Braise

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DC took me to Braise for our anniversary dinner. It was a lovely place with the best service I’ve experienced in Singapore: warm and attentive yet unobtrusive. They noticed that I was cold and not only gave me a shawl, they also made sure that my hot water was topped up all the time.

It was too bad the tasting menu wasn’t very exciting, so we went a la carte. Still, the chef sent out an amuse bouche of some kind of pate on a sliver of toasted baguette. I don’t remember what it was, all I know that it was rich, very tasty and left us both wanting me. I suspect it’s a fish rillette of sorts. We’ll have to see whether it makes its way to the main menu before telling.

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DC’s starter was just his thing: a rich and unctuous pairing of foie gras and sweetbread. I wasn’t sure of the spongey-grainy texture of the sweetbread, but DC loved it. It’s pretty difficult to get parts like pancreas in Singapore.

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I had half a dozen fines de claire oysters au naturel. They didn’t even need the lemon, they were so fresh. I loved how the sharp, slightly briny taste mellowed into mouth-filling savour. It was a pity they didn’t have a muscadet to go with it, that pairing is made in heaven. I was so sad when I ate my last one, enjoying the aftertaste for as long as I could. It’ll be a while before I get oysters of that quality again.

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Now for the mains. Mine was a straightforward roast beef in jus, paired with braised beef cheek, savoy cabbage and decadent, decadent buttery mash. It was a good dish that tasted far better than it looks in the picture. (The problem with romantic settings is that pictures just don’t come out well at all.) The beef was nicely rare, just as I like it, and the beef cheek the expected melt-in-mouth tender. Coupled with the very buttery mashed potato, it was a tad on the rich side, which DC quite predictably loved. Needless to say, I finished the savoy cabbage quite quickly as it was a good foil to all the butter and fat.

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I think DC may have had the more interesting dish. His grilled fish with capellini was quite different as fish and cheese are not commonly paired. The pasta was doused in a very cheesy stock that wasn’t at all stringy. It was as if the essence of cheese had been distilled and used to flavour the pasta, without having any actual cheese in it. I can’t even imagine how they made this. The fish itself was good too, with a nice gratinated crust. It was ordinary in a good way.

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Dessert was a bit of a pity. I didn’t understand why they had to deconstruct a trifle. I liked the apple jelly and granite, it was just a pity that the custard was starchy. It showed that either the head chef was off-duty or hadn’t any confidence in his custard-making skills or both. I liked the cinnamon donut, but wasn’t sure of the point of it. Yes yes, I know that it’s the deconstructed trifle sponge, but it didn’t really add anything to the dessert. Braise would do better if they hired a better dessert chef.

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In summary, we’ve got outstanding starters and very competent, somewhat creative mains. Avoid the dessert and you’ll have a fabulous dinner.

Braise
60 Palawan Beach Walk
Level 2 Sentosa
Tel: 6271 1929

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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

Favourites at Changi Village

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One of my favourite hawker centres is the one at Changi Village. There’s just so much variety and plain good food there. The only problem is that the ventilation is bad and some stalls are either sold out or worse – closed – if you arrive too late. The beef noodles are a case in point. Arrive too late and they’re likely to be sold out of the dry version. The soup rendition is pretty decent, but oh how the dry one beats it hands down! The gooey starchy brown sauce is flecked with bits of finely shredded beef, showing how much good stuff goes into the stew. Order it “mixed” so under the dark velvety sauce you’ll get lots of melt-in-the-mouth tendon, chewy tripe, tender braised beef and fresh beef slices. Squeeze over the lime, toss in the chilli sauce, mix and eat with the pickled onion-chinchalok accompaniment. All together, it makes for a lovely bowl of bliss.

