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

 

July in Vietnam: The Cao Dai Holy See

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From Mui Ne, I moved on to Ho Chi Minh City and almost immediately found myself on a tour out to the Cao Dai Holy See. Cao Dai is a new religion founded in Tay Ninh province near Ho Chi Minh City in the 20th Century. It’s a fusion of eastern and western religions and, according to Lonely Planet, incorporates elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Confucianism, native Vietnamese spiritualism and Islam. Services are held four times a day at midnight, 6am, noon and 6pm. It was one of these services that my tour took me to see.

The architecture of the temple, just like the religion, had a mishmash of influences. The outlying pagodas had a pastel wedding cake feel so typical of western fairy tale castle architecture yet were unmistakeably shaped like  Chinese pagodas.

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The main temple building was much the same, where a Muslim-inspired dome that sat on Chinese-style tiled roofs was detailed with vaguely Baroque styling and topped with a Chinese qilin (unicorn).

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The oddly disjointed design was somehow unified by the pastel colour scheme.

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Worshippers in long white gowns were starting to stream in, a stark contrast to the colourful temple. Outside, venerated saints looked benevolently down from the pastel blue sky dotted with fuzzy clouds.

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I couldn’t help my amusement at how the real weather was fair more threatening than the one painted on the walls, giving the temple an even more surreal feel.

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And just inside the temple was a large mural with Sun Yat-sen, Victor Hugo and Viet poet Nguyen Binh Khiem writing out God and Humanity, Love and Justice in French and Chinese. My mind boggled trying to figure out the link between them.

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The tourists then herded onto the balconies along the main sanctuaries, gawking at the blue skies and fluffy white clouds on the ceiling and the dragons plastered on the pastel pink pillars.

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To my delight, the priests were dressed in stark primary colours, standing out brightly from the white-garbed laypeople. Each colour represented a different branch of Cao Dai.

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The service commenced with lots of bowing, chanting and singing.

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I very much enjoyed admiring the blocks of different colours and how they contrasted beautifully with the very cool floor tiles.

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Too soon, the signal was given for tourists to leave, and we headed out of the temple past the choir singing dreamily, accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments.

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The time for the surreal was over, now it was time for war tunnels and Cu Chi.

Oil-Free Laksa Leaf Salad

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I’m going through a laksa leaf craze now and am trying different ways to use it that’s different from the typical laksa lemak dishes. I’ve been wanting to make an oil-free Eastern salad and this came together. If you can’t find laksa leaves, you can use a soft leafy herb like mint or basil. Replace the jambu with apple if you can’t find that either. Add extra lemongrass if you can’t find torch ginger.

The most important thing about this salad is that all ingredients, especially the herbs, must be absolutely fresh. I made this a few days late as I wasn’t able to cook on schedule, and the laksa and torch ginger weren’t as fragrant as I like. Read my blog, learn from my mistakes!

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Ingredients:
1 red chilli, chopped
½ jambu, diced
5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
5 calamansi limes, juiced
2 tsp fish sauce
good handful laksa leaves, chopped
one stalk lemongrass, base only, chopped
torch ginger, chopped
10 local lettuce or Romaine leaves, sliced into strips
2 tbsp ground peanuts

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the chilli, jambu and tomatoes with the lime juice and fish sauce. Set aside for the flavours to mingle and get on with the chopping for the other ingredients.
  2. Add the lemongrass, torch ginger and lettuce, tossing gently. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more lime juice or fish sauce. Add some sugar if needed.
  3. Just before serving, sprinkle over the ground peanuts.

Serves 1.

Too Much Ado about Mykii

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Mykii is one of those places that got my attention as I surfed hungrygowhere. It was so much in the collective food lovers’ consciousness that my foodie friend and I both had the place in mind when we agreed on a lunch place. Plus, it had taken over the space formerly occupied by the Holland Village branch of Marmalade Pantry. Had to be good, right?

We went for the set lunch at $16.80++ that included soup of the day, choice of main and coffee/tea. First up was the soup. The odd thing was that the server told us that the soup was pumpkin soup but later served us mushroom instead. She told us that there was still mushroom soup left (!) as she set down our soup dishes. How bizarre.

No matter, there was nothing to fault with the soup. It was earthy and thickened with lots of mushroom bits. The drizzle of cream on top was a nice touch. I liked it.

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I chose the seafood linguine with laksa pesto and was a tad surprised to see it coming in a sizzling Korean-style stone pot. It was stupendously disappointing. First, the sizzling pot burnt the bottom bits of the pasta. Yes, burnt, as in charred to a (not-nice) crisp. Next, the pasta was certainly not al dente; it was the localised soft version. The prawns and squid were alright, overcooked in parts from contact with the sizzling pot. The worst thing about it was the “pesto” that certainly wasn’t. It was simply non-spicy laksa paste, nothing special. The only reason why this dish just about qualifies as fusion is that they used linguine and presented it in a Korean pot.

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This is a prime example of having my food messed about with in name and conception. First, I can’t imagine why the restaurant thought to name it as pesto as there really isn’t much pesto-nature to this dish. It was particularly jarring because I’d only just been doing a series on pesto and had been musing about what pesto was and wasn’t. The name should be changed to something along the lines of “sizzling laksa linguine.” Next, the stone pot was such a bad idea causing so much to go wrong with the dish. (Note also how it made the coriander garnish wilt. Ugh.)  I can’t fathom what the chef was thinking.

Even though the dish was blah and OK rather than inedible, this was an unqualified FAIL because it hit exactly on my pet peeve that food should not be messed about with. I didn’t finish it, plenty shocking because in some circles I’m also known as The Hoover.

My friend had the panini with beef bulgogi but I was too despondent about my food to take a photo or ask her how it was. The saving grace was that we ended the meal with good strong un-wimpy coffee.

Conclusion? I might possibly be enticed back to try out other stuff if you pay me for it.

Mykii
17d Lorong Liput
Holland Village
Tel: 6468 2838

Pesto Variations: Laksa

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Today’s instalment in Pesto Variations is inspired by the many laksa pesto dishes I’ve tried at various places around Singapore, some decent and some utterly FAIL.

By the way, laksa is also known as daun kesom and Vietnamese mint.

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If you look more closely at pesto and laksa, you’ll find that laksa is remarkably easy to adapt to a pesto style. Both have some kind of root aromatic, herb and nut. Pesto: garlic, basil, pine nut vs laksa: shallot, laksa leaves, candle nut. The remaining ingredient in pesto is cheese, which adds umami to complete the flavour profile. For laksa, dried shrimp and belachan do the trick. I’ve used only belachan in this recipe, you could add or substitute dried shrimp.

Ingredients:

½ tbsp belachan
½ tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
2 good handfuls laksa leaves
2 red or green chillis, or to taste
½ tbsp sunflower oil
linguine
handful cashew nuts
1 cake tau kwa, cut into small rectangles

Method:

  1. Toast the belachan in a pan until smoky.
  2. Combine belachan, salt, garlic, laksa leaves and chilli in a food processor and pulse till smooth, adding the oil after a few pulses to help the mixture along. You should get a fine-ish paste. The pesto is done.
  3. Cook the linguine to taste.
  4. Toast the cashews in a hot pan and roughly chop once cool enough to handle.
  5. Sear the tau kwa on all sides in the same hot pan.
  6. When the pasta is done, toss it in the pesto, adding a drop or two more oil or cooking liquid to loosen. Top with cashews and tau kwa.

Serves 2.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the picture and recipe have been previously posted on my now-defunct OSF.com account.