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.

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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

 

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

Another Quick Lunch Salad: Brown Rice and Fish

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As you can tell, I haven’t had a great deal of time to cook lately. It’s mainly been work, and keeping up with the various bits and pieces that make up a full life. Am also juggling a new personal project that I hope I can share at some point soon. Unfortunately, cooking has taken the, um, back burner. Today I only managed to quickly rustle up some lunch out of bits and pieces in the fridge and it turned out pretty well!

I knew I wanted something healthy, so it was brown rice and cracked buckwheat. There was leftover romaine, cabbage and basil in the fridge, together with some fish slices. I was inspired by a version of nasi ulam Mum made a few weeks back where she shredded fried wolf herring into rice and local herbs and squeezed plenty of lime juice over it. This time, I wanted a Western version of it and did the lazy thing of combining it all with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It turned out pretty well!

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Ingredients:

¼ cup brown rice
2 tbsp buckwheat
1 cup water
1 small fish fillet, sliced
1 small head romaine lettuce
1 handful shredded cabbage
25g basil leaves
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Method:

  1. Cook the brown rice and buckwheat together with the water in a rice cooker.
  2. When cooked, fluff the rice mixture and stir in the fish slices. Turn off the cooker and leave the fish to cook in the residual heat.
  3. Prepare the vegetables (wash, slice, chop).
  4. Combine the fish and rice mixture with the vegetables and tear the basil leaves gently over.
  5. Stir in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, top with a few grinds of salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve.

Serves 1.

Braise

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DC took me to Braise for our anniversary dinner. It was a lovely place with the best service I’ve experienced in Singapore: warm and attentive yet unobtrusive. They noticed that I was cold and not only gave me a shawl, they also made sure that my hot water was topped up all the time.

It was too bad the tasting menu wasn’t very exciting, so we went a la carte. Still, the chef sent out an amuse bouche of some kind of pate on a sliver of toasted baguette. I don’t remember what it was, all I know that it was rich, very tasty and left us both wanting me. I suspect it’s a fish rillette of sorts. We’ll have to see whether it makes its way to the main menu before telling.

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DC’s starter was just his thing: a rich and unctuous pairing of foie gras and sweetbread. I wasn’t sure of the spongey-grainy texture of the sweetbread, but DC loved it. It’s pretty difficult to get parts like pancreas in Singapore.

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I had half a dozen fines de claire oysters au naturel. They didn’t even need the lemon, they were so fresh. I loved how the sharp, slightly briny taste mellowed into mouth-filling savour. It was a pity they didn’t have a muscadet to go with it, that pairing is made in heaven. I was so sad when I ate my last one, enjoying the aftertaste for as long as I could. It’ll be a while before I get oysters of that quality again.

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Now for the mains. Mine was a straightforward roast beef in jus, paired with braised beef cheek, savoy cabbage and decadent, decadent buttery mash. It was a good dish that tasted far better than it looks in the picture. (The problem with romantic settings is that pictures just don’t come out well at all.) The beef was nicely rare, just as I like it, and the beef cheek the expected melt-in-mouth tender. Coupled with the very buttery mashed potato, it was a tad on the rich side, which DC quite predictably loved. Needless to say, I finished the savoy cabbage quite quickly as it was a good foil to all the butter and fat.

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I think DC may have had the more interesting dish. His grilled fish with capellini was quite different as fish and cheese are not commonly paired. The pasta was doused in a very cheesy stock that wasn’t at all stringy. It was as if the essence of cheese had been distilled and used to flavour the pasta, without having any actual cheese in it. I can’t even imagine how they made this. The fish itself was good too, with a nice gratinated crust. It was ordinary in a good way.

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Dessert was a bit of a pity. I didn’t understand why they had to deconstruct a trifle. I liked the apple jelly and granite, it was just a pity that the custard was starchy. It showed that either the head chef was off-duty or hadn’t any confidence in his custard-making skills or both. I liked the cinnamon donut, but wasn’t sure of the point of it. Yes yes, I know that it’s the deconstructed trifle sponge, but it didn’t really add anything to the dessert. Braise would do better if they hired a better dessert chef.

