The French Kitchen

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I went with family to French Kitchen to check out their set lunch ($36++). It’s not an easy place to get to as it’s in a pretty remote (!) part of the CBD. Check out Central Mall on the map first before you go, it’s not the more centrally located Japanese mall. Our party got there easily enough, ordered and started to wallop our amuse bouche. It was quite nice – tomato bruschetta, parmesan crisp and truffled pumpkin soup – but not very exciting. I thought it rather boring overall because bruschetta, tomato and parmesan are too common, plus nowadays everything is over-truffled. Don’t get me wrong, truffle is nice, but I’d like my foodie world to be less awash in truffle please.

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My lobster bisque was very nice. I liked the touch of tempura prawns (OK so they’re called beignets, but they sure are tempura to me) with its softly crisp texture. Too bad the batter got soft really quick, so the second one wasn’t quite as yummy.  I think they spent too much time fiddling about with pouring out the bisque at the table. They should just stick the pot on the table and leave it as a free for all for barbarians like us me. Still, they did good by leaving the head and tail unbattered so I enjoyed the crispness of the prawn shell all the way. The bisque itself was decent but not quite robust enough for my liking. I guess the chef was trying to be purist by using only lobster but couldn’t afford more than what he used for the set menu. I think it would’ve been better with crab or prawn in it too. As for the leek custard, it was soft and comforting but not quite my thing as I’m not the biggest onion fan. A well executed dish nonetheless.

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My main was quite a standard dish, so no marks on originality. Wagyu beef cheek has been done to death, but this was a well executed version. It was meltingly tender and not too rich, and with rocket as a good foil to the richness. The eggplant caviar with truffle was a bit underwhelming for something that was really just eggplant mash. Decent, just don’t expect too much from the eggplant.

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I wasn’t sure about the fries – had one, found it way too salty and passed the rest to my brother and the rest. They happily chomped it up.

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The dessert was only average, ending the meal on a bit of a letdown. The sabayon with wild berry ice cream didn’t make much of an impact at all. All I remember was rich, spongy custard with ice cream that tasted very faintly of, well, berries. Didn’t help that the strawberry garnish was sour. I’d expect much more for a restaurant of this standard. Looking back at the picture, the sliver of pastry was very good though, very short and crisp, falling apart beautifully on the tongue.

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My verdict? The French Kitchen has solid execution and well made savouries. Don’t expect a great deal of creativity; go there for the classics and for the good value set lunch.

The French Kitchen
7 Magazine Rd (off Merchant road)
#01-03, Central Mall
Tel: 6438 1823

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:

Peperoni Pizza

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I’d wanted to go to Peperoni for a while and was delighted when Misa wanted to check it out too. We had girly gossip over the most amazing truffle pizza where the truffle was earthy and almost buah keluak-like in flavour. The thin crust was excellent and freshly made, I how loved the flavours of yeast and bread and the crisp-chewy texture of the crust mingled and really made this pizza work. It’s not just the truffle and melted cheese, it’s also the excellent crust that made this pizza. It’s not quite perfect though, because the egg wasn’t runny as it should be. Still, a small defect. I’m going back for more soon!

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It was a pity that the linguine vongole had an off day. The clams weren’t very fresh and it affected the whole dish. Such a waste since this dish is potentially such a winner. I hope they do this better the next time I get there!

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Peperoni Pizza
6 Greenwood Avenue Hillcrest Park
Tel: 6465 6556

Skinny Pizza

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Skinny Pizza is a great place for me to pretend that I’m far away from the office. It’s a bit pricey but it’s probably as far from the Suntec Food Court as you can get. The downside though is that it’s right next to Strip, and DC’s overactive imagination kept thinking about fur flying over the low partition!

The pizzas here are very filling, it helps to share with friends! Even though the pizza base is very thin naan bread, the rich toppings make it incredibly filling. The best ratio for me is two people to one pizza. At least that way there’s a chance for some side dishes like the yummy sausage.

This time, however, there were three of us and we went for two pizzas instead. First up was the mushroom and truffle pizza. Here the mushroom veloute was smooth, rich and deep and with a punch of earthy truffle flavour. The onion helped cut through the earthiness and bitter herby rocket is always a plus in my book. However, after a slice of this I was ready for something else. It’s not something you’ll want to have loads of at one go.

