A Long Brunch at St Regis

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My brother treated us to brunch at the St Regis and what a champagne brunch it was! It was well-priced compared to other hotel brunches at $170++ with champagne and $138++ without. What I didn’t like was that there wasn’t an option with just one glass of champagne, that I would’ve gone for. They offered a la carte glasses of champagne for $40, which made it more expensive than the option with free-flow champagne. Pfft.

No less, the spread was excellent. While not quite as extensive as other places, there were very few filler dishes. I liked also that the quality of the ingredients was excellent. Case in point were the oyster and ham selections. There were three types of oysters from various regions – all were good, and the memorable ones were the fine de claire from France. I love their briny, minerally flavour. The ham selection was more impressive, with four or five different types. I remember the parma and some of the air dried beef types, but everything was blown away by the entire leg of bellota ham carved out in tempting slivers. The flavour of the fat from acorn fed pig blew everything else out of the water. You have a choice: either eat the other hams first or go straight for the bellota. No other way.

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What made this buffet special was that the food wasn’t all from the buffet table where we helped ourselves. The waiters regularly came round with small bites, such as this sampler platter of (L-R) tomato gazpacho, tuna tartare, foie gras in the style of creme brulee, deep-fried silver bait, and marinated olives. I enjoyed the gazpacho and tuna tartare a lot – so refreshing, while my mum and aunt adored the foie gras. There were plenty of other yummy bites brought round, including cubes of braised beef cheek, deep-fried prawn in a pastry net, pan-fried foie gras and truffle risotto. All very good.

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There was plenty more in the buffet spread, including an inventive quinoa salad, heirloom tomatoes and a good assortment of salads, from seafood to pure vegetarian ones.

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The mains were a la carte and each person could order only one dish. After the incredible spread from the buffet line and the bites brought to the table, I think one would be hard pressed to even contemplate finishing two mains anyway. I had the beef tartare (this dish seems to feature regularly on this blog) with truffles, which was a good rendition, though the flavour of the beef could have shone through more strongly. Perhaps my palate had been jaded by then. Perhaps the best options would be either the beef tenderloin or the Hokkaido scallops, if they don’t change the menu every week.

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We were stuffed by now, but had to press on. There were desserts aplenty for us to get through. It all seemed to pass in a blur, but the standout was the giant raspberry macaron. Here was one of the few places that did macaron well and accompanied it nicely with good produce. The raspberries were tart and on the verge of sweet, a good foil to the sugary macaron. The rest of the desserts were decent, the only grouse being that the fresh fruit selection wasn’t very good.

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Brasserie Les Saveurs
St Regis Hotel, 29 Tanglin Road
Tel: +65 6506 6866

Private Affairs

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DC took me to Private Affairs one Friday night to cheer me up after a stressful week. We weren’t sure about whether this place would last as we were the only ones there that night. We opted for the Luscious Dinner 4-course set ($98++). DC had a duck carpaccio that he liked a lot but didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. My Alaskan king crab, though, was wonderful. It really was lusciously seafood-y and briny, and bursting with fresh juiciness. The avocado mousse and passionfruit cream had just the right level of richness to complement the crab and the squid ink tuile provided a nice bit of contrast with its delicate crispness.

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For mains, DC had the Maine lobster. When I tried it, I almost regretted ordering what I did because the lobster, like my crab appetiser, burst with fresh, well, lobster flavour. It wasn’t your typical vaguely rubbery tasteless boiled lobster. This one was expertly cooked in a buttery foam, making me want to devour it shell and all. In fact, I think DC gnawed as much of his lobster shell as he could!

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Remember I almost regretted my order? But I didn’t. My main course of Welsh lamb loin held its own. Again, it was expertly cooked so that the lamb loin was tender and flavourful. Accompanied with the soy bean mash and the rich, intense jus of lamb and olive, this was very very good. (Unfortunately it paled against another dish I’ll blog about next time, but that’s a story for another time.)

