Comfort Food for Sickies: Multigrain Porridge/Risotto

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I was sick over the weekend and didn’t even have the energy to go out for groceries. Having still the need to feed myself, I rummaged in the fridge and found some hardy vegetables and plenty of various healthfood staples my mum bought from various places – brown rice, buckwheat, barley and regular rice. Not wanting to spend any time at all slaving over the stove, I chucked about a tablespoon or so of each grain into the rice cooker, topped up with plenty of water (at least twice the height of the grain) and set the rice cooker to start its job. I found some dried mushrooms, reconstituted them in some water, and sliced them. I then cut up the carrots into slices and the tomatoes into wedges. I also remembered that I had some organic no-msg vegetable stock powder in the fridge and scattered in a teaspoon or so into the cooking porridge, together with the carrot. It was then time for a nap of about 30 minutes.

When I woke up, the porridge was pretty much cooked and almost dried up to the consistency of thick rice even. I added a bit more water and stirred in the tomatoes. Then I took out an egg from the fridge, washed it thoroughly in warm water. I then set it in a bowl and poured hot water over it, letting it steep for about 5 minutes. By now my risotto was done and I scooped it out into a shallow dish. I then cracked the egg carefully into a hollow of the porridge, let any remaining eggwhite set in the heat of the porridge, then stirred it all together and ate it greedily before going back to bed. Simple, good and delicious.

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Quick Eats: Tsuru Tsuru Tei

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DC and I found ourselves at The Central one work night. Despite wanting something light, we were lured in by the siren call of the deep-fried black pig ramen. I thought to order a salad to help lighten the meal and ended up ordering the only salad on the menu: avocado salad ($7.80). At least there were vegetables. I liked how the leaves were fresh and there were quite a lot of avocado chunks. The onsen egg was a lovely touch to top off the salad, I love eggs with still-runny yolks and barely set whites. Yummy!

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And now for the piece de resistance, the koumi ramen ($15.80). I apologise for the poorly composed photo. It was a work night, it was late and I was tired. The basic ramen below the rack containing the deep-fried pork, though not among my favourites, was decent. The noodles were fairly firm on arrival but got soggy towards the end. You just have to eat fast to enjoy the firm texture. The soup was a decent tonkotsu style broth, very milky and unctuous with plenty of collagen dissolved in it. I think it had loads of msg too, so watch out before you over-indulge.

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Ah… and the thing that lured us in! The deep-fried pork rib was fairly decent, though not as crispy as we’d anticipated. Still, the meat was substantial and tender, and the batter fairly light. I’d prefer it slightly less sweet, but for something that’s not too expensive, I’m not quibbling too much.

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Tsuru Tsuru Tei
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-88/89 The Central @ Clarke Quay
Tel: 6327 7887

The Best Seafood Pasta Ever

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DC and I found ourselves at Club Street one evening and he led me to an old haunt (to him). It was about time he introduced it to me!

Cugini is a charming little trattoria with colour-coordinated cyan menu covers matching the cyan chairs and cyan aprons worn by the waitstaff. Such a cute touch!  It’s dimly lit for the romantic feel and also to make food photos look less appetising despite my camera’s fabulous low light setting.

I liked how they added a little character to the ubiquitous bread basket by adding cherry tomatoes to the bread and providing a zingy horseradish dip. Yummy dip, though I’m not a big fan of how Italian bread tends to have a more collapsed texture compared to regular stuff. It’s probably because the bread is more proofed. DC loves it, so it’s just me!

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I ordered the Pizza Fiorentina ($20.90), with spinach and egg on top. I was rather dismayed that the egg came fully cooked, looks like the wood-fired oven was that hot that they couldn’t cook it any gentler. It was a very decent rendition, with a substantial enough crust that was thin but not so thin as to make it difficult to hold up with the fingers for eating the barbaric way. I liked how rustic the thin crust was. That said, it’s something that absolutely had to be eaten piping hot from the pizza stone, otherwise it gets soggy and slightly stodgy. Also, the tomato sauce tasted like they didn’t do a great deal to canned tomatoes to make it. I haven’t got anything against canned stuff, but the tomato base on pizzas absolutely needs to taste fresh and zingy. This one didn’t quite hit the mark. All in all, a decent rendition, though not worth a special trip for.

