Disgruntled Chef

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We were in the Dempsey area and wanted to try something new. Disgruntled Chef fit the bill. It’s a newish place opened by a chef formerly from the White Rabbit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not very sure about the name. Something that conjures up images of an unhappy chef spitting into my food is rather disturbing. Nonetheless, DC and I took the plunge and ordered four small plates and a big plate.

The first was a spinach salad with mirin and eggplant. Decent salad dressing but nasty eggplant that was cold and somehow hard and soggy at the same time. Overpriced and not very nice.

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We were on a steak tartare streak and couldn’t resist going for it. Here, the steak tartare was pretty decent too. It was helped a lot by the very excellent fries, possibly the best in Singapore. I liked how they were just about chunky yet so crisp outside and incredibly fluffy inside. They went absurdly well with the steak tartare. What I didn’t really like about the tartare was how they used half cooked quail eggs in it. I didn’t quite appreciate the texture of the solid egg whites and felt that there wasn’t enough runny egg yolk to go round.

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This was followed by the crackling suckling pig that neither of us found very special as the skin was only just crispy and still on the hard side. I don’t like it when the skin gets stuck in my molars from chewing at it for too long. Oh and the big plate of roasted miso cod was so forgettable we almost wept at how insipid it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was still competently executed. It was just that the dish simply had no soul. All I remember was that the centre of the fish had a strong alcohol smell from the sake marinade. Japanese obviously isn’t the chef’s forte.

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We both agreed that the most inventive, and possibly the best, dish that evening was the baked bone marrow with persillade. I really liked the idea of marrow as pate. The chef did nothing to the marrow itself, leaving its unctuousness to be tempered with the persillade according to the whim of the diner. Trying to figure out how much parsley and garlic paste to match with the marrow was part of the fun of the dish. This is something we’d definitely return for.

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The Disgruntled Chef
26B Dempsey Road
Tel: 6476 5305

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

 

Keisuke Ramen

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Level 3 of the newly opened Parco Marina Bay has half a floor of Japanese restaurants, with two ramen shops, a tonkatsu place, Japanese Western (that’s Ma Maison), a regular diner and a sushi deli. DC and I chose the ramen shop with no queue: Keisuke Ramen. It’s quite an interesting proposition, having prawn-based broth instead of regular tonkotsu (pork bone) stuff. Everything on the menu was prawn-something, even down to the salad. Go only if you like prawn.

The first thing DC noticed were the special chopsticks. Notice how they’re pentagonal, presumably to help hold on to the noodles better.

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On further inspection of the chopsticks, we noticed that there was a special rough finish to the bottom part, again helping to grip the noodles better. This place certainly is very serious about its noodles!

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Another special touch was the distinctive shape of the bowls. The opening is slanted, making for an oddly private viewing of the diner’s progress of the meal.

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Ordering any “special” ramen would involve the extra toppings coming on a side plate. There was pleasantly briny pickled lettuce, rather disappointingly hard-boiled egg and chilled boiled chicken. They all went decently with the ramen but did nothing to steal the show.

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Now the ramen itself is quite different. Check out the dramatic presentation, complete with pretty deep-fried chilli shreds. Aside from the regular toppings, there was also prawn wanton in the special ramen and yuzu bits. I quite liked this version, it was a vaguely Japanese yuzu-y twist on your typical hawker haemee broth. The noodles were very decent, not quite al dente but still chewy. I liked them.

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I felt that the miso prawn broth was something else altogether. The creaminess of the miso gave the broth quite a different dimension. That, added to the  special garlic oil, yuzu and earthy burdock bits, made it all quite complex and at times a bit confusing to the palate. On the other hand, it made for many changes in taste as I progressed to the bottom of the bowl.

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Keisuke Ramen
P3-02 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6337 7919

Finally, Ippudo

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After two aborted visits to Ippudo, we finally made it there for a late dinner. Showing up after 9pm helped a lot. Learning from that trick, we returned a few weeks later and found that even on a Friday night, there’s not much of a wait post-9pm.

