Kumo – A Meditative Kaiseki

DC and I were celebrating a special occasion and, having been there once and enjoying the food immensely, we chose Kumo. We opted for the kaiseki menu at $168 per person. The chef showcases the ingredients of the season and his skill with the various courses. He also checked whether we had any particular dislikes or preferences before starting our dinner.

The first course came as a tasting appetiser platter. Unfortunately, the waitress wasn’t very experienced and didn’t give an description of our dish before disappearing to fetch our sake. We started from right to left, tasting the unagi topped with kinome leaf (it’s a kind of pepper plant and the aroma was similar to kaffir lime leaf, with hints of mint), then a jumbo-size broad bean that was half sprouted, a sweet vinegary lotus root, some kind of soft brown shoot, a boiled prawn that was a bit too sugary for my taste, something quite familiar – choy sum – that’s apparently a spring delicacy in Japan, and scallop with sweet yuzu sauce. It was all halfway decent, and would probably have been more interesting had I known what they all were without having to figure it all out with a Japanese cookbook on seasonal food at home. One problem was that the scallop was on the verge of being unfresh, forgivable in lesser establishments, but certainly not at a kaiseki place that’s celebrating the freshness of seasonal produce (and also the former fatness of one’s wallet).

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By then, the sake arrived and we were distracted by the not-quite stellar start. DC chose a bubbly sake, something we’ve not tried before. It’s called Takara Mio ($28 for 300ml) and scored -7 on the dry-sweet scale, the numbers decreasing as it got sweeter. The first hit of the sake gave the immediate impression of 7-Up, except with a sake nose. It’s hardly made for the connoisseur, and with only 5% alcohol, could well pass for a girly alcopop. We enjoyed the floral fizz, it was a lovely change from the usual sake.

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But I jumped ahead too fast to the sake. The sake bottle was accompanied to the table by a tray of pretty sake glasses and we each chose a unique one from which to enjoy our sake. What a lovely touch.

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The next dish was explained by a more knowledgeable waitress. It was sesame tofu and icefish in dashi. I wasn’t sure about the tofu on its own, because it was somehow rather bitter, but I liked the texture and aroma combination that made it very reminiscent of our local ahbaling (glutinous rice balls stuffed with black sesame). It was much better taken with the soup and smushed in the mouth so that it became creamy and fragrant. The icefish was quite like local white bait, just a bit bigger – rather like an intermediate between local and western white bait. Soft bones were part of the deal and it was a bit weird to feel them going down. The icefish had a nice delicately fishy flavour but wasn’t very special. The kinome leaf featured again, to my delight and the fern was only okay. I was a bit disappointed that it couldn’t last long enough from its trip from Japan as it was already browning slightly and wasn’t super fresh.

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Now the sashimi course was what grabbed my attention. Oh my, how many ways was it divine? The fish, for a start. Just three kinds, but fantastically chosen to showcase delicate white fish in the form of hirame (flounder), then oily white fish in the form of hamachi (yellowtail) and oily red fish in the star of otoro (tuna belly). First of all, the sashimi was supremely fresh and faultless. It was also cut perfectly – no sinews, no weird bits marring the pure taste of fish. Then the soy sauce. It had a deep, almost smoky flavour and really brought out the flavour of the fish. As if that wasn’t enough, the garnishes came into play too. There were pretty pink turnip slices, sour-savoury marinated chrysanthemum petals (not the usual bitter, yum!), mouth-numbingly hot mustard sprouts, marinated seaweed and freshly grated wasabe. The star of the garnishes was the sprig of pink flowers. Eat them on their own and it’s nothing special. But drop them into the soy sauce and you get an unexpected fragrance when eating the sashimi. And the otoro part – it was stunning with lovely marbling and flavour. I don’t even need to say it hardly required any chewing. Beautiful.

