[New York, United States] Soba-ya – Duck & Uni Soba!

13 07 2014

Listed in Michelin’s 2013 Bib Gourmand list that honors good cuisine at reasonable prices, dinner at Soba-ya was my most enjoyable meal for the week in NYC and my best soba experience thus far. It was no wonder the restaurant was sporting a full house on a Thursday night at 930pm.

Hot Tempura Udon (US$18++)

While some of my friends had great things to say about the Hot Tempura Udon (US$18++), which came with Shrimp, Shiso (from the Mint Family) and Shishito (Japanese Green Pepper) Tempura, I would highly suggest going for the Kamo Seiro (Sautéed Sliced Duck & Japanese Green Onions in Hot Dipping Sauce) with Cold Soba ($16++) instead. The duck broth was more flavorful and rich than the hot soba/udon stock and I amused myself as my friends took their first sips of my duck broth after having tried their “basic” stock, watching as their eyes widened in amazement.

I also ordered an unbelievably affordable saucer of Uni (US$6++) on the side, which went surprisingly well with the soba.

Left the restaurant totally satisfied with an involuntary grin. I’m sure I will be back before my month in NYC is up.

Soba-ya

229 East 9th St. New York, NY 10003

Tel: 212 533 6966

Website: http://www.sobaya-nyc.com/wp/





The Flying Squirrel – The Unlikely Chirashi

23 06 2014

He used to be known as Mr Siva, a well-liked PE teacher from Raffles Junior College. Now he is better known as Rai of the singer-songwriting duo Jack and Rai. Multi-talented and adventurous these two are, as they (together with Jack’s wife Angelina) took a leap into local F&B scene early last year by establishing  a modern Japanese restaurant named The Flying Squirrel.

On the menu, conventional Japanese options such as the Chirashi, Sushi and Curry Rice appear next to less traditional options such as the Foie Gras Aglio Olio and Seafood Eggplant Gratin, immediately triggering an alarm in my head. Could such a place really deliver on a decent Chirashi or Sushi?

The answer is a resounding yes. For $25+, the TFS Chirashi was of extremely good value, comprising of slices of Salmon, Tuna, Swordfish, Sweet Shrimp, Scallop, Ikura, Octopus, Tamago and an entire Anago (saltwater eel) over a bed of pearly rice.

Another alternative is the Salmon & Ikura Chirashi ($20+). Again, the eatery is rather generous with the salmon slices and roe.

The Miso Gindara or Grilled Black Cod ($26+) we had was delicious too as it wasn’t too salty and retained some smokiness, though the portion doesn’t fill you up as much as the chirashi.

Given that it was my first day at work in the Tanjong Pagar area today, I returned for a lunch visit. This time, I tried the Summer Chirashi Bento ($25+), only available during lunch time. The main difference between the lunch chirashi and the TFS Chirashi is that the lunch Summer Chirashi Bento uses diced sashimi instead of slices (think along the lines of bara chirashi) and does not include the higher value items of shrimp, scallops or anago to my dismay. However, the bento does make up for it with 3 pieces of fried chicken karaage, salad and fruits. In my humble opinion, ultimately I still derived greater satisfaction from the TFS Chirashi.

As the restaurant is rather small, seating no more than 20 people by my estimates, hence reservations are encouraged.

The Flying Squirrel

92 Amoy Street, #01-02

Tel: +65 6226 2203

Website: http://www.theflyingsquirrel.com.sg/





The Halia @ Raffles Hotel – Fun Communal Dining Concept

15 06 2014

You would think that for its location in the iconic Raffles Hotel, the Halia must certainly be a fine-dining western restaurant. This “mistaken” mindset has proven to be slightly burdensome for the eatery, which has continually strived to portray itself as a casual-chic restaurant that isn’t afraid to infuse an element of playfulness into its dishes.

Al fresco dining area & bar

The latest concept adopted by the restaurant, which was also the reason for my being there, is the introduction of a communal dining concept, with dishes being classified as “big plates” or “small plates” for sharing instead of the usual appetizers and mains. The general idea is to bring out the scene of a feast where the table is kept filled with a variety of dishes, rather than having the usual course by course meal sequence typical of western meals.

