Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Cake Spade (Tanjong Pagar): where you get your daily puns through cake

Cake Spade
My corny sense of humour makes me a laughing victim of puns, from the most offensive to the wittiest. So when my foodie friend Franny suggested we tea-a-tea'd (geddit, geddit?) over at Cake Spade after our satisfying gyoza lunch, I was really excited. That punny moniker alone piqued my interest and my appetite!

Cake Spade
Cake Spade started as an online cake shop by young baker Zenn Eng, who was inspired to bake by her mother. Its success has now turned it into an actual bakery-cum-café at the Orchid Hotel. The café itself is tiny with minimal indoor seating but they have plenty of tables outside, which is pretty cool as Singapore's warm weather calls for al fresco dining anyway.

Cake Spade
I didn't prepare myself for the sensory overload when we walked in. My eyes darted all over the counter and the menu, my mouth watered wanting to try every single thing, and though my mind had another R Kelly moment screaming "Noooo!", my belly had already waved into submission. There are too many interesting things to try here.

Cake Spade
Punny monikers and overwhelming bakery theatrics aside, I quite like the branding. It's clean and cute but not saccharinely so. I like the Caketender tags, too.

Cake Spade
On to the food, but first we shoot. We like how pretty these little things are.

Cake Spade
The strawberry tofu cheesecake is one of their bestsellers. It comes with a digestive biscuit base (on some days they make it with Oreos!) and a top layer of jelly encased fresh strawberries. The cheesecake itself is light and easy on the palate. It's not overly sweet nor tart.

Cake Spade
Though I've had better, the red velvet cake was tasty albeit the sponge itself was quite dense. The cream cheese frosting was spot on, though, and I'm with Franny when she says you don't have to scrape off the icing because it's well balanced.

Cake Spade
F is such a delight to lunch with. I learn so much from her food discoveries in Singapore.

Cake Spade
To make life sweeter, F sent me home with a slice of Cake Spade's spiced carrot cake, which I tell you, made me think of all the carrot cakes I've had (and trust me I've had more than plenty). I've never had anything quite like it. The spice (as in aromatics not level of hotness) is apparent but subtle enough as to not override the sweet flavour of carrot cake. It's moist with just the right amount of icing and is not overly sweet. We thoroughly enjoyed this one!

Cake Spade
Overall, I liked Cake Spade. Their cakes aren't overly sweet and the other stuff like crumble bars, tarts and cupcakes looked pretty shiok, too. I like the fact that they've put a bit of a twist to our old classic favourites in quite a subtle yet cheeky way which is almost a pun on its own.

Cake Spade
1 Tras Link, #01-06, Orchid Hotel, Singapore 078867 | +65 6444 3868

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Monday, 23 February 2015

Gyoza King (Tanjong Pagar): where my gyoza high continues

I met up with my foodie friend Franny for a catch up lunch in Singapore. She asked whether I felt like having gyoza, burger or ramen, and I opted for the dumplings because I was still on a gyoza high and thought it would be a good point for comparison.

She took me to Keisuke Gyoza King in Orchid Hotel, the fifth restaurant of the infamous ramen champion Keisuke Takeda in Singapore.

The place is tiny. The counter-style seating takes less than 20 punters during service, but the efficiency is apparent, which is possibly why there are always long queues outside.

Condiments come aplenty and you can have as much beansprouts and pickled cabbage as you like.

Gyoza King's dry seasoning, made with sesame seeds, bonito flakes, and other delicious stuff was a revelation. I could seriously eat rice with this. If only my nanny made this when I was growing up, I probably wouldn't have had difficulty feeding and finishing my food.

The lunch set is way too cheap to believe. You get gyoza, a bowl of rice (in small, regular, large & extra large at no extra cost), two side dishes, a bowl of miso, and all you can eat beansprouts and pickled cabbage. All for less than SG$14. That's roughly £8. Incredible. Our bill came up to less than SG$40!

I ordered the pork gyoza while F got the prawns. Their gyozas are a bit smaller than Gyoza-ya's, but have the same type of searing on one side. Gyoza King's filling is said to have been made with the same broth they use for their famous tonkotsu ramen. Knowing this, my pork filling wasn't as juicy as I'd imagined but it had full on flavour which I enjoyed. F's prawn filling was delicious, too and if I'm being honest, I think I liked it better.

I had tori kara-age for my side. This was just okay. I've had better deep fried chicken elsewhere. (Please pardon the lack of focus. I blame my hunger).

