Thursday, 26 December 2013

A Quick Review of Morsi & Sorsi, Singapore - Nothing to do with the former Egyptian President

I recently had lunch at a new casual eatery, Morsi & Sorsi, on Telok Ayer Road.  And no, the not-particularly-missed ex-president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, has not come to Singapore as a "Foreign Talent".  Rather, this is the newest brainchild of Lino Sauro, the current and soon-to-be ex-head chef of Gattopardo at the Fort Canning Hotel.  And yes, it is the same old Singaporean story of landlords seeking their pound of flesh at lease renewal time, so much so that Sauro decided that it was no longer viable to keep Gattopardo going.

I enjoyed Sauro's food at Gattopardo, although the sales tactics and lack of transparency by the servers were an occasional source of aggravation.  Here at Morsi & Sorsi, Italian for "sips and bites", he has swapped his lavish fresh seafood display for a glass counter which prominently displays the produce, drinks, etc. featured on the day.  And because Singaporeans tend not to take to eating at a cold glass counter, more traditional alfresco seating is provided outside the Telok Ayer Road shopfront.  Surely enough, on this Christmas week lunchtime, I count only two patrons at the counter, whereas the outdoor seats are all occupied.

Sauro, a very rare red-haired (or rather bearded) Sicilian, is also a rare cooking talent.  At Morsi & Sorsi, however, he has dialled his food back along with the decor, so hot main courses such as beef lasagne go for $13-$15, starters for a bit less.  The food here is about good, fresh ingredients, cooked simply but with classic techniques, at reasonable prices.  Evidently, this approach is winning something of a following, because after a mere month in business, it is doing well enough such that the prices on a few of the more popular items have already been raised a couple of dollars since opening.

I have to deviate from my usual practice of listing prices in this post because my dining partner, a particularly notorious figure in Singapore's F&B industry, was kind enough to pick up the tab for me.  You also won't get any photos because on occasion, taking photos during a meal can be inappropriate - shock, horror!  In his typically flamboyant fashion, my kind host asked Sauro to cook up a selection of dishes for us, and to the chef's credit, he managed to serve us five small courses and coffee within an hour.

Most of the courses presented were quite enjoyable.  I have particularly fond recollections of a piadina (white flatbread traditionally grilled on a terracotta plate) encasing tomato slices, 24-month old prosciutto and truffled mayonnaise.  I first got hooked on piadine when they were all the rage in Melbourne a decade ago, and I am very glad to see that Sauro is delivering a version that does justice to my happy memories.  

On this cold (by Singapore standards) and semi-drizzly day, I had a craving for the beef lasagne.  Instead, I got a very decent cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta, doused in a mornay sauce before a quick visit to the salamander for some gratin action.  This, for me, represents the classic dimension that so typefies Morsi & Sorsi: when was the last time you had a dish with mornay sauce?  I also enjoyed the bite and flavour of grilled Australian veal ribs, with the nicely caramelised glaze adding some sweetness and intensity to the meat. 

Just to show that he is not all about tradition, Sauro sources some locally-cured bresaola (which is excellent, by the way) and pairs a generous layering of the air-dried lean beef with what I recall was baby spinach leaves and fresh mozzarella.  A quinoa salad hits the lone false note, but I have an irrational prejudice against quinoa and other so-called "super foods", so my views on this subject are perhaps not the most impartial.  Oh, and the coffee is pretty good too.


I like Morsi & Sorsi.  In the city, good value eating options are few and far between once you exclude the hawker options.  Very often, you won't get much change from $10 for a salad or a sandwich.  The Rotisserie next door has made a good fist of it since it opened three years ago, serving a large roasted half-chicken and side dishes for $16.  The main courses at Morsi & Sorsi rarely exceed this amount, and I think they will have some success tapping into the same market.

Just bear with me for a final rant.  While rising property prices are generally a good thing, extortionate rents can act as a drag on the Singaporean economy, stifling enterprise and generally making industry uncompetitive.  In the restaurant context, the restaurateur has to pass on the costs to his customers, otherwise he will go out of business.  And you wonder why so many restaurants in Singapore, even the good ones, often don't last for very long.  While I am glad that Sauro has stayed in the game with Morsi & Sorsi, I just wish that Gattopardo closing wasn't the price we had to pay for it.  I also hope that the future of Singapore dining does not lie with talented chefs dumbing-down their cooking simply to keep their prices accessible.

