Hanayoshi – A Lesson on Wagyu that I didn’t get to Eat

26 06 2012

It has been almost a year since I last met up with E but as they always say, better late than never. It was a friendship fostered in the days when revelry was the in thing, where both of us had the luxury of time and energy to groove on the mambo dance floor, a hobby that we used to share.

I picked Hanayoshi as our dinner spot. After all, online reviews were promising and the ability to survive in the competitive dining district of Tanjong Pagar/Outram already says quite a bit in itself. It was surprisingly quiet on this Saturday night though, with only 2 other tables being occupied excluding E and myself.

A word of advice from me. Make reservations to sit at the counter on the ground floor rather than on the 2nd floor. Firstly, you get a great view of the chef’s masterful cutting techniques and will probably get the chance to interact with the master during the meal, but most importantly, you also get to avoid the cramped 2nd level. The tables are packed so awfully close to one another in an enclosed area such that private conversations aren’t at all private. So there goes all the socially inappropriate jokes you could have cracked during the course of the meal, making one feel constipated holding so much crap in.

“Age” literally means deep-fried while “dashi” is a japanese soup stock, often made by simmering ingredients such as kelp, fish parts or mushrooms. Put together, an Agedashi Tofu simply refers to Fried Tofu in Dashi Sauce. No complaints about the ones here, but no glowing comments either. It’s just too standard fare that you already know what to expect.

We shared a serving of the Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab too which was decent but not amazing, as the crab meat tasted a bit flat, while the seasoning was on the salty side.

I really wanted to try the Wagyu and Sashimi Set but found out that they do not serve set meals during dinner. Dang, it would have been quite a steal for $42++. Yea, there’s the option of ordering a grilled piece of Wagyu but at $90 (if I recall correctly), it’s not quite as tempting. Why the stark difference in price you ask? Well, not all Wagyu are equal, some are more equal than others and I postulate that the $90 ones are just a tad more equal. So lesson to learn is not to swoon straight away when you see the words Wagyu and probe a little deeper into its marble score. Wagyu originated from Japan and just like every other Asian country, Asians love competition, scores and grades. As such, Wagyu is scored with a number between 1 to 12 based on factors such as the extent of marbling and colour of the meat, with 12 being the most premium. As a general guide, scores of 6 and above are already considered to be relatively good cuts of Wagyu. For the $90 cut of Wagyu here, the menu states it scores a 12. Time to swoon folks.

However, still being a student does have its limitations and I had to rein myself in, ordering the Chirashi ($45++) instead. Quite a good spread of fresh seafood like salmon, tuna, kingfish, swordfish, shrimp, uni and ikura but missing my favourite scallops 😦

E got herself the Udon Noodles in Hotpot and commented she could make it at home. There wasn’t any reason to doubt her. After all, she’s one of the 2 co-founders of Strictly Pancakes, Singapore’s first dedicated pancake cafe. Go support her shop if you can! Simple as it might seem, I have had some hotpots that would be difficult to replicate at home given the flavourful stock used. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say that this is one of them as it fades into mediocrity.

Given all the hype from the online community, I admit I expected better. The Chirashi is also giving me an Aoki craving.

Hanayoshi

21 Duxton Road

Tel: +65 6225 5567





Spruce – Not Just for Brunch

19 06 2012

I drove past Bukit Timah Fire Station a couple of times in the past month and noticed a large banner screaming that a new branch of Spruce was about to open there. Deeply excited, I went over to their facebook page, hoping to catch a glimpse of how the new outlet was going to look like and wow, I was impressed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in operation yet so I found myself back at Phoenix Park.

The New Spruce@Fire Station

Spruce is better known for their brunch, which extends all the way till 4pm, perfect for late risers like me. The last time I was there, I had their version of the Crab Cake Benny ($25++) which left a lasting impression. Today however, I was here for dinner and surprisingly, it wasn’t too crowded despite it being a Sunday. I guess many of the more informed diners are flocking to the newly opened eateries around Singapore. I have been trying to make reservations (as much as 2 weeks in advance) at some of these newer eateries and have been denied of a reservation too many times to keep count. Sigh.

