Saturday, 19 December 2015

Michelin Guide Singapore - An Epic Fail Right From The Start

There's a fat white guy who's been causing a stir in Singapore in recent weeks.  However, it isn't Santa Claus.  Rather, it is Bibendum, the rubbery twin of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the big bloke with a literal spare tyre around his waist, feared universally by chefs and restaurateurs under his nom de guerre, the Michelin Man.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Reviews of Melbourne's Minamishima and Tipo 00 - Two of the City's Hottest Restaurants

I was recently back in the Land Down Under to try out some new restaurants spend some time with family.  My choices: the sushi specialist Minamishima, a winner of two hats and Victoria's Restaurant of the Year, and the one-hatted Tipo 00, named Victoria's Best New Restaurant.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Sweet Singapore 2: Frederic Deshayes of Do.Main Bakery, Tanjong Katong

A trek down Tanjong Katong Road from Paya Lebar MRT found me outside the almost-year old do.main Bakery, run by globetrotting patissier and boulanger Frédéric Deshayes.  The 45-year old native of Rambouillet, France (perhaps best known in recent times as being the venue for diplomatic discussions on the Yugoslavia-Kosovo conflict) set up do.main, his maiden Singaporean venture, after some nine years as chief pastry and bakery instructor at the at-Sunrice Cooking Academy.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Review of The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, Hong Kong Street, Singapore - A Hipster to My Taste

2016 update: Please note that chefs Ivan Brehm and Mark Ebbels have left Bacchanalia.  No knocks on the new chef Luke Armstrong as I have not tried his food, but "Michelin" watchers should be aware that the star was awarded to the restaurant under the old regime.

I hate hipsters.  Scratch their pretensions, their logos, their self-conscious badges, and you often find little underneath.  

Singapore is a curious mirror through which this wanker culture is reflected, because of its wealth, generally young and mobile population, Western-oriented aspirations and its obsession with food.  You only need to look at Singapore's ridiculous, uncritical ape-ing of dining trends in the "West" to get your hackles up.  As a food writer, I try to shelve my prejudices and simply focus on the quality of the proposition, but the product is almost invariably rubbish. 

Bacchanalia is one of the few exceptions to that rule.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Sweet Singapore 1 - A Dessert Degustation by Cheryl Koh of Les Amis

I have 32 sweet teeth.  I also have a dessert stomach.  Hell, I recently catalogued my wine collection (such as it is) and found I had more sweet wines than table wines.  To make matters worse, my family also has a strong diabetic history.

I believe these characteristics make me eminently qualified to write this, the first post in a series which I have titled "Sweet Singapore".  I want to shine the spotlight on the talented pastry and dessert chefs of Singapore, whose emotions are recollected in tranquility rather than the rough-and-tumble of the hot kitchen.  More often they are not, their works, however ephemeral, are overshadowed by the savouries.  I say now, "this ends here".

To start this series, I visited Cheryl Koh of Les Amis, a born-and-bred Singaporean chef who has been seducing diners with her mix of classic technique and bold yet sophisticated flavours. Having worked at the Raffles Hotel, the Michelin-starred Laserre and then most recently Cepage in Hong Kong, she has been leading the pastry programme at Les Amis since her return home in early 2013.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A Review of Soleil, Petaling Jaya - The Sun is Shining, the Tide is Still High

On my trip to KL a couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Brian McIntyre, the Treasurer of the KL chapter of the International Food and Wine Society and avid blog chronicler of the Kuala Lumpur food scene.  I like Brian's blog as he is BS-free and calls it as he sees it, and he seems to read my blog for reasons unknown.  We were therefore looking forward to our offline meet-up.

