Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hanare: Bring on the Chirashi, Many Many

You might have notice that I just came back from a Taipei weekend trip, which I had plenty of awesome sashimi and jap stuff in 42 hours (Yes, Japanese in Taipei, you read that right). While good Japanese food is generally expensive in Singapore, Hanare does serve up an excellent chirashi don at affordable pricing.

Located along Tanjong Pagar Road a few steps away from its sister restaurant, Teppei, Hanare is a no-reservations cafe that has simply two sets on its menu; The Japanese Buffet at $19.90 nett which honestly ain't exactly a steal, and the Bara Set at $17.90 nett that most of the customers go for. Occupying an entire shophouse level, seating is limited with almost half the space dedicated to the buffet line and counter, so you might have to try your luck if your weekday lunchtime is tight. Make payment at the counter, find a table and you're good to go.


The Bara Set also comes with free flow of 3 to 4 types of appetizers and miso soup. Nothing particularly outstanding, but the salad and chicken stew made decent nibbles while waiting for the star.

Bara Chirashi Don

Oh the beauty! Be prepared for a visual feast as your don is topped with an overwhelming amount of chunky, soy-sauce marinated raw fish. The checklist? Salmon, Tuna, Swordfish, Scallop, Clams and Roes. Definitely a mouthful as you enjoy every single cube. While it does seem a tad salty on its own, I find it a perfect match with the homemade wasabi (hot stuff!) and plain rice.

I do have one gripe though; The ingredients are probably pre-marinated and jumbled in a huge pot and scooped out upon order, so the quantity of each item can be unbalanced. Several times we had no scallops in one bowl or a large proportion of tuna in another. I also heard that the portions are getting erratic; overflowing at times and with glaring gaps during others. Let's hope they pick up the consistency.

With Teppei fully booked for third quarter of the year and a slot for their Kaisen Don hard to come by, Hanare might be your best bet to have a satisfying bowl of Chirashi Don. Have already lost count the number of return trips made with more on the way.

Hanare Japanese Cafe
99B Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6222 1976

Taken with Nikon D7100
Thursday, May 22, 2014

東寶小館: Cantonese Dai Pai Dong at Its Best

The other place that I finally made an effort to visit on the last Hong Kong trip is quite a legend. Besides the many glamorous, upmarket Cantonese restaurants, there are also plenty of 大排档s (Dai Pai Dong) hidden in neighbourhood wet markets. These Cze-Char-equivalent places usually open at night when the market has closed, where families and friends gather for a hearty meal after school or work. And among these 大排档s, 東寶小館 Tung Po Kitchen has made a name for itself both locally and overseas.

Located at North Point's Java Road Municipal Building, Tung Po takes up most of the entire 2nd floor serving both traditional and innovative stir fry. Reservations are highly recommended else risk being turned away, as my earliest booking at 6pm had me witnessing how fast the place filled up with rowdy fun. Open your eyes wide, you might even spot Hong Kong celebrities among you.

The boss of the place, Robin (if I remembered correctly), is a really witty fellow who can shoot his mouth off faster than you can think, recommending dishes and placing your orders in a jiffy. I even found a instagram video of him doing a robot dance for his customers on a random night!

Kronenbourg 1664 & 战斗碗

Beer in a mug, drank much. In a fighter bowl? That's new. With the word 胜 imprinted at the bottom, it brings a true meaning to yum seng.

卤水大肠 Braised Large Intestine, 南乳炸猪手 Deep Fried Pork Trotters in Fermented Beancurd

Perfect nibbles to pair with the beer. The intestines were slightly chewy, nicely braised and entirely free from porky stench, while their signature trotters had a crispy surface with a thick layer of collagen-ish fats underneath, perfectly paired with fermented beancurd dip. Need more beer, definitely.

墨汁意粉 Squid Ink Pasta, 清炒豆苗 Stir Fried Pea Sprout

One of the new gen dishes, the pasta had a good wok hei to it with the savoury, seafood taste of squid ink, and squid pieces which thankfully weren't rubbery in texture. The other is my all time favourite greens, as winter climate made the quality even more enjoyable.

黄金虾 Salted Egg Yolk Prawn, 荷叶饭 Steam Rice in Lotus Leaves

Oh yes, each of these golden boys were coated with a fine layer of salted egg yolk, being intensively flavoured yet not feeling oily or overkill as in other cases. The carb staple is also one of their signatures with a really strong fragrance of lotus leaves and packed full of diced ingredients such as mushrooms, chicken and chinese sausages. Portion too was humongous as the five of us had plenty of leftovers. Ran out of thumbs to give the up.

番薯糖水 Sweet Potato Soup

A simple yet satisfying complimentary dessert with ginger that keep you warm in the winter.

Can't remember the bill, but I think a meal here costs about 30 to 50 sgd per pax, depending on your orders. Glad to have finally visit the place that is certainly worthy of its reputation. With plenty of items on the menu, I am certain of a return as Tung Po made it to my list of favourite food haunts in Hong Kong.

