Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shots: Laze The Afternoon Away With a Latte!

Its nice to see that we have a lot more cafe choices these days other then the usual big names. And the person that you can be sure to rely on for the latest coffee joints is Gavin, who never fails to amaze me with the discoveries he made. I'm not a big fan of coffee, but the girlfriend and I decided to check out one of the earlier entrants to the cafe trend: Shots!

Located in the so-many-things-to-try Ann Siang Hill enclave, Shots served a neat range of coffee and light bites. The minimalist decor and quiet cliente was perfect for a Saturday afternoon with a good book or in my case, boring notes in hand.

Hazelnut Latte ($6.00), Tiramisu Latte ($6.00)

Seemed like both of us wanted something more than just regular Latte! As the base was smooth with bursts of coffee aroma, the girlfriend liked the distinct hazelnut flavour while I'm pretty satisfied with my tiramisu-tainted one and its sprinkling of cocoa powder.

Honey Baked Ham Fougasse ($11.80), Ham & Cheese Croissant ($5.80)

Frankly, I thought these were really overpriced. While both were decent and served warm, I really didn't fancy paying close to twenty bucks for something of minute portion and easily whipped up at home.

Bill for two was $29.60 with no additional taxes. With so many other interesting places to explore, it might be a long time before making a return trip. But if I do, at least I know that my afternoon will be well-spent with a good cuppa in one hand, and hopefully not with notes in the other!

Shots Espresso Bar
8 Ann Siang Hill
Tel: 6224 8502

Taken with Nikon D70
Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dolce Vita: Sweet Living With Excellent Italian Fare!

When dad came back for his birthday this year, the foodie friends were betting that I would coax him into celebrating it at CUT by Wolfgang Puck. Well that was a very high possibility given our love for steaks, but I knew that something else will take an even higher precedence; good Italian food! And so we made a reservation at Dolce Vita!

Located at the poolside of Mandarin Oriental and helmed by One Michelin-Starred chef Marco Pedrelli, Dolce Vita is a real pretty place to bring your date to or for a quiet family dinner. The al fresco area was charming with the citylights while the spacious indoor seating was soothing with its orange hue (reminded me of The Line actually) and modern furnishing. Service was also very much commendable as we were well attended to throughout the meal.

Bread Basket with Dips

There was just a single choice of warmed mini baguette, though I remember the dips as rather tangy and appetizing.

Salmon Cream Cracker, Salomon Undhof Pfaffenberg ($100.00)

Served as amuse bouche, the salmon cream was squeezed upon a sesame cracker, bore no fishy aftertaste and had a smooth texture. Made us look forward to our orders already!

Choice of alcohol for the night was a bottle of Austria Riesling. Still not as good as the German stuffs but definitely better than their Australian counterparts.

Carpaccio dello Chef ($26.00), Asparagi Alla Griglia($26.00)

As always, the family's favourite Italian starter made its appearance! Though the slices of raw beef looked a little more pink than usual, it was nonetheless fresh and flavourful, going well with rocket salad and shaved cheese.

The second starter came as a chef's recommendation. Strips of lightly grilled asparagus were paired with shaved Iberico Ham and drizzled with mushroom ragout, as the individually complex flavours balanced each other nicely. Impressive!

Tris Di Pasta ($36.00)

Not sure which pasta to go for? Let the chef choose for you then! Picking three signature creations into tasting portions, this dish allowed us to try more with less!

Crab Ravioli - Small packages of joy that was succulent and brimming with sea goodness.

Wild Forest Mushroom Tortellini - Juicy, earthly flavours with a delightful cream sauce.

Oxtail-Foie Gras Cannelloni - Served on a bed of sauteed spinach, it was the only one that I thought was a waste of quality ingredients. Couldn't quite taste the foie gras richness or the tender touch of oxtail shreds.

Risotto Con Tartufo Nero ($28.00), Linguine Ai Gamberoni ($36.00)

Dolce vita sure didn't scrimp on the prized black gold here! With the rice cooked to perfect hardness and blended with sliced mushrooms and cheese, the truffle aroma was very evident in every mouthful. My mom joked that people might mistaken the smell as a gas leak, but definitely not for us. Awesome!

The last pasta that we shared was still very good, but inevitably paled in comparison to the rest. Al dente noodles with a quality mix of seafood in light white wine sauce, very well done on its own but didn't manage to wow.

