Stellar @ 1-Altitude – Wine Lust Sunday Brunches

19 03 2014

Following its popularity since its debut in December 2013, Stellar @ 1-Altitude has decided to continue hosting its Wine Lust Sunday Brunches into 2014. This is pleasant news because from what I have seen so far, they seem to be doing it right. The brunch buffet features a good mix of International cuisines, ranging from Japanese Sushi, a meat carving station, cold cuts, western brunch items and most importantly, a free flow of red/white/sparking wine. Adding to that, wine aficionados will also be glad to know that a tasting table of up to 10 wines (different from those on free-flow) will also be set up by a different wine supplier each week, allowing for wine tastings and bottle sales during the course of the brunch. And if you didn’t already know, at 62 floors above ground level, the view from Stellar is simply breathtaking too. How many restaurants can actually boost looking down towards Ku De Ta @ Marina Bay Sands?

At $110++ per pax, Wine Lust is competitively priced against other Sunday alcoholic brunch buffets such as The Line @ Shangri-La Hotel ($138++), Equinox @ Swissotel ($148++) and Clifford @ Fullerton Bay Hotel ($148++). Two reasons might explain this price discount. Firstly, Wine Lust does not offer Champagne but personally, a good non-Champagne sparkling wine offers equal, if not higher utility. Secondly, Wine Lust offers less variety in menu options, doing away with the ubiquitous raw seafood lineup. What Wine Lust offers however, is something unique and what I find to be the key differentiating factor going for it; a larger proportion of live cooking stations and made to order items.

Do not make the fatal mistake of underestimating the menu. While the entire list of food items is categorically displayed on a single page, by the end of the meal, it is likely that you will still end up having trouble standing up, as the individual items listed can become pretty substantial when summed and secondly, since many of the items are made to order, the quality and taste follows that of ala carte and you will likely finish up the entire serving because wasting good food is a sin.

Wine Tasting Table

According to the retailer, the wines were “boutique” Western Australian wines, with prices in the general range of $30-$40

One of the items I found particularly good was the made to order Salmon Benedict. The saltiness of the smoked salmon was controlled and perfect for my tastes. The poached yolk was flowy and the hollandaise as rich and creamy as it gets.

Salami & Salad Bar

Another brunch item worth getting is the French Toast with Caramelized Bananas. It might potentially be one of the best renditions you ever laid your taste buds on with its crisp exterior and airy interior that doesn’t fill you up too badly.

Omelette & French Toast cooking station

I had no complaints with the Sushi section either and found it quite a few notches higher than the usual hotel buffet, possibly because the sushi is made in small batches to ensure that the stock of sushi displayed is always fresh.

One of the highlights of the buffet was the Claypot Chicken Rice. Just like how they do it in traditional dim sum restaurants where you see the staff pushing a cart of fresh dim sum up and down the restaurant for diners to order, the same thing is done with the Claypot Chicken Rice here, where it is pushed around on a trolley whenever a fresh batch is made. To give it a little twist, the rice is served in a piece of lettuce with Tomato Belacan and Cucumber Relish on the side. I was advised to pair it with the Sauvignon Blanc and man did it make a difference. The Claypot Rice tasted a whole lot more fragrant with a hint of sweetness that I did not get in the absence of the white wine.

The mini tacos were also made to order, so they arrived crisp but both CJ and myself found it a little too sourish from the sauce used.

The biggest disappointment for the brunch was the carving station. While the meats (Spatchcock Chicken aka Roast Chicken, Roasted Pork Belly, Rosemary Roast Lamb Leg, Roast Duck) scored high aesthetically with the meats and duck skin glistening from the lighting, they were awfully dry and lacked flavor.

Hopes that the made to order Wagyu Rump would redeem the meat section were quickly dashed as I found the beef extremely sinewy and difficult to cut. Of the two options of sauces (mushroom or red wine), I much preferred the red wine sauce since it complemented the beef way better than the bland mushroom sauce.

Pastas are also made to order, with the option of Carbonara and Aglio Olio. We chose to share the latter since we were pretty stuffed and found it pretty mediocre. Would have loved a stronger garlic flavor and more olive oil, since it came across as a little dry. That said, I was pretty surprised when the chef came over and asked if we would like to have truffle shavings with our pasta, which may cost in the range of $10-$20 per gram in local restaurants. No points for guessing our answer nor our enthusiasm.

