Crab Biriyani at Heritage Bites

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DC and I took his parents out for Indian. We’d heard about the crab biriyani at Heritage Bites and were very eager to try it out. The restaurant itself has a very understated decor – modern with Indian touches. Its simple layout adds to the spaciousness and helps in getting the attention of the waitstaff. DC started off with a jaljeera, a drink with mint, lime, cumin and chilli. I liked the crispy bits floating at the top, they stayed crispy throughout, which is quite amazing considering it’s soaking in the drink. What I didn’t like was the drink itself. It tasted like watered down green chilli sauce to me. Pass.

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We had some starters to begin the meal, a combination platter of chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, prawn and fish. The morsels were tender and well-marinated, though ultimately not as memorable as the mains.

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For mains, we had the Punjabi mutton dhabewala ($15), which was very tender pieces of goat simmered in a thick tomato-based curry. I didn’t get much of it because DC and his dad slurped most of it up! No great loss to me because I was most enamoured of the palak paneer ($15). It was incredibly smooth and creamy without being heavy, and had a tart tang that made it taste almost like tomato (green tomato?). The paneer (mild yogurt cheese) cubes were just the right consistency of yielding yet chewy to the bite. It was really excellent when wiped up with plain naan ($3), probably the best naan I’ve had in recent memory. It was quite thin and amazingly crisp, yet despite its thinness had a soft, slightly al dente centre. If not for the crab biriyani ($25) that followed, we’d probably have ordered one each. Oh yes, there was another dish with okra – I can’t remember what it was exactly, except that it was decent. Too bad that the other dishes completely stole the show.

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And then the piece de resistance! The crab biriyani is da bomb. It is such a great idea: cleanly shelled crab (no nasty jaw-jarring bits at all!) layered with fragrant basmati rice and cooked to a beautifully spiced finish. Add some curry gravy to moisten the thing and you wouldn’t even miss the raita that they forgot (they later included it in the portion we took home). There was a lot of moist, fresh crab in the biriyani, each spoonful had plenty of crab to feel its texture on the tongue and fully taste the yummy crustaceousness of it. It’s such a great idea for a lighter biriyani. I’m definitely coming back for this.

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We were so stuffed that we had to take back a portion of our crab biriyani. But that didn’t stop us from ordering the jalebies ($8). These little fried dough coils soaked in fragrant syrup were quite special: crisp throughout and not tooth-achingly sweet, the syrup was spiked with some lemon juice to round off our dinner on a yummy sweet-sour note. Be warned that each jalebie is quite small, so it may not be the value you’re looking for.

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Nonetheless, we had a very good deal because the place was running a 40% discount promotion on all orders made between 6-8pm. Get there for your crab biriyani fix!

Heritage Bites
#B1-012 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6837 0858

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Brasserie Wolf

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Brasserie Wolf is a bit of a dark horse. Even though it’s been around for ages, we rarely think of this place when we go to Robertson Quay. This time we stepped in after a first choice wasn’t open in time for our hungry stomachs. It sure surprised us with the decent quality of food here.

My starter of fried goats cheese was rather quotidian. I’d rather have the cheese fried on its own or at most coated with beaten egg rather than battered. Eating it this way was oddly reminiscent of fried ice cream. The dressed salad was very good though.

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DC’s beef tartar was a winner. At first I wasn’t sure about the tartness from the chopped pickle, but was soon won over by its fresh flavours. I especially liked how fine they chopped up the mixture as most places do it slightly chunkier. This way, the flavours melded very nicely and the soft, meaty yet light mixture contrasted fabulously with the crisp mini toasts.

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DC had the braised crispy pork trotter and he fairly swooned with how good it was. I don’t know how they did it but they braised the pork so that it was meltingly tender yet the top was crisp just as promised in the menu. What really caught my attention was the sauce, it was reduced so much that any more and the chef wouldn’t be able to scrape it out the of the pot. Oh the intense flavours redolent of pork and wine! Coupled with the mushrooms, this was a dish made in heaven.

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Now my main hardly disappointed. I had the veal chop, a giant hunk of meat on the bone smothered in mushroom cream sauce and paired with mashed “beaucoup de beurre” potatoes. This really hit the spot for me as the veal was done nicely medium rare so that it was tender and very juicy. The mild flavour of the veal harmonised well with yummy forest mushrooms and the light cream sauce. The mashed potato was heart-stoppingly good. It was so smooth that it had to be a 1:1 mix of potato and butter.

