Alkaff Mansion – Raina’s 21st Birthday Dinner

28 07 2012

I always tell people that a 21st birthday is the 3rd most important day of anyone’s life, the first 2 being the wedding and funeral. It’s a day where you allow yourself to splurge, not for the sake of showing off that your 21st is better than everyone elses, but for acknowledging the closest people in your life for being there. Mine was a rather humble affair 2 years back. I simply catered food at my place and invited my closest 30 odd friends and family down, the people who have have the greatest influence on what I have become today.

Alkaff Mansion 2nd Floor

Whenever I get invited to a birthday party, I feel really honoured. It’s like an award that recognizes the value and contribution you have made to someone else’s life. So unless it’s a life or death situation I’m dealing with at that moment, I try never to miss such events. It was partially due to this reason that I decided to fly back from Seoul a week earlier than initially planned to attend Raina’s 21st, one of the best friends I have made during my university years.

Before deciding upon the venue of her 21st, Raina and her siblings had visited Alkaff to qc their menu and subsequently shortlisted their favourite items into a 4-course set dinner menu. Pretty much foodies themselves, I was pretty confident that the food was going to be great.

Arriving unfashionably on time, only a handful of the guests had arrived so I proceeded to the 2nd floor for aperitifs at the bar while waiting for the rest of the guests to arrive. After all, few can say no when there’s a lovely flow of prosecco on the birthday girl’s tab. Driving’s a pain sometimes, no one told me there was going to be booze. But apart from me ranting about the inability to sponge off to my heart’s content, I thought the bar lounge had classy vibes with soft music playing in the background, unhindering private conversations.

Crispy Duck Foie Gras with Caramelized Onions, Beer and Cherry Relish ($28++). Although there is supposedly a layer of polenta flour that is supposed to add a crisp exterior to the foie gras, the foie gras I got wasn’t much crispier than what I’d normally have in other french establishments. On the plus side, the liver sure was fatty and that’s where the tart cherry relish comes in, to tone down the oiliness. The brioche and caramelized onions were pretty standard but I felt the brioche could be better if it were a tad more buttery and airy but overall, a well-executed dish.

I felt that the Ravioli with Porcini Mushrooms Sauce scented with White Truffle ($26++) was nicely done and I especially adored the mushroom sauce. Fervent truffle fans might point out that the earthly truffle aroma was lacking but I was very content with what was served.

I was very utterly disappointed with the Braised Veal Shank Osso Buco in White Wine Served with Mash Potato Puree. The meat was rubbery while the tomato based sauce was too tangy and didn’t quite complement the veal. The only saving grace was the meat wasn’t gamey.

Though not mind-blowing, I preferred the Pan-seared Cod Fish with Rosemary Potato & Aged Balsamic over the Osso Buco. The fish was very fresh but the flavour came across as a little too nude and bland for my liking. Then again, it might appeal to people who love their fish unadulterated by overly flavourful marinades and gravies.

 

Cake for princesses

 

Birthday girl and family

 

For dessert, we were served the Traditional Blackberry Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream. I thought the tart was decent and tasted better on its own than with the accompanying ice cream, which lacked richness and the delightful fragrance of vanilla (yup didn’t spot the black vanilla beans). Raina’s 2 tier birthday Chocolate Rum cake was from Perla. Not too shabby but the glaze was a little too sweet for me.

Overall, I believe Alkaff Mansion delivers something special. The ambience alone is worth the trip and as long as you stick to the tried and tested items, you will be in for a memorable meal. So do keep it at the back of your head if you are planning a meal to pop any important questions, or celebrate special occasions.

Alkaff Mansion

10 Telok Blangah Green

Tel: +65 6510 3068





RamenPlay’s Seasonal Summer Menu

20 07 2012

I found myself heading back to RamenPlay at Nex to sample their Seasonal Summer Menu which will be available from 23 July till 30 September 2012. My previous tasting at RamenPlay last year had been positive one, where I discovered that chain restaurants can surprisingly offer quality rivaling standalone “authentic” ramen-yas.

For their summer menu, RamenPlay has introduced 3 new mains, 2 desserts and 2 drinks. Before digging into the new items however, we tried out some of their existing appetizers.

For fried chicken fans, do order the Mustard Chicken Salad. It’s a generous slab of chicken thigh that is fried to perfection, crisp on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside and yet doesn’t give off an excessively oily feel.

My favourite appetizer here is the Okura Mentai. Poached ladies fingers topped with mayo, cheese and cod roe and subsequently seared lightly for that nice char. Tiffany, one of the hosts for lunch, started raving on about how awesome mentaiko is. Her tip of the day: Go to Ikea, buy their Mentaiko paste which is sold in a tube form and squeeze onto bread as a spread.

