February 01, 2016

Food Review: Blue Ginger

I have Peranakan blood - from my maternal predecessors. My grandmother and her mother (my great-grandmother) are full-blooded Nyonya with mostly family and food on their mind as accomplished homemakers and absolute Queens in the household. Till this day, I still have distinct memories of my great-grandmother being in the heat of her humid, cramped kitchen dressed in her wrap skirt and a glinting gold hair pin in a tight top-knot. 

EDIT: Personally I don't see being an accomplished homemaker as a bad thing. Different women are allowed to aim for different things, and my grandmother (and her mother) definitely didn't undermine themselves or not 'achieve their potential' by being homemakers to an entire clan - not an easy feat for anyone.

Knowing this, my friends -- lovely people they are -- organised a birthday dinner for me at Blue Ginger

I was glad to know of this decision - good Peranakan food is a rare commodity nowadays and many a Nyonya restaurant in Singapore have suffered from their lack lustre menu offerings.  

Blue Ginger started with a hiccup right at the front door, since our reservation could not be found. As my companion had made a phone reservation (deja vu moment where I mention why I hate doing reservations over the phone), and somehow the person who took her booking didn't note it down so there was a moment where we had to show the manager that we actually did call (thank you call history) and he shuffled a table for us at the second floor of the establishment. 

That being over and done with, we made quick work of Blue Ginger's menu - ordering up our grub as we took in the vintage furnishings, timber furniture, frosted, coloured glass windows with marble-top tables and tiled walls. 

Starting off the essential belacan and achar, our food did not take long to arrive. We were glad to have a large table, because we really did order a colossal amount of food. 

The homemade achar only served to increase our appetites. A mix of spicy-sour vegetable pickles created for the sole purpose of preserving food is now a modern appetiser to not only whet the appetite, it also now serves as accompaniment to many cuisines -- not just Nyonya food -- and can easily be found in many Asian restaurants and homes. 

Here's a gratuitous view before I break down our meal dish-by-dish.

Otak-otak is a generally prevalent little snack in many Asian countries, particularly popular in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, with fish or other seafood paste fillings mixed with different variations of chillis and spices, from turmeric to lemongrass, all wrapped snugly in a banana or attap leaf and grilled to smokey perfection. 

The Otak-otak at Blue Ginger, albeit delicious, was strangely very moist, with a springy texture. I'm not sure if I've eaten too many standard Otak-otak, or Blue Ginger just has a different way of cooking this babies, but I'm uncertain about this. It wasn't gross, just overly moist with a texture I've never had before in Otak-otak. 

Itek Tim was an immediate consensus for soup at our table - simply said it's the very commonly seen Salted Vegetable and Duck soup, which is a mix of salted mustard greens, sour plums, tomatoes, duck meat, tamarind, ginger, garlic, and sometimes chillis as well, broiled until softened and giving you an earthy, fragrant stock of equal parts sour and savoury. 

This was a good rendition of the classic soup - it was packed full of flavour - the mustard greens were not as soft as they should be, but that didn't take away from the taste. Generously full of ingredients, it was a good amount for more than the four of us. 

Babi Pong Tay, or Babi Pong Teh is a pork dish cooked in a mixture of fermented soy bean paste (tau cheo) and cinnamon, to produce a thick, bubbly stew that is almost reminiscent of rendang. This dish can only, only be made with a fatty cut of pork like the knuckle or the pork belly so if you are not into having fatty meats then it's not something you would be able to finish. 

The version served in Blue Ginger tasted authentic enough and was quite raved about through the table, with a rich, aromatic sauce and tender meat - perfect for dolloping onto rice. It was very nostalgic to be able to taste this again in such a familiar manner of eating.

Sotong Kunyit, again is a dish that features heavily on heavy spices like turmeric, galangal, lemon grass - giving it a lively yellow tinge. 

Usually this dish is cooked with whole squid, or whole baby squids (cleaned, of course), but I supposed any way you slice it, as long as one doesn't mess up the sauce things will work out from there. It is however, a matter of experience, to not overcook the squid in this, because squid is a deceptive protein to cook. Blue Ginger didn't overcook their squid, but I did expect more out of the dish in terms of quantity. The sauce was on point, and the squid was lovely, but it was not a large amount by any means, at least not for a table of four. 