Brian suggested we meet at Soleil at Petaling Jaya Seksyen 17, the current haunt of Belgian-born chef Evert Onderbeke.  Onderbeke brought us the now-defunct High Tide, quite possibly KL's most expensive restaurant during its short existence (which unfortunately coincided with the GFC), and has now partnered with the Sungei Wang Group to set up Soleil.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Review of Imperial Treasure Teochew Cuisine, Ngee Ann City - Superb Food, Not Necessarily Teochew

So there I was on the train back one recent evening, craving another hit of that delicious Peking Duck from Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck at the Paragon.  So I called them up, only to find that they were closed for renovations until the end of October!  Which was a big surprise to me because I had visited only as recently as July and I thought the decor was perfectly comfortable and elegant.

My Montrachet-loving friend Liz suggested we instead try Imperial Treasure Teochew Cuisine at Ngee Ann City; she lives in the area now and ITTC has apparently become her local canteen.  I had never been there before so was glad to fall in with the plan.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

BreadTalkCock - Consumer Rights, and All That Jazz

This is not legal advice, nor is it a political post.  This post is meant to advocate for consumer interests, so any comments of a political nature will be deleted without any discussion or apology.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the BreadTalk soybean milk debacle.  Its CEO, George Quek, recently attempted a mea culpa by donating some money to the Community Chest and giving away a few weekends worth of free buns.  As far as responses go, I think it is wholly inadequate, and highlights a glaring weakness in our consumer rights protection.


Friday, 31 July 2015

Evolution in the Alsace Terroir Debate, and Hugel's Schoelhammer Revolution

The long-running debate on Alsace terroir and the merit of the Alsace Grand Cru classification took another twist recently when Famille Hugel, winegrowers in the village of Riquewihr since 1639, released a new, super limited edition cuvee (only 4,288 bottles produced), the 2007 Riesling Schoelhammer.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Review: Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck is Super

Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck has been hovering in the lower ranges of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants since the list's inception in 2013, peaking at a very respectable No. 40 in 2014.  I recently made my maiden visit to this old reliable, and was mightily impressed.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

A Review of Cove 99, Peck Seah St, Singapore - A Newcomer Makes Its Mark

(Updated 26 June 2015)

Cove 99, a new-ish Cantonese restaurant at Peck Seah Street literally a stone's throw away from Tanjong Pagar MRT, has been garnering a fair bit of positive press from the media and the general public.  Great food, great value and unlimited free corkage all-day everyday is a lethal combination in anyone's books.  I had to go check this place out (all photos are courtesy of Melisa Lee)

A Private Room at Cove 99

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Review of Dolce Vita, the Mandarin Oriental Singapore - Living the Sweet Life

The Mandarin Oriental Singapore has started to grow on me again.  I've hosted a few events at Dolce Vita and Cherry Garden in the last 12 months, visited for meals on a couple of other occasions, and walked away very impressed each time.  

I think the photo below (incidentally part of the table setting at the recent Dolce Vita dinner which I am reviewing in this post) represents my sentiments quite well.  They are excellent restaurants, beautifully presented and engaging.  I am not suggesting that they are perfect, or that my dining experiences there were flawless, but whatever minor shortcomings there were made the place seem almost more endearing, just like the little caterpillar.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Review of The Water Library, Chamchuri, Bangkok

Part of the Thai delegation at the recent Asia's 50 Best Restaurants ceremony was a Mr Oliver Kramny, who was formerly the GM at the (Mandarin) Oriental's legendary Le Normandie and now the GM for the Water Library Group.  Now, the Water Library did not make the 50 Best list, and it was mentioned in various despatches (including at my friend Kenneth's blog and other more private channels) as a restaurant that deserved a place on the list more than certain ones which did.  So when I found myself with a free evening on a recent visit to Bangkok, I made a beeline to the Water Library with my (by now) old crony, Bangkok-based journalist and PR man, Gavin Nazareth.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Review of DC Restaurant by Darren Chin, TTDI - Is This Malaysia's Game Changer?

