Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Lunch Club... at long last!

Friday Lunch Club is an endangered institution... and it's not getting any better since one of its key members moved back home to Taipei. So today Lady Dyson 2000 organised a gathering of starving foodies at Cepage and gave us a chance to catch up on this long neglected tradition. April, Spartacus and Granny G. joined us for a delicious meal orchestrated by Chef Armin Leitgeb (of Les Amis in Singapore), who was in town this week demonstrating his culinary talents to the wow-ed HK crowds. As I never got the chance to visit his Singapore restaurant, this was the perfect opportunity for me to sample his famed cuisine, even though it felt a bit strange to visit Cepage with Chef Seb not in command. Both Chefs (as well as Super-Cheryl the Pastry Queen) were kind enough to pop by our table to say hi, and I finally had the pleasure of meeting Chef Seb. I am of course looking forward to coming back to Cepage to sample more of his delicious cuisine, but I will also make sure to pop over to Les Amis during my next trip in the Lion City. Some of the dishes proposed by Chef Armin today were nothing short of extraordinary, and I am curious to see what other treasures are hidden on his Singapore menu...

The light at Cepage is always perfect for shooting - a least at lunch time.

Tomato focaccia and baguette - this is one of the best bread baskets in town, and the selection today did not disappoint. Crispy baguette with good ears - I know this matters to some of you ;) - and very tasty focaccia.

We started off with a perfectly chilled glass of this delicious champagne.

Amuse-bouche: B.L.T. grilled spanish octopus

Clear tomato jelly, grilled octopus in tiny cubes with veggies, bacon foam and lettuce tempura. This was delicious. The tomato jelly was amazingly tasty despite the surprising lack of colour, and the bacon foam worked superbly with the chargrilled flavours of the octopus. Daring and creative.

Lightly smoked eel "tiede", crispy pork crouton, horseradish and dijon mustard emulsion

Side view. With a 3rd piece of eel it could be made to look a bit like MBS :o)

Lightly smoked eel "tiede", crispy pork crouton, horseradish and dijon mustard emulsion

Top view - the flavours in this dish were incredible. The eel was out of this world, fatty, smokey and melting in the mouth. The pork crouton was crisp and packed with flavour, and the grated horseradish was perfect to cut a little bit of the sweetness of the other ingredients. The mustard sauce was light and creamy, and overall the flavours just worked together wonderfully. This is apparently one of Chef Armin's signature dishes, and it was truly gorgeous.

Poached maine lobster, chanterelle mushroom risotto, lettuce and confit egg yolk

Some of my fellow lunchers were not happy with the way their lobster was cooked, but I am luck to report there was nothing wrong with mine. If anything, it was probably a tad less cooked than it could have gotten away with, which considering its absolute freshness really wasn't an issue. The meat was sweet and bouncy - delish - and worked nicely with the earthy flavours of the mushrooms. I also found the sweet egg yolk worked particularly well with the risotto. I would agree though with Granny G. that both the mushrooms and the risotto were a bit underseasoned and could have benefitted from a bit more salt and maybe a touch of pepper. This was otherwise absolutely decadent.

Chargrilled Australian wagyu rib eye cooked in hay

Brought to our table in the cocotte for us to marvel at... the smell was absolutely wonderful. Grilled meat juices and fragrant dried grass. Heavenly.

Chargrilled Australian wagyu rib eye cooked in hay, sunchokes, spinach and perigourdine sauce

A thick slice of the very marbled and slightly wobbly rib eye landed on our plates on a bed of sunchokes puree with buttered spinach and a wonderful sauce packed with the smokey flavours of the hay and chargrilled meat. This was simply the best piece of beef I have had in months, possibly even the whole year. Amazingly cooked, fondant, tasty (I love Aussie wagyu) and infused with the flavours of the hay. The pairing with sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes) puree and spinach was an absolutely awesome combination;  I asked for some extra bread to mop the sauce, which I couldn't possibly leave on my plate. A truly gorgeous dish, I almost stood from my chair and started clapping...