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I felt that the squid ink base pizza fared much better. While not being particularly original, here was where the freshness of the ingredients and flavour combinations made in heaven really worked. The squid and prawn coated with tomato salsa and fresh flat-leaf parsley burst with seafood and herb sweetness. Needless to say, that was the star of the day.

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Other pizza flavours of note are the Provence and Ratatouille flavours which are both kinda similar. Pretty decent though.

I also like the apple cider here. It’s sweet without being overly so and is nice and light: a bit like dry sparkling apple juice. Like they say in the menu, it’s a great complement to the pizza.

Skinny Pizza
#01-002 Suntec City Galleria
Tel: 6333 9774

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

Basilico Buffet

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It was the last big meal of the festive season and boy did we have a big one. My aunt loves hotel buffets and she treated Mum, Dad and me to lunch at Basilico at the Regent. It’s an Italian spread with some local food to supplement, and a very good spread it was! I apologise for the presentation in the photos because they were obviously assembled by greedy me.

Let’s have a look at the appetisers first. There was a whole range of seafood salads, from prawn to squid to seafood. Avoid the mussels and scallops unless you like tasteless frozen jumbo ones. There was also smoked salmon and boiled crab parts (the knobbly, slightly bristly alien thing in the left foreground is a cracked open crab claw). On the vegetable front, there were grilled asparagus, marinated radicchio (bitter but very good) and marinate artichoke. There was also a decent beef carpaccio and the most excellent burrata ever. I ditched the mozzarella for the caprese salad and replaced it with the soft, yielding and beautifully creamy Puglian cheese.

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The breads were pretty good too. Aunt loved them. I especially digged how delicately beautiful the zucchini on this not-pizza bread looked. But I stayed clear to make space for the cold meats.

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There’s a nice selection of cold meats here. It was mainly pork with just one beef mortadella with pistachio that I didn’t fancy. The rest were salamis and various types of pancetta (oooh fatty lovely cured pork). And of course the star: parma ham with melon. Coupled with pickles on the side including tuna- and pesto-stuffed pimento, olives and cornichons, this was very very good. Oh, and don’t forget the extra serving of burrata on the side.

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Next, I went for the salad. Don’t scoff at the salad here because the leaves were fresh and pert (I hate having to pick out wilted brown bits off my plate), but mostly because of the truffle dressing. Sure, it’s just truffle-infused olive oil but what a treat! I adored the subtle earthiness of the truffle contrasted with good balsamic vinegar plus crunchy greens. It helps that I like rocket and raddichio too, the bitterness added a whole new dimension to it.

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Onwards to the soup! The mushroom soup is rich, not thick, and redolent with truffle. Very yummy because the truffle was again very subtle so it complemented rather than overpowered the mushroom flavour. Excellent stuff.

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You’ll notice that I didn’t have any real mains. I’m more of a nibbly appetiser type and I nibbled at Dad’s roast beef (passable), lamb (excellent) and squid ink pasta with tomato sauce (very very good!). Getting star mention is the roast pork belly. It was melt-in-mouth good though pity the skin was soft, I need my crisp crackling! I find that buffet mains tend to be a bit of a let down because they need to be kept hot and get stale or overcooked. The mains were fairly decent but not worth writing about.

The same goes for the desserts. They were all passable. I liked the plum tart and the caramel gelato. Other than that, the cheese did far better.

Cheese in small portions looks terrible indeed, but that was all I could handle by the time I ate my way through the preceding few plates of food and picked at Dad’s plate. There were two types of pecorino, of which one had a fantastic nutty flavour and it had bits of salt crystals that crunched just so in the mouth (just too bad I can’t remember the name). I liked the smoked ricotta which tasted, well,smoked. There were a few other hard ones, and of course my beloved burrata. Accompanying these were various preserves. I remember a lemon marmalade, different types of preserves with mustard, quince jelly and a very lovely fresh tasting plum jelly. There were quite a few types of honey too. I especially liked the truffle one. Odd how this buffet seemed to feature quite a bit of truffle and odd how I don’t normally like much truffle. Just as well that this was a buffet so they were more lighthanded with the truffle.

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Overall, an excellent outing with far more hits than misses. It was worth the distended tummy and a fitting start to the new year!

Basilico
1 Cuscaden Road
Level 2 The Regent Singapore
Tel: 6725 3232