I couldn't pass up another bout of agedashi tofu. Whilst it definitely had substance, I wish the batter had a bit more of a crisp to it. The sauce was a bit gloopy but had decent pork flavour.

Overall, the gyoza stood out more than anything else which is a relief for any establishment claiming specialities. I liked Gyoza-Ya's pork gyoza better but Gyoza King's prawn gyozas are worth coming back for. And that dry seasoning? I seriously wanted to nick the damn thing.

The full meal experience was made awesome by the fact that 1) food was really tasty; 2) the lunch set is very good value for money; 3) service was efficient; and 4) I shared it with my dear friend F. The place is worth a visit, though I pray you won't have to queue long.

Keisuke Gyoza King
1 Tras Link, #01-15, Orchid Hotel, Singapore 078867 | +65 6604 6674

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Friday, 20 February 2015

Gyoza-ya (Robinsons Orchard): where I fell in love with gyoza

If you've been reading this blog long enough, you should know that I've not ever been too excited about gyoza until last year, when I tried Osaka Ohsho in Manila. In line with this new found hope for the humble Japanese dumpling, I've pushed and pinched Plaid Boy to take me to Gyoza-Ya in Robinsons on Orchard Road. He's raved about it for as long as I remember and I wanted to see what it was about.

Photo credit: Gyoza-Ya Facebook Page

We sat by the counter and I couldn't help but notice an auntie preparing some dumplings whilst Plaid Boy ordered from the short menu. I was quite fascinated by the machine that mixes the gyoza filling and her quick finger mechanics.

There's an option of fried or steamed gyoza with either pork, veg, or prawn fillings. We opted for the fried pork gyoza. A serving has five dumplings so we had one each.

Seared on one side, the dumpling has a crispy texture that plays with your bite but it's incredibly soft and juicy on the inside. Each dumpling is generously filled with meat that has the right balance of aromatics and texture. Goes to show that their gyoza mixer machine really works well. 

There's an abundance of condiments and I'm most ecstatic about the pickled ginger but truth is, the gyoza is delicious enough to eat on its own.

Plaid Boy ordered us each a bowl of jyajya men or Japanese miso noodles. It's essentially thick noodles with a bit of mince pork, shaved cucumber and spring onions, mixed with thick miso paste. 

There's actually a "how-to" card for this dish.

You eat the noodles as is, seasoning to your taste, then you call the server when you're halfway done so they can add some a soft boiled egg and a bit of water to make it more soupy.

Quite frankly, the jyajya men on its own is quite bland so you'll have to rely on your seasoning alchemy to liven it up. Plaid Boy swears by the egg + boiled water halfway method but as I don't eat egg, I had to pepper mine with lots of black vinegar, pickled ginger and togarashi (ie Japanese seven spice).

We also ordered some agedashi tofu which fared better than expected as the sauce was decent and the crispy crumb didn't sog as much. We also had some yasai itame (stir fried vegetables) which were crunchy and flavourful. Shame it came after we’ve finished everything else.

Save for our delayed bowl of veg, service was quick and easy and our bill came up to less than SG$40 (£20). We were comfortably full afterwards and felt quite healthy eating such a light, satisfying lunch. It's a welcome break from all the lard and pork we've been having at night.

Clearly the gyoza shines above everything else on the menu, and I have to admit Gyoza-ya offers some of the best I've had. My faith in these Japanese mini-parcels of joy has been restored, and I coudn't wait to have some more.

B1-02A Robinsons Orchard, 260 Orchard Road Singapore 238855 | +65 6737 5581

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

La-la-la-love... my custom wedding gown by Veejay Floresca

When Plaid Boy and I got engaged, quite high on my to-do list was finding the perfect dressI wanted to get the dress right as a) it's likely the most expensive dress I'll ever purchase; b) photos will never lie (ie a few years down the line, I do not want to look like a loofah); and c) I wanted to make Plaid Boy think "Wow, I am a very lucky man!" when he saw me down the aisle.

I've tried on a couple of gowns to check which styles suited my body type. If you're a bride-to-be you should definitely do this, if only to find out whether the dress you've always dreamt of would really turn you into a princess, and not into a pumpkin.
You may be surprised at what actually works well for your body, too. I have micro-hips so have always stayed clear of serpentina/fitted gowns to avoid looking like a rod but actually, those mermaid-cut dresses were the ones I liked best.

