Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Miscellaneous Food: New York 7


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Hot on the heels of one Batali eatery to another: my sister's friend was able to secure a last-minute reservation at Babbo, the Italian restaurant at the heart of Batali's chain, feted in Zagat as the top Italian restaurant in the City, and (possibly because of that) one of the most difficult places at which to secure a reservation - usually you have to reserve exactly one month before you want to eat. So I was very fortunate indeed to be able to try Babbo on this trip, and kudos to S's resourcefulness in getting us a spot two hours before the meal.

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Our reservation was at 6.15pm, and after a frenzied trip on the Subway, I managed to find my way to the restaurant. While the ground floor dining area is somewhat dark, the second floor was suffused with light from a large skylight, and the blinding whiteness of the tablecloths was softened by a large plant fixture in the middle of the room.

A common complaint is that Babbo's service is often "rushed", and it certainly was very prompt: within minutes of our being seated we had a waiter on hand explaining the menu to us and inquiring if we wanted to try Babbo's special cocktails. While not so much rushed as rapid, a more languid service would have been helpful, especially because Babbo's menu is quite extensive; filled with dishes that tantalise every tastebud. Here there are at least ten different types of pasta, and meats to serve every possible ethical inclination, from squab to rabbit to veal, and five minutes is certainly not sufficient to come to an optimal decision.

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However, our waiter made up for it by being the consummate salesman; extremely knowledgeable about almost every single dish, he made our choice even more difficult with his evocative language and seductive imagery. The spicy limoncello vinaigrette that accompanied the grilled octopus, he said, provided a wonderful undertone of sweetness that just lifts the entire dish, and the lamb's tongue salad, while not a usual dish, paired delightfully with the chanterelle mushrooms. What I was not pleased with, however, was the fact that though I had requested to retain a copy of the menu, I was told they needed the menus for other tables, but he would bring me back a menu at a later time. Unfortunately, that menu never arrived.

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After placing our orders, we were given some complimentary chickpea bruschetta, which, while inventive, simply could not match the freshness of the original. I found the chickpeas somewhat chalky, without enough flavour or complexity to bring the amuse-bouche to life.

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Very quickly, however, our orders arrived: we were sharing the grilled octopus; the warm lamb's tongue vinaigrette, which came served with a poached egg; and a plate of Proscuitto San Daniele. The grilled octopus seemed rather charred, and consequently slightly tough, and I was not able to detect the wonderful sweetness of the limoncello. The lamb's tongue was, however, very enjoyable – the tongue was firm, yet supple, meaty and delicious. Paired with strips of confited tomato and the runny poached egg, the whole dish worked very well and hit all the right tastes. No complaints with the third appetiser: hard to go wrong with prosciutto, especially if it's paper-thin San Daniele.

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Mains were a steaming plate of black spaghetti with rock shrimp, spicy salami calabrese and green chiles; beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab liver and black truffles; and rabbit with braised leeks, pancetta and carrot vinaigrette.

While the spaghetti was perfectly al dente, I was somewhat puzzled as to the combination of shrimp and spicy calabrese. The heat from the calabrese completely masked any taste of the prawns, and the end result reminded me very much of having pasta with hae bee hiam, the spicy, dried ground prawn paste that is common in Singaporean cuisine. The beef cheek ravioli was redolent with strong flavours from the red wine the beef cheeks had been braised in, enhanced with the rich, slippery unctuousness of the liver, though I was disappointed that the raviolis hadn't been more substantially filled – they looked rather limp and flat, and not much of the beef cheek itself came through. The rabbit was a winner though, with small delicate bones, and lots of soft, plump flesh, sitting atop a bed of beans and pancetta lardons.

As we were due to have dessert elsewhere, we skipped the final course, though other reviews have praised Babbo's dessert offerings.

Perhaps because of the expectations engendered by Babbo's exclusiveness, as well as how good all the dishes looked on paper, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the eventual outcome. Babbo is good, no doubt, but perhaps not spectacular. A pity, given its reputation, and it may be that a wider tasting from among its pastas and main courses will do more justice to a much talked-about establishment.

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
Tel: 212 777 0303

Miscellaneous Food: New York 6

The Spotted Pig

The Spotted Pig is one of the recent additions to the sprawling Mario Batali empire, specialising in pub food and proclaiming itself as New York's first gastropub. Now, coming from the UK, I have grave misgivings about gastropubs in general, and I think the term "gastropub" is about on a par with "fallen soufflé", so I was curious to see what The Spotted Pig had to offer.

