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/

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1872 Clipper Tea Company – Launch of Online Shop

15 06 2014

About two weeks back, I got wind that homegrown 1872 Clipper Tea Company was launching its new online shop (https://www.clippertea.com.sg) and got a chance to test out the web interface just prior to the official launch. What I liked about the site was its user-friendliness. The different teas available are categorized under very distinct sections (“Essentials” for flavoured Ceylon Teas such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast or Darjeeling, “Tropics” for the various Fruit Flavored Teas etc), each with just a handful of choices which does not overwhelm potential buyers.

Armed with $50 of complimentary credit, I got for myself the Yunnan Silver Tips (also commonly known as Silver Needle and supposedly the most prized white tea around, according to the tea expert at a previous tea appreciation course by Gryphon Tea Company), the indispensable Earl Grey Tea, and a herbal blend named “Anti-Stress” made from Rooibos, chamomile, organic honeybush, lemon balm, fennel, lemongrass flavour and ginseng root.

From left: Yunnan Silver Tips ($21 for 20-sachet box), Anti-Stress ($18 for 80g pouch), Earl Grey ($11 for 24-sachet box)

Currently, 1872 Clipper Tea is offering free delivery for orders above $50. Just something to think about if you are into teas or are on the lookout for gifts.





Gryphon Tea & Water Tasting

18 07 2012

About a week back, I was invited to a tea & water tasting session hosted by Gryphon Tea Company. I was pretty excited because I’m more of a coffee person (ever since 10 weeks ago when my internship first started) and my knowledge on teas was as voluminous as an empty teacup, so this was definitely going to be a great opportunity to pick up some pointers from tea master Mr Lim Tian Wee, Founder of Gryphon Tea Company and our host for this afternoon.

Before we got started on the tea tasting, Tea Master Lim mentioned that there are 2 critical aspects in making a good cup of tea. Firstly, the tea leaves must be fresh and of high quality and secondly and the type of water used to brew the tea must enhance, not overpower the delicacies of the tea’s natural flavours. With that in mind, Tea Master Lim recommends the use of Fiji Water, which he feels has a distinctly soft texture and balanced mineral profile that does not interfere with the aromatic tea flavours.

Tea Master Lim Tian Wee, Founder of Gryphon Tea Company

To let us better appreciate what he meant, we compared Fiji Water against Evian Water and Distilled Water. While most of us can differentiate between Distilled Water and Mineral Water, what exactly is the difference between Fiji and Evian? Aren’t they both just mineral waters?

Well, Fiji Water is categorized as an “Artesian water” while Evian is a “Spring water”, and the difference is that Artesian waters are found underground while Spring waters are sourced from exposed open springs. I have not sampled enough types of artesian waters to make any concrete judgments but from the water tasting, the general consensus was that Fiji had a cleaner and more refreshing taste with a softer texture compared to spring and distilled water, with the perfect characteristics for brewing tea.

Event Venue – Gaggenau Showroom

As we all know, taste is subjective so Fiji water might not be the best type of water for everything under the sun. Since we are on the subject of water, let me digress a bit and talk a bit of what I learnt during a Wine & Water tasting session I attended earlier this year at the Savour Singapore 2012 event. I got to compare San Pallegrino and Acqua Panna to Tap water, and subsequently paired them with wine and some food. What I found out was that like wine, the type of water you drink (whether sparkling or still) complements certain foods better than others. For example, Burrata cheese goes really badly with San Pallegrino (a sparkling water) in my opinion. And if you plan to open a good bottle of wine, my advice is not to allow any residual tap water to remain on the wine glass when pouring the wine in, and to open a bottle of mineral water for your water glass instead of drinking tap, as tap water has a metallic taste (easily detectable when you compare it to mineral water) that will interact with the wine flavours.

But enough about water. Let’s talk a bit about teas, the highlight of this post. Just a random fact but one common mistake most people make is believing that Earl Grey is a type of tea leaf. It actually is a tea blend that is flavoured with bergamot, a flavour of tea rather than a type of leaf.

Gyphon Tea Company has 24 types of single origin teas and we sampled 5 types of teas today from various regions. Just like wines, teas can come either as blends (leaves from different countries or regions mixed together) or from single origin (sometimes referred to as single-terroir tea) and what we tried today were all single origin teas. Single origin teas do not necessarily mean that the tea leaves are harvested from the same tea estate, as in some countries like Japan, tea plantations are relatively small in size so a tea factory might be required to source from several tea plantations within the same district. If a specific type of tea does come from the same estate, you can then call them single-estate teas. I believe the same naming conventions is similar for wines as well.

From Left – Vintage Pu’Erh, Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope, Dan Cong Magnolia, Gyokuro Pearl Dew, Silver Needle

The 1st tea we tried was the Silver Needle, an Imperial White Tea from Fujian, China. Of all white teas, the Silver Needle is the most expensive and prized variety while Shou Mei is the cheapest white tea. It had a sweet floral scent that would pair well with light dishes such as tofu and mozzarella cheese and was my favourite tea I tried today. Silver Needles are picked during the first harvest (aka first flush), meaning the first leaves that sprout during spring. (On the other hand, a second flush would refer to the 2nd picking season of the year.)

Silver Needle Tea Leaves

Next, we had the Gyokuro Pearl Dew from Japan, regarded as one of the highest quality and expensive varieties of sencha. The difference between sencha and matcha is that the tea leaves are grinded into a powder form for matcha while the leaves are ungrinded for sencha. Unlike typical sencha, the Gyokuro has to be put into the shade for around 2 weeks before it is harvested. As the rate of photosynthesis is reduced, there is a buildup of the amino acid theanine as less theanine is converted to other compounds. This gives rise to Gyokuro’s distinctive umami flavour which pairs well with sushi and stronger tasting cheeses.

We then tried the Dan Cong Magnolia, an Oolong Tea from Guangdong, China. This wasn’t my cup of tea because the scent was a little pungent.

Next we had the Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope from North India, which would be my 2nd favourite choice after the Silver Needle. While the tea we had is marketed as a black tea, Darjeeling can also be found elsewhere as an oolong or white tea. It all depends on the extent of oxidation of the tea leaves, with the black teas being the most oxidized followed by the oolong and then the white teas. And just like wines, tannins (the compound that gives wine its bitter and dry feel) are found in tea leaves as well. According to Tea Master Lim, if a tea has high levels of tannins, milk can be added. The milk proteins will bind to the tannins and make the tea less astringent and bearable. As this Darjeeling tea isn’t very high in tannins, Tea Master Lim suggested not adding excessive milk as it will overwhelm the tea’s flavours.

Lastly, we sampled the Vintage Pu’Erh from Yunnan, China. The flavours are quite subtle and mellow for this one, with a light minty fragrance.

Before we officially concluded the tasting, we were also given 1 flavoured tea to try – Blackforest Tea. This black tea is something I would possibly buy as a gift for others, as it has a very interesting aroma with notes of chocolate, whipped cream and cherry Kirsch and smells totally like a blackforest cake. I would definitely love it with a nice fruit cake on a lazy afternoon.

If you are keen to try any of these teas, Gryphon Tea Company is currently providing a personal doorstep delivery service to customers. Prices range from $38 for White Peony Tea to $78 for Iron Goddess of Mercy Tea. Each tin holds 40-80g of premium single terroir loose tea leaf teas. Orders can be made via telephone at +65 6779 2948 or through email at grandcru@gryphontea.com

Special thanks to Gryphon Tea Company for the invitation!








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