A Whirlwind Work Trip: Summertime in Paris

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The next part of our trip brought us to Paris where we stayed at Le Grand Hotel, run by the InterContinental. It was indeed a nice hotel with typically Parisian and very opulent rooms. There were soft beds (which my head of delegation didn’t like – oops) and plush carpets. There was also peeling wallpaper and the shower flooded the whole bathroom.

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Something weird happened: as I was settling in, room service rang and set up this elaborate set of drinks and cookies in the room. It was well and good until I excitedly rang my boss and asked if he was enjoying the complimentary drinks. (He wasn’t.) Then I realised that the welcome card had the wrong name on it! Horrified, I called our local representative office who booked the rooms for us to check if that was the name of the secretary doing the booking. (It wasn’t.) So I took their advice to “just whack.” and did exactly that. If you didn’t mind the odd service, the InterCon Le Grand is a nice though horribly over-priced place to stay. Thankfully, we had a free upgrade so the rooms were expensive but not quite horribly expensive for the company.

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We had a while to wander about town and enjoy some cakes at Laduree, which was thankfully still open on a Sunday.

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It’s such an institution there and if you haven’t tried their macarons, you haven’t really tasted one before. Their desserts are all very yummy too.

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Laduree
16 rue Royale 75008 Paris (there are also other branches in Paris, CDG and Versailles)
Tel: +33 (0) 1 42 60 21 79

Thereafter, we went for a bit of a meander through town, passing by the Place de la Concorde and the gardens in the area. There were so many people out in the later afternoon after the shops were closed, simply enjoying the sun. While it was inconvenient for us that we weren’t able to shop in the little time we had in Paris, I liked the idea of life going on in the daytime in spite of the dearth of shopping and commerce.

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I took the requisite touristy photos at what I think is the Place de la Concorde and its obelisk.

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And I grabbed some other pictures of the beautiful buildings sitting pretty in the afternoon sun.

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One of them could be Hotel Crillon, but I can’t be sure. The weather was too beautiful for it to matter.

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On the day with business meetings, it was a rush from stop to stop, with quick photos taken out of the rented car window.

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And this is the only decent shot I got of the Eiffel Tower, taken in the distance.

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When we finally got back from our business meetings, it was only to get a quick round of shopping before the shops closed. One of the incongruous ones I saw was this thoroughly modern Apple shop in an obviously old and well-preserved building.

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We finished off our Paris leg of the trip with a lovely meal at Oscar Restaurant, a favourite of our local representatives. I started with a lovely giblet salad topped with a duck liver terrine. It was typically Parisienne and a much wiser decision than my earlier choices of stodgy food in Milan.

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I was feeling quite heaty from all the travelling and eating (and being stuck in a boardroom for a whole afternoon without getting even a sip of water – poor organisation on the part of the hosts). The beef tartare as a main was very welcome. It was the best one I’ve had, the fresh and tasty raw beef being seasoned just right and not being overwhelmed by the pickle and onion chopped into the mixture. The fresh herbs and side salad helped lots too. By now, my dining companions were looking askance at my rather different choices and wondering what I was going to have for dessert.

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I eschewed the usual chocolate puddings and ice cream and gunned straight for the Faiselle, a type of sweet cheese topped with creme fraiche and accompanied with berry coulis. It was just the right creamy ending to my dinner.

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Oscar Restaurant
6, rue de Chaillot 75116 Paris
Tel: +33 (0) 1 47 20 26 92
Closed for Saturday lunch and on Sunday

September in Bali: Out of the Water

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I returned to Bali and took a short break from the diving. From my base of Permuteran up in the northwest of the island, I spent a day relaxing Bali’s Lake District, enjoying the cool air at Tamblingan Lake.

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It was lovely to admire a body of water and not feel the urge to dive in. I enjoyed the feeling of the cool air and being warmed by the sun instead of hiding from its much fiercer rays when down by the sea.

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We then headed to Jatiluwih to view the rice terraces. The intense green terraces were a marvel of human ingenuity and tenacity, and the coconut trees up on higher and cooler ground was a surprise to me.

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I was particularly tickled by how entire herds of ducks would take over harvested fields. They were probably scavenging for the scavengers that scavenged on the spent grain and leftover sheaves.

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Going closer, it seemed as if the entire field was quacking in symphony.

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We stopped by at the Botanic Gardens to admire the fountains…

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…  and the various, sometimes rather impressive greenhouses. This one was a desert hothouse, aridly beautiful in the stark light.

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And there were lily ponds galore, with the noon sun reflecting itself in the water.

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Our last stop was the Gitgit waterfall, a picturesque stream of water cascading down into a shallow pool, covering everyone below in a fine mist.

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Again, there was plenty of that wonderful green that made a good break from the diving.

