The Knolls @ Capella Hotel – A Revamped Lunch/Dinner Menu

25 10 2015

With room rates starting at the ~$800 region and up, the first imageries that come to mind at the mention of Capella Hotel would definitely be one of opulence, exclusivity and grandeur. Nestled away on Sentosa Island, this 5-star hotel houses The Knolls, which specializes in French-influenced Mediterranean fare and Cassia, a fine-dining Cantonese Restaurant. On this occasion, I was here to sample the newly revamped “bistronomy” menu at The Knolls.

Better known for its award-winning Sunday Champagne Brunch (priced between $128++ to $258++ depending on the various options of free flow drinks) and Afternoon High Tea ($39.90++), the lunch/dinner bistronomy menu at The Knolls has been left somewhat forgotten. This is a pity because selected items on the lunch/dinner menu were delicious and reasonably priced, with 3-Course Lunch/Dinner Sets going for $52++/$78++ respectively.

We kicked off the meal with an amuse bouche of Chicken Liver Pate, which I enjoyed immensely. The abhorring scent of gaminess was absent, leaving just a savoury velvety spread to whet the appetite.

Of the two appetizers I tried, my preference was the Octopus Ballotine ($27), served with Orange Martini dressing. A Ballotine is typically made using poultry and pretty similar to a roulade, where deboned poultry meat is stuffed, rolled and tied up for further cooking. For this instance where octopus was used instead, we saw pieces of octopus held together by a gelatinous layer. I liked that the octopus wasn’t too rubbery and went well with the dried tomatoes and a glass of German Riesling.

The Open Ravioli ($23) comprised of an Asian-inspired duck & foie gras dumpling served with its bouillon (atas word for broth). Pleasant but uninspiring, the dish failed to capture my attention and I was unable to detect the foie gras.

For the Mains, I liked the Pan Seared Seabass with Mediterranean seafood ragout, Orzo pasta (rice shaped pasta), chipirones (tiny squids) and aioli ($44). My main feedback was that Seabass skin could have been made to be more crispy but otherwise, I enjoyed the rich mix of aioli with the pasta and complementing seafood.

I found the Grilled Marinated Beef Short Ribs, Truffle mashed potatoes, mixed green salad and gherkins ($35) rather one-dimensional in taste, with the sweet marinade coming in the spotlight.

The Crispy Lamb Rib Confit ($38) tasted slightly gamy but I did appreciate the Bell Pepper Coulis (red sauce), which helps to cut through the excess unctuousness from the lamb. I didn’t take to the piece of Grilled Mini eggplant stuffed with cumin, rice and raisins, as the rice was on the heavy side and excessive in terms of the rice to eggplant ratio.

Of the 3 desserts I tried, the Cassatta ($16) was the only one that stood out. The Pistachio sponge forming the base, raspberry sorbet at the core and lemon meringue on the exterior was an excellent combination. The tartness from the raspberry and lemon was perfect for ending the meal.

On the other hand, the Profiteroles ($16) and Pandan Coconut Crème brûlée ($16) were forgettable.

Overall, the meal was a mix of hits and misses. On the plus side, I liked that the restaurant is spacious and dining tables are spread far apart enough to have a private conversation going. The casual setting left me at ease and provides a relaxed environment for date nights and gatherings. The wait staff while attentive, were unintrusive as well. My main grouse would be the food. Some of the restaurant’s signature items like the Pate, Octopus Ballotine, Seafood Pasta and Cassatta are worth a return visit, while the other dishes came across as pretty meh, so do stick to the tried and tested here where possible. The price point for food is reasonable, though the wine list is slightly pricey relative to the food.

This meal was sponsored by The Knolls. A special thanks to Melissa for hosting.

The Knolls

1 The Knolls, Capella Hotel, Sentosa Island, Singapore 098297

Tel: +65 6591 5046

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Bespoke Cocktail Bar Hopping – A 6-pub guide around CBD

2 11 2014

With the cocktail scene alive and kicking in Singapore, Amex has recently launched #ChillaxSG, a one year promotion for Amex Platinum and Amex Platinum Reserve card holders, offering various privileges such as 1-for-1, complimentary welcome cocktails with any order etc, at 16 different cocktail bars from 15 Oct 2014 to 14 Oct 2015.

