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





Saint Pierre @ Sentosa Quayside – Saturday Brunch Menu Unveiled

6 06 2013

Saint Pierre has officially moved to its new location at Sentosa Quayside last week. While you might not have heard of them before, I’m sure other names such as Brussel Sprouts which does fine tasting mussels, Picotin, SQUE Rotisserie at The Central @ Clarke Quay or Rocks Urban Grill & Bar @ The Sail might ring a bell. What these eateries share in common is their chef/owner Emmanuel Stroobant.

I tried Saint Pierre’s set lunch 3 years back when it was still housed in Central Mall and didn’t think much of it then but that visit was prompted after having the best lobster bisque I have had to date at one of Chef Stroobant’s now-defunct restaurants The French Kitchen, so I really didn’t know what to expect now.

Saint Pierre’s Saturday Brunch Menu

While primarily operating as a French fine dining restaurant, Saint Pierre additionally serves Saturday Brunch and Sunday Semi-buffet Roasts (priced at $68++/adults, $38++ for children aged 4-9), during lunchtime (11.30am to 3pm) to cater to the weekend crowd. On this occasion, I was here to review their Saturday Brunch menu.

I much prefer the setting of its new premises, which overlooks the yachts moored at the Sentosa Marina. The vibes I got was far friendlier and less stifling compared to its previous premise, so its definitely a lot more inclusive with regards to clientele now, catering to dates, family outings with kids and mere catch up sessions with friends.

As usual, I couldn’t decide which ala carte brunch main to get so I just opted for the Brunch Set ($38++), which includes a glass of Fruit Juice (Watermelon, Carrot or Orange), Homemade Assorted Breads, a Choice of Main from the brunch ala carte menu and Coffee/Tea.

Initially I thought that the assorted bread was just going to be small bread rolls but what came over was a basket of Ciabatta, Brioche and Croissants, with homemade jams and a wad of butter. Of the 3 types, the brioche was my favourite followed by the croissant, though both aren’t items that I would particularly come back for.

My favourite brunch item was the Eggs Benedict ($24++). Instead of sourdough, brioche is used instead so if you like your breads buttery, you would probably enjoy this as I did. The Hollandaise Sauce too was richer than what I have had in other places. Iberico Bellota ham is used in this dish as well and it’s a higher grade of iberico ham because the pigs are fed with acorns rather than the normal corn feed. My only reservation about this dish was the poached egg. Not sure if it was on purpose but both my eggs yolks had a similar texture to the ramen egg yolks, which was more viscous than expected. Either way, it didn’t really bother me as this rendition of eggs ben tasted great!

I wasn’t a fan of their Scrambled Eggs ($22++) topped with black truffles as it was rather salty for my liking.

The Beef Parmentier ($18++) came as a recommendation from the staff. Essentially, its thinly cut slices of corned beef with onions over a bed of mash. Personally, it felt slightly heavy as a brunch dish as the mash was rather dense. I would love to see it as a staple during Saturday evening BBQs though.

CJ was quite excited when she saw the Waffle ($18) on the menu but it was far from what she expected. Instead of the common saccharine dessert waffles, this one was a mix of sweet, sour and savoury, with the ice cream replaced by foie gras mousse, apple compote & vanilla beans. Still pondering whether the dish is creative or confused but I would probably have found the mousse and apple compote more suitable on a brioche instead.

Would I recommend Saint Pierre’s brunch? Well, the food is pretty average in terms of taste, quirky, classy but average. The main draw then would be the ambience. If you haven’t been to Quayside, please mark in down somewhere on your calendars, it’s a really awesome chill out place…think Keppel Bay but with more restaurant choices.

This meal was sponsored by Saint Pierre. Special thanks for hosting the tasting.

Saint Pierre

31 Ocean Way, #01-05 Quayside Isle

Tel: +65 6438 0887





The Big Sheila – “Inspired food. Life made easier.”

