Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Review of Waku Ghin, Singapore - Better than Tets

It was with some trepidation that I stepped into Waku Ghin for the first time.  

You see, the evening before I left Sydney for good, I met with a few friends at Tetsuya Wakuda's eponymous flagship for a final blow-out meal.  Those were the days when the Aussie dollar bought a mere 86 US cents, "sub-prime" was how you described a below-par steak and Tetsuya's was ranked 5th in the World's 50 Best Restaurants List.  Adopting the parlance of that era, my dinner at Tetsuya's could also be described as "sub-prime".  The food was almost uniformly lukewarm, monotextural and just plain uninspired.  Even the much-vaunted confit Petuna ocean trout with fennel and celery salt failed to provide any of the promised excitement.

So imagine my surprise when Waku Ghin provided me with one of my best meals of 2012.
Chef Tetsuya Wakuda - In Supreme Form

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Postcards from London, 2012 - A Review of Hélène Darroze at the Connaught

I was meeting up with P, my wife's old friend in London, for a push-the-boat-out, posh night with multi-Michelin stars a-twinkling.  On my last trip to the Old Dart, I had visited The Square (absolutely loved it), Le Gavroche (nice food and service, but I detest its clubbiness which I suspect is an intrinsic part of its appeal to the English) and Hibiscus (decent but uninspired).

After St John and with another date at Hedone later in the week, I was interested in seeing how the oeuvre of the great French chefs translated on the plate in London.    The shopping list was brief: Madame Darroze, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and the local McAtelier.  Ducasse was booked out and I've already had a couple of Robuchon meals this year, so we ended up at Hélène Darroze by default.

Hélène Darroze, holder of three Michelin stars across London and Paris

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Postcards from London 2012 - A Review of St John Restaurant & Bar, Smithfield, London

Happenstance recently saw me shivering on a cold and grey London evening.  After an informal survey of friends familiar with the local eateries, St John, that renowned purveyor of rustic British meaty treats, was sitting at the top of the list.  But it couldn't be any St John (they now have three branches), no no no, it had to be the original near Smithfield Market.  I didn't need much tempting.  After all, this was the home of the roasted bone marrow and parsley salad so exalted by Anthony Bourdain in, well, every book and show he's ever done on England.  I can't remember the exact words, but I recall something along the lines of "when you eat this dish, angelic choirs sing, seven generations of one's ancestors smile down on you from heaven".

Friday, 9 November 2012

Sky on 57 - A Lunch with Thierry Fritsch

I was lucky enough to be invited to lunch at Sky on 57, the current home of Singapore’s first bona fide celebrity chef, Justin Quek.  Quek, as most gastronomes in the region will know, was one of the four original “Amis” who founded Singapore’s Les Amis back in 1994, before blazing a trail in Taiwan with his modern French cuisine.   But I looked forward to this lunch with especial pleasure, as I would have for company Thierry Fritsch, Export Project Manager for CIVA (essentially the governing board for Alsace wine) and Alsace wine connoisseur, and Gregoire Debré, Head of Sopexa for Southeast Asia, Taiwan and India.

Thierry Fritsch, ambassador of Alsace Wines (photo courtesy of

Saturday, 3 November 2012

A Review of Cilantro, Kuala Lumpur - KL's Finest?

Cilantro, by common consensus, is Malaysia’s best restaurant.  Not Malaysia’s best French restaurant, not even Malaysia’s best European restaurant.  The best, period.  So does Cilantro, the long-time home of chef Takashi Kimura, justify a spot on any food lover’s itinerary, or is it merely the haute-st blip on the radar of a country renowned for its casual local fare?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Restaurant André - A Review of One of the World's Best Restaurants

Every now and again, we have a culinary experience which makes you thank whatever gods may be that we are alive, and for the veritable angel tending the stoves for our personal pleasure.  As I get older and my tastebuds gets more jaded, these epiphanies get rarer and rarer.  I had one recently at Restaurant André.

Chef André Chiang

Sunday, 21 October 2012

An Inspirasianal Lunch with Two-Michelin-Starred Chef Eneko Atxa

Chef Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi
If you are reading this, you are probably here for a report on the food.  Atxa, the first two-Michelin-starred chef in Biscay and an exponent of avant-garde Basque cuisine, flew in this week to cook one exclusive lunch for 40 guests at the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore.  But to focus on the food would be to miss the bigger picture.  Why was Atxa here, and what’s with the typo in the heading?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Alsace Wine Promotions in Singapore, November 2012

Regular readers will have noticed a certain slant in my writing toward the wines and gastronomy of Alsace.  My tastes in wine lie towards the gentler end of the colour spectrum, and I strongly believe that Alsace produces some of the purest, most versatile (and delicious!) white wine in the market today.  Asia remains a small market for Alsace, where trying to sell anything French beyond Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne remains an uphill task.  But for the amateurs, we hope it will only be a matter of time...

