Friday, February 22, 2013

Gaia Ristorante: A Italian Toast for Her Birthday

Celebrating the girlfriend's birthday has more or less become a full day event. After spending the entire morning/afternoon at Legoland (More on that next time!), our bus coach brought us back to Singapore Flyer where we immediately sped off to our last destination; A dinner for two at Gaia Ristorante.

Located beside the grand staircase of Goodwood Park Hotel, the stylish Italian restaurant had a classy decor with clean-white table top settings, delighting the girlfriend who loves a dimmed, soothing ambience. Menu-wise, we opted for the UOB Young Chef's Creation Menu For Two ($128.00++), while a peek at their ala carte menu also revealed many Italian favourites.

Complimentary Bread, Moscato and Pinot Grigio ($12.00 each)

Among the warmed choices, we preferred the Foccacia for its fluffy texture and herb flavour.

Wine for the joyous occasion, why not? The girlfriend had her favourite dessert wine while my house white was pleasantly light and fruity.

Sardine Salad

While I'm not a fan of sardine and its coarse meat, the starter was surprisingly enjoyable as the fish's saltiness was balanced with onions and sweet raisins. Definitely teased our palate.

Wild Porcini Mushroom Risotto, Tagliolini in Pork Sausage Sauce

Now this one made it to the personal list for best risottos, vegetarian no less. Tastefully presented, the Carnaroli rice was thick and creamy, mixed with bits of juicy mushrooms. Not forgetting about the crepe-like cheese that was fun to nibble on between spoonfuls of rice.

Admittedly, the first impression that came to mind was "Ang Mo Ba Chor Mee", but it was a tasty one with al-dente pasta and savoury minced meat.

Braised Veal Cheek, Roulade of Pork

I guess its hard to go wrong with veal cheek, so I was pretty satisfied with mine for its melting texture. The girlfriend swapped hers for the restaurant's popular pork creation and was not disappointed with the execution of crispy skin and tender lean meat.

Panna Cotta, Coffee and Tea

Although we are more pro-Tiramisu, the smooth and rich Vanilla Cream did nonetheless end our meal on a good note. Hot cuppa to settle everything down? I'll take that.

Total bill for two was $178.90 after taxes. As a six course dinner for two, it was reasonably value-for-money with an excellent atmosphere to boot. Service too was excellent as we were well-attended to throughout the night. And to enjoy all of above with your lovely date? Priceless, I would say!

Gaia Ristorante
Goodwood Park Hotel
22 Scotts Road, Singapore 228221
Tel: 6735 9937

Taken with Nikon D70
Friday, February 15, 2013

Happy CNY and Valentine's!

One can never have enough Lo Hei during CNY

恭喜发财! Hope everyone had an enjoyable CNY break, as mine was certainly burpful with all the chinese meals and goodies. And yes, happy Valentine's too!

Don't have the time to post anything for now. Watch this space next week!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Saveur: A Wallet Friendly French Affair

Cheap french food sounds almost like an oxymoron. I have never been to France (or Europe for that matter) so I don't know if their typical fare is just as expensive or is it just that anything non-local on our island is overpriced. So when words are out that there's a place near town serving french food at (relatively) shoestring pricing, people sure started flocking to Saveur.

Located at the foodie-much Purvis Street, Saveur is a Singaporean-ran french eatery that has garnered plenty of media interest. And I'm certainly not exaggerating when I say flock; At 6pm, a snaking queue was already formed for dinner at 6:30pm and if you come any later, the staff will suggest you to try your luck for the second seating at around 8:30pm. The eatery with chic, clean decor ain't exactly big too but they have since expanded to the shopfront next door.

While service staff were pleasant and cheerful, be prepared to have your orders served at a irregular pace. You can probably guess if your food is coming if you see the next table begin to eat the same thing, as the kitchen seems to prepare the same dish in batches. Want to add an appetizer when you are starting your mains? Well, you probably won't see it until much much later.

Nonetheless, free water for all did make the wait a little less agonizing.

Saveur's Pasta ($4.90), Salmon Confit with Apple and Fennel Salad ($8.90)

I guess the pasta's twirling presentation is pretty famous by now, which admittedly had me imitating it at home (with reasonably amount of success!). Taste-wise, the pasta's al-dente texture was spot on while the mix of dried cherry Sakura shrimps and savoury minced pork made a rather good match.

The other fish appetizer was done to our liking too, with its light, melting texture and colourful duo of pepper (I think) and herbs, paired with refreshing apple salad, Very decent starters.

Duck Leg Confit ($10.90), Barramundi with Crab Potato and French Bean ($12.90)

Now this, people, got to be the most value-for-money duck leg confit around. At its price, you get a whole duck leg with moist yet slightly crisp skin, and lean meat that wasn't exactly fork tender but not overly dry either. The orange-dominant sauce worked well to complement it, though I wished there were more of the juicy mushroom cubes.

After several attempts at the fish, I realize I can't really appreciate the slightly coarse texture of Barramundi. Either that or we have not met a great Barramundi creation yet.

Pistachio Panna Cotta ($6.90)

Now I'm in a little dilemma to comment on this. On my first visit, the dessert was excellent with smooth creamy base and rich pistachio flavour. The second attempt however, saw us having a much watered down version with more cream taste than anything else. Need a third time lucky, perhaps?