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The next course, while not as headline grabbing as the sashimi course, was nonetheless stunning. I loved the salted grilled hamachi cheek. The insides were very soft and flavourful from the fish oils and the salty-sticky-chewy-crisp bits of the skin was a lovely contrast. For the inside flesh that needed a little lift, there was some grated daikon that had a dash of soy sauce added to the top. The sideshows were stellar, with three kinds of tempura and four kinds of boiled items. The tempura was very interesting, all of vegetables that aren’t in your regular tempura set. There was a type of shoot with a delicate garlic-like flavour, a chrysanthemum flower (cooking seems to cook out the bitterness, and baby cabbage that was essentially a brussels sprout without the bitterness. Of the boiled items, the sweet potato tasted as if it had been soaked in pure sugar, which was such an oddity (assuming of course that the sweetness was all natural). Otherwise, the sweet bean, Japanese red carrot, and konnyaku (yam jelly) weren’t particularly special. I never quite understood the point of konnyaku in savoury dishes anyway.

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The performance started to sag at this point. It was still interesting, because they served different parts of the boiled octopus. There were the usual tentacles, but also part of the head, which contained tightly-packed roe. It was topped with the same creamy yuzu sauce as the scallop in the first dish. I wasn’t too enamoured by the flavours and textures of this dish, but it could in part be due to my guilt for eating octopus. See, I don’t normally eat octopus. When I went diving in Komodo, I was told that octopi are generally almost impossible to catch because they are so intelligent and are masters of stealth and disguise. Only female octopi get so hungry while tending their laid eggs that they throw caution to the winds and move out to get food. This is when they get caught, and the result is that the next generation of octopi die too, because their mother isn’t around to oxygenate the eggs. But I dunno, seeing that this octopus had unlaid eggs inside, perhaps it was simply a dumb one caught unawares? Who knows.

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The next dish was the weakest link in the menu. It was a seaweed stew with bamboo shoots and grilled scallops. We first tasted the seaweed stew, which was essentially pureed seaweed. It was strongly umami-flavoured yet strangely not very salty. Then I tasted the grilled scallop, but not before appreciating the delicate grill markings on it. This time, the scallop was top-notch fresh. The downfall were the bamboo shoots as they were way too salty, so much so that even a prolonged dunk in the seaweed stew didn’t do it any good. The balance was completely off, and hardly saved by the aromatic kinome leaf. Bad move.

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The next dish got a little better. It was done super simply – just boiled and dribbled with a delicate goma sauce. The green vegetable was Japanese butterbur, which is very much like celery except that it was tubular o-shape rather than celery’s c-shape. It was similarly fibrous, but hadn’t any particular flavour. The mountain yam was starchy and very slightly sticky, so DC initially thought they gave us potato by mistake.

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The tempura course was where things started to really pick up. I’ve not had wagyu tempura before so this was quite the revelation. The batter was very delicate so that it would complement the soft beef that was slow-cooked till the tendons were melting. I was glad to see the garlic shoot-like plant feature again. It was especially good with the dipping salt.

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By now, I was so full that the sushi course, signalling the end of the savoury courses, was a big relief. The chef cleverly left the best to the last. The first thing about the sushi was how prettily it was plated. Then as I ate each piece, I realised that the rice was firm and had a mouthfilling savour rather than the typical vinegary aroma of the regular type of sushi rice. By this time, the sheer number of courses and the effects of the sake had kicked in and I don’t remember each bite as clearly as earlier on with the sashimi. As expected, the fish was top notch fresh. What I liked was that each piece of sushi had some kind of topping as a play on the texture. The anago was delicately tender, going well with the crisp cucumber slice and the smoky aburi tai (torched seabream) came with a few strange chewy sticks of (yam? seaweed?) on the top. The kohada (gizzard shad) came with ginger and spring onions on top and was very lightly vinegared, unlike the usual sharp blast when other places do it to less than fresh mackeral. There was a seasonal fish called sayori that had a shiso leaf and some of its own bones, deep-fried, on the top. It was rather special. The otoro came with an interesting chopped wasabe leaf topping that gave a whole different perspective of how we usually see wasabe. The best part was that they gave an extra dollop of wasabe on the side to dip the sushi with impunity. Yum.