For the love of air-con, I initially made reservations for indoor seating but since the al fresco area was pretty breezy and gave off such homely vibes, I requested to sit outdoors on arrival. Despite the surrounding greenery, there was no sign of mosquitoes. Lucky!

Sharing of mains is a trait frowned upon in most of Europe. I’m just happy this is something Singaporeans have not yet assimilated into our cultures. My party of 4 had 4 mains to share and while such an arrangement usually results in each person taking just a measly spoonful of 3 dishes and having the bulk of the single dish directly in front of him or her, on this occasion we made sure to split each dish into 4 roughly equal portions, which I later found to be an appropriate portion size to take in the full experience of each dish while still being able to enjoy the variety.

We first tucked into theCarnaroli Risotto served with Porcini Mushrooms and Truffled Hen Egg ($24++). Also known as the “King of Rice”, Carnaroli is one of the 3 common types of Italian rice traditionally used to make risottos. The other 2 types are Arborio and Vialone Nano. Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are considered to be the better and more expensive varieties compared to the more commonly used Arborio. Unlike the long grain rice varieties that we usually consume in Chinese cuisine, these short grain varieties of rice have a greater ability to absorb liquids and it’s higher starch content results in a sticky creamy texture on cooking, suitable for making risottos. As for the risotto here, I enjoyed it much. Very hearty with its cooking timed perfectly, the risotto retained a nice mildly chewy texture.

One of the Chef’s recommendations is the Spruce Burger with Homemade Pickles, Cheddar Cheese & Herbed Fries ($18++, add-on Bacon for $2 which we did). The mayo was extra rich, with a noticeable aftertaste that gave an extra kick. The fries are tasty as well after being given a gentle tossing in paprika and other spices.

At the very top of my list, what I would definitely recommend is the Beef Short Ribs served with Spinach & Mushroom in aged Port Wine Sauce topped with Fried Egg ($29++), a combination of foods I hold dear. Beef ribs in western joints are just plain awesome. It’s not the same as those in Korean restaurants, which comes grilled in thin slices and are still stuck to the bone. Beef ribs in western joints come as a slab, something most men would love. K mentioned that the flavours of the saccharine port sauce was overpowering and might get too gelat after a while but I thought it was perfect and would have found no trouble licking the plate clean had my friends and I not decided on sharing our mains.

My least favourite dish was the Baby Back Ribs marinated in Homemade BBQ Sauce served with Tomato & Corn Bread ($33++).  It’s by no means terrible, in fact I would still consider the ribs pretty decent but there was just nothing to wow me with and the meat was a little too lean for my liking.

They weren’t too heavy on the ginger and date flavours for the Baked Ginger Date Pudding ($12++). I thought the Vanilla Ice Cream was superfluous though as the chocolate sauce was a much better accompaniment to the pudding. Plus points for the presentation!

We also shared a Spruce Strawberry Cheesecake ($12++). Nothing to throw your hands up in the air and shout about, but nonetheless a fitting ending to the meal. Anyway random thought, I tried the blueberry cheesecake from Checker’s Deli @ Hilton Hotel the other day and I don’t think it is in the running for best cheesecake in Singapore.

For my other 3 friends, this was their first visit to Spruce and we all left with positive warm and fuzzy feelings.

I’d say Spruce is an ideal place to bring dates; peaceful but not eerily quiet such that it accentuates any awkward silences, with a reasonable booze list to get your date sexy drunk in a conversational mood to talk about important adult affairs.

Spruce

320 Tanglin Road,  Phoenix Park

Tel: +65 6836 5528





Food Delivery Services – HungryDelivery, Room Service Deliveries or FoodPanda?

17 06 2012

I’m not sure about you but the only 2 things that come to mind for me when someone talks about food delivery is fast food and tingkats, a tiered chinese lunchbox that can have 3 to 4 trays stacked on top of one another. I would say food deliveries are definitely less prevalent in Singapore as compared to other developed countries because of the dense urbanization here. One will find no trouble locating a coffeeshop near a residential estate and that has probably stifled the growth of the local food delivery sector. Increasingly however, we have started to see a viable market for such a service, as more and more Singaporean families are emerging with 2 working parents who have no time nor knowledge on how to cook and are just too busy or lazy to trudge down to their nearby coffee shop to da pao food back after a hard day at work. In addition, the affluent generation of today is no longer content with simple tingkats day after day, placing more emphasis on variety (of cuisines) and quality.