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We’d tried a few appetisers there and all of them were a unanimous FAIL except the Ippudo organic salad. (We’d tried the prawn bun, beef tataki, and seasonal salad/vegetables. All were too flawed to make it to this blog.) The salad was fresh and had crispy deep fried burdock chips as a topping. It was pretty decent with the shoyu-based dressing.

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I tried this year’s seasonal offering of Kyusyu Miso Tonkotsu with blended miso, cabbage, leek, pork belly, pork loin and half an egg. Even though I like my noodles on the al dente side and ordered them so, I found them a bit too hard for my liking. They got much nicer towards the end as the noodles soaked in the broth. The broth was thick  to the point of being almost creamy and had plenty of pork flavour without tasting too gamey. I wasn’t too sure about the persistent foam on top of the soup though! While I generally liked the toppings and found the chashu nice and tender, I felt that the egg was a bit of a let down because it was too solid. The yolk had just solidified and I thought it was too much to pay for what was essentially hardboiled egg.

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DC had the Akamaru Kasaneaji, the original recipe with blended miso paste, garlic oil and pork belly. It was rich but not too rich and had quite a comlex flavour with the oil, miso paste and pork stock all competing for attention. Too bad they were rather stingy on the pork though.

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On our second visit, I had to have the seasonal noodles again, and DC went for the Shiromaru with pork loin and cabbage. This time, the noodles weren’t quite al dente even though we ask for them hard.  They were good when first served, but got soggy towards the end. I guess they need to work on being more consistent. My seasonal noodles were as good as ever and DC’s Shiromaru very decent. His pork loin wasn’t very tender but overall was well executed.

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My conclusion: Ippudo wins with excellent stock made from obviously superior ingredients and has good noodles, although the texture varies from visit to visit. Their toppings are decent but some are better than others, and they could definitely be a lot more generous with the pork slices. Where Ippudo doesn’t deliver is the egg, which really should be runnier. It’d win all round best ramen in Singapore if it fixed its egg. It’s definitely worth a visit, just not a long wait. And focus on the noodles, don’t bother with the side dishes.

Ippudo
Mandarin Gallery #04-02/03/04
Orchard Road

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.

Ramen Showdown: Menya Shinchan

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I went out for lunch with DC on a day I had a terrible craving for ramen. Added to that was the woe of my last visit to my ex-favourite Ken’s Ramen where I was served noodles reeking of ammonia. DC of course never fails to deliver. He took me to Menya Shinchan, an apparently well-known place that’s been around for a while. It has a wide selection of ramen stocks, from pork bone to dried sardine, and you can choose between a light and rich version. I went for the rich miso dried sardine one.

First, the toppings. Only the tiny slices of chashu stood out. They were tender and just the right amount of fatty, but such stingy portions! The noodles were excellent. I like them al dente with plenty of bite. These were very firm and bouncy. Excellent. The broth was intensely seafoody and a little fishy, I liked it. It wasn’t as rich as I expected and a bit saltier than I’m used to. I think “rich” here meant something like saltier and fishier, not rich in the sense of thick and almost unctuous like pork bone soup. It’s not bad, but still doesn’t qualify as the best ramen in Singapore.

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Menya Shinchan
30 Robertson Quay
#01-05 Riverside View
Tel: 6732 0114

A Tatsuya Birthday Dinner

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In a fit of extreme generosity, Dad brought us to Tatsuya’s for my birthday dinner. We went for the seasonal omakase, which was many kinds of sublime. The thought that all the seafood had been flown in either fro Tsukiji or Fukuoka fish markets made the food even more delicious.

The first course was a duo of anglerfish liver and fresh ikura (salmon roe). The anglerfish liver was made into a pate. Smooth and unctuous with just a touch of fishiness to remind you that it’s fish not fowl, it was contrasted delicately with a light vinegar sauce. Sorry Kiraku, this version rocked my socks. And the ikura! As it is, ikura is one of my all time favourites. This version came with every single delicate egg sac intact and only very lightly sauced. The only pity was that there were two or three eggs that weren’t as fresh as they should be. It was still good though, because the others, each so incredibly bursty, made up for it.

