Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill – A Fuss-free & Casual French Steakhouse

24 02 2013

As a typical university student still living with my parents, I neither cook nor do the marketing for my household needs (thankfully). That’s why I have been rather out of touch with the food costs in Singapore lately. I’m quite clueless about how much a kg of beef should cost, much less if we are talking about different cuts or breeds.

Recently however, a couple of friends and I have been organizing quite a few home barbeque parties, to our immense enjoyment. It’s probably a syndrome of getting older and lazier, where one would much prefer to hang out at a friend’s place (and decimate their alcohol stash), rather than fight against the swarms of Orchard Road. Going to town just lost it’s coolness appeal overnight. As the budget for each BBQ session might differ, we have been experimenting with different cuts of beef, consequently gaining a better appreciation for the price-quality level of beef ratio.

I was at Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill a couple of weeks back for a tasting session. It’s a French steakhouse with a huge following in France, with over 100 outlets there. While most Singaporeans perceive the typical French restaurant to give off an air of snootiness, Hippopotamus is really the opposite, a casual restaurant with a friendly ambience.

Their menu is rather varied and while they specialize in steaks, a range of Chicken, Pork and Seafood dishes are nonetheless available as well. Mains here typically come with a choice of 2 side dishes (Fries, Potato Gratin, Green Beans, Steamed Vegetables, Baked Potato, Ratatouille) and 1 accompanying sauce (BBQ, Bearnaise, Homemade Thai Chili, Stewed Shallot, Pepper).

There are several cuts of beef to choose from in Hippopotamus, which might leave one lost as to the difference between each. The Skirt Steak ($18.90++), while not as widely popular as the ribeye, sirloin or tenderloin, would be suitable for those who value flavour over texture. I guess being a restaurant specializing in steaks, Hippopotamus’s order winner is their ability to time the doneness of the steak more accurately compared to eateries like Cafe Cartel whose staff might not be as seasoned, given the wider menu range and lower turnover of steak orders over there.

The Grilled Game Hen ($21.90++) is one of their more popular items as well. Interestingly, contrary to it name, a game hen (aka Spring Chicken) does not only refer to a female. It is a young chicken, slaughtered when it is just 30 days old and is priced slightly higher than a regular chicken, given that the meat is considered more tender than regular chickens.

Skirt Steak (top left), Game Hen (middle)

I really like the Grilled King Prawns ($22.90++) which has a slightly charred flavour. A few measly prawns can hardly be a meal for a big eater though so would appreciate if a surf & turf option presents itself on the menu.

There are 2 options for Fish, the Cod Fish ($36.90++) and the Barramundi Fillet ($22.90++), both nicely grilled to derive a blanket of crispy skin. I prefer the Cod but for those who prefer a less fatty texture, go for the Barramundi. Portions are slightly underwhelming though imo.

Cod Fish

The US Pork Chops ($19.90++) was a bit too lean and unseasoned for my liking but I guess that’s where the sauces come in.

A host of desserts can be found here as well, such as the Warm Chocolate Cake ($11.90++), Roasted Pineapple ($7.90++), Lemon Meringue Pie ($10.90++), Chocolate Hazelnut Cake ($8.90++), Creme Brulee ($7.90++) and Chocolate Mousse ($7.90++).

While I found most of them run off the mill, the Chocolate Mousse did tug at my heartstrings. The bittersweet chocolate is sinfully good, making a stopover for tea here worthwhile. In fact, I think this was probably what I enjoyed the most during the tasting.

Warm Chocolate Cake ($11.90++)

Roasted Pineapple ($7.90++)

Lemon Meringue Pie ($10.90++)

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake ($8.90++)

With the exception of the Chocolate Mousse, honestly, nothing else was very much different from the standards you get of Jack’s Place or Astons. It’s food that is meant to be fuss-free and casual after all, something I might grab for a quick lunch or while waiting for a movie.

Special thanks to Hippopotamus for the invitation and organizing the tasting.

Hippopotamus Restaurant Grill

6 Raffles Boulevard, #01-204/205 Marina Square

Tel: +65 6338 5352





[Hong Kong] Caprice – A Michelin 3-Star French Luncheon

3 08 2012

Located at The Four Seasons Hotel, Caprice is one of the 2 French restaurants in Hong Kong that have been awarded the prestigious Michelin 3-stars (the other being Atelier de Joel Robuchon).

Few can dispute that Caprice is undeserving of such an honour, not after setting foot into the restaurant. Greeted by a team that is attentive and well versed with the restaurant’s offerings, one is led into opulent settings where Swarovski chandeliers hang overhead. As one enters the restaurant, the first thing that catches the eye is the open kitchen with the chefs all hard at work and as you look around towards the windows, you catch a gorgeous view of the Victoria Harbour. It does seem that Caprice spares no expense in ensuring that the ambience is right for that special occasion.