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Our third dish was a pre-dessert. DC had a yummy cheese platter and I had a sorbet. Both were competent though not particularly anything to rave about. Plus, the lighting in the restaurant is so dim that it was impossible to get good pictures anyway. Good thing we were the only diners that night so we took pictures with flash whenever the wait staff weren’t looking (!).

For the real dessert, DC had peach tofu with salted caramel and lemongrass ice cream. The purple thing is a lavender sheet, which I felt tasted a bit like one of those  portable soap sheets for washing your hands. I liked the tofu a lot. It was very tender and smooth, more like tau fa than actual tofu. It was a bit like eating peach-scented egg tofu that was sweet.

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I had the chocolate mousse with miso sponge. The miso sponge was a very inventive touch to an otherwise tired dessert. I’m so glad he didn’t go down the molten choc cake route. Here, the miso sponge was very tender and very savoury, making for a lovely contrast to the sweet chocolate mousse and the deep flavour of the dark chocolate chips. It’s a pity he put pop rocks in the dessert. The dark chocolate “sand” is a bit overused in molecular gastronomy and I really don’t like the popping on my tongue.

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That dinner was good enough to send us back to Private Affairs a few weekends later for a semi-buffet brunch celebration. It was good value for money at $68++ per person without alcohol. The food wasn’t quite as exquisite as the dinner we had, but it was still pretty darn good. The idea was that we ordered whatever we liked from the brunch menu, from typical breakfast staples like mini-muffins, yogurt, pancakes and eggs, to brunch staples like fresh oysters, to more exciting things like cured sardine, panfried scallops and coffee ribs with a twist. All these we could order as many servings as we liked. For the main course, each chose one. Everyone liked their own main courses and I naturally felt that mine of melt-in-the-mouth sous vide French chicken was especially nice. If you want a taster for Private Affairs, the brunch is the way to go.

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Unfortunately it was third time unlucky when DC and I returned to Private Affairs. We tried out their celebratory 8-course menu for October consisting of greatest hits in the chef’s repertoire. There was the familiar course of many dishes, with some good and many others falling flat. I was deeply disappointed by the lack of quality control and lack of service recovery for a restaurant that aspires to this calibre. First, even though I made an email booking just like the previous brunch (with acknowledgement from the PR manager), they lost our booking and took a while to get us a table. It didn’t help that, unlike our first experience, the restaurant was full as there was a big group taking up much of the restaurant with a separate special menu and a few other tables doing the a la carte option. The kitchen was obviously not ready for this onslaught and some dishes came out different from described in the menu. For instance, the raw Hokkaido scallop with lettuce gazpacho jelly came with  a pool of bright green liquid instead of jelly and there was no way of eating the dish properly as we weren’t provided with spoons. We just had to fish out the scallop from the watery liquid and the wait staff later whisked away the plates, only looking slightly puzzled when I pointed out that we had no spoons and weren’t able to enjoy the dish properly.

No less, two dishes stood out. The kurobuta pork cheek with blood orange jelly was very good. I’m not sure about the slightly odd gel-like texture of the accompanying avocado gnocchi but the pork cheek itself was done so that it was meltingly good. The slightly tart and sweet blood orange jelly really lifted the flavour very well.

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The second noteworthy dish was the apple cake dessert. Again, there were parts that I didn’t quite agree with, in this case the apple cinnamon spaghetti. DC liked it a lot and slurped up mine too, but I found it a bit too molecular gastronomy, and too reminiscent of past biology experiments dealing with calcium alginate gels. It was a cute idea nonetheless. What blew me away what the apple cake itself. It was essentially an apple-flavoured cross between mousse and semifreddo, with apple jelly in the middle. I loved how it was just on the verge of melting and how the clean green apple flavours shone through very well. The lemongrass ice cream was a lovely light yet creamy accompaniment to the cake. Thumbs up!