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Dessert really was pretty much an afterthought. The sakura cheesecake was frozen and decent enough, but nothing special. Similarly, the fruits were only decent. I found it a waste to spend money importing Japanese strawberries only to find mine tart: it was hopeless to fight against the strawberry coulis. Aside from that, I liked the sweet-tart mango, which quite definitely didn’t come from Japan. And the mochi was decent with the red bean.

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I can’t decide whether the dessert was a letdown or a soft landing for the dinner. It definitely clarified how good the sashimi and sushi courses were, and in a way reset the palate back to the real world. I wish I had more occasions and a fatter wallet to have this more often.

Kumo
12 Gopeng Street, Icon Village, #01-58
Singapore 078877
Tel: +65 6225 8433

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Quick Drinks: Make Shake

Shinta took us to Make Shake one sweltering hot day after we finished our mee pok tar at Verdun Road (the chilli is still as good as ever and even better, their noodles are now done al dente). We absolutely needed something to cool us down. Thankfully there was Make Shake, a little milkshake stall at the basement of City Square Mall.

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We took a while deciding what to have because there was a mind-boggling array of choices. Either choose from a list of the popular flavours or customise your own. From the bases, you can choose malted vanilla ice cream ($2.90), chocolate ice cream ($3.40) or frozen yogurt (presumably plain yogurt at $3.80). Then you choose what to blend in from four categories at $0.80 a pop – sweet treats like Maltesers and Skittles, fruit like strawberry and lychee, sauces and powders like green tea and caramel, and biscuits like Hello Panda and Tim Tam.

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I went for the Green Monster, a blend of vanilla ice cream with mint and Oreo ($3.90). It was pretty good as it was nice and thick and the biscuit blended fine enough that I didn’t have funny lumps in it yet could taste the biscuit bits. The touch of mint was just right so it was refreshing and not at all like toothpaste. Shinta and Eeyore buddied up for the 2 for $6 coconut shake offer, but it wasn’t very good as the coconut flavour was a bit suspect. I guess coconut from a can just isn’t as good as freshly squeezed especially when you can get fresh coconut fairly easily in Singapore. KK had vanilla and lychee and seemed to like hers. She reported that the lychee was canned as expected. Mrs Eeyore had chocolate and coffee and was very pleased that it tasted exactly like a frappuccino. Right. DC had the strawberry with vanilla – it wasn’t very smooth and the strawberry bits were a bit too tart. Overall, they make a credible milkshake, though a bit too solid. DC and I prefer Once Upon a Milkshake, which is thicker and smoother. But if you’re in the area, the Green Monster is a great way to cool down.

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Make Shake
#B2-K2/K11, City Square Mall
180 Kitchener Road
Singapore 208539
Tel: +65 6834 3458

Half a meal at Bistro Soori and a Re-visit to Tea Chapter

By the time we left Esquina, it was barely 8pm on a Friday evening and we were worried that all the nice places in the Chinatown area would be packed and we weren’t sure they’d give us a table just for dessert. Here’s where Bistro Soori really shone. It’s just diagonally across from Esquina and couldn’t be more different. It is a quiet dinner place, more for an intimate first date than raucous socialising. The place was fairly empty and almost entirely taken by reservations, but thankfully there was a lovely place overlooking the prep stations at a bar counter and we were very happy to sit and watch the chefs at work while proceeding with our gluttony. When presented with the menu, we couldn’t help thumbing through the rest of the courses instead of simply zeroing in on the desserts. Here’s where we all exchanged slightly guilty looks at our greed and asked each other almost simultaneously if we could share the one dish that caught our fancy – the uni, scallop and prawn risotto ($35).