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Now what’s worth a special trip and an extra special mention is the phenomenal seafood spaghetti ($24.90). It’s off the menu and DC, having been there before, knew to ask. I tell you, it’s the best seafood pasta I’ve had in my life (at least as far as I remember). Oh my, it was the sauce that made it so incredibly. Where the tomato sauce on the pizza fell short, this one made up for it and more! It was thick, zesty and very full of flavour. There was plenty of clean seafood flavour, and probably a hint of white wine in it. I don’t know how the chef managed to pack so much seafood taste into the sauce, I could just eat the spaghetti and the sauce on its own… And talking about the spaghetti! Oh my, I thought I knew my al dente, but this al dente rocked my world. It was made so perfectly that the stars aligned at that point (and I probably should’ve gone to buy 4D). Let me attempt to describe it: there was chewy and yielding, there was tenderness, and there was noodle that was cooked through; it didn’t have a hint of durum hardness that you sometimes have to bear with for the sake of al dente, there was any sogginess that came with overcooking. This was, quite simply, the epitome of pasta and sauce. Now, it would’ve rated perfection in my books except for… the seafood. The fish was fresh and cooked just right, but the prawns were rather overdone and a bit meh. There wasn’t any other seafood, which was odd. I do love the crunch of slightly overcooked squid. So here’s my sad face about the seafood part not quite being up to par. But I must stress that the pasta and the sauce are probably the best thing that’s happened to me food-wise this year.

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Do yourself a favour and eat the seafood pasta.

Cugini
87 Club Street #01-01
Tel: 6221 3791

A Whirlwind Work Trip: My First Michelin Star Experience

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We were very fortunate to be treated to a good dinner, my first Michelin star experience at the one-star Tano Passami L’Olio. The name literally meant “Tano, pass me the olive oil.” Chef Gaetano is very big on olive oils and treats it almost like wine in how he pairs each carefully, selecting carefully which oil he uses to finish each dish. We went for a tasting menu of sorts, starting with this amuse bouche.

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Wow! moment, more of a “hmm this is rather good.” It was interesting how the mousse was finished of with olive oil but I don’t remember a great deal more than that.

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The next dish was quite interesting – raw prawns Milanese-style marinated in citrus and anise, accompanied by pink grapefruit and cheese mousse and graced with caramelised peas. I wasn’t sure about the peas as they were semi-dry, with texture reminding me a bit of wasabi peas, just not as crunchy. I liked the fresh, fresh! prawns that were singing with the zing of the sea (go figure that out, I’m taking things up a notch – it’s a Michelin-starred place yo) and the grapefruit and cheese mousse was nice, though it tasted a bit like it was meant for baby food, but what lovely fine dining baby food it was!

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Now it was the next dish that really brought things up a notch. The caramelised quail eggs on tuna mousse was a revelation. The first one after going in the mouth went crackle! pop! and there were surprised looks all round the table. Then understanding dawned and we gleefully went with the second one. First, the sensation of caramel on the tongue, as it was an egg-shaped creme brulee with crackly crust all round. Just a little pressure with the teeth and tongue and the delicately cooked quail egg burst, coating the tongue with runny yolk. The tuna mousse made for a savoury counterpoint to it all. And the raw tuna in minted olive oil? Gilding the lily with its freshness.

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Our expectations went a little higher with the pasta course and we were not disappointed. We were presented with lemon risotto cooked in vegetable and milk and finished off with chocolate. I was a bit wary of this as I wasn’t sure how dessert-like a lemon and chocolate rice dish would taste. But no, this was deeply savoury, rich and wonderfully al dente. At the same time, the lemon flavour sang through and the bitterness of the chocolate balanced out the flavours. It was another eye-opener. Next time I’m in Milan, I’m coming back just for this dish.

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We were surprised by how full we were getting at this stage, we really hadn’t eaten a great deal, but it shows how satisfying the food was. We were very glad that the main course came in small portions. Small though the portion was, it was somehow the perfect portion. The roe dear saddle glazed with basil and wild berries and again finished off with chocolate was excellent. It was done very rare, the way I like it, yet wasn’t bloody (which the rest of my table seemed to like more). I think the meat must have been well hung because it was the tenderest deer I’ve had. Again, Chef Gaetano had a way with traditionally sweet foods, turning them into savoury wonders. The chocolate he personally grated over each portion at the table made all the difference again in balancing out the sweetness of the sauce and tempered the deep game flavour of the venison. Wonderful.