Tiramisu ($18.00), Torta Mele ($18.00)

Two sweets for sharing! The classic one was done to my liking, moist ladyfingers with notable hints of alcohol. The other, an apple tart with vanilla ice cream, was again good to have but nothing spectacular.

Bill for three was $308.80 after 15% Citibank discount and taxes. If you exclude the bottle of wine that ballooned the bill, dinner at Dolce Vita is actually very reasonable considering the quality, service and ambience in return. Sweet meal first, CUT can wait!

Dolce Vita
5 Raffes Avenue, 5th floor
Mandarin Oriental Singapore
Tel: 6885 3551

Taken with Nikon D70
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Peperoni Pizzeria: Gourmet Pizza in The Neighbourhood!

Its not hard to find good thin-crust pizzas these days, but getting them at affordable prices and without the need to dress up is another thing. A pizza of upmarket quality in family-friendly settings seem impossible, no? But that's all gonna change with the growing chain of Peperoni Pizzeria!

Under the umbrella of Les Amis Group (the brand itself gives quality assurance already), Peperoni Pizzeria offers casual Italian dining without the eyesore 10% service charge (7% GST still applies though). At their latest Frankel Avenue outlet, the bright red steel chairs and well-lit interior make you comfortable enough to dine in khaiki shorts and to chuckle loudly with family and friends.

The eatery was so popular on a weekend night that the girlfriend and I could only have bar counter seats despite reservations! By the way, don't think that service quality will be sub-parred without the tax (I honestly don't see the link anywhere else either), as we were attended to by friendly staff who constantly top up our iced water.

Chicken Wings ($8.00), Hoegaarden, Half Pint ($10.00)

Sharing this as a pre-meal snack, the mid joints and drumlets were nicely marinated and coated with a lovely thin, crispy batter. Served fresh off the fryer, it was a little on the oily side though.

What's wings and pizza without beer? Settle for nothing but one of the best white beer around!

Suprema, Salmon, 12" Large ($23.00)

As they could accommodate two flavours for large pizzas, that just allowed us to try more things at one go! The Suprema is topped with shitake mushrooms and chicken sausages, given a little spicy kick from its diced red chilli. The Salmon is our mandatory half everytime as we loved how well the juicy salmon cubes and sweet caramelised onion came together.

Of course, not forgetting about the all-important pizza base. Smokey and crispy at the edges while retaining a soft, chewy centre that absorbs all the sauce and juices of the toppings. Very good stuff!

21" XXL Pizzas ($50.00)

While the two of us couldn't attempt their now-famous humongous creations, we went on a separate trip with NTU Deli Aprecio Club to the Greenwood Avenue branch, where the 24 of us tucked into six monsters and tried abit of different toppings. That was fun!

Bill for two was $18 after a $9.80 Groupon voucher. Top-notch quality at wallet-friendly prices, what more can I ask for? Besides pizza, they also do a good plate of pasta as my Squid Ink Angel Hair turned out well on our very first visit. Returning to grab more slices and strands soon!

Peperoni Pizzeria
95 Frankel Road
Tel: 6445 5661

Taken with Nikon D70
Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nature Valley Granola Bars: New Flavour!

This is an invited write-up

Photo Credit: Nature Valley

A couple of weeks ago, my mom told me that someone left a media kit hanging at our door with my name on it. As I was stuck in school with quizzes and assignments, it took me awhile to finally go home and find out what it was. Turned out that Nature Valley has a new granola bar for me to try!

Combining rich indulgence with classic flavour, the Oats' and Dark Chocolate creation will provide wholesome snacking as and when you want it. Similar to its previous products, these individually-packed goodies are available at $6.30 for a box of six.

While there were no visible chunks of dark chocolate, the taste of it was prominent as I chewed through, balanced by the light sweetness of honey and natural oat. I also preferred its crunchy texture compared to their line of chewy bars. I was tempted to open another pouch after munching up the two bars but hey, eat in moderation even if its a healthy snack!

As my exam papers start next week, it never hurts to have more snacks stock up in the room to accompany me for the long nights. In between instant noodles, crackers and miso soups, the granola bars will be a refreshing change!

Special thanks to Vivian of Fulford Public Relations for the media kit!

Nature Valley Granola Bars
Available at all major supermarkets

Taken with Nikon D70
Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ramen Champion: Bario For The Hungry Man!