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Next up was probably the best dish in the meal. I know the picture below doesn’t do it justice, but the crab tofu with century egg sauce was out of this world. I felt like I was eating crab chawanmushi because the tofu was so thick and rich. The crab formed a matrix that held the tofu together – succulently, just sheer crabily. The textures and flavours came together beautifully from the softness of the tofu to the yield of the crab and crunchiness of the shrimp roe to the earthiness of the century egg. It’s the one dish I’d go back for again and again.

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The sashimi plate came next. The fish was all fresh and good, though the otoro and amaebi weren’t the best I’ve tasted. I liked the yellowtail and swordfish, especially the dressed yellowtail in special sauce. I also liked how the waitress told us that everything on the plate could be eaten. The sprig of tiny pink flowers tasted vaguely of lavender and was an excellent interlude to the fish.

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The next dish was what we all felt was the weakest link. It was the simmered item: Japanese yam cakes with yakitori chicken and leek then sprinkled with yuzu. The yam cakes were still slightly crisp from the deep fryer (!) and had a very pleasing slightly starchy texture. I’m glad it didn’t have the gummy texture of the raw version. Now the rest of the dish somehow seemed unbalanced because the chicken was far too sweet and salty and the leek too pongy for my taste. I didn’t intend to have onion breath from a Japanese dinner!

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What followed was better than the preceding dish. Grilled barracuda topped with mentaiko mayonnaise and pickled ginger stem was quite good. It was a bit too rich for Mum and she pushed it to Dad. DC loved it though, mentaiko and especially mayonnaise are his favourites. I liked how the fish was grilled: slightly charred on the outside, moist perfection on the inside. The mentaiko mayonnaise was rich and full of oily fishy goodness.

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The next dish redeemed all the sins of the preceding dishes (bar the crab tofu of course). The sushi was amazing. Start first with the amberjack topped with caviar. Savour the unadulterated freshness contrasted with the dark, deeply savoury caviar. Then go for the swordfish aburi. Enjoy the contrast between cooked and fresh fish, and charred rice. Now have the sweet shrimp topped with prawn roe. Can you detect that special aroma of almost burnt crustacean? Ready for the otoro aburi? It’s pretty good but save the scallop with foie gras for the last. It’s that good. Smooth sweet scallop with fatty foie gras coming together in perfection in your mouth. Mmm…

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The waitress came round and asked if we were full. If not, she suggested the house temaki specialty. We were full but not about to pass up the house specialty. The waitress returned, urging us to quickly eat before the seaweed got soggy. My initial thoughts on the first bite were “quite normal what, salmon skin, prawn roe, cucumber, rice, what’s the big deal?” Then it dawned on me. The textures were an epiphany. There was firm rice, crispy salmon skin with a touch of rich mayonnaise, crunchy bursty roe, and fresh crisp cucumber. Wrapped with freshly toasted seaweed, it was an exploration of four kinds of crispy. Amazing.

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We ended the savoury courses with a fantastic miso soup made with fresh baby clams. It was amazing how many clams I could fish out of one regular bowl of miso soup. The clams made the soup amazingly deep and richly seafoody yet not at all fishy. The miso rounded it all off nicely. Another coup for the chef.

When we finally surrendered to the waitress, she brought out the dessert of sweet pear, pomegranate and persimmon. The first two weren’t particularly special, but I liked the persimmon. It was sweet and yummy, though I’m not sure it’s that much nicer than a regular one at the peak of ripeness.

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One strange thing about this place is that while the food is posh and incredibly expensive, the waitresses talk quite loudly and seemed to treat us like friends, not so much customers. It nice and we felt at home quite quickly, but it seemed rather out of sync that the waitresses practically shouted orders at each other, so it’s not a place for a quiet dinner. It took a bit of getting used to though!

While of course not perfect, the meal was very good. DC said it’s the best Japanese he’s had in Singapore and he’s an authority given his extensive eating at these places. Definitely a place for celebrating birthdays and bonuses.

Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant
Goodwood Park Hotel
22 Scotts Road
Tel : 6887 4598

Seoul Eats: YongSuSan

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Another day, we had lunch at YongSuSan, famous for its classy traditional Korean fare. Being on a budget, we limited ourselves to the lower end of the set lunches, but it was enough to wow. There seemed to be endless courses of appetisers. First up were the “translucent mung bean noodles, crunchy pickled cucumber, threads of sweet marinated beef and julienne mushroom and julienne mushroom, sprinkled with black-green seaweed” and the “Kaesung style mixed vegetable salad of crunch bean-sprouts radish spinach and slices of dried persimmon.” Both were spooned directly onto our plates and after a bit of prodding and sniffing, we wolfed it all down. Which was just as well because the next appetiser was soon spooned onto our plates: “gold strands of jelly-fish with crisp pears and cucumber in a mustard dressing.” It was so redolent of wasabe that I couldn’t finish it (no picture, it looks just like below except pale wasabe green).

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A soft creamy pottage served with water kimchi came next. It tasted just as it looked – bland.

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It wasn’t too bad considering my tongue needed a respite from the early wasabe starter.

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For many of us, the highlight of the meal was “a plate of steamed tender pork belly chunks, served with cabbage and radish marinated in a red chili pepper.” The pork belly tasted very familiar. It also helped that fatty pork with kimchi is one of those heavenly combinations, a match made in heaven. Soon after I took this photo, the plate was wiped clean.

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The next dish was more of a palate cleanser: “seasonal fresh vegetable and lettus salad in a Korean dressing.” A pity that the Korean dressing seemed more like Thousand Island Dressing to me!

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I missed out taking a picture of the “soup with snowball shape rice pasta” as it was simply salty soup with a glutinous rice ball in it. Nothing much.

I quite liked the “traditional pancake dish a la Yongsusan” though, it was chewy like nian gao and deep fried. Not much to dislike her. The “seasonal brochette marinated in a Korean sauce” was a skewer of grilled vegetables, nothing much really.

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And we finally finished the starters and got to the astonishingly simple main dish. Koreans seem to have a rather strange concept of main course. Anyway, mine was “five grains of rice cooked in a bamboo bowl” with “soybean vegetable soup with various kinds of side dishes.” The wrapping was so pretty.

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The rice really seemed to be only five grains of grain on unpolished rice. It was an incredibly elegant wholegrain dish with rather forgettable miso  cabbage soup.

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Desserts were “Korean rice cake and cookie” with fresh seasonal fruits. I can’t remember what the brown thing was like except sweet. The cherry tomato encased it what seemed like the stuff from snowskin mooncakes was rather original I felt. Quite yummy.

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And last of all, to round off every Korean meal is the very yummy “seasonal fruits punch of variant style.” I really digged how cute the little flower shaped pear punch-out was!

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YongSuSan Taepyungno
Seoul Finance Center

Pseudo-Japanese Noodles

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I don’t call myself an expert on Japanese cooking, but when I feel like cooking Japanese for myself I make noodles with miso paste and dashi powder. Both are easily available from Japanese supermarkets. Miso paste comes in a bewildering number of variations. While the white version is more common, I like the deeper flavour of red miso. Dashi powder is simply Japanese fish stock powder. You could try making it from scratch, but since it’s msg and bonito anyway, I don’t bother and just buy it from the shop.

I like both soba and udon for this dish, but soba is easier to have on hand as it comes dried, unlike udon that needs to be bought fresh. I like the subtle flavour of green tea in chasoba best as it offsets the rather earthy flavour of buckwheat rather well.

One variation on the theme had me using some fancy Japanese tofu from Meidiya and some pork ribs I unearthed from the freezer. It’s definite worthwhile paying the $1 extra for good tofu, and this hits the spot for comforting and fairly healthy.

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Ingredients:

6 pork ribs
2 bundles of chasoba
1 tsp dashi powder, or to taste
¼ Chinese cabbage, cut into small chunks
1 box good Japanese tofu, cut into large chunks
2 tbsp red miso paste

Method:

  1. Put the defrosted pork ribs in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 mins or till tender. Remove the ribs from the stock.
  2. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, then strain and run under the tap. Put into serving bowls.
  3. Bring the stock to a boil and add the dashi powder and Chinese cabbage, simmer till tender for about 3 minutes, then add the tofu.
  4. In a little bowl, mix the miso paste with a couple of spoonfuls of hot stock to dilute. It should be a runny paste before you add it to the soup.
  5. Bring the soup to a quick boil before ladling out onto the noodles.

Serves 2.