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One thing it does offer is great difficulty in getting a table. The Spotted Pig takes no reservations, unless you happen to be a special guest (which we were not), so that means to get a table you need to get there very early or be very lucky. We got there at 5.30pm, so we managed to guarantee ourselves a table, though the kitchen had not yet opened for the evening.

The other thing The Spotted Pig does offer is bad service. Apparently diners are not allowed to sit down at tables before service starts, and are expected instead to buy some drinks from the bar and to have them while standing up, which is just silly. There is never enough standing room near the bar, so if you have tables laid out people are bound to want to sit down. As we sat at a table waiting while one of our party went to get drinks, one of the waiters wordlessly pulled the table away from us, to place another stool around it, without so much as an "excuse me". When we went to sit at another table, we were brusquely told that we were not allowed to sit down, despite a party of three sitting at a table right next to us. When we inquired about them, we were told that they were left over from the lunch service. So essentially, if you sat down at lunch, it's all right to remain seated at 5.45pm, but if you've just come in for dinner, you don’t get to sit till told to do so. Bizarre.

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The Spotted Pig is not very big and spacious (as is readily apparent from its small tables and stools), so it gets pretty full pretty quickly, and apparently the kitchen is also not large enough to deal with many orders at once, which explains why customers have to be seated in intervals. Still, that's a reason for better crowd management, and, above all, a very good reason for having a reservation system, and certainly no excuse for poor service and bad organisation. Thankfully we weren't there at peak dinner time, when the restaurant has been described, memorably, as a "trough", and apparently requires a sort of Karma Sutra for you to contort yourself into your seat.

When we eventually get to sit down and place our orders, the food surprises me. Although there are things you would expect to see in a pub, marinated olives and roasted almonds, for instance, there are also dishes that would not be out of place in an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations": grilled lamb's heart, anyone?

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We shared a special appetiser of fried ricotta, broccoli rabe and proscuitto fritters, served with a tomato sauce and grated parmesan. These were, unfortunately, quite salty, whether due to the proscuitto or otherwise, and while quite a good idea, were consequently somewhat unpalatable.

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Mains were an order of faggots, a quasi-sausage made of minced pork offal, wrapped in pig liver and topped with shredded pig's ear; grilled quail with a goat's cheese souffle; and pancetta-wrapped grilled scallops with a sweetcorn dressing. These were accompanied by a side of summer succotash (something I've only ever seen in the US), and shoestring fries.

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Although the faggots were too cholesterol-heavy for me, I enjoyed the quail and scallops, which were large, succulent, and very meaty. The fries I found to be again, extremely salty, and could only manage three or four before having to reach for my water glass.

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Dessert was a slice of lemon and lime tart with a small quenelle of cream. The tart was exactly that – very tart – and could have done with more sweetness, creaminess or richness to offset the sharp bite of the lime. The shortcrust pastry was pretty boilerplate, making the dessert something of a letdown; which, I suppose, was to be expected, given that pubfood is not exactly known for its dessert offerings.

All in all, The Spotted Pig is quite spot-on in terms of an even more modern reinterpretation of the modern gastropub – more Chez Panisse than the King's Arms, but in the end, it's still a gastropub, with a long wait and substandard service thrown in. Having said that, however, it's clearly still very popular, and it remains one of my hosts' favourite dining spots. Perhaps it's a symptom of New York's faddishness that as long as you've got a gimmick, you're likely to do well enough.

The Spotted Pig
314W 11th Street, at Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10014
Tel: 212 620 0393

Miscellaneous Food: New York 5

Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar

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Browsing the list of Restaurant Week participants, I was pleased to find that there was another French bistro located quite near my hotel, and thus made a reservation for lunch at Artisanal Bistro, which, as its full name suggests, specialises in gourmet cheese and relaxed French food.

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Exuding an even more classic bistro appearance than Les Halles, the waiters here are dressed in black waistcoats and white aprons, and there's a cheese counter where you can inspect their menagerie of weird and wonderful cheeses – all your bries and manchegos and pecorinos.

Although Artisanal's Restaurant Week menu did not extend to the weekend, they still offer a prix fixe lunch menu that was more or less the same as the Restaurant Week menu, though with some changes to dessert.

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My starter was a basket of gougères, small airy cheese puffs that are an excellent party food for lots of people to share (though considering the effort required to bake them, perhaps they would be best confined to dinner parties). These were delightful; fluffy little balls of choux pastry that had a salty, cheesy tang, and the whole lot was quickly consumed.

