Thursday, August 29, 2013

Halia II: Tea Time Pleasures

This is an invited session

Afternoon teas are always luxurious affairs (Which we are so used to mistakenly-saying high tea as it has a rather different meaning historically). Be it the traditional triple tiers or the simple cake and tea combo, the meal has always been a symbol of self-pampering. And if you would like to spent an afternoon relaxing among the lush greens, Halia might be where you will be heading to.

Nestled within the iconic Botanics Garden, Halia has built up quite a fan base over the years with its signature dishes and unique location. Under new Executive Chef Peter Rollinson, the menu has been refreshed yet again to highlight European dishes with Asian influences. While the spacious alfresco area seemed pretty inviting, we were beaten by the heat to hide indoor for our tea tasting session.

Halia Infusion (Cold)

Included one-off in the afternoon tea set, this was my first timing opting for the cold version of the signature drink. Expected to be slightly diluted than the hot one, it was still very refreshing with its spicy aftertaste.

Now here's the double tier tea set that we will be trying for the day. At 28++ per pax, there's quite a number of sweets and savourys in the set and came with Halia Infusion and unlimited coffee refills. Items are also changed periodically and reflected mini versions of the ala-carte creations. Let's take a look at the sweet ones first.

(Clockwise from middle)

Coconut Panna Cotta, Mango, Passionfruit and Lychee, Toasted Coconut - While the ingredients might taste overly creamy/sour individually, it actually all came together pretty well. Take care to dig your spoon all the way and scoop out a mix of everything.
Freshly Baked Scone, Orange and Ginger Jam, Chantilly Cream - Soft, slightly crumbly and butter-ish in taste, these were good enough to be eaten on its own or with the jam and cream.
Carrot Cake with Crème Cheese Icing and Toasted Walnut - Not as much cream cheese as I would prefer, but still reasonably fragrant with an airy texture.
New Opera (Chocolate Sponge Layered with Raspberry Buttercream) - Breaking away from the traditional all-chocolate Opera, I thought this one was too sour for my liking.
Quince and Almond Cake with Crème Fraiche - Not much impression of how this was like, honestly.
Ginger Flower Macaroon - Paying tribute to Ginger usage, I personally prefer my macaroons with less adventurous flavours.

(Clockwise from middle)

Wagyu Beef Rendang Samosa - Wagyu-ing it didn't make an obvious difference, but was still a pretty decent snack.
Fennel Custard with Parmesan and Almond - Interestingly presented in an empty eggshell, another combo that worked.
House-Cured Salmon, Pickled Cucumber and Toasted Rye - While the salmon itself was alright, the accompanying veggies were too raw for our likings.
Smoked Trout Parfait, Cucumber, Apple and Lime - Yet another creamy finger snack that deserved thumbs-up.
Gorgonzola and Caramelised Onion Quiche - Again, one that didn't make an impression.
Poached Chicken and Smoked Paprika Finger Sandwich - No surprises here, and better to tackle this one first before the bread dries up.

While the tea items were not particularly mind-blowing, the pricetag is a pretty big pull factor as compared to afternoon tea sets elsewhere. Fancy spending a slow afternoon in much greenery while nibbling on decent bites? You got it right here.

Special thanks to Ivy of FoodNews for the invite!

Ginger Garden @ Singapore Botanic Garden
1 Cluny Rd, 259569
Tel: 8444 1148 (Reservations are not accepted for brunch and tea)

Taken with Nikon D70
Thursday, August 22, 2013

NamNam Noodle Bar: A Jolly Good Pho Time

I don't know much about Vietnamese cuisine, honestly. I haven't been to the country (yet!) and with the few Vietnamese restaurants we have here, my knowledge is limited to Phos, baguettes and drip coffees. Well at least we now have NamNam Noodle Bar to pull us closer to the country's food culture.

A new addition to the Les Amis family, the frills-free Vietnamese brand now have two outlets in the basements of Raffles City and Wheelock Place. Get guided to a table, tick your selections, pay at the counter and wait for your order to come. Meanwhile, decide on the myriad of condiment options to go with your noodles and sandwiches.

Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk ($2.50)

A cousin of the traditional drip coffee, the taste was close to what we are familiar with with its condensed milk sweetness, but slightly more intense than your regualr cup of Nanyang kopi.

Fried Prawn & Pork Rolls ($4.90), Southern Rolls ($4.90)

A little snack before the main courses, no? Wrapped with a thin, fluffy layer of flour, the savoury one was pretty good with its mix of prawns and minced pork. The other one, a translucent paper roll with prawns and raw vegetables within, made a rather refreshing appetiser. Interestingly, I was told by a Vietnamese friend that as opposed to the usual deep fried spring rolls, these are called "Summer Rolls" for their cooling effect.

Cold Cut Bahn Mi ($5.90)

We all know that baguettes is a classic example of French influence on the Vietnamese, and one that I'm glad that they have kept till today. The sandwiches here are put together upon order, thus explaining the warmed buns, fresh and crunchy vegetables with thick cuts of cold meat. Perfect for sharing if you are still hankering after the noodles.