Alsacien Architecture at the Maison du Cloutier, Riquewihr
(courtesy of Hugel et Fils,

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Review of Garibaldi Italian Restaurant and Bar - Classic Italian Still Going Strong

I first met Roberto Galetti, Garibaldi's owner and executive chef, at a World's 50 Best Restaurants dinner in late 2011.  Despite having lived in Singapore since 2007 and written about its restaurants for an even longer period, I was embarrassed to admit to him that while I had visited his KL satellite (also named Garibaldi), I had never visited his cherished first-born, arguably Singapore's best and most famous Italian restaurant.  Rated Asia's 7th best restaurant in the 2008 Miele Guide, winner of a swag of World Gourmet Summit best chef / restaurant / winelist awards since its opening in 2003, it has been coasting under the radar of late.  A decade is a long time in the life of a Singaporean restaurant, and I was keen to see how it had survived the test of time and a notoriously fickle and trend-driven market.

Roberto Galetti, Owner and Executive Chef of Garibaldi Restaurant and Bar

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Wine and Teochew Food at Chao Shan Cuisine, Beach Road

Chao Shan Cuisine is a place where many great vintages go to die.  Its subtle Teochew cuisine is said to present a perfect pairing with most types of wine, winning it a place in the hearts of many wine lovers in Singapore.  That and the fact they do not charge corkage and provide good stemware for their regulars.  I had promised our friend S a bottle of Les Amoureuses when he passed his CSW exam, so it was my pleasure to make my way to Chao Shan Cuisine last Friday, bottle in hand.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Review of Penang Road Cafe - a taste of Penang at Novena

The food war between Malaysia and Singapore has raged unabated in 2012.  Earlier in the year, we were treated to the annual spectacle (debacle) of "who invented yee sang"?  Things got a little more heated when foreign powers sought to intervene in the conflict, with Virtual naming Bangkok, Singapore and Penang as its readers' top three street food destinations, in that order.  The final straw was when Singaporean chef Michael Han, the proprietor of the in-hiatus Fat Duck / Noma-inspired Fifty-Three restaurant committed an act of treason by publicly declaring that Penang's street food tasted better and looked better than Singapore's.  Ouch.

Then I saw this place.

Friday, 24 August 2012

A Review of Mooi Chin Place - Classic Hainanese Cooking

At the grand old age of 77, Mooi Chin must be one of Singapore’s oldest continuously operating restaurants.  At the core of its longevity is its menu of “Hainanese” staples, including their famous pork chops and mutton soup.  Despite the name, these dishes do not owe much to Hainan.  Rather, it was developed by “cook-boys”, mostly of Hainanese descent,  who worked in the kitchens of the English colonials and hospitality establishments in late 19th / early 20th century Singapore and Malaysia.  As the cooks moved on to open their own eating establishments, a distinctive cuisine was born, a fusion of their employers’ preferences  and the tastes of their homeland.

Mooi Chin was a legend in its time, serving the great and the good of young Singapore.  In the 1960s, due to its previous location at Funan Centre across the road from the Supreme Court, it was a favourite of lawyers and judges looking to refuel their forensic minds.  Other local favourites such as sambal fish were added to the menu over the course of the years.

But as times change, so do tastes.  While it remains in the hands of the founding Wong family, Mooi Chin is now living a double-life as the all-day dining restaurant at Bugis’ Landmark Village Hotel, a slightly run-down local 3-star establishment.  This is unfortunate, in a couple of ways.  A quick flick through the very long menu takes you to the “Chef’s Recommendations” – Hawaiian Pizza, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Fish & Chips, Tiramisu.  Secondly, the hotel houses a KTV lounge, meaning pained squeals reminiscent of the sounds at a pig slaughterhouse periodically waft across the foyer, never an ideal accompaniment to your dinner.

On the plus side, the hotel location means you get air-conditioning, tablecloths, a carpeted floor and quite comfortable seats.  It is not very often that you get to enjoy traditional old school food in such an environment.

When we arrived just after 7, the place was packed with large family groups.  Within 20 minutes, the place was deserted and we had it to ourselves.  I was wondering whether it was the bloodied axe in my hand or my body odour that scared everyone away, but soon after, we could hear strains of Celine Dion as re-imagined by drunken Chinese businessmen and their paid hostesses.  Right.

On to the food.  A couple of members of our dining party (lawyers, incidentally) were not feeling too good so we had to mix up the robust traditional dishes with more delicate fare.