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This was one of the rare times that we both decided that our own main was the better. We picked well and we’ll definitely visit again soon!

Brasserie WOLF
80 Mohamed Sultan Road
The Pier at Robertson #01-13
Tel: 6835 7818
brasserie@esmirada.com

July in Vietnam: Arguments and the Overnight Bus

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The motorbike ride didn’t end quite as I would’ve liked it to. Just as we were about to enter Cuc Phuong National Park, Hu told me that we had only a few hours left. I was taken aback because my understanding with the travel agent in Sapa was that the whole point of the trip was that Hu would take me to  Tam Coc andCuc Phuong National Park, then drop me off at Ninh Binh, a transit town a few hours south of Hanoi. However, on the second night Hu told me that there wouldn’t be time for me to do Tam Coc as well as Cuc Phuong and I opted to drop Tam Coc in favour of the monkeys.

On the day we were in Cuc Phuong, we got lost finding the right entrance and wasted about an hour going the wrong way. When we finally got to Cuc Phuong, Hu told me that we only had an hour there because he needed to get back to Hanoi to catch his train back to Sapa. I was furious because the whole point of the trip was to give me flexibility to explore the national park at leisure. If time really was tight, half day would have been fine, but an hour was pushing it. Besides, I’d made it clear while making plans with my tour agent that I’d wanted to spend time in both Tam Coc and Cuc Phuong, so the agent should have budgeted enough time even though we were delayed by an hour. I’d paid for this, and expected them to carry out their side of the agreement. After an increasingly heated phone call to Sapa, the tour agent agreed that Hu would take me round Cuc Phuong, drop me off at Ninh Binh and then his job would be done.

However, Hu waited till we finished lunch and the Big Tree visit before insisting that there wasn’t enough time and that he would have to leave me in the middle of the national park if I didn’t leave with him that instant. I adamantly held my ground, firmly told him to stop as we rolled past the Primate Centre, and got off the motorbike. Leaving my pack strapped to the bike, I stalked into the Primate Centre, and got two tickets. I figured that he might as well go in since it was also his first time in Cuc Phuong. Hu refused the ticket and sulked while I returned to the Centre, determined that my trip wouldn’t be affected by his behaviour.

I made good progress and was very soon back on the back, with Hu griping away about missing the train. I talked through his schedule with him and reasoned that he would make it with sufficient time. Even if he did miss the train, the travel agent would make sure that he would get on the next one and that there would be contacts in Hanoi that would take him in for the night. Each time, I countered his resentful complaints and persuaded him to continue the trip. The last heartstopping, frustrating moment came when he stopped again by the side of the road, this time only 3km away from Ninh Binh to say that he had to stop now and drop me off by the road so he could go home. I almost screamed but doggedly pressed him onwards.

Thankfully, mercifully, he managed to get me to Ninh Binh in one piece and scooted off after I reluctantly (my turn now) tipped him. I hope he made his train in time.

Next, I cleaned up at a guesthouse that arranged for overnight buses to Hue and got myself a very nice dinner of goat meat wraps with tree leaves! No pictures, but it was very tasty and filling. Quite special and a very unique experience eating stringy tree leaves and tasty but tough goat. Quite soon, it was time to hop on the night bus. Look how cool their utilisation of space was! It’s structured in such a way that there’s just barely enough room for a midget to lie almost prone. There’s a little cubby hole to stick your legs into that fits under the head of the person in front. Stacked up in a double decker, three columns of these beds filled up the bus. Quite a few people fit in and I found it far more comfortable than crouching at the back of a motorbike. After such a long journey, I slept quite soundly, waiting to arrive in Hue in the morning.

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June in Thailand: Farm Animals at a Karen Village

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There was the usual assortment of cute farm animals at the village: goats complete with nursing kids…

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… lively little piglets running all over the place…

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… in complete contrast with their lazy parents conserving energy in a heap.

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The hens teaching their chicks to scratch around for food in the dirt were really cute too.

Surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be any animals doing work in the village. The only mechanical work being done was by some children threshing the rice. How strange!

True All-Day Breakfast

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DC and I were frustrated in yet another attempt to eat at Ippudo. Disheartened by the queues, we headed over to Wild Honey instead. It’s an interesting premise here: an eclectic set-up with odd-sized tables and chairs or sofas, a chalkboard menu with pictures to browse on an iPod Touch, and an emphasis on breakfast food. I was a bit surprised to have to queue and pay at the counter for my food, but soon understood as part of the fun was deciding what to eat from the photos on the iTouch.

