A Cambodian Bug Encounter

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I’d known of this Cambodian place for a while but just never got round to trying it out until now. We started with a fairly standard pomelo salad that I thought tasted a bit too weird for my liking. While it had almost Thai flavours of fishy smoked fish, some sweet, some sour, and some chilli, it was fairly toned down in terms of the four standard flavours. There was a herb in it that I didn’t appreciate – it was a bit too earthy and bitter-smelling (though not actually tasting bitter at all), a bit like off garlic.

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The other starter was much better: steamed minced pork paste with preserved fish roe. It was very unusual, like a cross between a warm pate and meatloaf. I scooped spoonfuls of the smokey, fishy meat mixture onto the raw veggies and enjoyed the almost salted egg-like flavour. I never knew that eggplant could be eaten raw and I happily walloped the spongey vegetable with the meat. It went surprisingly well.

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DC saw the writeup on crickets and tarantulas on the wall and immediately wanted to try them. I told him I could probably stomach a cricket or two rather than a hairy spider leg so he ordered this off-menu. My heart sank when the deep-fried crickets arrived. The fellas were fried to a dark crisp – so much so that their carapaces were almost black, making them look like skinny cockroaches. Ewwww. Feeling slightly queasy, I attempted a few times to spear one with my fork but failed as the little buggers (literally!) were fried so hard and crisp they were impossible to spear. DC and I picked out one that looked least like cockroach and I gingerly ate its thorax and abdomen. Honestly, it didn’t taste like much aside from deep-fried. There was a very slightly sour aftertaste but not much. So there was half a cricket in my stomach and the other half – black and winged – still sitting on my plate. I hid it in my rice and hastily chewed it up, and swallowed. Then I looked up and saw DC calmly, and with great enjoyment, crunching up the rest of the plate of crickets. This is the reason why I’m a wuss and I’m with this very brave man with the appetite for adventure. If he can put up with bug-eating, who knows what other crap he can put up with!

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OK so enough with the wussing out – the last dish was their signature dish of fish amok. I’d tried it in Cambodia before and was expecting something thick yet still fluid, somewhat like Thai green curry. This version was like a non-spicy otak. The flavours were very similar and the fish was moulded in a slightly runny coconut custard. DC and I both liked the delicate flavours and the soft-firm texture of the fish. Thumbs up!

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We didn’t manage to get dessert as the banana sago dish I wanted wasn’t available. Service here is generally very sincere and warm, though slightly dopey and haphazard. Be patient with them and you’ll have a good experience.

Khmer Delight
922 East Coast Road
Tel: 6449 1529

DC Cooks to Impress

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As mentioned before, DC is a man after my own stomach. He also knows that that’s the obvious path to my heart. Not being someone with a reputation for great culinary skills, he still went ahead to cook a gourmet meal for me without any help. Impressive huh.

First was the starter, poached eggs with smoked trout on toast, topped generously with my favourite ikura. I don’t know how he managed it but the eggs were perfectly poached so that the whites were just set and the yolks runny. (I’ve never had the guts to poach eggs.) They didn’t have even a hint of the vinegary poaching water. Coupled with toasted baguette and store-bought smoked trout and ikura, this was an irresistible combination.

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Now the piece de resistance really was the stuffed deboned chicken with truffle and spinach. I think he really outdid himself here as I don’t know how to debone a chicken  while keeping it whole. He had to figure it out all on his own.

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He roasted it till just so. The flavour of the truffle stuffing subtley permeated the chicken and the stuffing kept the chicken nicely moist.

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He also somehow learned (oh the power of the Internet!) how to “lollilop” a chicken wingstick. Check out the picture below: instead of having to gnaw indelicately away at the wingstick bone, all I needed to do was to pick it up and bite off the meat at the end. Very nice.

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DC claims to have forgotten how he made these dishes, so I’ll give you recipes of how I think he made them! Look through the ingredients list carefully, though, as quite a few ingredients come from a gourmet store.