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What really won the rest of the table over (I was head over heels by then, no need for further wooing) was Chef Gaetano’s impeccable and very sensible wine pairings. He recommended two reds, only one of which I managed to get a photo of. This Humar Rogoves from the Friuli region was very reasonably priced at about €30 and was just right for the deer. In the words of the chef, it was a “sweety wine, very nice.” And indeed it was! Nicely balanced, sweet yet not overly so, it went better than expected with our deer in berry sauce.

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Then came the usual sorbet palate cleanser.

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And finally dessert. The almond cannoli filled with almond mousse, candy lemon, citrus cream and almond marmalade was lovely. The pastry was crisp and light as air and the mousse filling also light and sweetly lemony. It was a lovely contrast to the dark chocolate blob (I never found out what it really was), but the mousse and chocolate sauce was a deep, delicious contrast. It was a sly way of crowd pleasing, not particularly inventive but just the right to end a good dinner.

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Tano passami l’olio
via Villoresi, 16 ang. via Pastorelli, Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8394139
Email: tano@tanopassamilolio.it

Disgruntled Chef

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We were in the Dempsey area and wanted to try something new. Disgruntled Chef fit the bill. It’s a newish place opened by a chef formerly from the White Rabbit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not very sure about the name. Something that conjures up images of an unhappy chef spitting into my food is rather disturbing. Nonetheless, DC and I took the plunge and ordered four small plates and a big plate.

The first was a spinach salad with mirin and eggplant. Decent salad dressing but nasty eggplant that was cold and somehow hard and soggy at the same time. Overpriced and not very nice.

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We were on a steak tartare streak and couldn’t resist going for it. Here, the steak tartare was pretty decent too. It was helped a lot by the very excellent fries, possibly the best in Singapore. I liked how they were just about chunky yet so crisp outside and incredibly fluffy inside. They went absurdly well with the steak tartare. What I didn’t really like about the tartare was how they used half cooked quail eggs in it. I didn’t quite appreciate the texture of the solid egg whites and felt that there wasn’t enough runny egg yolk to go round.

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This was followed by the crackling suckling pig that neither of us found very special as the skin was only just crispy and still on the hard side. I don’t like it when the skin gets stuck in my molars from chewing at it for too long. Oh and the big plate of roasted miso cod was so forgettable we almost wept at how insipid it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was still competently executed. It was just that the dish simply had no soul. All I remember was that the centre of the fish had a strong alcohol smell from the sake marinade. Japanese obviously isn’t the chef’s forte.

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We both agreed that the most inventive, and possibly the best, dish that evening was the baked bone marrow with persillade. I really liked the idea of marrow as pate. The chef did nothing to the marrow itself, leaving its unctuousness to be tempered with the persillade according to the whim of the diner. Trying to figure out how much parsley and garlic paste to match with the marrow was part of the fun of the dish. This is something we’d definitely return for.

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The Disgruntled Chef
26B Dempsey Road
Tel: 6476 5305

September in Bali: Underwater

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The diving at Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida was nothing short of beautiful.

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There was plenty of very healthy coral and every single dive was full of beautiful coral scapes, quite different from the black volcanic sands of Tulamben.

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I loved how blue the water was and how colourful the fish were. They were everywhere the eye could see, with the tiny brightly-hued anemonefish hovering on the roof, the slightly bigger ones like the butterflyfish close to the reef and the large ones like the trevally hunting a few metres from the reef.

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It wasn’t all blue underwater. Featherstars like these gave bursts of colour along the way. These creatures are relatives of the starfish and can walk themselves to convenient places to feed. I like how they congregated on this coral to pose for a picture.

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The fish closest to the reef are generally the smallest and naturally the most skittish because they are food for most other bigger fish. I had a hard time getting a picture of these two-tone dartfish that always come in pairs. I love how they look like they’re wearing frilly dark clown pants!

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Another skittish fish was this adorable juvenile yellow boxfish that was almost impossible to catch on camera without being a spotted yellow blur.

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Bigger and less shy, yet still hard to capture was the emperor angelfish. It had this knack of sailing off in a huffy imperial manner away from the camera.

