Penny University

7 09 2014

Quoting from Wikipedia: 

Penny University is a term originating from the 18th-century coffeehouses in London, England. Instead of paying for drinks, people were charged a penny to enter a coffeehouse. Once inside, the patron had access to coffee, the company of others, various discussions, pamphlets, bulletins, newspapers, and the latest news and gossip.

This environment attracted an eclectic group of people who met and mingled with each other at these coffeehouses and through these interactions, one could ensue in wide-ranging conversations ranging from the commercial, to the political, and the purely intellectual; the idea that one could acquire an education for the price of a cup of coffee, that is, a penny, took hold of the poetic imagination…

Situated along East Coast Road, Penny University isn’t the most accessible of cafes, with no MRT stations within walkable distance. What this does is to help regulate diner traffic, which is especially vital given that the cafe isn’t large to start with. Still, one can expect a waiting list to form on weekends. Alongside a minor revamp of the menu recently, prices have also undergone a slight increase but are still kept at fairly reasonable levels, in the low-$20 range for a Full English Breakfast with Juice or Coffee.

MZ had the Honey-infused Greek Yoghurt with Granola ($6.50+) and the Scrambled Eggs on Toast ($5.90). The thing I like about the scrambled eggs here lies mainly in its texture and consistency but tastewise, I would have liked a richer creamer flavor.

I had the Full English Breakfast ($16+) and it was one of the better ones I have had recently. From what I have read, the cafe does not have a halal certificate but runs a halal kitchen and only uses halal ingredients, so don’t be too surprised to find the texture of the bacon slightly different from usual. It still tasted awesome though. Loved the very flavorful sausages and the garlicky sauteed mushrooms too.

Wanted to have desserts but was too stuffed from the generous brunch portions.

Cakes, glorious cakes…

Overall, I had a pretty positive experience having Saturday brunch here and would recommend it to Easties. The service staff was friendly, the meal was unrushed and despite sitting at a long communal table, it wasn’t too cramped so I could actually get a conversation going without the heightened perceived risk of having other diners around me listening in.

Penny University

402 East Coast Road, Singapore 428997

Tel: +65 9008 9314

Opening hours: Mon: CLOSED / Tue – Thu, Sun: 8:30am – 6:00pm / Fri – Sat: 8:30am – 12:00am

Etna Italian Restaurant (East Coast)

27 01 2013

Etna Italian Restaurant’s East Coast outlet has been around for the longest time. I still remember my first time there back in junior college, more than six years ago. It wasn’t an overly memorable experience and I never went back (I actually did try going to the Duxton outlet once but it was full house). As time went by, more and more people started raving about Etna and I wondered if I had been too quick to judge, only having had their crabmeat pasta and pizza back then. This time around, I was back under the guise of a tasting session hosted by Mr Gianluca Impemba, one of the partners of Etna, who shared with us a bit more about Italian cuisine and the concept behind Etna.

I guess one of Etna’s main selling points is that about 70% of the ingredients used here are imported from Italy, so as to preserve the authenticity and quality of its dishes. Despite this, Etna positions itself more as a neighbourhood family joint rather than a fine dining establishment. I guess to be a little more specific, there are 3 main categories of Italian eateries. The Osteria; traditionally taverns or inns that also served simple food and wines, the Trattoria; typically family-run establishments that are slightly more pricey than the osteria, and lastly the Ristorante; full-service restaurants that serve up sophisticated dishes. Etna lies somewhere between the Trattoria and the Ristorante in this respect.

These traditional definitions might not be that closely followed nowadays however, as we have seen with Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands, which is a fine-dining establishment.

Unlike the outlet at Duxton whose clientele is made up of mostly corporates, the East Coast outlet is relatively more family friendly. The restaurant boosts a dining hall and an al fresco area that sits a total of about 50-60 pax but reservations are recommended as it can get packed, especially during weekends.

We started off the tasting with the Grilled Calamari topped with crispy garlic & chili, served with homemade aioli sauce ($18++). The highlight of this dish would be the aioli sauce, which has a very robust hint of garlic amidst the richness of the mayo. Without it, the grilled calamari would have come across as slightly bland.