Is 36 year-old Darren Chin, the French-trained wunderkind heralded as Malaysia's hottest emerging cooking talent, the shot in the arm that Malaysia's moribund fine dining scene so badly needed?

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Review of David Thompson's Long Chim, Singapore: Me Love You Long Chim!

That was not an excuse to use a hackneyed, utterly non-PC quote from a Kubrick movie (showing my age?), but it is true.  Me....ahem, I mean I love Long Chim.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Review of Chikuyotei, The Intercontinental Singapore - Great Modern Japanese Food

I have been on a bit of a Japanese restaurant streak recently, and I assure you that this has not been inspired by this excellent blogger.  Rather, I was looking for a Japanese restaurant at which I could host an Alsace wine tasting (to me, the delicate, clean flavours of Japanese cuisine find natural companions with the crisp minerality of dry Alsace Rieslings, amongst others).  My old partner-in-crime S recommended Chikuyotei at the Intercontinental, at which he had been a regular for quite a few years.

The very discreet entrance from the Intercontinental Lobby

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Review: Lunch at the Royal Pavilion, Park Regis with Winemaker Cornelius Dönnhoff

Weingut Herrmann Dönnhoff has a special place in my heart.  It was a taste of its 2001 Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Eiswein that first opened my eyes to the beauty and versatility of Riesling.  When Boon Heng of Wein & Vin told us that he would be pouring Dönnhoff's 2011 Eiswein at a winemaker lunch with Cornelius Dönnhoff, I replied to Boon's invitation within 2 minutes of receiving it.  Which was just as well because all ten places were booked within 6 minutes of Boon sending it!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

A Review of Mikuni, Singapore - You Don't Need to Be Japanese to Cook Good Japanese Food

I had the good pleasure of running into Nick Flynn, the F&B Director of the Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel the Stamford, when I was last at Jaan.  A knockabout Aussie bloke with a good sense of humour, we made it a point to catch up for a drink in the future without the distraction of Julien Royer's food, the views at Jaan and my writing obligations.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

My First Cherry Clafoutis, and a Few Words on the Bocuse d'Or 2015 Results

I was wandering aimlessly around my local supermarket the other week when I noticed punnets of beautiful cherries from Australia and New Zealand back on the shelves.  On the spot, I decided, without knowing what the recipe was or having a list of ingredients, that I would attempt my first cherry clafoutis.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Review of Aziamendi - Michelin-Star Quality Dining in Greater Phuket, Thailand

Across the Sarasin Bridge from Phuket Island, a boutique pleasure dome called Iniala Beach House is re-defining luxury and gastronomy in the greater Phuket area.

Opened by English entrepreneur-cum-philanthropist Mark Weingard, Iniala brings together some of the world’s leading designers, including the Campana Brothers of Brazil, Spain’s A-Cero (who designed star footballer Fernando Torres’ beachhouse) and Thai design doyen Eggarat Wongcharit.  Set against the tranquillity of Natai Beach, the 20-bed Iniala provides a self-contained, hedonistic experience miles away, literally and conceptually, from the crowded beach resorts of a typical Phuket summer holiday.

But Iniala is gaining headlines for its flagship restaurant, Aziamendi, for two very good reasons.  Firstly, its Executive Chef Eneko Atxa is, at 35 years of age, the youngest chef in Spain to win three Michelin stars for his avant-garde Azurmendi Restaurant in Biscay.  Secondly, with accommodation at Iniala starting from US$795 per night in the low season, it is probably the only flavour of Iniala that us mere mortals will ever be able to afford!

As with all things at Iniala, no expense has been spared in the creation of Aziamendi.  Its head chef, talented young American Alex Burger (below left) spent five years working in Daniel Boulud’s New York empire and spent a few months as a stagier at Azurmendi in 2012, catching Atxa’s eye and making him the natural choice to head up Atxa’s Thai outpost.  David Inglada, formerly Best Restaurant Pastry Chef of Spain (below right), leads the desserts section as well as the entire Iniala pastry operation.  The front-of-house is headed by Behzad Davarkia and sommelier Fabien Etienne, both most recently working at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner in London.   As Burger adds, “Many of our kitchen team have worked or trained overseas.  I looked for staff who were young, motivated and could speak English at a good level”.