Poached eggs with smoked fish on toast

Ingredients:

4 eggs
4 slices of baguette
1 small pack of smoked fish (trout or salmon is fine)
1 small pack of ikura
1 tbsp raisins, optional
1 handful rocket leaves, optional

Method:

  1. Poach the eggs carefully and set aside. (Don’t know how to poach eggs? Try Google.)
  2. When just about ready to serve, toast the baguette till crisp.
  3. Assemble the toasts by covering each piece of toast with smoked fish, then a poached egg and scatter a teaspoon or more of ikura on top.
  4. Garnish with rocket and raisins on the side.

Serves 2.

Stuffed chicken with truffle and spinach

1 chicken, deboned (again, try Google for instructions)
2 small bags baby spinach
1 15g jar truffle pate
1 tsp sea salt
100g wild mushrooms (chanterelles, ceps, etc)
plenty of cracked black pepper
4 pandan leaves
oil for basting
more rocket leaves
2 peaches for a jar of muscat-infused peaches

Ingredients:

  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Cook the spinach: boil, steam or microwave depending on your preference. Let cool, then squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible.
  4. Make the stuffing by blending the spinach with the truffle pate. Check the seasoning and add the salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Roughly chop the mushrooms and mix into the stuffing.
  6. Push the stuffing into the cavity of the chicken and tie up the chicken with pandan leaves.
  7. Roast the chicken for 100 minutes, basting it regularly with oil and turning about 60 minutes later.
  8. Carve and serve with rocket and sliced peaches as garnish.

Serves 4.

Method:

OChre: Flawed but Good Value

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DC’s father insisted that we try out OChre despite us wanting to dress down. We finally got round to getting me out of my usual casual garb (think T-shirt, three-quarter pants and slippers) and into a nice dress and heels. We were pleasantly surprised by this place as the food is pretty good and the prices pretty decent. The cooking is almost classic Italian, with a Japanese sensibility to it. No surprise from a Japanese chef trained in Italy. There’s a restrained elegance to the dishes done well, and a disconcerting feeling of blandness and not quite bringing out the ingredients’ full potential in those not so well executed.

We opted to share the antipasti and primi plati before having our own mains. The first appetiser of tomatoes and bufala was decent as the tomatoes were ripe and sweet and the bufala creamy and fresh. I wasn’t sure about the tomato jelly as it was basically solidified tomato soup that didn’t add much to the flavours and didn’t help to unify the dish. Decent but no a reorder.

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Next was the tonno vitello, slow poached veal topped with tuna sauce. Everyone else seemed to like it, but as it’s not my favourite dish, Ican’t quite comment on the execution. The only thing is thatI felt that it wasn’t a great deal different from the  more downmarket version at Riciotti. I liked how the veal was tender and didn’t like how the cooked tuna in the sauce made it all quite rough in texture.

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The last appetiser was the crowd pleaser: Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with parma ham. The scallop was impeccable, sweet and very slightly briny at the same time. The parma ham was passable, not great, and somehow didn’t quite go with the delicate scallop. Eaten separately, I think this works well, but not both ham and scallop in the same bite.

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I think the ravioli is where the chef really shone. I don’t remember much of the filling (was it kurobuta pork?), just that the little parcels were nicely al dente with chewy, salty filling, and oh the sauce! The sauce was a creamy mushroom sauce with ceps in them. I cannot tell you how much I love the soft texture and gently yet seductively woody flavour of ceps. Cooked into the amazingly creamy sauce, this really made my evening.

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The oyster and saffron risotto was a decent rendition, again not much different from a version at another restaurant, this time Prego’s. I liked the asparagus bits in it, but wasn’t too enamoured by how they couldn’t bring out the clean briny flavour of fresh oysters in this dish. While the oysters were definitely fresh, there was a hint of fishy that I can’t quite place or explain. Perhaps cooking the oysters slightly affected the delicacy of the risotto. Perhaps I also didn’t like that the rice was a bit too hard for my taste. Who knows.

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The chef’s specialty is the duck risotto. I thought it was quite different as it broke away from the mold of risottos being defined by the stock it’s cooked in. This time, I think the chef used water instead of stock and the rice had a very clean taste, quite akin to that of watery porridge made with Thai jasmine rice. Studded in the risotto were cubes of smoked duck, lending little taste explosions of gamey salt to the tongue. It was a good dish but again the rice was too hard. I prefer it cooked a tad more, probably 30 seconds more stirring in the pot and I’ll be a happy camper.