In anticipation of this promotion, I had the opportunity to hang out with the folks from Amex, as they took two mini-bus loads of lifestyle and food bloggers on a pub hop event to 6 of the participating bars to showcase what was on offer.

1st Stop: The Men’s Room (13 North Canal Rd, #01-02)

Best for: The Laid-back Working Crowd who wants a drink neat, rather than fancy

Unlike some of the other places we visited later in the night, The Men’s Room seemed more like a place to get down with unadulterated liquors, especially whisky and gin. Instead of going hard on the first bar, I had their signature Chrysanthemum Cocktail instead, which would have been pretty nice for a tame night out and much reminiscent of Winebar/Zouk’s Chrysanthemum shots.

Source: Google Maps

Chrysanthemum Cocktails

2nd Stop: Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall (60A Boat Quay)

Best for: The Discerning Hipster

Like a scene out of the 1980s, I truly enjoyed the hipster vibes I got from this place. Like many other bars that concoct bespoke cocktails, you won’t find a drinks menu here and the mixologists get to work by asking about your alcohol and taste preferences.

I had their version of the Old Fashioned which I enjoyed. Typically, an Old Fashioned is a bourbon based drink but Ah Sam gave it a local twist in line with the shop’s theme by infusing the bourbon with Milo. What resulted was an Old Fashioned that had the rich creamy texture of milk. I’m the type of person who needs food to go along with my drinks so I was super pleased to find out that in addition to the well thought out ambience and creative drinks, Ah Sam serves up a mindblowing Hokkien Mee as well, which if served in a hawker centre, would no doubt be drawing crowds. Other food items on the menu include local delights such as Prawn Paste Chicken, Ngoh Hiang and Fried Kuay Teow.

Ah Sam in the flesh

Food Menu

Half-eaten Hokkien Mee and Milo-infused Old Fashioned (with a proper ice cube)

3rd Stop: Spiffy Dapper (61 Boat Quay)

Best for: The Cool Emo Kids

For a slightly more grungy environment with an amazing view of the Singapore river, pop by next door from Ah Sam’s to Spiffy Dapper. When we were there, we were served some decent tandoori and grilled items, possibly from the Indian Restaurant downstairs. If so, I think that’s a plus for allowing outside food, while the mixologists focus on doing what they do best. They did a marvelous job with my Gin shaken with Mint, simple but effective. Like Ah Sam’s next door, there’s no drinks menu here so sit back and let the bartenders get creative and concoct something to your mood and likings.

For a better idea of what you can expect in this unpretentious hole in the wall speakeasy bar, the below is an excerpt from Spiffy Dapper’s blog website which I think describes it perfectly:

“In the middle of Boat Quay, the last remaining bastion of the seedy port town that was Singapore, and hidden away on the second floor is The Spiffy Dapper.

Born out of a need to be real and imperfect, we aim to channel the creative audacity and sense of adventure of the 1920’s.

We make some damn good drinks, but what this place is really about is chilling the fuck out and having a good time.”

Gin Shaken with Mint (left)

4th Stop: The Secret Mermaid (10 Collyer Quay, B1-08 Ocean Financial Centre)

Best for: The True Blue Pro-American Craft Spirit Connoisseur

The Secret Mermaid is the latest brainchild of restaurateur Howard Lo, the owner of Tanuki Raw and Standing Sushi Bar. In the day, the shop space operates under the name of Shinkansen, a Japanese Salad Bar but once dusk falls, The Secret Mermaid emerges. 

Specializing in American spirits, The Secret Mermaid offers a range of craft spirits never seen before in Singapore. For the uninitiated, their tasting flights (starting at $15) comprising of 3 half shots of different types of spirits is an affordable way to get educated without breaking the bank. I was also rather intrigued with the novelty Smoked Salmon Vodka and Bacon Vodka that are available in tasting portions.

5th Stop: Maison Ikkoku (20 Kandahar Street)

Best for: Date nights, for couples who love pyrotechnic displays in a posh setting

Among the 6 cocktail bars we patronized that night, Maison Ikkoku had the most razzle dazzle and pomp. The setting is elegant, with the mixologists friendly and accommodative. The music is not too loud and allows for a decent conversation. Hence, it’s somewhere I would potentially bring a date, to impress her with the well-executed cocktails, liberal use of pyrotechnics for the cocktail preparation and classy bar grub.