A little extra pre-dessert sent by the kitchen - milk ice cream with chilli, chocolate sauce, caramelised cocoa nibs, and "molecular" pineapple.

An interesting play on a traditional Singapore breakfast dish. The flavours were clean and subtle. Very, very good.

"A fancy lemon tart" - thyme ice cream

This was brilliant. The citrussy notes on the plate worked wonders after the somewhat heavy meal we just had. The lemon cream was perfectly tart and smooth, with good biscuit crumbs sprinkled on the plate and grilled italian meringue. The thyme ice cream was deliciously fragrant and the addition of baby verbena leaves as a garnish was a very nice touch. A perfect note to end the meal.

Vanilla marshmallow, chocolate and coffee eclairs

Delicious and so tempting you always find space to scoff down a couple...

Dark chocolate ganaches, choco-vanilla shotbreads

Impeccably presented and absolutely delicious. I would like to eat ganache like this one more often :)

Petits-fours - caged

Sweetness at Cepage is always delivered to your table in style :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A lunch date

Ms Dyson 2000 had a reservation at Caprice for lunch today and no more guest to go with, so I volunteered (huge sacrifice, I know) and joined as her date (sorry Spartacus...). Caprice needs no introduction, it has been featured in this humble blog and many others countless times, and it is always with great anticipation that I return to sample more of Chef Vincent's delicious creations. The service today was at its usual best, smoothlessly choregraphied and as attentive as ever. And the food... ah! the food... I think it reduced us both to grunting cavewomen. There were so many interesting dishes on the lunch menu that the choice was excruciating. A big merci to Jeremy, Mr Garcia, Benny & all the staff at Caprice for their warm welcome. We certainly look forward to coming back soon :)

Great light for shooting, thanks to a harbourside window table :)

Garlic bread sticks, warm and delicious

I NEVER drink at lunch on a weekday when I have to go back to work... EVER!! ;)

This chinon was light and fruity (and paired quite nicely with my fish main course) and we both marveled at the perfect temperature at  which it was served.

Beurre Bordier - the flattened cone is the salted one, which we destroyed in no time. The unsalted one was once more left untouched.

The bread at Caprice is always a feast for the eye and the palate. My choice today was the sourdough, which was served warm (perfect as I love my butter melting on the bread) and was fluffy, crispy and absolutely delightful.

Petit gris snails, meurette poached quail's eggs and sweet garlic espuma

This was absolutely gorgeous. Nutty, bouncy snails, cubes of melt-in-the mouth pork knuckle, croutons, marvellous garlic espuma and red wine sauce. The play on the textures and the pairing of flavours was superb.

Quail's egg, poached to perfection

Cod brandade pastilla, escabeche vegetables and sea urchin emulsion

Each season Chef Vincent comes up with new pastilla dishes for his lunch menu. Lamb, duck and now cod. This was right up my alley. A colorful explosion of crunchy, slightly pickled seasonal veggies and a hearty cod brandade in a crispy fillo casing. Absolutely delicious.

Cod brandade - supremely yummy. I did not really enjoy the urchin sauce though; it was impeccably executed and the mineral, briny flavour was spot on and incredibly fresh, but I am still working at acquiring a taste for urchin and sometimes still find it a bit difficult. That said, for people who enjoy it more than me, it made sense as a flavour on this dish.

