The Plain – For that Simple Unpretentious Brunch

24 01 2012

A cafe’s name often speaks volumes about its history and concept. For The Plain, it seems that the owners named it as such after much thought. Location seems to be the main driver behind this decision, with The Plain’s location near Duxton Plain Park. Concept was the other driving factor, with the owner’s intention of setting up a cafe that is as plain as possible; simple and easily understood without the gimmicks. A minimalistic cafe where one could come in for a casual cuppa, coffee or sandwich.

There’s just so few brunch places around nowadays that eludes the super chillax uncommercialized feel like The Plain does. I’d be lying if I said cafes like Wild Honey, Epicurious and Spruce are like that too. Somehow, they come across as trendier, with a see and be seen vibe to it, where you actually end up dressing up for a simple brunch. On the other hand, I’d be entirely comfortable dropping by The Plain in my shorts and flip flops.

There’s nothing distinctly special about the food here. The food menu is quite limited and the items can be easily prepared at home. For example, the Darling’s Eggs ($12), “Poached Egg with Ham, Cheese and Roma Tomatoes on Sourdough Toast”, can be easily replicated. Seriously, poaching eggs isn’t that difficult! Normally, it’s the Hollandaise Sauce that comes along with it that’s the problem but The Plain keeps it simple by using melted cheese instead.

My personal preference veers to the Dean’s Breakfast ($11), “Poached Eggs with Melted Cheese & Vegemite on Sourdough Toast”. This is my first time eating vegemite, a yeast extract that is supposedly nutritious. I thought it went rather well with the toasted sourdough, intensifying the flavour of the melted cheese. My only quibble was that the eggs were noticeably over-poached so the yolk was solid instead of runny. That definitely can be worked on.

HH and JH shared an Iced Chocolate but I didn’t get to try it.

Iced Chocolate ($5.50)

The Plain does their coffees well. T got a Cappuccino (butter cookies on the side were made by T’s gf and meant for decorative purposes only and not served with the coffee) which he said was pretty good.

For myself, I got a Latte which was quite fragrant and smooth with the right thickness (“gao-ness”).

While I normally emphasize on the food, I think The Plain is just one of the few places where I can bear to leave critical food-related judgements behind (not that there are many) and soak in the ambience instead. It does help that the staff are super approachable and really treat their customers as they would their friends.

PS: Currently, I’m embarking on a pet project to identify Singapore’s best 5 brunch places so you’d probably see more brunch posts coming up shortly.

Bon Appetit!

The Plain

50 Craig Road

Tel: +65 6225 4387

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Hosted on the Patio – Another Place Great for Dates and Birthdays

15 01 2012

Just last week, a bunch of us celebrated MZ’s 21st birthday at Hosted on the Patio. I realize now that I should have taken some pics of the setting and surroundings because it’s really an ideal place to host birthdays and go on dates. Actually, almost all the customers here that night were couples yearning a relaxed quiet evening out. The ambience is a mix of Timbre @ Old School and Artichoke Cafe (along Queens Street), and a live band played for the enjoyment of al fresco diners (it was a Saturday if I’m not mistaken).

Food was generally decent (though not astounding) but service was really sluggish and we waited around half an hour for the food, probably because the kitchen isn’t equipped to handle large orders at one go.

As an appetizer, the Atlantic Crab Salad ($16++) comes highly recommended. Chunks of briny crab meat is tossed with crisp salad, cherry tomatoes and sweet orange citrus segments, all dressed in a tangy tomato syrup. The myriad of light flavours works for the dish and the plethora of colours is appealing. The serving is generous and can be shared between 3 people.

I had high expectations for the Honey Bourbon Ribs ($26++) but was left slightly disappointed as the beef rib was not as succulent as what I remember it to be as when I had it in other places (I fondly recall my first brush with beef ribs at Brewerkz).  On the other hand, the marinate was ok and the thick cut fries were awesome.

My favourite main tonight was definitely the Smoked Duck Linguini ($24++). While the sauce is supposed to be a fragrant rose sauce (I’m thinking rose as in the wine and not the flower), only trace amounts of rose was used and the sauce was more or less a blend between cream and tomato base, which worked out just as well, appealing to people who find the usual tomato base too tangy and the usual cream base too cloying. The Wood Smoked French Duck Breast, Asparagus and Mushrooms is nestled on firm Linguini Pasta (just how I like it), and plays along with the pasta’s gentle symphony.

I have had better Capellini Nero ($28++), better known as Squid Ink Angel Hair Pasta elsewhere. The angel hair pasta tossed with fresh prawns, crab meat and roasted tomatoes come across as a little dry for my liking though I would say the flavours are intact.

Didn’t manage to try the other Mains such as the Beef Scallopini ($28++) which is described as “Tender Escalopes of Beef Tenderloin pan seared and deglazed with Marsala and Cream with Roasted Potatoes and Porcini Mushrooms” on the menu.

Chilean Cod & Slipper Lobster ($32++). Described as “Duo of Grilled Cod and Slipper Lobster accompanied with Tomato Jam and Onion Glaze in a crisp white wine butter sauce with vegetables on the side”.

