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!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A tale of 3 lil' piggies

Tonight a few of us foodies headed out to Causeway Bay to try out a new addition to the Sichuan dining scene. He Jiang and its unlikely location (Cosmopolitan Hotel, 387-397 Queen's Road East, CWB, HK) had got us all curious, and did not disappoint. We enjoyed a very good dinner, thanks to efficient and polite service and flavourful food. I should also mention that the price per head ended up being very reasonable (slightly north of 250HKD) despite the numerous dishes we ordered. The food was really delicious, and some of my Chinese foodie friends commented that the taste was "very mainland", which was meant as a compliment to the authenticity of the ingredients. I will definitely be looking forward to my next visit.

Stone jars and piggy decoys outside the entrance... kinda cute actually :)

Pickles - a mix of carrots and mystery veggies (which we thought might be broccoli stalks), mildly pickled and with the faintest hint of spice. Very, very delish. Perfect balance of flavours and impeccable crunchiness. And as anything slightly vinegared, great to work up an appetite...

Sliced pork served with garlic and chilli sauce - always a winner. A good zing of spice, fresh pungent garlic, and tender fatty meat.

Mouth watering chicken (aka saliva chicken) - never been my favourite dish but I have to admit that this one was pretty good.

Mouth watering chicken - the sauce was unusually thick with plenty of crunchy veggies and peanuts, good sesame flavours and the chicken skin not too fatty. I managed to find a piece that did not have chopped up bones all over, which is one of my major pet peeves... deent but still not enough to push me to have a second piece.

Traditional poached sliced beef in pungent sauce - mildly spicy and packed with flavours. Good balance on the textures also, with roasted peanuts and crunchy fresh herbs. Very nice.

The poached leopard coral grouper with bean sprouts in spicy soup arrived at the table quite stylishly...

... then the staff promptly proceeded to skim off the layer of dried chillies that floated at the surface to reveal a milky broth. Despite the amount of chillies, the dish was quite mild and had some very delicate milk and fish flavours. The fish itself was nicely cooked, not mushy but still a bit firm. A very good dish.

Braised crab with Sichuan homemade sauce - this was absolutely superb. The sauce was divine, and the sweet crab had soaked up the flavours without being overpowered by the spice. As usual, dishes like this one are an absolute mess to eat, and that's half the fun  - except maybe if, like me, you came straight from work with a pale yellow shirt... bib, anyone??

Roasted duck, Sichuan style - there was quite a bit left of this dish, and even though the meat was pretty tasty and the sauce smelled wonderful, somehow the dish didn't really work. The duck skin wasn't crispy (in all fairness, I am not sure it is meant to be) and despite being pretty fragrant, the sauce lacked in flavour and taste. The lack of spice probably also did not help make this dish popular in the middle of a collective chilli OD.
Traditional poached sliced beef in pungent sauce - tender and quite spicy. Another very good dish with a good balance of flavours.

Sweet potato noodles in the beef sauce, plated with care by fellow diner The Sous-Vide Monster...

Fried diced chicken with chilli and peanuts - a Sichuan classic, nicely done here with pieces of chicken wings, which retained some fat and moisture after frying and also had quite a bit of collagen. Somehow I found (like some of my fellow diners) that the dish was a bit under-seasoned. Problem easily solved by munching on a couple of the dried chillies...

Sichuan dumplings - some of my fellow dines complained the skins were too thick, which didn't really bother me. The meat was juicy but could have been a bit more seasoned. The sauce was very similar (identical??) to that of the pork rolls we had as starters. Reasonably good but not the best in town.

Complimentary dessert - I was feeling very full at that point and considered not touching it...

... which would have been  my loss. This was actually delicious, even though not exactly light - a giant glutinous rice pancake, pan-fried and filled with chunky red bean paste. The flavours were very "buttery" with caramel notes... I would actually happily pay for this :)