Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cục Gạch Quán: The World of Traditional Vietnamese Cuisine

It would be rude of me to visit HCMC without sitting down for a proper Vietnamese meal, so a little research and recommendation by my Vietnamese friend (always good to have a local's approval) had us visiting Cục Gạch Quán for lunch.

Occupying an entire terrace house, Cục Gạch Quán feels like home the moment you stepped through the doors, filled with casual wooden tableware, colourful curtain drapes and antique furnitures everywhere. It would be a good idea to make reservations, though I gambled that the place would have walk-in tables for a late lunch. While the thick menu can be quite daunting at first, the friendly waiters are always keen to recommend some dishes for your visit. Thankfully, the English menu didn't tout a higher price too.

Fresh Fruit Juices

I realised that regardless of what you choose, the juices always turn out to be pretty sour if you drink it on its own (served with honey though). While my friend had an Orange Juice, she helped me order an exotic one with the scientific name of Spondias Dulcis, aka the Ambarella fruit. Honestly, I still don't know what that was, but nonetheless sourishly refreshing for a start.

Pork and Shrimp Salad

While most people raved about Thai salads, I found the Viet counterparts more to my liking. Lightly tossed in a sweet-tasting dressing, the mix of fresh vegetables, nuts, crunchy prawns and pork belly strips resulted in a very appetising starter.

Fish Stew in Claypot, Mixed Rice in Fish Stew Sauce

Served simmering in some sort of bean paste sauce, the fish chunks were well-marinated and good to go with rice, which you could also opt to have it fried (more like a mix I suspect) with the same bean paste sauce to add a savoury touch.

Stir-fried Pumpkin Flowers with Sliced Beef, Vegetable Soup with Crab Meat

Now this was definitely a first for me, since I didn't even know that pumpkin had flowers. An interesting, tasty greens for the meal. The soup also felt very homecooked, with a subtle sweetness coming from the crab meat.

On the second visit with my Singaporean buddy, we encored some of the dishes but also had Caramelized Pork Stew and Chilli Prawn Stew that were really satisfying as well. I can't remember the prices, but would set you back about 20-40sgd per pax. If you want a cosy introduction to Vietnamese family-styled dishes, Cục Gạch Quán is surely a great place to start.

Cục Gạch Quán
10 Dang Tat, Ward Tan Dinh,
District 1, Saigon
Tel: +84 8 3848 0144
Directions: This place is a little out of the way in city centre. So just hail a taxi la

Taken with Nikon D70 and HTC One
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

3G Trois Gourmands: 7 Courses of French Indulgence

Being a former French colony (with baugette becoming oh-so-important in Banh Mi), I was keen to make time for a french meal in Ho Chi Minh City. After much research and advices, 3G Trios Gourmand came out tops and oh my, what an experience it turned out to be!

Located a little outside city centre in expatriate-centric District 3, 3G Trois Gourmand is housed in a villa-turned-restaurant with an outdoor swimming pool and guest rooms available for booking. Despite making an overseas reservation a couple of days prior to visiting, only the alfresco tables were available which made shooting really difficult. For the second visit a month later, I learnt my lesson and booked way in advance, finally getting a table in the cosy dining hall.

Menu-wise, I went straight for the 7-Course Dinner at USD45 (nett!), choosing 3 starters, 1 mains and 1 dessert. They have a 5 and 6 course choice too but really, just go all out! While the staff were friendly and well-trained, I was lucky to have restaurant owner Gil himself taking my orders and making rounds on my first visit, cracking jokes with us and mentioning that he makes frequent trips to Singapore, for the casinos apparently!

Truffle Scrambled Eggs

Creamy with whiffs of the prized fungus, I could eat this for breakfast everyday.

Duck Foie Gras Spring Roll, Lobster Tail With Artichokes

The selections of starter available is pretty daunting to pick just three. During my first visit I had a pretty good crabmeat salad and duck ravioli, while on the second attempt the spring roll was excellent with melt-in-your-mouth foie gras that came with a playful foie gras macaron and foie gras terrine. The lobster tail was fresh and meaty paired with good ol seafood bisque foam.

