Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Restaurant Ember – Another great set lunch find

It’s not quite a well-kept secret anymore that Ember’s set lunches are an absolute steal. At $39.40++, their excellent 3-course lunch doesn’t just aim to impress, but to entice and rope you into repeated visits of your own will.

If you take a look at their 3-course set lunch menu, you will eventually realise that its stunning variety of dishes to choose from is meant to please, to befuddle, and to frustrate in the best way possible. Having to choose among 3 to 4 types of foie gras for your appetiser becomes what is possibly the best sort of happy problem there can be – because you will get your dose of fatty goose liver anyway.

Ember has been around for years now since it’s opening in 2004, fusing robust European cuisine with the intricacies of the Asian cuisine. It’s a modest restaurant located in Hotel 1929, a boutique hotel establishment, seating perhaps no more than 40 people in its airy interior that is furnished simply in light tones of brown. Lit warmly from the midday sunlight streaming in through its floor-to-ceiling glass windows, suffice to say, it was a welcoming setting for our little SMU Gourmet Club event (or perhaps not so little since we took up half the restaurant). Service was attentive and efficient from the get-go. Your napkin will remain on your lap as much as possible if the wait staff can help it.

A restaurant’s bread sets the stage, as most will agree. The tomato foccacia that floated out of the kitchen, while most of us were still bustling around and trying to settle down, was warm and crackly as good bread should be. It was perfumed with rosemary, thyme, and specks of sun-dried tomatoes, the combination and taste standing strong on its own without additional butter. But warm, crust, tender bread without butter? Who are you kidding? You’re already on a roll (pun-intended), so just go with it and start shmearing your bread.

The most outstanding appetiser went to the Roasted and Poached Foie Gras with Mirin, Shoyu, and Shiitake, essentially just fatty goose liver on a bed of braised shiitake mushrooms. But that’s an understatement, because the thick, sweet and salty Japanese-influenced sauce was a smashing hit with the juicy shiitake. Whip that all up with a slab of creamy foie gras poached to tender perfection, and you have a mind-bogglingly crazy-sounding ingredient combination that works. No figs, no apples, no prunes, nothing classically sweet in the dish at all. Just pure savoury bliss.

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Hong Kong 2011: Yee Shun Milk Company

I live in a family whose cooking is predominantly Cantonese, even if it isn’t my dialect group. Heck, I even know more about Cantonese cuisine than Hakka (which is strictly – sadly –  confined to Suan Pan Zi/Abacus balls). The dishes that appear in my home pretty much run the gamut from all variants of steamed dishes, to wholesome desserts, only stopping short from anything spectacularly roasted. Notice that I said ‘spectacularly’, because roasting, while possible with an oven, just isn’t the same when it’s not done the expert way (whatever that is). So Siu Ngor (roast goose), Siu Yok (roast pork), and Siu Ngap (roast duck), have unfortunately eluded us. But today’s not a day for roasting woes because, as you can see, I’m determined to finish off the posts of my Hong Kong trip in 2011 (last year, gasp!).

Let’s talk about desserts.

Tong Sui (any kind of soupy dessert/custard in the Cantonese cuisine) was what I grew up with. Desserts like Beancurd Skin Soup with Barley and Gingko Nuts, Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup, Papaya and White Fungus Soup? Pfft! We make them with our eyes closed! Now steamed egg/milk puddings however, that’s another story. The ingredients are simple, but the technique and process are tedious. Trust me, I’ve had my good share of watery, lumpy, sludgy ‘custards’ during our experimentations. I shiver at the thought.

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Hong Kong 2011: Mak’s Noodle

You’ll never have wanton noodles like Mak’s Noodle. This place has its own Wikipedia page, and that says a lot.

As a general rule, wanton noodles in Hong Kong are a force to be reckoned with. Why? I have no idea. That’s just how things work there.

Of course, things work a little different for me if you tell me that a particular eatery has graced the palate of Anthony Bourdain (one of my all-time favourite food idols with his sharp wit and callously poetic narratives on TV). In fact, there was a newspaper clipping under the glass of the table of Bourdain’s visit to Mak’s. There’s no other better reassurance of great food like slurping up a bowl of wanton noodles under (or above, actually) his trademark blasé gaze. But Bourdain aside, Mak’s Noodle has been around for ages, and is usually on the list of most gluttons’ food itinerary for the land of roast goose, egg tarts, congee, and dim sum.

I’ll let the picture say it all, except for the size. The bowl’s tiny. Really. Tiny enough for this to be a snack and for you to then head on down Wellington street for more goodies to come. It’s about 10cm in diameter, by my guesstimate (I used my palm for measurement, and I have a small palm). It’s not cheap for its size, but it’s worth every cent. I can’t quite remember exactly how much it costs but it’s around SGD$5 for a small bowl. I’d pay gladly if this were available freely in Singapore.

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