The chef started preparing it right in front of us. I was surprised by how quickly he put it together, first carefully removing two generous strips of uni from its wooden bed and mashing one while reserving the other, then taking half-cooked rice from one jumbo tub in the fridge, and adding broth and various seasonings to the pot. The risotto was plated carefully and finished with a fluorish of grated cheese and baby basil leaves. I was slightly taken aback by how soupy it looked and I was bracing myself for the worst, until spoon hit tongue, I chewed, and an epiphany occurred. Could it be true? We just had a very good tapas dinner, could this surpass that? It was indeed. The first thing that hits when tasting this dish was the clarity of flavours. The taste was of the sea – slightly briney, and tasting intensely of slate and mineral. Then a hint of yuzu rang out and there I was again, reaching out for my next spoonful of risotto. With the fresh uni, it was full of that strange quality of creamy seafood that only sea urchin has. The prawn was lovely enough, but the scallop was amazing. It was seared just so and sliced to let out the juices. The risotto with scallop juices was simply astounding. To completely let go with my histrionics and overblown comparisons (this is me all excited about the dish), it was as if we were released from Plato’s Cave and finally got to taste risotto and scallop and sea urchin in their ur-forms. I think it’ll go down a treat with a bone dry, minerally sauvignon blanc or muscadet. DC thinks it’s a lot of fuss about a dish, but this is the best I’ve had for the year so far. Go try it and taste for yourself!

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Back to the matter at hand: dessert. We ordered pineapple cake with coconut cream frosting ($12).  The cake had a strange gummy texture, as if a heavy flourless batter had been shot through with bubbles. The closest texture comparison is the local kueh ambon with its vertical chambers. DC really loved it. One of the chefs told us that the cake was fat-free and had been made by using a foam canister to extrude the batter into the tin, that was how they achieved the heavy lightness. The coconut frosting was quite good too, that I’m sure had plenty of fat in it!

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Chris absolutely had to have her pandan souffle ($12). She’d been here before and fell in love with this dessert at her last visit. The small cake came out super high with a yummy brown top. It tasted a lot like traditional pandan chiffon cake, just far softer and moister. It was light and lovely. I could eat two on my own! The little biscuit on the side was a good contrast as it was slightly salty, a nice plain foil to the aromatic pandan.

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I very much hope to come back here soon, but that will have to wait till another day!

Bistro Soori
2 Teck Lim Rd
Singapore 088380
Tel: +65 6438 3802

In the mean time, other diversions awaited. The night was yet young and we traipsed around the area looking for another place to either have more food or for a drink. Since we’d all driven there separately (so eco-unfriendly, I know), we couldn’t drink anything alcoholic. We also reached the limits of our greed and were very glad to come across Tea Chapter at Neil Road. It was a $7 minimum order per person for the tea, so that meant that we had to get something that was worth at least $21. We chose the silver needles white tea ($28) and our server very kindly made the first pot for us.

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First, she poured the hot water into the little teapot to steep before transferring it into a beaker when the time was up.

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When we wanted to enjoy it, we poured some into the tall cup to enjoy the aroma, and then into the short cup to sip the tea.

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The tea was very enjoyable, especially between the various steeps of the tea. It went from delicately floral to more tannic and robust from the first pour to the fifth (that’s the maximum you can go). But more fun was watching Chris and DC play Othello. Not surprisingly, Chris won: she has plenty of practice playing against her son. Me? I just sat back and tried my hand at brewing the tea.

Tea Chapter
9 Neil Road
Singapore 088808
Tel: +65 6226 1175

Esquina

Esquina is the name of an Argentine tango album that I like a lot: so much that when I lost the first copy, I bought a replacement from amazon.com. It’s unfortunately out of stock now, but thankfully the earthy, soulful music lives on in mp3 form in my hard drive. Esquina also means street corner, and this is exactly where Esquina the tapas bar is – wrapped round the corner of Jiak Chuan Road and Teck Lim Road. Chris and I had wanted to try this for a while and we soon found ourselves there one Friday evening. This place doesn’t do reservations, just turn up relatively early so you get a seat. I was stuck in the mother of all traffic jams and didn’t make it there till far later than the 6.15 sweet spot we agreed on. Luckily, there was still room outside and we settled in after asking the staff to give us the next table that became available inside. It’s a packed and fairly rowdy place, just like what a tapas bar should be.