For specific cocktails, I would highly recommend the Pina Colada which is served in a seared coconut, the Banana Daiquiri which I found astoundingly refreshing and smooth, and the Passionfruit Gin & Tonic.

Banana Daiquiri

Pina Colada (amazed that my iPhone did such a good job with this pic)

Parmesan Chawanmushi

Smoked Duck

6th Stop: Orgo (8 Raffles Avenue, #04-01 Esplanade)

Best for: Large group gatherings, where space is of the essence

I have been to Orgo before a couple years back and I wasn’t impressed. Fast forward the clock and I still get the same vibes now. Drinks were a pretty standard affair and the place exudes a more commercialized feel compared to the other 5 bars we had been to. What’s going for the place is the view, given its location on the Esplanade roof terrace.





Sabio by the Sea @ Quayside Isle – Awesome Chill-out Place

13 09 2014

Quayside Isle might just be my top spot for a lazy weekend brunch. While it’s slightly more troublesome to get to by public transport (take the monorail from Vivocity to Beach Station in Sentosa, followed by bus shuttle 3 to W Hotel), you will be treated to a host of restaurant choices, with a serene and picturesque view of the Marina. If you like chilling at Keppel Bay, you will definitely love this too! 

I simply love seafood, so I feel just at home with Spanish cuisine. While Sabio by the Sea has a weekend brunch set priced at $35++, which includes a basket of assorted breads and pastries, a main course and a choice of coffee or tea, I decided to go ala carte instead to get a better idea on the various tapas they have on offer.

Tapas portions here are ideal for parties of 2-3 people. Between M and myself, we managed to finish 3 tapas, 2 mains, 1 dessert and 4 glasses of Sangria for lunch, if that’s any indication of how much to order. As Sabio by the Sea is one of the participating restaurants under the Palate Program, diners using Amex Platinum credit cards are entitled to 50% off food (but not drinks) when dining as a party of 2. Hence all in, our bill came up to $118 net, which is good value for money in my view.

For the hot tapas items, the Sea scallops with sparkling white wine sauce ($18++) was pretty tasty and the buttery sauce did a great job complementing the scallops by not being overly seasoned and drowning it out.

The Clams in White wine Sauce ($16++) was very decent as well. Simple dish done right.

As the restaurant is not air-conditioned (few restaurants in Quayside Isle are), it can get pretty warm and humid by midday, which provides a perfect excuse to get down with Sabio’s White and Red Sangrias ($12++/glass). Between the two, both M and myself preferred the red one. It’s slightly sweeter and felt a bit less dry.

One of the staff recommended that we try the Tortilla Española ($12++), a traditional Spanish potato and onion omelette. The portion was generous but taste-wise, I didn’t think much of it.

Most Singaporeans, myself included before I toured Spain and Portugal, have a very different idea as what what octopus should taste like compared to the Spaniards and Portuguese. So, I would recommend trying the Grilled Octopus leg with “Viola” Mash Potato and Sauce Paprika ($21++) here, which was pretty authentic. When cooked right, the octopus flesh will be less chewy than what you would come to expect with a slight briny taste. M mentioned that the light briny flavor reminded her of crab.

There are 3 types of Paella served here. We opted for the Paella de Pescado, a seafood mix of Squid, Sea Bass, Mussels, Clams and Shrimps ($26++). It’s quite a common problem to find dry overcooked seafood in paella, so I was very pleased that this wasn’t an issue here. Other plus points was the very generous serving and the freshness of the seafood.

To end off our meal on a sweet note, we ordered the Churros, which came with a Choice of Homemade Chocolate or Caramel Sauce ($12++). The surprising thing was how ungreasy the Churros was (for a deep-fried doughnut), compared to the Churros in other restaurants such as Salt Tapas Bar (which is still tasty nonetheless).

Overall, I had an enjoyable Sunday brunch here. The food was above average and the setting couldn’t be better. My only gripe was that service was on the slow side and it was difficult to get the attention of the wait staff.

