Friday, 28 November 2014

Three Buns at Potato Head Folk: where I fed off that "perfectly tipsy" feeling

Surely, most of us have experienced that "perfectly tipsy" state, oui? You know, that point of inebriation when you feel relatively hazy but coherent enough to know you've had one too many. All you need is a bit of air, et voila! You're sensible enough again to hear the clarity of that loud "give me something greasy and oily!" scream in your stomach, diet be darned. 

After a very satisfying liquid supper at The Library on Keong Saik Road, I found myself in that "perfectly tipsy" state and in dire need of something substantial. Plaid Boy, who just finished dinner with his corporate buds at Potato Head Folk across the road, suggested we go back there so I could try their burgers. "They have good fries," he said. "And the burger I had earlier was decent." 

The Three Buns takeaway counter at Potato Head Folk smelt like the holy guacamole of post-revelling grub. I wanted to try everything on the menu and Plaid Boy had to stop me from ordering one item too many as he wasn't having any of it anyway. 

Naughty Fries Potato Head Folk Singapore
I got the naughty fries as recommended (hand cut potatoes topped with spiced bearnaise, hot beef chilli, fried shallots, parmesan, sesame seeds and parsley). Reckon they could've made it "naughtier" with a bit more chilli (and perhaps something to give a bit of acid?) but overall, these were top notch chips with a pretty good sauce.

Smokin' B-Boy Potato Head Folk Singapore
Plaid Boy recommended the Burning Man burger which sounded promising with roasted jalapeño but I didn't fancy a wholemeal bun so I opted for the Smokin' B-Boy instead. It's a 150g beef patty in a brioche bun with double smoked cheese, beer and treacle cured bacon, barbecue sauce, smoky mayo and crispy onions. Good freakin' lawd.

Smokin' B-Boy Potato Head Folk Singapore
The patty was a juicy medium rare, the sauce had a decent smoke and the bacon added that much needed crunch. Perhaps it was me being larry, perhaps it was sobriety kicking in... but in that moment I was the happiest person in the world with my partner on my side and a very good burger on hand.

Wing-its Potato Head Folk Singapore
I managed to order some wing-its before Plaid Boy gave me his "STOP OVER-ORDERING!!!" look. I'm glad I got them as they were delightful. The twice-cooked chicken wings were actually meaty and tender and generously topped with smoky barbecue sauce, chilli and scallions.

My stomach finally caved in after five pieces but there was still a fair bit left. That sauce was smoky enough but as with the fries, it could do with a bit more heat.

I was too inebriated to remember how much each item costed but I'm sure I paid just a little over SGD$50 for everything. Overall, not a bad way to bring you back to sobriety. *hic*

Three Buns at Potato Head Folk
36 Keong Saik Rd, Singapore 089143 |+65 6327 1939
Ave spend pp: SG$35 (roughly £17)
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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Tonkatsu by Ma Maison, Mandarin Gallery Singapore: where you'll be rolling in the deep fried stuff

When Plaid Boy said he was taking me to Tonkatsu by Ma Maison at Mandarin Gallery for dinner, I thought it was punishment for the countless times I've made him kulit about restaurants to try in Singapore. See, I love and respect Japanese cuisine to the very core but I'm really not huge on deep fried battered stuff. I find they usually taste samey (of oil!) and tend to lose the natural flavour of the produce.

Nonetheless, I begrudgingly went and thought of the lessons we learned from our recent marriage encounter seminar and our principal sponsors. Chalk it up as one of those "Wife, be submissive" practice exercises. Why not.
Tonkatsu by Ma Maison
Ma Maison is an Asian-French fusion restaurant founded in Nagoya. Tonkatsu is one of their spin-off restaurants known for serving up... well... tonkatsu or deep-fried pork cutlets. They have chicken, seafood and vegetarian options as well but it's the pork hire (fillet) or rosu (loin) punters queue up for. They serve the katsu in sets so you get unlimited portions of shredded cabbage, rice and miso soup (which is quite a winner!) too.

Tonkatsu by Ma Maison
Condiments come aplenty. Tonkotsu sauce options were either sweet or spicy but I couldn't really tell the difference. I was more excited to see the bottle of Japanese sesame dressing. Be still my heart.

Tonkatsu by Ma Maison
We had side orders of ebi (prawn) and kaki (oyster) katsu (SG$4 per piece) for variety. Dreading the oily spillage at first bite, I hesitantly picked an ebi katsu thinking it would be another overly breaded piece but was pleasantly surprised by how light and crisp the coating was. I could actually taste the prawn! The oyster was plump and juicy as well but I still think oysters are best served fresh off the sea.

