Chongqing Grilled Fish

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DC found out about Chongqing Grilled Fish on Facebook when he noticed that a friend was a fan. Intrigued, he looked it up and found that it had quite a following. So there we were on a Sunday night to try it out, this time with my parents. It’s a typically China-type place run by PRCs and the menu reminded me quite a bit of the casual little places that dot Shanghai. We started with the cold cucumber with garlic, which I thought was quite decent. Mum’s used to much finer stuff in China, so she wasn’t too impressed by this rendition. My standards are obviously lower, so I ate most of it.

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It was the kou shui ji (saliva chicken) that didn’t come up to my standards this time. I’d spent a little while in Chengdu and Chongqing, and had really good Sichuan cuisine in Shanghai, and this version is but a pale imitation. By Singapore standards, however, it’s passable. It’s got a fairly fiery sauce atop tender chicken. What was missing was the numbing sensation from Sichuan peppercorns. A pity as it could’ve been much nicer!

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I thought the dongpo rou (braised pork belly) was pretty good. Dad showed his concurrence by walloping so much of it that DC hardly had a chance. Yes, China makes better, but this comes close. They used leaner pork than the norm in China, which is always a good thing, and braised it nicely so the meat fell apart easily in the mouth. Yum.

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Next was the three-egg spinach, again quite decent but nothing particularly special. It’s not a hard dish to get right.

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And now the piece de resistance! The preceding dishes on their own wouldn’t quite have made it to this blog, but the fish just blew me out of the water. It came piping hot over a charcoal brazier, fish already grilled and cooked through. It was covered in the xiang la (fragrant and spicy) sauce and accompanied by beansprouts and celery. We ordered some extra vegetables to cook in the gravy and boy was it excellent. First, the fish somehow never got rough-textured from being overcooked. It was tender to the end. The sauce, true to its name, was spicy and fragrant and the teeniest bit numbing, which I miss a lot from that few days I spent in Sichuan. The charcoal kept the dish warm and cooked the extra vegetables gently so all the flavour from the sauce permeated through. I also liked how there was enough oil in the dish to give the classic Sichuanese slow burn of heat. At first I thought the dish wasn’t quite as spicy as I expected and I made a mental note to order one level up the next time (we ordered the least spicy version). But as I ate and ate (and ate) and slurped up the gravy, I found my mouth getting hotter and hotter, until at the end I was sniffing and almost gasping from the heat. This is a definite must-eat. I’m coming back again soon!

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Chongqing Grilled Fish
18 Mosque Street #01-01
Tel: 6225 0087

A Very Comforting Stew

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It’d been raining quite a bit and I decided that I needed something warming and comforting for dinner instead of having leftovers. A quick whizz through the supermarket and scrounge in the fridge later, I’d assembled a whole bunch of root and other vegetables that completely overshadowed the meat. Let’s see, I had butternut squash, mushrooms, an onion, celery, carrots, potato and basil. The squash was an excellent addition as it added a lovely sweet dimension to the stew, I didn’t need to tweak the seasonings much at all. Lastly, the belly pork worked well as I didn’t have time to really stew it properly till melting soft and falling apart. It was tender enough after the one hour cooking time, though it definitely could have benefited from a stint in the slow cooker. I cheat a bit by adding some Marigold organic vegetable stock powder that I get from the UK. It helps give that extra little oomph. Lastly, adding basil at the end just before serving gave it a lovely fresh herby lift. Serve with bread, rice, or whatever carbs you have leftover in the fridge.

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Ingredients:
1 tbsp oil
300g pork belly, cubed
20g butter
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chunked
1 large carrot, chunked
2 sticks celery, chunked
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
butternut squash, cubed
250g button mushrooms
1 tsp organic vegetable stock power, optional
2 tbsp or a good splash dry vermouth

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the pork belly on all sides in batches. Set aside in a dish.
  2. Turn down the fire and melt the butter in the residual oily juices and toss in the peppercorns, bay leaf and garlic. Cook gently till fragrant, then toss in the onion, carrot and celery. Stir to coat with butter and cover. Let sweat for about 5 minutes.
  3. Toss in the potatoes, squash and mushrooms and stir. Add in the pork and turn up the heat. Keep stirring.
  4. Mix in the stock powder and splash in the vermouth. Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer for at least one hour. If available, transfer to a crock pot and finish off the cooking there.
  5. The stew is done when the vegetables are soft and the pork is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 3-4.