2/F Java Road Municipal Services Building
99 Java Road, North Point
Tel: +852 2880 5224 (Reservations highly recommended)
Directions: Take the MTR Hong Kong Line to North Point(北角) station, find the exit leading to Java Road Municipal Building (which is really a wet market on ground and 1st floor) and make your way to 2nd floor.

Taken with Nikon D7100
Friday, May 16, 2014

九记牛腩: Beef Brisket Worth Queuing For

Hong Kong, the place where every trip back is spent on meeting up with relatvies, family friends and revisiting favourite food haunts. Well I did manage to find time to explore two "new" places during my Christmas trip, one involving my favourite beef brisket, 九记牛腩 Kau Kee.

Located in the now-become-very-hip enclave of Sheung Wan, Kau Kee is popular among tourists and locals alike for their beef brisket noodles. A queue is omni-present at the shopfront, which thankfully moves quite fast with its double storey seating. Make a quick decision on what you want before you get the common Hong Kong impatient treatment, which to be fair aint as bad here compared to many other places.

冰奶茶 Iced Milk Tea (HKD20 ~ SGD3.30)

My natural choice of drink, hardly disappoints anytime, anywhere in CantoLand.

上汤牛腩伊面 Beef Brisket Ee-fu Noodles (HKD40 ~ SGD6.70)

And was the signature bowl worth the hype? A resounding yes. In a place where lousy beef brisket is virtually unheard of, Kau Kee manage to stay a class above by using prime parts that has a really good balance of tender lean meat and fatty bits, which is chewy yet not rough-and-tough. The other reason that Kau Kee shone was the usage of Ee-fu noodles that abosrbed the flavourful clear broth well without being soggy in texture.

A meal here will set you back at about SGD10 per person, not that I will complain for its quality. Heard that the curry beef brisket noodles is widely popular too, saved for the next trip!

九记牛腩 Kau Kee Beef Brisket
21 Gough St, Hong Kong
Tel:+852 2850 5967
Directions: Go up the slope (Aberdeen Street) beside touristy-famous 莲香楼, turn right into Gough Street and it will be on your right after walking for a couple of minutes.

Taken with Nikon D7100
Thursday, May 08, 2014

福三和: The Closing of a Chapter

Among the several swan songs these couple of weeks (Ember, Mitsuba etc, its a sad period for foodies), the one that I will miss most is surely 福三和, Hock Sam Hoe & Co. Supper at this Jalan Besar coffeeshop has become a weekly (sometimes twice a week!) affair, such that my buddies and I will be at a loss when it is scheduled for closure and demolition from 18th May onwards.

What's so attractive here? The nostalgic vibe and definitely, the awesome hawker fare.

Located along the same stretch of shophouses as famed Swee Choon, 福三和 is one of those dying-out old-school coffeeshops where individual storeowners probably never changed their signboards since they started. So much so that it doesn't even have a proper indoor seating area, but instead with tables spread along the pavement and back alley of Syed Alwi Road.

With hokkien/chinese oldies being belt out on speakers and bites being dished out past midnight, this is probably as hawker as you can get in skyscraper-dominated Singapore. And my favourite three stores here? The hokkien mee, yong tau foo and satay.

Fried Hokkien Mee ($10.00 as shown, starts from $4.00/plate)

Pardon the rather unsightly pile (we went all out and ordered the mega portion to feed 6 of us that night), but the best plates of hokkien mee that I have eaten in the longest time are indeed served here.

As a huge fan of hokkien mee that are 闷 (simmered) for prolonged time to allow the broth to be absorbed, the auntie here does just that to make sure every strand of noodles are coated and infused with the rich broth, resulting in a slightly gooey texture that was incredibly umami to taste. Not forgetting about the insanely fiery chilli sauce (I kid you not on this) that will satisfy every spice masochists. With the mix of pork belly strips, prawns and eggy bits, it's a darn good plate of carbs to devour.

Carrot Cake ($4.00), Oyster Omelette ($5.00)

While these two appear less often on our table, they are actually much to our liking as well. The carrot cake are pan-fried thin and crisp with a generous dose of turnips, while the omelette used plump oysters and had crispy burnt bits that gave a good contrast to the soft tapioca flour within.

Laksa Yong Tau Foo (From $0.40/piece)

Painstakingly made fresh everyday, the selection here is pretty extensive, ranging from deep fried stuffed brinjals and bittergourd to giant fishcakes and cockles. With no minimum-pieces-per-bowl nonsense, the flavourful laksa soup is an absolute joy to have with your yong tau foo and greens.

Satay ($0.60/stick)

The gem for carnivores, these meat skewers are the delicious, old-fashioned kinds where the pork variant is interlaced with tender lean bits and translucent fatty cubes. Grilled over charcoal fire and served with peanut sauce and a dope of pineapple paste, the sweet and savoury combo will make you clear sticks after sticks.

福三和 also houses a chicken rice and wanton mee store that has their own group of loyal supporters, but I am the fanboy for hokkien mee, yong tau foo and satay. The real upsetting part about the closure is that the yong tau foo owners plan to retire (bless them on that though), while the hokkien mee and satay owners are relocating that will take several months to materialise.