PS Daniel Yap, who does the PR for Morsi & Sorsi and Gattopardo, wrote to me with some good news today: Gattopardo will be re-opening in January 2014 at 34 Tras Street, presumably where the rent will be somewhat cheaper.  

Tras Street has developed into something of a foodie hotspot in recent years, with the openings (to name a few) of Brasserie Gavroche, Sushi Mitsuya, Fleur de Sel and Bar-Roque Grill.  It will be interesting to see how the new Gattopardo finds its niche in such a crowded neighbourhood.

51 Telok Ayer Road
Singapore 048441
Tel: +65 6222 6530
Reservations not accepted

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Review of Fat Cow, Singapore - More Than Just Chunks of Dead Fat Cow

In September 2011, Fat Cow, a self-proclaimed Japanese beef atelier and whisky/cocktail bar, took up the ground floor space at Camden Medical Centre vacated by Kelvin Lee's much-lamented Le Figue (incidentally, I first tasted Lee's food back when he was the head chef at the now defunct San Marco at the Fullerton Hotel's Lighthouse and loved it since).

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Review of La Barca Ristorante & Wine Bar, Singapore (and a bottle of 1983 Lynch-Bages!)

La Barca at the Goodman Arts Centre, run by former one-Michelin-starred Tuscan chef Michele Sorrentino, was the venue for a recent mid-week dinner (and incidentally, my first face-to-face encounter) with wine blogger Richard Chen of Ric's Wine Journal.

Planning on food and venue was all going well until Richard mentioned he was bringing a bottle of 1983 Château Lynch-Bages.  How does one, of limited years and even more limited means such as I, try to match such a bottle?  Before I go any further, I should clarify that my concern wasn't about trying to bring a better bottle or engaging in some daft contest.  Rather, I was endeavouring simply not to let my dining companion down!

Dr Chen's 1983 Lynch-Bages

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Review of Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant, The Forum - Please Don't Go There.

Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant (not to be confused with "Crystal Jade Palace Restaurant") may be hidden away in the basement of the Forum Shopping Mall on Orchard Road, but it is certainly no secret.  It is a particular favourite of wine lovers for its unlimited no-corkage BYO policy, so getting a table on weekend nights is virtually impossible.  I certainly do NOT want more people making it even more difficult for me to get a table, so this review of dinner there last week comes with a single message which I hope comes through loud and clear:


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Etienne Hugel Lunch on 11 January 2014 - The Alsace Society. Chapter Four, Winter 2013/4

Hot on the heels of our very successful AGM in September, I am excited to let you know that Etienne Hugel, the 12th-generation proprietor of Hugel et Fils, Riquewihr, has (again) gracefully agreed to host the Society to a lunch with Hugel wines on Saturday, 11 January 2014.

Etienne Hugel, bringing some amazing wines out to Singapore for our lunch!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Brisbane 2013 (Part 1) - Reviews of Eats around Eagle Street Pier

Apologies for the extended quiet.  I have just endured one of the most challenging yet simultaneously rewarding weeks of my life in an unfamiliar role (being a full-time carer to my 10-month old) in unfamiliar surroundings (the 35th floor of a random block of serviced apartments) in an unfamiliar city (Brisbane, Australia).

But when my little princess dozes off and the full moon rises, the gourmand within resurfaces, lycanthrope-like, ravenously hungry for a taste of my new surroundings.  As my movements were limited, my hunting ground was Eagle Street Pier, an expansive piece of riverfront restaurant real estate home to some of Brisbane's best-loved restaurants.  Below are some quick reviews of my meals there:

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Alsace Society Chapter 3 - Annual GEWURZTRAMINER Meeting at Bar-Roque Grill, 7 September 2013

After a summer hiatus, we reconvened the Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society at Bar-Roque Grill for its Third Chapter, which I titled the AGM (Annual GEWURZTRAMINER Meeting), an Alsatian feast featuring six of the best Gewurztraminers from Alsace.  And for my friends at the Registry of Societies, no we are only an informal grouping of wine and food lovers and are not officially registered, so I will not be lodging any minutes or accounts anytime soon.  I can, however, share with you this wonderful photo of a whole roasted foie gras d' Alsace, served with roasted quetsch plums marinated in Chinese five-spice, courtesy of our favourite Alsatian chef Stéphane Istel:

The rest of the AGM, of course, was no less spectacular...