Tonkatsu by Ma Maison
I was torn between the Hungarian mangalica rosu katsu and the kurobuta rosu katsu sets (SG$32 each) but I ended up having the latter, their signature cut, to set the standard. I bit off more than I could chew - literally - as the cut was quite thick. The batter was crisp and the meat was surprisingly juicy although some of the edges were slightly more cooked than I would have liked. Pork flavour swam in my mouth and I appreciated the thoughtfulness of prep and quality of meat.

Claims of the restaurant serving the "best tonkatsu in Singapore" may as well be valid and after a very satisfying meal, I get why people queue up. It's very good tonkatsu. But would I? Probably not.

Tonkatsu by Ma Maison
333A Orchard Road #02-35/36 Mandarin Gallery, Singapore
Ave spend pp: SG$50 (roughly £25)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine, Singapore: where "simple and honest" cooking smelt like truffle and caviar

One of my bridesmaids, the ever efficient L, suggested dinner at one of her favourite haunts in Singapore, Gunther's. It's an award-winning restaurant helmed by Chef Gunther Hubreschen whose food philosophy boils down to "simple, honest, and down-to-earth cooking that comes from the heart." 

My head wondered if there was a bit of irony there. This fine dining restaurant is known for its art-inspired dishes (and private dining rooms for engagement affairs) after all. Nonetheless it got my curiosity piqued and my belly excited.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine Singapore
So excited that I arrived super early! Whilst nursing an aperitif by the bar, I noticed how this so-called simplistic philosophy is reflected on the decor as well. The dining room itself looked rather gloomy with its grey walls and white linen tables which reminded me of executive clandestine affairs (the non-offensive type). And yet, it all seemed to work and admittedly built a bit of anticipation - as if something special was about to happen.

My dates for the night: Plaid Boy (on his phone, yet again) and one of my bridesmaids, L.

Once sat, we were served some complimentary batons and butter (which I found hard) and an amuse bouche of prawn tempura (which I thought was quite forgettable in its non-amuse bouche size).

Specials at Gunther's Modern French Cuisine Singapore
We were presented a rather indulgent-looking tray of seasonal off-menu specials which included a gorgeous sea bream and a silky sole; scallops, pen shell, clams and lamb from Normandy; Wagyu beef that glistened in perfect marbling; and an artichoke as big as an infant's head.

We decided to go for some of the specials and picked a few things on the menu, including Gunther's most celebrated cold angel hair pasta with Oscietra caviar. Our server seemed to be surprised that each of us wanted our own plates of their signature dish with no intention to share. But hey, at SG$60 (roughly £30) per wee little plate, this deceptively unassuming dish is absolutely worth every cent.

Cold Angel Hair Pasta with Caviar at Gunther's Modern French Cuisine Singapore
Truffle may be an olfactory stimulant of decadent eating but it needs to be handled with care. They've done that on this dish. The moment it was served, I thought: this is what 'delicious' smells like. The pasta, glistening in truffle olive oil with specks of chives and more black truffle, was perfectly cooked - firm and evenly tempered. There was enough caviar to tickle the palate with indulgence but it was subtle enough, showing much finesse and care of hand. It's an incredibly simple plate of food yet the flavour is so rich. This, my friends, is the truest edible interpretation of "flights of fancy". I am in love with it as I'm sure you will be too.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine
We ordered a scallop from the specials tray, carpaccio-style. Served on its shell atop a sauciere and garnished with cherry toms and bread crisps, it was very Instagrammable and almost too pretty to eat. The natural sweetness of the scallop shone through.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine
I was less impressed with the carpaccio of Wagyu beef (SG$30) from the regular menu though. It's a clever play on the classic steak tartare and the quality of the beef was melt-in-your mouth superb. However, I found the flavour marred by the crispy potato it rested on.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine
We asked for grilled artichoke from the specials to share and we all ended up with beautiful plates of the perfect portion. Served with chestnut mushrooms and prosciutto this dish brought robust earthy flavours complimented by the saltiness of the cured meat. My favourite moment eating this was when I hinted some mustard hidden underneath the artichoke slices, which gave the dish an exciting zing.

Suckling Pig at Gunther's Modern French Cuisine
Our mains came, served on a silver platter nonetheless. Plaid Boy and I shared the suckling pig from the specials.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine Singapore
In a lifetime or two, when gluttony was forgiveable, this lovely piece of meat was mine, all mine - cholesterol be darned!

