Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Restaurant Ember Revisited

As you may already know, chef Sebastian Ng from Restaurant Ember has decided to call it a day, after 12 long years at the helm of this popular restaurant at Hotel 1929 located at Keong Saik Road. Hence, it was opportune that I revisit the restaurant before the head chef leaves, just to again have the chance to sample his wonderful dishes that have been perfected over the many years of experience.

To start off, my dining companion and I had an E Guigal Gigondas 2010 - which had a nose of black pepper and spice, and tasting of wood spice, a hint of liqourice, and dark fruits with a slight rustic funk and a savoury flavour. Very enjoyable and another good bottle from E Guigal, one of the kings of the Northern Rhone. (7.5/10)

I went for the 4-course set dinner where I was allowed to choose 2 starters, 1 main and 1 dessert from the ala carte menu. 

First up - I had the angel hair pasta with sakura ebi and lobster oil, and boy was this delicious and perfectly executed, the oil coating the pasta perfectly and providing great umami flavours with a slight chilli spice, and the sakura ebi being flavourful and salted just right. (8.25/10)

For the second dish, my dining companion had the Foie Gras with Poached Egg, Truffle Salt and Parma Ham Chips, which is one of my favourite things on the menu. I decided to try something different and ordered the Foie Gras with Mirin and Shoyu with Shitake, and this was no less delicious: the foie gras was melt-in-your-mouth tender with good sear, and flavourful, combining well with the mirin and shoyu glaze which was pure savoury and umami heaven, no sweetness required but the slightest touch of the mirin perhaps. The combination worked wonders especially with the shitake. (8.75/10)

For the mains, you can't go wrong with Sebastian's Chilean seabass with yuzu butter sauce and mushroom ragout - which is one of Ember's signature dishes and we ordered it for posterity's sake. Again perfectly done: flaky, meaty seabass soaking up the yuzu butter sauce and I only wished that there were more of the sauce. But I guess the highlight must have been the foie gras and after that - the seabass seemed a little more muted in comparison. Still an excellent dish, and well worth a (8.5/10).

For desserts, I had a warm banana tart - which wasn't too sweet, just the way I like it. Good but nothing to shout about. (7/10)

The night I went, I spied Hotel 1929 owner Loh Lik Peng and wife Min at a corner table - I guess they must also enjoy Chef Sebastian's cooking loads.

Anyway, Ember has been a restaurant that serves dependable classics; it may not be the most innovative and certainly I think he may want to think of reinventing some new dishes, but these classics are extremely well conceptualised and done very well. Cheers.

Friday, April 4, 2014

AOKI by Les Amis

I have heard many wonderful things about the Maze-Chirashi from AOKI, but was never fortunate enough to come for lunch to give their chirashi a try since AOKI is located in Orchard Road and I am working in Tanjong Pagar.

So when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to make a booking at AOKI to try their mazechirashi - i.e. chopped sashimi on rice.

It was rather hard to find the place at first, and my dining companion and I kept on literally trying to find the entrance to the restaurant. In the end, we entered through a non-descript door, which led us into a very pleasant restaurant, with a huge sushi counter, and some private rooms. 

We had already pre-ordered the Mazechirashi (which we had to a day before), and so that came with some appetizers - namely a light mesculin salad with a very light sesame dressing. Delicious and light; with some chopped garlic bits and dried radish.

But of course, we were not here for the appetizers, delicious as they may be. 

Rather, what was the piece de resistance was the Mazechirashi bowl, each piece of fish was prepared to perfection really. The toro was simply heavenly irresistible morsels of sublime goodness - pieces of raw fish heaven which just bursts in your mouth with some floral flavours and a great depth and complexity, and a slight sweetness that marks this as top quality toro. The salmon roe was excellent! I didn't know salmon roe could be this sweet - it was really perfumed. The tuna had a robust "iron-like" taste that comes from the iron in the tuna; the mackerel was intense without any fishy flavours, and yet somewhat "sweet"; and the uni was also sublime - creamy, sweet, tasty, yummy, and intense - especially when combined with the rice and the salmon roe. Special shoutout goes to the tamago as well which was done perfectly, almost custard-like in texture.

I would say that AOKI serves the best chirashi in Singapore, but at SGD40 per bowl not as cheap as Teppei but is still superb value for money considering the quality and quantity of fish that was provided. Yums. 

Rating for the Mazechirashi: (9.5/10)

The dessert was some yummy bread pudding like custard, with mango ice cream. Certainly quite delicious as well, bringing everything together on a sweet note (no pun intended).