So if you want some outstanding, unpretentious hawker food in a back alley atmosphere under the moon, there's only slightly more than a week to do so. That last strand, piece and stick will be mine!

福三和 Hock Sam Hoe & Co.
193 Jalan Besar (Syed Alwi Road)
Singapore 208883
Note: The coffeeshop right beside Swee Choon

Taken with Nikon D7100
Friday, May 02, 2014

Salt Grill & Sky Bar: New Look, Refreshing Menu

This is an invited session

There aren't many restaurants with a view in Orchard (obviously because there aren't many towers in the first place) but if asked to name one, Chef Luke Mangan's Salt Grill & Sky Bar will surely come to mind. And if you haven't been there before, its probably a good time to do so now with their newly minted facelift.

Interior shots as provided by FoodNews

Perched on the 55th and 56th floor of ION Orchard, the Australian restaurant has just completed its renovations with a complete revamp of carpet design and chic new ceiling lights, as well as shifting the used-to-be-upstairs bar to the main dining hall. Pretty extensive works that upheld its classiness.

Interior shots as provided by FoodNews

As for the old bar area, it has been further converted into a private dining area that can sit up to 40 pax, perfect for small parties and company functions (which I should probably hint to my boss about). The bird eye's view is of course, still much unparalleled with ION's height advantage in downtown.

Salt Cooler - Non Alcoholic ($14.00)

With a new look comes a new ala-carte menu (lunch sets have been updated as well), retaining Chef Luke's signatures as well as creations by Executive Chef Mathew Leighton. Starting the evening on a light note (which I was glad to have chose given what came next), the mocktail was refreshing with a variety of berries and fruits in it, the final blend interestingly reminded me of dragonfruit despite not having that in the ingredients list.

Canapes - Tempura Oyster, Lamb Loin in Puff Pastry

Served prior to the tasting dinner, the first one had a light batter covering the fresh, juicy oysters, while the other was richer with its meatiness and pastry crust, both as appetising as one could wish for pre-meal nibbles.

Amuse Bouche - Coconut Broth With Sydney Spice

A creamy soup that brought back fond memories of Thai Green Curry, probably due to the usage of coconut milk and spices. Soak it up with a piece of bread or if you prefer, use the bread for Chef Luke's own line of olive oil and dukkah. I enjoyed both lah.

Do note that the rest of the courses were served in tasting portions.

Sashimi of Kingfish ($33.00), Baby Vegetables ($31.00)

The immediate reaction to our first course was a big "wah" (admittedly the "wah" came plenty of times throughout the meal), as the kingfish's taste and texture was perfectly brought out by its own freshness and toppings of ginger dressing and goats feta. The colourful greens also tasted as good as it looked, which I remembered the ginger bread crumbs in particular as excellent company.

NV Clover Hill Tasmanian Cuvee Pipers River TAS ($19.00, glass) / ($99.00, bottle)

Something light and bubbly to go with our first two courses, cleansed the palate nicely for upcoming heavier dishes.

‘Glass’ Sydney Crab Omelette ($33.00), Tea Smoked Quail ($31.00)

Succulent crab meat to go with fluffy omelette, this was a showcase of Aussie/Asian fusion with enoki mushroom and miso mustard broth. The other one, while not exactly a great looker, was tender with a rich fragrance of Earl Grey. Bold creations that worked.

2011 Yabby Lake Chardonnay Mornington VIC ($140.00, bottle)

Not a fan of Chardonnay and still couldn't appreciate one.

Sirloin Rangers Valley ($74.00)
2010 Luke Mangan Shiraz by TarraWarra Estate Yarra Valley VIC ($25.00, glass) / ($125.00, bottle)

Yet another amazing dish, the 300 days grain-fed beef was not your wagyu-melt-in-mouth type, but rather went the opposite way of being slightly chewy texture with strong beefy taste, accompanied well with moroccan spice, eggplant puree and red wine sauce. Furthermore, while I don't usually drink Shiraz, this one proved to be a really good pairing that made both meat and wine very much enjoyable.

Luke’s Liquorice Parfait ($18.00)
NV Buller Fine Old Muscat Rutherglen VIC ($18.00, glass) / ($160.00, bottle)

As Chef Luke's signature dessert, it proved to be a refreshing end to our meal with its tangy lime syrup. The muscat, however, was way too sweet for my preference and somewhat numbed my senses for the parfait.

Starstuck by the man himself

With brand new settings, a table of memorable dishes and a pretty skyline to boot, Salt Grill & Sky Bar seems set to excite both first-timers and repeated customers. Surely keeping the other sky-dining places on their toes!

Salt Grill & Sky Bar
#55-01 & 56-01
2 Orchard Turn, ION Orchard
Tel: 6592 5118
View the menus, including the new lunch/executive lunch set menus on their website

Special thanks to Shasha & Cyndiana of FoodNews for the invite!

Taken with Nikon D7100