Not a single dress I've tried on gave me the eye-fanning "this is it!" moment. Then again, I've always known I wanted a custom-made dress by my friend and Filipino designer Veejay Floresca. Veejay is based (and works) in San Francisco but her atelier and kickass team (designers, seamstresses and beaders) is based in Makati, Philippines.

Veejay sent me her first batch of sketches eight months before the wedding. I think I jumped the gun too quickly and chose from the options. A few weeks later, after looking at photos of my previous fittings, my heart told me I should go for a different cut of dress. I rang Veejay and explained the situation. She was quite positive about the whole thing and I really, really, really commend her honesty and flexibility.
She then sent me some more sketches and I was very happy with what I saw. 

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
The months flew by and I was back in Manila for my prototype fitting (aka the lining of the gown). I was impressed at how the Manila team managed to create a stunning silhouette with my measurements despite me being far away. It felt right at first fit!

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
A week later, I had my base fitting. Unfortunately, I lost a bit of weight so they had to make some minor adjustments. It was my last fitting until a week before the wedding but as I now know firsthand that they work well with measurements despite being a long distance bride, I felt at ease. I left the atelier VERY excited to see how my dress would evolve.

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding GownVeejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding GownVeejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
Sketches for the embroidery pattern were sent next. I chose the least busy pattern and requested for just plain ivory beading. I didn't want the top to be overly busy and did not want sequins either.

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
When I received photos of the skirt, I was hedging. No doubt, the craftsmanship was impeccable; layers and layers of silk organza were hand sewn to the skirt base. All I can think of was that "This is exactly the type of frou frou Plaid Boy likes!" He's quite a fan of how Veejay's frou frou dresses photograph well, after all. But.... I wasn't in love with it. It just wasn't quite "me".

I tossed and turned over the skirt and realised we had less than a month before the wedding and a week before my supposed final fitting. My gut feel was to change the skirt into something less dramatic as the top was going to be busy and beaded enough. The last thing I wanted was 1) to wear something I didn't like; and b) to say "yes to the dress" just so I can please. My bridesmaids and our wedding planner pushed me to tell Veejay everything that I liked and disliked.

If you're a bride-to-be, you really have to be 100% honest with your designer from day one. Tell them everything you like and dislike as to not waste time. It's your day and your dress so you can't settle. But also make sure your requests are within reason and within the timeframe.

I rang Veejay and said I wasn't 100% happy with it... and she said "We definitely have to change it because I want you happy!" I've never felt so relieved. I thought she'd have a fit with me being so fickle-minded but she was very supportive and even sent me photos of her new proposed pegs. She dealt with it ever so professionally and has stayed positive all throughout. I swear, her happy disposition is so infectious.

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
A few days before flying out, I received photos of the skirt. In place of the frou frou was a simple creation made with layers of soft tulle with an intricate lace applique. It was shaping up nicely, and I couldnt' wait to try it on.

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
My fitting finally came... and when I tried my dress I was extremely shocked at how in love I was with it. The photos sent to me have not done it any justice! I felt tall, elegant and finally, very bridal in it. There was still a lot to do but for the first time in this process I was 100% happy.

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
They had to adjust a few more things as I've lost more weight again =( We needed to sort out a sheer cover for the church ceremony so they used some of the lace to decorate it a bit. This lace is detachable, so I can still have my tube neckline for the dinner reception. (I ended up keeping the sheer lace on because they surprised me by putting a ton of Swarovski crystals!)

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
Ate Teng and Ate Nelia (who assisted me with the dress throughout the wedding day) delivered the gown in my hotel suite the night before the wedding and I was amazed at how gorgeous it was. It made me and my maid of honour emotional, and it simply catapulted my excitement to grandiose levels. For the first time ever, I really felt the magnitude of things. All because of this dress.

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
Veejay and her angels (Miss Annie, Bryan & Kylie, Ate Teng & Ate Nelia) took care of me throughout the whole time with no qualms even when I was being kulit about things. The team is really commendable for the way they handle their clients and their requests. They were very professional but they made you feel comfortable enough to be able to voice out your opinion about their craft.

Veejay Floresca Custom-made Wedding Gown
Hands down, wearing this gown on the happiest day of my life made me feel confident and beautiful. The thing is, it reminded me of Plaid Boy in a sense that I never thought I'd pick it out from a rack if I saw it. But once I put it on, it made me feel all these emotions I never thought I'd experience and made me feel complete. It was everything I'd ever hoped for and more.