To shed some light on Amex dining promotions, Amex Platinum Card holders are currently offered free memberships to two dining programs, the Classic Far Card Membership and the Palate Program. Under these two programs, card holders get the opportunity to enjoy significant discounts at over 80 restaurants and bars, such as Jaan, Mikuni, Prego, Forlino and il Lido just to name a few. Over and above the above two mentioned programs, card users will also get additional dining benefits under the “Platinum Private Deals”. Of course, terms and conditions apply. More details on the two dining programs are listed below:

palate card
 
Far card

 

In addition, from now till 9 November, 2014, Platinum card members will also get the chance to be one of five lucky winners daily to win $100 worth of Tunglok dining vouchers for the Monday-Saturday draws and $100 worth of Fairmount dining vouchers for the Sunday draws. Each receipt above $50 earns card users 1 chance to win, with doubling of chances for receipts from any The Far Card or Palate establishment.

This meal was sponsored by Amex.

Sabio by the Sea

31 Ocean Way, #01-02, Singapore 098375 (next to W Hotel)

Tel: +65 6690 7568

Website: http://sabio.sg/bythesea/home/





The Halia @ Raffles Hotel – Fun Communal Dining Concept

15 06 2014

You would think that for its location in the iconic Raffles Hotel, the Halia must certainly be a fine-dining western restaurant. This “mistaken” mindset has proven to be slightly burdensome for the eatery, which has continually strived to portray itself as a casual-chic restaurant that isn’t afraid to infuse an element of playfulness into its dishes.

Al fresco dining area & bar

The latest concept adopted by the restaurant, which was also the reason for my being there, is the introduction of a communal dining concept, with dishes being classified as “big plates” or “small plates” for sharing instead of the usual appetizers and mains. The general idea is to bring out the scene of a feast where the table is kept filled with a variety of dishes, rather than having the usual course by course meal sequence typical of western meals.

Apart from the ala carte menu (note: prices of the individual plates are listed below), a communal set dinner is also available daily from 6pm to 10.30pm, priced at $260++ for 4 pax. However given the generous servings, my take is that the set can comfortably feed a group of 5, especially if there are females present. What’s included within the set are a kettle of soup with assorted breads, 4 small plates, 4 big plates, 2 desserts and a jug of barley/lemongrass/ice tea.

Alternatively, for diners who might want to sample Halia’s offerings without the full-blown commitment of dinner, the restaurant also offers very affordable 3-course set lunches at $25++, and a lunch communal set for 4 pax at $160++ which includes soup, 4 small plates, 2 big plates, 1 dessert and a non-alcoholic jug of barley/lemongrass/ice tea.

Upon entering the restaurant, the first signs restaurant’s casual-chic nature presented itself with the interesting old school designs on the communal menu and paper sheets covering the tables. Then came the barley water and utensils in old school tin cans.

Cream of Mushroom Soup, Bread Selection

Goats’ cheese mousse, heirloom tomato, olive, wild honey, dried brioche ($18++)

I didn’t quite take to the Oriental Pulled Duck with Soba Noodle ($18++). The meat was seasoned to be sweet, which isn’t something I’m used to.

On the other hand, the House smoked salmon pate ($23++) is a small plate that I would recommend ordering. Compared to the overwhelmingly salty smoked salmon commonly found in supermarkets (possibly to extend shelf life), the smoked salmon here was significantly less so such that you get a better sense of the smokiness and the natural taste of salmon.

The Chilli crab dip with toasted baguette ($14++) makes for a great starter. It stands out from the chili crab sauce from chinese restaurants since it was slightly more sourish, which whetted my appetite for the feast ahead.

For a secondary cut, I was surprised at how much I liked the Baked Kingfish Collar ($28++). The flesh was remarkably tender and I managed to debone it with ease. The light miso marinade also allowed me to appreciate the Kingfish, without overpowering its natural flavour.

While the Wagyu Beef “Zhajiangmian” ($30++) was visually appealing and conceptually interesting, with the “noodles” being replaced by long thin vegetable strips, it didn’t leave much of an impression tastewise. I thought of it as a fancy salad dish.

While the Twice-cooked Spatchcock of Spring Chicken ($35++) might look uninteresting, its execution was flawless and it turned out to be my favourite dish of the meal. The secret lay in it being twice cooked, first in a sous-vide style (slow cooked under low temperatures) to derive that tender juicy consistency, and followed up with some light roasting to attain the crispy skin and smoky char. What was most surprising was how moist the breast meat was.

