Battle of the Turkish Joints

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We were in the Arab Street area quite a bit, partly because our favourite dive shop is there and partly because there were a lot of errands concentrated in that area for us to run. It was natural to end of the busy-ness with a good dinner. We chose Turkish places on two separate occasions and found that while they weren’t good enough to have separate posts of their own, they seemed to complement each other for an interesting comparison.

At Sufi, I had a lassi-like yogurt drink called ayran. It was thinner than lassi and a pleasantly sweet accompaniment to the meal.

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Pardon the bad lighting as we were sitting outside in the dim evening light. The combination starter, meze tabagi ($18) was stellar. It consisted of the classic turkish appetisers including babaganoush, hummus and cacik. The hummus stood out for being uber creamy and very tasty, full of chickpea and sesame flavour. We also fought over the patlican salata, the one with eggplant chunks cooked in tomato and peppers. The eggplants were cooked to perfection as they held their shape yet collapsed into an unctuous ooze when chewed.

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All this was accompanied by lavash, a pillow-like bread that rose majestically with the steam inside. We had to be careful when breaking it open to let out all the hot air. The tasty bread was a perfect foil to the appetiser dish.

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DC had the doner ustu ($12), supposedly chicken doner with buttered rice and a special sauce. He liked it a lot. Unfortunately I felt that it tasted a bit too much like  stirfries you get in greasy UK Chinese takeaway joints. My mum had the doner durum ($9), essentially the same chicken doner sliced with some vegetables into a wrap and accompanied by some cold fries – not good, hence no picture.

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Glad that we didn’t order that many disappointing mains, we had kunefe ($7.50) for dessert. Make sure you have enough people to share it as it’s big and very rich. It’s basically string pastry soaked in honey syrup, served with cream cheese sauce and sprinkled with pistachio dust. It’s very sweet, very decadent, and very delicious. I’m coming back for more.

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Sufi
48 Arab Street
Tel: +65 6298 2258


Then there’s Alaturka, just a street away. Funny how it seemed to be a bit of an opposite, because the appetiser platter ($14), though decent, wasn’t as good as Sufi’s.

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It came with the same bread, and again the bread wasn’t as fragrant and tasty as Sufi’s.

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The main course was where Alaturka really shone. This time my mum had the doner rice ($12), which I felt was much tastier. It was also quite salty, so we had to eat it together with the rice.

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The rest of us had the combination kebab that came in an impressive platter on a stand with the various grill offerings, with minced lamb, lamb chop, beef and various chicken parts. It was well grilled and tasty. I especially liked the lamb chop because it was tender and juicy.

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Then the dessert failed us. The baklava ($5.30), was tough and while sweet, didn’t seem to have been soaked in syrup enough. A pity.

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Alaturka
16 Bussorah Street
Tel: +65 6294 0304

Moral of the story? Go to Sufi for appetisers and desserts, and head to Alaturka if you only want main courses.

Candlenut Kitchen

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Misa and I were overdue for a catchup and we chose Candlenut Kitchen for that. We were sad that Trish and Adele couldn’t join us, maybe a little because we missed their company, but mainly because we were severely limited in how much we could eat! It was very gutting (pun intended) that we only had space for two mains and a dessert. We had to choose our dishes wisely and started with Misa’s perennial favourite: assam fish ($16.80). I thought it a very good version, though not quite as rich in flavour as I’d like. While flavourful from the assam and laksa leaves, I found the gravy a little watered down. It would not go well in DC’s house (he’s Peranakan). Still, a decent rendition – good for desperate times when you can’t get the home-cooked version.

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I read good reviews about yeye’s curry ($12.80), a white curry made with white pepper instead of the usual chilli rempah. On first chew, I thought it very similar to a mild version of Thai green curry and was a bit let down. The texture of the gravy certainly was very similar as it was very thick and lemak. It went really well with the chunks of chicken thigh. After a few more bites, the subtlety of the dish starts to come through and the magic of the pepper starts to weave its spell. It’s spicy yet gentle in its kick, with a level of complexity that’s hard to describe. I’ve been remiss in my posts and this dinner was had slightly more than a month ago before Christmas. My mouth still waters as I write this, it’s worth the trip just for this one dish.