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I thought I would have a light lunch, since I was going to be having an early dinner with some family friends. Unfortunately, however, the chicken "tonnato" was surprisingly heavy, given the creamy, egg-based tuna mayonnaise that draped the chicken slices. Not a dish you would expect to find in a French bistro, this riff on a classic Italian dish was very similar to a Caesar salad with chicken, no cheese, more fish and arugula instead of romaine. The tangy capers, sour olives, salty anchovies and tuna made this a very rich dressing indeed, and the chicken was pretty much tasteless by comparison. Probably not one of my favourite Italian dishes, but no real complaints as far as execution was concerned (though of course, given that this dish requires pretty minimal cooking, you'd have to be doing really badly to go wrong).

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Dessert was a crème brulee flavoured with orange zest, served with cinnamon wafers. I was quite curious as to why the cinnamon wafers were there, and what purpose they served, but I assume the thin, crunchy slightly spicy wafers were meant to contrast the rich custard. Although I usually dislike flavoured crème brulees, I thought the orange zest worked quite well here, with some of citric acidity cutting through the richness of the custard and the heavy mayonnaise of the last course. Oddly, despite it not being a very large portion, I did find it a struggle to get through, and knew I would be in trouble if dinner was going to be a huge affair.

Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar
2 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 212 725 8585

Miscellaneous Food: New York 4

Having been fortunate enough to be sent on an all-expense paid trip to New York for a week, I was even more fortunate to arrive in the middle of Restaurant Week 2008, a wonderful biannual event where some of the top restaurants in New York serve a prix fixe menu at steeply discounted prices. With an opportunity like that, clearly I would have to spend the week eating quite well, and so within minutes of checking into my hotel, I was online looking for suitable places to have some very good food.

Brasserie Les Halles

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Best known as the home base of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, and the kitchen which produced the recipes contained in his Les Halles Cookbook, Les Halles is the popular midtown eatery famous for serving traditional French brasserie food like coq au vin, and particularly, its steaks.

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There is this strange hang-up about dining alone, which I've never understood. It's unbelievably easy to get a reservation when you're a party of one, so getting a table at Les Halles only two hours in advance was no problem. When I arrived, the restaurant was already pretty crowded, and I was glad I had made a reservation. Les Halles has got the brasserie persona down pat; with the exception of their waiters, who are dressed in rather shabby dark blue polo shirts and jeans. The restaurant itself is pretty capacious; with a de rigour bar area for those who enjoy some stiff drinks with their dinner. Art deco lighting and long, leather-backed benches complete the look.

Les Halles bustles with frenetic energy – not only is the kitchen extremely efficient in churning out dishes, the restaurant itself is also open seven days a week, from 7am to midnight, which is always a good thing if you feel like some late-night or earl-morning steak, but must take its toll on the staff, I imagine.

I have found, however, that I am not very fond of the bread that is served in New York restaurants. They seem to be invariably variations on hard, crusty sourdough or pain de campagne, containing more crust than crumb, which I am not a fan of, as I have tender gums and dislike having them impaled by sharp brittle shards before a meal.

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Served in a fetching earthenware crock, the soup is topped with a round of bread and gratineed with cheese, very classic in appearance. There is something very comforting as your spoon breaks the surface, the stringy cheese clinging to it, as you ladle up a mouthful of scalding hot soup, onions, soggy bread, and melting cheese. The problem I had with the soup, however, was not its composition or temperature, but its texture and taste. I thought the soup lacked body, and was surprisingly watery. While it was rich and hearty, it lacked the distinctive unctuousness and umami that typically characterises onion soup that's been made with a powerful, concentrated stock. Also, the soup tailed off with a strange sweetness that was much stronger than I would have expected from onions. While not unpleasant, it was surprising in what I had thought would have been a much more robust and earthy starter.

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No complaints as far as the main course was concerned, however. Onglet steak, medium, served with a shallot sauce and fries. Onglet is a great cut of meat, as it's full of flavour on its own, and Les Halles clearly produces good steak. Expertly cooked, my steak was bursting with that meaty richness you get with a steak that's been in good hands. The shallot sauce was an intense affair, served in a small ramekin that, despite its size, packed a punch. The flavour of the red wine base shone through, tempered and rounded off with the beef stock to give it depth and richness. The shallots lent the sauce a mild oniony taste, as well as a sweetness that complemented the steak and fries. While the fries were a bit skinny, it was a generous helping, and I was not able to finish them all.