Scallops With Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Succellent scallops panseared and topped with a pinch of caviar, served on a bed of smell-so-good mashed potato and the same seafood bisque foam, this was awesome enough for me to have it on both visits.

Lime Sorbet

A light, refreshing palate cleanser to prepare you for the mains!

Pork Roulade, Beef Cheek With Foie Gras

While the roulade was thumbs up for its tender, fatty texture and served with greens and ommelette, the real star got to be the oh-so-good beef cheeks that was topped with a decadent piece of foie gras. While they also have grilled tenderloin on the menu, this had to be the one mains to order for beef lovers.

Homemade Cheeses

Think you are done? Not quite and be ready to be mindblown by amount of homemade cheeses served next. From fresh truffle cheese and cheese with spring onion, to mid aged one which I couldnt remember the variants, to really ripe old aged and harden ones that I honestly couldnt quite stomach (or sniff). Besides the truffle cheese, my favourite was this mid aged cheese with red wine and grapes, lending a balance of sweetness to the savoury overload. In case you are wondering, even if you were to come here alone, the same amount of cheese will still be served. And no one, according to the owners, have finshed all of them. Ha!

Apple Tart Upside Down With Vanilla Ice Cream

Desserts weren't exactly the restaurant's strength, as we found them to be too sweet for our palate regardless of whichever choice made. Still, I liked the combination of my warm tart and ice cream.

Petite Four, VSOP Tariquet Bas Armagnac

As if you aren't full by now, they had one last mini macaron (lime!) for you, and a really, really strong brandy (56%, I think) to erm, help you digest.

My Vietnamese friend and I with the friendly owners in the wine cellar

With chatty, sincere English-speaking service and memorable food served in a charming villa, it was one of the best meals I had in a very long while. If you have time for only one fine dining meal in HCMC, this had to be it. Note: I remember them mentioning that the restaurant will be shifting but I couldnt exactly remember where or when. Do give them a ring beforehand to confirm!

3G Trois Gourmands
39 Tran Ngoc Dien Street, Thao Dien Ward,
District 2, HCM City, Vietnam
Tel: (08) 3744 4585
Click for Website and Menu

Taken with Nikon D70 and HTC One
Monday, March 10, 2014

The Dining Room: Around The World in One Menu

This is an invited session

Ever fret organising an outing with everyone wanting to eat different cuisine? Well there's the buffet solution, but its not every day that you would want to go on a eating spree. Sheraton Towers Singapore's The Dining Room might have just the right menu with their new Taste of The World series.

It has been a couple of years since I visited the hotel that's minutes away from Newton train station, and my first time at the spacious lobby restaurant. Honestly, I haven't notice the man-made waterfall before and thought that its pretty zen to look at. Adding on to The Dining Room's ala carte menu, Executive Chef Nobu has recreated signature dishes from 12 countries, giving diners plenty to choose from. We managed to sample 6 of the dishes last week while taking shots of the rest, a pity as some of them looked really promising.

ABC (Apple Beetroot Carrot) Juice

Fancy a fruit juice to start the meal? the ABC juice (not your ABC soup at hawkers, really) cooled me down nicely with the aftertaste somehow reminding me of dragonfruit.

Vietnamese Goi Cuon ($14.00)

Had my fill of fresh spring rolls while in HCMC, the variant here included ripe mango slices which made the starter sweeter and more refreshing.

Xing Hua Bee Hoon ($31.00), US Chicken Fajita ($32.00)

Served with plump oysters and prawns, the chinese rice vermicelli was too watery for my preference. While I have developed a liking for wraps and rolls lately, the Meixican American creation was a tad dry even though it came with plenty of dips.

German Eisbein ($45.00), Korean Dolsot Bibimbap ($31.00)

First boiled then oven baked, the pork knuckle had tender lean meat and was less greasy than the usual, though the skin wasn't as crunchy by the time we dig in. And yes, the picture shows actual serving portion so it might be a good idea to share. The Korean rice was the only vegetarian creation, mixed with homemade chilli paste that brought out the flavours of the dish.

French Confit de Canard ($31.00)

The french creation was pretty good too, with tender meat beneath the layer of moist skin and nicely paired with braised red cabbage. Again, you get two full drumsticks for each order so another one that could be shared.