Outside, the light was beautiful enough to capture my sangria nicely. Chris had heard great things about it and I do agree it goes down a treat – sweet, smooth and fairly inocuous until you realise you made the mistake of gulping it down to cool yourself. It’s definitely got some hard stuff in it. To properly cool yourself, go for the cold water the waiter serves up straight away once you get seated (nice one!). Sip the sangria slowly because the sweetness masks how strong it is, and you do want to enjoy the cinnamon flavour. Plus, it is a rather small serving. It is, after all, a reasonable $12. Strangely enough for a tapas bar, we couldn’t find this on the menu and there was no suggestion that there were variations of sangria. There’s a decent winelist though, so you could check that out.

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Now we were here for the tapas and drinking is rather secondary to the food for us lightweights. (We only pretend that we can drink, really!) The oysters with Vietnamese dressing came first. At $5 a pop, they were fairly reasonably priced. I liked how they came balanced atop a seaweed and salt bed upon a rustic chopping board. They certainly made a pretty sight. The oysters were fresh and went fairly well with the sauce. However, I failed to see the Vietnamese link as it was more sweet and sour than herbal, bracing or tart. No chilli either. While a pleasing combination, Chris and I still find oysters au naturel (with maybe a small squeeze of lemon juice) far better.

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The scallop ceviche with radish salsa was much more inspired. At $19.50 for four portions of scallop, it wasn’t bad value. The tart soy dressing and mustardy kick of the baby leaves went really well with the crunchy-sharp radish salsa and the delicate brininess of the scallop.

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Next up was the grilled baby romaine salad with anchovies, manchego and truffle honey ($9.50). It was a great take on a green salad because the grilling made the romaine hearts tender yet retaining crunch. It was a fantastic combination because the foil to the textures of the vegetable was sour-salty-fishy from the anchovies, salty-umami-slight pungence from the cheese, and a delicate sweetness from the honey. I didn’t taste any truffle, but that hardly made any difference to the lovely flavours and textures of the dish.

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The light began to fade as the rest of the dishes turned up, like the heritage tomato salad with sherry dressing ($13.50). Unfortunately, this course was a bit faded too. It was a nice enough salad, with meaty red, green and yellow tomatoes dressed well with a sweet sherry vinaigrette. Chris really liked the green tomatoes and the funny soil-like garnish on the plate.

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Then came one of the specials of the evening – hens egg with asparagus and foie gras butter ($21). First, I don’t understand what’s with restaurants these days padding out the names of common ingredients just to make it sound more high class. An egg means a regular chicken egg unless otherwise noted, like quail egg or duck egg. As far as I know, there isn’t such thing as a rooster egg, so what’s with this funny distinction? (Me ordering: We’ll have the egg special; Server: Ah, the hen’s egg?; Me: ?????) Rant aside, this dish was rather eggsellent. It consisted of tender roasted asparagus on a shallot-lentil base and topped with a poached (hen’s) egg. Accompanying it was what  had been described as a piece of foie gras “that big” (our server indicated about the diameter of a ping pong ball). It was more like foie gras butter (not terrine or pate, so temper your expectations). The idea is really the very British concept of egg and soldiers, just made more upmarket with the hen’s egg. OK fine, not the egg but the asparagus and foie gras butter. So this is what you do – butter the toast liberally with the decadent spread and dunk into the egg, trying not to drip too much in the journey from dish to mouth. There’s not going to be enough bread, so here’s where the asparagus comes in. It’s roasted till tender and go beautifully with the mixture of soft-cooked egg and lentils and shallot.

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The last dish we had here was the baked bone marrow with snails and parsley and horseradish pesto ($24). DC had turned up by this point and was happily scarfing it down, the more exotic foods being his eating specialty. I wasn’t too sure about this. While I enjoyed the theatrics of this dish – great presentation of bone and pretty shallot and herb topping hiding the less pretty dark brown snail filling, the perfectly toasted bread sitting just so at the side, and the painting of parsley pesto on the final third of the plate – I found that the snails overwhelmed the bone marrow. I like how the more conventional places do bone marrow as if it’s a very rich spread to toast. Here, the chef probably wanted to take it a notch further with snails, but I found that the rubbery gastropod simply took away from what should have been an unctuous, mouth-filling toast sensation. Plus, I couldn’t detect any horseradish either. Nonetheless, DC really liked it.