I'll post official photos when I get them. =) In the meantime, you can check out more of Veejay's bridal and couture creations on Instagram (@veejayfloresca or search #theflorescabride).  She also has her bridal RTW line, Madore. Her incredible portfolio can be viewed here. Bryan has also now launched his own design house. You can follow him on Instagram at @bryanperaltadesigns.

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Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sorrel (Singapore): where "gastronomy meets casual bistro"

Sorrel is the latest gastronomic bistro concept in Singapore. Local foodies have been raving about the recently opened venture but in my opinion, like most new restaurants, there's room for improvement.

Located on Boon Tat Street near Raffles Place, Sorrel is the brainchild of famed Singaporean hotelier-restaurateur Loh Lik Peng of Unlisted Group (Pollen, The Library, The Study) and 24-year old executive chef Johnston Teo (formerly of Jaan, Pollen and Tippling Club). 

Our table for eight took a lot of pulling and pushing and phone calls to get. Understandably, this 40-seater is quite hot and buzzed about. Their haute cuisine tasting menu offers seasonal ingredients at prices that are quite reasonable: five courses for SG$88 (£42) and seven courses for SG$118 (£58). Not bad, eh? It sounded so promising.  

While we all wanted to try different menus, we were told that the whole table must opt for the same number of courses. If we wanted to order a course from the other menu we just had to pay SG$25 per course. I've never heard this type of rule before, quite frankly, as most restaurants I've visited serving set menus would always cater to this type of request and adjust timings for smooth service. We all ended up having the five course menu. Oh well.
We were offered some snacks to whet our appetites including some homemade sour cream onion chips (one piece each) and a yam-filled micro-croquette (pictured) topped with a dot of black pepper sauce.

Next was a foamy, frozen apple concoction served with some apple fizz. This was quite nice and refreshing, an easy mouthful to cleanse the palate.

We were then served some "complimentary" bread which looked like mantou but tasted like normal dinner rolls. Whilst I commend the softness and "straight-from-the-oven" feel of these rolls, I wish they were able to serve more of it. We asked for more and were told they couldn't possibly give us any more than what we got.

For our first course, we had some sort of deconstructed pumpkin soup. The soup itself, served at room temp, was creamy. Textures from what seemed to be chopped up root veg, corn and supposedly smoked eel made it fuller, except the flavour profile didn't change so much.

The kohlrabi salad fared better. I enjoyed the sharpness of the horseradish and mustard seeds. Quite a humble dish that didn't really need more.

The seafood tagliatelle came next. The lightness of the pasta noodles paved way for the creamy sauce to shine. Served with a scallop, a mussel and chopped langoustine, this was one of the more successful dishes of the night. I wish there was more on the plate.

The wagyu short rib was probably my favourite dish of the night. The sliver of beef was melt in your mouth soft and paired with a morsel of rich, salty sweetbread, it was quite a palate party. Whilst my arteries clogged at the thought of the sauce being made with bone marrow, the pairing with polenta and corn complimented the protein.

We were served a palate cleanser made with some mixed milk textures and cucumber jelly. I joked about how it smelled like my Sai Sei seaweed bath soak, it was quite refreshing (just a bit of an acquired taste!)

Dessert came shortly after. I actually liked this humble plate of milk textures. There's a bit of panacotta, a bit of merengue and a bit of ice cream. The subtle flavour of milk and vanilla played well with the bittersweet clementine.

Overall the dishes were okay but I can't say I was mindblown, especially when there are noticeable points of improvement:
  • portion sizes are quite meager and whilst I reckon this is why the set price is low, I don't think people with massive appetites would be satisfied here;
  • course turnover took quite a while. I understand degustation menus are meant to be enjoyed in a timely manner but for the portions per plate you could hear our bellies grovelling for the next plateful; and finally,
  • service was confusing. We noticed the five-course menu changed within half an hour of arrival and nobody bothered to tell us of this change until the early birds asked because a few old menus were still on the table. Also, whilst some servers aimed to please there were a couple who could learn a thing or two about hospitality.
I can't deny the potential of the place because after all the concept of seasonal haute cuisine can be exciting. Just a little honing and tweaking, perhaps, and a little reminder that when it comes to good quality food, people will happily pay more for more.

21 Boon Tat Street #01-00, Singapore 069620