Braised Lamb Shank ($24++). Described as “Slow Braised Lamb Fore Shank nestled on Mint Scent Risotto, draped with Roasted Onion, Tomato Red Wine Sauce and drizzled with Lemon Parsley Oil” on the menu. MZ thought it was just so-so.

Given the reasonable prices of the Mains here, the Desserts seem relatively overpriced, unjustified by its run of the mill standards. The Molten Dark Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ($14++) is pleasantly average.

I didn’t like the Green Tea Creme Brulee with Almond Biscotti ($12++) as I found the creme brulee too dense that it feels more oversteamed eggy than creamy. I also felt that the caramel was overseared, resulting in an unpleasant overly charred taste.

Hosted on the Patio does some dishes well but in general, the main draw of this place is simply the laid back ambience not available in the heart of town.

Bon Appetit!

Hosted on the Patio

991B Alexandra Road, #01-10

Tel: +65 6276 7337





Open Door Policy – My Recommendation for First Dates

11 01 2012

It’s been some time since I last found a place that I’d be comfortable bringing a first date to. A place atas enough to show that she is worth my while and me hers, a place intimate enough to carry out conversations without too much intrusion yet not deafeningly silent enough to make conversation intervals feel awkward.

Welcome to Open Door Policy (ODP).

ODP is very much a laid back bistro serving fun contemporary western fare, whose main clientele comprises of chic young professionals who know how to enjoy the finer things in life. I see or at least I want to see myself in their shoes in 5 years time, not mindlessly climbing the corporate ladder but having enough life to hang out with colleagues and friends after work, sipping a glass of wine or two to celebrate the end of a hectic day.

The place looks rather empty in this picture but don’t be fooled. Once it reaches 8pm (even on weekdays), the place is packed and one might find trouble getting seats without any reservation. The kitchen operates with an open concept, so if you are the kind of person who likes to sit in on the action and watch how your food is being prepared, you can try asking for bar counter seats which overlooks the kitchen.

I wasn’t here for a first date though, just a casual catch up session with T and CJ. We weren’t planning to have a proper dinner (each of us just had a main each) since we had post ODP plans at Magma Restaurant (should be doing a write up on it soon as it’s currently my favourite watering hole and I have patronised it 4 of the 5 past wednesdays for their german wines, the other wednesday it was closed for renovation!).

I ordered the 48 Hour Cooked Braised Beef Cheek with Mochi Potatoes, Carrot Puree and Snow Pea Tendrils ($29++) and I thought it was excellent. The cheeks are succulent and full flavoured, and the mochi potatoes are rather interesting as its texture really resembles that of mochi. The carrot puree is a little too sweet for my liking though but the beef cheeks taste just wonderful on its own.

CJ had the Roasted Salmon with Panzanella Salad ($25++). There’s nothing fancy about the salmon, but what caught my attention was the tasteful croutons that came served with it, crisp, buttery with a hint of tomato.

T got the Pan Seared Sea Bass with Artichoke, Potatoes and Rocket Salad ($27++). I much preferred this to the salmon as the skin is more crisp and the meat less chewy. I tasted some gentle drips of lemon juice that made this all the more refreshing. The roasted potatoes are well marinated as well, owning most of the wedges I have had elsewhere.

Overall, I wouldn’t rate the food here as world class but it is indeed competent enough to leave an impression, not to mention that the staff here are friendly. I would definitely return again.

Bon Appetit!

Open Door Policy

19 Yong Siak Street

Tel: +65 6221 9307





Ember III – A Great Way to End the Year

2 01 2012

First of all, Happy New Year to everyone! I hope 2011 has been a great year for you as it has been for me and let’s pray that 2012 brings lots of joy, laughter and peace into everyone’s lives 😀

Anyway just a couple days back, I visited Ember for the third time this year. Visiting the same restaurant twice doesn’t happen often for me, much less 3 times, especially since I have been attempting to cover as much ground as possible with regards to the visitation of different local restaurants.

A reason for this anomaly could be because during our last SMU Gourmet Club event, events director G mentioned she had never been to Ember before and since she was flying off for her Barcelona exchange soon, I thought this would be a good opportunity for her to try it. But I think maybe I was just finding an excuse to come back myself. Ember just has that much an allure.

Nothing much has changed from its set lunch menu since my last 2 visits, apart from the slight price increment that I find highly justified given the popularity and quality of Ember. Currently, their 3-Course set lunches are priced at $42++, which is still a fraction the price of their set dinner (that I believe serves roughly the same items choices).

Having been here before too, CW ordered what she claims is the best foie gras she has eaten – The Roasted & Poached Foie Gras with Mirin, Shoyu & Shiitake (requires a $6++ supplement). I’m guessing the savoury foie gras is poached first to cook the liver properly before being subsequently roasted to attain that firm brown surface with wobbly fatty interior. If this is your first time to Ember, I highly recommend you order this but if you haven’t had foie gras before, perhaps you should try out a few other places first before trying this one or you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere else even remotely comparable.