A few entrepreneurs who noticed this growing trend decided to capitalize on this, giving rise to ventures such as FoodPanda.sg, HungryDelivery.com (from the people who brought you hungrygowhere) and RoomServiceDeliveries.com just to name a few. I’m not going to feedback on any of them, since I have never used their services but will attempt to compare their modus operandi and pricing strategy.

For HungryDelivery

I’m estimating they have about 40 partner restaurants (including the likes of Dallas Restaurant, Timbre and Red House Seafood Restaurant). You have to call their hotline to place orders and a severe downside is that the hotline only operates during lunch and dinner hours between 11am-2.30pm, 6pm-9.30pm. Navigating through their website is relatively easy as their partner restaurants have been categorized into the different cuisines types and price ranges which can then be selected by users.

As for the pricing strategy, HungryDelivery implements a 10% survival charge (think of it as service charge), in addition to delivery charges which are divided into 5 tiers from $4-$14, depending on the distance between the restaurant and the delivery address. On their website, users can type in the postal code of where they want the food delivered, to search for the nearest partner restaurants to minimize on delivery charges. For HungryDelivery, the minimum order is $25 and orders below $40 are subject to an additional $5 surcharge. Confused yet?

Let’s break it down into an example. Let’s say I called in to purchase dinner for myself from Etna Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria (East Coast). The order comes up to $30. What I will pay is $30 + $3 (10% survival charge) + $4 (I stay in Kembangan, 2.3km away from Etna, so distance falls under tier 1, shortest distance of the 5 tiers) + $5 (surcharge for order under $40) = $42.

For Room Service Deliveries

They have approximately 60 restaurant partners (notable restaurants include Relish which serves gourmet burgers, Graze which serves Australian fare and Kha which offers Thai fine cuisine) and operates between 11am – 11pm. The minimum order is $25 and they charge a 10+7% service charge & GST, and delivery fee of between $10-$12.

Unlike HungryDeliveries where you just have to call in to place an order, users of Room Service Deliveries will first have to create a new account or log in to their existing account on the site, place their orders online and wait till the customer service representative calls the user to verify the order. Slightly too much hassle if you ask me, even if it does minimize any ordering errors due to the feedback mechanism (thr the call back) in place.

For FoodPanda

I met up their team over dinner recently and they shared with me some of their plans for the future. From what I see, FoodPanda is currently leading the race to become Singapore’s dominant food delivery service provider as it already has more than 130 restaurant partners locally. They seem to live by the adage “go big or go home”, bolstering their network to several other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Columbia and Vietnam.

Personally, I find FoodPanda’s website layout and ordering process the most user-friendly compared to the other 2 food delivery website previously mentioned. Once a user has entered the postal code of the intended delivery address, partner restaurants that offer food delivery to that address will be shortlisted and variables such as the delivery fees, delivery time required and minimum order will be calculated across these different restaurants and shown conspicuously on the list of shortlisted restaurants. From the list of shortlisted restaurants, you can also filter them down based on your preferred cuisine preference and budget, which allows users to narrow down their search for an ideal restaurant.

If you are interested in trying out FoodPanda’s delivery services, I have 50 free food delivery vouchers to give out for the following restaurants: Bergs, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, Kraze, Rock & Ash, Mosi, Aglio Olio, Grand Salads, Men-Tei, Rotisserie, Graze and Kha. You just have to type yumyumformytumtum when placing your order to enjoy the free delivery (illustration on image below).

