Blu Kouzina – Greek in Bukit Timah

29 07 2013

Happened to drop by Blu Kouzina for dinner with fellow food-blogger Xinli from the4moose (his post here) about a month back. Greek cuisine is rather uncommon in Singapore and this might possibly be the only restaurant that does it (based on a quick google search). That said, Greek cuisine is a subset of Mediterranean cuisine (which includes North African, South European and Middle Eastern cuisines) so it wouldn’t veer too far off from what our palates are used to, especially if you are comfortable with Mediterranean dips, grilled meats and seafood.

While the restaurant looks rather small from the outside, the seating capacity is actually quite large given that there is a second and third floor as well to accommodate patrons.

The staff are really friendly so don’t be surprised if one of them puts their arms around your shoulder halfway during the meal to ask you how’s everything going because this was what really happened to me. Initially, I thought that the guy was trying to pick me up or something (given that I was dining only with another guy and my sexuality might have be miscontrued, plus it was the day after Pinkdot SG) but later realized that this was something he did to other guests as well, leading me to think that this is probably the culture back in Greece where people are so much friendlier.

As it wasn’t cost-effective nor stomach-room efficient to order an array of individually-priced dips for just 2 people, the staff recommended that we order a 3-dip sampler platter ($22.80++), which was not listed on the menu. The sampler platter serves 3-4 people nicely, leaving just enough room for mains and desserts. The 3 dips (in order of decreasing preference with prices listed for individual orders) comprised of:
  • Melitzanosalata ($13.80++) – Smoked eggplant mixed with herbs. I found it very flavourful with a very distinct smoky savoury taste.
  • Tzatziki ($12.80++) – Yogurt mixed with cucumber, extra virgin olive oil and flavored with garlic.
  • Fava ($11.80++) – Yellow lentils with fresh onion, oregano and extra virgin olive oil. The texture held a heavy semblance to beans.
Pita Bread ($3++) is not included and must be ordered separately. It seemed to have been prepared upon order and arrived on our table piping hot which is a plus.

We also tried the Spanakopita ($12.30++), a filo pastry filled with spinach, feta cheese, and herbs. Going by its looks, I initially expected the texture of the pastry to be like a spring roll but soon discovered that it was way thinner and lighter. I would recommend this.

For main, Xinli had the Souvlaki me Pita ($19.80++), or Beef kalamaki wrapped in pita bread, with fresh tomatoes and red paprika served with chips. Kalamaki means grilled skewered marinated meat cubes. I usually stay away from such wraps because the grilled meat fillings often turn out dry and rubbery but the one here was actually quite tender, where I could bite a sever off a chunk of beef effortlessly in one chomp with the pita bread, rather than having to tug and pull to tear the meat off.

I stuck to a rather safe option, the Me Patates ($22.80++), or half a roast chicken with potatoes, lemon, extra virgin olive oil and oregano. Nothing terribly exciting about it.

To complement our meal, we had the Cair Retsina Gold ($26.80++/500ml), a traditional type of Greek wine made ​​by adding pine resin into white wine. The pine resin was used in ancient times to increase the storage life of the wines. Personally, I didn’t quite like the pine flavour as I thought it tasted a bit like medicine. Guess it’s more of an acquired taste.

Overall, what charmed me most was the ambience of the place. The staff were genuinely friendly and I felt like I had been transported to a cosy little European cottage, where I could truly enjoy an unhurried meal. There’s also the potential plus point of sipping on affordable wines over post-dinner chit chat.

Blu Kouzina

893 Bukit Timah Road

Tel: +65 6875 0872

Website: www.blukouzina.com





Taste of Taiwan Food Fair @ Parkway Parade (1-14 July 2013)

8 07 2013

While Japan and Korea food fairs might be commonplace, this is the first time I’m hearing about a Taiwan Food Fair in Singapore. Held between 1-14 July 2013, Parkway Parade will be playing host to nearly 30 stalls (based on my estimate) selling a variety of Taiwanese food, such as Xiao Long Baos (小籠包), Stew Pork Baos (扣肉包), Oyster Omelette, Oyster Mee Sua, Fried Chicken Cutlet, Spicy Fish Balls, Taiwan Sausages, Taiwanese Rice Dumplings (肉粽), Pineapple Cakes, Sun Cakes, Taiwan Vinegar etc.