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For dessert, we had the Christmas special dessert which is sadly off the menu now. It was a bombe Alaska of sorts, with chestnut, banana and chocolate. While we both thought it a bit too sweet with the honey drizzled on top, the banana and chestnut combination was pretty addictive.

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This is a restaurant with very good potential. I’m already plotting my next trip back!

Candlenut Kitchen
25 Neil Road
Tel: 6226 2506

Single Malt Appreciation Club: Highlanders and a New Islay

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It was yet another overdue meeting of the newly renamed Single Malt Appreciation Club. In addition to our mainstays of Lagavulin 16 and Laphroaig Quarter Cask, we had a Highland Park12, a Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition and a Kilchoman. Tricia brought the Highland Park from a sojourn to Batam and the Kilchoman from whisky trip to Scotland. Hypodermically and Jam somehow found the Macallan sitting at home.

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It was up to Tricia, the resident whisky expert to line them up for tasting. Her usual impeccable taste was spot-on! The Highland Park first then the other Highland Macallan, followed by the Islay with the youngest Kilchoman first, then the restrained and elegant Lagavulin and last the brash, in-your-face Laphroaig.

I must admit upfront my bias against Highland malts. I’m not so keen on sweet and spicy without the peaty as I find it quite flat and not a great deal different from other liquors. What makes whisky special for me is the complexity that peat brings into the picture. With that, I dismissed the Highland Park 12 (40%) quickly by taking a quick whiff and sip of Tricia’s dram. As expected, it was nothing but sweet honey and fairly one-dimensional.

The Macallan (42.8%), as a Speysider, fared a bit better. I think I’ll enjoy drinking it on off nights where somehow an Islay would be too much work for me. The honey was rounded with spice and orange peel, quite the thing to put in a fruit cake and then enjoy with said cake. The tasting notes mentioned toffee but I didn’t get any, probably because I was still recovering from a bout of flu. Definitely one to try again.

The Kilchoman (pronounced “kil-ho-man”) Spring 2010 Release (46%) was a strange hybrid of honey and peaty smoke. There was something rough and unfinished about it,  I guess that indicates that it would benefit greatly from more ageing. Nonetheless, it was full of promise and I’m definitely looking forward to a later release. Just too bad it isn’t available in Singapore yet.

Sticky Snail Buns

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These sticky snail buns are always a big hit. As Mum prefers non-chocolatey things and DC’s mum likes nuts, these were a natural choice for Mother’s Day last week. They’re so good that I caught Mum chewing on something as she snuck out of the kitchen. True enough, there was one less on the rack! These gooey, crunchy spiced buns are quite irresistible both fresh out of the oven and also the next day cold from the fridge. Somehow keeping it cold keeps the syrupy bits crackly and crunchy. I can never stop at one.

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Packed into a pretty box, these little buns beckon so glisteningly and enticingly, it’s no wonder Nigella urges in her Schnecken recipe to “apply to face” as soon as cool! Now I’ve made loads of modifications to her recipe to suit my taste and sense of practicality. I replaced golden syrup and maple syrup with honey because it’s easier to find and I have no idea what to do with leftover golden syrup. Plus I find that the fragrant honey I use gives a lovely aroma to the buns. Also, I find  the recommended amount of 150g sugar for the filling a bit excessive and have cut it down tremendously. Feel free to scale up the sugar if you have an especially sweet tooth! Lastly, I find that this recipe makes quite a lot of dough, so make sure that the buns don’t sit too long in the proving stage. Either that or halve the amount of dough and make 18 instead of 24. That would mean less dough and more syrup, so leave to prove for as long as you like instead of hawkishly watching them to make sure they don’t fill up the muffin tin too easily.

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Ingredients:

dough
3 eggs
150ml plus 1tbsp milk
75g unsalted butter
500g bread flour
40g sugar
¼tsp ground cloves
½tsp salt
1½tsp yeast

syrup
125g unsalted butter
4 tbsp brown sugar (or equal proportions of white sugar and dark brown sugar)
5 tbsp honey

150g pecan halves

filling
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

Method:

  1. Beat the eggs. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tbsp of the beaten egg with 1 tbsp milk and set aside the mixture to glaze the buns later.
  2. Melt the butter, then combine with the eggs and 150 ml milk.
  3. Into a bowl, stir the flour, sugar, cloves, salt and yeast together and then pour in the liquid ingredients above. Using the dough hook of a cake mixer, knead for 5 minutes on high. Alternatively, knead by hand for 10 minutes.
  4. Form into a ball, oil the bottom of the mixing bowl and drop into the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour or till doubled in size.
  5. In the mean time, prepare the syrup. Melt the butter in the microwave (medium for 1-2 minutes), then whisk in the sugar and honey. I don’t know how it works, but this magically turns it into a thick syrup. Spoon about 1 tbsp of syrup into each cup in two 12-bun muffin tins.
  6. Top with the pecans, making sure that each pecan half faces down. About four halves go into each muffin cup.
  7. When the dough is ready, knock it back, knead once or twice and halve the dough. On a flat surface (I normally use a long piece of aluminium foil), spread out half the dough with your fingers to form a rectangle about 15 cm long and 30 cm wide. Glaze the surface of the dough so it’s damp and sprinkle on a thin layer of sugar. Sprinkle on half the cinnamon and half the nutmeg, or just grate the nutmeg directly onto the dough.
  8. Roll up the bun from the long side and push it gently but firmly away from you till you have a sausage seam side down. Don’t worry if the dough is a bit sticky, with careful handling, it shouldn’t go too pear-shaped! Using a sharp knife, cut the dough sausage into 12 even pieces. I normally halve and halve it again to get four logs, then cut each into three. Take each swirly piece and lay into the muffin cup so the swirly part lies on the syrupy-nut mixture.
  9. Repeat with the other half of the dough mixture.
  10. Leave to prove for 20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  11. When the 20 minutes is over, or the buns are risen and puffy, bake for 20 minutes. You’ll probably want to swap the trays at the 10-minute mark so they brown evenly. They’ll come out brown and gooey and the syrup is likely to bubble over, so make sure there’s a pan on the bottom of your oven to catch drips.
  12. Carefully loosen each bun with a knife and place a roasting tin over the muffin tin. Invert carefully and the sticky buns should pop out into the roasting tin. Carefully replace any fallen nuts and transfer any leftover syrup in the muffin cups onto the buns.
  13. Leave to cool and either eat as soon as possible or keep in the fridge overnight.

Makes 24.

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

Blueberry Pancakes

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Occasionally I like to make a decadent breakfast chockful of expensive ingredients. This time I made blueberry pancakes, putting a good two punnets of the stuff in it. I made the fluffier thick American-style pancakes, which typically uses buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda. I replaced the buttermilk with a mixture of yogurt and milk and it worked out just fine. You can make the batter minus the bicarbonate of soda in advance and stir it in just before cooking. Be sure to sift the bicarb. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll end up with lumps that turn parts of the pancake disappointingly salty-bitter. Top it either with the traditional maple syrup and butter/whipped cream or go healthier like me and dollop with thick yogurt and manuka honey.

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Ingredients:
170g plain flour
1 egg
½ cup yogurt
¾ cup milk
40g sugar
50g melted butter
pinch salt
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp melted butter, for frying
2 punnets blueberries

Method:

  1. Mix all the ingredients from flour to bicarbonate of soda in a blender or mixer till smooth. (If making in advance, leave out the bicarbonate of soda: stir it in only when ready to make pancakes.)
  2. Heat a heavy frying pan and coat lightly with melted butter. Pour the batter into the pan in spoonfuls till it runs to the edges of the pan. Turn heat to low and sprinkle blueberries generously over the uncooked and bubbling side.
  3. When the pancake turns almost solid on the uncooked side, loosen gently and flip the pancake. It’s all in the wrist action. (Tip: use a non-stick pan, it helps a great deal!) Cook till brown on the other side, then transfer to a plate and cook the rest of the pancakes.
  4. Serve with butter, thick yogurt and honey.

Makes 8 pancakes.

Orange Clove Cake

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It was a good thing sis-in-law borrowed my usual baking book. I had to dig out my folder of recipes printed off the net, most untried and some 10 years old even. This one came off epicurious.com and I’ve done the usual modification to my own taste. The cake turned out surprisingly good. Somehow the clove brought out the freshness of the orange zest and lifted the flavour very well. This is a great recipe also because it uses up egg whites, the bane of kitchen leftovers.

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I served it with yogurt, honey and orange slices for breakfast and it made for a faintly indulgent yet not too sinful start to the day.