Their website link is: http://foodpanda.sg?utm_source=yumyumformytumtum&utm_medium=PR&utm_campaign=blogdinner052012





The Square @ Novotel Clarke Quay – What’s The Big Deal? Promotion

10 06 2012

Just an update on what this foodie has been up to recently:

It’s currently university holidays now so I’m interning at a private equity firm for 10 weeks and I’m currently in my 6th week now. I would say that the firm I am at is quite unconventional. While most private equity firms function with a high degree of corporate culture (since most of the partners and founders of such firms tend to come from an investment banking or consultancy background), the firm I’m at is pretty “creative”. I go to work in casual attire (tho a polo-t with jeans is the minimum I would tread) unless I have have a nice restaurant dinner scheduled that night (I hypothesize that service staff tend to treat me better in working attire than when I’m in casual attire). There’s a drum set, guitar, keyboard and amps in the meeting room where my colleagues sometimes jam (everyone is musically gifted except me), and sometimes we project youtube using the projector, where my colleagues will play to the beat and I will just sing along. I will be traveling with my colleagues to Korea in July for 5 days (which intern gets to travel overseas during their internship?!) so I’m quite excited as well, and since the trip falls on the last week of my internship, I’m considering extending my stay over there to travel around Korea a bit more since the last time I was there was a decade ago. After that, I will be heading down to Hong Kong, Macau and Hainan Island for a long relaxing 11 day trip till end July before I start school in mid-August.

Apart from internship, there are a few other reasons why my blog posts are coming out in a tad slower than expected. I just started taking up golf lessons with some friends. I’m finding it pretty fun but it takes up quite a bit of time since I try to go twice a week. I also pre-ordered Diablo 3 and am slowing making my way through the game as well. Overall, think summer hols is gg great for me so far 😀

Anyway, I visited The Square on 2 separate tastings as coincidentally, a tasting was also extended to SMU Gourmet Club (that I’m a part of) and I went a second time on behalf of the club, playing the role of the meal photographer, so I guess I have a pretty good idea of what’s good here. The buffet is priced at $38++ for Lunch (Everyday), $48++ for Dinner (Sun-Thurs) and $58++ for Dinner (BBQ nite, Fri-Sat).

Unlike The Line from Shangri la, Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts or Triple Three from Meritus Mandarin, admittedly The Square @ Novotel Clarke Quay isn’t very well known for their buffet and most of the patrons here are hotel guests. But with newly appointed Head Chef Jean-Philippe Couturier at the helm, has the buffet spread at The Square been rejuvenated?

I’m not a buffet person per-se. I used to be when I was younger, when the appeal of having free-flow sashimi was still there but now, the elements of authenticity and having freshly prepared dishes seems to take precedence so I have been slowing moving away from buffets. As such, dishes that I find decent here are in my mind, really laudable for buffet standards.

Currently, they are having the What’s the BIG Deal? promotion, where 3-4 BIG dishes are featured every night during dinner such as a variety of risottos cooked a la minute. This promotion lasts till the end of June. They also have an upcoming Father’s Day Special every weekend, where fathers get to dine for free with every 4 dining persons.

On the buffet line, there’s a selection of appetizers to choose from, such as assorted sushi, salmon and tuna sashimi, potato and pasta salad, oysters, chilled prawns & shellfish, brie cheese, club sandwiches, seaweed, golden coin bak kua, ham and parma ham just to name a few.

The Roast Beef at the carving station is pretty good but it requires diners to carve it themselves. Although the intention might have been good, to ensure that the beef does not dry up when left in the open for too long, few people actually take the effort to carve the meat themselves and end up missing out on this splendid roast.

As mentioned above, some of the “big dishes” will be prepared a la minute, with the risottos being one of them. On my first visit, I tucked into the Seafood Risotto which I found rather pedestrian. If only there was a pure-scallop risotto (I’m sure they can whip it up), scallops are my favourite!

However, on my second visit, I received a Vegetable Risotto which came with a side of Parma Ham. I thought this was much better executed than the seafood risotto and something I might consider ordering again. The cheesiness was balanced well with the the hint of tomatoes puree and basil pesto and if the parma ham served with the risotto isn’t enough, just head down to the buffet line to get a refill.

Ironically, my favourite main here is only available from the ala carte menu, the Poached Cod Fillet in Spicy Coconut and Prawn Broth, served with Sauteed Vegetables and Chicken Rice ($34++). The gravy tastes like a creamy sweet laksa sauce with a little more concentration and richness than the usual laksa gravy. This is fusion done right.

