Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: The Dunearn

Apologies in advance for the poor photographs: I didn't have a good camera with me.

The Dunearn is a fairly young, modern European restaurant that opened in July 2009, and is located in the Guild Hall of the NUSS Graduate Club, at the Bukit Timah Campus (i.e. the Law Faculty of NUS). The food is pretty good, portions are fairly generous, service is decent and prices are low... what's not to like?

A smorgasbord of menus is available to selection here: you could have the 5-course executive set dinner for $40, or a 3-course, 4-course, or 5-course dinner (where you can choose anything on the menu) for $50, $60 or $70 respectively, or you could limit yourself to an a la carte option. I've ordered the 3-course menu twice, and I also watched as some friends devoured the executive set dinner.

The Dunearn is not a very large restaurant, so reservations are a must, especially on weekends. Due to its size, it does become a little noisy as old university friends reminisce about their college days.

The first time I was here, I opted for a 4-course dinner, while my date had the 3-course meal. This turned out not to be a very good idea, as neither of us was able to finish our main course.

I began with a flamed wagyu tataki with truffle shoyu and shallots ($16.80), which I didn't really enjoy. The truffle oil was wonderfully aromatic, but the shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) was intensely salty and sour, its tang stinging my tastebuds and overwhelming the more delicate flavour of the wagyu.

My date had the baked oysters with comte cheese and wilted spinach ($16.80), which was the start of our downfall. Four fairly large oysters were presented, and made even more filling with the addition of the melted cheese. I'm not a fan of oysters, but people who are will probably like this.

I had a bug lobster bisque ($12) next, which I quite enjoyed, though the bisque could have been further reduced in order to really develop that umami, crustacean intensity, and an extra shot of vermouth for added headiness wouldn't have hurt. For those who don't know what a bug lobster is, a picture and helpful description can be found here.

The main courses arrived, and were our eventual undoing.

The stir-fried seafood linguine with chardonnay and Japanese seaweed tossed in lobster oil, for instance, came adorned with five large prawns and four sizable scallops which, when added to the linguine, were incredibly filling. The prawns, however, were not at their freshest, and so were a little flaky rather than crunchy.

One of the chef's recommendations is the oven-seared spiced chicken with portobello mushroom, duck liver and port wine sauce ($27.80). I don't usually order chicken, as it doesn't tend to be very filling, but with three meaty chicken fillets and fleshy portobello slices, I was forced to eat my words. Skin on, the fillets were sweet and succulent, and the spring vegetables and mushroom pieces made for delicious, and hearty, eating. I did not observe any duck liver, but it is possible that it had been melted into the sauce, which was rich and luscious.

Desserts were a little disappointing, unfortunately. The warm molten chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream ($10) is usually a crowd favourite, but The Dunearn's version incorporated some white chocolate ganache in its molten centre, which had the effect of making the melted chocolate too thin and runny, causing it to flow out in a rapid stream rather than a slow, visceral ooze.

The opera cake with feuillette ($10) wasn't too bad, though one of the hazelnut or chocolate cream layers had a flavour which tasted out of place and which I didn't quite like. Also, by that time I was stuffed from the previous courses, and couldn't finish dessert.

My second visit to The Dunearn was only a few days after my first, and this time I brought friends with big appetites, who would have no problem finishing what was placed before them.

The current executive set dinner starts off with a Vietnamese rice paper spring roll filled with glass noodles and grilled kurobuta pork cheek, accompanied with a sweet honey dip. A light, almost refreshing cold starter, and an appropriate start to a big meal.

This is followed by a soup course: an oyster chowder with curry dust. This didn't gather any rave reviews, but there were no complaints either, so I gather it was an acceptable dish.

The warm appetiser is a baked salmon with tomato coulis, which is pretty failsafe: a dash of sour cream might have added a little colour and taste contrast.