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Also adopting a regal manner was the spotted soapfish. Again, I kept capturing the tails of these fellas till this one though no doubt it’s angled away in retreat.

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Less skittish fish are those that laze along the bottom of the reef, like this hexagon grouper. It perched itself on the coral and anemones, keeping a careful eye on nearby divers and moving away on if they got too close for comfort.

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Others didn’t bat an eyelid even when we got close for a shot, like this giant frogfish. All it did was occasionally shift its foot-like ventral fins to get to a more comfortable position.

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One fish that we daren’t get too close too was the scorpionfish. This specimen is probably either a tasseled or Poss’s scorpionfish, with its well developed skin tassels along its chin and jaw.

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Other things hardly moved at all, like this egg cowrie. Its black mantle covered most its smooth white shell whilst it fed on soft coral.

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Some creatures were actively out hunting, like this very cute snowflake moray eel. It had a most sheepish expression on its face that amused me to no end.

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There was also the banded sea snake, a highly venomous reptile that we steered clear off. From a distance, I admired its pretty bands of alternating black and pale blue, its smooth rounded head and its rudder-like tail that was well adapted to propelling itself in search of prey.

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Last of all was this pretty pink  nudibranch with an orange flower on its back. It’s actually a pink dorid and the flower is its branchial plume through which it breathes. I wonder why it was doubled over though.

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Even without the fish I was after, seeing the variety of life here was rewarding in its own right. More to come in my next post!

DC Cooks to Impress

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As mentioned before, DC is a man after my own stomach. He also knows that that’s the obvious path to my heart. Not being someone with a reputation for great culinary skills, he still went ahead to cook a gourmet meal for me without any help. Impressive huh.

First was the starter, poached eggs with smoked trout on toast, topped generously with my favourite ikura. I don’t know how he managed it but the eggs were perfectly poached so that the whites were just set and the yolks runny. (I’ve never had the guts to poach eggs.) They didn’t have even a hint of the vinegary poaching water. Coupled with toasted baguette and store-bought smoked trout and ikura, this was an irresistible combination.

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Now the piece de resistance really was the stuffed deboned chicken with truffle and spinach. I think he really outdid himself here as I don’t know how to debone a chicken  while keeping it whole. He had to figure it out all on his own.

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He roasted it till just so. The flavour of the truffle stuffing subtley permeated the chicken and the stuffing kept the chicken nicely moist.

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He also somehow learned (oh the power of the Internet!) how to “lollilop” a chicken wingstick. Check out the picture below: instead of having to gnaw indelicately away at the wingstick bone, all I needed to do was to pick it up and bite off the meat at the end. Very nice.

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DC claims to have forgotten how he made these dishes, so I’ll give you recipes of how I think he made them! Look through the ingredients list carefully, though, as quite a few ingredients come from a gourmet store.

Poached eggs with smoked fish on toast

Ingredients:

4 eggs
4 slices of baguette
1 small pack of smoked fish (trout or salmon is fine)
1 small pack of ikura
1 tbsp raisins, optional
1 handful rocket leaves, optional

Method:

  1. Poach the eggs carefully and set aside. (Don’t know how to poach eggs? Try Google.)
  2. When just about ready to serve, toast the baguette till crisp.
  3. Assemble the toasts by covering each piece of toast with smoked fish, then a poached egg and scatter a teaspoon or more of ikura on top.
  4. Garnish with rocket and raisins on the side.

Serves 2.

Stuffed chicken with truffle and spinach

1 chicken, deboned (again, try Google for instructions)
2 small bags baby spinach
1 15g jar truffle pate
1 tsp sea salt
100g wild mushrooms (chanterelles, ceps, etc)
plenty of cracked black pepper
4 pandan leaves
oil for basting
more rocket leaves
2 peaches for a jar of muscat-infused peaches

Ingredients:

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Cook the spinach: boil, steam or microwave depending on your preference. Let cool, then squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible.
  4. Make the stuffing by blending the spinach with the truffle pate. Check the seasoning and add the salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Roughly chop the mushrooms and mix into the stuffing.
  6. Push the stuffing into the cavity of the chicken and tie up the chicken with pandan leaves.
  7. Roast the chicken for 100 minutes, basting it regularly with oil and turning about 60 minutes later.
  8. Carve and serve with rocket and sliced peaches as garnish.