8 12 2012

It’s been a 3 week hiatus from blogging, as I became a social recluse to prep for my SMU finals. Finally emerging from my cave, my first stop was at The Big Sheila, a new restaurant just slightly over a month old located in the vicinity of Siglap.

I was first introduced to The Big Sheila by Janice, a food PR consultant, and one thing I have learnt over the years is to trust their judgments when it comes to food. After all, who else would be more in the know about local F&B happenings? A week after Janice’s recommendation, Tan Hsueh Yun published an article about The Big Sheila on The Sunday Times. “Drat, it was going to be more difficult to secure a seat now”, I thought to myself.

The Big Sheila is the brainchild of Fleur Glover, an Aussie who courageously set aside her career in IT to pursue what she was truly passionate about – food no less. Her establishment houses 3 tables outdoors and 2 indoors (not including the large indoor communal table), with a capacity of about 30 people based on my estimates. Hence, reservations are recommended should you want to dine in. Of course, there’s the option of ordering online and getting the food delivered conveniently to your doorstep as well.

There are 2 seatings for dinner and even as my party arrived at 830pm for the 2nd seating, the place was still packing a full house (on a weekday night). Impressive.

I liked the vibes here. It felt less of a restaurant and more like a friend’s place, very much like the feel I got from Bistro Soori and it does help that the staff are passionate about what they do, hyping up each dish with a detailed explanation of where the ingredients are sourced from and how each dish is prepared.

The food menu takes the form of a conspicuously displayed blackboard, allowing for flexibility and evolving nature of Fleur’s craft.

To complement our meal, we got a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Tinpot Hut, New Zealand ($39 + $15 corkage), which came as a recommendation by the staff. It’s a light bodied white wine with quite a long finish (aka aftertaste) and a crisp texture, going pretty well with the light, natural tasting dishes here.

The Chicken Caciatore ($20++) consists of chicken pieces slow cooked with olives, orange, lemon, bay leaf, white wine & button mushrooms. Some might find the flavour a little on the bland side but personally, I believe that this was tastefully done, adhering to their concept of home-cooked western fare, where the emphasis lies in natural flavours and healthy living.

The Beef Bourguignon ($20++) is a typical French dish made by slow braising beef, bacon, shallots, mushrooms, carrots & celery in a red wine sauce. The staff asserted that the accompanying baguettes were brought in from France, though I wonder how that was done given that they tasted fresh, perhaps she meant the ingredients for the baguettes helm from France. It is rare for me to finish up a whole roll of bread but this was so crisp and toasty that I found no trouble at all, not when there’s a hearty tangy stew to dip the bread in as well. My only gripe was that the cut of beef was slightly too lean for my liking.

I have never been a fan of chicken schnitzel and have never come across one that has made me sit up and take extra notice. The Chicken Schnitzel ($16++) here, a Deep Fried herbed crumbed Chicken Breast with Apple Mint & Baby Caper Slaw & Aioli, didn’t change my beliefs.

I loved the Beef in a box ($14++), which is a dish of Aussie ribeye, Caramelized Onions & Mustard. Although the beef is prepared beforehand if I’m not mistaken, it still remained tender and moist. Plus, who doesn’t love caramelized onions right?

Desserts were fairly decent too. The Tim Tam Cheesecake with Caramel Ganache (can’t remember what the actual names for the desserts but this should be fairly close) found favour with all my friends. The mild-tasting cheesecake is sandwiched between a biscuit base that is reminiscent of tim tams and the glaze on top tastes of lightly salted caramel, with the combination working surprisingly well.

However, I was the sole person who preferred the Chocolate Truffle with Almonds and Whiskey Soaked Prunes, which is made using rich Valrhona chocolate. It’s a bit heavier and drier than the cheesecake but it tastes great, ending off a memorable experience at The Big Sheila.

Before leaving, K ordered an additional cake to go. I’m not sure how it tasted but I was definitely impressed with the take-away packaging. Very glam indeed.

In a nutshell, what one can expect at The Big Sheila is food that is hearty, ambience that is chic yet homely, service that is friendly and attentive, and prices that are extremely reasonable.

