Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Category Archives: Favourites

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar – Eye on the Maki

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Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I am alive and well, much to the disappointment of many, I’m sure.

This writer’s block of mine, however, I have underestimated. I had likened it to passing a brick out my behind, among other unsavoury metaphors, and have woefully declared to all unfortunate enough to listen to my rants that I’d much rather endure physical pain. My friends have gotten the brunt of my frustration.  They still love me though, I hope.

I realise I need to start small. So this is me, attempting (once again) to sit myself down on my metaphorical ceramic throne, and do the deed. It’s a small consolation for me if you happen to find this hilarious. It turns out that I’m still capable of entertaining.

Over the past few months, I have been frequenting Koh Grill & Sushi Bar at Wisma Atria. It’s a gem of a place within Food Republic. A friend had insisted that I needed to try this, and that, in spite of knowing of my sky-high benchmark for Japanese food,  she was still willing to place a huge bet on this place. Well, thank you Joyce. You have ruined me.

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It’s impossible to dine at Koh Grill & Sushi Bar without ordering the Shiok Maki ($16.80 – first picture). This maki is not to be trifled with. Make fun of its name only once, and never again after you’ve eaten it. It has been named appropriately.

Its core is stuffed with unagi and avocado, and then wrapped in a thin layer of rice, draped in thick slices of salmon, drizzled with mayo, and blowtorched to a sizzling marvel. I have not come across another maki with all my favourite ingredients. Admittedly, I could do without the mayo, but that mound of tobiko (flying fish roe) is almost too good to be true, and I suspect that they must have very chummy ties with their suppliers. There can’t be any other possible explanation for being that generous! I’ve thought very deeply about it.

This is a maki that has been thoughtfully created and balanced with much textural deliciousness. It’s crunchy, gooey, moist, and incredibly flavourful. I have brought many friends along for a meal there, and I have seen them being reduced to slobbering messes in front of me.

Contrary to its name, the Crappy Maki ($18.00 – second picture) is another wonder. It’s stuffed with crispy soft shell crab, crunchy seaweed, topped with layers of swordfish belly, and finished with the mandatory shower of roe. The Pi Tan Maki ($15.00 – not pictured) is another crowd-pleaser, and if the thought of century egg sauce makes you cringe, then all I can say is…well, get over yourself and eat it. Take my word for it.

There are plenty of other dishes on the menu, but due credit must be given to what I think are the rockstars in this sold-out concert. It’s obvious that the makis have been lovingly crafted and contemplated on in both the flavour and textural departments. I adore such attention to food.

I also wanted to keep this a secret. There may well be a death warrant hanging over my head by now, but it’s helping the brick on its way out.

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar

Address: 435 Orchard Road, #04-21 Wisma Atria Shopping Centre

Tel: 91803805

Le Bistrot du Sommelier – Reliable Bistro Fare

It’s been a while.

I’m aware that I’m not quite done waxing lyrical about Dario Cecchini, but I recently had great French bistro food, so this bears much gushing. Brace yourself. If I were to let it wait any longer, I fear that it may end up the way of all my other posts – abandoned or forgotten in a sad heap on my dashboard.

Now let’s just say that while bistro food in France is of unparalleled quality, Le Bistrot du Sommelier comes pretty darn close. I take my hat off to them.

I’d been here once, back when they were still at Prinsep. Dinner that night was cloaked in darkness, sitting at an outdoor table, with the only lights coming from the ghastly orange street light nearby and the pink neon sign from the next-door tenant. While I would have preferred to view my food in their natural colours, the food was spectacular. I vividly remember the unctuous, maddeningly tender joue de boeuf (beef cheek), garlicky cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs), and les profiteroles the size of my fist. Each.

Their new restaurant at Armenian Street now has two storeys and an alfresco area, and might I add that the second storey houses a rillette bar. When I first got wind of it, I swore I could have spasmed in sheer joy. Think of it this way: You can’t serve rillette at such affordable prices if it’s not homemade. These cured meat mixtures can be imported, but it’s easier to make a large batch to store – the longer the better. You can’t deny the appeal of homemade French charcuterie.

So, I mentioned its affordability. Now hold on to your seats, because you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere that serves charcuterie at such a price.

