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

 

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An Almost Vegetarian Dinner

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It was time we started eating slightly less fattening food. I attempted to go vegetarian(ish) for a meal or two. A trip to the supermarket got me lovely large king mushrooms, a courgette, mesclun salad and some herbs. The mushrooms ended up under the grill together with a miso-garlic marinade. The courgettes were caramelised and tossed with anchovies and mustard. Substitute capers for the anchovies if you’re going fully vegetarian, I just didn’t have capers in the house. For the couscous, make up some instant stuff with vegetable stock and stir in some chopped herbs. Here I use curly parsley (far cheaper than the Italian flat leaf type and much stronger, go easy). For the salad, I bought some mesclun and mixed in some organic tang oh (chrysanthemum leaves), then cracked in some pistachio (DC’s idea) and tossed in truffled olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It all came together to form a satisfying almost vegetarian dinner.

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Garlic-Miso King Mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 king mushrooms
1 tbsp miso paste (I use red miso with konbu here)
1 tbsp dry vermouth (sherry or sake is good too)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Method:

  1. Slice the king mushrooms lengthwise.
  2. Blend the miso, vermouth and garlic till you get a spreadable paste, smear lovingly over the mushroom portions.
  3. Place under a hot grill for about 10 minutes on each side or until the miso paste just about chars. Serve.
  4. Just before eating, scrape off the excess miso because it gets quite salty.

Caramelised Courgette with Chilli

Ingredients:

2 tsp olive oil
1 courgette, chunked
3 shallots, minced
2 tsp brown sugar
chilli padi, minced
2 anchovies, mashed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 sprigs basil, sliced fine

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and brown the courgette pieces on all sides.
  2. Stir in the shallots on low heat and cook till fragrant. Now stir in the sugar and allow to caramelise.
  3. Add in the chilli padi and anchovy, stirring till combined.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and mix in the mustard and basil. Serve.

Both recipes serve 2.

April in The Philippines: Eats

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After Malapascua, Omar and I ended up at SM City Mall at Cebu City. Having seen so many Jollibee branches along the way, we couldn’t help but try out the Filipino answer to McDonald’s. My Palabok Fiesta with Chicken Joy was such a joy for the carb lover, it had so many different types of starch! There was the Palabok Fiesta, some kind of bihon (thin rice) noodles topped with a gloopy salty sauce, egg, shrimp and crispy bits; then there was the patty of rice wrapped in burger paper; and the mashed potato; plus don’t forget that corn and carrot have loads of carbs too. The fried chicken was very good, much better than KFC. I pretty much gave up at the brownie (more carb anyone?) at the end and only managed a couple of sips of my seemingly extra sweet iced tea. What an experience!

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The next day, we did enough walking around Cebu City’s Carbon Market to work up an appetite.  No pictures of this place partly because it was crowded and I was afraid of getting anything stolen and partly because when I felt safe enough to take pictures, I felt like I was intruding on the friendly locals. It was a strange dichotomy I know, but that’s the strange charm of Carbon Market. The place is one of those messy markets that makes it clear that on no uncertain terms that it was not built for tourists and would never be. There were stalls of all kinds selling things from clothes to cooking pots and hardware, to cooked food, to grain, to vegetables, to meat. There were queues snaking all over at the grain stores. Yet strangely there was no problem at all getting a spot on a bench to grab a quick bite of lunch. There the local food was unbelievably cheap and also very good, and the lady boss delighted that two very foreign looking people would pull up to her stall for sustenance.

Yet there was another side to Carbon Market. There was debris strewn all over most parts and the more deserted areas were more than slightly dodgy. The ground was covered in a thick layer of grey muck from all the crap built up over the years. I suppose that’s where the “carbon” bit of the name arose. (After exiting the market we doused our feet in bottled water before proceeding.)

Some other bits of the market were slums packed with squatters. We didn’t realise this till we wandered down one alleyway again in search of food. There was a lady frying a whole load of springrolls. Assuming that she was selling them, we asked how much one was. She simply gave us each a crispy lovely parcel of goodness to try and it suddenly dawned on us that she wasn’t selling them! It was her daughter’s seventh birthday and they were celebrating with the entire neighbourhood. Before we knew it, she stuffed a good dozen perhaps of them in a plastic bag and pressed it on us, of course refusing payment. Such generosity and hospitality was almost too unbelievable. It was beautiful.

By the time we left Carbon Market it was time to eat again. We tried out Chow King’s halo halo, one of those uniquely Filipino concoctions with everything and the kitchen sink in it. Think ice kachang and an ice cream sundae cross-bed in a bizarre Frankensteinian way. This one had lurid purple yam ice cream, various types of radioactive hued starch balls, comparatively normal red beans, oat bits, jelly, creme caramel and even some kind of tapioca cake in it. The fruit in the mix was candied banana and candied jackfruit, plus some coconut shavings (if you call coconut a fruit). It was, well, very sweet from being drenched in so much syrup.

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Here I am doing my darndest impression of enjoying it. We ended up eating most of the shaved ice and then headed outside to get some mango from a street-side hawker.

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Last up in the series is this tea time set I had. It was in a fairly chi-looking cafe. Needless to say, everything had carb in it and everything was faintly sweet. It was very good though. There was one of tapioca strips studded with prawn and then fried to a crisp, then there was more of that Palabok bihon stuff, there was also a purple version of kueh dadah (coconut pancakes rolled up and stuffed with coconut sugar) and there was a kind of sweet, moist donutty batter with an salted egg wedge in it. Very yummy and lovely.

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March in Laos: A Stroll Through Luang Prabang

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Luang Prabang is a lovely little town quite deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status. Despite the many tourists, it retains a peaceful atmosphere augmented by the frangipani trees lining the main street.

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The architecture was fairly simple with graceful curves reaching to the sky.

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We went into the Royal Palace Museum where the beautiful side halls were offset by coconut palms.

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There was a rather strange Soviet-inspired statue of (most likely) King Sisavang Vong, the longest ruling monarch of Laos. In fact, his rule was so long that he was only surpassed by King Bhumibol of Thailand in 2001.

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Pardon the poor photography, but I think you get the idea of the pretty vista leading up to the main hall.

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The main reason to visit the museum is to see the Pha Bang, which is what Luang Prabang is named after. This Buddha image cast in gold and finished with precious stones is believed to protect the city and give legitimacy to the ruler in possession of it. Too bad no pictures were allowed. It was pretty though rather smaller than I expected.

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The rest of the museum wasn’t particularly interesting bar a rather impressive sword and weapon display. I liked the ornate door panelling at some of the halls too.

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Next, Siamese Cat and I climbed up to That Chomsi, the golden spire at the top of Luang Prabang hill. It was a pretty strenuous hike up the many stairs. Good thing there were lots of signs proclaiming the number of steps to the top.

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The spires can be seen from most locations in the town. It’s especially pretty seeing it up close at the top.

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The main reward for reaching the top was the fabulous view. You could see the settlement stretching out along the neatly laid roads…

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… and the Mekong curving through the city on its way south.

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