3 Inches of Goodness

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After a burger lunch at Relish, we trooped to 3 Inch Sin to try out the chocolate cakes there. Between the four of us, we shared three desserts. One was their eponymous 3 inch molten chocolate cakes – we had one in the bitter orange flavour. I’m not normally a fan of molten chocolate cake as it’s awful when not done well – either too floury and gloopy on the inside or not molten at all. This one was truly worth setting up a shop for. It was well set on the outside, with just the right cake to ooze ratio and was deeply chocolatey and beautifully rich. And the ooze? It was a thick sauce (not floury) and had plenty of bitter orange – kinda like grown up marmalade. Very good.

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DC had the Fudge and Smother cake. It was really excellent too. I liked that the cake stayed as cake in that it was still fairly light like proper sponge cake instead of being dense pound cake. The fudge also was proper chocolate fudge, which is paradoxically not very chocolatey – just a touch that’s all. It’s great in being light, just having the right touch of chocolate yet still being a really good chocolate cake.

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My favourite was my choice (yes my choices are normally very accurately good). The Dark Side chocolate tart was insanely good. If they hadn’t already set up this shop I’d urge them to set one up just to sell chocolate tart. Let’s start with the filling – deep, intense, dark velvety chocolate ganache that melts beautifully in the mouth. DC and the others thought it was like eating pure chocolate. But of course not! It’s good quality dark, dark chocolate melted with cream; and that’s what makes it so lusciously good. The ganache was good enough to hook me, and to reel me in was the excellent oh so short pastry. The pate sucree was yielding with just the slightest crunch, crumbling to perfection in the mouth. I almost resented the rest with whom I had to share the dessert. I almost tried to fend them off with my fork!

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I’m not normally a chocolate dessert person, but this place may make a convert of me yet!

3 Inch Sin
501 Bukit Timah Road
Cluny Court #02-27
Tel: 6314 1217

Whiskey with an E: Two Irish Specimens

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DC’s parents brought back two bottles of Irish whiskey from a recent trip and we were excited to finally try whiskey. The friends who introduced us to whisky are fairly staunch Scotch single malt fanatics and woe betide anyone who dares to spell whisky with an E. Folks, they drink whisky and would never be caught dead with whiskey. Beware the difference!

Now we plebs drink anything whiskey, E or no E. And this is what I think of the Knappogue Castle 12 year old (40%). For a fairly young whiskey, it does really well on the complexity front. The bright yellow-orange liquor gave a first wash of sea salt over the tongue, followed by light smoke and plenty of orange peel and grass. I liked how it was hard and robust, yet had a good whiff of vanilla, with some floral honey notes. I think the hardness I perceived came from the mineral aftertaste that I love so much in white wines like chablis and muscadet. It’s great stuff considering how young it is. I wonder how the older ones fare.

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Next was the Connemara Peated Single Malt (). DC likes it a lot more than me. I’m not sure about it as I feel that while it’s got a lot of peat that I like, it’s rather unbalanced. It’s as if the whiskey was turbo-charged on peat and has little else to offer. Sadly, it doesn’t make my to-collect list.

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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.

Private affairs brunch

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

 

Udders

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I know I’m slow to the game but I’ve made up for it by trying loads of flavours at two different outlets, one at the Lorong Kilat outlet just after our Spanish dinner at Don Quijote and another time the next night after dinner with parents. I think these are pretty much at the top of the list for ice cream in Singapore. The ice cream is incredibly smooth and rich, yet not cloying at all. I quite liked Kick S Cream Caramel as there was a tinge of salt in it that really kicked things up a notch. If they had a straight up salted caramel flavour, I’d be an instant fan.

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The next night, we had a whole bunch of flavours. I remember Mum had Orange Choc Bitters, which was a very somehow transparent-tasting chocolate tinged with pleasingly bitter undertone of orange liquor. This was in contrast to Dad’s very rich chocolate flavour that was punchily chocolate. Those two were the highlights, which unfortunately aren’t quite captured in the photo. The rest of the flavours were nice too, just not memorable enough to make it here. They’ll have to wait till the next time I make a trip there.