Beef Pho Combination ($9.90), Dry Beef Stew Noodle ($8.90)

Although I'm not sure how authentic these are, they pretty much hit the right spot for me. With the combo of beef balls, beef slices and beef tripe, the classic rice noodles were al-dente and silky, served in a light yet addictive broth that felt very comforting for the stomach. The dried version was a winner too as the beef brisket was very well-braised and drenched in a strong-tasting gravy. Toss well adn you are good to go.

With no service charge and GST absorbed in prices, a meal at NamNam is pretty affordable given the quality they produced. In fact, it's fast becoming my favourite place for a hearty bowl of beef noodles. Need to have my fix pretty soon!

Nam Nam Noodle Bar
#B1-46, Raffles City Shopping Centre
Tel: 6336 0500
Check out their website for menu!

Taken with iPhone 5
Thursday, August 15, 2013

Skyve Wine Bistro: Chill, Drink and Eat Beef Ribs

This is an invited session

Its not that easy to find a chillout place that goes beyond pub grubs. Yes we have countless places that can whip up a good meal, and venues that are great for unwinding on Friday evenings (Think Switch by Timbre and Gravity Bar @ Carlton), yet finding both under one roof can be a little challenging. And that's where Skyve Wine Bistro comes into the picture.

Located within the old Monk's Hill Secondary School campus at Newton, Sky Wine Bistro looked very different from what I remembered the place as when it was occupied by District 10. The beer-garden-like area seems like the perfect place for friends to gather and, in Cantonese term, "blow water" (ie brag and talk nonsense) with a beer in hand, or to hold a small outdoor party with appropriate setups.

The indoors are divided into two areas; a cosy bar with comfy armchairs and benches, and a casual dining hall that had a tinge of retro-ness with it metal chairs and wall partition. With the restaurant owner Celine's brother, Chef Jachin, now helming the kitchen, we tried some of his creations from the new menu that emphasised on freshness and natural flavours.

The Sleeping Oysters ($34.00 for half dozen)

We started the dinner with a trio of oysters with toppings that went beyond the usual au natural or cheese-baked. The Japanese-inspired Mentaiyaki had a dope of mentaiko and ebiko which gave an extra savoury and slightly spicy taste, while the Chilean was refreshing with the addition of red wine vinegar and cilantro.

My favourite, however, got to be the British-influenced Kilpatrick that was topped with bacon bits and Worchestershire Sauce. Bacon and oyster has never come together as good as this!

Petuna and Ume Somen ($20.00), Skyve Beef Tartare ($22.00)

As a light carbo starter, the somen was drizzled with sesame yuzu dressing and well paired with thin slices of sweet mango. Interestingly, it also reminded me of Halia @ Raffles's Oriental Pulled Duck, with the difference of being paired with a nicely seared slab of petuna instead.

The other one was my kind of play-with-your-food fun as we had to DIY in mixing the truffled egg yolk with the tartare, the reward being a well-blended creation of creamy, semi-raw beef that had the distinctive aroma of truffles. A small scoop of it onto the flat bread and taken in one mouthful made it all the more enjoyable.

Polenta Mushroom Stack ($34.00), Sous Vide Poulet ($34.00)

Mains coming right up! With a meaty portabello mushroom sandwiched between two thick slices of crispy polenta cakes, this will definitely be in one of my meals if I have to be Vegetarian for a day. While chicken can never be too exciting, cooking in sous vide style did made it better with a moist, tender texture. The candied pecan was also a bonus by providing a dimension of sweetness in between mouthfuls.

Spicy Kalbi Beef Short Ribs ($36.00)

And this, had me gushing nothing but praises for it. While beef short ribs are already pretty tender by nature, sous vide technique has brought it up to a whole new level with chunks of meat coming off from the bone easily and required little effort of the knife.

With a Korean-themed sweet and (not really detectable) spicy glaze, I finished my portion with much joy and shamelessly had the remaining pieces which the rest were already too full to touch by now. Furthermore, the sides of yam and sweet potato ribbons were also thumbs-up alternative for chips.

Mango & Cheese Semifeddo ($12.00), Tiramisu ($12.00)

Ending with sweets, the first one was interesting (in a good way) as the creamy, sweet frozen mousse was paired with refreshing slurpee-like lime foam. As for the other one, I was never a fan of deconstructed desserts so I will go for the traditional version.

While we didn't get to try their bar bites, a flip of their menu revealed attractive choices of pizza slabs and a certain pork cheek bun. 1-for-1 happy hours also made the place a tempting watering hole. Now if enjoying a good meal with pre/post meal alcoholic indulgence is your kind of night, then Skyve Wine Bistro should definitely be on your list. As for myself, a return for the beef ribs is in the planning!

Special thanks to Michelle of FoodNews for the invite!