Total bill for two was $52.40 after taxes. Well if you are hoping to exclaim "dirt-cheap" french fare at Saveur, its not that exactly. But given the commendable quality and down-to-earth pricing, it is a breath of fresh air in the french dining scene. If you can grind your teeth through double long waits of queue and service, that is.

5 Purvis Street
Talib Court #01-04
Singapore 188584

Taken with Nikon D70
Friday, February 01, 2013

Azur III: Welcoming the Snake in Buffet Style

This is an invited session

While many of us are used to celebrating Chinese New Year with round table feasts, the younger generation is more adventurous in going beyond the usual steamboats or dialect-based meals, where a buffet is ideal for its variety and (inter)nationality. And so, we have restaurants like Azur that make sure these customers start off their Year of the Snake with a full-filing feast!

I was back at Crowne Plaza Hotel's residential buffet restaurant last week to try out its latest CNY menu. With my last visit being the previous year's CNY tasting session, the restaurant didn't seem to have changed much in terms of decor, keeping to its modern, blue-ish theme.

The same couldn't be said for its buffet line as I was pleasantly surprised with the menu facelift. Among the notable changes was the expansion of cheese selections to include fruit-flavoured products, as Executive Sous-Chef Alvin Leong explained that this was to cater to Singaporeans' preference of milder, sweeter cheese. I had to agree with that as the Cranberry Cheese was very much to my liking.

Of course, favourites like Chilled Boston Lobsters and Chinese Drunken Prawns are still available (on friday and weekend dinners), so diners can look forward to these while enjoying the new additions. And yes, with the CNY specials coming in too, the list of treats is growing even longer!

Three Treasures Yu Sheng ($68.00+, for takeaways at Lobby Lounge)

Building upon last year's Ginger Shoyu Sauce, Chef Leong has created a new Ginseng Yuzu Dressing for this year's Yu Sheng, topping it with Hokkigai Surf Clams and adding in Crispy Wanton Skins for that extra crunch. Additional items such as Sliced Abalone ($48.00+), Swordfish Belly ($28.00+) and Norwegian Salmon ($18.00+) are also available. You know the routine: Say the good things and toss it well!

While most restaurants compete in using luxurious seafood to spice up their Yu Sheng, many fail to pay attention to the ever important dressing, resulting in an overly sweetened chinese salad after a few bites. So I am glad that Azur has done pretty well in this aspect with a unique, refreshing dressing that goes really well with the sourish gang of pickled radish, pickled cucumber, pickled mango and pickled papaya.

Furthermore, with the success of introducing ala-minute yusheng in the buffet line last year, Azur will be keeping this live counter for the festive season where the chef will proportionize according to your table size. Do note that the dressing will be Sweet Plum Sauce instead and that Hokkigai Surf Clams will not be available for the buffet but hey, topping it with as much salmon sashimi as I want would more than make up for it!

Dragonfruit Mocktail (Not part of buffet)
Treasures of the Ocean Seafood Soup with Fish Maw, Dried Scallops and Crabmeat

Before we moved on to the new buffet dishes, we were introduced to the CNY mocktail that used dragonfruit as a base, being an excellent thirst quencher with its natural, refreshing taste.

Soup-wise, it was indeed flavourful with the generous amount of ingredients, though also a little too starchy for my liking.

Wok Fried Sea Prawns with Mixed Berries Infused with Margarine and Milk
Confit Salmon accompanied with Darjeeling Beurre Blanc

A new age attempt on the classic Cze Char item Salted Egg Prawn, Chef Leong used berries to give the dish its sweetness and added milk to increase the creaminess. Definitely a candidate for refills.

The fish creation was really memorable too, as the mini blocks of salmon was lightly drizzled with white butter and topped with a spoonful of strong-flavoured cavier, while the whole combination simply disintegrated in my mouth. More of this certainly.

Braised Sea Cucumber, Baby Abalone with Superior “Conpoy” Gravy
Fragrant Glutinous Rice with Pork Belly and Pork Lard

Braised to tenderness, this will probably be another hot favourite that disappears as quickly as it is being served. Well if you didn't manage to get a piece of cucumber or abalone, the consolation will be knowing that the broccoli soaks up the rich gravy really well.

With two of my favourite pork components in one dish, the well-fried glutinous rice was an absolute joy as I even asked for extra lard toppings. Diet, you say? Eat first talk later la.

Trio of Chinese New Year Pastries

The sweets that greeted us was a Tempura Nian Kow that frankly faltered when compared to the St Regis version, a cute pyramid of Lychee and Osmanthus Jello that was my favourite among the three, and a Mandarin Orange Mousse which well, I don't really like mousse cakes in the first place.

With prices starting from $48.00++ for weekday lunch to the peak of $88.00++ for CNY eve dinner, Azur has plenty to offer regardless of chinese dishes or international creations. And if you are a Yu Sheng fan who can toss on for the whole night, then the more you should be here!

Special thanks to Carrie of IHG for the invite!

That wraps up the series of tasting sessions. Now, a couple of personal local hunts before writing on the recent Shanghai trip!

Azur Restaurant
75 Airport Boulevard, 2nd Floor
Crowne Plaza Hotel
Tel: 6823 5354
Visit the hotel's dining website full menu and pricing during the CNY season!

Taken with Nikon D70