In the old wild west, gunpowder containing traces of magnesium, potassium, sulphur and charcoal was sometimes used as a seasoning for meats. Inspired with this, the ‘Gunpowder’ Wagyu Topside Mayura Station ($46++) here was seasoned with charcoal. The beef was first cooked in a water bath at 59 degrees celsius before being grilled, resulting in a nice pink hue to the beef. However, for a indicated marbling score of 8-9, I was slightly let down that the beef still retained some bite to it rather than having the melt in your mouth sensation. The seasoning and accompanying sauce was also a little too savory in general.

Coconut parfait, pineapple, gingerflower, chocolate

Of the two desserts I tried, I preferred the Sticky toffee pudding, date, butterscotch sauce, sea salt, vanilla ice cream ($10++). Simple touches like the light sprinkling of sea salt on the toffee pudding did help to distinguish this rendition as an above average one. After all, who doesn’t like salted caramel?

On the whole, the meal was really enjoyable and the huge selection of dishes present in the communal set menu left me with positive feelings. Many of the dishes were rather creative with influences from various cuisines styles. What I enjoyed most however, were the relatively more straightforward dishes like the Roast Chicken, Baked Kingfish, Smoke Salmon Pate and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Regarding the communal dining concept, you can think of it as a scaled up tapas meal, or a chinese restaurant meal utilizing western dishes. Either way, it is a fun concept for group dining.

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

Halia

1 Beach Road, #01-22/23 Raffles Hotel, Singapore 189673

Tel: +65 9639 1148

Website: http://thehalia.com/raffles/raffles/about-the-halia/





Salt Grill & Sky Bar – Where Memories are Made to Last

8 06 2014

You have to agree that to a large extent, the best litmus test of what constitutes a great restaurant lies in whether or not one remembers the food eaten there, a couple years down the road.

Having been at Salt Grill & Sky Bar two years back for restaurant week, the vivid image of an amazing appetizer, the crab omelette with enoki mushrooms is still left imprinted in my mind. It’s no wonder it’s been kept on the menu through the years as one of the restaurant’s signatures.

I was back here again for an unraveling of the restaurant’s new menu offerings and post-renovation works. Shan’t bore you too much with the nitty gritty details and let the pics do the talking of the restaurant layout. Essentially, the key difference is the repainting of the pillars to a more rustic hue and the relocation of the Sky Bar from the 56th storey (where in its place is now a private dining area) to the mezzanine level (between the 55th and 56th storey).

Private dining area on the 56th storey (2nd level of the restaurant)

As mentioned above, the restaurant is perched on the 55th and 56th floor of Ion Orchard, providing a spectacular view of the Singapore skyline. You can even see MBS in the distance. To access the restaurant, diners will have to take a private lift from the 4th storey of Ion.

Evening view from the restaurant

As this was an invited tasting, most of the dishes served today were tasting portions rather than full portions, just in case you are wondering why the portions look so petite.

The complimentary Bread selection here is made in-house and served with olive oil and dukkah (a mix of Macadamia, Cashhew, Sesame, Cumin, Coriander and Salt).

To kick off our meal, we had the Coconut broth with Sydney spice (Kaffir lime leaves, Lemon Myrtle, Tumeric, Ginger, Galangal, Chili, Garlic and Salt), which tasted much like an amalgam of a rich frothy seafood bisque and green curry. An interesting blend that definitely aroused my appetite.

One of my favourite dishes that night was the Sashimi of Kingfish, ginger, eschalot & goats feta ($33++). While the preparation for the dish is seemingly simplistic, the flavours brought forth were in perfect symphony. I liked how clean the sashimi tasted, indicating it’s freshness. The sweet ginger also paired well with the fattiness of the kingfish. I would already have given it full marks without the feta, as I felt that the pungency of the feta added little extra value.

While not terrible by any standards, the Baby vegetables, goats curd, ginger bread crumbs, dried black olives ($31++) came across as the least impressive among the dishes I had that night.