The Baked Eggplant with Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese & light Basil Pesto in a Tomato Sauce ($18++) was excellent. The eggplant flesh was delicate and while some people might find the taste of eggplant repulsive, much of it had taken a back seat to the tangy tomato sauce.

As usual, my favourite appetizer was the fresh Burrata with Rocket Salad, Pachino Cherry Tomatoes & Parma Ham ($32++). It’s a wad of creamy sinfulness that is worth taking on as a starter for every Italian meal and Parma ham just goes so well with it. Just think about the last time you washed down briny slices of ham with a cup of full fat milk. Burrata with Parma Ham is even better! The only downside is that Burrata can be quite fattening, as about 1/4 to 1/3 of its weight is comprised of fats. Tell your girl friends only after they have eaten this and sit back to watch the drama unfold.

In addition to the main menu, Etna does from time to time update their chalkboard on daily specials. The Mussels topped with Pistachio that we had was just one such example. It’s a pity that it hasn’t found its way into the main menu yet because it was one of the finest mussels I have ever eaten. Not only were the mussels fresh, springy and sweet, but the choice of pistachio and possibly mayo to complement the mussels was a bold and creative option that worked (the usual tomato or wine white sauces do get a little boring over time). From the looks of things, the pistachio must have been seared lightly before serving, resulting in an encrusting layer of savoury nuts that was reminiscent of the texture of brittle breadcrumbs.

The Linguine with Scallops in a Prawn Cream Sauce ($25++) was possibly my favourite main. I liked it because the cream sauce had a nice bittersweet tinge to it, which I’m guessing was derived from the prawn or scallop juices. If you are lucky, you might also find the orange roe sac of the scallops tossed in this pasta.

The Linguine with Crab Meat in Lobstear Cream Sauce ($25++) was quite similar to the scallop pasta (sans the bittersweetness), but it felt somewhat heavier because the sauce tends to cling to the generous chunks of crab meat. Very enjoyable nonetheless.

The Slow-cooked Braised Veal Shank with chopped herbs and Indian Saffron Rice ($34++) was cooked in a Mediterranean style, where light flavours were employed. Not my favourite dish that night given that I prefer heavier sauces for my veal shanks.

The Roasted Pork Knuckle with Potatoes ($48++) was slightly different from the German ones I’m so used to having. Instead of being deep-fried, the knuckles here are marinated in beer first, braised and then roasted to get that nice golden exterior. The benefits of cooking the knuckle in this way is that the meat still remains really moist and tender, at the expense of having a slightly less crispy skin. Personally, I’m still on the fence as to which style I prefer, but I would guess that the execution risk of a deep fried knuckle is definitely a lot higher, where you might just end up getting a disappointingly dry meat and soggy skin.

The Home-made Semolina paste in a Cream Sauce of Porcini Mushrooms, Pork Sausage & Italian Truffle Cream ($28++) seemed to be the crowd favourite that night, with me being the only contrarian. To our delight, there was a discernible scent of truffle in the sauce but I found the cream sauce was just a little too rich and dense for my liking. The texture of the semolina paste was something like the hand-cut noodles in 刀削面, slightly more chewy and having a bit more elasticity as what one might find in other pastas like linguine.

Good lasagna in Singapore is hard to find and Etna’s Oven-baked Lasagna with Bolognese Ragout, bechamel sauce, Mozzarella & Parmesan Cheese ($19++) is perhaps one of the better ones I have had to date. Just to sidetrack a bit, in French cuisine, there are 5 mother sauces which are Sauce Tomate, Sauce Hollandaise, Sauce Veloute, Sauce Espagnole and Sauce Bechamel. The Bechamel sauce (which is also widely used in Italian cuisine) is a white sauce that is used to layer between the sheets of lasagna pasta to give the buttery creamy taste.

The Fresh Sabayon with Pantelleria Moscato Wine – right of picture  ($14++) wasn’t something I took to. It is most often made by whipping eggs yolks (sometimes with the whites too), sugar and a sweet wine over gently boiling water, so that the egg thickens to form a light custard.