Apart from the ala carte menu (note: prices of the individual plates are listed below), a communal set dinner is also available daily from 6pm to 10.30pm, priced at $260++ for 4 pax. However given the generous servings, my take is that the set can comfortably feed a group of 5, especially if there are females present. What’s included within the set are a kettle of soup with assorted breads, 4 small plates, 4 big plates, 2 desserts and a jug of barley/lemongrass/ice tea.

Alternatively, for diners who might want to sample Halia’s offerings without the full-blown commitment of dinner, the restaurant also offers very affordable 3-course set lunches at $25++, and a lunch communal set for 4 pax at $160++ which includes soup, 4 small plates, 2 big plates, 1 dessert and a non-alcoholic jug of barley/lemongrass/ice tea.

Upon entering the restaurant, the first signs restaurant’s casual-chic nature presented itself with the interesting old school designs on the communal menu and paper sheets covering the tables. Then came the barley water and utensils in old school tin cans.

Cream of Mushroom Soup, Bread Selection

Goats’ cheese mousse, heirloom tomato, olive, wild honey, dried brioche ($18++)

I didn’t quite take to the Oriental Pulled Duck with Soba Noodle ($18++). The meat was seasoned to be sweet, which isn’t something I’m used to.

On the other hand, the House smoked salmon pate ($23++) is a small plate that I would recommend ordering. Compared to the overwhelmingly salty smoked salmon commonly found in supermarkets (possibly to extend shelf life), the smoked salmon here was significantly less so such that you get a better sense of the smokiness and the natural taste of salmon.

The Chilli crab dip with toasted baguette ($14++) makes for a great starter. It stands out from the chili crab sauce from chinese restaurants since it was slightly more sourish, which whetted my appetite for the feast ahead.

For a secondary cut, I was surprised at how much I liked the Baked Kingfish Collar ($28++). The flesh was remarkably tender and I managed to debone it with ease. The light miso marinade also allowed me to appreciate the Kingfish, without overpowering its natural flavour.

While the Wagyu Beef “Zhajiangmian” ($30++) was visually appealing and conceptually interesting, with the “noodles” being replaced by long thin vegetable strips, it didn’t leave much of an impression tastewise. I thought of it as a fancy salad dish.

While the Twice-cooked Spatchcock of Spring Chicken ($35++) might look uninteresting, its execution was flawless and it turned out to be my favourite dish of the meal. The secret lay in it being twice cooked, first in a sous-vide style (slow cooked under low temperatures) to derive that tender juicy consistency, and followed up with some light roasting to attain the crispy skin and smoky char. What was most surprising was how moist the breast meat was.

In the old wild west, gunpowder containing traces of magnesium, potassium, sulphur and charcoal was sometimes used as a seasoning for meats. Inspired with this, the ‘Gunpowder’ Wagyu Topside Mayura Station ($46++) here was seasoned with charcoal. The beef was first cooked in a water bath at 59 degrees celsius before being grilled, resulting in a nice pink hue to the beef. However, for a indicated marbling score of 8-9, I was slightly let down that the beef still retained some bite to it rather than having the melt in your mouth sensation. The seasoning and accompanying sauce was also a little too savory in general.

Coconut parfait, pineapple, gingerflower, chocolate

Of the two desserts I tried, I preferred the Sticky toffee pudding, date, butterscotch sauce, sea salt, vanilla ice cream ($10++). Simple touches like the light sprinkling of sea salt on the toffee pudding did help to distinguish this rendition as an above average one. After all, who doesn’t like salted caramel?

On the whole, the meal was really enjoyable and the huge selection of dishes present in the communal set menu left me with positive feelings. Many of the dishes were rather creative with influences from various cuisines styles. What I enjoyed most however, were the relatively more straightforward dishes like the Roast Chicken, Baked Kingfish, Smoke Salmon Pate and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Regarding the communal dining concept, you can think of it as a scaled up tapas meal, or a chinese restaurant meal utilizing western dishes. Either way, it is a fun concept for group dining.

This meal was sponsored by Halia. Special thanks to Halia for hosting the invitation.

Halia

1 Beach Road, #01-22/23 Raffles Hotel, Singapore 189673

Tel: +65 9639 1148

Website: http://thehalia.com/raffles/raffles/about-the-halia/





1872 Clipper Tea Company – Launch of Online Shop

15 06 2014

About two weeks back, I got wind that homegrown 1872 Clipper Tea Company was launching its new online shop (https://www.clippertea.com.sg) and got a chance to test out the web interface just prior to the official launch. What I liked about the site was its user-friendliness. The different teas available are categorized under very distinct sections (“Essentials” for flavoured Ceylon Teas such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast or Darjeeling, “Tropics” for the various Fruit Flavored Teas etc), each with just a handful of choices which does not overwhelm potential buyers.