There's a slight problem when people gather at ramen places; your favourite bowl might not be to everyone's liking. Different types of noodles, soup bases and toppings permute to a mind-boggling number of choices! But at Ramen Champion, everyone can find their ideal type of ramen!

The ramen wonderland at Iluma opened to much fanfare earlier in the year, as people flocked from all over to have a go at the 6 masters' creations. The hype might have died down a little now, but coming at peak dinner hours still warrants a wait at the doors. The store that I'm writing on today? The very manly Bario Ramen!

Sapporo Beer, 334ml ($7.50)

With free seating and a Marche-styled ordering system, have some ice cold beer as you wait for your electronic counter to beep!

Ajitama Ramen ($14.00)

When Mr. Tsujida created Bario ramen, I think he had in mind to create one that would be fit for the burly, macho man. Three words to sum up his ramen: Thick, rich, and (very) filling! While ramen purists might hiss at the thick, broad noodles of Jiro-styled ramen, I took to it quite positively. Come on, Singaporeans grew up with Lor Mee, this is just a thicker Japanese version with a good chew!

While the oh-so-intense broth could have been done with lesser garlic influence, the generous amount of beansprouts diluted it adequately for me to lap up the entire bowl. The hung chunks of pork belly was a star on its own, as the smooth skin, melting fats and tender lean meat were simply outstanding.

The egg, for some reason, failed to impress with no molten centre.

Tsukemen ($14.00)

Their dipping version made the garlic taste of the soup even more prominent, though I thought it would be really nice with a bowl of rice poured in, that is if you can finish the humongous bowl of noodles first! Ladies, fret not if you are worried about Bario's overwhelming servings, as it is also thoughtfully served in half-portions ($7.00) to avoid wasting food!

With its pricing, Bario definitely gives a bang for your buck in terms of quality and quantity . Although I have been at Ramen Champion for no less than three times myself, its quite embarrassing to say that all three visits had me queueing for Bario ramen, not yet exploring the other 5 masters. Probably because I was really hungry, missing those curly noodles and drool-worthy pork bellies! The 4th visit will be different, I promise!

Ramen Champion (Bario)
201 Victoria Street
Bugis Iluma #04-08/09/10
Tel: 6238 1011

Taken with Nikon D70
Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kim Gary: Milk Tea With a View!

Vivocity is one of the rare shopping malls that I actually like to visit. Not because there are any particularly attractive labels to shop (Oh please, those are so darn repetitive islandwide), but thanks to the spacious layout that make strolling so comfortable. A far cry from other overly-profit-driven developers who make visitors squeeze through narrow corridors to maximise lettable space.

Furthermore, there's a place which I know that I could always count on for a good meal and a good cup of milk tea; Kim Gary!

The Malaysia brand has been around ever since the mall opened, serving a variety of somewhat-modified hong kong cafe favourites. Decked in modern colours, it is one of those places that has a fantastic view of the Sentosa waterfront. As you prowl through their ala carte menu, do look out for their range of set meals that are really value for money!

I always liked how they served the utensils in a plastic box. Simple and hygienic!

Borsch Soup, Milk Tea (Part of set meal)

I haven't got the time to research on how the soup with Russian origin became a hong kong staple, but I'm glad that it was done the way that I'm familiar with: Light, ketchup-y and with cabbage slices and beef cubes. Yum!

Back in the days when good milk teas were hard to come by, Kim Gary left a very deep impression on whipping up one that my mom could concur with. Smooth and fragrant, I'm glad that it hits the right spot every time!

Beef Baked Rice with Cheese (Set Meal, $11.50), Club Sandwich ($5.90)

Given a choice of white or red sauce, I opted for the former as I liked how its creaminess would go well with oozing cheese. The meat itself was rather lacking in taste after sprinkles of meat tenderizer, but the savoury sauce more than made up for it.

Known as the 公司三文治 (Office Sandwich, literally) among hongkongers, this is one sandwich that would fill you up well! Triple-decked with eggs, ham, sausages and greens, the ingredients were simple but added up to a perfect combo, as the lightly toasted bread gave a soft crunch when biting through the layers together. More yum!

Baked Assorted Mushrooms with Cheese ($5.90)

The girlfriend and I regretted almost as soon as we saw it coming. Overwhelming amount of cheese on plain-tasting mushrooms that retained plenty of moisture, turning the whole dish watery after some time. Once is enough.