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Udders
87 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: 6448 8732

17 Lorong Kilat, #01-08 Kilat Court
Tel: 6466 1055

The Tanglin Tree

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The Tanglin Tree is a vaguely Australian-inspired place just at the edge of town that’s nice for a quiet dinner out. It has pretty decent food presented in an equally pretty manner. DC had the teriyaki cod skewers, I had lamb cutlets with spicy lamb sausages and we shared three sides of fries, green salad and ratatouille. The fries were done just right: crisp outside, fluffy inside and with salt bits bursting on the tongue. The green salad was well-tossed in a tasty low-key dressing, but the ratatouille was a letdown. Hardly the stuff of epiphanies and childhood memories, it was too sharp and too mushy for my taste.

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DC’s cod was surprisingly good and beautifully presented, as you can see from the picture. I normally steer well clear of teriyaki and cod as I’m not very fond of sweet in my savoury food and I find that cod is often too fatty for my taste. This version was deftly handled with a light touch. It helped that the cod was in small pieces so that the excess cod oil would’ve oozed out in the cooking. Lightly crisp outside and meltingly tender inside, the cod almost made me regret not ordering it…

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… until I ate my lamb and was well pleased. Now, it’s not earth-shatteringly good, but an extremely decently executed dish. I didn’t feel like it was lamb overkill as the portions were restrained and well-proportioned. The cutlets were done just right, again the contrast of the right textures inside and out, and the sausages were nicely spicy without being overwhelming. It also helped that my food came nicely presented too!

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The most interesting thing for dessert was this flourless orange cake (goes to show how boring the dessert menu is). It was very dense, a change from the spongier norm. It was also surprisingly good as we found ourselves gobbling up it all up with the creme fraiche despite already being very full from our mains. Though not a particularly orangey cake, the interplay of dense and sweet cake with tart fruit and unctuous creme fraiche had a lot to speak for.

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The Tanglin Tree
56 Tanglin Road B1-01
Friven & Co Building
Tel: 6733 0992

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.

Special Oat Cookies

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I made these oat cookies as a birthday present for someone special. Not only did it have to have less sugar, it also needed unique flavours to distinguish it from store-bought or other quotidian home-baked stuff. Oat cookies can be boring as it seems so healthy, but fiddling around with the flavours gave the old-fashioned recipe a nice lift. The verdict? She liked it!

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Ingredients:

250g rolled oats
130g plain flour
130g sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½tsp salt
200g butter, melted
1 egg

cherry and chocolate
1 small handful dried cherries, chopped
20g dark chocolate, chopped

pistachio and orange flower
1 handful of shelled pistachios, chopped
1 tsp orange flower water

apricot and almond
5 dried apricots, chopped
1 small handful almonds, chopped

crystallised ginger and walnut
6 cubes crystallised ginger, chopped
5 walnut halves, chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Line 2 cookie trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly, then stir in the egg and butter. Feel free to use your fingers to mix thoroughly.
  3. Divide into 4 lots and mix in the flavourings separately.
  4. Using your hands, roll the mixture into tight balls and space out about 2 inches apart on the lined trays.
  5. Bake for 20 to 30 mins or until golden brown. Remove immediately and cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 40 cookies.

Possibly the Best Vegetarian Food in Singapore

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Naive was so good we went there twice in a month, a rarity considering how promiscuous we are with our food places. This post is an amalgamation of both visits. At the start of the meal, a waiter will bring round a mortar and pestle filled with black and white sesame seeds for a wellness ritual of sorts. It was quite a nice start grinding up the seeds for sprinkling onto our food later.

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We started off with the excellent and almost unbelievably good brown olive rice. With the savoury olive paste inside, it was tasty enough to eat on its own. The kaffir lime leaf strips on the top brought it up a notch so much so that it was almost a waste to eat the rice with the dishes!