Friday, 20 September 2013

Makansutra Makan Session September 2013 - A Review of Red Star Restaurant, Chin Swee Road

At the last Makansutra dinner in August, Tony Lim, one of the Makansutra Makan Session organisers, promised a special treat: a trip down memory lane with classic dishes served at one of Singapore's classic Cantonese restaurants.  Red Star, which welcomed its first guests back in 1974, was founded by the quartet of chefs known as the "Four Heavenly Kings", commonly credited with revolutionising Cantonese cuisine in Singapore.  Today, Red Star is still nominally run by the two surviving Heavenly Kings, Sin Leong and Hooi Kok Wai, both well into their 80s but still in amazing physical shape.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A Review of Sebastien Lepinoy's Les Amis - Taking Les Amis Back To The Top

I can finally announce that Sebastien Lepinoy, previously Executive Chef at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Cépage in Hong Kong, has been appointed the new Resident Chef at Les Amis, Singapore.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Makansutra August 2013 Makan Session - A Review of Ah Yat Seafood, The Grandstand

When my friend D sent me the menu for the Makansutra August 2013 Makan Session, I literally drooled on my keyboard.  You see, at heart, I am an old-fashioned Chinese gourmand.  This menu simply couldn't set a foot wrong: suckling pig, shark fin soup, abalone, venison, chilli crab and the customary mystery "dessert".  All for the measly price of S$50 nett, all corkage charges waived.  The only downside was that the venue, Ah Yat Seafood Restaurant, was located at The Grandstand, up in the wilds near Upper Bukit Timah Road.
Some things are too good to be true, and it can be a disappointing experience when the penny finally drops.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Review of Pidgin Kitchen & Bar, Dempsey - A New Pamplemousse is Born!

I love Pamplemousse.  Correction, I loved Pamplemousse.  This unassuming eatery, featuring very well thought-through Franco-Asian "bistro" dishes from Adrian Ling, closed its shutters for the last time on 9 June 2013.  But with the class that marks much of what Ling and his wife / restaurant manager Cleo Chiang do, Pamplemousse donated all the proceeds of its valedictory dinner to a local children's charity.

But Ling and Chiang bounced back this week, reopening on the old Pamplemousse space with a brave concept: a more casual room serving Asian-inspired, especially Singaporean / Malaysian-influenced, sharing plates (Ling and Chiang are wary of the word "tapas").  And as its cuisine is an amalgam of various influences and experiences, Pidgin, meaning a simplified language with influence from multiple languages, is a delightfully appropriate name.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

A Review of Jaan by Julien Royer - The Ambition of Youth

An updated review of Julien Royer's Jaan in 2014 is here.

I recently returned to Jaan, the fine dining restaurant at the top floor of the Swissotel the Stamford, for the first time since André Chiang's departure.  I could say a lot about the multiple courses presented by Auvergnat-born chef de cuisine Julien Royer, but in the interests of brevity, I can summarise my thoughts in a sentence: very good, but there is a definite sense that Royer is, surely but still in the process of, finding his voice.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Review of Galvin Lim's Les Amis 2012-3: An Extended Interregnum

(Please note that Sebastien Lepinoy has now taken over as Resident Chef at Les Amis, with Galvin Lim returning to his previous role as Group Executive Chef.  My recent report on Lepinoy's Les Amis is here).

I recently walked back into Les Amis for the first time in over 12 months.  Not that I had anything against caretaker chef Galvin Lim, who, in his real life, is the Group Executive Chef of the Les Amis Group of Restaurants.  Former chef de cuisine Armin Leitgeb and Chef Patissier Daniel Texter departed in the middle of 2012, and in the interests of due process, I was waiting for a new chef to be appointed and settled in before I visited again for a review. 


Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Review of Bar-Roque Grill, Singapore - Love on the Plate

I was very glad to recently re-acquaint myself with the cooking of Stéphane Istel, formerly Executive Chef at db Bistro Moderne, Singapore.  Together with ex-Sky on 57 GM Kori Millar, his partner in business and life, he has just (soft) opened what may well be one of Singapore's most ambitious restaurants projects this year, Bar-Roque Grill.

Bar-Roque Grill - Singapore, Singapore

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Review of Dezato Desserts & Dining – Riesling Week Lunch with the Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society

Back in early April, I was surfing the Internet one weeknight when I found out that Riesling Week was starting in three days!  There were a few events in Singapore planned around Riesling Week; the Germans were all over it and the Austrians were putting on couple of events as well.  There was nothing planned around Alsace, the only region in France where Riesling is grown and deemed worthy of AOC status.

