Aoki – Mazechirashi Heaven

28 11 2010

I took up some Japanese language classes earlier this year and managed to pickup some important Japanese phrases, for instance how to ask a girl or guy but most preferably a girl for her phone number and how to say “your welcome” (allows u to stun a Singaporean waiter who says “Arigato” to you as you are leaving a Japanese Restaurant).

Anyway, Aoki means “Blue Tree” in Japanese according to answers.com, so it’s odd why the chinese words say “Green Tree”. There are 3 scripts in the Japanese language, Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji(looks like Chinese Characters). So perhaps in Kanji, that actually means “Blue Tree” but that’s just my guess.

From Aoki’s layout and ambience, you would hardly guess that this is a fine dining establishment. The entrance to the restaurant is inconspicuous and unassuming, looking somewhat like an entrance to a lavatory or kitchen, but don’t be fooled. Gastronomic pleasures lie within.

Stepping into Aoki, you would notice that the interior designs are minimalistic yet cosy. I particularly liked the sheets of cloth dangling from the ceiling, very pretty…

If you make reservations which you should (my last attempt as a walk-in customer failed), opt for counter seats. You will get to see the master chefs at work, dexterously and adroitly moulding sushi and cutting sashimi. Once in a while, you even get to see some pyrotechnics! Ok, pyrotechnics is just a euphemism for searing but the use of a blow torch still fascinates most nonetheless.

I was right in front of the action as the chef masterfully seared the pieces of Tuna Belly Sushi. Omg, as you witness the fats of the tuna belly starting to bubble and sizzle, you just lament at how eating an Omakase Lunch Set($100++) is totally out of your budget.

There’s a $3++ charge for Otoshi. Typically, it’s a starter that is served alongside when one orders an alcoholic beverage. For Aoki, this is instilled as a cover charge, probably for the tea and oshibori(hot towels) that are provided before and after the meal, in addition to the dish of Cold Spinach. The hot towels reminded me of the ones you would get on an airplane, and in this scenario, our destination would be gastronomic paradise.

For lunch, do order the sets instead of ala-carte because it is definitely of more value. I ordered the Mazechirashi($35++) which also comes with Salad, Miso Soup, Pickles and a trio of Desserts.

The Chirashi served here is really orgasmic. A variety of Sashimi, ranging from Tuna (Maguro), Tuna Belly (Chutoro rather than Ootoro though), Uni (Sea Urchin), Hotate (Scallop), Ikura (Salmon Roe), Ika (Squid), Ebi (Shrimp), Tamago (Sweet Egg), and I think there might have been Aji (Skip Jack) and Tai (Sea Bream) as well. I’m usually not a fan of Tuna, because I find that it carries a distinctive metallic taste (maybe from the blood) which I don’t really fancy, plus Maguro is too lean compared to Salmon Sashimi. However, the Tuna in this Chirashi is different somehow. Very palatable and fresh and there was no metallic taste, plus it was fatty as well! Each time your chopsticks dive into this treasure trove of a chirashi, you never know what you are going to get and this keeps one in suspense and silent anticipation throughout the meal. Anyway, I prefer to eat my Uni by itself to enjoy the full extent of each small piece rather than mixing it with rice where its taste becomes indiscernible.

One special feature about Aoki is that they provide hon-Wasabi, meaning Wasabi that is freshly grated compared to most eateries that provide Wasabi sold in commercial tubes or made from Wasabi powder. Since I’m not a true wasabi lover, the difference to me was that hon-wasabi has a milder tone compared to the tubed wasabi which has other ingredients such as mustard inside as well while S felt that the hon-wasabi had a fruitier flavour compared to the tubed wasabi.

If you find the Tamago good, you can buy it as a side for $6++ as well which is just what I did.

Nothing too fancy about the Salad. Just one with a light vinaigrette dressing.

The Miso Soup here is especially flavourful because it is simmered with prawn heads and it really make the soup richer and sweeter.