But skin as crispy as that with melt-in-your mouth pork just had to be shared. Served with some wedges, a red wine reduction and some dates (which I thought were a good alternative for apple sauce), this was a cracking (no pun intended) dish.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine Singapore
L had the toro steak (you have to pre-order this). It's such a delicate ingredient which needed to be handled with much thought and finesse, which is probably why I thought there too many elements on the plate. The tomato ravioli gave much needed acidity to balance the organic taste of the fish and the puffed up potato chips added a nice texture (as well as a display of technical skill). I didn't get the appearance of the grilled corn nor the extra sauces. The toro itself was delicious and I wish they'd stuck to their simplistic approach with this dish.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine Singapore
Feeling like we've overindulged on the savouries, we skipped dessert and ordered coffees only to be served petit fours (all made in house, save for the chocolate). I couldn't resist wolfing down a canelé which had a nice caramelised crust and a moist interior. A pretty sweet ending to a pretty awesome meal.

My view of "simple, honest, and down-to-earth cooking that comes from the heart"  may have changed a bit after this dinner (then again "simple cooking" has always been a subjective issue, no?) Sure, Chef Gunther's food may display a bit of flamboyance but when you break it down to the very essence, the produce is truly éclatante. It was definitely one of the most pleasurable meals I've had in Singapore.

Service was outstanding, too - you're sure to feel special and well looked after. So, if you're in dire need of a little TLC with your partner or if you fancied treating your loved ones somewhere super nice in the Lion City, I definitely recommend this place.

Because you seriously, seriously, seriously need that cold angel hair pasta in your life.

Gunther's Modern French Cuisine
 36 Purvis Street #01-03, Singapore 188613 | +65 9010 3075
Average spend pp: SG$300 (roughly £150). Average price per truffle shaving: SG$12 (roughly £6)
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Monday, 17 November 2014

The Ape and Bird: where you get what it says on the tin

Ape & Bird
It's been a year since Russell Norman (of the Polpo empire fame) transformed The Marquis of Granby into Ape & Bird. 

Ape & BirdApe & Bird
Whilst keeping the architectural integrity of the old pub, he also kept the spirit of his Venetian-bacaro concept restaurants which is reflected on the menu of small plates. 

Ape & Bird by Polpo
There's also a pizza oven installation producing Neapolitan-style pizzas and other oven-roasted dishes.

Ape & Bird by Polpo
Unforch, the wine list isn't too exciting. We paid thrice as much the retail price for a so-so sauvignon blanc.

Zucchini Fries, Ape & Bird
We fell in love with the zucchini fries (£4). Lightly battered but generously seasoned, this is pretty good pub grub and is one of the rare few dishes that made me want to drink a pint of beer.

Whole Roasted Market Fish, Ape & Bird
I went for the whole roasted market fish (£12) du jour (which turned out to be sea bass). I rarely see whole fish served with its head here so this was quite a treat. The fish, apparently roasted in the pizza oven, was surprisingly well cooked. I liked the simplicity of its presentation and seasoning. It really made the produce the star of the show.

Ape & Bird by Polpo
The fennel, almond, endive salad (£6) is exactly what it is. I usually stay clear of anything that tastes of aniseed but the roasted fish called for it. I loved the bitterness and the crunch.

Bavette, Rocket & Parmesan | Ape & Bird by Polpo
The sliced bavette, rocket and parmesan (£10) looked like a mess on a plate but it's a good steak dish. The beef, lean yet tender, had a great cook on it and shone through with minimal seasoning, with the bitterness of rocket and the sharp tang of parmesan elevating the dish as a whole.

Pork Belly, Lentils, Apple | Ape & Bird by Polpo
The roast pork belly, lentils, and apple (£8) was quite a favourite for our group. I liked how crunchy the pork belly turned out and the apple sauce was a kicker. The lentils were great, except there was just too much of it. It could've been perfect if there'd been more protein than pulses.

Pork Shoulder Pickled Pepper Pizza | Ape & Bird by Polpo
We ordered a variety of pizzas which were admittedly not as bad as we expected, but not as great as Franco Manca's. My favourite was the pork shoulder with pickled pepper (£9) They were generous on the cheese, which was gooey.

Service was a little loose. We had a couple of plates taken away even though we've not finished them yet (my fish included). To be fair, when we complained about this, they took out the service charge. We still tipped anyway.

So... Ape & Bird a year on is still standing, perhaps mainly due to its delivery of what's exactly on the menu and the non-intimidating facade of a pub. It is, after all, "a pub for people who hate pubs". 

Ape & Bird
142 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho, London WC2H 8HJ | +44(0)20 7836 3119
Ave spend pp: £25
Like them on Facebook. View their menu on Zomato.
The Ape & Bird Pub on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Library at Keong Saik Road Singapore

Don't you just love reconnecting with friends you meet around the world in different countries? 

