The Leica and the Bespoke Cocktails

And we take a short break from Africa. Let me bring you something much closer to home:

Even though Yi-Ling was back in Singapore for too short a while, we made good use of the time and hung out when we could. After an indulgent day wandering around looking at interior design ideas and going for a spa, we ended up at Bar Stories where the bartenders make customised drinks. We got there early at about 5pm on a weekday, making it the perfect excuse for Yi-Ling to order the famed Apple Pie drink. Alas, I was but a n00b and needed some prompting from our friendly bartender (I badly quote him: “No s**t drinks!”). I asked for something sour and refreshing, with no mixed alcohol (needed to recover enough to drive, see). It turned out to be an easily made up drink made with fresh passionfruit, sours, simple syrup and vodka. Decent if in a regular joint because I do like my passionfruit, but kinda meh in a place like this. Friendly bartender later christened it Boring Passion on our bill and told me that I should say if I didn’t like my drink (but I did like it, it was just kinda quotidian).

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Anyhow, I enjoyed my passionfruit drink and finished a good half of it while watching him make Yi-Ling’s Apple Pie. No wonder they only make it during off-peak: it took a good 10 minutes to make! First, he chopped some green apple and muddled it together with some cinnamon sugar. I didn’t catch what else he added, but there was this pretty spectacular bit where he took a blow torch and a spray bottle of angostura bitters and sprayed the bitters through the flame and into the mix. Very cool indeed. Then there was a bit more prep work with rimming the glass with more cinnamon sugar and finishing off the drink prettily with apple slices. It was a lovely drink, tasting very much like baked apple pie filling. Excellent stuff!

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We sat for ages at the bar enjoying the ambience and the decor. Check out the ceiling lights, I really liked how they hacked hanging lights into something a little more interesting. I think it helps a lot that the shop downstairs has the same sort of furniture for sale. In fact, the comfortable seats we sat one were for sale too.

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Then the exciting bit started. A photographer from Club Snap was testing out a camera. To be precise, it was a Leica S2 on loan from Leica’s distributor in Singapore. He’d arranged for one of the bartenders to make cocktails with plenty of blow torch action and took numerous shots like below, just from a much better angle and with infinitely more skill.

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By then, I was ready for my next cocktail and asked for something herbal and complex. Not to be outdone by the other guy, our friendly bartender pulled together some rosemary, plonked it into a tumbler and poured on some gin. He then nonchalantly lit it with a blow torch and walked away.

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When the flames died down, he came back and poured in a mixture of flamed angostura bitters, sours and simple syrup. To finish, he pushed in some crushed ice et voila! And my drink was served. I am not exaggerating: this is the best drink I’ve had. My first impression was that of bak kwa. While many think of sweet-saltiness first when they describe why they like bak kwa, most of bak kwa’s allure really comes from the smoky, mouth-filling flavour of charred food. It was this same smoky, mouthfilling flavour that somehow permeated each sip, even down to the last diluted drop (I was trying to conserve my drink and also not turn redder than I already was). This truly lived up to my request for something herbal and complex. Two thumbs up to the talented bartender for making my Rosemary Cooler work.

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Yi-Ling’s second drink was a complicated blend of mascarpone cheese, raspberry, butterscotch, frangelico, and goodness knows what else. It tasted like raspberry cheesecake and was promptly christened that. Slightly tart and rather sweet – a girl’s drink.

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This is when we got to handle a $45,000 camera and of course we have the evidence to show for it (photo below is courtesy of Dream Merchant Photography). Our photographer asked Yi-Ling if she could hold the camera to model it…

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… and here she is! Huge isn’t it?

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He also very kindly took a few more pics of cocktails and our friendly bartender (and us) and created this lovely quadtych in sepia for us. Again, credit goes to Dream Merchant Photography.

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Way past it got dark, we were finally ready to call it an end to a lovely chillout day, but not without first a visit to the pretty outdoor garden loo!

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Conclusion? Bar Stories is a lovely place to visit, especially in the off peak period. The cocktails are generally decent, and when they’re good, they’re very very good. Having said that, it’s not everyone’s cup of (long island) tea as the drinks are pricey at upwards of $20 each and I can see how it could be seen as pretentious. Nonetheless, I had a great time, partly because I was in fabulous company to start with, and partly because of the great staff. Being part of a Leica photoshoot of course added to the fun. Let’s hope we can squeeze in another visit before Yi-Ling flies off again.

Bar Stories
Level 2, 55-57 Haji Lane
Tel: +65 6298 0838

Ice Cream Round Up

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It’s great that there’s plenty of good ice cream around, especially with so many local ice cream makers around. Tom’s Palette is one of the lesser known yet one of the better ones. I like their inventive flavours and sheer variety. Each time I go, there’s an interesting flavour to try out. Over the Chinese New Year period, they  not only had the usual “surprising” pineapple tart flavour, but also had stuff like tau sar piah flavour.