So on the spur of the moment, I convened the Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society for a Riesling Week Lunch at Dezato, a little Japanese restaurant in the heart of the CBD which has a cult following among local wine drinkers.  With barely a week’s notice, we managed to scrape together fourteen attendees for a Saturday lunch, which wasn’t a bad result at all.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A Casual Revolution? Reviews of Communal and Spathe Public House, Singapore

Despite having been in Singapore for almost six years, it still surprises me how dynamic and fickle dining trends and the dining public are in this Southeast Asian metropolis.  For the longest time, casual hawker food co-existed with some successful attempts at European dining.  With the opening of the casinos in 2010 (and their accompanying raft of Michelin-starred names, as well as the notable re-emergence of André Chiang), high-level dining in Singapore rapidly reached its heyday. 

Just as quickly, the focus switched back to casual dining, with tapas, bistro and US-inspired burger joints springing up like mushrooms.  I recently visited two such vanguards, Communal (in the CBD at North Bridge Road) and Spathe Public House in the River Valley enclave, to check out this new wave of Singapore dining.

Communal's Chicken Wings with Bourbon Sauce

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

List of BYO Restaurants in Singapore, Corkage-Free or Otherwise

(Last Updated on 22 September 2016; a guide on how and where to buy cheap wine in Singapore is here).

Having taken up wine as a semi-serious hobby in the last couple of years, I have been building up a little collection of the wines I like to drink (a few options for storing your wines in Singapore are listed and explored here and here).  And it's a dilemma for aficionados more serious than I: where can you take your favourite drop for a meal without being absolutely caned on corkage, assuming they actually allow you to bring your wines in the first place?

Friday, 17 May 2013

Tien Court at the Copthorne King's Singapore - Masters of the Wok

Tien Court, the flagship Cantonese fine dining restaurant at the Copthorne King's Hotel, is one of Singapore's old restaurant warhorses.  It is quite remarkable that its masterchef, Taipei-born Ho Tien Tsai, has been cooking at Tien Court for almost 23 years, well before the Millennium & Copthorne Group took over management of the old King's Hotel.  When you look at the number of senior Chinese chefs in Singapore who have been sacked or jailed in recent years for taking bribes from seafood suppliers (including at the Marriott, Hilton, Si Chuan Dou Hua, the Regent, Goodwood Park, Shangri-La and the Grand Hyatt), Ho's staying power seems all the more remarkable.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Jonathan Kinsella's DB Bistro Moderne, Singapore 2013 - A Review

I try not to write about places multiple times.  It bores my regular readers (all three of you, thanks for your continuing attention!) to tears and there is enough in Singapore and the region to keep me occupied without repeat reports.

But every now and again, a fresh breeze sweeps through an old favourite such that it is no longer recognisable as the familiar friend of yesteryear.  Such a zephyr swept recently through db Bistro Moderne Singapore, largely unnoticed over the Christmas/New Year/Chinese New Year period, in the form of a new kitchen leadership team, Executive Chef Jonathan Kinsella and Executive Pastry Chef Benjamin Siwek.

The new cast at db Bistro Moderne (l to r): Kinsella, owner Daniel Boulud and Siwek

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society Launch with Etienne Hugel, 26 January 2013

On a Saturday afternoon in January, eighteen lovers of Alsace wine convened at the private rooms of Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine to inaugurate the Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society, Singapore.  Presiding over this auspicious occasion was our dear friend Etienne Hugel, the 12th generation proprietor of the prominent Alsace winery Hugel et Fils.

All photos courtesy of Dr Peter Wong.

It's Riesling o'Clock...again!  Etienne mugs for the camera

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Wines of Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC

It is a rare pleasure, in an increasingly homogenized and commercialised wine world, to discover something genuinely new and unexpected.  Imagine a red wine with a beguiling perfume of red fruit and flowers, vaguely reminiscent of a pinot noir’s aromatic depth, only for those notions to be dispelled by a mid-palate of herbs and pine needles.  And at the finish, a distinct salty tang, almost as if you were standing by the shores of the Ligurian Sea itself.

These are the wines of Dolceacqua.