The Trio of Desserts comprised of a slab of White Wine Jelly, a Scoop of Milk Ice Cream and a Cup of Custard with Mango Sauce. It’s really hard for me to choose a favourite dessert because they are all just soooooo good. I’m really impressed. The last time I had liquor in a jelly was at a friend’s birthday party where half of the agar agar was made from vodka instead of water and I felt that this White Wine Jelly was really innovative. The thing I love about these desserts is that they are all pleasantly light and sweet, and wasn’t heavy or cloying enough to make me feel like downing litres of tea or water after being already stuffed to the brim.

For the Shokado($38++), you get Sashimi, Nimono(Steamed Vegetables), Tempura, Miso Soup, Rice and the same trio of Desserts as in the Mazechirashi. This was what S ordered and I didn’t want to deprive him of his yumyums, (I was too engrossed in my chirashi anyway).

Sashimi looks good. Quite a variety there, there was a clam I could not identify in the left foreground.

Damn you Aoki! Where else am I going to eat Japanese food without feeling unsatisfied now?

Ok we shall answer this question sometime soon after paying a visit to Tatsuya @ Goodwood Park Hotel.

But I shall make this official, Aoki is currently my favourite Jap restaurant in Singapore.

Bon Appetit!

AOKI

1 SCOTTS ROAD, #02-17 SHAW CENTRE

TEL: +65 6333 8015





Gordon Grill – Respite in the Comfort of Food

21 11 2010

Recently, a friend stumped me with the simple question of why do I love food so much? And I answer back with a question of my own: “Why not?”. Eating is just one of the many joys in life, containing both a tangible and intangible aspect. Tangible in the sense that it is material, it has a form, a texture, a taste and smell. The intangible aspect comes in the dining experience, just like the feeling you get seeing a baby smile or gazing into the eyes of a lover, some dining experiences can evoke similar feelings, where the ambience, the aromas, the company and the soothing background music is just perfect…

The best thing about having eating as a hobby is that no matter how busy  my schedule gets, even in the midst of exams or an important presentation, I would still be able to spare some time for a nice meal (and consequently feel guilty afterwards). In a world where it is so hard to derive meaning for one’s existence, I take respite in the comfort of food…

Goodwood Park Hotel brings back fond memories for me as I used to frequently patronise the high tea buffet there as a child. Growing up in my teenage years, the trips to their high tea buffets were replaced by visits to the delightful Chinese cuisine of Min Jiang and Thai Village, both housed within the hotel premises. Somehow or another, Gordon Grill was never part of the agenda…till now.

Gordon Grill currently offers a UOB Chef Creation lunch and dinner set menus priced at $68++ and $128++ respectively for 2 pax (promotion ends 14 January), as well as the Big-on-Small Lunch Set Menu priced at $48/58++ for 3/4 Course.

I had some doubts about the quality of the UOB Chefs Creation menu because it was priced at a significant discount compared to the normal lunch set menu but I would soon find out that I was just being overly paranoid, a trait inherited from my paternal side no doubt. Anyway, you have to request for the UOB Creations menu specifically as it is separate from the main menu. After a quick perusal of the menus, we decided to have one pair of UOB sets and one daily set.

Complimentary Bread was a choice of Focaccia, Rye Bread and Onion Bread. They were all served at room temperature and tasted rather stale. Boo…

For the UOB Chef Creations set, it comes as a 3-Course set with Appetizer, Main and Dessert.

For Appetizers, M had the Cold Japanese Noodles, Seaweed, King Crab and Farm Caviar.

I was pleasantly surprised by the portion size of the Salad of Jumbo Quail, Foie Gras, Raspberry and Walnut Dressing. It seriously looks generous enough to be a main! I have always associated quail to be a scrawny chicken which somehow costs more and my last encounter with it at Bistro Petit Salut wasn’t very memorable. Too many tiny bones, troublesome to eat and not much meat. Discriminations aside, the quail here is really tasty! It’s like a miniature yummy duck confit. Regrettably, the foie gras didn’t create a similar impact. It was undercooked, had a large irritating tendon that hampered my cutting, and had a weird aftertaste (maybe not as fresh as it should be?). Hopefully this is just a one off incident.

Moving on to the Mains, M had the Baked Barramundi with a Light Shellfish Risotto and Tomato Vinaigrette. While I appreciated the freshness of the fish which boasted a gentle sweetness evident upon the use of very subtle flavourings, it was a touch too bland for my personal liking though I enjoyed the risotto with toppings of clams, scallops, prawns and a tangy tomato vinaigrette.