Hainanese Pork Chop ($12++)
The pork was nice and tender and the crumb coating was crispy.  The sauce also had a strong hint of cinnamon.  However, I doubt it was something I could not have prepared myself.

Steamed Tofu, HK-Style ($12++)
Good balance of flavour, with the fried shallots adding a nutty sweetness to the soy-based sauce.  From the texture and the look of it, the silken tofu was bought in.  Again, pleasant enough but nothing you could not do at home. 

"Kailan" ($12++)
The kailan was simply stir-fried with garlic and probably a little oyster sauce.  Very fresh, with a nice "snap"  to the bite.

At this point, I was wondering where it was all going.  Like I said, it was all OK but there was nothing particularly exciting or superlative.  Then the sambal pomfret arrived - I had very, very high hopes for this dish, and it certainly looked the part.

Sambal Pomfret ($35++)
Good, but I cannot put it any higher than that.  The fish was fresh and well-cooked, firm but never at risk of drying out.  The sambal, on the other hand, fell short of my expectations.  It was lightly sour, with elevated notes of chili heat.  It was a soprano compared to the rumbling, emotive bass of the sambal at Old Lai Huat, and unfortunately not a bravura performance.  While Lai Huat's rendition is addictive, crack cocaine to a chilli fiend, Mooi Chin's is simply good (but also less oily).  Lai Huat's version is also fried so that the fins and smaller bones become crunchy little edibles, so Mooi Chin's is also more one-dimensional in texture.

I also had a bowl of orh nee, the rich Teochew yam paste ($4++), which was not of any particular interest.  The portion was also rather too large, meaning it got tedious about a quarter of the way in.  A mango pudding ($3,50++) tasted of packet custard with the vaguest suggestions of the fruit.

When Mooi Chin was recommended to me, it was in the context of a discussion about Lai Huat, another old school Singaporean eatery (although a mere 49-year old stripling compared to Mooi Chin).  Comparisons were therefore inevitable and I'm of the view that you get more at Lai Huat, both in terms of quality and quantity, for less.  Undoubtedly, that is a side effect of Mooi Chin being a hotel restaurant and catering to guests on three-star expense accounts.  Like I said, Mooi Chin’s food is not bad, but it costs a fair bit for what you get.  The tofu and vegetable dishes each cost $12 for a small plate – Lai Huat would give you the same for $6.  And the pomfret at Lai Huat was definitely superior, at least in the sambal stakes if not necessarily in fish quality.

The service here is hit-and-miss, with a couple of mainland Chinese waitresses being completely unable to converse in anything other than Mandarin.  On the other hand, Mooi Chin does have quality stemware (even down to Champagne flutes, shiraz glasses, etc., but inventory is limited so please drop them a line in advance and let them know how many and what types of glasses you need for your table) and is corkage free 7 days a week.

Towards the end of the night, a European tourist walked in and ordered a Hawaiian pizza.  I wondered if he was aware that he was dining at a living slice of Singapore's culinary history.  But as times change, tastes change.  While it is clearly no longer at the peak of its powers, it is a decent place for traditional Hainanese cooking in comfortable surrounds, and has certainly survived the passing decades far better than the younger Dragon Phoenix.

390 Victoria Street
#03-12A Landmark Village Hotel
Singapore 188061
BYO Policy: BYO welcome, no corkage fee, but please ring ahead to check availability of good wine glasses.  For a more comprehensive list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO and their corkage policies, please click here.
Tel: +65 6392 1600

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Review of Catalunya, Singapore - Not the New El Bulli

I chose the title of this post not because Catalunya isn't good - it is, very much so.  But it is nothing like what you would have expected from maitre d' Pol Perello and executive chef Alain Devahive Tolosa, who both spent over a decade at El Bulli.  Catalunya serves, as Perello puts it, "the food of our grandmothers with new touches".   There was never any intention to serve anything remotely resembling the food at El Bulli.  This was a surprise given the media playing up the whole El Bulli angle and association, but then again, rockmelon caviar and parmesan air sell so many more papers and magazines than croquetas and patatas bravas.

Catalunya, photo courtesy of Alex Ang

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

DISH OF THE MONTH AUGUST 2012 - Guy Savoy's "Caviar and Potato Stones, Smoked Egg Sabayon"

As the last month’s been pretty busy fine dining-wise (not that I’m complaining!), it was a hard call naming a single “Dish of the Month” for August 2012.  But a creation from Guy Savoy is the winner by a whisker, followed very closely by Hong Kong's Cépage and Catalunya Singapore.