I also like their generous portions. In this picture there’s ba bao cha (eight treasure tea) sorbet and my favourite salted caramel cheesecake. The ba bao cha flavour wa a flavoured ice, nothing particularly special except it being served as sorbet. Now the salted caramel cheesecake is something else altogether: incredibly rich and cheesy, with bits of crumbled cookie base and the most luscious salty caramel flavour. Other flavours of note are the wasabi lime (a combination that works amazingly well, but not in too large a dose!) and passionfruit sake for the clean flavours.

Tom’s Palette
100 Beach Road #01-25
Shaw Leisure Gallery
Tel: 6296 5239

Galta Gelato at Parco Marina Bay is pretty decent too. The fridge is a funky cylindrical contraption with the ice cream laid out in a turn table of sorts.

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The gelato is very smooth and drippy. The fior di latte (milk) flavour was a bit too sweet for my taste, a pity. On the other hand, the ciocolate flavour was intense and unctuous, very excellent stuff especially considering that I’m not a big fan of chocolate ice cream. Try the other flavours and let me know whether they’re good!

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Galta Gelato Italiano Artigianale
P1-08 Parco Marina Bay

Last on the list is what DC think is the grandaddy of local ice cream: Daily Scoop. Their ice cream is always very smooth with the finest crystals, favourite flavours being coconut and butterscotch (I wonder what a combination of the two would be like!). We were delighted to find out that they served desserts and found that the brownie went amazingly well with the Salted Mr Brown. Somehow the salted creaminess worked a charm against the foil of warm chocolate. The butterscotch was buttery and caramelly and lovely with the brownie too, but far lovelier on its own. Bliss!

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Daily Scoop
41 Sunset Way
Tel: 6463 3365

A Rather Impressive Roast Beef Lunch

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I had a joint of beef sitting in the freezer that was crying out to be turned into a lovely Sunday lunch. It’d been a long time since I’d last entertained, so I thought I’d make it slightly more elaborate than normal. I started off with bacon and watercress soup, then served the beef with mushrooms in red wine, roast pumpkin (DC’s helper made it so I don’t have the recipe), green salad and horseradish garlic cream sauce. To top it all off, I served a very successful tropical plate trifle. It was boozy, it had pineapple and passionfruit in it, it had cream, it was amazing.

So let’s start from the beginning. DC and I headed out to Choa Chu Kang the day before in search of fresh ingredients. Too bad about the poor selection at the farmer’s market, as we ended getting most of the stuff from Cold Storage at Jelita in the end. I made the soup, mushrooms and cake base the night before so that there wasn’t much work to do in the morning, just the beef and assembly work.

Here’s the beef just out of the oven, adorned by an afterthought of DC’s Irish breakfast sausages. (The sausages were from Cold Storage, we’re not yet so hardcore that we make our own sausages!)

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We reluctantly let it rest till our guests arrived and got on to reheating the soup and checking the flavourings of the sauces. Eeyore, Wei and WW arrived first and we got on with the soup. To our surprise, watercress and bacon soup went incredibly well with some homemade prawn-flavoured keropok lying around. We couldn’t help but mop up jade liquid with coral crisps, proclaiming all the way that there wouldn’t be space for the beef at the rate we were going through the bucket of keropok. By the time Shinta and KK arrived, the bucket had dwindled to half its original.

As KK and Shinta tucked into their soup, the rest of us went ahead with the main course. It was so good we almost didn’t leave enough for the latecomers. Luckily, those two eat fast and soon caught up with us as they bagged their share of the good stuff.

And then came dessert. Oh my was it good. There was the tang of lime and passionfruit, the fragrance of Silver Valley pineapple, soft voluptuous cream and a generous shot of booziness. No one uttered the customary complaint of how fattening dessert was. In fact, Eeyore protested when I suggested waiting a while to digest first before serving dessert.

A testimony to how good it was? There was hardly any talking at the table, only chomping and semi-civilised requests to pass dishes around, followed by satisfied grunts and sighs. We finished lunch in a record half hour, including a Bordeaux and a Spanish dessert wine to round it all off. Then we proceeded upstairs to fall asleep while Shinta and Eeyore battled it out on Wii Super Smash Bros.

Hungry yet? Now for the recipes.

Roast Beef

Ingredients:

1.5 kg joint of ribeye
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
4 good quality sausages (optional)

Method:

  1. Slather the thawed beef generously with black pepper and leave to marinate overnight.
  2. Remove joint from fridge at least 2 hours before cooking. Preheat the oven to 210 ºC.
  3. Rub the outside generously with olive oil and salt, place in a foiled roasting tin. Surround with sausages.
  4. Roast for 30 minutes at 210 ºC then turn down to 160 ºC for another 30 minutes. Like this, you’ll get it medium. (See picture.)
  5. Remove from oven and allow joint to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Serve with the other yummy stuff.

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Mushrooms in Red Wine

Ingredients:

80 g butter
6 onions or shallots, sliced
2 punnets brown mushrooms, sliced
200 ml dry red wine

Method:

  1. Melt the butter and cook the onions gently till soft.
  2. Add the mushrooms and on slightly higher heat, cook till most of the butter is absorbed.
  3. Turn up the heat and pour in the red wine.
  4. Allow to bubble for about 10 minutes or till mushrooms are nicely tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Horseradish Garlic Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

2 heads of garlic
1 pot cream
1 tbsp horseradish powder

Method:

  1. Roast the garlic in a pre-heated oven at 120 ºC for an hour or till soft.
  2. Cut the base of the garlic head and squeeze out the pulp into a mortar and pestle. Mash till smooth.
  3. In a pot, combine the garlic and cream and warm gently. Do not let boil.
  4. Mix in the horseradish powder and season to taste.