The Laksa prepared at their live cooking station falls short when compared to the cod dish. The gravy is a tad too spicy and not as smooth as what you can get from the reputable hawker like Katong Laksa.

The buffet line also features a vast array of other international and local dishes. Other dishes that I found palatable were the Fried Kuey Teow which had a nice “wok hei” character and the Curry Mutton.

As for desserts, the Chocolate Mousse with Mint Chocolate (left of bottom pic) is clearly unrivaled. It is so darn good and chocolatey that it was the only dessert I took that I left none for the ants. Seriously, save stomach space for at least 2 of this, or maybe 3 because it’s the star of the buffet. I would even come back specifically for this if it was served ala-carte. The Green Tea Panna Cotta (bottom left of bottom pic) is not bad as well.

Overall, I would say that the buffet is priced at fair value. The selection and quality might not be as good as some of the more renowned buffet restaurants in Singapore, justifying the more affordable buffet prices at The Square but there are definitely a few gems here that are waiting to be discovered. Coupled with the current What’s the Big Deal promotion, it might just be worth dropping by.

On a random note, guests who stay in the “executive rooms” of Novotel Clarke Quay also get access to their premier lounge, where they get complimentary food and booze (wine included), plus a great view (bottom) from the private balconies in the lounge. I believe the executive rooms are around $60/night more expensive than the standard rooms, so I think its quite a good deal to just upgrade since you get a larger room and I’m pretty sure most of us can guzzle $60 worth of booze a night easily.

Special thanks to Novotel and John for hosting an enjoyable evening.

The Square

177A River Valley Road, Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay Level 7

Tel: +65 6433 8790





Din Tai Fung’s Flavoured Pork Rice Dumplings & Red Bean Rice Dumplings

5 06 2012

In celebration of Dragon Boat Festival, Din Tai Fung has introduced Rice Dumplings to its menu but unlike the Nonya-styled dumplings that we are so used to eating in Singapore, theirs is a Taiwanese version, which uses just pork and rice, doing away with other embellishments such as eggs or chestnuts to emphasize the taste of the main ingredients.

They sent some over to my house last week to sample so I’m guessing you can do takeaways of these dumplings from their restaurants as well. I followed the instructions in the delivery box and boiled the dumplings for 10 minutes before eating.

I first dug into the Pork Dumplings. As the belly pork is steeped in a homemade marinade for over 2 hours, it turned out pretty flavourful. It’s on the savoury side compared to the meat fillings from Nonya dumplings, which has elements of both sweet and savoury. The dumpling are wrapped in Taiwan bamboo leaves, so you do get a subtle infusion of fragrance and aroma into the rice, which grew on me as I dug into the dumplings further. They are also made using Taiwan Pearl Rice which gives it an extra chewy and smooth bite than you would with normal glutinous rice.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Red Bean Rice Dumpling is available. It is air-flown in from Taiwan and contains a filling of sweet red bean paste. Personally, I much prefer the meat dumplings.

These dumplings are available all-year round at Din Tai Fung and priced at $5.30++ and $4.80++ for the Pork Dumplings and Red Bean Rice Dumplings respectively.

Between 4th to 30th June, diners can also enjoy a complimentary Red Bean Rice Dumpling with a minimum spending of $70 (for DBS/POSB cardmembers) or $80 (for general public).

Special thanks to Din Tai Fung for the dumplings!





Le Bistrot du Sommelier – Blown Away Once More

3 06 2012

If you have been following this blog closely, you might have guessed that French is my favourite cuisine. There’s really no lack of good French food in Singapore, ranging from the budget “coffee-shop” no-frills French eateries like Le Cuisson (Awesome Chicken Roulade) and Saveur (which I have not gotten down to try), to the entry level bistro fare like the highly popular Black Sheep Cafe and La Petite Cuisine, the middle-end restaurants like Bistro Du Vin and Ember Restaurant and finally the fine-dining scene starring the likes of Gunthers and Les Amis.