As a blast from the past, the ‘Glass’ Sydney crab omelette, enoki mushroom & herb salad, miso mustard broth ($33++) remained stellar as ever, with sheets of velvety omelette encasing slivers of sweet crab meat that complemented the briny broth well. The earthly enoki mushrooms also added a nice crunch to the overall texture of the dish.

The Tea smoked quail, almond cream, prunes, grains, grilled shallot, sorrel ($31++) was noteworthy too, made even more impressive by the fact that well-executed quail can be rather hard to come by. I particularly like the flavours of the Earl Grey Tea that was infused particularly well onto the glaze, interestingly it reminded me of the deepness your senses perceive from a Garrett’s Caramel-flavored popcorn sans the sweetness.

In the case where diners are interested to order a steak, the staff may wheel out a trolley of the different cuts available, facilitating the decision making process for diners. For ourselves, we had the 300-day grain fed Sirloin from Rangers Valley, New South Wales, which was marinated with Moroccan spice and served with sauté spinach, eggplant puree and red wine sauce ($74++). With a marbling score of 2+ (out of a possible 5) based on Australian grading standards, what I got was an average quality cut of beef that wasn’t extremely marbled and still required some chewing. Personally, I thought this was appropriate for such a cooking style and as a main course, as an overly marbled piece of beef often leaves one feeling awfully oleaginous after just a few slices.

Another one of Luke’s signatures that we tried was the Liquorice parfait, lime ($18++). While I’m not fans of liquorice, overall the dessert proved to be a success. The outer layer of the parfait was liquorice flavoured but the inner core of the dessert tasted somewhat like an extremely mild frozen cheesecake which effectively toned down the liquorice.

From the various drinks I tried, I would highly recommend the Salt cooler ($14++), a mocktail concocted from Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, lychee, apple, cranberry juice and lemonade. Extremely refreshing without the envisioned tartness nor astringency from the berries.

The restaurant’s signature cocktail is known as The Australian by Luke Mangan ($18++), made from Lime segment, lime leaf, ginger, cognac, gin, cranberry, shaken with Luke’s syrup. Found it a little on the strong side with strong hints of lime.

Cocktails of the day are sold at $15++ and the one featuring that night was The Chocolatini, made from Vodka, white chocolate sauce, green apple syrup and creme de cacao white (Usual Price, $18++). Similar to The Australian, I found this a little on the strong side. On the plus side, this Chocolatini was really thick, unlike some watery versions I have had in neighbourhood bars.

Before calling it a night, I would also recommend having a Grasshopper ($18++), a cocktail made from Creme de menthe, creme de cacao white and milk, tasting much like an “After Eight chocolate” and minty like Colgate, leaving your palate cleansed from the hearty meal.

Grasshopper (Left), Chocolatini (Right), Half-drank Salt Cooler (Far right)

Special thanks to Salt Grill & Sky Bar for the invitation. You made my Wednesday night.

Salt Grill & Sky Bar

2 Orchard Turn, 55 & 56 Floor Ion Orchard, Singapore 238801

Tel: +65 6592 5118





Cotton Restaurant @ ECP – Grilled items done right

1 04 2014

A new restaurant called Cotton has recently taken root in East Coast Park, taking over the premises from 1-TwentySix. Interestingly, the name Cotton was given because of the resident cotton tree that grows at the entrance of the restaurant. The facade of the new establishment looks similar to 1-TwentySix and boosts a similar laidback vibe as well, with an al fresco dining area, a stage for the live band and an outdoor bar area but one of the key changes is that the indoor dining area will be converted into a cocktail bar after the ongoing renovations is completed.

Cotton serves European cuisine with a hint of Asian influence, with its char grilled items being a distinctive strength. While it is known more as a dinner and post-dinner drinks place, the restaurant has also started offering a weekend brunch menu as well.

Al fresco dining area

Outdoor bar area

I was here on invitation with XL from the4moose and WS from cafehoppingSG. We kicked off the tasting with some of the restaurant’s signature cocktails and mocktails.