Les Halles's desserts are nothing surprising; the usual bistro classics like crème brulee and profiteroles are on offer, as are slightly posher options such as crepes suzette and a warm banana and chocolate tart. I was feeling quite full by this time, and decided to pass on dessert, though my curiosity was somewhat piqued by the "fallen" chocolate soufflé, which seemed like a contradiction in terms to me, or perhaps it was just a strategy for disguising any soufflé that failed to rise.

Brasserie Les Halles
411 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 212 679 4111

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Review: Otto Ristorante

Despite the bloggers best attempts..ok, and maybe my slightly less than enthusiastic attempt, Le Papillon has closed down. In it's place, is a sexy new restaurant called Otto.

It is helmed by executive chef Giacomo Gallina (whom some may know from his time at Bice, Goodwood Park), who came over from Dolce & Gabbana's Milan restaurant and the maitre'd is his daughter.

The place has had an overhaul, it's gone from light and refreshingly watermelony grey, to dark and sensual shapes. The staff has also undergone a revolution, when I walked in, I noticed the same guy who'd been at Bonta before.

My parents had raved about their dinner there, which had consisted of a fantastic shoulder of lamb and grilled fish fresh from the chef's home visit to Italy. My mother even went so far as to say that she never really enjoyed western fish as much as asian preparations but this was so very good.

So it was with high hopes that we returned there to eat. There was just one small catch, at their initial dinner, the host had left it to the chef to prepare the meal, omakase, as it were. So, we decided to do the same. Can you guess what happened?

Well, I had looked at the menu prices in the main dining room before stepping into the private room that they accorded us. The prices for the quadrotti ($28++), premium cod fish ($40++), signature ossobuco ($44++) were somewhat on the high side, but it didn't look that bad (for example, many Club Street restaurants have those prices and higher, too) nor that dinner should run over say, $100 a head without wine. The lighting was a bit dim (no better in the private room and that's why I'm afraid the pictures don't look very good) and they had shut off the larger private function rooms which are still being done up.

Our dinner, however, came up to a staggering figure. (Suffice to say it was way more than any wedding dinner price) For not very much food either, since we halted the meal in the third course and the plates were fairly small. The water bill, was also fairly eyebrow-raising. I'm not sure, now that I know how much it cost, that I would go back again, especially because I found the food, not bad by any means, but prone to the oilyness and heaviness of Italian food that I'm not such a fan of.

The first course, was an amuse bouche, a salmon cream wrapped in a smoked salmon fillet. It was good and refreshing, thought over quite quickly.

The second was a plate of appetizers, there was a thick sashimi of tuna, a piece of foie gras with a large brandied cherry and breaded something or other. The breaded thing really did taste of something-or-other but the tuna was thick and good and the foie grase was decent. Though can I just say that the Italians should leave the foie gras and the creme brulee to the French, who just have a different standard.

The main course was two grilled Italian fish, they looked like turbot and they were crispy and well done. However, when finally distributed on our plates, it'd become a little too cold and heavy for my liking. I think this had more to do with the service than the cooking though.

Only my godbrother had room for another main, which was meant to be a roast shoulder of lamb, but when it came out, what he got was a plated breast of duck. This was a bit chewy but had a wonderful, deep orange taste.

The last dish which we all had was a chocolate tart. This was very well executed, a moulded chocolate round that bled warm chocolate and white chocolate when cut. It was a good riff on the popular valronha molton chocolate cake and well combined with a coulis of liquid orange peel fluff which sharply off-set the dense richness of the cake.

Everyone had a good time and the food definitely was beyond good standard. The chef has a flair which perhaps might be better served by the regular menu choices, which I will stick to the next time I come here! To give the place the benefit of doubt, I don't think my experience, having allowed the chef a free hand, is that reflective of its true standards, it's probably just that, after having been saddled with such a clearly-knife-sharpened bill, it rather leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth! Or perhaps I just have bad karma with this location....

Otto Ristorante
28 Maxwell Road
#01-02 Red Dot Traffic Building

Tel: 6227 6819
Mon-Fri: 12pm-2.3pm, 7pm-10.30pm
Sat: 7pm-10.30pm
(Closed on Sun)

Recipe: Coconut Flaked Carrot Cake Cupcakes

This weekend, I was determined to get down to a spot of baking. For some reason, I was craving walnut and carrot, so I thought I'd make carrot cake cupcakes.

I was also determined to focus on one baking project, far too often, I spread myself too thin and try to speed through things, only to wind up frustrated with projects and recipes that don't turn out as they should.