The dessert lineup was decent as well, featuring Lamingtons Drive (a type of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled over coconut), Lemon Coconut Cake, Orange Carrot Cake, Chocolate Tartlets, Hazelnut Praline Cake, White Chocolate Raspberry Cake, Strawberry Crumble and Anzac Cookies (an oat cookie). My favourites were the Strawberry Crumble, which is served warm and the Hazelnut Praline Cake (which looks like a chocolate cake in the middle of the dish).

No wine brunch is complete without a cheese platter.

With more hits than misses, I thoroughly enjoyed myself with the entire brunch experience. Service was great and so was the food and ambience. Unbuckling my belt upon reaching home never felt better…

Special thanks to Shasi and Stellar @ 1-Altitude for the invitation.

Stellar @ 1-Altitude

1 Raffles Place, Level 62, Singapore 048616

Tel: +65 6438 0410

Website: www.1-altitude.com

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Lower East Side Taqueria – A Chill-out Mexican Bar

14 03 2014

The folks at Spathe Public House have done it again, this time with their conceptualization of Lower East Side Taqueria, a relative newcomer to the red ocean of Katong. Standing out from all neighboring eateries with its prominent shop sign and happening vibes, this Mexican joint is hard to miss as you drive pass Katong Shopping Centre and Katong Laksa. I was definitely eager to dive into their interpretation of Mexican cuisine and suggested meeting up with several old buddies here for dinner and drinks.

Closing time

While there’s no lack of affordable watering holes around the area, with the likes of Bar Bar Black Sheep and Two Fat Men, Lower East Side doesn’t seem to compete on price. Non-happy hour prices (8pm onwards) of their Australian/New Zealand draft beer goes for $15-$16 a pint, compared to just $11 for a pint of Kronenbourg at Bar Bar Black Sheep @ Tanjong Katong. What Lower East Side does strive at however, is to create a much more holistic dining experience with a well thought out interior design that I personally found pretty hip.

Spacious seating arrangements

Having not been to Mexico, I can’t attest to the authenticity of the food here, though my gut instinct told me the flavors seemed tweaked to suit local palates. A beer list featuring a mere two types of mainstream Mexican beers (Sol and Corona) further fueled my skepticism. Then again, it does take ingenuity to improve on tradition and if a Singapore-inspired Mexican cuisine works, that’s fine and dandy too.

Whilst waiting for everyone to arrive, we ordered Les Mix ($14+) that comprised of Garlic Fries and Corn Chips, with 4 accompanying sauces (Cheddar Cheese, Sour Cream, Salsa, Guacamole). Nothing worth raving about unfortunately. Just simple bar snacks to keep the liquid courage flowing more smoothly.

I was initially worried that the Ancho Pulled Pork Burrito ($13+) wouldn’t fill me up. After all, what does $13 get you in a bar nowadays? Surprisingly, my doubts were unfounded and what was presented was a bursting burrito filled with fragrant basmati rice, chunks of pork in a hearty stew-like gravy, black beans and fresh avocado that brought perfect balance to the dish. I would imagine that the creamy avocado would also help sooth the burns had a high spice level burrito been requested. Was pretty glad that the basmati rice wasn’t clumpy and yet defied the laws of physics by not flying everywhere as I sank into the burrito. Overall, this was something I would recommend ordering here.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the Chipotle Beef Burrito ($15+) quite as much. The beef was a little too sinewy, hence much chewing was involved. The burrito fillings of sweet corn, pineapple salsa and guacamole weren’t as compatible either.

If you are less hungry or more carb conscious, tacos might be a better option. I only tried the Hake Tacos ($18+) and found that the size of the hake fillet on the petite side.

Range of Japanese beers > Mexican beers

All in all, keeping food expectations in check, Lower East Side is a pretty nice place to chill out. The staff were very friendly too and took the initiative to offer a complimentary tequila shot since my friends mentioned it was my belated birthday.

Lower East Side Taqueria

19 East Coast Road

Tel: +65 6348 1302

Website: https://www.facebook.com/lowereastside.sg





Spathe Public House – Weekend Brunch at Robertson Quay

26 02 2014

Spathe Public House is best known for its communal dining concept, featuring items such as a metre long currywurst on their menu. On weekends however, the communal menu is replaced by a separate weekend brunch menu during the earlier part of the day (before 5pm).