If one should decide to dress up for a meal, this would be the time to do so. Nothing is going to be much fancier than this.

Given the posh setting and accolades, it is no surprise that meals here don’t come cheap. The more “affordable” set lunches are priced at 460/520 HKD for 2 or 3-course meals respectively while dinners can work up to easily 3 times that price without wine.

We were served an “Anchovy Cake” as our amuse bouche, which tasted much like warm fish keropok. It’s tasty but I expected something a little more sophisticated.

Of the 4 varieties of bread (from top left anti-clockwise – Olive, Baguette, Sourdough and Sesame), it was clear that the Sesame was our favourite. It’s done very much like a croissant, just much airier. Not wanting to stuff myself prematurely, I was the only one on my table who had the discipline to stop at 1, while my counterparts were so taken by this that they downed an average of 5 each!

We were also given Bordier Butter (salted and unsalted) to go with our bread, a premium French hand-churned butter that is considered by many to be the finest in the world.

My friends Joyce and Randall had the Rockfish Consomme, Saffron Infusion & Fish Rillette for appetizer. The taste of the broth seems so surreal to me now as I merely sampled a mouthful of its umami goodness. I was distraught after I tasted it, realizing that my appetizer didn’t even come close in terms of execution and flavour. The Fish Rillette was just so-so compared to the consomme, tasting like a crabcake mash.

Kenneth had the Marinated Salmon, Avruga & Lime Caviar, Tarama, Bottarga & Salmon Roe. Personally, I thought it was just an over-glorified piece of Cured Salmon that was no doubt tasty but overly simplistic.

I had the Paimpol White Bean Veloute & Duck Foie Gras Tartine. The word veloute stems from the french adjective velour, which means “velvety” but this white bean veloute was far too heavy and starchy to be described as such. Served on the side was the Duck Foie Gras Tartine, comprising mainly of white beans with slivers of foie gras terrine on a thin toast. While it had an appetizing sourish zing to it, I couldn’t appreciate its pairing with the veloute.

While there were 7 choices of mains to choose from, it so happened that all 4 of us chose the Free-ranged Quail Stuffed with Foie Gras, Mushrooms & Spinach in Civet Sauce, which sounded the most authentically french and hardest to replicate amongst the other choices. It was a good call indeed as this turned out to be the star of the meal.

I have had bad experiences with foie gras stuffings, such as the DB Burger from DB Bistro Moderne where the foie gras stuffing turned out tasteless and dry but the stuffing for the quail wasn’t like this at all. There was no pungent aftertaste and its flavours managed to infuse into the tender juicy quail meat that had been cooked perfectly to a light pink hue. The civet sauce tasted similar to a red wine sauce you would get off a coq au vin, but perhaps been thickened slightly with the addition of blood.

For wine, we requested a bottle of semi-dry red to go along with our quail and the sommelier suggested the Chateau Rollan de By, 2006 (780 HKD). It’s from Medoc, a wine growing region in Bordeaux and made up of a blend of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc, and 10% Petit Verdot. I found it very drinkable with a medium fruity body which indeed complemented the quail.

For desserts, I had the Saint Honore of Chocolate Trio & Cinnamon in Spiced Mexican Sauce, comprising 3 chocolate profiteroles & varying degrees of chocolate mousses on a filo pastry which is then finished with an extra layer of chocolate sauce. So much chocolate must have made this dessert cloying right? Wrong, the chocolate mousses were really light and there was sufficient pastry to soak up all the chocolate sauce.

Joyce and Randall both got the Cherry Marmalade & Sandalwood Cream with Griotte Sorbet, very much a sandalwood panna cotta topped with Cherry Sorbet and Marmalade.

Kenneth had the Caprice Cheese Cellar, a very generous platter of 4 types of cheese. I wasn’t paying much attention when the server was going through the cheeses as I was desperately trying to take some quick snaps of the other desserts that had meltable features but 1 cheese did catch my attention – giraffe cheese. It wasn’t my cup of tea though, as I prefer milder cheeses.

We ended off the meal with coffee, tea and petite fours (Strawberry Macaroon, Banana Chocolate, Irish Dark Chocolate) at 4pm. Time had whisked by so quickly but the staff didn’t seem annoyed that we had unknowingly stayed past lunch hour.

Good food, chichi settings and superb service. If there’s only 1 thing more I could ask for, it’s probably a little more creativity.

Caprice

8 Finance Street, Central, Four Seasons Hotel

Tel: +852 3196 8888





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





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





Le Saint Julien – French at its Finest

23 03 2012

We all have meal spending thresholds. Most people will try to stick within the range of $5-$10 for daily routine meals, $10-$25 for gathering-type meals and perhaps $25-$40 for celebratory occasions. This is probably the reason why I have trouble sometimes finding lunch kakis’ when I want to go out for a nice lunch out of the blue.