Armed with $50 of complimentary credit, I got for myself the Yunnan Silver Tips (also commonly known as Silver Needle and supposedly the most prized white tea around, according to the tea expert at a previous tea appreciation course by Gryphon Tea Company), the indispensable Earl Grey Tea, and a herbal blend named “Anti-Stress” made from Rooibos, chamomile, organic honeybush, lemon balm, fennel, lemongrass flavour and ginseng root.

From left: Yunnan Silver Tips ($21 for 20-sachet box), Anti-Stress ($18 for 80g pouch), Earl Grey ($11 for 24-sachet box)

Currently, 1872 Clipper Tea is offering free delivery for orders above $50. Just something to think about if you are into teas or are on the lookout for gifts.





Salt Grill & Sky Bar – Where Memories are Made to Last

8 06 2014

You have to agree that to a large extent, the best litmus test of what constitutes a great restaurant lies in whether or not one remembers the food eaten there, a couple years down the road.

Having been at Salt Grill & Sky Bar two years back for restaurant week, the vivid image of an amazing appetizer, the crab omelette with enoki mushrooms is still left imprinted in my mind. It’s no wonder it’s been kept on the menu through the years as one of the restaurant’s signatures.

I was back here again for an unraveling of the restaurant’s new menu offerings and post-renovation works. Shan’t bore you too much with the nitty gritty details and let the pics do the talking of the restaurant layout. Essentially, the key difference is the repainting of the pillars to a more rustic hue and the relocation of the Sky Bar from the 56th storey (where in its place is now a private dining area) to the mezzanine level (between the 55th and 56th storey).

Private dining area on the 56th storey (2nd level of the restaurant)

As mentioned above, the restaurant is perched on the 55th and 56th floor of Ion Orchard, providing a spectacular view of the Singapore skyline. You can even see MBS in the distance. To access the restaurant, diners will have to take a private lift from the 4th storey of Ion.

Evening view from the restaurant

As this was an invited tasting, most of the dishes served today were tasting portions rather than full portions, just in case you are wondering why the portions look so petite.

The complimentary Bread selection here is made in-house and served with olive oil and dukkah (a mix of Macadamia, Cashhew, Sesame, Cumin, Coriander and Salt).

To kick off our meal, we had the Coconut broth with Sydney spice (Kaffir lime leaves, Lemon Myrtle, Tumeric, Ginger, Galangal, Chili, Garlic and Salt), which tasted much like an amalgam of a rich frothy seafood bisque and green curry. An interesting blend that definitely aroused my appetite.

One of my favourite dishes that night was the Sashimi of Kingfish, ginger, eschalot & goats feta ($33++). While the preparation for the dish is seemingly simplistic, the flavours brought forth were in perfect symphony. I liked how clean the sashimi tasted, indicating it’s freshness. The sweet ginger also paired well with the fattiness of the kingfish. I would already have given it full marks without the feta, as I felt that the pungency of the feta added little extra value.

While not terrible by any standards, the Baby vegetables, goats curd, ginger bread crumbs, dried black olives ($31++) came across as the least impressive among the dishes I had that night.

As a blast from the past, the ‘Glass’ Sydney crab omelette, enoki mushroom & herb salad, miso mustard broth ($33++) remained stellar as ever, with sheets of velvety omelette encasing slivers of sweet crab meat that complemented the briny broth well. The earthly enoki mushrooms also added a nice crunch to the overall texture of the dish.

The Tea smoked quail, almond cream, prunes, grains, grilled shallot, sorrel ($31++) was noteworthy too, made even more impressive by the fact that well-executed quail can be rather hard to come by. I particularly like the flavours of the Earl Grey Tea that was infused particularly well onto the glaze, interestingly it reminded me of the deepness your senses perceive from a Garrett’s Caramel-flavored popcorn sans the sweetness.