Serves 4.

Method:

Zucchini, Potato and Carrot Parmagiana

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I love zucchini and had some hanging around in the fridge asking to be used differently from the usual pan searing and anchovy pasta combination. Coupled with some old and on the verge of moldering potato and carrot, I flipped through my recipe books and found Antonio Carluccio‘s recipe for parmagiana. Since I had a bit of time, this was it!

You can use any sliceable vegetable for this, just make sure that they are well dried using paper towel before preparing them for the dish. For the cheese, I didn’t have any mozzarella, taleggio or the eponymous parmesan, so I settled with the cheddar I had. It’s a good melting cheese with very nice flavour, so it worked too. For the tomato sauce, I had a jar of pasta sauce from a while back that I again hadn’t got round to using.  Be warned that  the quality of the tomato sauce  is very important. Some of them can be quite tart, so you’ll have to taste and moderate if necessary by perhaps adding a little sugar, or plain using  a decent brand of sauce! I also had some aglio olio spice powder consisting of garlic, chilli and random herbs, so some of that went into the dish too. It all worked out to be a happy use of leftovers to make a yummy, satisfying dish.

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Ingredients:

2 large zucchini
2 medium carrots
2 large potatoes

1 jar tomato pasta sauce

4 rashers bacon, diced
plenty of olive oil
flour for dredging, about 4 heaped tbsp
3 eggs, beaten

150g cheese, thinly sliced or grated

Method:

  1. Slice the vegetables into long slices, as far lengthwise as you can. You’re looking for long, fairly thin slices of vegetables, about 5mm thickness for the root vegetables. For the zucchini, it can go a bit thicker depending on whether you like to bite into mushy zucchini goodness or prefer less of the mushy burst. Pack the slices into paper towels and leave to dry for about an hour or until you get back round to them.
  2. Meanwhile, get out a big casserole dish that looks like it could fit all the vegetable slices and more. Spoon out a thin layer of pasta sauce and coat the bottom of the  dish.
  3. In a sturdy frying pan, saute the bacon dice in a little olive oil till brown. Sprinkle on top of the pasta sauce layer.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  5. Add some salt and pepper to the flour and mix well. Standby the beaten eggs.
  6. In the same frying pan, add plenty of olive oil till the bottom of the pan is coated. Get ready to fry over medium heat.
  7. Dredge each vegetable slice in the seasoned flour, then coat with egg. Let drip till most of the egg has dripped off, then fry, turning each piece as it turns golden brown.
  8. When golden brown on both sides, transfer each piece to the casserole dish.
  9. When a layer of vegetables has completely covered the pasta sauce, spoon over more sauce for the next layer and also sandwich in a few slices of cheese.
  10. Proceed till you’ve exhausted all the vegetables and cover with a final layer of pasta sauce, topping generously with cheese.
  11. Bake for 30 minutes, turning down the temperature slightly if the cheese starts to burn.
  12. After removing from the oven, let rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Serves 6.

Ootoya

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Ootaya has been in Singapore for a while and they just opened a branch in Suntec City. The mains were fresh and cooked fairly healthily, tasting like home-cooked fare. Mine was a mixed bag as the pork balls with tendon just tasted a bit gristly, though still a notch above the mystery-meat balls served at economy rice stalls. I loved the onsen egg, essentially a chilled soft boiled egg, but I have a soft spot for those and this was cooked just right till the whites turned, uh, white and the yolk hadn’t yet set. Shinta and CH both enjoyed their mains and I especially liked this grilled pork dish that we shared. The pork had a layer of fat on it that charred slightly and reminded me of the reason why pork is just So Good.

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CH went for the Kyoto Uji matcha green tea mousse that came with milk ice cream, mochi and red beans. The green tea mousse was very intense and quite excellent as the bitterness of the tea comes through robustly. Much better than most insipid green tea concoctions.

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Shinta and I shared the castella parfait, a trifle made up of cake cubes, ice cream and plenty of cream. Oh I think there was jam or some kind of fruit sauce in it, but who cares? Cake cubes soaked in melted ice cream and accompanied by good quality whipped cream make my day any day.

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Ootoya
3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-057 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6837 3718

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