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It was the last part of the dinner that disappointed me. The PR manager came over to chat with us. No matter that she didn’t apologise for the mix-up in reservations. She asked how the food was and I responded that it was patchy. Taken by surprised, she asked why and was reluctant to probe much further after I asked how much she wanted to know, showing her the brief notes I took on my slip of printed menu. She did concede that the lettuce gazpacho was meant to be a jelly and not liquid, and then said that the chef designed the menu out of popular dishes. Telling us that other people liked the menu certainly does not make me like a less than ideal experience more.

In short, this restaurant has lots of potential as the chef is obviously very talented. His kitchen and staff do on occasion let him down. It took me a long while to decide to post about this place as I have very mixed feelings about it. If you take my experience as a gauge, you’d probably get a good experience two-thirds of the time. For me, unfortunately, I’m not going to come back for a little while.

Private Affairs
45 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: 6440 0601

 

Guest Post: Champagne Brunch at Equinox

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My brother and sis-in-law went to Equinox Restaurant for their champagne brunch. Here’s their report:

Its been a long time since I’ve done brunch, so I was really looking forward to Sunday, especially since I’ve not tried the Equinox brunch before.

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The appetisers were a great start. There was the usual range of cold starters and seafood, including two types of oysters, as well as a nice sushi platter with great soba. My dining companions liked the soba so much they had multiple servings. I was happy to see a leg each of Parma and Spanish Iberian ham. I love ham, and it’s great to see the chef taking advantage of the relaxed AVA restrictions on Spanish ham. However, I was a bit puzzled to see it served on its own. Perhaps some sweet melon or crusty bread by the side would do the trick.

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There was also something unique – a caviar station, complete with a cook flipping fresh mini-blinis to hold the caviar. The salty caviar was a nice contrast to the buttery blinis, which were good enough to eat by themselves.

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The mains were dominated by roast meats – a very impressive display of roast prime rib, roast leg of lamb, roast pork, and a whole turkey, all in a row waiting to be carved up, flanked by a foie gras and poached fish station on either side. The roast beef was good, and was devoured by the end of the buffet. The roast pork also stood out – it’s tough to get pork right, the loin cut was succulent and moist, not at all overcooked.

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For most of the meal, I was silently disturbed that the dessert section seemed to be missing! I thought perhaps dessert was an extra-charge ala carte item, or maybe the waiters would suddenly clear the sushi section and roll out the dessert platters. Finally, someone pointed out that the dessert section was tucked in a corner under the staircase, outside of the main dining area. Phew! We excitedly went for a scout – a small spread, especially compared to the mains and starters, with a bored-looking cook flipping pancakes under the stairwell. I had an unusual strawberry and rhubarb mousse (it’s very rare to find rhubarb in Singapore), and some crumbly, chocolate nut cake called “baci baci”, which incidentally tasted nothing like the Italian chocolate kisses.

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Equinox serves Moët for its champagne, which definitely makes the experience more premium. Strangely enough, the price difference between the champagne brunch ($128+++) and the virgin brunch was only about $20, definitely making the champagne option much more worthwhile. They also serve a range of cocktails and wine, but most of the mainly local crowd were happy with their champagne.

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The biggest downer was the live music, which was too loud and was horribly out of tune at time. (Not just my opinion, but also one of our dining companions who works in the arts/music industry. Quite clearly the duo would never get a gig at her joint!) The bad singing was topped off with a 2 min long finale to Sinatra’s My Waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy. Urgh.

What made up for the singing, was of course the fantastic view, which I suppose is the main draw of Equinox. There is something very calming about being on top of the world and having a birds-eye view. It’s also a bit nostalgic – I think the last time I came up during daytime was a decade ago when it was still called Compass Rose. Champagne brunches had not been invented, and the ultimate uppity luxury was going up to Compass Rose for high tea. I wonder if Equinox’s champagne brunch will ever return to those heydays.

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Equinox Restaurant
Level 70, Equinox Complex, Swissôtel The Stamford
Tel: 6837 3322
Dress code: Smart casual

Christmas Brunch at Garibaldi

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I know Christmas happened about two weeks ago, but brunch at Garibaldi surely is worth posting about.  With the long list of antipasti and three different pastas, the menu was especially tantalising. That the turkey main was uninspired and the dessert too vague to parse was forgivable.