XL had a cocktail named Jar of Heart ($18++), made from a combination of Whisky Sour (Whisky, Lemon juice and Sugar and Egg white), Amaretto (a type of Almond-based Italian liqueur) and Mixed Berries. Suffering from a bad ulcer, I opted for a mocktail instead. This uncharacteristic move was a blessing in disguise as I managed to sample the Superstar ($16++), made from a mix of Watermelon, Apple, Cranberry Juices with a dash of Melon syrup. It’s an awesome drink for a warm summer evening, especially with the refreshing taste of watermelon juice. If you have a preference for mango, try the Anita ($16++), a mocktail made from fruit punch, mango juice, grenadine (a pomegranate flavored syrup) and lychee.

Jar of Heart

While I’m not a fan of tuna in general, the Maguro Tuna Nicoise ($22++), which is a mix of French Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Quail Eggs, Potatoes & seared Tuna, left XL with a positive impression. It did however, come across as slightly pricey compared to the other items on the menu.

Taste-wise and value-wise, I much preferred the Vongole ($20++), a hearty bowl of clams with a dash of white wine and basil served with  a Toasted Baguette & Tomato Salsa. Definitely one of the better renditions around, the bittersweet gravy was rich and robust with the clams not overcooked, retaining a nice gelatinous texture.

For mains, the New Zealand Rack of Lamb ($38++) was strongly recommended by the staff and it wasn’t difficult to see why. It was one of the most succulent lamb racks I have had and I was surprised to find no areas being dried out from the grilling. Diners can choose from 4 different sauces (Wild Mushroom, Bordelaise, Lemon Garlic Butter or Pink Peppercorn) to accompany the grilled meats and I would highly suggest the Pink Peppercorn, which is milder than the usual Black Pepper Sauce and allows for greater appreciation of the natural flavours from the lamb. Incidentally, pink peppercorn is not technically a peppercorn but dried berries that come from a different plant.

What I really liked about the Whole Market Fresh Red Snapper ($32++) was that despite being served whole, the meat peeled off the bone easily and cleanly. We were told that the fish is sourced daily from the markets, providing greater assurance of its freshness, which came evident with the taste and texture. At this price point for a roughly 600g fish by my estimates, this is really quite a steal.

The Angel Hair Pasta with King Tiger Prawns, Smoked Sea Urchin Butter, Ebi Sakura & Vine Tomatoes ($38++) on the other hand, was less impressive. The pasta was a tad dry and lacking any hints of Sea Urchin. On the bright side, the king tiger prawns were quite sizable with a nice char.

For desserts, we had the Mango Panna Cotta, the Warm Chocolate Fondant with Vanilla Ice Cream and the Profiteroles ($14++ each). They weren’t bad but neither were they great, each falling short in a certain aspect. For example, I liked the ice cream in the profiterole but the choux pastry wasn’t airy and crisp enough, I liked the balanced sweet and tangy flavours from the mango panna cotta but the biscuit base lacked butteriness, while the chocolate fondant was spongy throughout instead of having a crisp outer layer.

Overall, I found the experience at Cotton to be a step up from its predecessor 1-TwentySix, mainly due to the adept execution of the char grilled dishes. The restaurant is still in the midst of fine-tuning their menu offerings and I’m looking forward to drop by again once the dust has settled.

Special thanks to Cotton for the invitation.

Cotton Restaurant

902 East Coast Parkway, #01-26 Big Splash

Tel: +65 6348 2126

Website: http://www.cottonsg.com/





Stellar @ 1-Altitude – Wine Lust Sunday Brunches

19 03 2014

Following its popularity since its debut in December 2013, Stellar @ 1-Altitude has decided to continue hosting its Wine Lust Sunday Brunches into 2014. This is pleasant news because from what I have seen so far, they seem to be doing it right. The brunch buffet features a good mix of International cuisines, ranging from Japanese Sushi, a meat carving station, cold cuts, western brunch items and most importantly, a free flow of red/white/sparking wine. Adding to that, wine aficionados will also be glad to know that a tasting table of up to 10 wines (different from those on free-flow) will also be set up by a different wine supplier each week, allowing for wine tastings and bottle sales during the course of the brunch. And if you didn’t already know, at 62 floors above ground level, the view from Stellar is simply breathtaking too. How many restaurants can actually boost looking down towards Ku De Ta @ Marina Bay Sands?