Finally, Ippudo

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After two aborted visits to Ippudo, we finally made it there for a late dinner. Showing up after 9pm helped a lot. Learning from that trick, we returned a few weeks later and found that even on a Friday night, there’s not much of a wait post-9pm.

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We’d tried a few appetisers there and all of them were a unanimous FAIL except the Ippudo organic salad. (We’d tried the prawn bun, beef tataki, and seasonal salad/vegetables. All were too flawed to make it to this blog.) The salad was fresh and had crispy deep fried burdock chips as a topping. It was pretty decent with the shoyu-based dressing.

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I tried this year’s seasonal offering of Kyusyu Miso Tonkotsu with blended miso, cabbage, leek, pork belly, pork loin and half an egg. Even though I like my noodles on the al dente side and ordered them so, I found them a bit too hard for my liking. They got much nicer towards the end as the noodles soaked in the broth. The broth was thick  to the point of being almost creamy and had plenty of pork flavour without tasting too gamey. I wasn’t too sure about the persistent foam on top of the soup though! While I generally liked the toppings and found the chashu nice and tender, I felt that the egg was a bit of a let down because it was too solid. The yolk had just solidified and I thought it was too much to pay for what was essentially hardboiled egg.

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DC had the Akamaru Kasaneaji, the original recipe with blended miso paste, garlic oil and pork belly. It was rich but not too rich and had quite a comlex flavour with the oil, miso paste and pork stock all competing for attention. Too bad they were rather stingy on the pork though.

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On our second visit, I had to have the seasonal noodles again, and DC went for the Shiromaru with pork loin and cabbage. This time, the noodles weren’t quite al dente even though we ask for them hard.  They were good when first served, but got soggy towards the end. I guess they need to work on being more consistent. My seasonal noodles were as good as ever and DC’s Shiromaru very decent. His pork loin wasn’t very tender but overall was well executed.

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My conclusion: Ippudo wins with excellent stock made from obviously superior ingredients and has good noodles, although the texture varies from visit to visit. Their toppings are decent but some are better than others, and they could definitely be a lot more generous with the pork slices. Where Ippudo doesn’t deliver is the egg, which really should be runnier. It’d win all round best ramen in Singapore if it fixed its egg. It’s definitely worth a visit, just not a long wait. And focus on the noodles, don’t bother with the side dishes.

Ippudo
Mandarin Gallery #04-02/03/04
Orchard Road

Seoul Eats: YongSuSan

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Another day, we had lunch at YongSuSan, famous for its classy traditional Korean fare. Being on a budget, we limited ourselves to the lower end of the set lunches, but it was enough to wow. There seemed to be endless courses of appetisers. First up were the “translucent mung bean noodles, crunchy pickled cucumber, threads of sweet marinated beef and julienne mushroom and julienne mushroom, sprinkled with black-green seaweed” and the “Kaesung style mixed vegetable salad of crunch bean-sprouts radish spinach and slices of dried persimmon.” Both were spooned directly onto our plates and after a bit of prodding and sniffing, we wolfed it all down. Which was just as well because the next appetiser was soon spooned onto our plates: “gold strands of jelly-fish with crisp pears and cucumber in a mustard dressing.” It was so redolent of wasabe that I couldn’t finish it (no picture, it looks just like below except pale wasabe green).

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A soft creamy pottage served with water kimchi came next. It tasted just as it looked – bland.

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It wasn’t too bad considering my tongue needed a respite from the early wasabe starter.

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For many of us, the highlight of the meal was “a plate of steamed tender pork belly chunks, served with cabbage and radish marinated in a red chili pepper.” The pork belly tasted very familiar. It also helped that fatty pork with kimchi is one of those heavenly combinations, a match made in heaven. Soon after I took this photo, the plate was wiped clean.