Executive Chef Eric Bost of Guy Savoy, Marina Bay Sands

Friday, 3 August 2012

Gourmet Japan Dinner - Michelin-starred Chef Sebastien Lepinoy at Au Jardin, Singapore

It was around 6 pm on a Friday evening, the witching hour when our brains collectively turn to mush and to thoughts of alcohol, when my phone rang.  It was my old comrade Raymond Lim, le deuxième grande fromage at the Les Amis Group, asking if Emily and I were free for dinner at the very romantic Au Jardin in the Botanic Gardens that evening.  Sebastien Lepinoy, the executive chef at Les Amis’  one-Michelin-starred Cépage in Hong Kong, was doing a promotional visit as part of Gourmet Japan, he explained, and was cooking a special menu with Japanese produce.  “With my compliments”, he added.

I’m never one to decline a meal from a Michelin-starred chef, much less when it’s free.  And I had never sampled Lepinoy’s food before, so I checked with She Who Must Be Obeyed, replied to Raymond in the affirmative, and immediately began to regret my decision.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

TGV Lunch at Guy Savoy Singapore - A Review

Hot on the heels of my Robuchon post, I thought I should check out the competition over at Marina Bay Sands, where Guy Savoy reigns as the high-end French cuisine option.  

Guy Savoy

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

DISH OF THE MONTH JULY 2012 (and possibly the year so far) - db Bistro Moderne's Boeuf Bourguignon and "Mac and Cheese"



Stephane Istel, creator of our inaugural "Dish of the Month" 
(photo courtesy of Marina Bay Sands)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Pairing Wine with Some of Singapore's Best Seafood - Old Lai Huat, Rangoon Road

I knew this was going to be tough.  Finding a wine to match some of Singapore’s most robustly spicy (and delicious) seafood would be a challenge worthy of any palate.

The venue was Old Lai Huat Seafood on Rangoon Road.  It doesn’t make any sense to me, but this place is always quiet except on Saturday and Sunday evenings, on which it heaves with large family groups all night.  Awesome food at great prices; what more do people want?  For me, Lai Huat’s signature sambal belacan pomfret and sole are amongst the very best seafood preparations in Singapore today.  The fish is very good, with its fins and tail fried to a blissfully edible crunch, but it is the intensely fragrant, insanely addictive topping of minced dried shrimp fried with belacan (fermented prawn paste), chillies, ginger and lemongrass that elevates it to a level of rare divinity.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Dinner at Joel Robuchon Restaurant, Sentosa, Singapore - A Review

I could start this review by reciting a list of Joël Robuchon’s achievements, but I won’t.  Suffice to say I was really looking forward to my visit to Joël Robuchon Restaurant, the master’s outpost at Resorts World Sentosa, and his only flag in Southeast Asia.  Of all the "celebrity chefs" to arrive at the integrated resorts, Robuchon is without doubt the best-known and most influential, having built a global empire with 26 Michelin stars to its name.  His alums have become world-famous chefs in their own right: Gordon Ramsay, Eric Ripert, Eric Briffard...

Robuchon has made no secret of his admiration for Japanese culture and its influence on his cooking and way of thinking about food.  So it is only fitting that he has appointed a Japanese, Executive Chef Tomonori Danzaki, to spearhead his operations here in Singapore (a branch of his Atelier franchise, sexy black and red counters serving fine food in a casual environment, is next door).  Danzaki has been with the Robuchon family since 1994, winning three stars in the Las Vegas Michelin Guide for his efforts at Joël Robuchon Restaurant at the MGM Grande.  Assisting him in this endeavour is a delightfully multinational team including Frenchman maître d' Guillaume Anglade, Japanese baker chef Yoshihiko Tauchi and Peruvian chef pâtissier Antonio Benites.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Léon Beyer: A Tasting with Marc Beyer at Taberna, Singapore

Marc Beyer, 13th generation winemaker and current proprietor of the Maison Léon Beyer in Eguisheim, Alsace, visited Singapore last week and conducted a tutored tasting at Taberna Wine Bar, Binjai Park.  Taberna is one of my favourite wine bars, with an excellent wine selection, wine library and homely comfortable décor; a huge bonus is you get to order food in from the neighbouring pizzeria, cze char and Peranakan restaurants.  Its only con, and the sole reason I don’t go there as often as I would like, is that it’s located in the furthest reaches of Bukit Timah Road, a long, long way (by Singapore standards, at least) from my usual habitat.