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Quick Eats: Sembawang Hills Hawker Centre

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DC and I thought we’d do something a bit healthier and go for the HSBC treetop walk at Macritchie Reservoir. Before that we of course had to stop somewhere for sustenance. The Sembawang Hills hawker centre nearby did the trick. I did a very unwise thing and queued for the famous “inventor” fish soup where the owner had lots of little contraptions for serving his customers better. There was a curved dispenser so that we help ourselves to spoons hygienically and a coin sorter that helped him with his change. Needless to say, the queue was horribly long and DC said he’d go for the salted duck noodles instead. I persevered and got my fish soup with instant noodles (everyone else seemed to be ordering that too) and added some fish roe to it.

My verdict? It wasn’t worth the queue. While the fish was decent, there wasn’t a great deal of flavour and the noodles were a bit too soft for my taste. I could have done better cooking it myself at home.

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DC was prescient enough to take this shot before he started. By the time I got back to the table with my fish noodles, most of the duck and noodles were gone! Still, I managed to wrangle some over from him. Oh my, the duck was very good! The salt had cured the duck somewhat and intensified the flavour of the duck, also giving it a firm, smooth texture. And the noodles! I’m not normally a fan of yellow noodles (sek mee) but this version was still very much firm to the bite. DC had to restrain me from buying my own set of duck noodles after the disappointing fish ones.

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Next time we go to Macritchie I know what I’m having!

Fresh Fish Soup
#01-36

Ah Ee Traditional Hokkien Salted Duck
#01-28
590 Upper Thomson Road
Sembawang Hill Food Centre

OChre: Flawed but Good Value

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DC’s father insisted that we try out OChre despite us wanting to dress down. We finally got round to getting me out of my usual casual garb (think T-shirt, three-quarter pants and slippers) and into a nice dress and heels. We were pleasantly surprised by this place as the food is pretty good and the prices pretty decent. The cooking is almost classic Italian, with a Japanese sensibility to it. No surprise from a Japanese chef trained in Italy. There’s a restrained elegance to the dishes done well, and a disconcerting feeling of blandness and not quite bringing out the ingredients’ full potential in those not so well executed.

We opted to share the antipasti and primi plati before having our own mains. The first appetiser of tomatoes and bufala was decent as the tomatoes were ripe and sweet and the bufala creamy and fresh. I wasn’t sure about the tomato jelly as it was basically solidified tomato soup that didn’t add much to the flavours and didn’t help to unify the dish. Decent but no a reorder.

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Next was the tonno vitello, slow poached veal topped with tuna sauce. Everyone else seemed to like it, but as it’s not my favourite dish, Ican’t quite comment on the execution. The only thing is thatI felt that it wasn’t a great deal different from the  more downmarket version at Riciotti. I liked how the veal was tender and didn’t like how the cooked tuna in the sauce made it all quite rough in texture.

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The last appetiser was the crowd pleaser: Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with parma ham. The scallop was impeccable, sweet and very slightly briny at the same time. The parma ham was passable, not great, and somehow didn’t quite go with the delicate scallop. Eaten separately, I think this works well, but not both ham and scallop in the same bite.

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I think the ravioli is where the chef really shone. I don’t remember much of the filling (was it kurobuta pork?), just that the little parcels were nicely al dente with chewy, salty filling, and oh the sauce! The sauce was a creamy mushroom sauce with ceps in them. I cannot tell you how much I love the soft texture and gently yet seductively woody flavour of ceps. Cooked into the amazingly creamy sauce, this really made my evening.

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The oyster and saffron risotto was a decent rendition, again not much different from a version at another restaurant, this time Prego’s. I liked the asparagus bits in it, but wasn’t too enamoured by how they couldn’t bring out the clean briny flavour of fresh oysters in this dish. While the oysters were definitely fresh, there was a hint of fishy that I can’t quite place or explain. Perhaps cooking the oysters slightly affected the delicacy of the risotto. Perhaps I also didn’t like that the rice was a bit too hard for my taste. Who knows.

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The chef’s specialty is the duck risotto. I thought it was quite different as it broke away from the mold of risottos being defined by the stock it’s cooked in. This time, I think the chef used water instead of stock and the rice had a very clean taste, quite akin to that of watery porridge made with Thai jasmine rice. Studded in the risotto were cubes of smoked duck, lending little taste explosions of gamey salt to the tongue. It was a good dish but again the rice was too hard. I prefer it cooked a tad more, probably 30 seconds more stirring in the pot and I’ll be a happy camper.

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On to the mains. DC and I shared a beef with foie gras and they portioned them out nicely onto two plates. The funny thing was that they didn’t ask how we wanted the beef done and protested that we should go with the chef’s preference of medium rare. We both like our steaks Bloody and vetoed that in favour of rare. It was almost comical how the waiter kept asking if we were sure. I liked the steak and accompanying vegetables very much, it was all very well executed and the natural flavour of the beef shone through. The foie gras I felt was superfluous and added nothing to the dish. I’ll give it (foie gras, not steak) all to DC next time.