Chap Chye Masak Titek, now this, this made me so very happy. Not just its taste, but also just seeing it on Blue Ginger's menu. 

This is something we see everywhere in Singapore. Food stalls everywhere sell this in different variations but hardly any are what I call the authentic Nyonya-styled Chap Chye. I have terribly fond memories of eating this as a result of my grandmother's hard work in the kitchen - she would specifically cook this for me and my sister every time she heard that we were visiting her. 

It's basically a Nyonya vegetable stew, and all the ingredients mean something - it's usually had around the Chinese New Year, so it is believed that all the ingredients, when combined in this delicious stew, will bring you a good start with fortune and blessing. Ingredients such as mushrooms, lily bud roots, vermicelli, black fungus, black moss, cabbage, jicama, tau kee and other miscellaneous bits and bops according to the availability of each cook. 

No matter how you cook it or what you add in it, it should result in a softened cabbage with its sweetness merging perfectly with all the other ingredients to create a sweet, fragrant stew with a load of things that are incidentally good for you as well. Blue Ginger's Chap Chye was delicious, albeit a little heavy on the fermented soybean paste so it was more spicy that I would usually have it. 

It is still -- for obvious reasons -- not as good as my grandmother's version. 

Nyonya Fish Head Curry was our pièce de résistance for this meal - it takes a little than the others to be served up, but we waited less than 20 minutes so this was not an issue for me, when there were other dishes in the repertoire. 

A whole red snapper head, served with a sweet-spicy-sour curry, with the fix-ins of eggplants, tomatoes, okra, a spice paste consisting of chili belacan, shallots, coriander, cumin as well as tamarind juice and coconut milk. It takes a very large amount of effort (and an equally large pot) so as to not destroy the fish head and ensure a good stew that's worth your time. This is not a light dish or a calorie-low eat, it is hefty, comforting and very, very delicious when done right. 

Blue Ginger's fish head curry was very sweet - more sweet than it was spicy or sour, but it's not so sweet that it would turn you off. As someone who isn't too great with spicy food, this was great for my tastes. 

The red snapper head was well-cooked with it's flesh still quite firm, so I'd like to assume they didn't steam the fish head prior to putting it in the curry. A lot of restaurants tend to cook the sauce beforehand to save time and to cultivate a deeper taste, then steam the whole fish head to let it simmer with the assorted vegetables to speed up the cooking process. I'm still undecided as to whether this process is a good idea or not.

Clean, fresh fish meat, a deeply rich sauce, pour over steaming white rice and you've got a winner.  

As we slowly and surely made our way through the dinner, conversations were had about incorporating more dinners like these into our weekly catch ups. 

It didn't dawn on us how much Western food we had every week (not that Western food is an issue), when clearly, there are more and more Asian restaurants that are presenting comforting, homely cuisine in themed environments. We were also preparing ourselves for dessert - despite the hoard of food we just inhaled over the course of a little under two hours, we were very clear that dessert would not be missed. 

Durian Chendol was our go-to, and highly recommended by our servers. 

Chendol, or Cendol, is a beautifully colourful Asian dessert, with a fluorescent green rice flour jelly, red beans, coconut milk, gula melaka syrup over a bundle of shaved ice. A standard dessert for many Asians, not just Peranakans, Blue Ginger served theirs up with or without the topping of durian flesh - adding a hit of custard goodness to an already well-loved treat. 

Pulut Hitam was also a dessert of the day, another classic Asian dessert of sweetened black glutinous rice cooked until soft and served warm with coconut milk and gula melaka syrup. 

For the best effect, please have both these desserts together so you can experience full and complete utopia. I am speaking from personal experience so you can trust me. 

I would visit Blue Ginger again. I would recommend it if you want to have a good, Peranakan dinner in an intimate setting on the very entertaining Tanjong Pagar area. Prices are a little steep (they aren't listed here because I only noted the dishes and not the costs of individual plates, very silly), but it is a small price to pay for a good meal. All in all we paid a little over $100 for the entire meal, including dessert.

