Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Review: Rider's Cafe

Last weekend, I joined K. and H. for brunch at Rider's Cafe. This is the poorer sister of Mimolette and is actually part of the buildings of the Saddle Club, though the cafe is open to the public.

The atmosphere is a lot more rustic than the newer Mimolette but I actually like it much better becuase one, the food is better and two, the set-up is so much less pretentious. This place has wooden tables and wooden picnic benches set up on the second floor, which has a shaded verendah for al-fresco dining and is spotted with drasinia plants. The vibe is very relaxed and reminiscent of 1980s Singapore, with a lovely view of the riding fields around the area and blonde women walking their horses.

The prices here are also much more reasonable than Mimolette, where you get three small triangles of french toast for $17 and each is the measley size of half a piece of sandwich bread. Here, the prices are slightly less rapacious and I was drawn to the eggs benedict for $10.90, which is probably cheaper than both Cellar Door and Choupinette (down Bukit Timah Road). We had that and a Caesar salad, a Ribeye steak sandwich and a stack of hotcakes.

Upon arrival, I understood why the eggs bendedict was cheaper. There weren't any garnishes, just a straightforward bun of eggs and ham. For the ham, they had used a regular picnic type of ham, which I thought a bit declasse. The Caesar salad was similarly skimpy on ingredients, with a prepondance of romaine lettuce. The two standout items were the ribeye sandwich, which was chock-full of caramelized onions and sauce, yet very moist and chewy enough and the stack of hotcakes, which was inspiredly aerial and fluffy, probably some of the best I've eaten of late.

This has become one of my favourite places for a casual brunch and to meet up with friends because of it's unhurried, sun-filled atmosphere. I would rate the al-fresco tables at the Celler Door above this but that's about it. This place does get crowded later on weekends with families, so book ahead and enjoy!

Rider's Cafe
51 Fairways Drive
Tel: +65 6466 9819
Closed on Mondays

Review: Oomphatico's

It was one of those side thoughts, driven by the desire to go to the sale at I wanna go home, in Tanglin Mall. The sale was a wash and thankfully, dinner wasn't too bad. Z. wanted to go to Dan Ryan's, seduced by the potato skins and lumberjack-decor and truthfully, I too rather like the potato skins there. Or rather, I like potato skins, full stop.

However, upon passing this little cafe, I thought it was cute, with it's red and green decor and it had a perky counter of sweets. The outfit of the place is definitely brightly deliberate, with a lot of their chairs, as far as I can tell, coming from the furniture store above.

It is clearly also a rah-rah and healthy living sort of place to eat as they have coined little monikers for their dishes, you know what I mean? Like the so-good-you-have-to-order Spaghetti Bolognaise. The place serves an interesting variety of dishes, mostly soup and sandwich items but mixed in with a page's worth of Thai dishes, pineapple rice, pad thai, crispy rice cakes, that kind of thing. I couldn't decide if it was schizophrenic or strange.

We had the club sandwich which came with avocado, cheese, salad, tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes. It was fairly regular but to their credit, the bread was moist and the the filling was fairly hearty. We also had the salad, which was beans, lettuce, sunflower seeds and tuna.

Both were fairly tasty, though probably not all that original and I guess it wasn't the sort of organic oomph I had expected. For $9-12 though, it was sufficient for a light dinner and we were charmed by the happy environment, as well as this mid-night Friday spectacular. A older sprightly-haired, heavily accesorized lady, presumably the owner, in very short shorts and hiking boots, stood up and with makeshift castinets (plastic water cups), announced with a deep bow, Ladies and Gentlemen, here....we believe in Living WELL.... have a great weekend and be Mad.

And they proceeded to conga around the restaurant, dragging in happy customers (mostly schoolkids) to join in with the staff. I was amused. A happy little place, I'd come back during the day for tea and so I can try out some of those good-looking desserts.

163 Tanglin Road
#01-03 & 01-35/36 Tanglin Mall
Tel: 6733 9088

Friday, August 22, 2008

Review: L'Angelus

It started with R. calling up to ask E. and I to lunch. Let's go to L'Angelus at Club Street, he said.

Funny, I hadn't really registered this restaurant before but it is quite cute, very dimly lit with little french bordello red lampshades and waiters in bowties and tails. Rather pish-posh given that it's on the jaunty side of Club Street.

Coincidentally, a day later, I sat next to this rather drunk financier sort at dinner and he was on about his favourite steak places in Singapore and he was one of those people who fancy themselves French but studied in Australia? Anyway, he was having a little orgasm about French beef and he bellowed in my ear AHH, CHATEAUBREEEYOND at LONGJELOOOOS, it's is mah favourrette and you know, they also run this other little place round the corner and for their regulars, if you go often becuase you know my brother-in-law is French, they will make you a steak just like it is done in France.