The Bamboo Chicken is pretty good as well. Tender minced chicken is compacted into bamboo sticks and grilled to a lovely shade of golden brown. While some might cringe at using the raw egg yolk as a dip, I personally think that the creamy yolk goes really well with the chicken.

New Summer Menu Items

A slight deviation from the usual Tonkotsu, RamenPlay has come up with the Herbal Infused Tonkotsu Ramen. As the name suggests, herbs such as wolfberries, fennel seeds and dang gui (aka Chinese Angelica) are boiled with RamenPlay’s signature Tonkotsu broth to impart a mild herbal flavour. Garnished with Honshimeiji Mushrooms, Eringi Mushrooms, King Oyster Mushrooms, Cabbage, Braised Pork and a Prawn, this light tasting ramen is something I would desire when I’m down with a cold.

RamenPlay’s 2 other new mains are identical as they both employ the use of Umani Seafood Gravy. For the Umani Crispy Ramen Ishinabe, the Umani Seafood Gravy is poured over ramen that is flash-fried and for the Umani Rice Ishinabe, the Umani Gravy is poured over premium Nigata rice. The gravy is influenced by Chinese cooking styles and tastes somewhat similar to the oyster sauce gravy you would get in a claypot tofu dish. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very taken by these 2 mains as the gravy comes across as unexciting for us Chinese folks who have been eating zi char for a good part of our lives.

There are also 2 new desserts available, the Niigata Original Rice Ice Cream and Niigata Brown Rice Ice Cream. If you are into plain Vanilla Ice Cream, stick with the Original Rice Ice Cream which comes dotted with broken bits of rice in the ice cream.  But if you like a slightly grainier taste and coarser texture like how Pulau Hitam tastes like, the Brown Rice Ice Cream is for you.

The 2 new drinks available from the summer menu are the Yuzu Mojito and Lychee Mojito. The Lychee Mojito was a little too sweet for my liking but it seemed to be quite popular amongst the other guests at my table. I preferred the Yuzu Mojito because it was really refreshing with a citrus tang and light carbonation. There is also the option of spiking the drinks with soju for an extra kick.

It’s great that RamenPlay is innovating their dishes but overall, I still very much prefer the items on RamenPlay’s existing menu such as the Toroniku Double Soup Ramen, the Cha Shu Tonkotsu Ramen and the various appetizers.

Special Thanks to RamenPlay for the lunch invitation!

RamenPlay

23 Serangoon Central, #B2-58 Nex Mall

Tel: +65 6634 4089





Gryphon Tea & Water Tasting

18 07 2012

About a week back, I was invited to a tea & water tasting session hosted by Gryphon Tea Company. I was pretty excited because I’m more of a coffee person (ever since 10 weeks ago when my internship first started) and my knowledge on teas was as voluminous as an empty teacup, so this was definitely going to be a great opportunity to pick up some pointers from tea master Mr Lim Tian Wee, Founder of Gryphon Tea Company and our host for this afternoon.

Before we got started on the tea tasting, Tea Master Lim mentioned that there are 2 critical aspects in making a good cup of tea. Firstly, the tea leaves must be fresh and of high quality and secondly and the type of water used to brew the tea must enhance, not overpower the delicacies of the tea’s natural flavours. With that in mind, Tea Master Lim recommends the use of Fiji Water, which he feels has a distinctly soft texture and balanced mineral profile that does not interfere with the aromatic tea flavours.

Tea Master Lim Tian Wee, Founder of Gryphon Tea Company

To let us better appreciate what he meant, we compared Fiji Water against Evian Water and Distilled Water. While most of us can differentiate between Distilled Water and Mineral Water, what exactly is the difference between Fiji and Evian? Aren’t they both just mineral waters?

Well, Fiji Water is categorized as an “Artesian water” while Evian is a “Spring water”, and the difference is that Artesian waters are found underground while Spring waters are sourced from exposed open springs. I have not sampled enough types of artesian waters to make any concrete judgments but from the water tasting, the general consensus was that Fiji had a cleaner and more refreshing taste with a softer texture compared to spring and distilled water, with the perfect characteristics for brewing tea.