In addition, several entertaining activities will also be ongoing on the stage area during weekend afternoons, such as Taiwanese traditional dances, puppet shows, kite making, as well as cooking demostrations by Taiwanese Chef Ho Tien Tsai of Copthorne Kings Hotel.

Since I live relatively close to Parkway Parade, I accepted an invitation down to check out the food fair held at the mall’s basement atrium. I was down rather early on 6th July (Saturday) and most of the stalls were just opening then but when the crowd started streaming in, it started to feel like an indoor night market.

The gf accompanied me for the food fair and made a short video snippet of what to expect there.

Walked past a vendor selling mochis, durian pancakes and durian cakes. The durian pancakes were the bomb, whose filling we believe to be made with the highly acclaimed and robust tasting Mao Shan Wang (猫山王) durians.

There was a stall specializing in braised pork (扣肉), selling items such as braised pork bao, braised pork bee hoon, braised pork cheong fan and braised pork with glutinous rice. The braised pork bao was better than what is usually found outside and I quite liked the cheong fan as well since it goes unexpectedly well with the pork.

Sampled some Xiao Long Baos and Meat Baos from one of the stalls but sadly, I think these were frozen prepackaged ones meant for quick fixes at home.

The best thing of this food fair was the Taiwan Fried Chicken Cutlet and Fried Mushrooms, which I find tastier (especially the honey glazed fried chicken) than what is available at the numerous chains of Taiwan Street Snacks in Singapore.

There’s a stall selling duck crepes and oyster omelette too. The Taiwanese oyster omelette is quite different from the oyster omelette (蠔煎) that we get at our local hawker centres, as it uses a lot more starch. Personally, I still prefer our local version.

Taiwan street food is never complete without the oyster mee sua. There’s a few stalls selling this here and the one I got was decent.

I ordered the meat ball soup from the same stall I got my oyster mee sua. I had mentally prepared myself before drinking the soup since most of the time, it’s turns out to be just MSG solution but the soup here was actually not that salty and I could taste the radish that had been simmering in the base. The meat balls were quite tasty and springy too.

There was an interesting keropok (called pong pong 饼) stall as well, which was selling “healthy” keropok because the keropok is not fried nor is any MSG or oil used. Instead, the keropok in its powder form is put into a machine, which applies pressure and heat for about 10 seconds and out pops a keropok with a “pong” sound. It’s quite interesting to watch the machine at work so there’s usually a crowd around. The keropok comes in flavours such as cheese, curry, spring onion, prawn etc and I really couldn’t tell that it wasn’t fried when eating the samples.

Had a go at the Basil Pork Sausages and Bacon wrapped Cheese Sausages as I was leaving the fair. The latter was really good and I didn’t expect the bacon to actually be so crisp.

Ultimately, is the food fair worth dropping by for? Not having been to Taiwan before, I can’t attest to the authenticity of the food but I noticed there were a few stalls selling prepackaged food items from Taiwan so if you are a hardcore Taiwan fan and want to get your hands on some Taiwan mochi or fresh seaweed from Taiwan, this might just be worth your while. Staying true to the ideals of street food, prices were reasonable too, with most of the food items being sold in the range of $3-$5.

All food expenses were sponsored by Parkway Parade. Special thanks to Parkway Parade for the invitation.





Halia @ Raffles Hotel – A Weekend Brunch Menu Feature

7 07 2013

Halia, which means ginger in Malay, is no new kid on the block. It’s flagship outlet in the Singapore Botanical Gardens has been around since 2001 and has been a popular choice for diners out for dates and other special occasions. While it has been on my to-go list for the longest time, its location proved to be the main deterrence (since I stay in the east). That’s why I’m glad they decided to open a much more accessible sister outlet in Raffles Hotel late last year.

Located at the iconic Raffles Hotel, it’s not unjustified to presume that meals here would be priced at a premium so it comes as a surprise that this isn’t so. Case in point, 3-course set lunches are priced at a reasonable $25++ while their pre-theatre 3-course set dinners are priced at $33++.