My friend, mixologist extraordinaire Nick Quattroville, relocated in Singapore last year to manage Jason Atherton's ventures in the Lion City's Chinatown: The Studya British-inspired tapas bistro and its password-only speakeasy bar next door, The Library. I hadn't seen Nick in yonks so I made sure I caught up with him on this trip. 

Girl Next Shore & Nick Quattroville
Two days before he shaved his beard nest in time for Movember!

I met Nick about four years ago at LAB on Old Compton Street, one of my all-time favourite bars in London. He's worked in various places since (including the W Hotel and La Bodega Negra) and I enjoyed following him around town because his concoctions reflect an amazing tradition of cocktail drinking and they're usually very spot on. Like fuzzy slippers on snow day.

The Library at Keong Saik Road, Singapore
I'm always on the lookout for decent cocktail bars when I visit Singapore. I've heard about The Library from Plaid Boy before and was keen to try it out with Nick heading the team.

The Library at Keong Saik Road, Singapore
I had a Rye'n'Air to start. It's a clever drink of rye whisky, campari, absinthe, peach liqueur and their house vermouth blend - essentially a boulevardier except it's slightly sweeter with the peach liqueur, but not overpoweringly so.  

The Library at Keong Saik Road, Singapore
Wordplay inspired by the Irish low-cost airline Ryanair, I loved the presentation: a medicine jar in a "UK-customs paid and passed" Ziploc bag as if it's all ready for security.

The Library at Keong Saik Road, Singapore
On my visit, bartenders Vik & Joel were mixing up and testing new cocktails they've invented, some for the menu and some for a competition. I was happy to taste and give my punter's POV. My favourite was a nice tequila-based drink with pineapple liqueur and bitters.

The Library at Keong Saik Road, Singapore
Next up was not a cocktail, but a very, very, very special treat: a shot of the rare 25-year old single malt by Brora. Less than 3,000 bottles were released which is why it retails at £600 on average per bottle. It's truly a great whisky, with a nice balance between peaty, nutty and smoky notes. Needless to say I was very, very, very happy.

The Library at Keong Saik Road, Singapore
An hour and three drinks (and a few sips of those "new cocktails") later, I was definitely feeling rather fantastic. I could feel my Asian flush coming out in the dark and realised I haven't eaten all day. They do have bar snacks too (amazing sliders!) but I had my heart set on something else.

Of course, you can't just leave a bar without having one for the road AND asking yourself this question...

The Library at Keong Saik Road, Singapore
To Pea or Not To Pea! took me by surprise. Brandy, bitters and... green pea syrup?! It sounded like the vegetables your parents force-fed you as a child but actually, it's refreshing. One for those who like 'em light and tangy.

Overall, I liked The Library. The vibe is very speakeasy, none of those too loud cocktail places where they serve diluted adult drinks. The Rye'n'Air definitely brings enough mileage -  not for the faint-hearted but definitely have a lot of heart. Nevermind the password-protected door mallarkey. Go for the cocktails, ask for Nick, enjoy.

The Library
47 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089151
Ave price per cocktail: SG$23 (roughly £11)
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Monday, 10 November 2014

Holiday Gift Idea: diptyque Perfume Oil in Philosykos

The holidays are coming which means fragrance shops will soon have stocks flying off their shelves. Unless you're looking to gift someone with a nose for something particular, perfume seems to be the easiest go-to gift. I personally can't count the amount of bottles I've accumulated during Christmas in my teens and 20s (does anyone even wear Tommy Girl anymore?)

My taste in perfume has evolved as I've grown older. I've stayed clear of cutesy fruity and have transitioned into clean, fresh scents as well as light spice and florals. My favourite perfume houses include Annick Goutal, Le LaboMaison Francis Kurkdijan and I've been a fan of Jo Malone for a while now, with my favourite "signature scent" being their Wild Bluebell range. Prices may be a bit higher than what you pay for on the high street but you really get decent quality and lingering freshness.

I have a new obsession though: Parisian brand diptyque

Diptyque Perfume Oil Roll-On
My first diptyque purchase was a perfume oil roll-on in one of their famous scents, Philosykos. It smells fresh of figs, a bit of coconut, and a round of cedar which reminds me of nights on a beach somewhere exotic. It's a clean, creamy, woody scent which I think is perfect for the cold seasons but very wearable in Spring and Summer as well.

Diptyque Perfume Oil Roll-On
I personally wish my favourite scents come in oils. Perfume oils are more easily tolerated by the skin as they're alcohol-free. This means they help replenish your skin as they also serve as a moisturiser unlike alcohol based fragrances that are harsh and drying.