Event Venue – Gaggenau Showroom

As we all know, taste is subjective so Fiji water might not be the best type of water for everything under the sun. Since we are on the subject of water, let me digress a bit and talk a bit of what I learnt during a Wine & Water tasting session I attended earlier this year at the Savour Singapore 2012 event. I got to compare San Pallegrino and Acqua Panna to Tap water, and subsequently paired them with wine and some food. What I found out was that like wine, the type of water you drink (whether sparkling or still) complements certain foods better than others. For example, Burrata cheese goes really badly with San Pallegrino (a sparkling water) in my opinion. And if you plan to open a good bottle of wine, my advice is not to allow any residual tap water to remain on the wine glass when pouring the wine in, and to open a bottle of mineral water for your water glass instead of drinking tap, as tap water has a metallic taste (easily detectable when you compare it to mineral water) that will interact with the wine flavours.

But enough about water. Let’s talk a bit about teas, the highlight of this post. Just a random fact but one common mistake most people make is believing that Earl Grey is a type of tea leaf. It actually is a tea blend that is flavoured with bergamot, a flavour of tea rather than a type of leaf.

Gyphon Tea Company has 24 types of single origin teas and we sampled 5 types of teas today from various regions. Just like wines, teas can come either as blends (leaves from different countries or regions mixed together) or from single origin (sometimes referred to as single-terroir tea) and what we tried today were all single origin teas. Single origin teas do not necessarily mean that the tea leaves are harvested from the same tea estate, as in some countries like Japan, tea plantations are relatively small in size so a tea factory might be required to source from several tea plantations within the same district. If a specific type of tea does come from the same estate, you can then call them single-estate teas. I believe the same naming conventions is similar for wines as well.

From Left – Vintage Pu’Erh, Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope, Dan Cong Magnolia, Gyokuro Pearl Dew, Silver Needle

The 1st tea we tried was the Silver Needle, an Imperial White Tea from Fujian, China. Of all white teas, the Silver Needle is the most expensive and prized variety while Shou Mei is the cheapest white tea. It had a sweet floral scent that would pair well with light dishes such as tofu and mozzarella cheese and was my favourite tea I tried today. Silver Needles are picked during the first harvest (aka first flush), meaning the first leaves that sprout during spring. (On the other hand, a second flush would refer to the 2nd picking season of the year.)

Silver Needle Tea Leaves

Next, we had the Gyokuro Pearl Dew from Japan, regarded as one of the highest quality and expensive varieties of sencha. The difference between sencha and matcha is that the tea leaves are grinded into a powder form for matcha while the leaves are ungrinded for sencha. Unlike typical sencha, the Gyokuro has to be put into the shade for around 2 weeks before it is harvested. As the rate of photosynthesis is reduced, there is a buildup of the amino acid theanine as less theanine is converted to other compounds. This gives rise to Gyokuro’s distinctive umami flavour which pairs well with sushi and stronger tasting cheeses.

We then tried the Dan Cong Magnolia, an Oolong Tea from Guangdong, China. This wasn’t my cup of tea because the scent was a little pungent.

Next we had the Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope from North India, which would be my 2nd favourite choice after the Silver Needle. While the tea we had is marketed as a black tea, Darjeeling can also be found elsewhere as an oolong or white tea. It all depends on the extent of oxidation of the tea leaves, with the black teas being the most oxidized followed by the oolong and then the white teas. And just like wines, tannins (the compound that gives wine its bitter and dry feel) are found in tea leaves as well. According to Tea Master Lim, if a tea has high levels of tannins, milk can be added. The milk proteins will bind to the tannins and make the tea less astringent and bearable. As this Darjeeling tea isn’t very high in tannins, Tea Master Lim suggested not adding excessive milk as it will overwhelm the tea’s flavours.

Lastly, we sampled the Vintage Pu’Erh from Yunnan, China. The flavours are quite subtle and mellow for this one, with a light minty fragrance.

Before we officially concluded the tasting, we were also given 1 flavoured tea to try – Blackforest Tea. This black tea is something I would possibly buy as a gift for others, as it has a very interesting aroma with notes of chocolate, whipped cream and cherry Kirsch and smells totally like a blackforest cake. I would definitely love it with a nice fruit cake on a lazy afternoon.

If you are keen to try any of these teas, Gryphon Tea Company is currently providing a personal doorstep delivery service to customers. Prices range from $38 for White Peony Tea to $78 for Iron Goddess of Mercy Tea. Each tin holds 40-80g of premium single terroir loose tea leaf teas. Orders can be made via telephone at +65 6779 2948 or through email at grandcru@gryphontea.com

Special thanks to Gryphon Tea Company for the invitation!





Bistro Soori – Where French Meets Japanese

3 07 2012

Bistro Soori. Don’t be mistaken, it’s no Korean joint. It serves up an array of fusion dishes, drawing mainly from French and Japanese influences. I would describe its furnishing as chic, modern yet homely, reminiscent of a showroom at a condominium launch.

