A Long Brunch at St Regis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

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I went for a work trip in July last year and was lucky enough that it involved a whirlwind trip of the shopping capitals of Europe, with the first stop being Milan. We took the red-eye flight which meant that we got off the plane early enough to have breakfast at a bar just before our first meeting. We were thankful for the Italian custom of drinking espresso like water and helped ourselves to copious amounts of the brew to keep us awake in the business discussions.

One of the companies we met was very hospitable and brought us to Trattoria Del Drago for a very welcome lunch. The trattoria was set in a little garden and there was a lovely relaxed vibe to it. We had a lovely white wine to go with our lunch, the Picol 2008 (14%). It was a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a lime flower nose and plenty of slate in the finish. It was a lovely accompaniment to our appetiser.

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And what an appetiser it was! A typically Milanese starter of seafood carpaccio, this is Italy’s answer to sashimi. There was impossibly fresh salmon, tuna and white fish with two types of prawns. It was all dressed lightly in olive oil and was wonderfully tasty, each bite bursting with the sweetness of the sea. I would definitely go back there just for this dish, far away as it may be from the touristy areas of Milan.

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My main was an orecchiette in a tomato cream sauce and a meat I cannot recall, probably chicken. Sadly, it wasn’t mindblowing and it was forgettable in my seafood-dazed, jetlagged stomach.

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Trattoria Del Drago
Via Pusiano, 63, 20132 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 2720 9849 ‎

Our last meeting was, curiously, in an old Roman building that housed the Milanese headquarters of a high tech company . We got through that aided with plenty of hot espresso from thermos flasks, drunk by the shot in tiny plastic cups. We thankfully sank into Hotel Spadari al Duomo, probably the most reasonably priced 4-star hotel of that standard in the area. It was a lovely and very modern hotel, with large enough and very comfortable rooms. 

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In contrast to the Duomo just around the corner, even the artwork on the walls was modern. I liked how the minibar was included in the price of the room (non-alcoholic drinks only), so I didn’t have to worry about finding a convenience store for water. It was a lovely touch especially coming in on a hot day.

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But the feature I liked best was the shower. There were three showerheads in there: a regular handheld shower head (not shown), a rain shower and a waterfall shower! It was fantastic standing under a wall of warm water after a long, long day simply enjoying the pressure of water against skin.

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It was a great hotel with very prompt and excellent service, from emailing for reservations to getting our excellent breakfast every morning to making reservations to depart for the airport. Well worth it!

Hotel Spadari al Duomo
Via Spadari 11 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02.72002371
Email: reservation@spadarihotel.com

But no rest for the greedy. Before long, we had to regroup for dinner. We went for an early dinner nearby so that we could head back to crash out. An institution and therefore tourist hangout in the area was Trattoria Milanese, a pretty down home type place with unfortunately less down home prices. Still, it was considered reasonable for the area.

We started off with a mix of appetisers. On my plate are parma with melon; tomato with mozzarella and basil; and half a perfectly ripe, luscious summer fig. While not super fantastically good, I think the ingredients travelled far less than it would have if we had the meal back home in Singapore, making it fresher and tastier somehow.

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I made the classic glutton’s mistake of ordering osso bucco with risotto. Mind you, it was yummy and very well made, especially the osso bucco with its unctuous marrow just begging to be sucked dry. The risotto was no slacker either, al dente and richly aromatic. I managed to finish about a third of the plate and tried to parcel as much away to my dining companions as possible. It was such a pity that I couldn’t take away any for later.

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Full to bursting as I was, my greed yet again overreached and I found myself not simply ordering apple sorbet for dessert, but also nodding amicably when the waiter asked if I wanted it doused in Calvados. Unfortunately, the sorbet wasn’t at all tart and was a bit flat on taste, and the apple liqueur was more bitter than aromatic. Still, it sozzled me nicely and at the end of the meal I had to walk carefully so that I wouldn’t stumble on the cobblestones and fall flat on my face in front of the highest ranking person in my organisation.

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Trattoria Milanese
Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8645 1991 ‎

Thankfully, I made it back to the hotel in one jetlagged, sleep-deprived, espresso-ed out, stuffed-to-the-gills and pretty much sozzled piece. Another lovely waterfall shower later, and I was fast asleep, dreaming of my weekend to follow.

Don Quijote

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Don Quijote is a little gem of a Spanish place tucked in a little corner in the far flung west side of the island. It’s hard to get to because it’s not really near to a MRT station and parking is practically impossible here. The food here is pretty decent. We started with bellota ham at the request of the jamon-loving DC. It was fairly cheap for bellota ham and I guess you pay for the quality. While it certainly was very tasty and good ham, it was too greasy from being left at (hot, humid) room temperature. In the world of bellota ham, this was but a pretender.

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The ravening pack then moved on to the clam special. They normally have a clam tapas on the menu but that night, they had a special clam dish. Presumably they managed to get their hands on a good batch of imported clams and boy were these good! They were sweet and briny, full of the sea and picked up the wine, herbs and garlic in the sauce very nicely. These were swiftly mopped up with plenty of bread.

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Finally, the ravening pack of two came to a standstill with the squid ink paella. The good stuff came al dente just as we requested and was enveloped in a black and almost solid sauce. The flavour was somehow of intense savoriness, though not overwhelmingly salty. It was crammed with squid and prawns and with a squirt of the lemon, came together to give a very comforting yet not quite stodgy dish.

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The food here was really decent. Just don’t bother with the sangria if you’re like me and not fond of syrupy and very mildly alcoholic drinks.

[P.S. Pardon the poor lighting, it’s one of those places with dim yellow lighting. Almost impossible for food shots.]

Don Quijote
17 Lorong Kilat
Tel: 6465 1811

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

Entre Nous Part Deux

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DC and I revisited some old favourites. At Entre Nous, we tried out the savoury galettes. They’re buckwheat pancakes served most typically with savoury toppings. DC had the ham and tomato while I had the mushroom one. Both were very good. The galette was the same excellent standard as the sweet crepes: super crisp on the outside and still moist on the inside. The tomato and ham topping was pretty decent and made for a satisfying yet light lunch.

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I liked the mushroom filling much better though. It was very rich and, well, mushroomy. The depth of flavour was amazing, even more impressive because it was pure mushroom, probably with plenty of butter, but otherwise unadulterated with meat or truffle oil. Excellent.

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Entre-Nous Creperie
27 Seah Street
Tel: 6333 4671

Guest Post: Champagne Brunch at Equinox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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