G doesn’t like foie gras (I know most of you must be going: “Impossibru!”) so she had the Pan Roasted Scallops with Parma Ham, Citrus & Tarragon Vinaigrette instead. It’s definitely above average but nothing compared to the really fresh and utterly orgasmic ones I had with CW at Cornwall, England, last June during our short road trip. I still think of them sometimes, after all I would not be exaggerating much saying they made me open my mouth, salivate and gurgle “mmmm” the way Homer Simpson does when he thinks of donuts.

Ember does their Field Mushroom Soup (avail in their set lunch menu) well but you know what’s even better than that? Field Mushroom Soup with Poached Egg and Foie Gras (a special appetizer for today’s lunch menu, requires supplement of $6++). The mushrooms are blended finely, leaving the texture of the soup velvety smooth yet not watered down. In fact, the flavours are rather intense, so it might have gone well if a piece of brioche was included on the side. And the few drops of white truffle oil does well to add an earthly aroma that stimulates the olfactory senses and whets the appetite for the upcoming mains. Few bite-sized pieces of foie gras can be found in the soup but possessed a slightly gamey flavour.

The list of appetizers available here are really extensive, leaving one spoilt for choice even for subsequent visits. So just to give you an idea of what other choices are available apart from those mentioned, I will list them down here too:

1) Pan Seared Foie Gras with Fresh Orange Segments, Orange and Passionfruit Reduction (supplement of $6++)

2) Pan Seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Apples and Cloves, Port & Raspberry Glaze (supplement of $6++)

3) Chicken and Duck Liver Parfait, Brioche and Late Harvest Muscat Jelly

4) Cold Tofu Salad with Avacado, Tomato and Sesame Dressing

5) Shaved Parma Ham with Fresh Figs & Rocket Salad

6) Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab with Sweet Wasabi Aioli

7) Field Mushroom Soup with White Truffle Oil

8) Homemade Crispy Tofu with Foie Gras Mirin Sauce & White Truffle Oil (I have read some good things about this on other blogs, think I might just try this the next time around)

For Mains, CW stuck to the safe choice of Pan Seared Chilean Seabass with Mushroom and Smoked Bacon Ragout, with Truffle Yuzu Butter Sauce. To our surprise, it came out uncharacteristically overcooked and tough. The mushroom and bacon ragout didn’t find favour with her either though to me it’s still pretty tasty as I’m a hardcore mushroom fan. Even my hair grows out into a mushroom shape if I refrain from having my monthly haircut.

G settled for the Pan Roasted USDA Prime Beef Tenderloin with French Fries & Merlot Reduction. If you have had the deep fried golden mushrooms at some Taiwanese Street Snack stalls (abundant in Singapore), you might find some semblance with the fried golden mushrooms topping the steak. I’m thinking it’s roughly similar though the ones here are less fried so they come across as half crunchy (from the mushroom texture) and half crispy(from deep frying). The Steak was well executed as well, surprisingly tender and flavourful for a restaurant not specializing in steak.

I saw quite a few patrons ordering this during my previous visits so I reasoned that it must be good – the 12 Hour Cooked Pork Belly with Savoy Cabbage, Apple Puree & Spiced Calvados Sauce. In fact, there are 3 sauces to eat the Roast Pork with, the brown sauce at the top is a sweet asian glaze (tasting similar to the one you would use for peking duck), the middle yellow one is a mild mustard sauce (great for cleansing the palate if the pork belly gets too oleaginous) and lastly the savoury brown sauce in the test tube which I believe could be the Spiced Calvados Sauce (my favourite of the 3 and tastes a bit like a thicker and more robust hawker duck sauce) (Calvados is a type of Apple Brandy). There’s really nothing more I can ask for from a Roasted Pork Belly, a tender layer of meat meeting a thick layer of crackling skin, broken easily with a light prodding of a fork. No wonder its popular.

While the Crispy Caramelized Pear Tart with Homemade Bailey’s Ice Cream (upper pic) is pretty good, we all preferred the Crispy Cinnamon “Apple Pie” with Homemade Rum & Raisin Ice Cream (bottom pic) because it’s sweeter and less tart, pardon the pun.

But if you prefer something cold and a little more creative, the Frozen Nougat with Seasonal Berries and Lychee Sorbet is the way to go. Unlike normal nougats which are irritatingly uber chewy, the frozen nougat is very much a dense ice cream chocked with nuts. And the Lychee Sorbet is indeed a refreshing way to end off a meal.

Set Meals come with a choice of coffee/tea, but since CW didn’t want either, the staff told me I could upgrade my “normal” coffee to a cappuccino, which I did. 赚到!

Food aside, one other thing I really like about Ember is the service staff. They are really attentive, versed in fine dining etiquette (meaning they will really arrive to clear your plate if you decide to pair your cutlery together in the same direction as we discovered today) and are very friendly, often striking up casual conversation. Most importantly, they are not annoyingly pretentious.

Bon Appetit!

Ember

50 Keong Saik Road, Hotel 1929

Tel: +65 6347 1928








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