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For dessert, DC and I shared a mille feuille, which we felt was the best dessert of the evening. (There was also panna cotta and creme brulee, which seemed slightly disappointing to the rest.) It was puff pastry with pistachio semi freddofilling. The semifreddo was excellent, being smooth, creamy and full of toasted pistachios. The pastry was a bit too difficult to handle: while crisp, it was a bit too hard and impossible to cut out to eat with the semifreddo filling. Nonetheless, taking a bit of pastry and a bite of semifreddo, this was a great dessert.

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A few last words on the service: fairly attentive though a bit lacking in the common sense department. One chose to make slightly disparaging comments of the very old Burgundy that DC’s father brought for dinner, not realising that though it wasn’t a Bordeaux (hey Bordeaux doesn’t automatically make a wine good!) it was a good vintage from a respectable vineyard. Later when asked our opinion on the food, one of them rather snippily said that the risotto was done that way in Italy. That certainly wasn’t the case in my recent trip to Italy (more on that later, oh my, one Michelin star heaven!) where risotto was done al dente rather than just off the verge of crunchy. Last, they didn’t do anything to clear away the bread basket that was obviously in the way, just says that the attentiveness is a bit of a show.

OChre’s definitely flawed, but the food has lots of promise, just having one or two things in each dish that if tweaked, would take it right up there in the good food stakes.

OChre
181 Orchard Road
#11-03/04 Orchard Central
Tel: 6634 0423

Two Chefs Eating Place

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Another night of eating adventures found us at Two Chefs Eating Place with Tricia and Mfluder. We’d heard good things about the butter pork ribs topped with a strange white powder and were intrigued. It was also a night where I left my trusty Canon S90 at home and had to use my trustier iPhone as a stand in instead. I apologise for the worse than normal photos. First up was the butter ribs. We weren’t sure what to make of it because it was deep fried pork ribs scented with curry leaves, as is usual for butter-anything, and topped with what appeared to be milk powder. While the pork was tender enough, I wasn’t sure about the flavours and whether it was worth raving about. It was a bit odd, but the sweet milky flavour was pleasing enough for DC. For me, it didn’t make the cut for a reorder.

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What I liked far better was the spinach in three eggs sauce, which looked alarmingly like something not normally seen on a table (more like something seen after a long night’s boozing). No matter, the flavours mingled really well as the salted egg and century egg was minced quite finely and obviously left to stand for a while. One thing that could improved was that the vegetables could’ve been a lot less soggy. They were way too overcooked I felt, but the taste made up for it.

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The mushroom tofu followed in the theme of gloopy. Again, taste belied looks and the smooth texture of the tofu won me over straightaway. This was a comforting dish that easily wins people over.

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Following up on gloopy came the lemon shrimp with pork floss. It’s an interesting take on lemon chicken as the flavouring is exactly that, just that the fried bits were prawn. Tricia and I were trying to figure out exactly what was inside (fish? chicken?) till someone remembered that we ordered prawn! The lemony mayonnaise on top was a nice touch and the pork floss just gilded the lily. It was imaginative, though I’m not sure if this is something that really works. A possible reorder I think.

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The last dish of note was fried chicken with garlic, I can’t remember the exact name of the dish but everyone at the table liked it. It was sweet and peppery and of course garlicky. They used spring chicken so it was tastier and very tender. It was everyone’s favourite dish of the evening. Now all I have to do is remember the name!

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The last dish was black pepper crab. Too bad it wasn’t good enough to be featured. Lesson learned: only order what everyone else at the other tables have especially when it comes to crab.

My verdict? It’s experimental and has some winners, don’t expect every dish to be great.

Two Chefs Eating Place
Blk 116 Commonwealth Crescent
#01-129
Tel: 6472 5361

Diving the Similans: Beach Time

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It wasn’t all underwater action in the Similans. We stopped at two different white sand beaches there, one a rather rocky beach on a bright sunshiney day.

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This place is called Donald Duck Bay. Quite obvious from the picture eh?

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It was nice to just poke around on the beach, looking out at the view…

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… and watching startled crabs scuttle for their lives to the water.

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Another beach we spent a little time on was much more beautiful. It had the smoothest white sand that Singapore probably could never hope to import. Just too bad about the overcast weather though.

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Here we also spotted crabs, this time duelling hermit crabs.

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Au Petit Salut Birthday Dinner

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Chris and I celebrate our birthdays on consecutive days. We went to Au Petit Salut for a birthday blowout dinner in a dim romantic corner, making for rather grainy out of focus pictures.