The Aziamendi experience really starts in earnest before you step into the restaurant, a dark-glassed ground floor space beneath the futuristic Graham Lamb-designed Penthouse Suite (yours for a measly US$2,000++ per night during low season).  The dining room itself is large, with enough space between tables to squeeze in a small village or two.  The design and art theme which drives Iniala are very much in evidence here; the wavy ceiling designs reflect the inspiration of the Andaman Sea, while the restaurant’s entrance is flanked with works from famous Southeast Asian artists.  In keeping with its tropical resort theme, is that there is no fuss or formality when it comes to dress codes: guests walk in in T-shirts and three-quarter length pants without any self-consciousness (or contempt from the floor staff!)

Of the dinners I have had at such restaurants, it must be said that this one at Aziamendi gets off to one of the roughest and most disappointing starts.  Guests are invited to take their hors d’oeuvres outside, including a cherry tomato “grafted” onto a bonsai tree (a homage to Azurmendi).  However, in the smouldering heat and humidity of Phuket in April, the tomato and raspberry puree-injected tomato limply falls off its “stalk” and onto the immaculately maintained lawn.  The same fate awaits a “peanut” composed of crushed peanuts, which literally wilted in my fingers within a couple of seconds and collapsed to join its friend the tomato on the grass.

But much as in boxing, it is not about how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you can get up.  Once we are back in the restaurant, everything starts to look up.  Guests are led to the kitchen pass, where a naked Chiang Mai free-range egg yolk rests on a metal spoon.  A chef deftly pierces a little hole in the yolk’s membrane, taps about two-thirds of the yolk before replacing it with a syringe full of warm truffle purée.  Taking it in one mouthful, you get the creamy textured yolk, the intense, earthy perfume of the truffle and the comforting warmth of the purée.  The ingredient and flavour combination is classic, but the presentation is dramatic. And the entire tableau proves another point: the kitchen has utmost confidence in its chefs and physical set-up, and hides nothing from its guests.

Truffled Egg
The savoury courses are genuinely world-class, and Burger’s food reminds me in no little way of Andre Chiang’s.  While each plate often incorporates multiple preparations, each pristine element is left to find its own voice with few adornments.  Take his Fine de Claire oyster topped simply with sliced salicornia (a saltmarsh herb)and seawater jelly.  The salicornia with its light crunch and savoury notes, and the jelly with its mouth-filling marine saltiness, serve only to emphasise the character of the oyster.  Likewise, “Foie Gras Ashes” is firmly grounded in its local terroir, served on a piece of Natai Beach driftwood suitably cleaned, treated and planed down.  The aesthetic is very natural, very unfussy, and the foie gras terrine, topped with shavings of frozen foie gras, tastes very, very good.

Foie Gras Ashes
Incorporating Asian flavours with Atxa’s Basque sensitivities, Burger has also managed to adapt some of Aziamendi’s classic dishes to a new audience.  Atxa’s “Earth Tea Service”, imagined at Azurmendi as a distillation of champignons de Paris, is given a distinctly Eastern twist with the addition of local shiitake and king oyster mushrooms.  The result is a quintessence of umami, rich and persistent on the palate, yet still warming and refreshing.

Earth Tea Service
I also love the fact that the long menus (11+ courses for the “Twist”) are punctuated with light, flavoursome soup components, whether it be the shot glass of armagnac-infused black magic served with squid ink-dipped baby squid hot off the plancha, or a dashi stock served with suckling pig and pumpkin noodles, a subtle nod to the East Asian tradition of serving noodles in the final savoury course.  Using soup as a medium allows the kitchen to deliver strong, punchy flavours without cloying the palate, or relying on heavy sauces unsuited to the tropical climate.