The other choice of Main was the Grilled Yorkshire Pork Loin with Potato Fondant and Puy Lentil Ragout. In my opinion, a good way to distinguish a well-executed pork loin would be to see whether it is enjoyable to eat without any accompanying condiments. Few have passed this test but I’m glad this one did. The pork was tender and its cooking was perfectly timed, served with an almost indiscernible pinkish hue.

D was head over heels for the Pistachio Creme Brulee with Vanilla Ice Cream. It was slightly denser than average but it was really good with just the right amount of sweetness. The Vanilla Ice Cream was kind of superfluous but who’s complaining right?

The only other choice of Dessert for the UOB Set Menu is the Coconut Panna Cotta with Tropical Fruit Minestrone. It didn’t leave much of an impression on me but I did enjoy the sherbet! On a random note, I just found this out today; the difference between a sherbet and a sorbet. A sorbet is diary-free while a typical sherbet has 1-2% milk and sorbet has a generally softer texture.

That’s it for the UOB Lunch Set Menu and proceeding on to the 4-Course Big-on-Small Lunch Set Menu.

The Big-on-Small Set Lunch is really good for those who love variety. You get a choice of 3 Appetizers, 3 Soups, 1 Main and 2 Desserts!

For Appetizers, I chose the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio with Celeriac Remoulade and Parmesan Cheese Shavings which I thought was so-so. The Celeriac (a type of celery) was hiding within the ball of beef and I felt that its presence was unnecessary for I’m a carnivore of sorts (or at least when it comes to wagyu :p). On the other hand, I thought the Parmesan cheese was somehow quite compatible with the beef!

My 2nd Mini-Appetizer was the Braised Escargots with Red Wine Jus, Garlic Puree and Melted Parsley Butter. It’s pretty good, though I still preferred the one I had at Au Petit Salut just a few weeks back. I think it’s probably because the snails here is slightly chewier and there is also a tinge of spiciness (I prefer the classic garlic and butter style).

My third Appetizer was the Hokkaido Scallops with Spanish Ham, Green Asparagus and Black Truffle Dressing. How I do love scallops!

For the 3 Choices of Soup,

I had the Mushroom Cappuccino (which I passed to D).

French Onion Soup which I passed to M

but I kept the Lobster Bisque to myself. There were 2 small chunks of lobster but it was kind of squishy rather than fresh and crunchy, and the soup was very flavourful though lacking in smoothness. Anyway, I don’t see how a reasonable person would be able to eat and drink so much. The soups were generally decent but nothing particularly fantastic.

For Main, I had the US Beef Fillet (done Medium Rare) and Braised Cheek in Bordelaise Sauce and Seasonal Mushrooms. Is it even possible for an established joint such as Gordon Grill to get the timing wrong? Well-executed steak and smooth buttery mash, but I thought the cubes of beef cheeks were slightly dry.

For Desserts, I opted for the Chocolate Hazelnut Tart with a light Orange Ice Cream and the Arctic Roll of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Marinated Red Berries. I preferred the Arctic Roll compared to the Chocolate Hazelnut Tart because after such a heavy meal, sometimes I just like to end off on a gentle note, instead of a rich decadent dessert.

Normally, the age old adage of “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” holds true but it wasn’t the case today. My initial perception that the UOB Chef Creations was just a ploy by Gordon Grill to serve “cheaper” quality ingredients was unfounded as much of the choices in the UOB menu were actually found on the lunch set menu as well. When I think of it, where else could I get foie gras, quail, pork loin and a dessert for under $68++ for 2 pax? My verdict is that the UOB Chef’s Creations is good value for those who want a sample of what Gordon Grill has to offer.

I mentioned in the 2nd paragraph that it’s hard to derive life’s meaning but I think I just might have gotten an eureka moment while writing this post.

“The meaning of life is in its pursuit”;

meaning the discovery of one’s life meaning is the very meaning of life itself. So don’t despair that life is aimless at the moment, use it as a driving force rather than a stumbling block…and if life gives you lemons, go make yourself some lemon sponge pudding. Lemonade you can get at a 7-11.

Bon Appetit!