I decided to have a different soup this time, and chose a the truffle-infused cep and morel mushroom soup ($9.50). This arrives with some ceps and morels in the bowl, and a thick mushroom soup is slowly poured over them. A good idea, and good presentation, but, as I have discovered through my own experiments at home, rehydrated cep and morels are not great ingredients to work with: dehydration tends to rob them of their precious aroma, while rehydration tends to cause them to emit grit and sand which, if care is not taken, can end up in whatever you are cooking. Sure enough, my mushroom soup, while more robust than some others I've tasted, lacked any olfactory hint that it contained ceps or morels, and at one point I bit down with a loud crunch on a sand crystal.

The executive menu offers you a choice of three main courses: a braised lamb shank infused with cep mushrooms and served with seasonal vegetables, a duo of poached threadfin and seared scallop with roasted baby carrots and ginger cream, and a grilled Australian sirloin with truffle red wine glaze on a bed of leek. You can't tell from the awful photo, but that's the grilled Australian sirloin.

I had, for my main course, the masala lamb rump on a bed of ratatouille with a lamb jus reduction ($30). I found this a little tough, actually, though I had no complaints where flavour was concerned.

What really surprised me, however, was the dessert that came with the executive menu. Yuck, I had thought, when I first read "yam gateaux and mango cream with peanut royaltine", imagining some gruesome, Westernised version of a yam dumpling or taro paste. Instead, an elegant pastry presented itself, with the yam made into a sort of mousse. Having tasted some, the taste of the yam was not at all intrusive, and was instead delicately sweet, and complemented by the mango cream and the richness of the crispy peanut butter base.

The Dunearn, tucked away in a quiet corner of the Bukit Timah campus, may not serve up perfection, but its earnestness is extremely endearing, as are its attractively priced set menus. A wide variety of dishes is on offer, virtually spoiling you for choice, and giving certain value for money. Please note, however, that the restaurant does not accept cash, so you have to pay by card (unless you're a member of the NUSS Graduate Club, in which case you can probably charge it to your account), and also has a dress code which frowns upon shorts and non-collared shirts.

The Dunearn
1F Cluny Road
Bukit Timah Guild House (NUSS Graduate Club)
Tel: +65 6586 3260

Monday, March 15, 2010

Miscellaneous Food: Sugarpaste Flowers

While Colin has been off eating, I've been...making flowers. Literally. I've decided to take on a new class, a cake decorating class. This itself is not great news (well, it is, I'm doing it for myself, which is pretty cool) and I've found that I'm not too far behind the other students and that I can pretty well understand what is being taught (yay). My final project though, is a 2 tier cake, decorated with the sugarpaste flowers that we have learned over the last few weeks.

And you can help by voting on what you think would be the best idea. Of course, if I wanted to ace the class, I should make a heavily calico-ed flower cake like the one above, though fashioning, painting and then adhering millions of little flowers and leaves, doesn't really appeal to me. What does, is creating a cake that is accessible, that is vaguely representative of my style (though I would like to experiment a bit), yummy to eat and that shows off at least some of the realistic and fantasy flowers that we learned in class (I do have to pass, after all).

I'm not saying that I can actually do these designs I have in mind, especially since I haven't actually tried making anything but a buttercream layered cake (I confess I might buy a fondant one if it comes to that) and technically, the cake itself is not part of the final grade. But I can try. And I figure, I can use colour to my advantage. These pictures are meant to simulate elements of the design only.

The first idea that I had was a pale pink round cake with a very sharp edge. It would be flocked with a garland of petally flowers, these wold be a mixture of slightly old-fashioned, large wavy, frilled petalled flowers with pale yellow stamens in the middle, think freesias, gardenias, sweet peas. I've seen a version of this cake and what makes it beautiful is that the flowers are different but similar shade of pinks, rose-reds, lilac pinks. The whole cake is monochromatic. Sort of like a sophisticated Cath Kidston look. The cake layers can be chocolate, or lemon with raspberry flavoured pink buttercream.

The second idea is a round pale blue cake, with white pansies. These pansies have soft petals and frilly inside petals, with dramatic textured black centers. The cake could be a pale teal Tiffany blue or a sky baby blue. The cake could also be rimmed along the bottom (if light enough in blue) with a pleated tan leather ribbon. This cake is like a modern Martha Stewart look. The inside of the cake is a dark chocolate.