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On to the mains. DC and I shared a beef with foie gras and they portioned them out nicely onto two plates. The funny thing was that they didn’t ask how we wanted the beef done and protested that we should go with the chef’s preference of medium rare. We both like our steaks Bloody and vetoed that in favour of rare. It was almost comical how the waiter kept asking if we were sure. I liked the steak and accompanying vegetables very much, it was all very well executed and the natural flavour of the beef shone through. The foie gras I felt was superfluous and added nothing to the dish. I’ll give it (foie gras, not steak) all to DC next time.

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For dessert, DC and I shared a mille feuille, which we felt was the best dessert of the evening. (There was also panna cotta and creme brulee, which seemed slightly disappointing to the rest.) It was puff pastry with pistachio semi freddofilling. The semifreddo was excellent, being smooth, creamy and full of toasted pistachios. The pastry was a bit too difficult to handle: while crisp, it was a bit too hard and impossible to cut out to eat with the semifreddo filling. Nonetheless, taking a bit of pastry and a bite of semifreddo, this was a great dessert.

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A few last words on the service: fairly attentive though a bit lacking in the common sense department. One chose to make slightly disparaging comments of the very old Burgundy that DC’s father brought for dinner, not realising that though it wasn’t a Bordeaux (hey Bordeaux doesn’t automatically make a wine good!) it was a good vintage from a respectable vineyard. Later when asked our opinion on the food, one of them rather snippily said that the risotto was done that way in Italy. That certainly wasn’t the case in my recent trip to Italy (more on that later, oh my, one Michelin star heaven!) where risotto was done al dente rather than just off the verge of crunchy. Last, they didn’t do anything to clear away the bread basket that was obviously in the way, just says that the attentiveness is a bit of a show.

OChre’s definitely flawed, but the food has lots of promise, just having one or two things in each dish that if tweaked, would take it right up there in the good food stakes.

OChre
181 Orchard Road
#11-03/04 Orchard Central
Tel: 6634 0423

Applebee’s

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Ever since spying Applebee’s from across the road at Oriole cafe, I’ve been wanting to check out this American chain diner. I remember reading a blog somewhere in which some random American girl (I know, not a particularly good source) said that it was her all-time favourite and was intrigued since then.

We started off with a Sour ApplebeeTini, an apple-flavoured martini with a cute stick of apple pieces to garnish. It was more apple juice than alcohol and  not particularly sour, though very palatable. This is one of those drinks that you could easily have on an empty stomach, it’s so mild. I’d imagine teenagers would adore this drink. Not your manly man type drink but very apt for the place and the food.

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DC the burger king ordered the Fire Pit Bacon Burger. It was a big burger with an even bigger portion of fries on the side. The seasoned fries were very good: soft inside and crispy outside. It was a good start already. The burger was very well seasoned, though I felt it a tad overcooked. It could be juicier but the melted cheese topping compensated nicely. No big deal with the jalapenos, they hardly added any heat but then again this is Singapore and we’re used to far hotter. I wasn’t very keen on the bacon because it was a bit too burnt and didn’t taste very bacony. But on the whole this was a very good burger with a nicely toasted bun, loads of ingredients that made a mess and excellent fries.

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I had the half rack ribs with Southern BBQ sauce. Those ribs were quite something. They were incredibly soft and tender with the meat practically falling off the bone and coupled with the sweet, smokey BBQ sauce, ambrosial. I don’t normally like sweet mains, but this was an exception. The accompanying coleslaw was surprisingly fresh and good quality. Coupled with the aforementioned excellent fries, this dish seemed pretty faultless to me!

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Now despite our full tummies, we couldn’t leave without trying dessert could we? There was no choice but to share a Maple Butter Blondie. The blondie was served  topped with vanilla ice cream on a hot skillet and maple butter sauce was poured on top to sizzle away. This was one of the few desserts that really worked the contrast between hot and cold, making it very special. I especially loved how the maple butter sauce caramelised on the skillet. Eating that those bits with the crisped up bottom of the blondie with cold creamy ice cream was such a sensation to savour.

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In short, expect loads of good, honest to goodness American food. None of it is gourmet, but it’s got me wanting to go back very soon!

[Edited to include the fajitas.]