Marc Beyer explaining the geography and geology of Alsace (All photos
courtesy of Grace Tan at Taberna)

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy - Part 4

Today is our last day.  The work here is not done, it never is, but it is for us, and most of the wines are fermenting away happily in their barrels and tanks.  We’ve learnt so much over the past week, about wine, about Burgundy, about new friends and perhaps most importantly, ourselves.  When we take time out from the rat-race and connect with nature in all her magnificent moods and variables, we rediscover our values, and a kinder side of ourselves that we think we may have lost.

But today, we devote ourselves to hedonism.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Makansutra June 2012 Makan Session: Dragon Phoenix, Novotel Clarke Quay

I was invited to attend this dinner by my friend D who is a member of the Makansutra makan group, essentially a bunch of hardcore local foodies who gather once a month to enjoy good food and wine. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Singapore food lore, Dragon Phoenix is the 49-year old institution founded and still run, at least in name, by Chef Hooi Kok Wai, one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Cantonese cuisine in Singapore.  Amongst their various contributions, by far their most famous (and hotly disputed) is their claim to have invented yee sang, the raw fish salad so popular in Singapore and Malaysia at Chinese New Year celebrations.  This has precipitated numerous emotional cross-border debates over the decades, most memorably in January this year when the papers of record on either side of the Causeway gave front-page prominence to the increasingly acrimonious exchanges.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Pairing Hawker Food And Wine: Bak Chor Mee at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles

During a recent dinner at Les Amis, I made a throwaway remark that a certain pasta dish reminded me of bak chor mee.  S, one of our local friends at the table, got so worked up that he promised to show me a real Singaporean bak chor mee.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Wine Storage in Singapore

(I have written an updated post on 2014 wine storage options in Singapore here)

A few friends have recently asked me about wine storage options in Singapore.  Now I’m not an expert on the topic.  I do have a small stash with Cornerstone Wine’s 12 Degrees, which I think is great if your collection isn’t too big and you aren’t too fussed about getting 24/7 access to your wine.  I also know a few people who store their wines at Extra Space Self-Storage at Boon Keng, another recognised leader in wine storage.

I’ve spoken to three of Singapore’s top storage outfits, 12 Degrees, Extra Space and Wine Exchange Asia (WEA), to get more detail on their offerings and which of their business models suits which consumer best. Each represents a different storage model, respectively a bonded warehouse, DIY storage and a managed cellar service.  Links to their rate cards are herehere and here.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 3)

Dawn is breaking gently upon the Côte de Beaune.  Emily and I are on the plateau of the Fretille Hill, enjoying the beautiful vista.  Our Lady of Good Hope (Notre Dame de Bonne Espérance) stands beside us, blessing the road to Beaune and the three villages that share the Corton Hill – Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny.  The air is bracingly fresh and clean, and not for the first time, I consider chucking it all in for a little writer’s sinecure in the heart of the picturesque countryside.

As we walk back downhill and through the threshold of the domaine, so does Ludovic, bearing a paper bag of baked treats.  They are, without doubt, the best croissants and pains au chocolat I have ever tasted, shattering in crisp, buttery flakes as I bite into them.  I grin like an idiot as Ludo brews up potent espresso shots to kickstart our systems.  It is on such rudimentary fuel that the vignerons of Pernand-Vergelesses run, and a hard day of work is ahead.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Olivier Humbrecht, The Grape Whisperer

Natural.  That is the word that echoes in your mind as you speak to Olivier Humbrecht and taste the exquisite wines of his Domaine Zind-Humbrecht.

Humbrecht is that rarest and most unusual of creatures – a French Scotsphile.  With a Gallo-Scottish accent (thanks in no small part to his Glaswegian wife Margaret and years working in the UK) and an imposing 6’4” frame that wouldn’t look out of place on a rugby paddock, he is an ardent whisky-lover and France’s first Master of Wine.  And despite the numerous accolades heaped upon him, the man has no affectations; he meets us in simple work gear - a weathered brown Bruichladdich polo shirt and jeans, having just emerged from a busy morning in the cellars.

Olivier Humbrecht, MW, in the grand cru Goldert

Domaine Weinbach - The First Ladies of Alsace

An Afternoon Tasting with Catherine Faller

Wine has been made for over 1,100 years on the tranquil plains of what is now Domaine Weinbach.  The estate was founded and run by Capuchin monks from 1612 until the French Revolution, finally coming into the possession of the Faller brothers, tanners from Kaysersberg, in 1898.  After their son and nephew Theo’s untimely death in 1979, the estate has been under the doughty stewardship of Theo’s widow Colette and their two daughters Catherine and Laurence.