This time, I readied and chopped all my ingredients

3 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour an 8x12 inch pan.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour mixture and mix well.
4. In a medium bowl, combine shredded carrots, coconut, walnuts, pineapple and raisins.
5. Using a large wooden spoon or a very heavy whisk, add carrot mixture to batter and fold in well.
6. Pour into prepared 8x12 inch pan, and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 1 hour. Check with toothpick.
7. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving or 1 hour before frosting.

I was cheered to find that the recipe called for buttermilk, to me, that is the best way to ensure a moist and rich cake. I was even more pleased to realize that this cake doesn't need any use of a cake mixer. (I love my KitchenAid but I don't love cleaning it!)

The alterations I made were that I used grapeseed oil instead of vegetable oil (healthier and no yucky chinese oil taste), I decreased the amount of sugar to 1 cup (in the end, I felt I could have cut it way down to 1/2 cup or less becuase of the natural sugars from the carrot) and left out the can of crushed pineapple, I poured in 3/4 a cup of pumpkin filling and brandy, which works better for me.

I even went on a rampage and made the cream cheese frosting, which is basically the following creamed together. (You can throw in a handful of walnuts if desired). I had attended a party in the US where the host had cleverly dipped the cream cheese frosting into flaked coconut to make pretty snowy cupcakes. So I decided to do that but I'd long ago realized that flaked coconut is hard to come by in Singapore, the only place that I regularly see it now being at Jason's in Orchard Towers.

1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

How far would you go in the pursuit of perfection? Apparently I'd go at least 20 minutes, since I drove down to get myself a bag of coconut strips. And as frustrating as baking can sometimes be, when you look in the oven and see perfectly risen cupcakes, just fluffy and brimming to the exact level of pipe-ability, it is a great feeling of satisfaction!

Review: Nicholas

Thank you M. for the photos! This is a restaurant I visited awhile back, when I had the pleasure of Miss M's wonderful company and taste. She suggested this place which I had been wanting to try, it's located in Keong Saik street, a stone's throw away from Ember and in an old shophouse.

It's another place which has been opened by a chef-owner, previously the head chef at Les Saison. The place has been recommended to me but I was also told that the dinner menu here was a ridiculous price (and only prix fixe but I'm not sure about now), so I was happy to try it for lunch, where they had a good lunch set for $38.

The interior of the restaurant was regular and not that note-worthy. It had great wooden ceiling cross beams but the whole room was dark wood with cream walls and non-descript paintings. It had the air of a food-serious restaurant though.

The amuse bouche was a slice of smoked duck breast served with a warm baguette, a bit reminiscent of Gunthers. The bread was fantastic, the duck was pretty decent, though not a knock-out, especially because it was over really fast! I opted for foie gras as the first course, which was pretty well done, it had a warm, brandied juices, not really imaginative but well executed and comforting.

We wound up both having the same main dish, which is pictures at the top of the post. It was a roasted cod served with a carrot and cardamom bouillon. Generally, given that cod is a very oily fish, it's difficult to go wrong, but I felt this one was plump and I particulary liked that they had grilled a crusty almost breadcrumbed exterior onto the fish.

M told me that this was from the cod having been floured before it was seared. The carrot and cardomon sauce was unexpected and gave the dish a sweet and lasting finish. It was very good, the biggest compliment I always pay a dish is that it had me thinking about how to create its taste and that's exactly what I was thinking of when I finished the main.

For dessert, we had the apple coupe with crunchy almond tuile and the dark chocolate cake with raspberry coulis. Neither were speaking volumes to us but the apple coupe was definitely the more unique and far more enjoyable, it was a deconstructed apple pie in a cup the bottom was lined with cooked down apple chunks, then topped with a chilled vanilla custard, followed by a sprinkling of sugar cookie crumbs. The different textures and cold temperature made the dessert easy to eat and not too heavy.

The good thing about the set meal is that it includes petit fours and tea/coffee. We were pretty full, or at least, I was from the foie gras. I was happy that the food was of a high quality and each dish had been paid careful attention, even though it was the set meal, I didn't feel like there was anything production-line-ish or lacksadaical, rather it was practiced and a deft touch with the combinations of flavours. I definitely look forward to going back and for a special meal, I'd consider the dinner degustation!