The third idea is a light tan coloured cake. This colour is probably best described as taupe, or mauve. The pansies are still white, feathery and with textured black centers. They are meant to pop on the cake. The cake lends itself well to swiss dot decorations in white, too. The cake is still modern, but now modernist, stylish but not sweet. If it is done in buttercream, the cream is flavoured with salted caramel and the cake layers inside are chocolate. The cake could be done in a round to look more traditional, or a square to look even more modern. These second and third ideas are a bit simpler in terms of "flower execution" because there is basically just one type of flower.

The fourth idea is fashioned after these parrot cakes. The cake is a tall square cube, frosted in a pale buttercream yellow lemon and topped with an explosion of red and yellow parrot tulips and sweet peas. The colours are bright and a little clashy, so it will probably wind up being challenging from a colour-control point of view. The cake underneath would be a lemon poppy seed, layered with lemon curd or raspberry puree.

The fifth cake is a pure bright-white cake. The flowers are slightly fantasy pansies, they have white petals but the insides frills are kelly green, with a textured white center. There aren't these flowers in real life but it's sort of an inside joke, like painting the inside of your white kitchen cabinets green. The challenge is definitely keeping it real-looking, with just that bit of shock effect, I guess that means the colour has to be just that right shade of green (ie. not too artificial). The cake is meant to look fresh and fun, it's meant to sit on top of a white and green checkered gingham. The cake could be dark chocolate on the inside but it could also be lemon poppy seed.

What do you think?

For those who have no idea what these flowers are, a sampling of the kind of stuff we made in the first class:

Monday, March 08, 2010

Review: Uluru Aussie Bar & Steakhouse

There is a cluster of restaurants atop Duxton Hill which, I feel, is rather underrated. My sister though quite highly of The Universal, and although I didn't think BROTH was all that great, it wasn't bad, and there are a number of interesting-looking bar/restaurants in the vicinity (not the KTV lounges, though).

Uluru is one of the antipodean restaurants (the other being BROTH) on Duxton Hill, and they serve Australian cuisine, as well as burgers, steaks, and other carnivorous offerings.

No Australian eatery would be complete without a watering-hole, so Uluru is well-equipped to meet all your imbibing needs with a generously-stocked bar.

Just in case anyone needed a reminder that they were in an Australian restaurant, the walls are helpfully painted the dusty red of the outback, and the walls are festooned with paintings portraying "Kangaroo crossing" signs, and other scenes that are evocative of Australian culture.

The menu at Uluru is actually pretty extensive, and as you'd expect from an Australian joint, both surf and turf dishes make an appearance, as this prawn spaghetti aglio olio with shimeji mushroom broth illustrates. The pasta was pretty decent, though I'm not sure about the combination of aglio olio and mushroom broth: it seems like the worst of both worlds as the broth waters down the pungency of the garlic oil, while the shimeji mushroom broth was not particularly flavourful. I liked that the helping of prawns was quite generous, though.

I was rather disappointed by my rack of ribs, unfortunately. I was expecting a full rack or at least half a rack of ribs, but received only a third of a rack, which was not at all substantial.

The Uluru burger, on the other hand, is a filling affair, with a juicy, mouth-watering patty, lettuce, tomato, bacon and a fried egg sandwiched in a soft sesame bun with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Personally I think having the bacon and egg is something of an overkill, but then again I'd prefer to clog my arteries with this rather than something mass-produced for Carl's Junior.

In terms of calorie content and heart-stopping potential, however, the Uluru Burger has nothing on the monstrous Ultimate Burger, which is a vast, towering beast of a burger that also comes with a cornucopia of fries and salad.

Here is the beast up close in all its magnificent glory. Three 200g patties are double-decked with tomatoes, lettuce, sauteed onions, two mushroom omelettes, gherkins and jalapenos (just to make the burger harder to eat), and if you can finish all that, plus the fries and salad, in 30 minutes, the burger is absolutely free.