I like the interior of the restaurant, which I found rather spacious. Alternatively, there’s outdoor seating as well. While the ambience, price point and food quality (which we will cover shortly) are attractive enough, it seems that Halia @ Raffles Hotel is still a relatively hidden gem as there wasn’t much of a crowd apart from a small private gathering gathered to witness a couple executing their ROM on the Saturday noon when I was there.

On this occasion, I was here to sample their weekend brunch and all-day dining menu. Like most brunch places in Singapore, weekend brunch is no longer constrained to mornings, resulting in the brunch menu being made available from 11am to 5.30pm. I will touch on the Brunch Menu items first.

Brunch Menu Items

For those wanting to live it up a bit, what’s better than some freshly shucked Irish Oysters ($5.50/piece) with Lemon & Mignonette, paired with white wine. As a university senior, I’m not at that level yet, so it would seem overly pretentious if I did that now. Guess I will just have to make do with the $1 happy hour oysters at Tanuki @ Orchard Central for now.

The Pancake ($12++) is a classic brunch item but the ones here come with very thinly sliced bacon, which provides a hint of savoriness that contrasts well with the sweet Maple Butter, Fresh Strawberries and Strawberry Puree. I would recommend this.

The Assorted Bread & Pastries ($12++) consist of a Baguette, Sourdough, Scone, Croissant, Danish, Clotted Cream & Jam. I have only tried the scone and it was a little drier and denser to what I’m used to, quite meh actually. On a side note, the people I know who are fanatics of bread always seem to be female. Not sure if there’s a real correlation or it’s sheer coincidence.

Another item that I wouldn’t bother ordering again would be the Heirloom Tomato ($20++) with Red Pepper Gazpacho, Croutons, Jamon Iberico & Balsamic, which comes across as a rather unaffordable salad dish, given the relative pricing of the other items on Halia’s menu. I’m not sophisticated enough to be able to tell the difference between a heirloom vs a common commercial tomato anyway.

One of my favourite brunch menu items would be the Mushroom Capellini ($22++) with Fresh Winter Truffle & Herb Oil. The cream sauce while thick, isn’t too cloying and the mushrooms are just simply delish.

The Grilled Breakfast with choice of Eggs done Poached, Fried, Scambled or Omelette style ($23++) comes with an Italian Pork Sausage (much too salty), Sweetened Bacon, Portobello Mushroom, Vine Tomato and Toasted Sourdough. Kudos to the execution of the eggs, which were perfectly poached and scrambled. One of the best eggs I have had in a while.

I didn’t quite agree with the White Bean Chorizo Leek Stew ($16++) with Egg Sunny Side up, Smoked Chipotle Sauce, Tomato & Fine Herbs. Personally, the stew was too thick and starchy.

All-day Dining Menu

It might not look like much but the Celeriac Lasagna ($12++) with Mushroom, Thyme, Baby Spinach, Lemon & Madeira Cream was the crowd favourite, me included. This says much given that I’m more of a meat lover. It probably had something to do with the mushrooms and the cream sauce, which worked marvelously well together, perhaps even slightly reminiscent of the Mushroom Capellini earlier on. This is a confirm must-order on my subsequent visits.

Fries ($8++) pretty much taste the same everywhere but I did enjoy the Truffle Aioli that came together with the oens here. The orange-coloured Piquant Mayo dip fared just averagely.

One of Halia’s signatures is the Halia Chili Crab ($25++) with Spaghettini, Spring Onion & Egg. It definitely packed a punch with the spices and was executed well overall but my only gripe is that it shows little differentiation from a generic crab pasta one easily finds in a number of Italian joints.

I could feel the Middle Eastern influences in the Sous Vide Baharat Chicken Leg ($28+) with Butternut Squash & Roast, Ginger, Coriander & Red Pepper Salsa. The lightly spiced thigh meat had a smokey flavour and was uber tender. The wonders of sous vide at work again…

Despite being a vegetarian dish, I found the Mushroom, Lentil & Walnut Bake ($24++), Fennel Seed Cream, Sundried Tomato, Mesclun rather intriguing and very flavourful. The walnut and lentil bake looked somewhat like a tempeh but had a much smoother and finer texture.

Overall, a very decent meal at a very decent price. No doubt I will be back shortly.

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

Halia

1 Beach Road, #01-22/23, Raffles Hote

Tel: +65 9639 1148








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