I guess it’s because of this blog and my routine uploads of food pictures on facebook that leave many people assuming that my meal spending threshold is non-existent but sadly, that is purely a myth. That is why Restaurant Week is so important to me. While not every participating restaurant offers a huge discount off their usual set meal prices, some do take the effort to cater to the humbler than usual crowd and Le Saint Julien is one of the latter.

Before today, I would never dream of dining at Le Saint Julien without a reason to celebrate. An ala carte meal without wine would probably set you back $150-$200! Prices of their 3-Course Set Lunches and 6-Course Set Dinners are slightly more palatable at $46++ and $168++, though I would still think think twice if it were just a regular meal to catch up with friends. After lunch today however, I have to admit my propensity to spend at Saint Julien has been elevated somewhat.

There’s a nice lounge and bar area to have an aperitif should you arrive ahead of your guests. I was browsing through Saint Julien’s website when I came across their wine outlook, where I saw the phrase “$60 for 750ml”. At the back of my mind, I was like “Wa, that’s super reasonable for a fine dining restaurant!”. Then reality struck, it was the corkage charges…

Walking into the main dining area, what you see is sleek furnishings and a high ceiling. This is important so that it doesn’t get too noisy as the crowd starts streaming in. Ms Edith Lai, wife of Chef Julien Bompard, whizzes around the restaurant ensuring everything is in order. She has after all been in the hospitality industry for much of her career and given the level of professionalism and training of her wait staff, we know we are in good hands.

Diners aren’t given much flexibility for the Restaurant Week 3-Course Set Lunch Menu. Appetizers and Desserts are fixed, while there are 2 choices for Mains. An extra course can be ordered at an additional price of $26-$32++, depending on which additional course (Foie Gras, Lobster Bisque or Escargot) is chosen. I decided against it as I have already overkilled my dining budget for this and next week.

We started off the meal with the Slow Cooked Egg with Foie Gras Emulsion, Mushrooms and Black Truffle Oil. Initially, I thought the Foie Gras Emulsion was the white liquid in the cup but it was actually the thin layer of brown paste coating the brioche and it totally blew me away. The white liquid is actually just the whites of the Slow Cooked Egg. I wasn’t paying attention when the wait staff explained it to us, but I’m certain this is no normal soft boiled egg as the yolk is semi-solid while the whites are extremely delicate and runny. Typically for soft boiled eggs, it would be the reverse. I could definitely detect the traces of truffle oil in the egg cup as well, which is an added treat.

We are lucky that Aries chose the Roasted Daurade Fish with “Arbois” Wine and Avruga Caviar Sauce as her main, as it makes for a lovely picture. Daurade is more commonly known as Sea Bream or Tai, a mild tasting fish. I would say that on its own, it is unspectacular, but with the creamy gravy, we swooned. This just highlights the importance of synergizing different elements of a dish. Just fyi, Arbois is a type of white grape found in France and is considered one of the less acidic grape types. I haven’t really heard of it before because it’s a minor grape, compared to the ubiquitous Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

For the rest of us, we opted for the Braised Pork Belly with Sauerkraut in Filo Pastry, served with Apple Calvados Sauce instead. We all wondered how Chef Julien managed to transfer the pork filled filo pastry onto the plate, as the pastry crust was paper thin, shattering upon light proding. The pork belly was savoury and flavourful, balanced well by the sour zing from the Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) at the base of the pastry, as well as the mildly sweet apple brandy sauce.

The Parfait with Banana, Chocolate and Pralines came with slightly disjointed elements, especially the Chocolate Almond flavoured (for want of a better word I shall just use) biscuit, whose presence I thought was totally unnecessary. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the Parfait which was banana flavoured. The caramelized banana was nice, tasted more alcoholic than sweet (perhaps soaked in alcohol before caramelizing?), but still just an accessory adorning the main attraction (the parfait).

Despite being a discounted Restaurant Week lunch, this experience was definitely memorable enough to justify adding Le Saint Julien to my list of favourite restaurants. After all, if $47 bucks got me all this, just think what a $168 set dinner will get me?

Le Saint Julien

3 Fullerton Road, The Fullerton Water Boat House

Tel: +65 6534 5947





Antoinette (Mandarin Gallery) – Of Surprises and Letdowns

1 02 2012

Despite being open for business for less than a year, Antoinette has already proven its mettle. Its marketing strategy has worked in its favour, having a classy name and luxurious store layout with a moderated price tag on its food has definitely drawn in the crowd. It does help that the man behind this venture is none other than award-winning ex-Canele pastry chef Chef Pang Kok Keong.