While the Bi-colored Panna Cotta with Mango & Mixed Berries ($14++) tasted very refreshing, the taste of the vanilla scented Panna Cotta tends to get lost in the array of fruity flavours.

My favourite dessert was the Tiramisu with Pistachio Cream ($14++), which wasn’t too strong on the liqueur, in fact I could hardly taste it.

Before we hit the road, we helped ourselves to some Italian liqueur to help digest our food (definitely going to kiv this reason for future drinking sessions). Anyway, I just found out something new today. The difference between liquor and liqueur! I had always thought that it was just an American vs UK spelling deviation but apparently not. “A liquor is an alcoholic drink that is distilled from grains or plants, such as rum, vodka, gin or whiskey. A liqueur is a sweet or herbal alcoholic drink that is made from fruit, herbs, flowers, nuts or spices plus (usually) sugar and a spirit such as grain alcohol, vodka or rum.”

I tried 3 types of Italian LIQUEURs that were recommended by our host. The yellowish Limoncello is a rather popular Italian Lemon Liqueur that is around 25-30% alcohol by volume (ABV). It was rather sweet but still retained much of the bitterness of the lemons, great for cleansing the palate after a heavy meal. The reddish liqueur was a almond flavoured one that was about 25-30% ABV. I swore I heard our host say it was Amaro but based on the almond flavour, it might have been Amaretto and I possibly misheard. Didn’t really take to this though. The colourless Grappa was the strongest of the lot at 45% ABV, made from the fermentation of grape pomace (the leftovers skin, pulp, stem and seeds after the grapes have been pressed during wine-making). Despite being the strongest, it was also my favourite amongst the 3 liqueurs as it had a very clean taste and remarkable smoothness to it, going down very much like a high quality vodka.

Overall, I would rate Etna as an Italian restaurant worth checking out, especially for their appetizers and pastas. Prices are really reasonable and portions are hearty. I believe they are planning to participate in the next Restaurant Week so this might just be a perfect excuse to pay them a visit.

Special thanks to Gianluca from Etna for hosting the great meal and Hungrygowhere for coordinating the tasting.

Etna Italian Restaurant (East Coast)

110 Upper East Coast Road

Tel: +65 6444 9530

Two Fat Men – Not your Everyday Neighbourhood Pub

9 11 2012

Pub food rarely has to be good. After all, they are served to customers who probably won’t remember a thing by the next day. That’s why I find Two Fat Men an interesting discovery. It operates along a similar concept as Bar Bar Black Sheep, offering excellent Thai and Western food at an affordable price point. Another plus point is that they have my favourite beer, the very light and fruity tasting Kronenbourg Blanc on tap at $6.50/$12 for half or full pint!

It was pretty quiet when I visited last weekend, probably because of the light drizzle. For that I’m thankful as well, as we hardly waited 5 minutes before our first dish arrived.

The Grilled Pork Neck with Tamarind Spicy Sauce ($9.90++) is a signature dish here and comes highly recommended. Interlaced with sufficient fat, the texture of the pork is kept moist and tender even upon grilling. I love the dipping sauce too, which isn’t exactly spicy but still leaves a tongue numbing effect from the tinge of sourness present. The sourness and spice also helps to moderate the unctuousness. Definitely a great accompaniment for booze!

Perhaps one of the most underrated burgers around is Two Fat Men’s rendition of a classic beef burger aka Plain Joe ($8.20++). Retaining a slight pink hue, this beef patty was definitely far better than the dry ones from our favourite fast food chains. It was tasty and had just enough bite, not too rubbery from overcooking nor too soft from the liberal use of fats in making the patty.

I harboured ambivalent feelings towards the Fish & Chips ($8.50++). On one hand, it was a joy to eat while still piping hot but I did detect the taste of raw flour in some areas where the batter was thicker.

Don’t expect too much from the ambience though, as it’s really just a neighbourhood pub perfect for catching up with your mates and making a ruckus.

Two Fat Men

376 East Coast Road

Tel: +65 6346 0046

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