The Faller Women (l to r): Colette, Catherine and Laurence

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

the.Dyak - Urban Iban Cooking in Kuching, Sarawak

the.Dyak is a relatively new Iban restaurant on the fringes of Kuching town.   It has attracted rave reviews on TripAdvisor and other media for serving traditional Iban cooking in a smart, air-conditioned environment.  So when we were looking for an authentic yet comfortable experience after a few days in the jungle, it seemed like the natural choice.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Michel Sarran - World Gourmet Summit Dinner, 28 April 2012

I must admit I had misgivings about attending this "Epicurean Delights" dinner with Michel Sarran, chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin starred Restaurant Michel Sarran in Toulouse.  Firstly, I tend to be wary of visiting chefs doing food festivals, on the basis that they end up cooking in unfamiliar kitchens with an unfamiliar kitchen team whose members are unfamiliar with the chef’s food.  Secondly, he was being hosted in My Humble House, a Chinese restaurant.  Thirdly, I found out that Sarran only arrived yesterday from France, meaning he was probably suffering a mean case of jetlag – hardly conducive to churning out precise, star-worthy French food.

Chef Michel Sarran
Well, put all of those worries out of your mind, because Sarran is here for real and he means business. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Australia's Most Expensive Wine

I had a remarkable dinner last week at Au Jardin in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, at which the following wines were served:

·         1999 Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet;
·         2001 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin-Clos de Bèze;
·         2007 Parawa Estate Ingalalla Grand Reserve; and
·         1982 Château Trotanoy.

Can you spot the odd one out?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

db Bistro Moderne: Mondays in Alsace

On Mondays, db Bistro Moderne at Marina Bay Sands runs an Alsace dinner set menu.  While I’m not normally tempted by the it’s-early-in-the-week-so-let’s-do-a-special-to-draw-the-guests kind of menu, two things tipped the balance for me. 

Firstly, they offered a pairing with Hugel wines, to which I am rather partial (see here and here).  Secondly, db Bistro’s executive chef Stephane Istel is a native of Alsace, more precisely Irmstett, a small town 20km west of Strasbourg.  Istel is no mug, having worked with Daniel Boulud for seven years, including 18 months as a senior sous at New York’s now three-starred Restaurant Daniel and leading db Bistro Vancouver’s opening team.  When a chef of his calibre is given the chance to cook the food of his region and his childhood, it’s probably going to be pretty darned good.

(L to R): Pierre Paillard Champagne, 2010 Hugel Gentil, Riesling and Gewurztraminer Classic

Friday, 6 April 2012

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 2)

The door creaks open.  “Bonjour”, I smiled warmly at the old man, “Ludovic est içi?”  This gentleman, who we later learned was Ludo’s father Jean, mumbled something unintelligible, closed the door and walked back inside.  Through the glass frontage, I saw him pick up the phone.

Domaine Ludovic Belin - Home for the Next Week
Just to provide a little context, Pernand-Vergelesses, population 269, is a little medieval village 10 minutes’ drive north of Beaune.  It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else, who’s sleeping with whose wife and what you had for dinner last night.  When you travel, all you need to write on your baggage tag is, “Jean Belin, Pernand-Vergelesses”.  No house number, no street name, no phone number.  If the local postal delivery guy doesn’t know where to return Jean Belin’s lost suitcase, he would be sacked on the spot.  Except, of course, that he’s a French public servant.

So you can imagine Jean’s trepidation when the tired, Chinese-looking strangers knocked on his door asking where his son was.  I just hoped he wasn’t calling the police.

Pamplemousse - One of the Best

A Maundy Thursday dinner at Pamplemousse confirmed what I have suspected for quite a while: Adrian Ling is one of the most talented cooks in Singapore today.

I first discovered this unassuming “bistro” in November last year, over two years since it bravely opened its doors in the dog-days of the GFC.  Just a little bit of background for those unfamiliar with Pamplemousse, Ling is a former commodities trader who decided to pursue his passion for food and cooking, training first at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa before working for a string of rather famous chefs and establishments in Singapore.  I won’t mention them because to do so would be a disservice to Ling.  While littered with innumerable reference points, his is a cuisine sui generis.  Which would not matter to me at all except that it also happens to be bloody delicious.

I have since returned thrice, making it a point to try new dishes on each occasion.  Tonight was going to be no different.  Cleo Chiang, Adrian’s partner in life and business, tells me they’ve just revamped the menu, abandoning the old prix fixe three-course concept in favour of a la carte and introducing a slew of new items.  After a quick discussion, Emily and I drafted a selection of rookie dishes.  And if there is any justice, these rookies will soon be making a big splash, the Ling-sanity of the Singapore restaurant world.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence

The World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence presentation ceremony took place today, recognising the past year’s achievements by the hardworking members of Singapore’s F&B industry.  Awards ranged all the way from Restaurant of the Year to various apprenticeships and scholarships for budding young talents. Along the way, I was lucky enough to pick up the Montblanc Food Writer of the Year award.  My winning submission, At Your Service (September/October 2011 edition of Flavours Magazine), was based on my two-week front-of-house stint at Les Amis Restaurant.  It was great also to meet two fellow food writing finalists Gavin Nazareth, who flew down all the way from Bangkok for the Awards, and Virginia Brumby, director at Survival Chic.