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Just a few stalls along the row is another firm favourite. Guang Xing is hardly open when I’m there in the evenings, so make sure you have it for lunch. Once when DC and I weret there for Sunday brunch, I spied it just opening and immediately jumped at the chance for my favourite fried noodles with fish head. Even though the stall had only just opened, the wait was still at least 30 minutes long. Even though we spoiled our appetites during the wait with inferior nasi lemak and other assorted snacks, we managed to wallop the whole $10 plate of noodles. (In case you’re wondering, yes we are greedy but no $10 is really the minimum order.) We saw other tables of 3 or 4 going for the samd $10 plate so you can imagine how good it is. This dish has flavourful chunks of juicy and slightly cartilageous fish head  as well as thick beehoon fried in plenty of onion, garlic and ginger as well as spring onions, caixin and bitter gourd and finished off with some black bean. There’s plenty of wok hei and intense flavours. Accompanying it with the special sambal brings it to a whole new level. Notwithstanding having to spit out bits of snapper bone, gristle and scale, this stuff is my holy grail of fish head beehoon.

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Changi Village Beef Kway Teow Mee
#01-19 Changi Village Hawker Centre

Guang Xing Original Taste Fish Head Mee Hoon
#01-16 Changi Village Hawker Centre

Low-Fuss Slow-Food Dinner: Pork Pot-Roast in Red Wine Sauce

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There are some lazy days you’re in the whole day and want something good to eat but with minimal fuss. This dish takes a while to make, but the actual kitchen work is almost negligible. It’s the answer to your lazy prayers!

I was inspired by something vaguely German: sausages cooked in red wine and caraway seeds. Being too broke to buy good sausages and too posh to venture anything too downmarket in the sausage department, I went for good ol’ pork shoulder instead. It helped that it was on sale too. Feel free to use sausages, in which case you can cut down the cooking time to 20 minutes instead of 3 hours! Don’t go running out to buy a whole tin of caraway seeds if you don’t have them. Substitute anything with anise flavour like star anise or fennel seeds. You can even use Chinese five-spice  (wuxiang/mm hiong) powder.

Staying on the lazy theme, I couldn’t be bothered to boil the potatoes for mash, so I baked them instead. I like to mash them skin and all because the roasted skin gives a lot of nice texture and I don’t like the hassle of picking the skins out anyway!

The only boiling you’ll need to do is the greens. I use kailan here for its mustardy flavour. It goes amazingly well with the pork. Just give them a quick one-minute scald in boiling water and it’s good to go.

And the wine. I normally use whatever leftover stuff I have in my freezer. But for drinking, try a pinotage. Mine was by Two Oceans (2006) in South Africa. Being very young, it’s a bright red purple with cherry and strawberry in the nose. It’s very juicy with soft tannins and just enough astringency for balance. It’s very easy drinking and quite agreeable with this pot-roast.

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Ingredients:
300 g pork shoulder, cut into large cubes
1 tbsp oil
3 small purple onions, sliced
10 button mushrooms, halved
2 tbsp flour
1-2 cups red wine
2 tsp caraway seeds
salt and pepper

3 floury potatoes (try Russets or King Edwards if you can), scrubbed
1 knob butter

kailan, boiled

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC and slip a casserole dish in to preheat.
  2. Prick the potatoes with a fork to prevent explosions. You can omit this step if you’re brave or foolish like me.
  3. Brown the meat on all sides in a non-stick pan. Use the highest heat possible. Transfer to preheated casserole dish.
  4. In the same pan, add the oil and fry the onions till a bit burnt in places. Add the mushrooms and let them brown or even burn slightly at the edges.
  5. Then add the flour and stir vigorously till onions and mushrooms are well coated. Do not let burn! Turn down the heat if you need to and stir for about one minute. It’s good if the flour browns.
  6. Add the wine, caraway seeds, lots of ground pepper and a bit of salt. Scrape the bottom of the pan so all goes into the sauce. Pour onto pork and stir to coat. Ensure that the liquid covers at least half the pork.
  7. Cover the casserole dish with the lid and put in the oven for 3 hours. At the same time, put the potatoes directly onto the oven bars.
  8. Check after half an hour that the mixture is bubbling gently, not boiling. Turn down the heat if it’s boiling too vigorously. Stir occasionally if you’re up for it.
  9. Two hours later, retrieve the potatoes. Squeeze them to check that they’re cooked. They should squish slightly. Remember to use an oven mitt.
  10. Immediately transfer to a bowl and squish hard so they fall out and mash a bit with a fork. Add the knob of butter and stir. Cover.
  11. When the pot-roast is ready, take out and serve with the mash and boiled kailan. Try to look civilised as you fall upon your food.

Serves 2.