Bill for two was $27.75 after taxes, very reasonable when compared to other restaurants with the same view. While some of the items are new creations with no reference to Hong Kong, I still love how the crucial ones like milk tea and french toasts are pretty close. Always a choice to consider when in Vivocity!

Hong Kong Kim Gary Cafe
#02-128, 1 Harbourfront Walk
Vivo City
Tel: 6376 8183

Taken with Nikon D70
Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jack's Place: An Old School Birthday Dinner!

The girlfriend's birthday just passed by over the weekend and this time, the place of choice for dinner was well, unusual given our preferences. The reason was a pure economic one. As I have already spent a fair bit on other parts of the celebration, we decided to utilize this $100 cash voucher that my reservist unit gave to use at SAFRA clubhouses. Looking through the list of restaurants, we decided to splurge it at Jack's Place! (But the plan backfired, read on)

Entering into the SAFRA Jurong outlet was akin a step back in time. It wasn't as nostalgic as dining at the Ship Restaurant, but the place remained pretty much like what I have remembered it to be in the early 90s. Green-checkered table cloth, wooden furniture and the dimmed atmosphere that was typical of Hainanese-Western restaurants in those days.

Another table was also celebrating a birthday and while bringing out the cake, the management played the super old-school birthday song over the sound system. You know, the one with instrumental music and kids singing? I wonder if it was still stored on a cassette tape!

Freshly Squeezed Watermelon Juice, Half Carafe ($8.40)

This amounted to about a glass and a half each. I thought it was good to come up with such a serving quantity and I have yet to see it anywhere else. Note that this falled under the "freshly squeezed fruit juice" section, while there was another relatively cheaper selection of "refreshing fruit juice". Go figure.

Lobster Bisque ($5.50), Cream of Shitake Mushroom ($4.50)

The rich and thick flavour of the bisque was at first delightful with the occasional bits of lobster meat, until we got tired of it halfway through. Seasonings were also not mixed properly as we had mouthfuls that were overwhelmingly salty. The other chef recommendation also turned out to be a rather ordinary mushroom soup.

Complimentary Garlic Bread

Served together with the soups, the two large slices were warm and fluffy with a generous amount of garlic spread. I like!

Mushrooms With Slipper Lobster & Crabmeat ($9.50), Onion Rings ($4.20)

A signature starter supposedly, this was downright disappointing. I was quite sure the saucepan was merely for decorative purpose, as the lukewarm button mushrooms and melted cheese were just too bland. Don't even talk about the seafood stuffing that were almost non-existent.

Onion rings because we felt like it! However, they served it lukewarm (again) and upon telling the nice waiter, he sent it back to the kitchen without a question and got it returned crispy hot!

Grilled Cod Fish with Watercress Sauce ($22.00)

The girlfriend continued her love for cod fish with this house specialty. Two large fillets that were fresh and tender, drizzled with a refreshing Chinese-influenced sauce (Watercress soup, anyone?). Didn't quite melt her heart the way Dunearn did a year ago, but still more than satisfied!

Lobster & Steak Combo ($38.00)

As for myself, I had the most expensive single item on the menu! Served on a sizzling hotplate, the grilled lobster was crunchy and meaty, though the brown sauce was a tad salty for my liking. The other co-lead, New Zealand striploin, was done medium and fared average. That's fine since I didn't have high hopes for NZ beef anyway!

Both dishes were served with baked potatos that were later offered toppings of sour cream, bacon bits and spring onion. Classic goodness!

Bill for two was $108.40 after taxes, too full to attempt desserts. And just as I was about to happily top up $8.40, the waitress told me that my voucher could not be used as it was lacking the stamp of my approving officer. Sheesh, punked by SAF even as a civilian..

To be fair, Jack's Place is a good place for fuss-free western options, as long as you don't pick on whether your steak is of USDA Prime quality. Their value-for-money set lunches and student meals are still very much sought after! In fact, I thought that it makes a nice training ground for kids, learning the ABCs of western dining before moving on to more sophisticated meals.

Most importantly, its who you eat with that matters!

Jack's Place
333 Boon Lay Way #2A-01
SAFRA Jurong Club
Tel: 6795 9226
Outlets Islandwide

Taken with Nikon D70