I popped by Antoinette about a week back for a meetup between my clique of Secondary 1-2 friends, as D was flying off to Spain for his exchange program the next week and its been really almost a year since our last gathering. As it was an early Saturday afternoon, no surprise that we had to wait about 45 minutes before we could snag a table, especially since Antoinette functions primarily as a tea lounge rather than restaurant, where customers come in to have their nice little tete a tete sessions over an all day breakfast and dessert. Something interesting we noticed was the severe disproportion of guys to girls ratio here. There were only 2 other guys in the entire filled restaurant! So we might have seemed a little out of place coming as a group of 5 guys (we came from an all-boys secondary school booyah!).

Anyways, with no complaints about the gender distribution of clientele,  we proceeded to order our mains. My personal favourite was the Gnocchi Carbonara ($18.50++), “Parisan Gnocchi sauteed with Caramelized Bacon, White Wine Cream Sauce, served with Poached Egg and Aged Parmesan Cheese”. Gnocchi is typically a small dumpling shaped pasta made with flour and potatoes, but from what I have read online, the ones served here does away with the potatoes but includes gruyere cheese to get that awesome taste and texture. A light pan frying after blanching secures its crisp outer layer and mildly chewy interior. The cream sauce resembles that of Canele’s Carbonara to me, which I find quite delightful because it doesn’t coagulate quickly but still manages to retain its flavourfulness. Something I also like about this carbonara is that the bacon is not the least bit salty to me, so you get to savour the meaty juicy goodness without overwhelming the mild cream base.

If cream is just not your thing, you can try the Gnocchi Forestiere ($18.50++), “Parisan Gnocchi sauteed with onions and an assortment of Field Mushrooms in a Pink Tomato Sauce with Italian Parsley and Aged Parmesan Cheese” instead. The tomato base doesn’t complement the gnocchi as well though and it’s a little too overpowering as well, blocking off the delectable morsels of gnocchi.

The crepes are done decently here, which I find it better than what is available at Canele. There’s 5 savoury crepes to choose from here, of which we tried the Nordic Crepe ($16.50++), made with Smoked Salmon, Capers, Red Onion and Dill Cream Cheese.

It definitely wasn’t my idea to order the Burger Royale ($18++), “Pan Fried Beef Patty on Brioche Bread, Mayonnaise, Home-made Tomato Relish, Lettuce, Red Onions, Mustard, Aged Cheddar Cheese, Chips and Petit Salad with House Dressing”. After all, who orders a burger in a french tea lounge?! That said, this Beef Burger exceeded expectations with a nice juicy and flavourful patty though I would have preferred the usual burger buns to the brioche used.

We had very mixed reviews on the Wild Mushroom Risotto ($24++), “Creamy Arborio Rice simmered with exotic Field Mushrooms & White Wine, garnished with crispy Serrano Ham”. For myself and H, it was probably our least favourite main of the meal, but to my other friends S, D and YQ, it was their favourite. The reasons why it didn’t suit me was because the risotto was rather one-dimensional and too mild in taste for my liking. I’d prefer a cheesier oomph!

We love to pamper ourselves once in a while, and there’s no better way than to have feast on dainty little desserts.

The issue with cakes coated fully in a chocolate mousse is that they are an enigma, you never know what you are going to find as you dig your fork deeper into its core. The signature Antoinette ($9++) is one such cake. Having not researched on Antoinette prior to this meal, I was going in blind on this one. I grazed my fork against the velvety milk chocolate lining the cake for a taste test. Nothing unusual, I thought to myself, the chocolate’s texture is just a little too thin. A deeper prodding of my fork this time, where is that bitter taste coming from? My doubts were confirmed when YQ mentioned it was earl grey. The ball-shaped protrusion is actually raspberry coulis (a thick french sauce made from fruits). I find too many things going on in this cake which leaves me slightly confused. Somehow the mix of sweet chocolate mousse, bitter earl grey and sour raspberry doesn’t work for me.

I’m more a fan of the Strawberry Shortcake ($8++). The sponge is light and the use of strawberries generous. However, still not as good as the orgasmic one from One Caramel.

There have been some mixed reviews about the Macaroons here. I managed to try 5 different types (Antoinette, Chloe, Passionfruit, Pistachio and one more I can’t recall), of which the Antoinette (tastes of white chocolate) is my favourite.

 

Mont Blanc is a common French Dessert made using pureed chestnuts and cream. I’m not sure if its the case of the Mont Blanc ($8.50++) here being too average, or the one at Flor Patisserie by Chef Yamashita being too good. Might be a little of both or the fact that I might seriously be pampered too much.

Overall, I like Antoinette. The gnocchi carbonara is reason enough to come back, not to mention the nice semi-atas vibes you get here. Sadly, I expected more from their desserts which failed to shine through today.

Bon Appetit!

Antoinette

333A Orchard Road, #02-33/34 Mandarin Gallery

Tel: +65 6836 9527





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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