We started with oysters in the half-shell, going easy with just two each. One was a “prota com” and the other a “white pearl.” The waitress said they were from France but couldn’t say much more beyond that. Couldn’t find any info on them on google, but both were excellent. The white pearl was milder and the prota com was earthy and minerally, tasting beautifully of the sea. It had a long finish with a flinty aftertaste. Gorgeous.

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Next, Chris had her favourite escargot, which she loved. I had to pass on the appetisers because of all the Christmas and birthday feasting, but the chef sent out a complimentary portion of duck rilletes. The rilletes was very good on bread and it’s one of my favourite potted meats.

For mains, I had the lamb shoulder with ratatouille, garlic confit and mashed potatoes. The lamb was very well done, though I like the ends to be a bit more rare. It had great flavour, very meaty without having too strong a “lamb” taste that many people don’t like. And that layer of fat? Crisp, salty outside yielding to soft unctuousness; in a word – heaven. I found the ratatouille a bit of a let down, especially since Chris ordered her own main of grilled fish just because it had ratatouille too. It was not much more than an overly salty vegetable mush. Pity because I loved the rest of the dish. I’m not a particularly garlicky person mainly because I get garlic (and onion) breath far too easily. Somehow these soft garlic cloves just didn’t let me go. They were addictive I tell you. And then there was the mash which was the typically lovely French style with beaucoup de beurre. It was rich and incredibly smooth, almost too rich but I still managed to finish it and it was all gone before I realised.

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By now we were stuffed, but still needed to round off the meal with some dessert. Having to wait 20 minutes for our souffle helped. Time passes quickly when you’re in good company. The grand marnier souffle was well executed and was redolent of oranges and liqueur. I liked the special touch of the tiny bit of dark chocolate that sank in the middle of the dessert. It was a good contrast to the sweet foam. I liked it, but my main grouse with souffle is that there never is enough of crunchy top and side and always too much foam inside.

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It was a lovely dinner. Great company, good food. What more can a girl ask for?

Au Petit Salut
40C Harding Road
Tel: 6475 1976

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

Quick Eats: Bugis Area

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There are a few interesting little eateries in the Bugis area. One of these is Food for Thought, a cafe that ploughs its profits into social causes. Not everything on their menu is great. I had the lunch deal for the Asian beef soup and smoked duck salad, neither of which was particularly special. Now the soup and sandwich set is definitely more value for money as they thoughtfully provided a little tomato and lettuce side salad. DC had the tomato and pumpkin soup with pulled pork sandwich set. The soup was decent and the pulled pork sandwich was very excellent. I liked how the tender pork contrasted so well with bits of still-crisp crackling and soft sweet potato. It made for a generous filling to the soft ciabatta. Definitely something to go back for.

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A distance away, down Seah Street is a Entre-Nous, a French creperie with the best crepes I’ve tried in Singapore. I immediately knew that I had to have the salted caramel crepe, while DC went for the chocolate version. It wasn’t too bad, the chocolate sauce was obviously home-made, of good chocolate. It was very good, though once you try the salted caramel version, there’s no competition at all.

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This time I made the better choice. The home-made salted caramel was to die for, especially for someone with a salty tooth like me. And of course the crepe was faultless, it was soft with lovely crisp edges. We’re definitely going back there sometime soon.

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Food for Thought
420 North Bridge Road
North Bridge Centre
#01-06
Tel: 6338 8724

Entre-Nous Creperie
27 Seah Street
Tel: 6333 4671

August in China: Food in Yangshuo and Guilin

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The first night in Yangshuo was my first time in a less developed part of China. Tortoise and I thought we’d eat at one of the bustling local restaurants. I was so amused when our crockery arrived pre-sterilised in a vacuum pack. There was no need for the usual rinsing with a splash of hot water. No pictures of the dinner we had because we were too hungry and forgot to take pictures. We had beer duck (pi jiu ya) which was quite spicy but had no trace of beer in it. We had difficulty finding the meat as all the pieces seemed to be nothing but bone and gristle. I suppose that’s the consequence of being in the countryside.

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The next morning we staggered out for breakfast at this makeshift stall selling Guilin mifen (rice noodles). The lady would hand over a bowl of noodles topped with minced meat and black fungus, and then it’s up to the customer to add the ingredients to taste. There was piping hot pork stock (of course fortified with msg), several kinds of pickles and boiled soy beans.

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It was a delicious combination. I particularly liked the kang kong and long bean pickles and developed a taste for them from then on. The combination of ferment, sour and spicy was so addictive that for the rest of the trip I’d often seek out Guilin noodles or anything with long bean pickle in them.

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Stopping for lunch, we also had horse noodles (ma rou fen). It’s been a long time since I last had horse (that was in sandwiches in Germany). It tasted a bit like venison and was quite robust and pleasingly chewy. I liked it, but Guilin noodles are still better.

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