Friday, 20 June 2014

Wine and Hawker Food at Ah Lam's Abalone Noodles, Balestier Road (and a short review of Morton's The Steakhouse, Mandarin Oriental Singapore)

Whatever your views on Singapore politics, you cannot deny that the members of the ruling People's Action Party have excellent taste when it comes to food.  Former Prime Minister and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is apparently a big fan of Les Amis (which also happens to be one of my favourite restaurants), and I have seen a senior cabinet minister or two there on my visits.  Non-Minister MPs and their grassroots leaders set their sights correspondingly lower, and I once read that the local MPs around the Balestier / Lavender / Little India area liked to frequent Ah Lam's Abalone Noodles, at the corner of Balestier and Race Course Roads.


The picture above doesn't really do justice to the Abalone Noodles, because I had already started digging into them well before I remembered to pull my camera out (another reason why I will always be regarded as a gourmand first ahead of being a food blogger!).  What the picture is missing is half a hard-boiled egg (but cooked perfectly so the yolk is still moist, as opposed to overcooked until it is a pale yellow crumble with a black ring around it), some iceberg lettuce leaves, pork mince and of course, more noodles!

But that being said, it also shows what is great about this dish: the noodles themselves.  The "abalone" is filler and I reckon it's just an excuse to allow Ah Lam to charge more for the dish, which isn't cheap at $6.80 (if I recall correctly) per serve.   But the noodles themselves are delightful - springy, crunchy and slightly spicy.  Texturally, these are, for me, far and away the most distinctive and best noodles I've had in a Singapore hawker dish.  Some friends of mine store wine at Extra Space Boon Keng down the road, and it's always a pleasure after a hard morning's toil sorting out deliveries and cellars to pull out a random bottle and retreat to Ah Lam's for a bowl of noodles, and my order is always for extra noodles.

On this Saturday, my friend S supplied the following bottle:


If you asked me what a Limoux was before this afternoon, I would have replied that it was probably what a pretentious French / Francophile git asks for when he needs transportation to the airport.  Limoux is apparently the region with the longest history of producing sparkling wines in the world.  A blend of Mauzac (what's that?), Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, it is a pleasant dry wine, more in the pétillant spectrum of bubbly intensity than a full-blown crémant.  It lacks a little acidity, making it seem more rounded on the back palate that its low dosage would suggest.  A pleasant bubbly for everyday use.

Ah Lam's also sells excellent fish cakes and an amazing double-boiled soup which calls out to my Cantonese blood.  Boiled with fish maw, chicken that has been boiled so it simply falls off the bone, dried scallops, etc.  it is rich and thick, yet simultaneously restorative and comforting.  Simply superb!  Please note that this is NOT the same soup that you get as a complimentary side when you order the noodles.

 

Regular readers may remember the snafu when Grand Vin accidentally delivered a delicious Riesling Grand Cru Kitterlé to an Alsace Society Pinot Gris lunch.  Well, Phyllis joined us for lunch and brought a bottle of Domaines Schlumberger's 2008 Pinot Gris Grand Cru Kitterlé.  Having tasted the 2007, based purely on the vintage, I was expecting more acidity and more structure and a less sweet impression on the palate.  The 2008 was similarly well-balanced, drier, but still a very ripe, opulent wine, a good pairing with a spicy, intense and moderately greasy noodle dish.

I would probably be here a lot more often, except it is in a bit of a public transport black hole, and there is a dearth of car parking around the area.  Situated right by the very busy Balestier Road, the noise and fumes of passing traffic aggravate the already spartan ambience.  But the food here is so more-ish, so full-flavoured, that my friends and I don't really seem to mind.

Politics in Singapore seems to be getting more and more polarised by the day.  But regardless of your voting allegiance, one thing Singaporeans can all agree on is a great bowl of noodles.  Ah Lam's fits that bill (pun intended) perfectly.

AH LAM'S ABALONE NOODLES
460 Race Course Rd
Singapore
No reservations accepted

A Quick Note on Morton's The Steakhouse, Mandarin Oriental Singapore

I visited Morton's for dinner recently, and I must admit that I am torn as to what I think of it.  Morton's serves some very good food - the jumbo crabcakes are excellent, as are the steak fries, onion rings, and the berry soufflé.  The foie gras butter served with my steak was a little block of fattiness from heaven.

I was, however, not impressed by the steak itself.  An order for a porterhouse "between rare and medium-rare" (I'm a bitch, what can I say) brought a massive hunk of meat cooked between medium and medium-rare, with a rather curious texture and lacking that rich, beefy flavour.  There was hardly any of that lovely Maillard-reacted crust on the grey-ish, soggy-looking exterior.  I grumble sotto voce to my friendly waitress, which brings a Mort-ified looking manager to my table asking if there was a problem.  I waved him away as I didn't want to delay proceedings, but I hate to say it: I found my beef boring.  It surprised me not one iota to learn afterwards that Morton's uses wet-aged beef.  However, I had issues not just with the quality of the product but also how it was cooked.

Before I visited, I looked on Morton's website to get an idea about pricing, but Morton's seems to be one of those places which gives truth to the saying "If you are asking how much it costs, you obviously can't afford it".  But because I am a nice person who has endured the agony of a Morton's wallet-reaming, I will tell you.  The cheapest steak on the menu is the petit filet mignon at S$80++ (around US$74)  My porterhouse set me back S$124++.  If you don't eat or like beef, an order of lamb chops will set you back S$100++.

Look, I get that Morton's is the epitome of the restaurant that caters to the 1%.  But paying those prices, I like to think that guests are entitled to better quality meat, and to have their steaks correctly cooked the first time without having to endure the aggro and delay of having to ask for a re-fire.

Morton's also has, next to Jaan and Joël Robuchon Restaurant, one of the most user-unfriendly BYO policies in the marketplace.  Corkage is S$100++ per bottle, or if you buy a bottle from its rather extravagant winelist, they will deign to charge you a lower corkage of S$50++ for one 750mL bottle.  

For my money and my palate, there are far better steakhouses out there.


MORTON'S THE STEAKHOUSE
5 Raffles Ave Mandarin Oriental Singapore
Singapore 039797
Tel: +65 6339 3740
BYO Policy: S$100++ per bottle, corkage at S$50++ per 750mL bottle if you buy a bottle from the restaurant list.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.




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