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Here’s where our experience came to an abrupt end. The staff didn’t come back with the inside table even though there had been some turn over inside. When asked, they seemed to have forgotten and instead wanting to put us on the waiting list which entailed another 30 minutes or so before getting into airconditioning.  We weren’t too happy to have been kept outside in the heat for so long, so we called for the bill and went elsewhere for Round Two. While each of the servers were friendly and seemed competent enough, their communication with each other wasn’t great. Upon arrival, the server who first saw us pointed us to another lady who seated us, then the first server came back to take our order. They missed out DC’s wine as the order hadn’t been made through our guy, and our indoor table request was clearly lost because we must have asked the wrong person. It’s a strange practice that wouldn’t win a lot of fans if they keep losing communications like that. Nonetheless, the food is generally good and not too horrifically priced for a tapas place. Too bad DC didn’t get to order the Iberico pork and foie gras burger and Chris didn’t get to try the desserts. The lesson probably is to be more patient. But for the more impatient, like us, yummier treats awaited just across the esquina. To be continued!

Esquina
16 Jiak Chuan Rd
Singapore 089267
Tel: +65 6222 1616

A Great Rediscovery: Brinj

I have fond memories of the now-defunct Azhang restaurant that was at Mohamed Sultan Road. What stood out most was their corn salsa and their expertly grilled dishes and I was incredibly disappointed when they closed. Tym clued me in that the people behind Azhang opened a new restaurant, called Brinj, and it was as good as before. She assured me that yes, they still serve that corn salsa. The only problem was finding an opportunity to go, because Upper Bukit Timah is rather a distance away from my usual stomping grounds. Luckily Tricia and Eugene (and DC of course) were happy to indulge my little food obsession. I had a hard time describing the food to them – it’s not local, yet not quite western, and definitely not fusion. Let me just launch into the experience and you’ll know what it’s all about.

When we got there, Patrick, the chef-owner told us there was no menu. He rattled off what he had that evening: there was a spare pork knuckle because he was roasting a piglet for another group and tossed in the knuckle for the heck of it, there were lamb ribs, there was salmon belly and (yes, yes, yes!) grilled calamari, and corn salad. We thought we had to choose, but he just said “Don’t worry, I’ll let you have a bit of each to try”. Then he started talking about making Hokkien mee after, but that would be a bit later at 9pm. So not quite knowing what would hit us, we launched into dinner. The corn salad ($19.80 for a double portion) came first and it was quite similar to what I remember: freshly grilled corn well-seasoned and tossed with romaine lettuce, onion, tomato and green chilli. I liked the tart olive oil dressing and the cumin-coriander flavours. It’s one of these strange dishes that somehow works!

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The pork knuckle ($16) came next. It was cooked till rather dark, and I was afraid that it had been over done. Sure, the skin was on the verge of charred, but the flavour was good and the skin was nicely crispy, though in some places a bit on the hard side. Having had deep-fried pork knuckle done till very tender, this roasted version isn’t as tender, but there’s something very satisfying about chewing the savoury meat. Have it with the sambal belachan that the staff (actually Patrick’s teenage children) very cheerfully topped up as we ate. The carrots on the side were good too, surprisingly sweet. We were so distracted by the pork knuckle that we didn’t see the roast piglet come out to the group next to us.

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We sat at a long table that dominated the room, separated by one place setting and the clever use of a table runner. The other group had oysters, which Patrick freshly shucked at the counter, and champagne. Later, they had what looked like a stuffed roast duck and angel hair pasta that DC claims was done Iggy’s style with haebee hiam. (Not knowing what Iggy’s style angel hair pasta is like, I defer to DC’s assessment and sigh at the lack of opportunity for such food experiences. Big hint here.) But all food envy disappeared when the lamb ribs ($45) appeared. This was probably the star dish. It was very simply done with hardly any discernable marinade aside from salt and maybe pepper. But the flavour of the lamb was astounding – it was a sort of delicately meaty flavour (!) and without any of the gamey lamb flavour that I know a lot of people don’t fancy. The ribs were cooked till still pink and were hence really tender and perfect to chew directly off the bone while holding it with fingers. Don’t bother being all chi-chi here, it felt just like being at someone’s home.