Service is a little slow from the get-go, (I was without water for about 15 minutes until I realised they weren't actually going to pour me anything and asked for some - not favourable but not a dealbreaker) but once they warmed up and gained enough momentum things were back on track and we had a good time, overall. 

Just make your reservation carefully. 

Blue Ginger can be located at:

97 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088518
Tel: 6222 3928

January 25, 2016

Food Review: Bread Street Kitchen

The name Gordon James Ramsay may have different effects of different people - but the underlying sense of awe would be a common feature. 

I was quite excited that he decided to open Bread Street Kitchen in our little island's Marina Bay Sands, right next to a spectacular view of the waterfront. Described as 'Sophistication meets casual dining', it features some of Ramsay's best pub food and British-European grub, and it has already made waves in the local food scene, along with the occasional appearance by Mr Ramsay himself (a big selling point for many diners).

As a Singaporean, the idea of travelling to Marina Bay Sands was not favoured by me. I've been once or twice (the first time was to DB bistro but that's a review for another day), but evidently, distance is a small issue when it comes to food. 

It's not difficult to make a reservation at Bread Street Kitchen - I just popped online to make my reservation - a day later had my email confirmation (I've had experiences with telephone reservations only to turn up and find my reservation missing with no concrete proof of my call), and another day later a call to confirm and remind me of my attendance. 

I'll be honest and say I was glad it was not a frou-frou dining establishment. Humbly-sized with vintage decor and a full bar, all the staff were dressed in smart-casual with big smiles on their face and observant glances as they busy themselves with service in a full restaurant. Gunmetal black furnishings, an exposed kitchen behind the bar and tall glass walls to utilise the beautiful waterfront view and sunlight. 

I was seated quickly since I had a reservation - ushered to my seat with a full view of the restaurant. My server made quick work of my drinks as I took in the surroundings, and while she poured my water another stepped in with a selection of warm bread, served with a slab of butter and a dish of what I assume is olive oil or melted butter or both.

I did not have much of my bread, because I fully intended to eat to my fullest.

Diving right into the food - I kicked off my meal with a cold starter of Spicy tuna tartar ($19)

Served with sour cream and wonton crisps, this was a zinger dish. Meaning it kick-starts your appetite well, with its addition of chili, garlic, sesame oil marinating a cool dish of fresh tuna. The fish had a clean-cut freshness to it, seasoned well without overpowering. Piled on a crispy warm wonton crisp with a dab of sour cream, it transforms into multiple textures and was a lovely start. 

Of course, a hot starter would be needed for me now that our cold dish has successfully whet the appetite with some Seared scallops with carrot puree, treacle cured bacon, apple, celery cress ($24)

While seared scallops are common as warm starters, these precious shellfish are notoriously easy to mess up in a dish, and easy to overcook. These scallops, however, were lovingly caramelised on their surface, seared brown just so while keeping their plump flesh soft, pearly white with just a touch of pink in the middle. Paired with sweet accessories like the carrot puree, tart apple slices, the savoury touch of treacle cured bacon, and a touch of aroma from the celery cress. 

Well and truly remaining true to the seafood, this dish was an understated classic and made me very excited for the rest of my impending meal. 

My main was a point of contention for me - since the beef wellington was not on the menu (I assume it's because I was there for lunch) I was between ordering the recommended dishes, between the grill selection ranging from beef to lamp chops, to the classic pub grub of Shepherd's Pie or Fish & Chips.

At the recommendation of my server, I went with the Fish & Chips ($26) - enticed by the addition of the smashed peas and chips, and I also recalled seeing Ramsay making these once or twice in his kitchen on screen and found myself jealous of his family, who seemed to be immensely enjoying their comfort food.

While Fish & Chips is not my idea of a comfort food, it was still a good main to order.

I was a little deflated at seeing only one serving of fish on my board, but as we go on you will find that this one serving of crispy fried fish was justified. Alongside a tin of thick cut chips, a dish of smashed peas and tartar sauce, everything about this dish was familiar and welcoming to me.