Sommelier Etienne struggles valiantly against Thailand’s punitive alcohol taxes, offering pairing flights composed entirely of Thai or Basque wines at THB 2,000++ and THB2,200++ respectively.  The Basque wines come from Bodega Gorka Izagirre, owned by Atxa’s uncle.  The Thai wines are not going to rock your world, but are perfectly fruity and approachable when properly chilled.  Etienne is also happy to provide a more traditional pairing from his 400-label list, ranging from Roederer Cristal Rosé to a 2011 Robert Weil Riesling Trocken, almost colourless yet with the trademark acidity and minerally petroleum character.  I admire that Etienne is also making the effort to train up his local brigade.  Despite the fact that I am dining this evening with Iniala GM Danny Drinkwater (himself a very talented chef) and Weingard’s ex-wife, wine service is conducted very capably by one of the local staff.

Desserts follow a similar theme, trying to make use of local ingredients such as mango and coconut.  While pleasant, they do not make the same impression.  Which is a shame, because Inglada is a true savant and I cannot believe that he is achieving to his potential at the moment.  His breakfast croissants, for example, are buttery miracles and undoubtedly the very best I have had in Asia.  While he is responsible for conceptualising Aziamendi’s desserts, he is not in the kitchen during dinner service so I can only imagine he does not want to burden others with his genius.

Despite what I said earlier about relative affordability, dining at Aziamendi is not cheap, and its set menus start from THB6,000, comparable to a top-level European restaurant in Singapore.  But you see, and more importantly taste, where the money has gone.

I need to mention the philanthropic angle of the Iniala-Aziamendi project.  5% of all Aziamendi's revenues (not profits) are donated to Weingard's Inspirasia Foundation, as are 10% of all of Iniala's room revenues.  And more than just a Phuket high-season play, Aziamendi shuts at the end of April, and relocates as a pop-up in another exotic destination.  “It’s great for team morale, as opposed to just being quiet during the monsoon season”, Drinkwater shares, “and it gives them the opportunity to travel”.  This year, it was Malta’s turn, with the Aziamendi team opening for 100 nights in an old palazzo in Valetta.

With the experience of a full season behind them, Aziamendi’s team will doubtless be keenly watched this year by gastronomes from the region and beyond (on the evening I was there, I recognised two-Michelin starred Italian chef Norbert Niederkofler amongst the diners).  While Kuala Lumpur is experiencing a dining renaissance with the high-profile openings this year of Nobu and DC Restaurant, the general trend elsewhere in the region appears to be the introduction of casual concepts by celebrity chefs such as David Thompson, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay.  Against this backdrop, Aziamendi’s naked ambition is a very welcome change. 

40/14 Moo 6 Natai Beach
Khok Kloi
Phang-Nga 82140 Thailand
Tel: +66 93 779 2312

Advance reservations essential

An edited version of this article appeared in the October-November edition of Life Inspired, the Sunday Star's lifestyle liftout.

Friday, 16 January 2015

A Review of Luke's at The Heeren - Good Comfort Food at Uncomfortable Prices

In my bumbling, random way, I had managed to never set foot in one of the Luke's restaurants.  Perhaps it was the fact that they charged nine dollars per oyster, as heinous an act of highway robbery as ever occurred on Orchard Road.  Whatever it was, I finally decided to bite the bullet at Luke's Heeren outlet and see what the fuss was all about.

The View of Orchard Road from the Oyster Bar

Friday, 9 January 2015

Friday, 2 January 2015

A Review of Clifford Pier - Great Singaporean Food in a Hotel, Awful Hotel Wine List

During the dog days of another Singaporean Christmas, I thought a little treat was in order.  So I snuck across the OUE Link Bridge to Clifford Pier, which was been winning quite strong reviews for its distinctly Singaporean menu.