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The lamb went very well with a bottle of 2003 Château de Malleret Haut-Medoc ($45) that DC picked out. It was a very soft red wine, rather juicy and with the right balance of tannins to stand up against the lamb. Patrick said that the chilli would bring out the spiciness of the wine. I simply enjoyed the velvety texture and the fact that I wouldn’t get a headache from the wine. (New World wines somehow don’t agree with me, I tend to only drink wines from the Old World these days.) There’s also a good selection of single malts here, we were very impressed by the many bottles of Islay malts available.

We were already pretty much full from the meat, but the salmon belly ($21) and grilled calamari ($21) turned up. I’m not normally a big fan of salmon, but this version was surprisingly good. It was masterfully grilled so that it was lightly charred on the outside, and succulently rare on the inside. Same way for the calamari: just cooked inside and charred on the oustide. The best bit of the calamari was the tentacles, perfectly done so there were bits of crunchy char yet not overcooked. The basmati rice beneath was another epiphany. It was incredibly aromatic with plenty of bite, despite the soak in the seafood juices and olive oil dressing. This is a definite re-order.

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By the time we finished our mains, Patrick strolled round and announced that he was ready to cook the Hokkien mee. We were groaning with the idea of putting more food down our gullets, no matter how good. Patrick quipped that it was OK if we didn’t order it as he was sure another table would be happy to have it. This activated my fear of losing out and I asked for the smallest possible portion so that we could each have a taste. “Of course,” he exclaimed, and off he disappeared to the kitchen. When our plate ($20) arrived, the group of six on the other side asked if we could swap with their bigger portion. Notwithstanding how good we later found the Hokkien mee to be, we were very glad for once that we only had tasting portions. The yellow noodles were fried with what appeared to be ordinary ingredients like beansprouts, chye sim, prawns, squid and fatty pork… until Eugene saw the bits of bacon inside and we overheard Patrick telling the other group that he used duck fat in it. He then came round bearing a little saucer of balsamic vinegar with cut chilli inside, exhorting us to try it this way because it tasted like lor mee that way. Oh boy, it was yummy – rich and good, and the tang of balsamic vinegar somehow made it even better.

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Coming to Brinj is like having a very enthusiastic gourmet friend invite you over to his home and try his hand at new dishes. It’s very honest food with absolutely no pretension. Sure, it’s slightly rough about the edges, but this is what home-style food is like. And the damage was minimal, at $50 per head including a rather good bottle of wine. Halfway through the dinner, we were already talking about when to return with a big group so we could have the duck and the oysters and maybe a roast pig too. After we got the bill, we know that this has to happen soon!

P.S. Thanks Eugene for taking the photos!

Brinj
15 Cheong Chin Nam Road
Singapore 599739
Tel: +65 6469 9093
Email: brinj@bodyequation.net

Yahava

Jean told me about this place called Yahava tucked in an area of town that I’ve been frequenting quite a bit. It’s stylishly decorated…

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… with interesting details such as the portafilters standing in for door handles. Cute eh? The inside feels very airy because they haven’t crammed the place full of tables and chairs. There’s plenty of space for displaying coffees from around the world. (They urge you to take a pack home to try.) There’s also a comfy couch if you feel like lounging.

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And how’s the coffee? Very decent. The cafe latte is aromatically assertive with a light bitterness and none of the horrible acidity of inferior brews.

IMG_4637Worth trying if you’re in the area. Good coffee, great atmosphere.

Yahava KoffeeWorks
4 Jalan Gelenggang
Singapore 578188
Tel: +65 6554 7080
koffee@yahava.sg

The Leica and the Bespoke Cocktails

And we take a short break from Africa. Let me bring you something much closer to home:

Even though Yi-Ling was back in Singapore for too short a while, we made good use of the time and hung out when we could. After an indulgent day wandering around looking at interior design ideas and going for a spa, we ended up at Bar Stories where the bartenders make customised drinks. We got there early at about 5pm on a weekday, making it the perfect excuse for Yi-Ling to order the famed Apple Pie drink. Alas, I was but a n00b and needed some prompting from our friendly bartender (I badly quote him: “No s**t drinks!”). I asked for something sour and refreshing, with no mixed alcohol (needed to recover enough to drive, see). It turned out to be an easily made up drink made with fresh passionfruit, sours, simple syrup and vodka. Decent if in a regular joint because I do like my passionfruit, but kinda meh in a place like this. Friendly bartender later christened it Boring Passion on our bill and told me that I should say if I didn’t like my drink (but I did like it, it was just kinda quotidian).