A spritz of lemon, and I cut into my relatively thick fish, delightfully reveling in the aromatic steam released with the guarantee of a crispy batter announced by the obvious crackling as my knife sunk into the slab. 

Beautifully seasoned prior to being coated in the batter and cooked, the fish was a generous slice of delicious flavours and just ridiculously moist. There was no uncooked layer of batter, a faux pas easily committed to fish cooked this way. The reasonably thinly coated batter on the white fish was crispy all around, really placing focus on the meat, which could well be eaten on its own, actually. Of course, I didn't hesitate to smother on some tartar sauce and smashed peas, so no matter how I ate it, this could do no wrong for me. 

One would think that three courses and a bread basket would be adequate for someone who was dining solo on this occasion - but I've never been a quitter and so I added a very modest side of Macaroni and cheese with garlic roasted crumbs ($16). 

(I am also physically incapable of not ordering Macaroni and cheese in any form if I see it on any menu.) So if Gordon Ramsay's menu has the good ol' mac n' cheese on it, I am getting it come hell or high water. 

What I can say about the Macaroni and cheese here, is that you shouldn't underestimate the portion. It is presented in quite a small-sized dish, but it is a very filling side. 

While the dish itself is luxuriously creamy, the crumb sprinkled atop of it really finishes off the Macaroni and cheese perfectly, providing a different texture while giving it a subtle hint of garlic and an aftertaste of nutmeg. They didn't use a strong or sharp cheese, providing mildness without it being boringly bland or underwhelming. 

While I slowly made my way through my meal, my server routinely came over to check if things were alright (I have a very stoic expression as a default), refilling my water, attentive smiles and ensuring I had everything I need. I was dining alone so I didn't have anyone to distract me while I was eating, observing the environment around me. All around all the diners seemed to be having a good time over food, even chatting animatedly with different managers and staff about the food or wine. The bar was bustling (it was close to 4 in the afternoon), tables were always cleared quickly, wine refilled, big smiles all around whether staff or customer. 

At some point a couple of unruly (read: unreasonable) men just waltzed into the establishment from behind me, opening up the glass doors behind me with no permission and demanding something from one of the managers, who had to handle the situation without causing alarm or triggering an even bigger reaction from these very rude customers. After two cases of the same men barging in, the same manager calmly and firmly requested the men leave, and locked the glass doors. 

As my server cleared my table, he spoke to me about the dessert menu, and I of course, could not pass up a chance on dessert. Recommending me different desserts, the server spoke fondly of several different sweets, from a refreshing course of pineapple carpaccio with sorbet to cleanse the palate, to a rich chocolate brownie, to the popular banana toffee pudding. 

I went with the Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding with muscovado caramel and clotted cream ($18), to which the server very happily complied (it was his personal favourite).    

I have to say when I put in my reservation I mentioned that I would be documenting the experience due to the nature of the occasion, which was my birthday -- so the lovely staff decided to help me celebrate with a cute message and a myriad of birthday wishes from the staff and managers on duty. 

I was further congratulated on my birthday by the strangers seated around me - particularly two very lovely ladies having a lunch at the table next to me, who offered me a glass of wine or dessert. I'll be honest and say it was a little overwhelming but it made me smile. 

Back to this pudding - let me tell you I've had many a pudding - from sticky date to bread and butter, but this banana toffee pudding was just a slice of decadence for me. Glazed in a warm toffee sauce was a log of steaming, moist pudding, with darkened layers of caramelised bananas infused within. The bottom was a crust of beautiful things, packed with flavour and the whole slice was absolutely soaked through with whatever magic Ramsay used in his pudding syrup to concoct this wondrous creation. 

You would think that the rich cream paired with this would be an overkill but for some reason the cream only sought to amplify the flavours of the pudding, wiping the slate for my next mouthful of toffee goodness. 

If anyone reading this needs any convincing that trying out Bread Street Kitchen is definitely worth your time and money, I hope this post was adequate. The dishes are beautifully classic with no frills or unnecessary additions to make it fancy, the place is lovely and quaint with excellent service - there's not much else a diner would wish for in a meal.

