May 08, 2016

Food Review: Jamie's Italian (Forum)

Read my first, and second review of Jamie's Italian here!

It's entirely possible that I have a problem when it comes to Mr James Trevor Oliver. 

This post is also a great way to celebrate Mothers' Day, with my parents and some of our close friends. My parents share a good relationship with not just me, but also my close friends, so it is normal for us to sit together and have meals or catch up. We actually do a Christmas and Chinese New Year meal annually as a group, so it makes sense for me to celebrate Mothers' Day, or most birthdays, or anniversaries, or random visits to each others' homes... 

Before I prattle on, here's my third review of Jamie's Italian, but this time, on home soil, at its Forum outlet. 

How could you not be happy, being welcomed by these very purposefully rustic, aged wooden walls and those fluorescent lights, or those enamel merchandise sitting at the window. It's a hive of Italian home decor, clay dishes and yellow lightbulbs.

In preparation for the weekend crowd, I made my reservation on Chope for my group of six online, and was seated at a round table in a private corner. The only issue for me about this was that I was seated in front of what I could only imagine is the pizza section, where it radiated a fair amount of heat against my back. 

It wasn't too bad, but I had to ensure my mother (who gets warm very easily) was sitting as far away from this area of the table as possible. We got seated, menus passed around, tables set, Bloody Marys', Refreshers, soft drinks and iced waters ordered as I set about ordering for our lunch ahead. 

We kicked off with some antipasti starters, of Crispy Squid ($12), Ultimate Garlic Bread ($9) and Italian Nachos ($8.95).

Two of the three starters were a little underwhelming, the squid was lovely, a little on the tough side, but crispy enough as per their name, sprinkled with chilli and crispy garlic bits. The Italian Nachos were confusing to me, since the ones we were served had no stuffing in them, and were not crispy at all. In fact, they were on the other end of being crispy, just soft and chewy, dipped in their zingy tomato sauce. 

Oh but that garlic bread.

Soft buttermilk buns, similar to those little square loaves of hotel breakfast rows - except these buns are glazed and baked to a golden brown top, and absolutely stuffed with a herbed butter, heavy on rosemary, bits of garlic and salt. 

Pulled apart they are steaming soft inside, deliciously pale and soaked in a fragrant butter garlic with just a touch of crustiness at the edges, and topped with a sprinkled heap of toasted rosemary and golden garlic strips. 

I also got two antipasti planks to share, one cured meats and the other with seasonal vegetables. If anything, the planks are a signature sharing plate (or, well, plank) for anyone dining at Jamie's Italian, and depending on the amount of people on the table, you could change the variation accordingly - I ordered up three servings of each. 

The Seasonal Vegetable plank ($14.50 per person) consists of sliced, chargrilled and marinated vegetables like aubergine, peppers and chillies, in a garlic and herb oil, served with sections of crostini topped with whipped ricotta, thin sesame seeded cracker-bread topped with roasted pumpkin, little lumps of buffalo mozzarella. 

The Cured Meats plank ($16.50 per person) consists of ribbons of San Daniele prosciutto, pistachio mortadella, bresaola and hot soppressata, with the same little buffalo mozzarella, aged pecorino cheese on music bread topped with chilli jam. 

Both planks also come with a heaped bowl of rainbow coleslaw, and a selection of lovely pickles and olives. 

There's very little to describe about these planks that I have not said before - but what I can tell you, is that the quality and presentation of these antipasti sharing planks are exactly the same from when I dined in the Perth outlet the last two times. 

I have my favourites, of course, the buffalo mozzarella, the chilli jam, pecorino cheese on music bread, and especially the ability to combine the different types of cured meats onto different types of cheeses, olives, pickles and breads to have varying taste results. I may be wrong, but I think that's the entire point of these antipasti planks - that you can switch it up, and see what results you get out of your favourite Italian combinations. 

Just looking at the cured meats makes me so happy - I've never been a big lover of cured meats, since they are often too salty for me, but these strips and folds of lovely cured meats just work so well on crusty breads and velvety whipped ricotta. You get a spicier kick out of the oilier soppressata, or a marbled prosciutto with a depth of sweet and savoury, roll them under some nutty cheese on a slab of bread, and you've got a winner. 

I also really the slight oiliness of the crunchy shallots, the sour-spicy chilli pickles, and the good old rainbow coleslaw from the vegetable plank, but too much of this would no doubt have left a greasiness on my palate. 