You can't tell I'm happy from the look on my face
Thanks so much to the team at Les Amis for putting up with me, and to my editors at Flavours, Julie Wong and Ng Tse Mei, for their support and indulging my occasional excesses for the last 5 years.  Special thanks also to June Wong and Malini Dias, my original editing team at StarMag, who gave me my first break in 2003/4 and at whose doorstep all of my literary sins subsequent to that date can be placed  ;)

A little extract from my article follows below.
*             *             *
“I am a diner.  I am, as the French would say in their charming fashion, an amateur of haute cuisine.  I love it all, from the quality of the ingredients, the precision of techniques and preparation, the synchronicity of service, right down to the weight of the cutlery, the ceremony and sense of occasion.

But today, as lunch draws to a close at Les Amis, I slump into a chair, fatigued.  My feet are deadly sore and I am hungry enough to eat a nine-course meal.  Assistant manager Zaki Feisal walks over.  But unlike our previous encounters, he wasn’t about to offer me a digestif for the road.  Instead, he claps me on the shoulder.  “Rough start, huh?” is the best he can offer.  I grunt. 

I hope you don’t think I was being rude, but I had spent the last three hours on my feet feeding total strangers and pandering to their every whim and fancy. I was variously thanked, pulled up on my mistakes, tugged each and every way where help was needed.  Through it all, I forced a smile and muttered inane pleasantries through gritted teeth.  At long last, the tables had been turned on me.
I was a waiter....
*             *             *
(Click here to finish the adventure and read the original version from the magazine)

Friday, 16 March 2012

Colgin Cellars Wine Dinner at Les Amis (15 March 2012)

A lot has been said about Les Amis over the years, not all of it complimentary.  A pillar of the local independent restaurant scene since 1994, some even suggested that its day had passed with the arrival of so-called “world-class fine dining” at Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World. 

To be honest, I think some people miss the point of this place.  This is not where you come for intense knock-your-socks off flavours.  Always working with the best ingredients, chef Armin Leitgeb creates food with an amazing sense of restraint – freshness, texture and colour are key features of his cooking.  This is key given the restaurant’s (and most of its guests’) immense focus on wine.  I personally think Leitgeb is one of the most under-rated chefs in the country.  It never ceases to surprise me when his skill and achievements are continually overlooked for recognition.  And it didn’t surprise me at all when Ann Colgin said Les Amis was the only choice to host her eponymous winery’s showcase dinner.

A little confession here – I knew next to nothing about Colgin Cellars when I booked for me and three friends.  But clearly many others did.  An event originally restricted to 30 places and to be held in Les Amis’ private rooms grew to 53 covers communal-style in the main dining room.  When I was told that the dinner could have been sold out three times over even then, I realised I was on to a good thing.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 1)

This article was published in the March edition of Flavours magazine, about my recent holiday to Burgundy. Make sure to pick up the next edition of Flavours to follow the adventure :) The pdf version from the magazine is here.

woke up this morning in unfamiliar surroundings.  I could hear the trills of joyous birdsong as sunlight filtered through battered curtains.  An antique doll, dressed in yellow chiffon, stared at me, cold and lifeless yet smiling.  Her four companions were equally nonplussed, their rosy-lipped grins completely at variance with their lifeless countenance.  Old wooden floorboards creaked and groaned under my weight as I got out of bed.  Outside, the yeasty musk of fermentation permeated the fresh, rural air.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Singapore anymore.

Pernand-Vergelesses: A view from the Belles Filles lieu-dit

I know the post is titled “A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy”.  We’ll get there eventually, but Burgundy is so village-oriented, so local in its outlook, that we need to know the characters and personalities who populate it and who will dominate my narrative.  So please let me first describe how the trip came about, and how I met the folks who would later be my kind hosts.