Nicolas Le Restaurant
35 Keong Saik Road
Singapore 089142
Tel: +65 62242404
Lunch: Monday to Friday: 12pm to 2pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday: 6.30pm to 10pm

Recipe: Pumpkin Cookies

Ooh...I can't turn this picture around! I don't know what's up with that, so maybe you can just lean your head over and check out my pumpkin cookies:)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 handful of pine nuts
If desired, you can add sultanas, pistachios or cranberries to the mixture.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy.
4. Mix in dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate chips and pine nuts and any other flavour additions.
5. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies.

This recipe makes a large batch of chewy, spicy pumpkin cookies with lots of natural ingredients. They are very good and not that sinful!

Review: TinHill

I'm back! I could say that I was tied up in travelling and cooking but the reality is I was just disillusioned and uninspired by food that I have been eating recently, especially in Singapore. It was like not eating.

I don't know if you go through those phases?

Finally though, I've visited some restaurants worth blogging about and I'm really excited to share these next few with you. Tinhill I found, just down the road from where I stay.

Although to be fair, I can't say I really found it. I had known for the longest time that it was being constructed, as the owner-chef is a friend, Jaime. I'd watched with interest the demolition of the corner unit at the junction of Sixth Avenue and Bukit Timah Road, which used to be Pulau Ubin Seafood.

The restaurant is the result of a decade-long dream that Jaime has had since college days and her time at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. I should also mention that the restaurant itself, is an absolute joy to be in, especially during the day.

I persuaded my cousin C. (oh, she's going to kill me when she discovers her picture here) to come here for brunch. Jaime said that she envisioned a lantern, a corner beacon, as it were but she also wanted something that would be, from the wood panelling, to the wallpaper and the displays, simple.

The place is simple and beautiful, thankfully, it's standout maturity of design strips away at the sickening and trite imitation and overdone hokeyness that characterises all these new chain 'lifestyle' eating and furniture places opened by every 20-something millionairess-turned-entreprenuer. *Yes, yuppie, don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking*

The design was done by WOHA architects and it is, in its use of metallic post and peforated sheet structures, wording (the wording of TinHill), the use of lines, typically WOHA. Stepping back and all around, it is a very clever tribute to the double-barreled height and structure of the site, as well as the split-level nature, noise and light of the busy Bukit Timah road. The name itself is taken from the literal translation of 'Bukit Timah'.

The architecture, though gratifying, should also be a complement to the food and here, its honesty is reflected in Jaime's bistro food. Her food concept is clean tastes, modern Asian-Western lightness and convenience and a focus on quality ingredients and healthy choices. I liked it very much.

We racked up quite a lot of food, starting with some bread with the house dip, which tastes like a mixture of olives, tomato, anchovies and herbs. It was very good for a lunch but I feel like at dinnertime, I'd prefer a toasted bread.

Then we had the mushroom watercress salad pictured above, which was excellent, it had slices of radish, crispy taupok, sauteed shitake and seaweed, drizzled with a sesame sauce that cut through the slight bitterness of the watercress. It was balanced and well executed.

For our main, we ordered the boullaibaise with red snapper and vegetables, topped with puff pastry. I'm a sucker for puff pastry so maybe it was preaching to the converted, but the pastry itself was quite masterful (yes, I've sampled an embarassing lot of puff pastry). The crispy, risen layer was high and thick and the lower layers were crusty and ready to be soaked in the sauce.

I felt the sauce itself could have been a bit thicker (richer) and spicier, given the airiness of the pastry but the ingredients tasted great together and as a whole it was dead comforting.

We'd decided on the sticky toffee date pudding for dessert and Jaime brought over a fresh nutella cupcake which we had to take home, we were so full.

The sticky date pudding could have been more aerated and lighter but I'm picking bones here. The meal was very good, the mains aren't expensive ($18-25 and less for the daytime sandwiches), the appetizers and the desserts are the same price at $10.90 which to my mind, does make the appetizers much more worthwhile.

The service (of which there seems to be an oversupply of wait staff) is a little anxious but very sweet and friendly. This probably extends from Jaime's own warm nature and amongst the restaurants I visited in the last few weeks, they stood out as the more accomodating and definitely the most smiley. There will be a full mezzanine level to come, complete with a tasteful lounge and library area.

Let's hope this is all Corderoy and Finch was not. Make a reservation and take your family or a loved one. I'm only bemused that apparently this is winebar, located in a place that you really have to drive to but knowing Jaime, the wines will be well-chosen and rare. I'm glad this bistro is in my Tinhill neighbourhood!

Tin Hill Wine Bar & Bistro
797 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6463-3811