Marinated Angel Hair Pasta with Avruga & Seaweed ($17++). The pasta is coated lightly with a creamy sauce, with a little brininess coming from the caviar and seaweed. My main gripe is that the portion is quite tiny.

The reasons I love French cuisine is because the food is rich (and artery clogging). So if you are into French as well, I’m assuming that animal fats isn’t an issue for you and even if it is, I’d still insist you try the Slow Roasted Pork Belly, Pumpkin, Frisse, Pumpkin Seed, Yuzu Gastrique ($18++).

There’s a lot of bombastic terms in this dish name so let’s break it down a little into bite-sized pieces. Frisse is the name of the type of lettuce used (the frizzy kind) while “Gastrique is caramelized sugar, deglazed with vinegar, used as a flavoring for sauces. Nowadays, the term is frequently used to refer to any thus-flavored sauce itself, e.g. citrus gastrique, mango gastrique” (Source: Wikipedia).

This is definitely one of the best pork belly dishes I have had in recent memory and I loath how it is available only in starter-sized portions. The best thing about this dish is the fats. It doesn’t come across as the soft and wobbly kind but rather, gives off a firmer mildly crisp finish when you bite into it, which implodes with a concentrated accumulation of flavor.

I like the Cured Roasted Pork Tenderloin, Braised Red Cabbage, Grain Mustard, Golden Raisin, Pear ($33++). I love how the core of the tender tenderloin manages to retain a light pink hue. I love it even more that the curing process was executed well, with a subtle salty flavour being infused evenly throughout the meat. Most of the time, one encounters a cured meat that leaves you cringing from the excessive salt used but this one is different, leaving sufficient breathing room to appreciate the accompanying condiments as well.

Throw in the words uni and scallops (foie gras too!) in any dish and you’d be sure to pique my interest. Not that I’m complaining but somehow, I have noticed that sea urchin (aka uni) has been making guest appearances in modern french cuisine, such as the Uni Tagliolini at Pamplemousse, a restaurant in Dempsey that specializes in contemporary French.

That said, I wasn’t impressed with the Uni, Scallop, Prawn, Risotto, Yuzu, Thai Basil ($35++). The rice was considerably overcooked in my opinion, hence the texture failed to retain a slight firmness and bite and was on the mushy side instead. In addition, I didn’t think that the citrus yuzu was a good complement to the savoury seafood and it’s distinct flavour musked the more delicate flavours from the uni. No complaints about the execution of the seafood components though!

My favourite dish of the night was the Brown Butter Maine Lobster, Tomato, Tamarind, Thai Basil, Fennel ($42++). I wasn’t harbouring high expectations initially since I perceive Maine Lobster as a cheap lobster species. It was so easily available when I was at Canada and the States last summer, being sold in a Brooklyn flea market in “lobster buns” going at US$12 a pop, and the amount lobster meat given was really generous. Based on my estimation, I got about half a lobster in 1 hot dog sized bun. I even managed to get cooked live whole Maine lobsters in Granville, Vancouver during Canada’s National Day for C$14. Crazy affordable.

For the ones at Bistro Soori, it’s awesome not just because the lightly charred lobster flesh is fresh and springy, but also because of the tamarind butter sauce. Everything just tastes so good in butter, but add in crab shells to simmer with, what you get is a very concentrated crab bisque that really complements the sweetness of the maine lobster. Friend J ate a huge chunk of lobster in one mouthful and after that, gave a look of despondence. That was the end of her portion, a portion she had failed to thoroughly enjoy.

Duck Leg Confit, Fried Apple Puree, Fig, Parma Ham ($39++). The deboned duck thigh was a little too dry for my liking but taste-wise it was ok, especially with a dab of sweet apple puree followed by a dab of the vinaigrette, a good mix of sweet, savoury and tangy.

2 minutes before serving the Pandan Souffle with Strawberry Compote ($14++), the wait staff in charge of our table walked over and told me, “you might want to get your camera ready, the souffle will start sinking after half a minute”. I was quite pleased he bothered to show such care and concern, thumbs up for the service!

It is no wonder this is Bistro Soori’s most prized dessert. The souffle is light as air but as the wait staff said, it sank rather quickly. No matter, we polished it off in a matter of seconds anyway.

The Araguani Dark Chocolate Cake, Raspberry Sauce with Vanilla Ice Cream ($14++) was a run of the mill chocolate fondant.

My least favourite dessert was the Almond Milk Panna Cotta, Blueberry Gastrique, Lemon Grass Syrup ($14++). The panna cotta was a little lumpy and not as rich as I would have liked.

Overall, truly a wonderful experience, from the service, food to ambience.

Bistro Soori

2 Teck Lim Road

Tel: +65 6438 3802








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