GORDON GRILL

22 SCOTTS ROAD, GOODWOOD PARK HOTEL

TEL: +65 6730 1744





Barracks Cafe II – Up-market Casual Dining

14 11 2010

I seriously cannot stand pretentious and arrogant people who seem to have a hobby of flaunting their wealth, grades or achievements. It is damn irritating. On the other hand, it is the minority of individuals who dwell in humility despite their social standing or achievements that really impress me.

In the same light, my view of Dempsey veers towards the former. Catering to the young, flashy and wealthy, the days where Dempsey used to be a secluded and romantic getaway are no more, leaving behind instead what I feel to be a superficial shell of its former self, where food and drinks are heavily overpriced. Ok maybe it isn’t that bad, one might still encounter an ambience of tranquilness and serenity at Dempsey but it’s mainly limited to weekday lunches. However, I tend to avoid going over there for dinners, especially on Weekends, where parking is always a problem and where rave parties seem to be going on at every corner.

Anyway, fellow CCA-mate and long time friend GR really wanted to have the Truffle Fries (which I think is highly overrated) at Barracks so despite it being a Friday night, I obliged, though rather reluctantly.

Barracks is a up-market casual dining restaurant, which to me just means less bang for your buck. Like most Singaporeans, I believe in getting a good deal, so while I don’t shun spending on food, I do believe in getting the most value of my dollar.

C had the Lobster Linguine($29++), which was essential a Half-Lobster Linguine, Crabmeat & Prawn Bolognese tossed in Black Pepper Sauce. This reminded me much of black pepper crab, which I thought took surprising well to the linguine.

S & GR both had the Fish & Chips($27++). Apparently, Cod fillets are used which explains the price premium. One good point is that the chips served for this dish are the highly raved about Truffle Fries, one bad point is that GR had a tummy ache after the meal and I do feel that battering a cod for fish and chips is soooooo wasteful don’t you think?

Adwyn had the Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin($24++), which rested over a bed of Fruity Peach Cranberry Chutney, Garlic Roasted Potatoes and Grilled Vegetables. While the Tenderloin was nicely seasoned, I thought it could have been done a bit more tenderly. But if you want a recommendation for Pork Tenderloin, my suggestion is to go for the awesome Yorkshire Pork Tenderloin at Perle Noire, a humble Oyster and Grill Bar in the Siglap area. It’s been more than a year since I last patronized and I’m still hankering over it which means it must be good! (Perle Noire so happens to have a 1-for-1 main course for Citibank Card holders currently, though the condition of the promotion is to make a purchase of a dozen oysters). Ok reverting back to the Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin, what I thought really stood out was the Roasted Garlic Potatoes, which had a soft texture (from cooking and not from being overripe) and very palatable. If Barracks offered this as a separate side, I would definitely order it on my next visit.

Finally, I had the Moroccan Spiced Baby Chicken($19++). Fancy euphemisms apart, this is just a forgettable Roasted Baby Chicken with Yam Crisps. The Chicken isn’t particularly tender, moist nor succulent but the Yam Crisps are a well deserved change from the usual fries.

2 Hits and 2 Misses for dinner, but one thing good about the thriving superficiality in Dempsey, it ensures a constant supply of good eye candy!

Bon Appetit!

BARRACKS CAFE

8D DEMPSEY ROAD

TEL: +65 6475 7787





Restaurant Ten – A Healthy Take on Chinese Cuisine

7 11 2010

Formerly known as Metropole Herbal Restaurant, it has now been renamed and given a new lease of life in the form of Restaurant Ten. The concept of Restaurant Ten is simple, to provide consumers with tasty yet nutritional healthy food.

The menu is pretty extensive, with a range of Seafood (Sharksfiin, Abalone, Sea cucumber, Fish & Prawns) & Nutritional Soups (interesting ones include Crocodile Soup), along with the standard Chinese Restaurant fare, but of course every dish has been specially tweaked with a healthy twist.

The restaurant occupies 3 storeys and I spotted an interesting-looking chandelier on the 2nd storey. The first storey is usually left for groups with elderly so if you are young and able-bodied, you will probably be seated at the second storey. The third storey has only 1 large table, to cater for a large group that wants privacy. Though the second floor was totally empty when I first arrived, business picked up later on.