In the case where diners are interested to order a steak, the staff may wheel out a trolley of the different cuts available, facilitating the decision making process for diners. For ourselves, we had the 300-day grain fed Sirloin from Rangers Valley, New South Wales, which was marinated with Moroccan spice and served with sauté spinach, eggplant puree and red wine sauce ($74++). With a marbling score of 2+ (out of a possible 5) based on Australian grading standards, what I got was an average quality cut of beef that wasn’t extremely marbled and still required some chewing. Personally, I thought this was appropriate for such a cooking style and as a main course, as an overly marbled piece of beef often leaves one feeling awfully oleaginous after just a few slices.

Another one of Luke’s signatures that we tried was the Liquorice parfait, lime ($18++). While I’m not fans of liquorice, overall the dessert proved to be a success. The outer layer of the parfait was liquorice flavoured but the inner core of the dessert tasted somewhat like an extremely mild frozen cheesecake which effectively toned down the liquorice.

From the various drinks I tried, I would highly recommend the Salt cooler ($14++), a mocktail concocted from Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, lychee, apple, cranberry juice and lemonade. Extremely refreshing without the envisioned tartness nor astringency from the berries.

The restaurant’s signature cocktail is known as The Australian by Luke Mangan ($18++), made from Lime segment, lime leaf, ginger, cognac, gin, cranberry, shaken with Luke’s syrup. Found it a little on the strong side with strong hints of lime.

Cocktails of the day are sold at $15++ and the one featuring that night was The Chocolatini, made from Vodka, white chocolate sauce, green apple syrup and creme de cacao white (Usual Price, $18++). Similar to The Australian, I found this a little on the strong side. On the plus side, this Chocolatini was really thick, unlike some watery versions I have had in neighbourhood bars.

Before calling it a night, I would also recommend having a Grasshopper ($18++), a cocktail made from Creme de menthe, creme de cacao white and milk, tasting much like an “After Eight chocolate” and minty like Colgate, leaving your palate cleansed from the hearty meal.

Grasshopper (Left), Chocolatini (Right), Half-drank Salt Cooler (Far right)

Special thanks to Salt Grill & Sky Bar for the invitation. You made my Wednesday night.

Salt Grill & Sky Bar

2 Orchard Turn, 55 & 56 Floor Ion Orchard, Singapore 238801

Tel: +65 6592 5118





[Taipei, Taiwan] 馬辣 – A Hotpot Buffet with Hagen Daz, Movenpick, Wine & Beer

28 05 2014

A hotpot buffet with 8 flavours each of Hagen Daz Ice Cream & Movenpick Ice Cream, Red Wine and Beer, do I have your attention yet?

While Taiwan might be known for its scenic tourist spots like Tarako Gorge, Sun Moon Lake and the various hot springs, the highlight of my Taiwan trip turned out to be buffet hotpot restaurant 馬辣, much to my Taiwan friend E’s dismay who adamantly insisted that Taiwan has much more to offer than a mere hotpot restaurant.

Anyhow, I first heard of 马辣 from my mum, and subsequently as a recommendation from an adjacent Taiwanese passenger on the flight to Taipei. It’s a pretty popular place usually packed to the brim during mealtimes, with 5 outlets currently in operation in Taipei that are all very much accessible by public transport. Our first visit left us so impressed (and lazy to search for other alternatives), that we decided to come back to celebrate T’s birthday here as well.

The buffet is priced at 498NT++ for weekday lunches and 598NT++ for weekends/dinners (or roughly S$25++), for a time limit of two hours. However, the staff seemed pretty lax on this policy and allowed us to stay on for more dessert, drinks and idle chatter since there was no one else in the queue then. Buffet items include a host of meats (Angus beef, Boston Pork Should, Chicken Thigh…), Seafood (Oysters, Scallops, Prawn, Crab…), Vegetables, Dipping Sauces, Drinks(Fruit Juices, Soft Drinks, Beers, Floral Teas…), Desserts (Cakes, Fruits, Ice Cream…). Diners are also allowed to bring their own booze with no additional corkage charge, overall a pretty good deal if you ask me. Heck, I would pay that price for just the free flow ice cream and beer.

With the exception of the dipping sauces, drinks and desserts which are self-service, other items require diners to physically tick a checkbox and pass it on to the wait staff, who will then have the indicated items brought to your table, ensuring that whatever arrives is relatively fresh and not left in the open for prolonged periods of time.

So to cut long story short, 馬辣 is an incredibly value for money hotpot buffet if you are in Taipei that I would definitely recommend visiting.