We ordered the Duck Rillette, as pictured above, at 100g for $10. I know! What sorcery is this?! Rillette anywhere else could run upwards of $15. It’s everything a good rillette should be. Salty, creamy, slightly chilled, and chunky. We schmeared it on bread, shovelled it in our mouths, and if we had ordered any more, I would have face-dunked in. Should you think that 100g is pricey, well, consider that it comes with a bowl of the cutest petits cornichons (baby gherkins), and imported French bread (I assumed so since they tasted like they were frozen before). 100g was sufficient for two people, and why would you want to order more when they have such a large variety of charcuterie?

Other than duck, they’ve got pork, rabbit, mackeral, and salmon rillettes. As if things couldn’t get any better, they have terrines and pâtés and saucissons. I was thrilled to spy an interesting Piegeon Mousse with Port Jelly (but alas, it was pricey), and wild boar sausage. 

Speaking of saucissons…

Iberico Ham. Cured for 18 to 24 months. $13 for 50g.

I’ve never seen Iberico at such a price. But wait! That’s not all! They have the option of Iberico de Bellota, cured for 30 to 36 months, at $20 per 50g!!! The questions that ricocheted off the walls in my head were something to the effect of, ‘How is this possible?!’, and ‘Where did they get it from?!’, but eventually settled on ‘You know what, I don’t care! It’s Iberico! Bring it on!’.

Cue the dramatic fanning and subsequent fainting.

I’m aware that all this gushing is a bit unbecoming, but the exclamation marks are only apt, for a fullstop would not give proper glory, laud, and honour to Iberico ham. I promise I’ll sound more proper onwards, now that I’m done hyperventilating.

I went almost giddy with delight when I saw that they served Pâté Lorrain, a mixture of meats baked in puff pastry. But it happened that they were sold out, so we got the Smoked Pork Bun Pâté ($6.50), which came as a palm-sized round of brioche, encasing a ball of pâté. It was moist, and was definitely tasty, but I was more enamoured with the thought of the Pâté Lorrain that we unfortunately couldn’t have.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier is known for their beef dishes, with an entire side menu of beef specialties on top of their already extensive charcuterie and main menu. The classics would include the côte de bœuf (a thick, bone-in rib steak), joue de bœuf (beef cheek), and tartare de bœuf (beef tartare)

That said, we got a Cassoulet Canard ($34) instead, a duck leg stew with a massive slab of tender pork belly, pork sausage, and white beans. I can’t quite think of anything else that could embody rustic, hearty French fare than a stew. The portion was generous, and the meats just sublime. It wasn’t out-of-this-world, but it was an excellent execution for sure.

Through the course of our meal, we had ginormous soufflés, fist-sized profiteroles, and deliciously burnt crème brûlées floating by our table, but we decided on a Gateau de Crepes ($14), essentially a stack of crepes filled with subtly sweet chestnut cream in between its layers. It’s not quite a powerfully sweet Mont Blanc, but it certainly was delicate and fluffy and had an adorable tumble of roasted French chestnuts.

So there we go – bistro fare at its best. Bistro ambience too if I should mention. The walls are a warm yellow, painted on brick, and it’s noisy and bustling with the clinks of wine glasses floating above raucous laughter and (if you listen hard enough) the gentle lilt of occasional French exchanged among the wait staff. Although we didn’t have any wine, it’s safe to say that for a bistro named after a wine steward, their wines should be exceptional.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier gets packed most nights, so reserve in advance. But if I wasn’t looking for a full meal, I could easily step in, head up to their second floor, and sit myself down at their Rillette Bar. It’s amazing, and that’s something to head back for, if not for the fact that it’s a road away from where I’m usually at every day. I don’t say this often about most places, but this is a reliable restaurant, and perhaps as authentically French as one could get. So, well, the gushing won’t end here.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier

Address: 53 Armenian Street

Tel: 63331982

Opening Hours: Mon- Sat, Lunch 12 to 3pm, Dinner 6 to 11pm

Hong Kong 2011: Wai Kee Congee Shop – Best You Tiao

The thing about Hong Kong is, unless you’re hitting the Michelin-starred restaurants and fine-dining establishments, you’re hardly likely to exhaust your wallet. A bowl of congee costs around 10HKD, which is less than $3SGD. The bottom-line is, you can happily drown yourself in a vat of congee and still have enough moolah for all the you tiaos to accompany your wanton gluttony.