At the present moment, I'm just looking forward to going back because I simple will not rest until I've tried the beef wellington (and basically every other item on the menu). 

Bread Street Kitchen can be located at:

Bay Level, L1-81 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 018956
Tel: 6688 5665

August 21, 2015

Food Review: Enbu @ Eat At Seven

It's not a surprise to hear that Japanese cuisine is still enchanting to many foodies in the world. Do you have any idea what Japanese food does to a person who enjoys food? Many modern chefs strive to mimic their single-minded capability to make just one thing and one thing only and repeat it so much it's basically perfect when you put it in your mouth hole. Of course, not just the Japanese do it, but they seem to enjoy bringing things up a notch - especially in their food.

I reckon that it's inhumane the way Japanese cuisine will wipe your mind clean when you eat. That michelin-star meal you had last week? You bite into a perfectly-formed bundle of onigiri, or a glistening piece of sushi, and suddenly your knees are weak and your mind blessedly blank. 

I've had the fortune of doing a six-month stint with a prominent publishing company in Singapore, and their magazines - namely pets, epicure and BiTES magazine. The amount of work that goes into food writing has now well and truly gone into a whole new dimension for me, and  for that I find myself eternally grateful to those I've worked with. 

Now that i've 'graduated' from my internship, I must speak about this spot that I was invited for - a soft launch of Enbu, part of the Eat At Seven concept, which brings forward the major faucets of Japanese cuisine - Enbu being a semi al fresco joint to display warayaki-ya style, cuisine which incoroporates burning fragrant hay, to smoke fish or other meats.

Onwards to the food porn, shall we? 

Fried tofu, with uni sauce ($12)
As the writers and PR representatives all congregated for the soft launch over frosty mugs of Kirin, Sapporo and whisky (Coedo was sadly absent), our first appetiser was served. A slab of crisp-fried silky tofu, landing clean on the palate, balanced with a generous pile of bonito flakes with a side of luscious, smooth uni sauce. 

If you don't know, uni refers to sea urchin. They've been making headlines in Singapore for their taste and rarity, and are currently rising in popularity (and cost). Pairing with a delicate tofu with a creamy dip derived heavily from sea urchin is a clever and delicious way to present and alleviate the absentness in tofu that the masses are used to.

Smoked Salmon, with Homemade Cheese Tofu ($12)

I'll be honest, when they served this to me, I felt an immense sense of trepidation. Fusion food --  especially Japanese fusion food -- always made my dining experience a downward spiral, and this was underwhelming to me as a dish. While the concept was a familiar one and worked with its pairing, the cream cheese was otherwise relatively unappetising, bland almost.

Taco Salad ($15)

Things started to get a little tensed as the waitstaff brought out more Western-esque dishes, particularly their Taco Salad. The hype for the diners was the process of trying to get a photo of the live preparation, which basically saw the waitstaff vigorously shaking the mason jar of salad before pouring out the contents into a taco shell, and grating parmesan (which in his words, 'just regular cheese') which basically landed all over the table due to our breezy outdoor seating arrangements.

I don't care for salads that require a simple mise en place of vegetables to be stacked together with little care to their taste or textures together. Especially not when you can see the sauce collecting at the bottom of the jar like an expired can of pickles. Again, underwhelming, but it kept us interested enough until they brought out the big guns. 

Chicken Warayaki with Special Spring Onion Sauce ($12)

Fortunately, things began to pick up when the chef began serving the smoked dishes, the first of which were these towers of smoked chicken on skewers.

Served with crunchy cucumbers and spring onions, wrapped in leaves and dipped in a special chilli sauce, these went down a treat. The chicken was moist with the slightest hint of smokiness from the burnt hay, and the chilli sauce with the spring onions really punched in the flavours. The chilli sauce also reminded us of the Korean gochuchang, a sweet-spicy sauce. 

Katsuo Warayaki ($16)

This dish was my absolute winner of the evening. Served to us on unassuming aluminum packages, we revealed these perfectly cooked pieces of Katsuo, or Skipjack tuna - commonly used for bonito, so it was a surprise for us. Wispy scents of hay and smoked fish only furthered the experience of eating this dish, and they were served with light soy and fresh spring onions with grated ginger and garlic.

