Quick Eats: Good Value at Huber’s Bistro

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DC and I wanted something quick and not bank-breaking in the Dempsey area and we were surprised that something like that actually exists! It’s Huber’s Bistro, same place as the Butchery. We were very happy to see the reasonable prices and, being absolutely famished, made our choices quickly. My veal sausage with spatzli ($12.90) was decent. The sausage was of the more-meat-less-filler variety, definitely German-style as I like.  The spatzli was pretty decent, I liked that it had been pan-fried with some browned edges. The problem was that it was a hot day and I was soon stodged out by the spatzli. It’s much better suited to much cooler weather.

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DC was much less blinded by hunger when he ordered and wisely chose the daily special barbecued beef brisket panini ($8.90). It was tender and nicely marinated in crisp, toasted panini. I liked that they cared enough to create more interest with crunchy red cabbage, soft lettuce and tasty browned onions. Very good.

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Huber’s Bistro
18A Dempsey Road
Tel: 6737 1588

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

La Nonna: Good but Flawed

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La Nonna’d been on my to-try list for a while. We went there one gloomy Sunday for a pick-me-up lunch. I liked how hot bread came quite swiftly. There was the crispy flat bread and the softer bun to choose from. The bun was very tasty with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar provided at the table. Nothing like hot bread to start a meal. The only problem was that the flat bread wasn’t that great and the bun was the type that would go stale once cold. Everything had to be eaten hot and eaten now.

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We ordered a couple of specials as appetisers. The first was pan-fried mozzarella wrapped in pancetta. It was a rather decent dish that was pretty well executed especially with the drizzle of balsamic vinegar as a finishing touch. Two flaws marred the dish: first, the cheese was a rather run of the mill mozzarella. Next, the cheese wasn’t oozy at all. The best part is that if the cheese was good, it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t oozy. And conversely, if the cheese was oozy, it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t very good!

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Next up was the spicy sausages. These were very tasty, but I felt that they were so heavy-handed with the spice that I couldn’t quite enjoy the meaty flavour. A little more restraint with the chilli and it would have been just perfect. The new potatoes on the side were excellent, particularly paired with the mustard. Again, another dish where a little tweak would have made it just perfect.

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Next came our main course of the house special pizza. It had asparagus, truffle and a runny egg on it. The combination was very good, especially the truffle and egg. I liked how the truffle aroma was just right, enough to entice but not too heavy to drown out everything else. By now you must be wondering about the downside. It was the crust. It tasted and looked frozen as the edges were too uniform and the flavour too flat. Freshly made pizza dough always has the most amazing medley of smells which this version lacked. Again, such a pity.

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After the mains, we had a cappuccino to recuperate. Here I had no complaint as the coffee was rich and robust. Thumbs up.

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And then dessert. DC and I are split on this. I liked the crust but wasn’t sure about the apple filling. DC found the crust too hard and liked the filling a lot. He also liked the rather novel combination of chocolate ice cream with apple tart. I wasn’t sure. Here, it wasn’t so much good but flawed, it was more good but controversial!

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La Nonna seems to be a restaurant that’s on the brink of going downhill. There’s lots of promise in the food and good flavours to be found, just that the chef needs to be vigilant and not cut corners. All its flaws are very much fixable, I hope they do something about it soon.

La Nonna
76 Namly Place
Tel: 6762 1587

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.

My First F1

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It was the first time for both of us at an F1 race. Miraculously, DC knew someone who knew someone who had tickets to give away. We got Pit Grandstand tickets for the Saturday race. Being a complete F1 newbie, DC had to brief me on exactly what happens at one of these dos. I found out that the cars don’t all start at the same time and definitely not in a straight line with a gun going off to signal the start of the race. Saturday night was to be for pole position for the final on Sunday: they all raced individually and whoever had the best timing would start in front for Sunday’s final. It was quite different from my mental image of a car race. (I’d obviously not paid a whole great deal of attention while playing Daytona at the arcade.)

When we got our seats, I realised that we could only see the last turn and not the finish line! There wasn’t much to see except cars whizzing by at random intervals. I couldn’t even get two cars into the same frame, nothing was happening.

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So I tried a zoom shot on sports mode. At least I got a nice blurred picture of a Ferrari streaking by.