That little place is Les Bouchons. L'Angelus is their big french sister, at least, clearly in terms of the service, which was just thick. The reply to what was the most popular dish was met with a typical "All our dishes are the best" which is the answer that really annoys me because it is an obvious tautology, hence it means you have bad grammar and bad comprehension.

The service was thus not much to speak of but I must say the food was very good, if not good value. We shared a starter of foie gras rilletes. It was a bit dry but tasty enough, especially with the walnut bread they brought out. The funny thing is later in the meal, they brought out white rolls, which is a little inconsistent but none of the bread was very warm.

The mains are where the meal differentiated itself, they definitely don't stinge on butter and cream and it shows. The scalloped potatoes were smooth and creamy, absolutely sinful and the duck confit was nicely toasted and very yummy. The crisps that came with the duck seemed to have been fried in the duck fat and although they were not as crackly and snappy as I would have liked, they had marvellous flavour.

The piece de resistance had to be the Chateaubriand which E. and I shared which was $54 per person. It came out as a hunk of meat and even from a distance, I could see that it had been well-seared on the ouside. Promising and it was absolutly lovely, with a pink interior and a wonderful juicy soft texture. Probably the best steak I have had since Paris, though with my new semi-vegetarian diet, I haven't had very many.

The desserts were also fantastic. We had a crepe suzette, which was probably the best I've had in Singapore (I have a sentimental spot for Crepe Suzette, when I was a little girl, my dad used to bring me to the Tavern for dinners with his friends when my mom was out of town and he would order a crepe suzette as a reward for going) other than perhaps the one at Gordon Grill. It was of course, made with the usual copper pan sorcery and flourish.

Then an apple tatin, which was also very good and a molten chocolate cake. Yes, we really pigged out. The molten chocolate cake, for which the restaurant is famous, I could actually leave that, though probably it was very good when back in the day, they were the only place in Singapore serving it.

I forget the prices of the dessert, though suffice to say both the appetizers and the desserts were a bit on the higher side of average. It kind of reminds me of some of those quaint little french restaurants that used to be on Club Street before the big Italian boys of Senso and Da Paolo.

They do have a set lunch menu which from memory was about $40, but it was conviently not available on Fridays. Not a particularly enjoyable atmosphere (for me at least, I'm sure the whole musty faux French thing would strike a chord with the more pretentious) but given the food, definitely a place I'd like to be invited back to!

Le Carillon L'Angelus
85 Club Street
Tel: 6225 6897
12- 2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays
7 p.m. till late Mondays-Saturdays
Closed on Sundays

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Miscellaneous Food: New York 9


Sadly, my week of good eating was drawing to an end, and all too soon I was left with the unhappy choice of what to do for my last lunch in New York. Thankfully, S had kindly provided me with a list of her personal recommendations of restaurants that did excellent set lunches, and top of the list was Nougatine.

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The more casual (but still pretty posh) sibling of Jean-George Vongerichten's flagship restaurant Jean Georges, Nougatine offers an extremely reasonable prix fixe menu that extends to Saturdays, and has been hailed as the most undervalued deal in town.

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Classy and dapper, Nougatine exudes sophistication and puts you immediately at ease. The enormous glass windows fronting the restaurant let in large amounts of natural light, suffusing and softening the crisp whiteness of the interior.

Service is faultless; I arrive ten minutes before my reservation, and I am asked whether I would like a newspaper as I sit down. Bread could, however, be improved; it appears New Yorkers do not believe in anything other than crusty bread rolls being served in their restaurants.

The set meal looked appetising: a starter of bacon-wrapped rock shrimp served with avocado and papaya mustard, followed by a main course of petit filet served with sugar snap peas and a parmesan sauce. Dessert was to be a warm molten chocolate cake accompanied by a vanilla bean ice cream.

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Although ordinarily I am not a fan of seafood, and would not voluntarily order a seafood starter, the warm prawn salad was a revelation. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, succulent and sweet, yet slightly smoky from being wrapped with bacon, and paired extraordinarily well with the spicy, tangy but sweet mustard, which was in turn offset by the coolness and creamy neutrality of the avocado slices.

It was little surprise that this dish was a house specialty, as it showcased Vongerichten’s facility in combining French techniques with Asian flavours and ingredients to full effect. The papaya mustard reminded me of a chutney, and the use of micro-cilantro added a further dimension of complexity to the dish.

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The entrĂ©e arrived swiftly, and was more classically European than the previous course - a small, filet of beef, served with spring vegetables and charred sugar snaps was drizzled with a parmesan glaze. I could not quite decide whether this worked: the parmesan sauce was rather salty, and had that slightly oleaginous, slippery texture and heaviness of classical French sauces, despite being very thin. As long as this was balanced out by the lightness and freshness of the vegetables, in particular the sweet snaps, there wasn’t much of a problem, but eaten with the beef alone the dish was surprisingly rich.