Recently however, 2 French eateries have opened / relocated that I believe is worth mention. First off is La Maison Fatien, a middle-end bistro located in the heart of Tanjong Pagar. The mains there are incredibly affordable within the $20+ range, though the inclusion of a pan-seared foie gras for appetizer and chocolate fondant for dessert will set one back by about $70 after taxes, which is still quite affordable in my book for French food of the given quality. The service is warm and professional as well. The wait staff who served my party was a charming Frenchman who knew his food well, providing us with lots of suggestions and answering our queries effortlessly. And to add icing to the cake, the restaurant boasts a rustic setting that adds a sense of authenticity to the meal. I will definitely be making a return visit in the next month or so and do a more detailed write up but just wanted to mention it first because it’s freaking awesome, so do pay a visit if you are around the area.

But enough of stealing the limelight from the main topic of discussion for today, the relocation of Le Bistrot du Sommelier from Prinsep Place to 53 Armenien Street (opposite SMU School of Law & Accountancy), taking over the premises from the highly acclaimed restaurant FiftyThree which specializes in molecular gastronomy. FiftyThree has since shifted over to 42 Tras Street in the Tanjong Pagar area (source: Hungry Epicurean).

It’s quite a coincidence but just last summer, I penned a short writeup on Le Bistrot du Sommelier for SMU Gourmet Club’s summer publication entitled “Urban Relish”, a food guide to central district dining. On my previous visit, I was blown away by the repertoire of dishes that was served and given that good friend CW was due to fly off the coming week for her Goldman Sachs IB position in London, I figured it was time to bring out the big guns to ensure she had an awesome experience since she might not get to see the light of day much in her new job.

Despite only being in its 2nd week of operation at its new premises, reservations are already a must to secure a seat as it was full house on this Monday night.

I usually avoid Pates and Rillettes because I have had a few bad experiences where they turned out too gamey and pungent for me. However, I’m thankful that I took the wait staff’s advice to have the Pork Rillette ($13.50++) as it tasted really fresh. Savoury with a nice density of fat and tasting like very fatty mashed ham, I could have happily had this dish alone for lunch.

For something more unique, try the Sauteed Frog Legs with Garlic & Parsley ($26++). Instead of the the usual steaming or braising more commonly witnessed, having the frog legs sauteed was a nice change. With a thin crisp exterior and chewy texture, it reminded me much of chicken wings. I especially loved the garlicky flavours which had seeped into the residual oil, which I mopped up using the bread from the Pork Rillette dish.

The Catch of the Day was Gurnard Fish ($30++), something that I am totally unfamiliar with. Topped with crisp slices of fried garlic over a bed of very smooth but heavy mash, this particular fish meat had a very nice firm texture rather similar to Threadfin.

The Joue de Boeuf aka Braised Beef Cheeks ($30++) served here is one of the best renditions I have tried in Singapore. As I mentioned in the write-up I did earlier on Le Bistrot du Sommelier, their beef cheeks definitely set the yardstick before one should dare use the words melt-in -you-mouth ever so frivolously, plus it’s a steal at this price!

While the generic Fried Duck Leg Confit is available on the menu at $28++, you can choose to order the French Duck Leg Confit Cassoulet Style as we did. It comes as a stew with a variety of other meats such as Steaky Bacon, Pork Sausage & Lamb Shoulder Baked in White Beans ($34++). Surprisingly, what we found best in this dish was not the duck but the Pork Belly (I’m guessing it’s the steaky bacon), which was as a 5cm x 5cm x 5cm cube. Do NOT attempt finishing this dish by yourself though as the portion is unimaginably generous.

Although we were stuffed, desserts occupy a different part of the stomach or so the saying goes. We settled on the Profiteroles au Chocolat aka Choux buns filled with Vanilla Ice Cream in Warm Chocolate Sauce topped with Sliced Almonds ($14++) after much deliberation and were pleased with our choice as we sunk our teeths into the pair of plus-sized profiteroles drenched in a luscious layer of chocolate sauce. It’s easily the best profiteroles I have had, with a sizable portion suitable for 2 to 3 people to share.

Paying under $60/pax for French food of this class, I really felt like I had shortchanged the restaurant when the bill arrived. It’s definitely one of my favourite meals this year and for the upcoming SMU semester, I foresee myself to be well-fed.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier

53 Armenien Street

Tel: +65 6333 1982








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