True to its name, this place had several honey-themed drinks. I liked my refreshing fizzy pink grapefruit and manuka honey drink. DC also liked his banana, honey and meringue drink which was more smoothie than drink. It was like breakfast in a glass. I found it way too thick and rich and while I don’t particularly fancy soft meringue, I liked the creativity of the soft meringue topping crisped on the outside (most likely with a blowtorch). DC enjoyed it thoroughly, enthusiastically sucking up the gloop with the straw.

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The goat cheese salad was another hit. Hardly healthy at all, our token nod to vegetables was dominated by the very yummy breaded deep-fried goat cheese. The oozy, salty goodness went really well with the bacon bits and pine nuts. It seemed like the fresh salad leaves were an afterthought.

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I went for the Yemeni breakfast of “malawach with whole boiled egg, green chili harissa and tomato kasundi.” Turned out that malawach is a Yemeni version of roti prata, very similar to a fluffier version of the frozen kind you pop in the toaster oven to reheat. It came with a loh neng, seemed just like braised egg in soy sauce, but I had no idea what the sauce was. The harissa was quite spicy hot and the tomato kasundi rather sweet. The owner came over and explained to me that it was his favourite childhood breakfast and he was absolutely delighted that I’d ordered it. He taught me how to eat the dish: by mashing up the egg and then mixing the sweet and hot sauces to my liking and eating it all with the prata malawach. It was quite yummy, but I felt it quite expensive ($18)  for what I got.

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DC’s choice was more substantial and I rather preferred his Tunisian breakfast of a “sizzling pan of tomato stew, fried eggs and chorizo sausage.” Given that we were having dinner, this breakfast dish seemed more apt for the time of the day. I liked the combination of gooey egg yolk, salty spicy chorizo and tomato on toast. They were somehow a bit nicer on the toast soldiers that came with the salad.

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My verdict? I guess I’m not much of an all-day breakfast girl. It’s a nice little place with friendly service and interesting concepts. I wonder if it’ll last in fickle Singapore, especially given the high prices (think about it: eggs and bread for slightly under $20?). Still, I’d go back for brunch and try the other stuff too.

Wild Honey
Mandarin Gallery #03-02
Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 3900

Not Bad Not-Chocolate at Laurent Bernard’s

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By some freak coincidence, DC and I were both at business meetings in the Portsdown area on a weekday. It was just too bad that our favourite place in the area was closed, so we plumped for Laurent Bernard Chocolatier instead. I wasn’t expecting a great deal, mainly because I’d been disappointed at its Robertson Quay branch before (rude service, not particularly great food). This place surprised me.

I went for a healthy niçoise salad, which turned out more substantial than I expected as it came with a well-toasted piece of rustic farm bread. It went beautifully with the rare seared tuna chunks and the generous portion of salad. DC found the tuna a bit fishy but I liked it that way. It’s probably the best version of niçoise I’ve had as it doesn’t have the stuff I don’t fancy (boring boiled potato and squeaky boiled string beans) and has lots of green leaves and plenty of tuna.

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DC went for the goat cheese sandwich, which turned out very similar in style to my salad! There was the same slice of toast and a fairly substantial heap of salad greens, a bit less than the stuff for my salad. The main difference was of course the grilled goat cheese, which was of course fantastically oozy and runny under a crisped up crust. He loved it.

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Dessert was where we misstepped.  I’m surprised that the dessert here didn’t fare too well. We ordered the cherry soufflé to share and had high hopes seeing as they had an extensive soufflé section in the menu. I really like Blackforest-style sour cherries and it’s hard to find a place that does it well. Our soufflé was obviously fresh from the oven as it started to quite rapidly lose height once it landed on the table.  The dessert itself wasn’t too bad, although it was a tad weepy. I think the chef overwhipped the egg whites and undercooked it slightly. Still, it was light and airy with a tender, slightly crackly top. The raspberry sauce accompaniment was rather quotidien and didn’t do very much to help the soufflé along. I liked the cherries, although there was some kind of liqueur or flavour added that gave it the typical cherry cough syrup flavour when I had more than a mouthful of it. I suppose it would suffice if one were truly craving cherry, but not otherwise.

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Laurent Bernard Chocolatier
5B Portsdown Road #01-02
Telephone: 6475 9410