Take Wai Kee Congee Shop for example (I actually didn’t know what it was called in English, and kept referring it to the Last You Tiao You Should Eat Before You Die shop). Enter any congee shop in Hong Kong and you can be sure to get velvety, smooth, and very tasty porridge for any meal. The yao jak guai (you tiao/ dough fritters) at Wai Kee however, may induce the kind of rabid addiction enough to grab the shelves of glistening golden dough fritters and make a break for it.

Wai Kee Congee Shop is located at the end of Stanley Street, and it took me a good 10 minutes of walking back and forth in front of the shop trying to discern if this flourescent-lit, slightly shabby-looking eatery was really it.

But we were hungry, we entered anyway, and struck jackpot.

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Aoki – Other-worldly Set Lunch

It’s a little difficult to wax lyrical about Aoki now for two reasons, the first being that this lunch was more than half a year ago, and the second being that it’ll only be about another week before I fly of to stuff my face proper with sashimi in Japan. But see, this post will never go up if it doesn’t right now, because I’m afraid Aoki will lose its charm, its Zen minimalism, its serenity, after I get back.

Aoki is under the Les Amis group of restaurants, but stands out in its austerity, and although it is situated in the row of the Les Amis Empire (as I like to call it) to the side of Shaw Centre, its easy to waltz by without a second glance, if you even gave it a glance to start with. I had to peek past the drapes, and ask if it was indeed Aoki, before proceeding into dark corridor and into its hushed interior, half expecting to be walloped over the head and taken to see the Yakuza.

I didn’t dare snap pictures of the interior. And if you’ve been in Aoki, you’d understand why. The entire restaurant seats no more than perhaps 28 people, with private rooms hidden out of sight, I’m sure. All you’ll see are three or four partitioned tables, and then the sushi counter down a short flight of steps. It’s so small that any new arrival warrants everyone’s attention. I wasn’t about to whip my camera out anytime soon.

It’s minimal, furnished in lightwood, lit mostly by the bright ochre lighting atop the counter seats, and shrouded in a reverent sort of silence. Yet, the activity is a sight to behold – hushed, diligent, confident, and directed, from wait staff and Sushi chefs alike. It’s another world, where time slows down, where you sit back and let people take care of you, and where you’ll notice thin rice cloths hanging from the ceiling, swaying lightly in gentle drafts.

I made reservations a few days in advance for lunch, where their lunch sets go for $35++ in contrast to their dinners that rocket past $100. I’d advise that you do, for the counter seats especially, because these seats give a show more spectacular than a conveyor belt of listless-looking sushi. You see the chefs in action, blowtorches blazing, razor-sharp knives deftly slicing equally portioned slices of sashimi from slabs of fish, and the swift, almost effortless formation of sushi. It’s $35++ for amazing quality food, and meal-time entertainment. You don’t get that at many places.

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artichoke cafe + bar

In the 4 months that I’ve been away from writing proper, I’ve been violently sucked into a whirlwind of events, bludgeoned with massive amounts of food, met the incredible people behind food establishments, harvested an insane amount of food photographs, and got tossed into the world of publishing – all in the name of Urban Relish. What was supposed to be a small-scaled summer food publication almost immediately blew out of proportion and there went 4 months.

But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is: Meet my latest obsession.

Moorish Cuisine – a melange of cuisines from the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean countries. Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and more, Moorish cuisine is best summed up as probably the best thing that the rampaging Ottomans left behind before the empire was broken up into what we know today as Turkey, Arabia, Syria, and the like.

In a nutshell, you’re supposed to be feasting at a table with friends whom you love enough to share the bounty with. You order up a storm, and dive right in. And there’s so much to love about such a philosophy that I’ve been back about a total of 5 times now, with a handful or so of returns in the planning.

As part of the mammoth food guide, Urban Relish, that I was slaving away for, I had the opportunity to visit Artichoke for a tasting session. All I’d heard about them was their brunch. And if you’re like me and have only heard about their brunch, well I have just one thing to say: Stop hearing it, because I’m going to tell you about their dinners.

Of course, it’s chef Bjorn Shen who has crafted this contagious culture in his restaurant, and all I needed was just a little chat with him for it to start infecting (in the best way possible). If you need an example of his kitchen philosophy, just have a look at that chalk-scrawled wall in the picture on the right. He’s great with his meats, just in case you can’t tell.

It’s all about great food, colour, texture, boisterous groups of people, passing around a Forgotten Grain Salad to share, mopping up plates of dips with flat breads, and perhaps a meat platter if you’re so inclined. Although I must say that if you do order a meat platter, chances are, Chef Bjorn himself might just come right up to your table in the midst of grilling some haloumi and try to convince you to order a Beetroot Tzatziki instead.