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Ingredients:

240g plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp salt
¼tsp ground cloves
170g butter
200g sugar
zest from 1½ oranges
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 egg whites
½cup milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line and butter a loaf pan.
  2. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, salt and ground cloves.
  3. Beat butter, sugar and orange zest till creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in between each addition, followed by the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat till light and creamy.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture and milk alternately till you get a thick batter.
  5. Smooth into loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a satay stick comes out clean. Let cool in pan and slice when cold.

Makes 1 large loaf, approx 12 thick slices.

A Breakfast Smoothie

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Carrefour had a strawberry sale, so it was strawberry smoothie for breakfast. Too bad the strawberries weren’t particularly sweet, so I had to add some manuka honey for a herbal kick. Also added in a secret ingredient that really brought out the strawberry flavour. If you can’t figure out what it is, you can use vanilla essence instead. (A rather oblique hint: vanilla essence is the same colour as my secret ingredient.) If not, you could try using better flavoured strawberries, or just swap the strawberries for a good ripe mango. That’s also very good.

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Ingredients:

1 punnet strawberries, washed and hulled
1 tbsp Manuka honey, or to taste
2 tsp secret ingredient, or to taste OR ½ tsp vanilla essence
approx 1 cup milk, or till it covers the fruit

Method:

  1. Easy peasy: just combine all in a tall plastic tumbler and whizz with a stick blender till smooth.
  2. Drink immediately.

Serves 1 or 2.

Privé Cafe

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I’d been meaning to try Privé Cafe for a while and breakfast was as good a meal as any to check it out.  The website says that it opens at 9.00am, so we got there slightly after nine only to be told that while the place was open, only coffee and selected drinks would be served for then. It wouldn’t be till 9.30 that they would take orders for food and other drinks like smoothies. I found it incredibly bizarre because it was a bit silly to open for breakfast and tell people that they could only drink coffee and tea for the first half hour. No smoothies even! How hard is it to load a blender and flick the switch? The manager explained to us that even pastries couldn’t be served because they were still baking. It was obviously a lie because the pastries, while not stale, came at room temperature and the glaze of the Danish pastries were definitely not freshly set. The worst bit of it all was that they did not even offer to take our order first and get it to the kitchen so that our food would arrive just after 9.30. (Back story: we had an elderly person who couldn’t stay out for long, hence the need for speed.)

Well, we finally got round to getting our food and it was decent. The berry smoothie had lots of (frozen) mixed berries blended into vanilla ice cream. It was more of a milkshake than smoothie. My impression of a smoothie is one made with yogurt instead of ice cream, it was a bit too rich for the morning, especially with my main course.

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The stack of pancakes was quite lovely. It was the best I’d had in a while, with each pancake warm and fluffy, accompanied by fresh fruit, softly whipped cream and syrup on the side. A nice touch was the honeycomb bits which really added to the flavour and texture of the dish. All in all very satisfying.

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Discount the odd order-only-at-9.30 policy and not particularly attentive service and the food and ambience are great. It’s lovely to sit by the marina with the sun climbing up over the boats, feeling like it’s going to be a lovely day ahead.

Privé Bakery Cafe
2 Keppel Bay Vista
Marina at Keppel Bay
Tel: 6776 0777
info@prive.com.sg

Homemade Yogurt Breakfast

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I had a teeny bit of time one Saturday morning, so I made this healthy yet very satisfying breakfast. There was mango and pear in the fridge, and some greek yoghurt too. I wasn’t quite content with just fruit and yogurt, so I rummaged in the freezer for some rolled oats, toasted it and then drizzled over some Manuka honey. I think the combination of nutty toasted oats and herby honey really lifted the yogurt to a higher level. Not to mention, the mango was nice and fragrant, making it something yummy to look forward to again soon.

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There’s no real need for a recipe, but here goes if you must.

Ingredients:

1 small mango, skinned, seeded and cubed
1 pear, cored and cubed
1 cup thick greek yogurt
1 handful rolled oats
1 tbsp Manuka honey

Method:

  1. Prepare the fruit, lay in a shallow dish and spoon over the yogurt.
  2. Spread the oats in a thin layer in a toaster oven and toast for about 2 minutes or till just brown.
  3. Scatter the oats over the fruit and yogurt, then drizzle over the honey.
  4. Stir and enjoy.

Serves 1.