The Bricco Arcagna vineyard, surrounded  by morning fog

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Makansutra March 2013 Makan Session at Tonny's Restaurant, Geylang

I was foolishly tempted to once again attend a Makansutra dinner.  After the unmitigated disaster that was my visit to Dragon Phoenix, I was dragged along to Tonny’s Restaurant (that’s TonNy, not Tony) in Geylang Lorong 3.  But this time, with the benefit of experience, I knew it was going to be a piss-up and I came prepared...

My name's Tonny, and don't forget the second "N"

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Raffles Grill Review - "Liquid Gold" Sauternes Dinner

Two of my most disappointing meals in recent memory have been at the Raffles Grill.  Sure, no one who knows anything about Singapore dining today regards the Grill (or the Raffles Hotel in general, for that matter) as being of any great relevance.  But it is a crying shame that a grand old name with so much history, and through which portals so many sophisticated travellers pass, cannot boast a decent European restaurant to save its life.

So when I received a mailer from Raffles about a four-course Sauternes dinner promising delights such as 1942 Doisy-Daëne, a decision which would have been obvious in other circumstances (or venues, to be more precise), I had a good, long, hard think before committing.  I was reassured, however, by the fact that Raffles’ Deputy Executive Chef Nicola Canuti (a trusted Alain Ducasse lieutenant in a past life) was descending from his lofty perch to create the menu and run the kitchen on the night.

In the haunting twilight of our tropical evenings, walking up to the Raffles never fails to give me a real sense of occasion.  It’s not the history of the place or the famous writers who have lived there (I have no particular affection for Maugham and Hemingway), but to see this magnificent edifice, rising proudly in stark white while the rest of the nation prepares for the night, is a sight indeed.  And the Grill itself is a beautiful room.  I just hoped that the food would not disappoint.  If I did, the prospect of waterboarding my sorrows with Sauternes was not a very appealing one (at least not to my pancreas).

But on this occasion, we had an added treat.  The wines would be introduced by heavyweight representatives of the three Châteaux, Coutet (Aline Baly, owner), Guiraud (Augustin Lacaille, Brand Ambassador for Asia) and Doisy-Daëne (Fabrice Dubourdieu, son of the current owner Denis).  I’ve set out my commentary and brief tasting notes below.

We are greeted with a glass of non-vintage Champagne Thiénot Rosé, poured from magnum.

Freshly baked bread on the nose, cherries and citrus on the palate, puckeringly dry and acidic on the finish.  Not the best champagne I’ve had but a decent start to the evening’s proceedings. 

First Entrée: Loch Fyne Smoked Salmon, Royal Heart of Palm, Chardonnay Vinaigrette

A very good start, and a very nice pairing with the champagne.  The flavour of the heart of palm is elusive, but it has a texture which is crisp and soothing and the same time.  The salmon is very good, and serving it as chunks, as opposed to the standard slices, made a great textural counterpoint to the palm hearts.  I only wished they were a little more generous with it.

Second Entrée: Foie Gras du Sud-Ouest, Noble Grapes, Maine Lobster Fricassée
Château Coutet 2007 and 1973

It’s a rather odd-looking dish, with a very un-Gallic lack of sauce.  However, once I tasted it with the wines, the whole thing started to make sense.  The foie went beautifully with the 2007, whilst the lobster paired perfectly with the 1973; the converse pairings were not as good.  While decent, the dish was not perfect: the lobster pincer was overcooked, so it was set to the texture of firm chicken liver.  The foie gras, while perfectly cooked with a good sear and a wobbly interior, was underseasoned, although this wasn’t anything a pinch of salt couldn’t fix.

Château Coutet 2007 - Candied citrus, honey, white flowers on the nose, tarte tatin-like on the palate.  Good acidity and balance.

Château Coutet 1973 - Chinese herbs on the nose, oranges on mid-palate, almost grand marnier-esque.  While the acid on the back palate is still prominent, the finish falls away rather dramatically.

Main Course: Challans Duck Breast a l'orange aigre-doux, celeriac mousseline, red and yellow beetroot
Château Guiraud 2009 and 1989

A beautiful dish, with a very rich jus and perfectly pink duck.  It was, however, marred by soggy skin, which is never appetising next to squidgy duck fat.

Château Guiraud 2009 – A bouquet of menthol and acacia honey, with caramelised ginger and more honey on the palate.  The higher alcohol content is obvious (2009 was a very ripe vintage across France).  Slightly one-dimensional with one-note sweetness and low acidity.  But what a transformation when tasted with the duck!  The orange jus and rind brought out spades of marmalade flavour in the wine; it was like eating oranges from heaven.  It opened up later in the evening to reveal some ripe banana character.