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Soon I gave up, and popping the ear plugs out of my ears, I demanded nourishment. DC rose to the occasion by getting me horribly overpriced $12 Hokkien mee with scallop (the scallop was fake, some kind of small faux abalone that was nothing even close to scallop). At least it tasted pretty decent.

The heat became unbearable and we ducked into the Red Dot tent for beers and a 7 inch Italian sausage hot dog. In a rare instance, DC chose the wrong beer. He got the Weizen, a wheat beer that was light and, well, simply too light that it hardly had any flavour at all. My summer ale was much better. It was grassy with an aroma of floral honey, and bitter hoppy finish. Very refreshing especially when cold, probably the best part of the evening.

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So the F1 was a disappointment, but at least it was free. Oh well. And there was good beer to be had.

March in Laos: Eating in Luang Prabang

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Laos in general and Luang Prabang in particular had lots of great food. Siamesecat and I started off one misty morning with a glass of thick, sweet and strong coffee chased down with a glass of steaming hot tea. Sitting on a wooden bench watching the morning bustle while sipping hot robust coffee was one of those subliminal moments of the trip.

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After having our caffeine and sugar fix, we table hopped to the next stall and tucked into the typical breakfast of foe (yup, almost exactly like Vietnamese pho). I don’t know how they make it so tasty, but thin flat rice noodles with hot broth, topped with herbs and raw vegetables to your preference hit the spot for me every day.   This morning the noodles came with pork strips and tomato. I could have noodles three times a day and not get sick of it. The trick was to experiment with the toppings provided at the table. They typically have salt, sugar, msg and chilli powder but there’s normally lime, basil, coriander, mint, sweet chilli sauce, various types of belachan (fermented shrimp paste) and fish sauce. I especially liked trying out the pongy variations of belachan at the different places.

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Foe is normally served in really small portions, which was fine with us because it gave us all the more reason to snack along the street. Here I’m stuffing my face yet again at a barbecue stand selling grilled animal parts like spicy minced pork patties, water buffalo jerky and belly pork. It was all mmm good.

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For lunch, we again had noodles, the one here a beef version with popped rice cracker-cakes on the side. If you look carefully you’ll spot the two small tubs of belachan on the table. One was the typical shrimp one and the other made of tiny river crabs. We noticed a lot of Lao people take a chilli padi, dip it in belachan, take a chomp and double dip it while waiting for their noodles. I guess the heat from the chilli kills the germs.

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Heavily fortified by all this food, Siamesecat and I proceeded to wander the streets. It was evening when we came across this vampire-phobic cat lying on a bed of garlic. It was obviously bed time.

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It looked incredibly satisfied at the end of that yawn!

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As the sun began to set, Siamesecat and I decided that we really should have something quite special. While we both loved noodles and never got tired of them, we had to try the slightly fancier food too.

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We found a restaurant along the Mekong and enjoyed the view while waiting for our food.

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This place served mainly set menus catering to tourists. We figured that it was as good as any other. Not having any locals to take us to truly authentic places, at least this would allow us to try a bit of everything.

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The set dinner started with watercress salad, a fresh minty salad with sharp watercress and other herbs dressed in a type of mayonnaise. Then it progressed to dried pork sausage with very spicy buffalo skin dip. The pork sausage was like a slightly less fatty salami with lovely smoked overtones while the dip had strips of rather tough buffalo hide bound by a fiery chilli paste. Crispy sheets of dried riverweed with sesame seeds helped to balance out the fire but the extremely spicy beef stew didn’t help things out.

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Siamesecat and I then hit the night market for incredibly cheap buys like a beautiful silk and cotton mix pair of fisherman pants for about USD2.50. There were pretty handicrafts and all sorts of ethnic and hill tribe knick knacks on sale. Apparently a lot of these items were brought over the border to Thailand for sale in their own tourist markets.

I stopped to buy something that couldn’t be exported easily to Thai tourist markets: more food. Supper that night was baguette filled with ping kai (barbecued chicken) and lettuce. It was up to me to choose my sauces again. This time it was at least three kinds of chilli sauce, two of which had some kind of fermented seafood incorporated within, and two types of soya sauce. Amazing.

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