The very tantalising menu

The very tantalising menu

The whole experience was a mixed bag. We couldn’t really complain about the service because the waiters were prompt and ensured that there was always had a piece of foccacia on the side plate. However, we couldn’t help but notice immediately when the waiter poured out different amounts of champagne. Between the five of us, we each had anywhere between half to three-quarters of a glass full of bubbly. They did not top up the (tap) water either. Well, it was Christmas and these people were working on a public holiday while everyone else was having fun, so we didn’t ask for a top-up.

All that was just a blip on the screen when the antipasti arrived in nicely plated pairs. I am ashamed to say that because of our excessive greed, no pictures were taken. I humbly apologise and seek to do better next time. Nonetheless, the seafood salad and salmon carpaccio pair that arrived first was swiftly devoured. The fresh flavours , teased out by a light hand in the seasoning, really shone through.

Next came the pair of deep-fried prawns and rice & meat dumplings. The prawns were faultless although I felt that its role was more of a crowd-pleasing filler than anything very special. The rice & meat dumpling, on the other hand, was a great idea.  It was like having a stodgy meat risotto rolled into balls, breaded and deep-fried: almost like cheesey porridge inside. Last in the antipasti line-up came the grilled vegetables and eggplant parmigiana. It was all good, up to the Garibaldi standard, but nothing much to write home about.

Then came the pasta trio. The gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce, while rather stick-in-your-ribs, was very pleasing. Even though I’m not a big fan of blue cheese, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The gnocchi, with more flour than potato, was silky and slightly chewy and the sauce just blue-cheese pongy enough. Not everyone at the table liked it much as it’s one of those dishes that’s not easy for the local palate.

The crab linguine was more of a crowd pleaser. It was very similar to the version served at the now-defunct Menotti (also part of the Garibaldi group) — rich and tomatoey with a hint of chilli — only that this version was better because it had a lot of crab.

The last pasta dish was the best of the lot. Ravioli of any kind is a favourite and this veal version was done just right: tender meat inside and slightly chewy noodle outside. The crowning glory, however, was the sauce. The menu didn’t do it justice by calling it mushroom sauce: there were aromatic and silky soft chanterelles and a touch of truffle oil in the mix. It all came together so well that it’s making my mouth water as I type this two weeks later. At this point, I finally came to my senses and started taking photos. I apologise for the poor photography skills. In my defence, the lighting wasn’t that great.

Veal ravioli in chanterelle sauce

Veal ravioli in chanterelle sauce

By the time the turkey course arrived, we were all stuffed. Again, the odd inconsistent servings problem came up. Some of us had giant upsize portions of turkey while others had tiny pieces almost swamped by the stuffing. We weren’t too fussed about it since none of us could finish our portions anyway. The other thing was that the turkey was dessicated and browned at some corners from keeping warm in the oven for far too long. See for yourself in the picture below. To its credit, it was more flavourful than the average supermarket roast turkey. Too bad it was dry and stringy. The lentils were an interesting touch though.

Turkey with stuffing

Turkey with stuffing

Last, and definitely least, came the dessert. We enjoyed the coffee and rum raisin gelati but the panetonne just tasted like stale raisin bread. Is panettone is supposed to taste like that? Good thing the coffee that followed made up for it.

Yummy gelati paired with dried out panettone

Yummy gelati paired with dried out panettone

Overall, it was a good experience though not a great one. The food was generally of a good standard, with the antipasti and pasta standing out, as should be for an Italian place. The roast turkey and dessert were undermined by standing around for far too long. Service-wise, it was decent with a few hiccups here and there. My main grouse is the inconsistency in portion sizes. I hope it’s because of Christmas madness, not so much poor standards.

Would I return to Garibaldi? Sure, as long as someone else pays!

Garibaldi Italian Restaurant & Bar
36 Purvis Street #01-02
Singapore 188613
Tel: (65) 6837 1468
Fax: (65) 6337 3770