While diners are left spoilt for choice in the number of brunch places around Robertson Quay, with the likes of Kith Cafe, Hummerstons, Toby’s Estate, Five & Dime and Epicurious all within walking distance, Spathe is my top pick. There just aren’t that many places that consistently serves up perfectly poached eggs with a decent Hollandaise sauce to boot. The spacious interior makes for perfect catch up sessions too!

Eggs Royale ($18++)

Eggs Mushroom ($16++)

Spathe Public House

8 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-01, Singapore 238958

Tel: +65 6735 1035 

Website: http://www.spathepublichouse.com/





[Prague, Czech Republic] Alcron – Degustation Delight

22 02 2014

Its been about a month since I departed Europe for my sunny little island home (to finish up my last semester of SMU life) and I guess it’s about time I posted about Alcron, a 1-Star Michelin restaurant in Prague where I indulged for a final time as closure to my unforgettable exchange program.

The first week of term in SMU had already commenced then but as my schoolmates were hard at work, here I was dinnering at this chichi 24-seater restaurant, still living in my bubble I call “post-exchange”.

Just 6 tables (24 seats) for the entire restaurant

Located in the posh Radisson Blu Hotel, Alcron specializes in seafood, though there is a selection of meat dishes on the menu as well. Here, diners are invited to create their own degustation meals, ranging from 3-courses (CZK 1100 / c.40 Euros) to 7-courses (CZK 1900 / c.70 Euros) by selecting items from a short menu. This leaves lots of room for flexibility so if you are a dessert person, you may simply choose to spam dessert courses if that’s the way you like it.

As one of the most highly rated restaurants in Prague, you can expect service to be top-notch without being over-intrusive. During my meal, the staff left me to my own devices while I dined but kept an observant lookout from the entrance of the restaurant in case any diners required further assistance.

I was utterly smitten with the restaurant straight from the start, when I was presented with a complimentary Bread Basket that had about 6 types of breads to choose from. What’s best is that the breads are all freshly toasted before they are brought to each table, made possible because of the small capacity of 6 tables. I thoroughly enjoyed the round bread ball encrusted with Parmigiano Cheese and even opted for a second serving. That says a lot because I usually avoid overloading on bread, so as to better appreciate the higher-value courses served later. An interesting assortment of butter flavored with Seaweed, Chili and Lemon was also served alongside the bread.

The complimentary amuse bouche was Escargot with Garlic Chips. Was quite fond of the garlic chips which reminded me of the prawn crackers that my family fries at home for Chinese New Year.

I opted for a 5-Course dinner initially but was so taken by the initial 4 courses that I later decided to top-up with an additional course.

The dishes on the menu are categorized as either cold or hot dishes and are listed in the order of their suggested consumption. I much prefer warm dishes for dinner so I only chose a sole cold dish, which was the Ceviche of Scottish divers Scallops with cucumber, cucumber jelly, fried lotus root, chili and hazelnut dust. A dish with very light flavors to whet the appetite.

I liked the interplay of sweet vs savoury, crunchy vs crispy from the different elements in the Crayfish Bisque. It didn’t bore because every now and then, I would bite into pieces of sweet crunchy sweet corn, while at other times, I would scoop up pieces of crispy savory popcorn. Bursting the poached yolk also made the bisque considerable smoother and more palatable.

While I’m a die hard foie gras fan, I felt that the Pan-fried Duck Foie Gras Escalope with pumpkin chutney, marinated pumpkin and Tonka bean foam was underwhelming. The marinated pumpkin tasted somewhat like pickles and didn’t complement the foie gras well in my view, given that it was too sharp and acidic.

The Venison Loin Sous-vide with gingerbread ball, chestnuts truffle-puree, apple and celery ragout, chocolate and cranberry infusion brought the meal back on track. Special credit has to go to the chestnut truffle puree for its harmonious matrimony with the venison.

With just a dessert left to go, I thought that it would be a waste not to try the Anjou Pigeon breast, Confit and Liver with braised shallot and blackberries. Pigeon isn’t exactly easy to find in Singapore after all. Texture-wise, it was pretty similar to duck, albeit slightly leaner.

I ended the meal with the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with pear and walnuts. It was a pretty light dessert and not very sweet, much like a mild-tasting yoghurt. Perfect given that I was bursting from the insides.

