Pork Chops (Set Lunch)

With roasted pork, ham slices and Cheddar cheese pressed between warmed, fluffy baguette, it was a delightful combo that the girlfriend was pleased with. Served with potato wedges and similar greens, the overall portion still seemed a tad small.

I rarely trust pork chops that are not done by my mom, but the bet on Oriole's paid off well! Juicy and tender, it was great on its own as well as to mop up the tangy tomato-based sauce. Chickpeas were not overly mushy and served as a healthy alternate source of carbo.

Honey Crumble Affogato ($7.50)

Sharing this as a sweet end, we liked how the bitterness of espresso, sweetness of honeycomb and creaminess of vanilla bean ice cream all came together nicely. Deserved a return on its own!

Bill for two was $53.55 after taxes. Definitely more expensive than the average weekday lunch and I'm not sure if it was entirely worth the money. Big eaters might have an issue with the portions but then again, lunch was never meant to fill you up and make you fight the Z monster back at office. But if you are on a day off, then the hours spent lazing and people-watching will perhaps make the price worthwhile!

Oriole Cafe & Bar
96 Somerset road
Pan Pacific Services Suites #01-01 (Just outside of Somerset 313)
Tel: 6238 8348

Taken with Nikon D70
Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sunset Grill & Bar: Hot, Hot Wings!

While most of us are contented with buffalo wings that merely tickle the tongue, somebody has to think up of killer versions that go beyond breaking the sweat. After hearing so much of the legendary (or maybe notorious) buffalo wings at Sunset Grill and Bar, the girlfriend and I finally made a trip down with another couple!

But first, getting to the place was a pain in the ass, literally. Located deep behind Seletar East Camp (where btw, I spent 1.5yrs as a brave fit soldier), it would be madness to go there without a car as we circled rounds and rounds trying our luck at every bend. We even misled other lost sheep following behind us, going straight into dead ends and giving sheepish grins to the other drivers after U-turning.

And if you were to think that there would be plenty of empty seats at the forsaken place, you would be in for a major surprise as it was packed to the brim at barely 7pm. We wouldn’t even have gotten seats if not for reservations! While there was a nice outdoor beer garden, we went for the air-conditioned indoor seating that proved to be very useful later on.

Mini Chicken Burgers ($17.50)

Besides their famed wings, the place also served rather typical western options. Paired with hot chunky fries, these mini burgers we shared were actually pretty decent with juicy chicken patties and caramelized onion slices within. The couple friends also had a serving of pork chop that was unfortunately too tough for their liking.

Buffalo Wings ($17.50 for Level 1, Half Dozen)

Not to be over-ambitious, the four of us first shared a serving of level 1 that I thought was quite good. No doubt that they used frozen wings, but the Tabasco-based sauce was rather addictive as it worked like Sichuan 麻辣, with numbness building up the longer you chew.

But level 3 was a different matter altogether, I choked on the Tabasco fume as soon as it was served. It was so darn spicy that I gulped down gallons of water (Thank goodness it was free flow) and wiped off tears and sweats with dozens of tissue (Free too). Call me weak, but my face felt like it just suffered a stroke.

Bill for 4 was about 100odd with drinks and beer. Unique place to dine at, I thought the western fare at Sunset Grill was reasonable as I spied tasty-looking steaks on other tables. The wings will make great bar snacks at entry levels but simply ridiculous to swallow as it goes up. Price of wings increases with the levels too, though I got a feeling that there’s a decreasing marginal increase of spiciness, not that I have the courage to test it out though.

Conclusion: The hell-level 30 is eaten not for taste, just masochistic pride.

Sunset Grill & Bar
140B Piccadilly
Singapore Flying Club
Tel: 6482 0244

Taken with Nikon D70