Fuxing Location
Address: No. 152, 4F, Fuxing South Road
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27727678
MRT: Zongxiao Fuxing

Xining Location
Address: No. 62, 2F, Xining South Road (台北市西寧南路62號2樓)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)23146528
MRT: Ximen

Tingzhou Location
Address: No.86, Tingzhou Road Section 3 (台北市中正區汀州路三段86號)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)23657625
MRT: Gongguan

Zhongxiao Location
Address: No.4, Alley 10, Lane 233, Zhongxiao East Road Section 4 (台北市忠孝東路四段233巷10弄4號)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27212533
MRT: Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

Songshou Location
Address: No. 22, 3F, Songshou Road (台北市信義區松壽路22號3F)
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11:30AM-5AM
Phone: (02)27205726
MRT: Taipei City Hall





Woobar @ W Hotel – High Tea, or more accurately “Low Tea”

10 05 2014

Whenever I hear the term “high tea”, I get an impression of luxury and indulgence. After all, it does sound like a step up from just “tea” right? So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many eateries and cafes use the term “high tea” loosely, not knowing that it is in fact, a misnomer.

The story goes that in the past, the Brits used to get by with just 2 meals a day, breakfast and dinner. However, it became fashionable for dinners to be served as late as 9pm (my guess is that most Brits hit the tavern after a day’s work first…and it seems like little has changed since then). Unable to stomach the long interval between breakfast and dinner, the Duchess of Belford at that time, a lady named Anna, made it a habit to have bread, cakes, butter and tea be served to her room in the afternoon, giving rise to what we now know as afternoon tea, or “low tea” as this meal was often eaten on low parlour chairs.

“High tea” on the other hand, used to refer to the hot dinner with strong tea served to rejuvenate industrial workers after a hard day’s work. The term “high” was used because these dinners were served to workers sitting on high back dining chairs.

Definitions aside, I would say that my experience with Woobar’s High Tea Set ($58/$68++ per set serving 2 pax on weekday/weekends) was in general, a positive one. I personally felt that the pricing was really reasonable, given the location premium, free-flow of tea/coffee, the amount and quality of the food. What’s more, diners can request for complimentary parking as well :D

The key downside however was the seats, low sofas that were not at all conducive for eating.

One of the salient features of this tea set is the “bird cage” presentation, which is more novel than functional. The teeny bite-sized nibbles do add up to quite a bit of food so my advice would be to have a light lunch before embarking on this journey.

The bird cage comprises of 3 tiers. At the top most tier, served in what looked like a fishbowl, was the Chocolate Crackle and Pop which reminded me of coco pops.

The second tier comprised of savoury items. I especially liked the Tikka Inspired Salmon with Mint on Spiced Pappadum, which was like an aburi salmon marinated with curry powder among other Indian spices. The Torched Double Brie Pickled Cucumber Nigiri was nice as well, especially since I’m a fervent cheese lover.

I’m still on the fence about the Chocolate Foie Gras Ganache with Port Wine & Gold Leaf. It’s a creative idea but the flavours weren’t very compatible in my view. The liberal use of port wine also resulted in a slightly overwhelming alcoholic flavor.

On the other spectrum, the Twice Cooked Hen’s egg Mantou Chili Crab was really forgettable, mainly due to the egg that hardened up somewhat from being twice cooked. Furthermore, I could hardly make out the chili crab sauce and felt it tasted like sweet Thai chili instead.

The bottom tier comprised of the sweet items. Of the lot, I had a penchant for the Assorted Macarons and the Almond Whoopie Cookie Sandwich. Items I felt were so so were the Bambolini Ball (Lemon Infused Lemon Curd Ball) and the Fresh Berry Trifle Shots.

What I didn’t like were the Chocolate Cupcakes that I found dry and overly dense, not exactly the best attribute to have after numerous rich and heavy desserts.

As part of the tea set, we were also served Crones (a light filo pastry) of varying flavours such as Passion Fruit Butter, Marmalade, Strawberry and Blackberry. This was my favourite item of the afternoon and what I liked best about it was that it was not overly sweet or cloying, while retaining a mild buttery tone and flaky texture.

We also ordered a side of Truffle Fries ($15++), which was rather pricey given the petite portion.

Woobar @ W Hotel

21 Ocean Way, Sentosa Cove, W Hotel Singapore

Tel: +65 6808 7258

Website: http://www.wsingaporesentosacove.com/en/woobar








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