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The next dish was more of a palate cleanser: “seasonal fresh vegetable and lettus salad in a Korean dressing.” A pity that the Korean dressing seemed more like Thousand Island Dressing to me!

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I missed out taking a picture of the “soup with snowball shape rice pasta” as it was simply salty soup with a glutinous rice ball in it. Nothing much.

I quite liked the “traditional pancake dish a la Yongsusan” though, it was chewy like nian gao and deep fried. Not much to dislike her. The “seasonal brochette marinated in a Korean sauce” was a skewer of grilled vegetables, nothing much really.

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And we finally finished the starters and got to the astonishingly simple main dish. Koreans seem to have a rather strange concept of main course. Anyway, mine was “five grains of rice cooked in a bamboo bowl” with “soybean vegetable soup with various kinds of side dishes.” The wrapping was so pretty.

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The rice really seemed to be only five grains of grain on unpolished rice. It was an incredibly elegant wholegrain dish with rather forgettable miso  cabbage soup.

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Desserts were “Korean rice cake and cookie” with fresh seasonal fruits. I can’t remember what the brown thing was like except sweet. The cherry tomato encased it what seemed like the stuff from snowskin mooncakes was rather original I felt. Quite yummy.

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And last of all, to round off every Korean meal is the very yummy “seasonal fruits punch of variant style.” I really digged how cute the little flower shaped pear punch-out was!

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YongSuSan Taepyungno
Seoul Finance Center

Rustic French

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Work has been wearing me out lately, so DC decided to take me out for a weeknight splurge at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. It has a very traditional country-style French menu with surprisingly large portions. We ended up sharing a soup and a for-two main course.

The garbure soup was pretty excellent. The base was chopped vegetables in a light chicken and duck stock. On its own, it’d be a really boring vegetable soup. What made it pretty darn sublime were both the ravioli and the chicken dumpling. The mini ravioli were perfect little parcels stuffed with savoury cheese. Against the bland foil of the soup, the slightly chewy morsels gave out bursts of salty pleasure with each bite. And then the chicken dumpling. It had a lot more chicken than flour in it and was incredibly soft and delicate. I wasn’t sure of the slightly grainy texture of overdone chicken breast, but the flavour was deeply chickeny. One of the best bits of the soup was the crispy croutons. I don’t know how the grilled chunks of country bread retained the crunch even though waterlogged, but they did and… bliss.

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We went for the Baekenofe pork casserole for two made of different cuts of pork: cheek, trotter, belly and bacon. There were two large pieces of each in the claypot interspersed with carrot and turnip chunks as well as new potatoes. This dish is one of the few that made me like new potatoes (which I obviously normally detest). The whole dish was awash in white wine, with some cuts, especially the trotter, redolent with alcohol. It was lovingly braised so that the pork was tender. The best cut was the cheek, which just about didn’t require much chewing to enjoy. I just let it sit in my mouth for a moment to savour the taste and let it disintegrate slowly into a fragrant heap. (Pardon the red cast of the photo, we sat under the sign board lit in red so there’s no helping the hue of the photo. Sorry.)

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This place has great food. It’s too bad that it’s not exactly the cheapest place around and the service can be quite take-it-or-leave-it French. Even though we were the first to arrive on a weeknight they flatly refused to let us sit inside, claiming that it was all reserved inside. Mysteriously, we noticed only one table inside over the time we had our dinner. The outside doesn’t have the best atmosphere because of all the construction work going on opposite.

[An aside: If you’d like great atmosphere, just step two units down to the Creperie Des Armes. The Brittany atmosphere is amazing, made me feel like I was in a corner cafe in Europe. What was better was the warm welcome of the French couple running the place. Here, the couple smiled so much and tried so hard to please that I couldn’t help fall in love with the place. I practised my dormant French here, to the lady owner’s delight. It’s a pity that another place I like has far superior crepes. Also didn’t help that the crepes came out one by one, so not good for impatient or hungry hordes. ]

Le Bistrot du Sommelier
46 Prinsep Street #01-01 Prinsep Place
Tel: 6333 1982