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Tropical Plate Trifle

[syrup-soaked cake]

Bake the cake here using lime zest instead of tangerine. Use the juice from 5 limes and 100 g of icing sugar for the syrup. Add a touch more icing sugar if you like it less sour.

[cream]

Whip the i small tub whipping cream with 2 tbsp icing sugar and 50 ml dark rum till you get soft peaks. Chill in the fridge immediately.

[fruit topping]

Add 2 tbsp of dark brown sugar to 3 pulped passionfruit, stir and chill in the fridge. Chop Silver Valley pineapple into smaller chunks than the photo (I was too lazy to cut them smaller) and chill.

[assembly]

Arrange thick slices of the cake on a suitable plate, scatter with a couple tbsp of dark rum, then dollop the rum cream lavishly over. Pour over sugared passionfruit pulp then sprinkle with pineapple pieces. Serve to oohs and aahs.

All recipes serve 7, with leftovers.

Ethereal Lemon or Passionfruit Custard Pudding

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It’s not as if everything that comes out from my kitchen is tasty. I only post recipes to stuff that comes out good and reviews of places that have good food. If not, what’s the point?

Last night, I made a “double lemon pudding” from my Good Housekeeping Baking book. (Despite its gauche title, it’s got a few gems although true to its British roots, it’s a tad heavy on the butter and sugar.) Even though it’s not very good to downsize baking recipes too much, I took the plunge by quartering this recipe and reduced the sugar for it. It came out pretty decent, although too oily despite the small amount of butter.

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I decided to make it again this morning, this time with passionfruit and orange, and no butter. It was much better this time round, although a bit too sweet. I forgot to cut down the sugar according to the sweetness of the fruit. This is a surprisingly light dessert that separates slightly on baking to have ethereal sponge on top and a thick custard below. Try it, it’s quite easy.

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Lemon Custard Pudding

Ingredients:

juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tbsp sugar
1 egg, separated
2 tbsp flour
50 ml milk
1 tsp poppyseeds

Method:one

  1. Preheat the oven to 150 °C.
  2. Dissolve the sugar into the lemon juice.and
  3. Whisk the egg yolk and flour together, then pour in the sugary lemon juice, rind, milk and poppyseeds. Mix well.
  4. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg white till soft peaks form. (You should be able to invert the bowl without them falling out.)
  5. Fold the egg white gently into the lemon mixture and turn into a deep baking dish.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes till the top turns brown.
  7. Serve warm.

Serves 1 or 2.

Note: For passionfruit and orange pudding, replace the lemon and poppyseed with pulp from 1 passionfruit and the juice and rind of ½ an orange. Reduce to 1 tbsp sugar.

Self-Saucing Pineapple and Passionfruit Crumble

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I had this for a very decadent breakfast and I need to tell you how gorgeous it is. I love crumble, I like passionfruit and I adore custard. The problem with crumble and custard is that the custard is an extra fiddly step and is also incredibly fattening. For the record, I am a crumble Nazi and it’s against the law to eat crumble with ice cream. Unless it’s an incredibly hot day and you’re in Singapore. Sigh.

Nigella gave me some inspiration with her self-saucing gooseberry crumble recipe. I had passionfruit and pineapple, and everything just clicked into place. The gula melaka was a logical sweetener to keep to the tropical theme.

Why crumble for breakfast? Mum used to make apricot crumble for breakfast on weekends when we lived in Germany. It is such a comforting childhood memory. Also, a friend of mine claimed that passionfruit taken at night makes for a poor night’s sleep, so I make sure I only take passionfruit in the morning. It’s a silly superstitution I know, but humour me here.

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Ingredients:
120 g butter, frozen
200 g plain flour, frozen
3 tbsp sugar

1 passionfruit
¼ small pineapple, chunked
2 tsp gula melaka
1 egg yolk
4 tbsp cream

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Method:

  1. Remove the butter and flour from the freezer. Cut the butter into slices, then bits and using your fingers, rub it into the flour. You should get lumps of various sizes.
  2. Stir in the sugar and set aside. It’s worthwhile to make a larger batch of crumble topping to freeze for later. Then you can have crumble on demand.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  4. Stir the gula melaka into the passionfruit pulp and pineapple chunks until dissolved, then place into a shallow ovenproof bowl.
  5. Beat the egg yolk and cream together till combined, then stir into fruit mixture.
  6. Spoon the crumble over the mixture. Make sure it’s a very generous layer.
  7. Put in the oven for 25 minutes. Make sure you have something inside to catch the spills, it’s likely to bubble over.
  8. When it’s browned on top and bubbling below, take out carefully and allow to cool for 10 minutes before almost burning your mouth trying to get at the tart, sweet, fragrant, gorgeous goodness.

Serves 2-3, depending on how much you want to share.