And the following dishes that we didn't try:

Hungarian Goulash ($31.00), British Fish and Chips ($31.00)

Pasta with the ground beef stew, and the classic Brit dish using cod fish fillet.

Russian Borscht ($31.00), Phat Thai ($26.00)

Beef stew with mandatory sour cream, and the thai noodles that looked well wok-fried and inviting with scallops.

Irish Mutton Stew ($31.00), Spanish Paella ($46.00)

The first was braised with Irish Stout, of course, and the other huge pan (meant for two) looked really tempting with beautifully coloured safforn rice and myriad of seafood and meat.

Cheng Teng

Ending on a sweet note, the warm chinese dessert was chokeful of ingredients and cleansed our palate nicely.

While there were hits and misses and some being served cold by the time we were done with photos, I appreciated how Chef Nobu tries his best to reach out to everyone, which I thought was particularly important in a hotel with international travellers. Feel like having Paella while your friends want pork knuckle? Got them right here!

The Dining Room
Level 1, Sheraton Towers Hotel, 39 Scotts Road
Tel: 68395621

Special Thanks to Zareen, Tracy and Cheryl of Sheraton Towers Singapore for the invite!

Taken with Nikon D7100
Thursday, March 06, 2014

Savour 2014: Shop With ToTT And Feast at The Bay

This is an invited session

Have you gotten your tickets for Savour 2014? Starting yesterday to this coming Sunday, the gourmet food festival is back once again and this time, it has found its home at The Promontary against our now-iconic backdrop of Marina Bay.

While I have not been to the previous two Savour events, I liked how the current venue was spacious enough to explore the different stores without having to jostle among the crowd (but that might change during the busy weekend slots), and the cool evening breeze made the al fresco dining experience pretty enjoyable. Of course, looking up to see the full sight of MBS and CBD is always a plus.

There were also two large semi-open tentage, one hosted by Harry's Bar with live music all night and the other a premium lounge of champagne maker Veuve Clicquot. Pretty colours!

Within the Savour Arcade, ToTT, Asia's largest kitchenware and tableware retail store, has made its debut at the food festival by having live product demonstrations and introductions, as well as a 6 metre long photo wall completed with QR codes to elaborate on product features and allow for easy purchase on ToTT's online store.

Forlino/La Cantine Combo ($18.00)

As for the Michelin Star-studded mini restaurants, we tried Chef Kentaro's (Forlino) 5 Cheese Tortellini which was expectedly creamy and oozing with cheese flavours, paired with tender Kurobuta Pork Cheek and Sliced Truffle. The Roasted Suckling Pig Loin, however was a letdown with the skin being chewy instead of crispy. Chef Bruno's (La Cantine) dessert creation was decent with the sourish, refreshing Passionfruit balancing out the sweetness of chocolate cream and macaron.

Molecular Xiao Long Bao ($6.00 each)

Making his return from Hong Kong, Chef Alvin (Bo Innovation) has brought back his signature Xiao Long Bao which resembled more like a tangyuan that had to taken in shots. As the skin breaks away revealing an intensive pork broth, I thought that the ginger/vinegar element of XLB can be stronger and while its fun to eat, I personally prefer to have the bite of minced meat in my XLB.

Fresh Oysters (6 for $18.00)

Moving onto Jasons Market (which brought their entire range of gourmet treats in supermarket, and more!), the air-conditioned tentage also hosted an oyster/sashimi bar. We had the oysters which was fresh and creamy, but would be nice if they were a tad more plump.

I didn't spend much time exploring the other stores but given the chance, I would probably go for those that aren't based in Singapore; rare opportunities to try their items after all. While I found the prices slightly steep, sampling bite-sized signatures from every pop-up stores is surely more affordable than visiting their original restaurants one-by-one. Happy Savouring!

Savour 2014
The Promontory @ Marina Bay
11 Marina Blvd, Singapore 018940

Ticket Pricing
(Exclude Booking Fee)
Lounge Pass - S$125
Dinner - S$65
Lunch (Thu & Fri) - S$45
Lunch (Sat & Sun) - S$55
Check Sistec for available slots.

Special thanks to ToTT for the complimentary pass and Ivy of FoodNews for the invite!

Taken with Nikon D7100