Château Guiraud 1989 – The same menthol and rich honey notes, dark caramel.  Unlike its younger cousin, it is very structured, with similar layers of marmalade and oranges.  Wonderfully complex and lasting finish.  Wine of the night for me.  It didn’t improve as much in concert with the food, but then again, it didn’t have as much ground to make up.

Dessert – La Fraise (strawberry jelly, strawberry foam, strawberry sorbet, strawberry coulis)
Château Doisy-Daëne 2006 and 1942

This was the only dish that really landed with a thud.  Aesthetically, it looks about as pleasing as a mutant starfish and the flavours weren’t much better, with an overt superficial sweetness overwhelming the wines.  The strawberries were also very sweet, but without any real strawberry flavour.

On a side note, when I asked our waiter at the start of the meal where the strawberries came from, she replied “France”.  I raised my eyebrow.  “In February?”  She said she wasn't sure and would check - surely enough, the reply came back that the strawberries were from the US.  But of course, most Raffles diners would probably have swallowed the first BS answer and marvelled at the sweetness of the "French" strawberries.  There is no shame in saying that you don’t know and will check with the kitchen. 

Château Doisy-Daëne 2006 – A nose of paraffin, mint and honey, with more hints of caramel and honey to taste.  Not particularly sweet, which made me wonder about the rationale for the pairing.  Framed by a beautiful mouthwatering acidity.

Château Doisy-Daëne 1942 – It’s not often you get to taste a wine older than yourself, rarer still a wine older than your father.  Smells of toffee, soil, potatoes, with more earth, dried fruit (raisins), rancio, oaky, and potato peelings on the palate.  Apparently the wine stayed in oak barrels for three years as there was a shortage of glass and bottles during and immediately after WWII, which might explain why the oak presence is still so noticeable after all these years.

Overallm this was an excellent dinner.  A downside was that the representatives were invited to introduce their wines before their respective flights, but (with the notable exception of Fabrice Dubourdieu) did not actually say much about the vintages we were tasting.  While there is a lot to be said for not utilising the power of suggestion before the guests actually taste the wines, there is nothing wrong with making general comments about vintage conditions, ripeness, etc.

It was also a great way to remind us of Sauternes’ versatility with food.  OK, the foie gras pairing is an old classic, but I wouldn’t have thought of matching aged Sauternes with lobster.  The way the duck a l’orange just brought the young Guiraud to life was also a revelation worth the price of admission (S$186 nett, or around US$150), as was getting the chance to taste a WWII vintage wine.  It takes balls to promote a wine dinner  in Singapore paired solely with Sauternes, and credit must go to Raffles’ Wine Director Stephane Soret for that.

The food was surprisingly pleasant, and Soret has also crafted an intelligent wine list not at all unreasonably priced by Singaporean restaurant standards.  This is a marked change from what I remember from my last visit, a chart full of big names and even bigger numbers that would have made Ronnie Biggs blush.

It’s going to be a long road back after four years in the wilderness, but it seems the old patient may still have some life in her yet.

1 Beach Road, Raffles Hotel
Singapore 189673
BYO Policy: 1-for-1 only, BYO not otherwise allowed.  For a more complete list of Singapore restaurants that allow BYO and their corkage policies, please click here.
Tel: +65 6337 1886

Sunday, 3 March 2013

"There Will Be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth" - Malaysia's Dismal Showing at Asia's 50 Best Restaurants

The news that Malaysia failed to score a single entry on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants has provoked much disbelief and soul-searching.  Was the scoring system broken?  Are Malaysian restaurants just not good enough?  Or is all the brouhaha simply due to the fact we can't accept that we aren't?  I was asked to expand on the points made in my earlier post and try to initiate some constructive discussion.

25 February 2013 was not a good day to be Malaysian.

It was the day when the world’s top chefs and food critics came together at Marina Bay Sands and gave a simple message to our restaurant industry: “You are simply not good enough”.  Indonesia got a restaurant onto the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 list, hell, even Vietnam and Sri Lanka got one each. 

We didn’t.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2013 - The Full List of Winners

The inaugural Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, a spin-off of the S Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, was announced this evening at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.  The full list is below.

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Ipoh 2013 - Favourites Old and New

Entering the second week of my trip back to my hometown, I have had the chance to meet some new friends, as well as to re-acquaint myself with those who have long held a place dear in my heart.  