Having to go back to work without the time for a nap, we were heartbroken to pass on Jeremy's awesome cheeses... we also passed on dessert, for the usual reason. The petits fours were *yawn* as usual - technically the standard is high, but taste or texture-wise there is always something amiss. Take the pistachio marshmallows on the left for instance. Topped with a cranberry (or was it raspberry??) jelly cube, the pistachio marshmallow was served on top of a pistachio cream. On paper, an awesome combination of flavours and an intersting play on textures, but why oh! why serve this in a dark chocolate cup? Not that pistachio is bad with chocolate, but the proportion was wrong (too much choco killed the pistachio) and I think you should choose between choco or sour fruits as a pairing with the green nut. Even tough the concept is good, it always ends up messy and misses the spot. "Less is more" applies to many areas of life - desserts included. The mango-passion and white chocolate one did not fare much better. The raspberry milk chocolate tasted strangely artificial. The caramel though was very good; I loved the fact that they used roasted walnuts, which are in season, instead of the usual almonds or hazelnuts - nice touch.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A fine new table

I rarely review restaurants outside of Hong Kong, and especially not in Singapore, which is home to some of the best street food in the world... but when a friend mentioned something about lobster mac'n cheese and clam chowder with urchin butter toast, it didn't take long to convince me to pass on barbecued stingray and chilli crab and give the place a try. As it turns out, Luke's Oyster Bar and Chophouse (20 Gemmill Lane, Singapore) is a stone throw away from vibrant Club Street and had just opened a few weeks ago. The service was efficient and courteous, and the food simply gorgeous. Solid, authentic food, portioned for giants but nevertheless utterly delicious and carefully prepared with ingredients of impeccably high quality. I will make sure to pay the place another visit next time I'm in the Lion City to see if it lives up to that amazing first impression.

A touch of colour in an otherwise very sober dining room...
Tiled white walls and crisp linen
If, like me, you like your martinis very, very dirty, this is the place... I would have had another one if these were not also lethally strong.

Warm home-made corn bread with chilli butter - simple and delicious.

My starter: steak tartar, capers, mustard and rye bread - a perfectly seasoned tartar (even if not mixed table-side) with a good balance of flavours (a touch of shallots, chives, mustard, capers, gherkins and an unusual hint of garlic that worked quite well) with an excellent rye sourdough bread, slightly buttered and toasted. Brilliant.

The sum of all evils - lobster mac'n cheese
my friend and I shared this as a side, and the flavours were just divine. Cheesy sauce, made with the lobster poaching juices, tender pasta, sizeable chunks of lobster and a topping of crumbled Ritz crackers (!!) which - to my surprise - made perfect sense on the palate. Wow. Note the Staub serving plate - nice touch...

Kurobuta pork chop, wild fennel spice and apple jam
This was actually a double chop, which I could not finish (it was - no exaggeration - gigantic). The apple compote was nicely caramelised and fragrant from the fennel and other spices (a touch of cinnamon and cardamom) and complemented the pork perfectly.

Kurobuta pork chop, tender and juicy - and still slightly pink. Need I say more??

I'm a total sucker for Aussie Cab Sav, and this one did not disappoint :)

A big hug to my dear friend B. for an amazing meal.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A belated date with ♥ Joël ♥

I had been waiting for this moment for months... after being postponed a couple of times, the new restaurant of Master Joel R. finally opened a few weeks ago at Resorts World Sentosa (Hotel Michael, Level 1, 8 Sentosa Gateway, Singapore), so I had once more to skip a few curry puffs, stray away from amazing street food, and booked a table for dinner. Expectations were high. Very high. And the meal was just magnificent. Period. The service was absolutely impeccable (by which I mean *** level) and the food was simply sublime. It was classic Robuchon at its best, daring and innovative East-meets-West flavour pairings, out-of-this-world textures and faultless execution. Magical, enchanting, divine.

Chemin de table - large Swarovski crystals

Despite this isolated touch of bling, the dining room, with its beige, cream and black hues, turned out to be a lot more tasteful than Robuchon a Galera (the kitch equivalent at the sister restaurant in the Lisboa Hotel in Macau...)

Similarly to Robuchon a Galera, breads and mignardises are gently rolled to your table on giant trolleys for you to choose. Quite spectacular - I think I will never get tired of this :)

My bread choices for tonight: baguette, milk bread and saffron bread.