Skyve Wine Bistro
10 Winstedt Road
Block E, #01-17
Singapore 227977
Tel: 6225 6690
Check out Skyve's website for menu and ongoing promos

Taken with Nikon D70
Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Cuisine Master Hot Pot : The Royalty of Steamboat

This is an invited session

Despite our hot, humid weather (with the frequent thunderstorms nonetheless), Singaporeans do love their steamboat. From the good ol Marina Bay era to the new cluster at Bugis, and from no-one-cares-about-the-name-really cheap steamboat/bbq buffets to the popular-with-jaw-dropping-service HaiDiLao, we have seen it all. Well, almost. With the entrance of Cuisine Master Hot Pot (食神锅奉行), steamboat has just been brought to a whole new level of luxury.

Located at one of the old shophouses along Boat Quay riverside, the Beijing-based steamboat restaurant has set up its first overseas outlet, offering one of its kind steamboat set menus (from $78++ to $198++ per pax) and personal tableside service.

Although the ground floor looked rather misleading with a bar and chillout lounges, upstairs had partitioned seatings and two private rooms, one of which was outdoor with a splendid view of Singapore River and beyond.

A welcome drink is essential here, as we were treated to sparkling juice mixed in-house with fruity flavours. Pretty cool long-tailed glasses which made me, well, want to finish a little faster just in case clumsy me snapped it.

Fruits of the Day, Trio Platter

I thought it was a pretty nice gesture to start with fruits, as it freshened up my tastebud and stomach for the upcoming courses. The refillable trio platter made good appetisers too, as the de-skined cherry tomatoes in orange juice particularly stood out from the cold beef shin and broccoli.

Sashimi Teaser

And very unfortunately (or fortunately in a way), we had the only blemish of the meal early on. The out-of-place sashimi was of poor quality and didn't add any value to our experience.

And just as we wondered where's the pot for the steamboat, we were treated to a little transformer-like show as the custom-made 鼎 raised out from the center of the table, making us go woos and ahhs and requesting for "again, again!" like excited kids. Really fancy.

Double Flavoured Soup

Regardless of the set menus you order (we had the $118++ per pax for the tasting), it will always come with their two signatures, the clear Mushroom Soup and Golden Soup. The former is a creation of 10 types of rare, imported mushrooms, giving a very distinct fungus smell with a crisp, light aftertaste.

Four Treasures of the Sea

The latter, a very rich brew of chickens and ducks, won me over entirely. As a (half)Shanghainese who grew up drinking Chicken Soup with Jinhua Ham, this was very impressive with the strong taste and comfort level it brought. With the addition of premium mini abalones, dried scallops, fish maw and sea cucumbers, it was made even more addictive.

Australian Half-shell Scallop with Prawn and Grouper Combination

That's one eye-catching presentation for a seafood combo. Although the grouper didn't come straight out of a tank, it was still undeniably fresh as we savoured its texture.

Vegetarian Platter with Chinese Yam & Sweet Corn, Mixed Mushroom Platter

A mix of vegetables to balance the meal perhaps? I am pretty used to the slightly sticky feel of the herbal-ish chinese yam, while the mix of mushrooms (with the rare 毛肚菌) was an obvious good partner of the mushroom soup.

Chef's specially prepared Shrimp and Fish Balls Combo

Hand-beating seafood paste takes a lot of effort and time, but the springy result is obvious over factory blended ones. Do note that we had the sotong instead of fish balls that night as chef felt that the fish was not fresh enough.

Finely Selected Kangaroo Meat, Tender Ribeye

Onto the red meat. Still fairly exotic in Singapore, the Kangaroo meat wasn't as tough or tasted as gamely as I have imagined, though still wouldn't be my choice of meat. As for the ribeye, a quick swish in the mushroom soup was perfect for it.

Home-made Vegetable Noodles, Fresh Garden Greens

Visually tantalizing with the usage of fruit juices (carrot, spinach and purple cabbage) and egg white, there wasn't much difference in taste but still very enjoyable with its al dente texture and taken with the Golden Soup. Paired with a bouquet of vegetables, these were unlimited refills across set menus.

Just a bowl of these with a couple of ribeye slices would make me very satisfied.

Desserts of the Day

Nothing too fancy, just a good glass of white fungus to cleanse the palate.

With its over-the-top setting and high-end ingredients, I tend to believe that Cuisine Master Hotpot is targeting a rather specific clientele group. For a start, it is my first time going through an entire steamboat without scooping for ingredients or touching the soup ladle at all, taking away some fun of steamboat which many enjoy. And with the set menus priced at the other end of the spectrum, it will probably attract families/couples who are willing to splurge for premium services, customers who wants to impress their guests and bluntly, plenty of business associates who are not paying out of their own pocket.

Still, Cuisine Master Hotpot has filled a void in the local steamboat scene and will be the place to visit if you want to be well pampered and oh, for top-notch chicken/duck soup.

Special thanks to LeRoy of FoodNews for the invite!

Cuisine Master Hot Pot (食神锅奉行)
68 Boat Quay, Singapore 049856
Tel: 6438 9979

Taken with Nikon D70