Apart from the ala-carte menu as mentioned earlier, there are also several set meals available, ranging from $28++ for the express lunch set meal to the extravagant $88++ for the Braised Abalone and Sea Cucumber Set Menu. I had the $68++ 6-Course Mini Buddha Jump Over the Wall Set Menu.

Instead of the normal steamed peanuts, mixed nuts or pickles, Restaurant Ten serves an appetizer involving Pumpkin with Passionfruit, which at first I thought it was pickled unripened Mango or Papaya, very very unique indeed. We were also given complimentary shots of Hawthorn Juice to stimulate our taste buds and aid digestion. I ordered the Lychee Tea($3.80++) expecting to get some icy cooling hawker centre style Lychee Tea so I was quite surprised that the Lychee Tea here is actually hot tea made with Lychee Leaves from Taiwan in the teabag. I was actually able to taste the subtle hint of lychee and smell it’s fragrant aroma, so I thought this was quite special quite coolio. Dad got the Pu Er Tea($3.80++) while Mum got the Hawthorn Juice($4++).

The meal officially started with the first course – House Special 3-Combination Starters consisting of Deep Fried Fish Skins, Japanese Yam & Crispy Fish Roe over Avocado. The Fish Skins were well marinated, brittle and devoid of any excess oil, definitely the best fried fish skins I have had to date! Wasn’t too fascinated by the Japanese Yam because it was like eating a stickier version of white radish. Dipping it into the side of honey and blended wolfberry dip made it slightly less bland though. I’m not really an avocado person but I thought the Fish Roe over Avocado wasn’t too bad.

2nd Course was the Egg White with Morel Mushroom and Dried Scallops in Potatoes Nest. The potatoes nest reminded me of rosti, though far thinner and crispier. The egg whites were smooth and creamy but remember to add a dash of apple cider over it though, it does help to boost the flavours.

As the captain kindly showed me, this is what a morel mushroom looks like.

Third Course was the Apple and Lotus with Fresh Cabbage.Though the ingredients are simple, a closer inspection proved that there are some complex flavours at work here with additional sweetness exuding from the wolfberries, as well as additional crunch from the sunflower seeds, dried scallops and sesame seeds. Almost entirely vegetarian, I’m so unused to eating so healthily!

The highlight of our dinner – The House Special Mini Buddha Jump Over the Wall! I was a little let down since the previous courses definitely didn’t justify the pricetag of this set meal but upon seeing such a large bowl of soup, yes the price is definitely justified. The standard Buddha Jump Over the Wall ingredients such as Abalone, Sea Cucumber, Fish Maw, Sharksfin, Dried Scallop, as well as pieces of chicken and a large slab of pig’s tendon. With so many seafoods and meats in one bowl, it’s no wonder it was saturated with umami goodness.

Mix a kong ba pao and peking duck and you get this – The Smoked Duck with Crispy Seaweed Beancurd (served with buns) which I ate with a gentle smearing of Hoisin Sauce. Instead of a crispy duck skin, what I encountered instead was the crispy seaweed skin which was just as well. Decent but not jaw dropping, I might have preferred a Peking Duck over this smoked one.

Finally, the last and final course – The 3 Combination Desserts. Advice from the captain is to start from the rightmost dessert which has the mildest flavour followed by the middle and leftmost one. The rightmost dessert is a Coconut and Egg White Moose. Mildly sweet, I love the gentleness of this pudding which was very light on the palate. The middle dessert is the Fried Japanese Sweet Potatoes. This is actually my favourite of the 3, it is somewhat denser than a french fry, and the crisp exterior is savoury while the interior is sweet and so it strikes a good balance. I ended off the meal with the pulpy Blended Pear Juice.

You know the feeling you get usually after a heavy chinese meal where your throat still seems parched even after cups and cups of tea? You will never get it at Restaurant Ten, the foods here are just done so naturally with little artificial flavourings and I’m sure there’s no MSG involved. A great place to bring your older relatives and friends for a meal!

Bon Appetit!