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Anyhow, I enjoyed my passionfruit drink and finished a good half of it while watching him make Yi-Ling’s Apple Pie. No wonder they only make it during off-peak: it took a good 10 minutes to make! First, he chopped some green apple and muddled it together with some cinnamon sugar. I didn’t catch what else he added, but there was this pretty spectacular bit where he took a blow torch and a spray bottle of angostura bitters and sprayed the bitters through the flame and into the mix. Very cool indeed. Then there was a bit more prep work with rimming the glass with more cinnamon sugar and finishing off the drink prettily with apple slices. It was a lovely drink, tasting very much like baked apple pie filling. Excellent stuff!

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We sat for ages at the bar enjoying the ambience and the decor. Check out the ceiling lights, I really liked how they hacked hanging lights into something a little more interesting. I think it helps a lot that the shop downstairs has the same sort of furniture for sale. In fact, the comfortable seats we sat one were for sale too.

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Then the exciting bit started. A photographer from Club Snap was testing out a camera. To be precise, it was a Leica S2 on loan from Leica’s distributor in Singapore. He’d arranged for one of the bartenders to make cocktails with plenty of blow torch action and took numerous shots like below, just from a much better angle and with infinitely more skill.

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By then, I was ready for my next cocktail and asked for something herbal and complex. Not to be outdone by the other guy, our friendly bartender pulled together some rosemary, plonked it into a tumbler and poured on some gin. He then nonchalantly lit it with a blow torch and walked away.

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When the flames died down, he came back and poured in a mixture of flamed angostura bitters, sours and simple syrup. To finish, he pushed in some crushed ice et voila! And my drink was served. I am not exaggerating: this is the best drink I’ve had. My first impression was that of bak kwa. While many think of sweet-saltiness first when they describe why they like bak kwa, most of bak kwa’s allure really comes from the smoky, mouth-filling flavour of charred food. It was this same smoky, mouthfilling flavour that somehow permeated each sip, even down to the last diluted drop (I was trying to conserve my drink and also not turn redder than I already was). This truly lived up to my request for something herbal and complex. Two thumbs up to the talented bartender for making my Rosemary Cooler work.

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Yi-Ling’s second drink was a complicated blend of mascarpone cheese, raspberry, butterscotch, frangelico, and goodness knows what else. It tasted like raspberry cheesecake and was promptly christened that. Slightly tart and rather sweet – a girl’s drink.

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This is when we got to handle a $45,000 camera and of course we have the evidence to show for it (photo below is courtesy of Dream Merchant Photography). Our photographer asked Yi-Ling if she could hold the camera to model it…

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… and here she is! Huge isn’t it?

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He also very kindly took a few more pics of cocktails and our friendly bartender (and us) and created this lovely quadtych in sepia for us. Again, credit goes to Dream Merchant Photography.

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Way past it got dark, we were finally ready to call it an end to a lovely chillout day, but not without first a visit to the pretty outdoor garden loo!

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Conclusion? Bar Stories is a lovely place to visit, especially in the off peak period. The cocktails are generally decent, and when they’re good, they’re very very good. Having said that, it’s not everyone’s cup of (long island) tea as the drinks are pricey at upwards of $20 each and I can see how it could be seen as pretentious. Nonetheless, I had a great time, partly because I was in fabulous company to start with, and partly because of the great staff. Being part of a Leica photoshoot of course added to the fun. Let’s hope we can squeeze in another visit before Yi-Ling flies off again.

Bar Stories
Level 2, 55-57 Haji Lane
Tel: +65 6298 0838