As I called for the bill, a last complimentary dessert course showed up in the form of a Chocolate Praline that I popped into my mouth straight away, a Coconut Macaron and a home-made Chocolate-coated Vanilla Ice Cream (like a Magnum Mini). I actually liked these better than the Panna Cotta.

Personally, I would consider this the 2nd most enjoyable meal I had during the 5-month duration whilst on exchange. Prices weren’t terribly expensive compared to other Michelin Starred Restaurants since it was in Eastern Europe. Perfect ending to a perfect exchange.

Alcron

Štěpánská 624/40, 110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město, Czech Republic

Tel: +420 222 820 410

Website: www.alcron.cz





Ristorante Da Valentino – Italian at its Finest

13 02 2014

If you had asked what my view was on opening a 134-seater high-end Italian restaurant at Turf Club a couple years back, I would most likely have said that it would be an incredibly brave but foolish endeavor. After all, the location isn’t exactly in the most central of areas and with such a huge restaurant without any nearby offices, where would the demand be coming from?

Two years on and I would have eaten my words…

Given that it was my first ever visit to Valentino, I was immensely surprised that for a restaurant this size, I was unable to secure indoor seats for a mere 2 pax on a usually slow Tuesday night, even by calling in advance. My surprise was compounded by the fact that this wasn’t even a new joint and there didn’t seem to be much hype about it in online circles in recent months. It wasn’t long before I found out the reason behind this phenomenon…they served quality food.

Catering mainly to the white-collared working class, as evident in their menu pricing, a 4-course dinner bill easily runs up in excess of $100 (excluding drinks) as I found out on this occasion. Just like how off-balance sheet liabilities contributed to the global financial crisis, likewise, off-menu items contributed to the hefty bill, busting my initial planned expenditure for the meal.

The Garlic Bread ($8.80++) and Burrata Cheese ($45.90++) were the said off-menu items. They were both good, with extra points going to the amazingly sweet tomatoes.

If there’s one item to try out here, it would definitely be their signature Squid Ink Fettuccine with Crabmeat in Creamy Tomato Sauce ($29.90++). The well-balanced sauce complements and does not overwhelm the subtle sweetness from the generous chunks of crabmeat. Surely one of the best pastas I have had to date.

While I wasn’t particularly fond of the Osso Buco ($42.90++), I couldn’t deny that its execution was without a doubt, masterful. The meat was insanely tender to the point that a knife was rendered useless, since a sole fork was all that was needed to pick away at this splendid creation. The accompanying sauce tasted lighter than it looked, with a distinct taste of stewed carrots.

The sole disappointment that night was the Seafood Pizza ($26.90++), which was slightly soggy and lacked a distinguishable seafood flavor that one so often finds in other seafood pizzas such as at Pepperoni’s Pizzeria.

As I personally prefer my Tiramisu ($14.80++) not too soggy, this rendition suited me perfectly.

The Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream ($18.80++) was awesome as well with ample lava flow.

While the meal wasn’t exactly cheap, I left feeling truly satisfied with the impeccable food, service standards and great company (was doing a catchup session with Ad, whom I hadn’t seen in more than half a year).

Ristorante Da Valentin0

200 Turf Club Road

Tel: +65 6462 0555

Website: www.ristorante-da-valentino.com/





Fish & Co – Yusheng Promo and Valentine Day’s Platter

30 01 2014

I used to patronize Fish & Co pretty frequently during Junior College days but since then, the perceived drop in food quality and increased competition from Manhattan Fish Market kept me away. However, I was back there yesterday for a tasting of their Yusheng Platter and was pleasantly surprised to find the food unmistakably decent yet reasonably priced, altering my mental image of the restaurant while reinforcing the restaurant’s concept of providing tasty seafood dishes in a casual setting.

We have seen several revamps of their menu over the years, with the latest one around the middle of last year. So apart from the usual Fish & Chips and Seafood Platters, the current menu also boasts non-seafood items such as Pastas, Pizzas and various Combination Platters of Fish & Fowl and the like.

Black Pepper Chicken Pizza

I have never considered Yusheng to be a fairly priced dish. Essentially, it’s just a plate of vegetables with a few slices of raw fish, yet many Chinese Restaurants charge in excess of 100 dollars for a 10-pax serving. That’s why I’m pretty amazed that Fish & Co only charges a nominal $34.80++ for a 8-10 pax platter, which includes 18 slices of sashimi grade Norwegian Salmon. Diners also have the option to double the portion of salmon with a top-up of $8.80++, a pretty good deal if you ask me given that even NTUC Yusheng retails for approximately $15 without any sashimi! This promotion is valid till 14 February 2014 for both dine in and takeaway.