One problem I had, however, was with the speed at which dishes arrived. Almost as soon as I had finished my starter, my main course had arrived, and dessert again appeared only minutes after I put down my utensils. Even before I had begun eating dessert, I was asked whether I would like some coffee or tea. This was rather off-putting, as I was supposed to be in a restaurant, not a fast-food joint - I was half-expecting them to ask if I wanted to upsize my chocolate cake.

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Which, incidentally, was excellent, if somewhat plain - though having said that molten chocolate cake is fairly classic, and so should not be tampered with too much. I was somewhat amused to see that they had used a star-shaped mould instead of a regular circular mould, which added to its visual appeal, even if it did nothing in terms of taste. I wonder whether whimsically-shaped desserts prove more popular with consumers in general, and whether that could spawn a viable cottage industry of whimsically-shaped moulds…

I left feeling very satisfied, and thought that that was easily one of the best meals I had had in New York over the course of the week. It was easy to see why the restaurant was considered so underrated - fantastic food at reasonable prices.

1 Central Park West
Columbus Circle
NY 10023
Tel: 212 299 3900

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review: Forlino

After CH's glowing review of the restaurant, I was interested to try out Forlino, the new kid on the One Fullerton block. It's on the second floor, an ingenious use of space. I discovered a Business Times Geoffrey Eu review that was slightly less glowing and thus prepared, convinced a group of visitors that we should go to try it out.

The doorway is rather strange, it's basically a hole in the wall next to where the disco used to be and up a rather carpark-looking staircase, you come to a carpetted entrance on the mezzanine level. You then walk up another flight of steps, where in an attempt to be posh, they've covered the walls with robin egg blue paper and steel grey stucco, the floors with a black and white diamond palazzo marble and the sitting area with a loud, bright red leather tufted sofa.

It's an interesting effect, I assume they will be removing all that industrial-type frontage as the building matures and the view of the casino and waterfront come up from the current vista of cranes. Right now, with the blue walls and large lamp-lights, they look like they stole the look from Novus, at the National Musuem.

I was a bit nervous about trying this week-old restaurant with discerning guests because of the food, the service, the prices, oh, everything! But my fears were largely unfounded. There were no precious moments and server what-not-to-say clips as I've experienced lately at new restaurants like Pietro Santo "We're washing the cutlery as fast as we can!" or The White Rabbit "There are no specials. No, really, (server glares) there are No Specials".

Before I go on on that, I should mention that the light was quite dismal and I'm afraid so are the photos. Let me start with the food before you get bored. The amuse bouche was a polenta cake with mushrooms. This was good and grainy, though too oily for my taste. The bread was home-made by the chef's mother and it was fantastic but it was also sweating olive oil. It was saved by it's warmth and softness though, I don't like oil but I'd still say it was very good.

I immediately saw what some reviewers had pointed out as curious, that for a family-run restaurant, there was an incredible lot of formality to the whole place, not just in the OTT decor but for example, they brought a plate with individually rolled napkins, the way most restaurants do with breadrolls or Singapore Airlines does with hot towels. There were also too many suited Italian people kept running in and out, saying Buon Giorno incredibly servile-ly, I didn't quite see the point of that.

There seemed too many service staff milling around and when I opened the menu and rested it, opened, on the table, the server swooped over, picked up the menu from Right In Front of Me and folded it closed and put it back in front of me. Hello, darling, too obvious... The other thing they did, which I feel they should refrain from, is when the menus were rested near shared appetizers, they hovered round us, silently shifting our place settings and packing up the menus like we were young children.

Other than that, I thought the service was very good and very communicative. They get extra points for one, pointing out that two of our appetizers were similar and we might want to consider another one, two, being able to point out the most popular pasta (they caught that I said most popular, not their recommendation for the best, which I hardly ever expect an honest answer to) and three, turning up the light when they spotted a camera on the table.

The shared appetizers were the baby octopus salad, the mixed cheese and cured meats plate and the eggplant and mozzarella bake. The appetizers are quite pricey and average $24 in price but they were good. I felt the charcuterie was a bit skimpy but my friends seemed to lap it all up, although one dissolved in consternation when she realized what she was eating was not cheese but fatty cullatello ham.

The baby octopus salad was very good, fresh and chewy but it would have been better had it been warmer, as it was, it was a rather room temperature, which didn't bring out the full flavour of the baby octopus. They weren't sweet enough to make the salad really kick. The eggplant and mozzarella bake was excellent. I don't usually like eggplant but I'd be happy to have the recipe to this dish, it was warm and comforting.

