Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Tag Archives: set lunch

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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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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Cocotte – French country cooking

Hotel Wanderlust - Cocotte

When people think French, they think stifling fine-dining, measly portions, extravagant black tie affairs for people who have the luxury of time and money. I’m not going to lie that French food isn’t pricey, but I must draw a distinction between the classes of the French cuisine.

In layman terms, you have the fanciful – but no less artful – fine-dining style of cuisine, and then you have the tuck-a-napkin-into-your-collar-and-get-right-in-there peasant-style of French cooking.

Fresh flowers. No-frills decor.

For all those afraid of formality, well, you can chuck out that bowtie of yours because it’s just going to get in the way of the food and your mouth, and if anything, it’ll only be useful as far as that dribble of sauce down your chin is concerned. At Cocotte, you get incredibly rich gravies so thick they don’t splatter, hearty portions of meat and potatoes and all sorts of root vegetables, and flawless (and very liberal) amalgams of butter and wine.

You get down-to-earth, sincere food.

When I heard that Cocotte was nestled within a boutique hotel, named Wanderlust, one with 4 thematic floors, each designed by Singaporean designing agencies, and after chancing across pictures of their quirky, edgy rooms, I knew I had to pop by sometime. Not so much to see the rooms, of course, because that’ll just be odd since I have no reason to spend the night in Little India, but just to, you know, get a feel of the place since the very name of the hotel just reflects my longstanding affliction of not being able to travel much.

And then I actually saw pictures of Cocotte, the spunky yet provincial decor, with splashes of Le Creuset-themed colours (bold reds, blues, yellows, oranges, whites and blacks…) against rustic, unlacquered wooden furnishings, and saw pictures of the kinds of French country-style foods they whip up, and I really should have contained myself, but I didn’t – I made a reservation.

Beouf Bourguignon (supplement of $12 for the $29-per-pax set lunch)

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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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