So DC and I did go back another day. This time DC had the steak. Don’t bother with that sinewy excuse for meat, just head straight for the fajita combo. This sizzling plate of seasoned rice has lovely strips of beef and chicken nestled on a huge pile of  onions and peppers.

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Accompanying it was a generous plate of four tortillas, shredded cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo (basically onion and tomato salsa), sour cream and shredded lettuce. Making up the tortillas so that I didn’t overstuff them was a big challenge, I’m so greedy. I wanted a bit of everything inside and ended up squishing half the contents onto the plate by the time I got through the tortilla. It was very yummy though, with plenty of spice and smoke from the meat and onions and creaminess from the guacamole and sour cream. There’s enough for two people, so you could try sharing and ordering more starters and desserts. I certainly couldn’t manage a blondie dessert the second time round!

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Applebee’s
111 Somerset Road
#01-11/12 TripleOne Somerset
Tel: 6735 9671

Diving the Similans: Eating at the Villa After

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The Vijitt has a beautiful infinity pool to match its beautiful grounds. We admired it every morning at breakfast and had a dip a couple of times. Too bad it wasn’t quite as good as the diving the past week!

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Food at the resort was very good. I liked the breakfast, the buffet spread was decent and they provided fresh juice to order. DC, however, has higher standards. Good thing the a la carte menu for dinner met his standards! There were two restaurants inside, one the main restaurant looking out at the pool and the other an intimate Thai restaurant in a beautiful house facing the beach. It was this restaurant that had fabulous food. I liked how refined the cooking was.

Here we’ve got a delicate soup that tasted like a very sophisticated tom yam. It showcased the vibrant taste of fresh herbs and aromatic roots to a T. Didn’t hurt at all of course to have fresh juicy prawns to add to it. The clarity of the flavours was astounding. I’m fairly drooling thinking of it as I type.

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Another dish was rather oddly named as fermented smoked shrimp. It turned out to be deep fried dried shrimp with deep fried lemon grass bits and peanut, all tossed together with herbs and chilli. While the shrimp was a bit of a chewy-crunchy mouthful, the deep seafood umami flavour permeating this dish really worked. It’s nothing like I’ve had before and a definite re-order. (What am I saying, all the dishes featured here are definite re-orders.)

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Yet another re-order was the salad of winged bean and shrimp. There’s something magical about the combination of savoury fish sauce, tangy lime juice, seafood and crunchy greens. The topping of dried coconut and fried shallots brought it to another level. What can I say except “yum!”

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Last dish to feature is the simple yet very skillfully made crab omelette. It was crisp at the edges and still runny in the centre. Of course, the crab was fresh and sweet. It was such a satisfying counterfoil to the rest of the dishes. I could eat here every day!

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The Vijitt Resort Phuket
Friendship Beach
16 Moo 2, Viset Road, Rawai, Muang, Phuket 83130
Tel: +66 (0) 76 363 600

Quick Eats: Bugis Area

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There are a few interesting little eateries in the Bugis area. One of these is Food for Thought, a cafe that ploughs its profits into social causes. Not everything on their menu is great. I had the lunch deal for the Asian beef soup and smoked duck salad, neither of which was particularly special. Now the soup and sandwich set is definitely more value for money as they thoughtfully provided a little tomato and lettuce side salad. DC had the tomato and pumpkin soup with pulled pork sandwich set. The soup was decent and the pulled pork sandwich was very excellent. I liked how the tender pork contrasted so well with bits of still-crisp crackling and soft sweet potato. It made for a generous filling to the soft ciabatta. Definitely something to go back for.

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A distance away, down Seah Street is a Entre-Nous, a French creperie with the best crepes I’ve tried in Singapore. I immediately knew that I had to have the salted caramel crepe, while DC went for the chocolate version. It wasn’t too bad, the chocolate sauce was obviously home-made, of good chocolate. It was very good, though once you try the salted caramel version, there’s no competition at all.

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This time I made the better choice. The home-made salted caramel was to die for, especially for someone with a salty tooth like me. And of course the crepe was faultless, it was soft with lovely crisp edges. We’re definitely going back there sometime soon.

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Food for Thought
420 North Bridge Road
North Bridge Centre
#01-06
Tel: 6338 8724

Entre-Nous Creperie
27 Seah Street
Tel: 6333 4671