“Best Fish & Chips in Town”

Seafood Platter for 1

White Fish & Salmon

In addition, Fish & Co will also be introducing a Valentine’s Day platter for two ($49,95++), available from 7th to 16th February 2014, featuring flame-grilled tiger prawns, mussels, scallops, prawn fritters and crisp battered fish, served on a bed of Fish & Co’s signature Paella rice and hand-whipped mash potatoes. The Valentine’s Day platter also includes 2 mocktails appropriately called Paris Passion and 2 soup of the day.

Valentine Day Platter for 2

Special thanks to Fish & Co and Mei Yan for coordinating the invitation. The meal was paid for by Fish & Co.





[Berlin, Germany] Roaring Burger Culture, Burgermeister vs Bird Restaurant

8 01 2014

I was in Berlin for the New Year and I gotta say that that’s a terrible time to be there as a foodie, mainly because:

  1. many restaurants close for the year end holidays.
  2. tourists flock to such capital cities for New Year celebrations and parties and increase demand for the already reduced supply of dining options
  3. restaurants take the opportunity to up their prices for New Year Menus

Luckily for me, I was there for a good 7 nights, so I could wait it out till New Year was over before indulging in the more extravagant restaurants but in the meantime, I found cheaper (but not necessarily less enjoyable) alternatives to tide me over. Thus, I embarked on an adventure to discover the best burgers in town. Unfortunately, it was short-lived as I soon developed a sore throat.

It’s clear that Berlin’s burger culture is alive and thriving. Within Tripadvisor’s top 20 most highly rated restaurants, two are actually burger joints, Burgermeister and Bird Restaurant, both of which will be the topic of discussion for today.

You know how the saying goes that the dirtier a food stall, the nicer the food from there tastes. The same can be said of Burgermeister. The eatery is located under train tracks with a grungy dark interior. Yet, you still see queues forming everyday of the week. I was here on a Monday evening and I still had to wait an hour just to get a simple burger and fries.

Queue from outside Burgermeister

Queue inside Burgermeister

The key draw about Burgermeister is the value aspect. An average burger here costs about 4 Euros and a bottle of beer a mere 1.50 Euros. Many claim that it serves the best burger in town but I choose to disagree. No doubt, the burgers here are very decent but something still seemed to be lacking, perhaps it was the over-greasiness that got to me, or the fact that the beef patty could have been more succulent.

Meisterburger (4.30 Euros)

Sides can also be ordered separately. The cheese fries here was of average quality, nothing to rave about.

Cheese Fries (2.20 Euros)

Burgermeister

Oberbaumstrasse 8, 10997 Berlin

Tel: +49 30 2388 3840

While not a direct competitor due to the price differential, I found the burgers at the Bird Restaurant far superior in quality and taste.

Bar seats at Bird Restaurant

I had the house burger called Da Birdhouse (11.50 Euros). It’s a double burger with bacon, grilled onions, ketchup, mustard, sour cucumber and if Google has translated it’s German description from the menu correctly, it’s also “bold enough to kill a donkey”. I’m 50% confident that that’s really what is written on the menu because the restaurant (and it’s menu) evidently attempts to portray a stance of anti-establishment, eg loose use of words and signs on the wall that writes stuff like “if it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?”.

What I liked best about the burger is that it delivered exactly what was promised on the menu, a heaping 250g slab of beef patties which, to put in perspective, is more beef than the sum of 2 McDonald’s Quarter-pounders. As an added bonus, the restaurant also gives the choice of how cooked you want your meat to be. Personally, I’m a huge fan of caramelized onions and the generous use of it in this burger was also a treat. The chips on the side were also unbelievably tasty, one of the best I have had in fact.

Da Birdhouse (11.50 Euros)

There are only two ways to secure a seat here. First is of course, make a reservation! Second would be to arrive here before 5.30pm and hope that there are seats at the bar available for walk in customers. This joint is insanely popular so expect long waiting times of between 30mins to an hour for your burgers. There are days (which I experienced first-hand) where the restaurant even refused to take down takeaway orders due to the long list of orders from within the restaurant!

Bird Restaurant

Am Falkplatz 5, 10437 Berlin

Tel: +49 30 5105 3283








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