 

 

RESTAURANT TEN

7 PURVIS STREET, #01-01

TEL: +65 6333 9901





Greenwood Fish Market & Bistro – If you want it any fresher, you got to catch it yourself

4 11 2010

If you asked me where I would find the densest aggregation of restaurants most worth visiting in Singapore, I would probably say Bukit Pasoh or Keong Saik Road @ Outram, Scotts Road for the Les Amis Group of Restaurants, as well as the charming Greenwood Avenue.

Greenwood Avenue isn’t very accessible by public transport which is a boon and a bane. While it means more effort is required to go there, it also means you are rewarded with a quieter (though it can be bustling on weekends) and more exclusive dining experience. There’s a variety of cuisines available there which leave you spoilt for choice. Eateries include Shin Yuu Japanese Restaurant, which in my opinion, serves one of the most value for money Japanese Buffets in Singapore. Rival Japanese Restaurant Raku is located just a few steps away which I have also heard good things about. A short stretch down is Peperoni Pizzeria which is supposedly one of Singapore’s best pizzerias. Then, there is Chat Masala Too! with Indian amd Donna Carmela with Italian offerings but enough about them, today is all about Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro.

After a visit to their website, I realised that Blue Lobster @ Frankel Avenue (which has been closed for more than a year but still not removed from the website…) and Fin Seafood Cafe @ Marina Square are also affiliates of Greenwood Fish Market & Bistro. My previous experiences at Blue Lobster have generally been positive but the same cannot be said with Fin. Hence I really didn’t know what to expect of dinner here.

Seating capacity is for 80 pax, of which 40 are indoors and another 40 outdoors. The dining style here is rather casual, not too posh but not to sloppy either.

Complimentary bread was served but the staff missed out on me as I adjourned to the loo momentarily so I was left breadless and hungry. The bread seemed pretty decent though, my friends finished theirs in a jiffy.

Now, the concept of an al dente pasta is subjective and best left to one’s own discretion but I personally enjoyed the slight firmness of my Squid Ink Linguini with Calamari and Unagi($20.95++) which was generously doused with olive oil. The unagi stood out like a sore thumb though, I would have preferred the classic toppings of scallops and clams.

While the squid ink pasta was commendable, what really stole the show tonight was the Red Miso Cod($29.95++). Sweetness from the Aka Miso paste, fattiness and savouryness from the cod; a concoction close to perfection. Not to mention the hearty mash and nicely grilled eggplant, this will haunt my dreams for many days to come.

As the House Fish and Chips($18.95++) was unavailable, one of the staff recommended we try battering a Catfish that was air flown from the Mississippi instead, and we acceded. What he didn’t tell us was that it was going to cost us $29.95++ and so we slightly annoyed when we received the bill. It didn’t help that I found the catfish far from fantastic (personally I don’t think catfishes are great candidates for battering), and a Fish and Co one might possibly trump it.

What I really love about Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro is the freshness of their produce. Fresh fish always retain a sweeter flavour and smoother texture when cooked and this was evident in the Pan-seared Barramundi($21.95++) which came served with salad and mash. Big on natural flavourings instead of spamming condiments, this felt like a healthy choice.

Of course, apart from pan-searing, customers can opt to cook their desired types of fishes in several other ways such as steaming, baking, char-grilling, battered and crumbed. We had our Snapper Char-grilled($21.95++). Char-grilling would be a style preferable to those who want stronger flavours from the marinade. If you are considering between barramundi and snapper, I would recommend barramundi because it has a more tender flesh and I find it far tastier for some reason.

If you really are too indecisive in ordering from the seemingly inexhaustive menu, something that cannot go wrong is the Pan-seared Black Cod “Chilean Seabass”($26.95++). Elegant yet simple.

One of the few low points of the meal was the discovery of a rotten or decomposed clam in the midst of the Marinara Linguini($24.95++). Not wanting to make a fuss, I think that it’s probably bad luck rather than the negligence or fault of a third party for such an event to occur anyways.

Apart from a few minor setbacks, dinner went on more than smoothly. I can’t wait for a return visit, though hopefully it will be on a tuesday because of their weekly Tuesday oyster nights($1 for a freshly shucked oyster shiok!).

Bon Appetit!

GREENWOOD FISH MARKET AND BISTRO

34 GREENWOOD AVENUE

TEL: +65 6467 4950








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