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In summary, we’ve got outstanding starters and very competent, somewhat creative mains. Avoid the dessert and you’ll have a fabulous dinner.

Braise
60 Palawan Beach Walk
Level 2 Sentosa
Tel: 6271 1929

Oomphatico’s

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I was at the Tanglin area and thought I’d have some long sought-after time with myself. It’s not often that I get time alone so I treated myself to a good lunch at Oomphatico’s.

The decor is whimsical pink and gold with soft-cushioned, slightly fussy Victorian style chairs. It’s obviously geared towards trendy young mummies with designer prams: family friendly yet not overtly so.

I started with the watermelon, pomegranate and mint juice. It was a refreshing and imaginative blend that came in a fairly generous portion. It was a bit more smoothie than juice because of the watermelon pulp, sometimes I had to chew a bit. Not bad nonetheless.

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My side salad came next and I was surprised by how generous the portion was. It wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill mesclun. Rather than just limp lettuce, it also had various yummies like ripe avocado, sweet cherry toms and crunchy cucumber. The service was pretty attentive too because they asked if I wanted my main served immediately. Most places just plonk the main down whether you’re ready or not.

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I asked for my linguine vongole with mussels and anchovy to come when I was done with the salad. It still came piping hot yet not overcooked, very well done on the service. At first I found it slightly tasteless but soon realised that the anchovies weren’t mixed in properly.  It was a very pleasing combination of fresh clams and fresh mussels too, not the usual tough frozen New Zealand greenlip stuff. I liked how they were generous with the flat leaf parsley too. A winner.

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I ended off the meal with a latte. Too bad it was tiny, watered down and the only overpriced thing I had here. A let down to an otherwise excellent meal.

Mutton Stew and Sincere Service

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I like Jacob’s Cafe for the great laid-back atmosphere, the chicken curry and the fab Hainanese mutton stew. The last time I was there with a friend, we almost came to blows over ownership rights of the mutton stew. This time, I learned my lesson and brought my mum instead. She hates mutton.

Before I go on about the food, I want to tell you how much I love the service here. I had the sincerest service ever. Our servers were all incredibly smiley and attentive. Water was topped up before we realised it, special requests were obliging accommodated. Sure, there were small glitches, but you know what? I felt so much that they just wanted to please that there was nothing to forgive. Call me a sucker for good service but where they serve you with love,  surely they also cook with great love.

Knowing that the mutton stew would be full of meat, I ordered a small garden salad to balance it off. It was a just-right portion of lettuce variations, pea shoots, carrot, red and green peppers, Japanese cucumber, tomato, cherry tomato, sundried tomato and onion rings, topped with vinaigrette dressing. (I’d asked for the dressing to be on the side, but the salad came dressed and with extra on the side instead!) With so many and such fresh ingredients, it was  all good. You can’t go far wrong with a fresh salad.

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Next came my mutton stew. True to the homespun cooking style, there wasn’t much to recommend it for its looks. It was simply mutton slow-cooked with black fungus, tau kee (dried tofu skin) and bamboo shoots. The mutton was  tender the way you can only get by cooking the right cut and the right way. It reminded me again of how stewed mutton really beats the more expensive beef in terms of texture and taste so often. The fungus, tau kee and bamboo shoots added lots of texture to the stew: gelatinous, chewy, crunchy. I sopped up the thin flavourful juices with the crispy baguette pieces. It was all fantastic with the homemade garlic chilli sauce. As there was way too much meat by my standards, I took away half my portion. Had it with mee sua for breakfast a couple of days later. Still good.

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My mutton-hating mum steered clear of the stew and went for the Europa sausage plate because they didn’t have chicken curry that day. The Europa plate had two sausages, the nurnberger and a veal sausage, with french fries and a side salad. The sausages were decent though I felt that the veal one had too much flour in it. I wasn’t too keen on the too-soft texture. Mum liked it all though, especially the french fries.

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The damage was $37.60. Pretty expensive considering the location, but go for the specialty dishes like the mutton stew and the chicken curry and you’ll be happy.

Jacob’s Cafe
Blk 5 Changi Village Road #01-2049 S500005
Tel: 6543 1106