But this is a gastronomic blog, not a tell-all diary, so I am obviously referring to food (apologies for the anthropomorphism, I must be getting soft in middle age...)

Xiao Long Bao at Chooi Yue Dim Sum
1.  Dim Sum - Chooi Yue Dim Sum, 2 Tingkat Taman Ipoh 12, Ipoh Garden South.  Tel: +6016-534 5965

This is a relatively new opening, and appears to have won many followers from the iconic Foh San Restaurant in recent years.  Why?  Well, we have to look to the very colourful local political scene for that answer.  In the 2008 General Election, the opposition People's Alliance wrested Perak State from the governing National Front, winning 31 seats to 28.  Four of the People's Alliance State Assemblymen soon declared themselves independent and cast their lot with the National Front, thereby returning it to power.  There were rumours that the Four were offered significant financial incentives to defect.  One of them, Ms Hee Yit Foong, became such a target for ridicule and hatred that people began burning offerings to her (in Chinese tradition, this is only done for dead people), even the stallholders at the local market refused to serve her parents.  To go with her sought-after Datukship, a local honour equivalent to a knighthood, netizens also bestowed upon her the title of "The Most Hated Woman in Malaysia".

Rumour built upon rumour when she allegedly purchased a stake in Foh San using the alleged proceeds of her duplicity.  Such was/is her abject unpopularity that people started boycotting Foh San.  This affected Foh San's business, so much so that Foh San was forced to take out advertising in the national press denying that Hee was a shareholder.  But you cannot un-ring a bell, and I mention this story only to illustrate the rumour-mongering power of the Interwebs.

Anyway, the boycott meant that many locals had to seek their dim sum fix elsewhere, and Chooi Yue was a beneficiary of this.  The food here is excellent, particularly its prawn spring roll (below left), crispy yet not greasy, succulent with chunks of sweet prawn within.  Its siew mai (below right) is also delicious, and its char siew bao filling is redolent with rice wine, chewy and juicy from the use of fatty pork.


Just a word of warning though.  The bulk of seating is open-air, so eating here can be a rather steamy experience.  The service is also barely deserving of the name; at times, the staff seem so stretched that you need to re-fill your own teapot with hot water, unheard of in a dim sum restaurant.  Maybe some of them are starting to wish that a few patrons would return to Foh San...

2.  Tau Foo Fah - Funny Mountain Soya Bean and Beancurd, Jalan Theatre at the Junction with Jalan Dato' Tahwil Azar

Remember my earlier disclaimer about my recommendations just being personal favourites, not being the best, etc.?  Well, forget that for now.  When it comes to tau foo fah (a dessert of smooth white beancurd with syrup), the 61-year old Funny Mountain is the be-all and end-all, the Alpha and the Omega.  It isn't just the Lineal Champion, the Greatest of All Time.  It is a Gift from God.

There are many opportunists in nearby blocks claiming to be the famous tau foo fah, Ipoh's No. 1, etc.  But all you need to do is look out for the very distinctive logo of a grey bunny rabbit dressed in red, hunched over a wheelbarrow of soybeans, and you know you are only a 15-minute wait away from a bowlful of heaven.

Funny Mountain operates a primitive form of drive-thru, except no one actually "drives through".  Rather, one pulls up behind the eternal 10-car-strong queue, and scoffs one's order in the air-conditioned comfort of one's car.  This being Ipoh, the cars may be parked three rows deep, meaning some cars are trapped while others are still eating.  But in the perverse etiquette system of Ipoh's food universe, the wronged driver must grin and bear it, and forsake any thought of revenge.  

Here we have it, a bowl of the smoothest, most sensuously textured beancurd you will ever eat, doused in a sugar syrup gently scented with pandan.  Served cold, it is a refreshing way to beat the Malaysian heat.  Have it warm and the gentle perfume and texture will knock your socks off.  Not a bad way to spend 80 sen (26 US cents).

3.  Tong Shui (Sweet Soups) - Mixed black glutinous rice and bubur gandum at I.Love.Cafe, 75 Jalan Medan Ipoh 1A, Medan Ipoh Bistari (north of Kinta City)

Ipoh has a famous tong shui kai (sweet soup street), so named for the wares peddled by the various stalls that populate it.  But my favourite new discovery is the mixed black glutinous rice and gandum (a traditional Malaysian dessert soup of wheat, pandan and coconut milk) at I.Love.Cafe, a little shop devoted to the delights of Penang's snack culture.