All were gorgeous. The baguette was made the "traditional" way with sourdough and unbleached flour, and the 2 other breads were incredibly fluffy and delicious. A special mention for the saffron bread, in which the flavour of that rare and expensive spice was particularly strong - amazing.

Again, similarly to  Robuchon a Galera, butter gets scooped table-side with a spoon from a giant "motte". Still no salted butter, so it comes with its pinch of fleur-de-sel on the side. Sweet and delicious.

Amuse-bouche: smoked salmon "tartare" with caviar

Pretty and delicious. The salmon (smoked and raw) was mixed with flying fish roe, which gave an interesting texture to the tartare by adding some "crunch". The seasoning was a perfectly balanced and light mix of shallots, chives, dill and black pepper. The ubiquitous shiso flower made an appearance, fortunately the one and only for the evening - seems it's the only alternative to gold foil these days...

The starter that reduced me to a pre-neanderthalian grunting stage: truffled langoustine ravioli with chopped cabbage, said the very unassuming menu...

Words are failing me to describe the utter deliciousness of this dish. Big, fat, juicy, plump langoustines, cooked to perfection, wrapped in a thin ravioli skin, topped with creamy foie gras sauce and intensely fragrant minced truffles. This was simply extraordinary. The flavour pairings, the execution, the textures... everything was just perfectly harmonious and saturated with umami. An almost religious experience.

Truffled langoustine ravioli with chopped cabbage - the texture of the langoustines was absolutely impeccable, with that characteristic "bite" that only ultra-fresh premium quality seafood and masterful execution can produce.

Mr Robuchon's mash needs no introduction. Famous the world over, its secret is in its butter content :)

Braised veal cheeks in curry broth, seasonal vegetables

Classic Robuchon East-meets-West composition. The cheeks got me at Hello (but subsequently engaged in a long tug-of-war with the duck seared foie gras with cherries and fresh almonds, for which I will have to return). The flavours in this dish were just brilliant. Tender, collagen loaded veal cheeks, cooked to a fondant texture, resting on the most delicious meat jus with amazingly subtle green curry flavours, caramelised tofu cubes and crunchy seasonal vegetables julienne. I never thought curry could play pianissimo. Incredible.

The cheese trolley - not as impressive as Caprice's but still powerfully delivering its fragrant message... I found it almost reassuring that the lady introducing the cheeses to our table mixed up her Ossau Iraty and her Tomme de Savoie. So much perfection was starting to freak me out... :o)

My pick for the night (back to front); tomme de Savoie, camembert, reblochon, roquefort
I stayed with the classics tonight. It goes without saying that all the cheeses were outstanding and that my plate was meticulously wiped clean...

Dessert No.1: Smooth passion fruit, rum granite, light coconut foam

It was starting to get quite comical how understated the English names of the dishes were on the menu (their French equivalent had a bit more pomp). Although very light, this creamy dessert delivered amazing flavours. At the bottom of the cup was the most subtle passion fruit cream I have ever tasted, with just the right balance of tartness and sweetness, and it was topped by a coconut mousse barely heavier than a chantilly and sprinkled with the thinnest candied lime peel. In between these 2 layers sat the refreshing boozy aroma of an aged dark rum granite, and the topping was made of lollipop stick-thin coconut meringue. Some would say this flavour pairing has been overdone, I would say no one does it like Joel. It was simply divine.

Dessert No.2: mignardises from the trolley.

 I had a hard time chosing between the 2 dozen or so varieties, and settled for (back to front) coconut ball, pistachio financier with semi-candied cherry, chocolate "religieuse" (=stacked cream puffs), yuzu marshmallow and coffee "religieuse". Intense flavours and perfect textures - faultless.
Dessert No.3: in true Robuchon fashion, no guest leaves the restaurant without a cake to take home. We got pistachio and raspberry, which did my delight for breakfast the next day. Oh! the butter... :)

Such a superb meal requires stylish liquid company... so here is a sample of what we had:

With our AB and starter...
With our main course...
... and with our dessert!