The Big Sheila

15 Swan Lake Avenue

Tel: +65 6645 4422





Cafe Melba – Of Green Meadows and Blow-up Castles

4 11 2012

Easterners have been lamenting over the lack of brunch places in the East for the longest time, at least I have. Recently however, I chanced upon this laid back Australian brunch place at Goodman Arts Centre near Mountbatten MRT. I’m surprised there’s not much online coverage about it yet, especially since it gets pretty packed with expats during the weekends. I guess word of mouth travels fast.

Facing a field of green, it makes for a perfect setting for a weekend brunch. The cafe seems to be both pet and children friendly, as I saw dogs playing in the field which I assume to be pets of the customers, and a blow up castle entertains the kids as they bounce up and down on it.

The menu features brunch items, appetizers, mains, sides and a variety of pizzas.

Considering that this is an Australian eatery, some items on the menu seem out of place, such as the Melba Beef Rendang ($18++). Cooked in Coconut Milk, Ginger and Spices, I found the Rendang to be very ordinary and a little too spicy. Instead of rice, you get pizza bread to complement the rendang, a little bit of east meets west. As rendangs of such quality can easily be sought after in most nasi padang stalls, I wouldn’t recommend it here. The best thing was probably the shoestring fries which comes freshly fried alongside the dish.

The Full Melba Cooked Breakfast ($24++) comes with a choice of Eggs (Scrambled, Poached or Sunny Side Up), Pork Sausages, Cured Bacon, Roasted Cherry Vine Tomatoes, Baked Beans, Mushrooms and Home-made Toast. It sounds heavier than it really is and personally, an extra side of sauteed potatoes would have completed this breakfast platter.

The Free-range Eggs Benedict ($18++) arrived with 2 puny kampong chicken eggs that had been slightly overpoached. The Hollandaise sauce wasn’t as creamy nor flavourful as I would have liked either.

If you are really hungry, the Melba Burger ($23++) is something to consider. The burger is made with home-made Relish, Cured Bacon, Cheese and a choice of Shoe-string fries, Salad or Wedges. I thought this was done competently but the beef patty could have done with a little more flavour. Wedges were really awesome though.

I enjoyed the thin-crusted Smoked Salmon Pizza ($18++ for 9 inches), which comes topped with Capers, Dill and Creme Fraiche aka sour cream. I would recommend the Truffle Fries ($13++) as it was good enough to warrant getting it again on my second visit here. I usually shun the truffle flavour by the 20th fry as truffle oil can get a bit overwhelming but the ones here are just unbelievably addictive. By the way, I hope you don’t feel cheated discovering that most truffle oils are not made using real truffles but simply a synthesis of a chemical compound (that smells like truffle) with olive oil.

Overall, the food at Cafe Melba is nothing to shout about and slightly overpriced, given the small serving portions. The main draw therefore, would be the laid back vibes that can make your weekend a truly lazy one.

PS: There’s one other restaurant housed within Goodman Arts Centre called La Barca, which does Tuscan cuisine and is helmed by an ex-Michelin Starred chef. Been wanting to visit but online reviews have been giving me second thoughts.

Cafe Melba

90 Goodman Road, #01-56 Goodman Arts Centre Block N

Tel: +65 6440 6068





The Fabulous Baker Boy – Keep Calm and Eat Cake

2 10 2012

“It’s hard to find cafes that can be categorized as hidden gems nowadays. I’d die for a quiet place on the fringe of town, where they serve great food and is supported by a team of interactive and friendly staff…” is exactly what I would have said a week ago but no longer.

Just over a month old, The Fabulous Baker Boy is the brainchild of Juwanda Hassim, an ex-theatre performer who also has had experience running f&b establishments. From what I hear, he used to retail his cakes online but due to the increasing popularity, he decided to take the leap into opening a cafe.