Just to prove that the Ultimate Burger challenge can indeed be done, here are pictures of one of the challengers cleaning his plate, with just his fork and knife, in about twenty minutes.

Frightening, but true.

If you still have space for dessert, Uluru, true to its roots, serves up a faithful rendition of sticky date pudding slathered with butterscotch sauce and paired with a fairly neatral vanilla ice cream. The puddings were surprisingly light, but quite tasty, so it was a pleasantly dulcet end to the meal.

Uluru is a great place to come to with a large group of friends, and the Ultimate Burger challenge is a surefire way to keep the whole table entertained. With its impressively extensive menu, there'll definitely be something for everyone to enjoy at this laidback, affable eatery.

Uluru Aussie Bar & Steakhouse
40 Duxton Hill
Tel: +65 6223 3654

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Review: Spruce

There was an article in the papers recently about how eateries are increasingly doing a roaring business in breakfast. The eateries featured were things like McDonald's and KFC, though, which serve breakfasts for on-the-go types.

A whole different set of restaurants caters to those who enjoy a slow start to the weekend by rolling out of bed at 10 or 11, throwing on something comfortable, and setting out for a leisurely brunch with good company at a quiet, tranquil and preferably wooded spot. Places like Mimolette and Rider's Cafe fit the bill, as does Spruce at at Tanglin Road.

Perched atop a hill, the Phoenix/Ridley Park area within which Spruce is located is deathly quiet on Sunday mornings, which is a nice change from the hive of activity which is Dempsey Village. I came for breakfast at about 10am, which is a good time, as it allows you to have a bit of a lie-in, but also ensures that it's not too hot when you finally decide to venture out of the house.

If you are an earlier riser, it might be pleasant to sit out on the verandah, which overlooks a children's playground and makes you feel like you've got an entire day to while away sipping tea and nibbling scones.

Not willing to brave the heat and humidity, I chose a seat inside, in air-conditioned ease, which also gave me a good view of the spread of cakes, cupcakes, muffins and other fattening things you can order off the counter. The counter also doubles up as a bar, so you can start your morning with a whiskey on the rocks - breakfast of champions.

When I was young, almost every Sunday my father would take us to McDonald's for the hotcakes breakfast, so whenever I have brunch on Sundays I tend to associate that with pancakes. The blueberry and banana pancakes, however, were something of a disappointment, as the pancakes lacked body and as a result were rather too soft, falling apart easily in a mushy mess once blueberry honey had soaked into the them. I wasn't sure I liked the biscuit crumbs that had been mixed into the dish, either... they created a different texture, but I found them slightly distracting.

The big breakfast was also a let down, as the poached eggs were overcooked: the yolks were no longer runny and the whites had solidified to firmness. Also, what is it with breakfast places that refuse to serve two eggs cooked in different ways? It may be easier to cook them both the same way, but any restaurant worth its salt should not have that much difficulty cooking them separately in different ways, especially if it makes the customer happy. It's not a very big deal to me, but I imagine some people get a kick out of eating one egg hard-boiled and one egg soft-boiled, and why should that be so hard to accommodate?

The ice cream sundae is a calorie-laden affair, with a vanilla bean ice cream nestled up against an intensely tart raspberry sorbet, topped with whipped cream and with a basement of chocolate brownie and macadamia nuts waiting to be excavated by the greedy diner. Against the backdrop of all that sweetness, the sorbet was jarringly sour, and there were too many nuts and not enough brownie for my liking, so I only had about a quarter of the sundae.

Overall, in terms of breakfast, I think Spruce compares unfavourably to Rider's Cafe or even Chalk, though perhaps it might perform better for lunch or dinner.

*Note by Weylin: I've been to Spruce on a few occasions. Although their big breakfast is not that good (I would vote Graze's big breakfast or even Jones as the best), their tuna tartare (with salted avocado and toast) and prawn pesto pasta are excellent.

Phoenix Park
320 Tanglin Road
Tel: +65 6836 5528