We first encountered Ludovic Belin, winemaker of Pernand-Vergelesses (, over a wine dinner with our mutual friend William Chong.  Ludovic, a scion of that quaint village’s prominent Rapets, was in Singapore for a promotional trip with his first cousin Vincent Rapet (proprietor and winemaker of Domaine Rapet –

It was a strange evening, as these so often are.  I was seated between my wife Emily to my left, and our dear friend Liz (who has since gone on to open the popular Praelum Wine Bistro on Duxton Hill), with Ludovic next to her.  Ludo is a rogue-ishly handsome red-blooded French male from central casting; tonight he played his role to perfection, so I ignored the blatant flirt-fest transpiring to my right and tried instead to focus on dinner.  As we were in an old-style giant garoupa restaurant, we were served a succession of braised garoupa cheeks, steamed garoupa flanks with shredded scallions and soy, deep-fried crunchy garoupa fins, claypot-braised garoupa liver with oyster sauce and ginger, and poached garoupa sperm in a clear broth. 

Mmmmm...sperm-alicious!  That's if you've got the balls to try it. (courtesy of Ludovic Belin)

Among our Burgundian guests, this last delicacy created much confusion tinged with not much amusement.  “C’est QUOI?” came the stunned query.  Well, you try explaining that in French!  After much obscene gesturing and unprintable language, Ludo got the idea.  “Couilles du poisson”, he explained.  Vincent’s eyes almost popped out of his head as Ludo popped a nugget of couille into his mouth.  If nothing else, this showed how different the cousins were.  Ludo, who in actual fact is a very warm, caring and friendly guy, carefully cultivates his image as a suave, slightly dangerous loose cannon who happens to make lovely wine.  Vincent, on the other hand, carefully cultivates his of a simple, dour working farmer carrying on a proud 250 year-old family tradition.

Vincent Rapet,, winemaker and proprietor of the vaunted Domaine Rapet (courtesy of Dr Peter Wong)

The night carried on and after almost two bottles of wine each, William had a brilliant idea – let’s have more wine!  We staggered out of the Maison des Couilles and made our way to Extra Space where William keeps his cellar.  The rest of the night/morning was a Barolo-tinged haze; I vaguely remember saying farewell to Ludo and how I looked forward to tasting his wine when he was next in Singapore, and Ludo replying “I am at the Hilton.  Come over tomorrow at 10.00 am and we’ll do a private tasting together before I fly out”.

I stumbled home with the missus around 3.45 am.  “Ha ha!” I laughed as I opened the front door, “he was so drunk he couldn’t possibly be serious”.  Emily looked at me.  “You know, you should probably go.  How would it look if he organises everything and you didn’t rock up?”  I pondered this for about one minute before passing out on the couch.

So the following morning, uncertainty compounded by the incessant drumming in my head, I made my way to the Hilton.  10.03 am, said my Blackberry as I crossed the threshold into the lobby.  “Great, I’m on time!” I thought.  Well, almost.  “Where ‘ave you been?” Ludovic cried as he gave me a meaty handshake, “I ‘ave been waiting for you”.  Well, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious… He led me to the cream-and-wood Kaspia Bar, where a daunting row of ten wine bottles, each decorated with an angel in rapture and the legend “Domaine Ludovic Belin”, stood to terse attention.

Try taking these guys on while labouring under a hangover (courtesy of William Chong)

To cut a long story short, we swirled and we gargled, we swished and we spat.  Every now and again, we even swallowed.  I’m no expert, but we found much common ground as we shared our opinions on the wine.  At the end, he said “Your tasting eez quite good.  Maybe eef you like, you come to Pernand-Vergelesses in Septembre, you stay wiz me, we do ‘arvest, drink good wine?”

Now by this stage, I’m conditioned to obey our white masters.  Hell, I’ve been married to Emily for over five years now.  So the next thing I knew, I was back home on the interwebs booking flights to Paris for us and Liz.  And the next thing I knew, it was mid-September and I was at the departure lounge in Changi Airport.  Liz, as we had come to expect, was running (un)fashionably late.  She finally appeared as boarding commenced, wearing a chunky pink windcheater.  “Is this thick enough?” she babbled, clearly having rushed out of the office and straight to the airport, “I don’t know how cold it’s going to be and…”

But who cared?  We were finally going to Burgundy!

(To be continued…)

Related Posts:

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 2) -  

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 3) -

The Hill of Corton -

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Hill of Corton

Wine Tasting Masterclass, Hilton Singapore, 11 February 2012

Together with Emily, I attended this excellent tasting, hosted by the Hilton Singapore’s charming sommelière Stéphanie Rigourd.  Two winemakers from the Burgundian village of Pernand-Vergelesses were featured, Ludovic Belin of Domaine Ludovic Belin and his cousin Vincent Rapet of Domaine Rapet.  I spent a week working in Ludo’s cellars last September (and snuck off down the road one morning to do a tasting with Vincent) so was more than happy to come along and support them both on their Singapore trip.
Ludovic Belin, very glad to be back in Singapore