Joining him in this venture is Haryanto Soemito, head barista from the now-defunct Pause Cafe. Dropping by on a lazy Thursday afternoon when there wasn’t much of a crowd, we managed to chat with him for a bit when he came to the al fresco area to see how we were doing with our cakes. And yes, we are happy to say that he’s a friendly and charming chap.

Almost all the seats are al fresco so it might get a little warm in the mid-afternoons if the sun is out. That’s why friend P got the Iced Tea, a cold brew of Earl Grey. From my very limited understanding of brewing, I would say there are 2 main ways you can brew iced tea. First would be the tradition way, steeping tea leaves using hot water and subsequently adding ice. Or, you can do it by means of a cold brew, meaning to steep the tea leaves in cold water over a couple of hours. The difference lies in the taste and texture. In general, you can associate cold brews with having a more subtle, smoother and sweeter tasting tea, which was the case for the Iced Tea P had, where there wasn’t any bitter aftertaste nor tannic texture from the tea.

The cafe interior is not that spacious but large enough to surround you with a variety of desserts that leaves one spoilt for choice. I love the little touches of creative potential, like how a cake recipe adds character to the wall at the till area. It just makes the place feel more personalized and less commercialized.

The main menu isn’t all that extensive but sufficient if you need something warm and substantial to fill the tummy before getting down to desserts. However, there is a separate brunch menu which is only available on Sundays.

On this occasion, I had a latte which was done reasonably well but what was most remarkable was the Red Velvet ($8.50). It was moist, light as a cloud and did not crumble apart like how some other annoying cakes do. It wasn’t too chocolatey either so it didn’t leave us cringing with dry throats.

We also tried the Green Tea Cake. It had the texture of a butter cake, meaning it was slightly denser and drier than the Red Velvet. Given the sweetness of the cream, I couldn’t detect the matcha flavours. It didn’t trouble me however, since I’m no green tea fan.

The Fabulous Baker Boy is a nice hideaway just opposite Liang Court, somewhere you can just take out a magazine and while the day away but with ample media attention surround this new gem, I suspect afternoons here might just get a little rowdier.

The Fabulous Baker Boy

70 River Valley Road, #01-15 The Foothills

Tel: +65 6694 8336





Swensen’s – A Weekend Breakfast Alternative

8 09 2012

I haven’t been back to Swensen’s since my Junior College days more than half a decade ago. I guess just like with all the cafe cartels, seoul gardens and sakae sushis that we students used to frequent, these joints no longer seem as cool as compared to chilling out at those hipster standalone cafes that serve gourmet coffees. However believe it or not, on my recent trip to Swensen’s, I actually found the new breakfast menu promising enough to warrant future return visits, especially when the breakfast sets are priced so reasonably. Their breakfast menu is only available during weekends and public holidays between 8am to 11am for all outlets except the outlet at Changi Airport Terminal 2, where the breakfast menu is available everyday from 3am to 11am to cater to travelers.

One of my favourite breakfast sets is the All American Buttermilk Pancakes ($9.90++), which comprises of pancakes served with a side of maple syrup, honey butter cream, chicken sausages, hash brown and sauteed mushrooms. Every aspect was done competently and the pancakes were thick but light. Mushrooms were delicious as well as I suspect it was sauteed in butter. In addition, all breakfast sets come with a cup of coffee and tea to wash down the hearty fare.

You can opt to do away with the peripherals and just get the Simply Pancakes ($6.90++).

The Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich ($9.90++) is essentially a ham and egg sandwich. What I love most about this sandwich is that a sweet airy Japanese Bread is used, whose texture is in between that of bread and spongecake. The set also comes with a side of BBQ Baked Beans, similar to what you can get at Astons. My only gripe was that the egg was slightly bland and dry.

The same Japanese bread is also used to make the Classic French Toast with Honey Butter Cream ($10.90++), so the toast turns out really fluffy as well.

As with most of the breakfast sets here, you can opt to have the Simply French Toast ($7.50++) without the accompanying hash brown, sausages and sauteed mushroom.