My dad is a big eater, and hungry since our lunch was later than usual - so we got him the Jamie's Italian Burger ($29.50) with a side of Funky Chips ($4). My father was very much in love with this enormous burger, and he was entirely silent through his process of scarfing this down. 

Look at this beauty - piled high with a dripping juicy beef patty, some pancetta, sweet balsamic onions, tomatoes, sharp provolone cheese, pickles and chillies. We did not have one bit of this burger since my dad finished it in about 15 minutes. If you can get my father to not want to share, or be this quiet, your food is already a success in my books. 

Pasta - that is one of my favourite things in the world to have. Especially at Jamie's Italian, where the noodles are made fresh for your pasta choice. 

I ordered up three plates - Tagliatelle Bolognese ($26.50), Penne Carbonara ($24) and Fresh Crab Spaghetti ($26.50). I also got a pizza, cheekily called the Gennaro's Italian Sausage ($24.50)

The world and its people can promise you many things and never fulfil them, but I can definitely swear -- on my never ending appetite for pasta -- that you will never be disappointed by the pasta dishes at Jamie's Italian. Big on flavour and big on texture as well, so, so good. 

Speaking of big, I am also very big on the staple tomato-based Bolognese, and the dish at Jamie's is a winner, this comforting recipe from his mentor Gennaro - a stew of pork and beef and topped up with crispy herbed breadcrumbs and parmesan. It's almost a ragu, sticky-savoury on the silky egg tagliatelle and just so lovely from start to finish - it remains one of my all-time faves. 

Carbonara is a hot favourite with our group, with sweet, soft leeks and crispy pancetta with a traditional, creamy, buttery carbonara sauce with tubes of penne. Lemony and indulgent with absolutely no residual greasiness from the sauce, it can get on the heavy side especially after a significant amount of starters. 

What was new on the table for us on this meal, was the Fresh Crab Spaghetti - which I decided to order so our lunch would have three different variations of pasta. This was a clean and fresh plate of goodness, the sauce barely a hint of oiliness despite a visible sheen coating the lovely spaghetti, sweet crab meat with garlic, spicy kick of chillies, punch of salt from the anchovies and capers. 

Generally speaking, I'm not a big pizza eater when I have pasta on the table, but I can tell you the leftovers we brought home are no longer in the refrigerator anymore. 

It'd be difficult to find any faults with a crispy, freshly-made pizza with a Bianco (white) base of bechamel sauce, Italian sausage filling, crispy rosemary, sweet piles of balsamic onions, and black olives. I hate eating olives in any form, but they are there on the pizza for a reason, so if you, like me, don't prefer these ebony pitted monsters, order up a standard tomato basil (I had my heart set on that, but the name of this pizza made it impossible for me to ignore). 

You'd think dessert was a far away dream after all this food, but post-meal sweets are never off the table when I have six of us together in a place like Jamie's Italian. 

Two desserts were requested, Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake ($13) and Vin Santo Tiramisu ($11.50)

Both of which we have had in some variation before in Perth as well. While we have a lemon meringue tart in Perth's outlet, the tiramisu is the same - just a smaller slice. The cheesecake, like its namesake, was a creamy slice of lemon curd and tart blackcurrent sauce, which would be quite tangy on its own, but paired with the barely charred meringue and the sweet cheesecake - it's a treat. It was not cloying at all, almost refreshing for a cheesecake. 

The Vin Santo Tiramisu, as I mentioned, tastes the same to its variation in Perth, and this Italian dessert is just perfection on its little clay dish. Deep, bittersweet cocoa, creamy-light souffle of a tiramisu with a hint of orange and coffee liquer darkness. It's almost a complete opposite to the cheesecake in terms of the flavour palate, but this was a personal favourite between the two desserts ordered. 

Service, as always, is busy and very friendly, so as long as you've got yourself a booking, you'll most definitely be set with a lovely meal regardless of whether it's a long lunch, or a relaxed dinner. I spoke fondly of my experiences in Perth with the maitre d, and also had a short conversation with one of the chefs - who'd met the man himself and told me what we see on television, is 100% how he is when he is face-to-face with you (The man is also not as short as he appears on the telly). 

So, with that extremely filling, and lovely meal, here's to all the mothers in the world, and especially mine, from whom this blog would not even have its name. 

Jamie's Italian can be located at:

Forum, Orchard Road
583 Orchard Road #01-04
Singapore 238884
Tel: 65 6655 7676

Sunday to Thursday
1130AM to 10PM

Friday to Saturdays
1130AM to 11PM

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