At $110++ per pax, Wine Lust is competitively priced against other Sunday alcoholic brunch buffets such as The Line @ Shangri-La Hotel ($138++), Equinox @ Swissotel ($148++) and Clifford @ Fullerton Bay Hotel ($148++). Two reasons might explain this price discount. Firstly, Wine Lust does not offer Champagne but personally, a good non-Champagne sparkling wine offers equal, if not higher utility. Secondly, Wine Lust offers less variety in menu options, doing away with the ubiquitous raw seafood lineup. What Wine Lust offers however, is something unique and what I find to be the key differentiating factor going for it; a larger proportion of live cooking stations and made to order items.

Do not make the fatal mistake of underestimating the menu. While the entire list of food items is categorically displayed on a single page, by the end of the meal, it is likely that you will still end up having trouble standing up, as the individual items listed can become pretty substantial when summed and secondly, since many of the items are made to order, the quality and taste follows that of ala carte and you will likely finish up the entire serving because wasting good food is a sin.

Wine Tasting Table

According to the retailer, the wines were “boutique” Western Australian wines, with prices in the general range of $30-$40

One of the items I found particularly good was the made to order Salmon Benedict. The saltiness of the smoked salmon was controlled and perfect for my tastes. The poached yolk was flowy and the hollandaise as rich and creamy as it gets.

Salami & Salad Bar

Another brunch item worth getting is the French Toast with Caramelized Bananas. It might potentially be one of the best renditions you ever laid your taste buds on with its crisp exterior and airy interior that doesn’t fill you up too badly.

Omelette & French Toast cooking station

I had no complaints with the Sushi section either and found it quite a few notches higher than the usual hotel buffet, possibly because the sushi is made in small batches to ensure that the stock of sushi displayed is always fresh.

One of the highlights of the buffet was the Claypot Chicken Rice. Just like how they do it in traditional dim sum restaurants where you see the staff pushing a cart of fresh dim sum up and down the restaurant for diners to order, the same thing is done with the Claypot Chicken Rice here, where it is pushed around on a trolley whenever a fresh batch is made. To give it a little twist, the rice is served in a piece of lettuce with Tomato Belacan and Cucumber Relish on the side. I was advised to pair it with the Sauvignon Blanc and man did it make a difference. The Claypot Rice tasted a whole lot more fragrant with a hint of sweetness that I did not get in the absence of the white wine.

The mini tacos were also made to order, so they arrived crisp but both CJ and myself found it a little too sourish from the sauce used.

The biggest disappointment for the brunch was the carving station. While the meats (Spatchcock Chicken aka Roast Chicken, Roasted Pork Belly, Rosemary Roast Lamb Leg, Roast Duck) scored high aesthetically with the meats and duck skin glistening from the lighting, they were awfully dry and lacked flavor.

Hopes that the made to order Wagyu Rump would redeem the meat section were quickly dashed as I found the beef extremely sinewy and difficult to cut. Of the two options of sauces (mushroom or red wine), I much preferred the red wine sauce since it complemented the beef way better than the bland mushroom sauce.

Pastas are also made to order, with the option of Carbonara and Aglio Olio. We chose to share the latter since we were pretty stuffed and found it pretty mediocre. Would have loved a stronger garlic flavor and more olive oil, since it came across as a little dry. That said, I was pretty surprised when the chef came over and asked if we would like to have truffle shavings with our pasta, which may cost in the range of $10-$20 per gram in local restaurants. No points for guessing our answer nor our enthusiasm.

The dessert lineup was decent as well, featuring Lamingtons Drive (a type of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and rolled over coconut), Lemon Coconut Cake, Orange Carrot Cake, Chocolate Tartlets, Hazelnut Praline Cake, White Chocolate Raspberry Cake, Strawberry Crumble and Anzac Cookies (an oat cookie). My favourites were the Strawberry Crumble, which is served warm and the Hazelnut Praline Cake (which looks like a chocolate cake in the middle of the dish).

No wine brunch is complete without a cheese platter.

With more hits than misses, I thoroughly enjoyed myself with the entire brunch experience. Service was great and so was the food and ambience. Unbuckling my belt upon reaching home never felt better…

Special thanks to Shasi and Stellar @ 1-Altitude for the invitation.

Stellar @ 1-Altitude

1 Raffles Place, Level 62, Singapore 048616

Tel: +65 6438 0410

Website: www.1-altitude.com








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