What I find spectacular from the Swensen’s Sunrise Omelette ($10.90++) is not the omelette per se but the Ciabatta rolls. They are included in some of the breakfast sets and they are awesome! Not only were they served crisp and piping hot, but honey butter is also pumped into them for a sweet finish. Instead of having the eggs in an omelette style, you can also opt to have your eggs scrambled or sunny side up. My advice is to go for the scrambled.

Good Morning Sunnies ($11.90++)

Ciabatta Rolls pumped with Honey Butter

For those on a heavy protein diet, there’s also the Hearty Steak & Eggs ($14.90++). You get what you pay for so don’t go expecting top quality beef but I would say its good enough for a casual meal. Plus you get yummy caramelized onions…

No western breakfast place is complete without the ubiquitous Eggs Ben and the ones here are served with Smoked Salmon ($12.90++). While a little too sour for my liking, the density of the Hollandaise was about right and my eggs weren’t overpoached.

There’s also the Eggy Delight ($6.90++) for the kids, where you get sunny side ups, grilled chicken sausages and potato smiles. All the kids breakfast sets come with a glass of fruit juice too!

Apart from the western breakfast sets, there’s also 2 sets that cater to local palates; the Fish & Century Egg Congee ($9.90++) and Prawn Bee Hoon Soup ($11.90++). The congee wasn’t available so I only had the Bee Hoon Soup which I found very forgettable as the bee hoon hadn’t infused the flavours from the soup and hence tasted bland. Anyhow, the chicken soup base wasn’t fantastic to start with.

Overall, I would say that Swensen’s really exceeded my expectations this time. The food is in general above average for cafe breakfast standards, prices are really competitive and the seating capacity is ample to avoid the long weekend queues. If only the breakfast menu hours are extended past 11am on lazy weekends…

Special thanks to Swensen’s for hosting this tasting!





Kith Cafe @ Park Mall – More Offerings, Better Location

29 08 2012

My previous visit to Kith Cafe at Robertson Quay didn’t leave much of an impression and the cafe felt rather cramped. This has all changed with the opening of a new branch at Park Mall, whose menu offers a wider range compared to their Robertson Quay outlet, with the inclusion of more types of pastas, salads and sandwiches. There’s even interesting chioces like Foie Gras with Fruit Brioche ($18++)!

I don’t think of Kith Cafe as a pasta place but from what I read on Chubby Hubby, the chef here is ex-Da Paolo, which should put minds at ease as to the quality of the pastas.

The Smoke Duck Breast Sandwich ($12++), made from Green Apple, Japanese Cucumber, Spring Onion and Balsamic Reduction in Sourdough was pretty good. I swear the balsamic reduction tastes more like hoisin sauce though, making this taste like a peking duck sandwich, sans the crisp duck skin.

The Big Breakfast ($15++) was awesome as well, in fact it’s one of the better ones I have had. It came with 2 Eggs, Bacon, Smoked Bratwurst, Sauteed Mushroom, a couple slices of Toast with a side of jam. The scrambled eggs was done exceptionally well here, though I wouldn’t say it beats the affordable ones at Australian Dairy Company in Hong Kong. Love the sausage too, it’s the type I like, the kind that provides quite a bit of bite. The bacon wasn’t too salty as well, which was much appreciated.

Had an affordable cup of Cappuccino ($4++), though it was nothing spectacular. To sidetrack a bit, I guess all the hype about Chye Seng Huat Hardware is well founded. Coffee and food there were delish on my recent trip there last weekend!

I used to make Toasties at home too! It’s not difficult at all once you dump everything in the toastie maker. Kith Cafe does it decently too, the Ham, Pineapple & Cheddar Toastie ($6.50++) proved to be a simple but delightful combination.

Overall, I’m rather fond of this new outlet. It’s location is convenient and the food is very decent. If not for the never ending line of cafes on my to-go list, I would definitely be back at Kith in a jiffy.

Kith Cafe

9 Penang Road, #01-01E Park Mall

Tel: +65 6338 8611








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