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The tamarind tofu cake was flavourful and the firm tofu tasting almost meaty. It really didn’t taste at all like I was eating a vegetarian dish. I liked how the seaweed wrapping the tofu gave it plenty of umami flavour that went well with the spicy tangy sauce.

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My favourite dishes were the monkeyhead mushroom ones. I can’t decide which is better, the braised version (Enchanted Forest) or the slivered and fried version (can’t remember the name).

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Both versions tasted fairly similar, they probably used the same sauce. It was made from good stock nonetheless and I’ll definitely have it again. I liked the texture of both versions. The fried version had a very nice crisp-chewy texture while the braised version was somehow firm and again, almost meaty. It certainly didn’t feel like I was eating vegetarian here.

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There were quite a few dishes that didn’t work for me. DC liked the golden oats (it’s his soft spot), but I felt that it was too pedestrian. The tofu in the dish didn’t shine at all. There was also the rendang tofu paired with mantou. That flopped because the taste was neither here nor there and the mantou gave the wrong taste associations: tongue was expecting darkly savoury and sweet, but got spicy instead. A big no-no.

I also didn’t like the steamed tofu with water chestnut and orange sauce. It didn’t help that the service is a bit odd: our waitress was this “I know better than your mum” type who didn’t get her recommendations right. She told us that the special of the day was two kinds of steamed tofu, one was orange and watercress and the other something I can’t remember. I expected that it would be a pairing of tofu, which would be rather interesting, but we were disappointed. It was also a bit annoying to find that the portions were really small. At first, we ordered only one olive rice and asked for a bowl so we could share. When the food arrived, we realised that we needed extra. At this point, the server took away the empty bowl, meaning that we couldn’t even share out the first bowl of rice and start eating. Sure, the second rice arrived very soon, but befuddling moments like these punctuated our entire meal.

Last gripe: the bowls are pretty but hopelessly impractical. The sloping sides made it impossible to rest our chopsticks  naturally in between bites. I kept trying to put my chopsticks down only to realise belatedly that I had to angle them 90 degrees before it would work. Eat there and you’ll realise it.

Final verdict: the cooking at this place is very good, if they fail it’s because of the flavour profile falls flat, not the textures or cooking technique. There are some dishes that work really well, especially the signature monkeyhead mushroom and tofu cake dishes, as well as the olive rice. Other dishes aren’t so good, so be careful of the side-ish dishes. The place is too expensive for what you get and the service is very odd! (See above, plus they don’t take reservations for groups of less than five. I don’t see what’s stopping people from making reservations for five, turning up with three and telling the restaurant that the others didn’t want to go because of their odd requirements.)

99 East Coast Road
Tel: 6348 0668

An Unorthodox Carbonara

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I had some orange zest and two egg yolks left over from my orange clove cake and knew that I had to take this rare opportunity to make pasta carbonara without having to contend with egg whites glaring malevolently at me every time I opened the fridge door. There was also some chorizo Mum brought back from (of all places) London, so the orange and smoked sausage turned the pasta into something decidedly un-Italian.

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To make things slightly less sinful, I seared thick slices of zucchini on the grill and dressed it with a simple vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was something Mum took back from London (yes mums can be slightly eccentric too). If not, I’d just sprinkle a touch of balsamic or wine vinegar over and top with some crumbled sea salt and ground pepper.

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Ingredients:
5 slices of skinny chorizo, cut into thin strips
linguine
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp + extra parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp yogurt
zest of ½ orange
1 tbsp orange juice

Method:

  1. Fry the chorizo in a dry pan over low heat till fat is rendered and chorizo is crisp. Set aside. Also set oily pan aside.
  2. Boil the linguine in salted water till al dente.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, cheese, yogurt and orange zest. Stir in the orange juice.
  4. When the pasta is just about ready, warm the rendered chorizo oil. Drain the noodles and toss them in the hot oil. Immediately transfer to the eggy mixture and stir, stir, stir till the cheese melts and the sauce thickens and clings to the noodles.
  5. Sprinkle over the chorizo bits and extra grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Eat immediately.

Serves 1 or 2.

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.