To be honest, I probably didn't even need the condiments, simply because this was just so beautifully done, cooked in a way that allows the fish to stand out. Eat At Seven and Enbu have very determinedly ensured that their seafood is fresh - by having their raw seafood flown on the day of consumption, to maintain optimal freshness and taste for the diner.

Jya Jya Men ($13)

Now, when I saw this on my tasting notes, I quietly assumed that this dish would be the Japanese version of 炸醬麵 (Zha Jiang Mian), a Chinese/Korean dish of noodles served dry with a minced meat and fermented soybean sauce, often served with other vegetables. 

I was not wrong in my assumption. 

The noodles were served with just the right amount of bite left in them, with a fragrant sauce, sliced eggs, slices of cucumber, radish and spring onions. An otherwise satisfying, simple bowl of noodles - I would expect no less from a Japanese establishment.

Oyster and Spinach Teppanyaki with Uni Sauce ($15)

Another favourite of the evening, a hotplate of some seriously succulent oysters on a bed of spinach, with a final slather of uni sauce before the trio are baked to give a slight char.

You'd think that the uni sauce would be too much for a velvety protein like oysters. It may be, but it worked for me. The oysters were meaty and briney, their frills crisped up through the cooking process, with the sauce providing a smokey, creamy touch and amplifying the seafood's freshness and texture. The spinach was a clever way to combat any overwhelming richness, but I quite enjoyed this serving.

Evidently, I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take a proper photo - thus this mess (sadface).

Sashimi Moriawase ($60-120)

While we were tucking in, the waitstaff heaved out these giant terracotta pots of sashimi. Plenty of oohs and ahhs to go around as the displays were brought out.
It was meant to be a surprising touch for our dining experience, and it delivered, based on the reactions of my dining partners. An impressive, large pot of fresh, glistening slabs of seafood, comprising of fatty tuna belly, sea urchin, tuna, seabass, snapper, sweet shrimp (my absolute love amongst sashimi) all flown in within the same day of serving. While the presentation is important and otherwise lovely, I am happy to report that the sashimi selection was perfectly on point in both serving and freshness.

Homemade Steamed Tofu ($12)

Our final savoury dish for the evening, I initially thought that this would be chawanmushi, a standard steamed egg dish in any Japanese meal. However, they brought out a heavy-duty steamer, with a bowl of freshly-steamed, house made tofu within. 

This was a simple and delightful way to end our meal - the tofu, an impossibly soft serving, dissolved and melted deliciously, and it also came with an accompanying light shoyu sauce (we had to be very careful pouring the sauce as the tofu was soft enough to break even under the stream of sauce!) which didn't mask the freshness of the pure tofu. An excellent way to cleanse the palate and cut through any residual grease from the long meal.

Mochi Ice Cream ($8)

Of course, no meal could ever be concluded without a dessert. Soft, white pebbles of mochi enveloping sweet vanilla ice cream, served with peanut powder on a brown sugar sauce.

We had to eat these quick, as the heat of our tropical island doesn't allow ice cream to stay around for long! These dessert morsels were fantastic, a quintessentially Japanese way of serving dessert without having to serve the ice cream and mochi separately. The chewy, membrane-thin mochi contrasted with cold ice cream and warm sugar syrup - very pleasant indeed, our table even asked for seconds.

As we rounded up the meal with chatter, tea and an exchange of name cards, I find myself impressed by the concept of Enbu and Eat At Seven. Now opened in Suntec -- which is trying hard to compete against other shopping malls in Singapore -- with head chef Tatsunori Yara at its helm, as well as being backed up by ANA Trading (yes, the airline), it's difficult for this establishment to go under the radar of any food lover. 

I am sure they will enjoy immense success with their pickings of quality produce and excellent Japanese cuisine, and would recommend Eat At Seven, as well as Enbu to anyone. 

Enbu can be located at:

3 Temasek Boulevard
#03-310 Suntec City Mall
Sky Garden
Singapore 038983

Tel: 6238 1630