Great and I'll definitely be back, whenever I have time for a long lunch. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

63 Celsius, Asia Square

Since I work near the area (Shenton Way), I often frequent 63 Celsius for my daily coffee dose - they use beans from the top roasters in Singapore, including without limitation Nylon Coffee Roasters, Smitten Coffee, Strangers' Reunion, and behind the machine is coffee veteran Tony Tan who is renowned in the industry. Thus, the coffees here are always consistent and tasty. Today, however, was one of the rare occasions when I decided to have lunch here to try out their new offerings. Their chef used to work at a famous Barcelona restaurant Montiel (yes I visited it when I was in Barcelona) and obviously has some good street cred and chops.

My friend and I ordered a Josper grill pork ribs (it came with a half pint of Asahi under the Citibank promotion) which was amazingly tender and fall-off-the-bone, with a good porky flavour and simply succulent, although I would have preferred it to be more charred. Still good: 7.5/10

The star of the show was undoubtedly the Burrata Burger ("Hand crushed, Josper charcoal grilled 120 grams USDA beef topped with truffled burrata, fresh tomato, asparagus ketchup on brioche bun. Served with seasoned fries"). This was awesome and as good as a burger you'll find in Singapore. It had everything: the beef had a great beefy flavour, very robust and flavourful, and this was contrasted with the burrata which was slightly tangy and sour and creamy, paired up with the tomatoes - the burrata and the beef complimented each other perfectly and in fact each element seemed to bring out the best in the other elements - the combination of slightly sour and tangy burrata with the beefy patty was a joy to eat. (8.75/10)

I would certainly come back for the food here - can't wait to try the other tapas. Cheers.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bar-Roque Grill

I've been meaning to come here for some time, so when the occasion came to have a nice family dinner I immediately picked Bar-Roque grill which is located at the Amara Hotel (Tanjong Pagar Road). The chef, formerly from DB Bistro, was also in the house, and I managed to have a quick chat with him about the food and wine and all of that stuff.

The food was generally excellent though slightly expensive for bistro food - we're talking about Le Bistro Du Sommelier / DB Bistro prices here. 

The decor was quite delightful - high ceilings, silver and black walls, and a sense of grandeur about the place. I could not fault the service as well, which remained professional and friendly.

Overall, most of the items we tried were up to standard. My parents shared a lovely whole roasted chicken S$38 which was extremely tender yet done with a nice roasted outside. Delicious! (8.5/10) One of the best roasted chickens around.

I had something slightly more adventurous: NZ Littleneck clams with blood sausage, spinach, and Chardonnay sauce. This was quite delicious: the white wine sauce was very comforting and rich and had absorbed all of the goodness, sweetness and depth of flavour from the clams providing it with a great balance. The sauce was complex and tasty which went well with the grilled sourdough that they had provided. The littleneck clams, too, were exceptionally fresh. (8.5/10) Great with the Hugel Gewurtramminer that I ordered. 

The apple tart was also very well done, with a very buttery crust done to the right level of burntness. Went well with the ice cream and the brown chocolate bits. (8/10)

Overall, the dishes at Bar-Roque were done very well and it was a pleasure to dine at one of Singapore's good bistros. Excellent food. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Lawn @ AXA Tower

I have paid many visits to The Lawn, a salad place located at AXA Tower (near my office) - whenever I feel that I want some salads and some good meats, and I don't want to fall asleep after lunch in the office. The concept is simple: "Meat your greens!" It's a pretty witty pun, I must say, that succinctly explains what the Lawn is all about. Basically, you choose a salad, and you top it up with a grill which is freshly done on the spot. It's a great way to feast without any carbs: meat + veggies! 

Out of all the grilled items, my favourites are the Cajun Chicken (I had it today - it was awesome), Chicken Breast with Herbs, and Ben's beef rub. The prawns are not bad, too; but I like the chicken loads because it's incredibly tender for chicken breast and retains the moisture of the juices (the beef, made with sirloin, is great too - very flavourful).

For salad, they have the usual garden greens, plus a choice of 5 toppings: I usually go for the onion, bell peppers, olives, and perhaps sliced egg. And the cool thing is their choice of homemade dressings - some of which are pretty funky. I'm a pretty boring person, so I usually stick to the same old choices: I particularly like Me So Spicy which has a thai-style chilli kick which enlivens the entire palate; and the ginger dressing which name eludes me now.

Certainly an excellent salad place when I'm feeling unhealthy and in need of some greens!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Restaurant Labyrinth, Singapore

the layout
Once a while, you come across a restaurant with food so creative that you marvel at the ideas that underpin each dish, and Restaurant Labyrinth is one such place. It's run by ex-banker-turned chef LG, and he's managed to come up with some modern-Singaporean food which is at once familiar and excitingly novel at the same time, which is a pretty hard combination, trust me. It's probably the most creative food I've eaten ever since Restaurant Azurmendi in Bilbao (a 3 star Michelin) and Restaurant Cinc Sentits (Barcelona), which is saying alot. I just love the way all the dishes were created and trust me this is actually fine dining refinement.