We wanted to try the pastas, so we had the veal ravioli with truffle and the duck tagietelle with foie gras. A word on both, they were alright but they were not as mind-blowing as I had expected, especially the first one, where the veal inside the ravioli had gone cold and the sauce was thin and strange.

The second was much better, although given the rich sauce that already accompanied the pasta, I would have prefered a lighter, vegetable accompaniment, rather than foie gras that while enjoyable, was a bit overfried and dry, rather than plump, so it didn't quite achieve it's effect. The sauce for the duck pasta was great though and I'd still order the dish.

There was a "hmmm" moment in the mains and that was the fish. As you can clearly see from the photo of the trout, it was incredibly skinny and didn't even look appetizing. It was to the credit of my colleague that he picked through it anyway but like The White Rabbit, Forlini's seems to falter a little on the fish.

The other meats were a braised veal which was a bit dry and the roast pork and lamb chops.

The pork was juicy and well glazed and the lamb chops surprised by being coated in batter and fried, when I think we were expecting them to be baked. Still, they were warm and tender inside their covering, so they were pleased on that side of the table. The mains average about $42 although the pastas are more like $28.

The desserts for me were the crowning glory and one knows this does not get said a lot about Italian restaurants. We had the apple tart, so-called the apple streudal, which was excellent. It's a pity it was over so fast, given how thin it was but the flavour and the taste really was lovely.

We also had a panna cotta which though thick was soft and lucious, a tart of fruit and gelato sandwiched between thin biscuit and a raspberry tart filled with raspberries and custard that really did blow me away.

The raspberry tart was slightly sweet but the pairing and the gentleness of the tart texture made it the best dessert I've had in awhile.

We finished with complementary petit fours, pineapple-like tarts that were pretty average and dry, incredible merangue sandwiched with cream and a wonderful soft chocolate, which tastes home-made, in these cocoa-coated pulls.

Two out of three were hands-down wonderful, which kind of characterises the meal. Overall, we were very pleased and impressed. I think the formality may turn off quite a lot of casual diners and the prices are a little steep to come back here often but I'd like to.

One Fullerton #02-06
1 Fullerton Road, Singapore 049213
Tel: +65 6877 6996
Three-course set lunch $45
Four-course traditional menu $100
a la carte available

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Miscellaneous Food: New York 8

On my penultimate day in New York, I was to book a place for dinner for some family friends, and after a bit of research and googling, I settled on A Voce, a modern Italian restaurant that's had some good reviews.

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A fairly large restaurant, A Voce offers an al fresco dining area, which we were sorely tempted by, as it was a balmy evening, and the air-conditioning inside the restaurant was quite powerful.

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The lighting inside was quite bad, and staff kept dimming the lights further as the night wore on, making any chance of good photographs quite impossible.

Service was extremely proficient, with our waiter walking us through the entire menu, rattling it off almost completely by heart. Had the menu been any longer, this would have been extremely tedious, but it was short enough such that this exercise was impressive and informative.

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Most of us had the house specialty; the duck meatballs. Served with a rich, meaty red wine sauce, these meatballs were delightfully succulent, plump and moist while still pink in the centre. I had had misgivings about having meatballs as a starter, but these were definitely worth it.

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The main course, unfortunately, I did not enjoy quite so much. A lamb agnolotti served with capers and a hint of lemon, dressed with grated parmesan cheese. I've alawys felt that it's a bad idea to serve a pasta dish naked, with no sauce. Especially with stuffed pastas like ravioli or tortellini, they cry out for a chunky, full-bodied sauce to go along with them.

Apart from complementary taste, serving a sauce adds texture to the dish, preventing the pasta from becoming limp and sticking to one another. Without a slathering of sauce, the agnolotti also became cold quite quickly, which was quite a shame.

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What I thought A Voce was let down by was its desserts. The dessert menu I saw didn't really have anything terribly interesting, so I decided to try the Bomboloni alla Toscana, or Tuscan doughnuts served with chocolate sauce. These were puffy balls that tasted like exactly doughnuts and were even dusted with sugar, but lacked a hole through the centre, which was instead filled with cream.

Somehow this didn't really do it for me; it felt like I was eating a slightly more upmarket Krispy Kreme. I suppose there are some things which just do not work well as formal restaurant food, no matter how many bells and whistles they have. I can't imagine a plate of chocolate chip cookies ever becoming the next trendy dessert, for instance.

Thankfully, however, A Voce changes its menus weekly, and already there are new items on its dinner menu, and panna cotta has found its way onto the roster of desserts. With good service, high turnover and generally good food, one could do a lot worse than A Voce.

A Voce
41 Madison Avenue (at 26th St)
Tel: 212 545 8555