Diptyque Perfume Oil Roll-On
As it's a roll-on, it's super easy to apply which means you can put this on whenever/wherever, without thinking about the hassle of spraying it on someone else's nose.

Fragrance oils also last a long time and this roll-on does not disappoint. I'd apply it in the morning and still smell fresh post-work hours. 

Diptyque Perfume Oil Roll-On
It's conveniently sized and comes with a felt pouch, which makes it easy to bring when you travel. Also, it's non-flammable so you won't have to worry packing it in your suitcase or carry-on. 

The roll-on retails at £32 which is actually not bad for ROI. (The EDT sells for £55 for 50ml and £72 for 100ml while the EDP is £85 for 100ml.)

Overall, a delicious treat worth getting for someone special and a seriously great smell you can wear all year-long.

Treat yourself to a Space NK coveted gift bag at their #WishUponAStar Christmas Shopping Event! More details here!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Wild Rocket SG: where I had Mod Sing cuisine and a history lesson

Whenever I visit Singapore, I always try to meet up with my former colleague, S (who also blogs here). She always takes me to the coolest places, which makes sense as she's lived there all her life. For this trip, S took me to Wild Rocket at Mount Emily.

Wild Rocket serves “Mod Sin” cuisine (Modern Singaporean) as pioneered by its chef and owner Willin Low. Drawing inspiration from his travels and his passion for food he grew up with, the lawyer-turned-restaurateur conceptualises his dishes by twisting ingredients and turning presentations without losing the spirit of tradition. The result? A very exciting and contemporary take on Singaporean food. Think hawker food but gourmet.

The space, refurbished recently, is contemporary and clean-looking. There's an omakase bar where the chef serves an 8-course degustation menu (SG$118, roughly £55) and a area you can hire for private dining.

As we munched on the complimentary bread (served with really good olive oil), S and I both opted for the set lunch. It's great value for money at SG$33 (roughly £15) especially when some of the mains are set on that price.

Our first course came and the server instructed us to pull our drawers for cutlery. I liked this idea. I also liked the fact that as we were in Asia, it's almost customary to take photos of your food first! Lol.

For starters, we had the gyam chye mustard greens in duck consomme with duck confit ravioli and foie gras bits. S tells me it's a modern take on the classic Peranakan dish itek tim, a soup of duck, vegetables and salted vegetables and salted plumps simmered together (like the Filipino dish tinola).

The bits of foie gras and the gyam chye (pickled mustard) gave the dish good texture and the duck confit ravioli was really good. The consomme itself looked spectacularly clear, except S & I both couldn't finish it as it was a bit too kiam (salty).

We asked for a separate order of their famous pomelo salad with tiger prawns and frozen coconut sauce (SG$17) which S had been raving about for yonks.

It looked so deceptively simple yet the freshness of the ingredients made this dish sing. The frozen coconut sauce, sweet with notes of fish sauce and savoury things, is genius. Each bite was exciting as textures from green beans, nuts, crispy garlic, chilli and coriander play freely in your mouth. Yummy.

For mains, I had the catfish masok merah with spicy tomato relish served with asparagus. It looked rather simple but captured the flavour profile of masak merah, a classic curry dish often served with chicken. I thought I'd be hungry after this but two fillets of catfish in that awesome sauce later, I was pretty satisfied.

S ordered the krapao thai basil pork bee tai bak topped with onsen egg. I had a bit before she poked the yolk and I liked it a lot. Pork had a bit of a kick and the noodles were interesting.

That said, for someone who doesn't eat egg I truly appreciated the food porn the onsen egg created.
Onsen is a Japanese term relating to hot springs that flow, and look at how that egg yolk flowed...
Impressive, no?

I had the ji ma hu black sesame soup with milk ice cream for dessert. It was a generous portion for what it is but anyone who loves peanut butter would consume this with much gusto. I wish the texture was a bit smoother but overall, the taste was moderated by the milk ice cream.

S had the coconut ice cream with salted gulab malaka. I love all things coconut but thought the ice cream was just average. I thought the salted gulab malaka (palm sugar) would taste like salted caramel but actually, it has less smoky/burnt flavour with a bit of tang and a smoother texture. Quite pleasant.

Overall I reckon my Wild Rocket experience was made better by dining with a local who was able to explain origins of each dish. With each forkful of contemporary food, my mind traipsed through history, culture and tradition. I enjoyed it very much and though the location is a bit tricky to get to, it's pretty worth the trek.

Wild Rocket Singapore
Hangout Hotel, 10A Upper Wilkie Road Singapore | +65 6339 9448
Ave spend pp: SG$50 for lunch, $75 for dinner
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