We started off with bread, accompanied with garlic puree and olive powder. Creative food and ultimately tasty. A good start.

The amuse bouche of parma ham and mandarin orange sorbet came next; again a delightful sweet-and-salty combination which excited my palate; albeit that the sorbet was slightly too cold and a slightly more 'melted' texture would have been better.

The next dish was a choice between two: InSalata Caprese which came with Mozzarella balloon, Tomato snow and arugula puree. This was a very light dish, everything lightly chilled. Very refreshing: the arugula puree was a nice herbaceous touch. (8/10)

The other option was a "Mango Tomato Bruschetta", which was a play on a steak tartare: there was some extremely ripe tomatoes which formed the "steak tartare", and with a mango "yolk", along with some frisee salad. The tomato was extremely tasty: they were extremely ripe, and there was judicious use of very good extra virgin olive oil. The dissolving of the mango was a lovely touch, adding a zesty flavour and some sweetness to the tomatoes. Excellent. (8.5/10)

Next up was LG's play on the local Chilli Crab: here, the dish comprised of deep-fried soft-shell crab, chilli crab ice cream, crab mousse, caviar, and mantou sand. It was a really creative and delicious dish; with the chilli crab ice cream capturing the gingery and spicy flavours of the chilli crab, the crab mousse had some crab sweetness, and the mantou "sand" providing some texture and bite. I enjoyed all of the elements and I just wish there were more crab! (8.25/10)

The mains came next: "Siew Yoke Fun" consists of roasted pork belly, risotto ramen, and pork scratching. This was probably my favourite dish of the night: the risotto was cooked with a ramen broth, full of pork and chicken flavour which was very intense. The pork belly itself was delicious as well, with the pork flavour very strong, and salted perfectly. The crackling was also superb, not too oily. (8.75/10)

I was also impressed with the other option for the mains: the "Chicken Curry" which was a play on Hainanese curry rice. The quinoa was flavoured with curry and was very robust in taste, and I could really imagine myself eating beo crescent curry rice; while the chicken balls were done very well as well. (8.25/10)

The pre-dessert was a chendol xiao long bao - molecular chendol soup dumpling and gula melaka syrup. Basically, the dumpling skin was infused with pandan, and the texture was overall very light. You're supposed to dip the xiao long bao, which contained the usual chendol beans, into the gula melaka syrup "vinegar" (which had the right texture so it wasn't so viscous) - it was a great dessert (8.5/10)

And usually I don't like desserts, but the final dessert was another sublime one: a deconstructed apple crumble consisting of chocolate crumble, yoghurt ice cream, apple jelly. The chocolate was "burnt chocolate" and was absolutely scrumptious that I licked the plate clean; it paired well with the apple jelly which balanced the richness with some tart flavours. (8.5/10)

I particularly liked the fact that all the flavours really came through and were intensified, in line with one of the aims of molecular gastronomy (for example: to reduce water levels in order to intensify flavours). And here, I think Chef LG and his team really succeeded in doing that. Further, there was a certain playfulness about the food as well - I really enjoyed his modern takes on local Singaporean cuisine such as chilli crab and chicken curry, that managed to bridge the chasm between the familiar and the innovative. Exceptional cuisine and a place I would highly recommend. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Eatbma was raving about this Nordic deli located at the Clift (McCellan Street) so I popped down during lunchtime to see what the fuss was about. I walked in at about 2pm to find that they had almost completely run out of food! The only thing left was a potato sandwich which came with smoked mayonnaise (delicious stuff), lemon marinated leeks, with bacon bits, hazelnuts and watercress. And boy this was really delicious - the sandwich was really fresh with their homemade bread, and all of the ingredients were fresh and went so well together as a harmonious medley far greater than the sum of its parts. Read: You will have to bite into the whole sandwich to eat all the elements together, rather than eat them deconstructed. Totally scrumptious: 8.5/10

Coffee beans are from Smitten. It was alright: I've tasted better. The ambience is that of a usual cafe: this one is pretty Nordic-like, with light wood on the cabinets.

I was so impressed by the food that I visited the next day to try the Pork Sandwich, and this was amazing and divine if sinful: crackling pork, red cabbage marinated with orange and vinegar, with a mayonnaise and mustard dressing. Every element really came together very well, and sandwiched in a delicious homemade bread that they make in-house. The apples gave it a required crunch to balance out the fattiness of the crackling pork while the mustard accompanied subtly. Overall, a very good dish. (8.75/10). It certainly left me a very happy man.