I visit I.Love.Cafe on occasion for its excellent old school Penang coffee, but was tipped off on the existence of this unusual combination.  And when you reflect on it, the combination makes sense: both the black glutinous rice soup and the gandum have thick, starchy textures, the caramelly sweetness of palm sugar, the fragrance of pandan and a delightful savoury hint that balances out the sweetness.  It's not much to look at, but the result is far more than the sum of its parts.  Another real bargain for RM3.90 (US$1.26).

4.  Yong Tau Foo (Stuffed Beancurd and Vegetables with Noodles) - Big Tree Foot (Dai Shi Kiok), Pasir Pinji, 652 Jalan King, Pasir Pinji

Pasir Pinji, a little satellite village of Ipoh, may have the highest ratio of famous eating places per capita than anywhere else in the country.  One of the most renowned is a ramshackle outdoor eatery of tables scattered amongst a grove of random trees, hence the very random name.

Part of the seating at Big Tree Foot - note the giant tree root
at the bottom of the picture
The yong tau foo shop here attracts truckloads of patrons at lunchtime - simply fill your bowl and give them to the lady at the end of the counter so that she can work out your bill.  The noodles here are a mere carb source; the real treat is the fried stuff, including that Ipoh classic, sar kok liew (yam bean fritter).

Fried wantons, sar kok liew, fishcakes, with shadows cast from the trees overhead.
Travel further down the road for peanut soup dessert at the 50-year old Hong Kee (550A Jalan Queen), or the nameless and ridiculously sublime chee cheong fun (white rice flour rolls) stall sold from the front yard of a house at Jalan Pasir Pinji 5.  We parked down the street, perhaps inappropriately if not illegally, in front of a house where an old lady was fanning herself to keep the heat at bay.  We turned to ask her whether we could stop for a few minutes, but she merely laughed; she knew what we were here for.

Noodles and Long Beans "stuffed" with Fish Paste
4.  Egg Tarts - Hong Kee Confectionery, 14 Jalan Cockman, Tel: 017-5928303

If you want good egg tarts in Ipoh, you go not to the dim sum restaurants but to specialist pastry shops such as Hong Kee.  Hong Kee has always been my favourite egg tart, but I thought I should reassess my preferences, and pit it in a blind taste test against another Ipoh favourite, Choy Kee's at Kampung Simee Market.

Hong Kee's (left), Choy Kee's (right)
I thought that Hong Kee's was far and away a better tart than Choy Kee's.  Whereas Choy Kee's custard filling had a simpler, more sugary sweetness, Hong Kee's had a deeper, more profound flavour, so you knew you were eating a genuine egg custard as opposed to just a pleasantly sweet, quivering mess.  It's thicker, flakier lard puff pastry is a great conveyance system for the intense custard, whereas Choy Kee's struck me as being lighter, more feminine.  For want of a better analogy, Hong Kee is Gevrey-Chambertin to Choy Kee's Chambolle-Musigny.


In a country renowned for the quality of its street food, Ipoh is undeniably amongst its top two food cities (Penang being the other).  Its hawkers cook with passion, technique and an incredible respect for traditions that often stretch across decades and generations.  Even as they are aware that there are far easier ways to make a better living, most of them wouldn't give up their aprons and stoves.  It is this conviction, this love for what they do, that makes Ipoh food taste just that little bit better.

I am glad to call Ipoh my home.  I am always glad to return, to rediscover with fresh eyes the various delights that may have grown familiar over the years.  I am always pleasantly surprised by what I find, and I hope that on your visit to Ipoh, you will be too.

Related Posts:

Ipoh 2013 - A Trip Down Memory Lane

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Ipoh 2013 - A Trip Down Memory Lane

I'm back in Ipoh, Malaysia, spending Chinese New Year with the extended family.  A trip to Ipoh, a former tin mining town some 2 hours drive north of Kuala Lumpur, is always memorable, if for no other reason than the food.

Rojak (Pasembur) at Cathay Mee Stall

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Introducing the Alsace Wine and Gastronomy Society, Singapore

Alsace, Alsace, Alsace.  

Wherever my eating and drinking adventures take me, all roads lead eventually back to this beautiful strip of land on the western banks of the Upper Rhine.

The canal of Colmar's La Petite Venise