When at Artichoke, if something on the menu looks foreign to you, order it. Don’t know what’s blackened Turkish butter? Or the aforementioned haloumi? Only one way to find out. If you’re still insecure, I’m telling you they’re all good. Details in a while.

Here he is, orchestrating the photoshoot as I was perched atop a high stool. He admitted to having dabbled in food photography a while back before starting Artichoke, and burst out of the restaurant arms full with cups, bottles of cider, cutlery, napkins – anything and everything that could be a prop.

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Bistro du Vin #2

Bistro du Vin!

I used to shun set lunches like Singaporeans shun the sun (say that ten times fast). I mean, nondescript “Soup of The Day”s, “Garden Salad”s, and “Dessert of The Day”s? You get what they’re trying to do after a while – Cost cutting. You know, things that the chef or the kitchen needs to be rid of in a manner to avoid any wastage. Isn’t it perfect then, to feed the sorry souls hungry for a break from sitting at the desk who brighten up at the mere thought of a ‘3-course set-lunch’ the chowder from yesterday’s dinner rush, and a fritatta of last night’s leftovers?

Oh lordie, am I jaded much?

Right, enough of the mopey grousing over all the times I’ve been hoodwinked into forking out cash for crummy food. I should make it clear though, this does not mean I condone the fact that just because it is a set lunch and not an à la carte order for lunch/dinner, it is an excuse for serving less-than-excellent food. Nuh uh.

That being said, I declare that I am now a convert.

I now order set lunches with wild abandon. So shoot me.

Interior. Complimentary bread.

Bistro du Vin swept me away from my first visit about half a year back. It was dinner that I had then, and their rendition of the timeless Duck Leg Confit (confit de canard) had me weeping at the table with how delicately it literally melted off the bone, yielding to barely a prod of a knife, and had skin so fine and thin and crackly it was like a single, most intense moment of self-revelation – that it put the french in French cooking that I’d never realised before.

So then I heard that they offer equally, if not better, 3-course set lunches at $30++ that could potentially make me burst into tears, I had to go. I needed a good cry.

Salmon Trout Gravadlax with Dill, Citrus and Radish.

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Dino Cakehouse & Cafe – Strawberry Delight

Strawberry Delight ($8.50)

Mommy bought home my favourite strawberry cake!

Well she bought home a whole load of stuff, as is the norm when she goes off to NTUC and sprees away, claiming that when I do grocery shopping, I ‘never buy all [her] things!’. But that’s not the point. The point is that the occasional cake, tutu kueh, tau huay (beancurd), min jiang kueh (peanut pancake), sometimes find themselves into one of the 3 large recyclable shopping bags mommy always brings out. And after an entire week of consuming food purely for sustenance because there’s no time to venture out for better things, my favourite Dino’s Strawberry Cake is like a beaming ray of light in my fridge.

Half a beaming ray of light, that is.

The other half’s shimmering away gleefully in my tummy.  Read more of this post

Cafe Hacienda

 

Cafe Hacienda

 

In a direct one-eighty to the Choupinette post I put up a while back, I’m embarrassed (well, a little) to admit that yes, I’ve been brunch-ing far more frequently than I would normally and that I will now openly declare that I’m brunching as opposed to just having a late breakfast. It sends a chill up my spine that I realise that I don’t think I can return to that normalcy. I’m afraid, very afraid.

The thrill of finding an awesome brunch place now supercedes the steady thinning of my wallet.

Well almost.

See, the novelty of doing something unconventional (like having brunch dishes at 4pm, brunch-ing on a weekday before class, playing with Google Man to find brunch places..) will never wear out as long as this idea of brunch is still shiny and new to me.

And as long as I keep chancing across gems like Cafe Hacienda, nestled in the lush foliage of Dempsey Hill, all peaceful and warm and blissful and cozy and empty during weekdays and with killer Eggs Benedict…

I’m saying tata to breakfasts and lunches.

 

Interior

 

All-day breakfast and brunch places are sprouting up all over the island, and while Café Hacienda’s brunch and breakfast spread of waffles, egg dishes and pastries aren’t going to win an award for variety, it is much appreciated and admirable that they make up for the lack by executing the few that they have to offer fantastically. Now that’s reliability – doing one thing right and well each time without fail, namely, their Eggs Benedict.  Read more of this post