Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Artichoke Cafe: Moreish for Moorish

Artichoke cafe is much more renowned for it's brunch than dinner. Located in Sculpture Square, it replaces the now defunct My Secret Garden and has been well received for it Moorish cuisine. Actually, I still can't really define what it is and so I've of course googled it.


Moorish cuisine is named after The Moors, who combined the flavors from the lands they conquered; Spanish, Berber, Arab, North African, to create their unique style of cuisine. Features of the cuisine include :
  • Communal sharing from the same dish
  • Predominance of yellow, green, and white colors
  • Use of saffron, cumin, and coriander.
  • Spiced stews made from chickpeas, lentils, and from fresh or dried broad beans
(http://www.teresadecastro.com/papers/IberianPeninsula.htm)

Indeed, Artichoke encourages communal sharing as the portions of individual plates are not very big and so we can order more and try different variety at the same time.  However, I realised little was mentioned about the variety of cheese. In fact, the cheeses available at Artichoke were very different from the cheddar, emmental, mozarella, blue cheese that we usually see. Many are unheard of. 

As such, I bet Moorish cuisine is still one of the least understood cuisine in Singapore. In fact, as the food were served, the waiter and waitress were very patient in explaining the various ingredients used. Despite having ventured into the unknown, we had a rewarding dinner as the food was tasty and an eye opener.


First, we tried the popular Turkish bread and chips with 3 types of Moorish dips($15). The highest one is hummus with yoghurt and cucumber. It was chosen to be the most 开胃 and refreshing one out of the three. And thus the fastest plate to be emptied. The 2nd dip was hummus with chickpeas and the bottom one is hummus with caramelized carrots and walnuts. This one had the natural sweetness of carrots.

Our favourite dip
If you ask "how does hummus taste like?", i would say it tastes like pureed food because of it's not so creamy but slightly grainy texture. Something like tasty baby food. Hummus is actually a popular Middle East dip made of olive oil, mashed chickpeas, lemon juice, salt and garlic and tahini.

All 3 dips were not overly salted and paired very well with the warm crusty bread and of cos the crispy pita below.

I am not too sure but after searching through the images, I think this Turkish bread is actually Turkish Flatbread, also known as Pide. Commonly topped with black sesame and cumin seeds.

Bread, (“ekmek” in Turkish) is the main staple food in Turkish cuisine. This Pide doesn't require kneading. In Turkey, in almost every corner, you will run into a bakery where the aroma of bread is filling the whole street. The importance of bread in Turkish cuisine cannot be overstated. It is considered to be peasant food, since it is cheap and filling, nevertheless rich and poor, everyone consumes bread daily.

Since the menu stated that 2 plates and some Turkish bread would satisfy, we ordered 4 from the dinner menu but actually there were not many choices either. They were mainly vegetables, cheeses or lamb. But the food that came surprised us in it's appearance.
First time seeing a plate of brown colour cauliflowers
The Cauliflower ($15) consists of deep fried cauliflower with yoghurt feta sauce. The cauliflower itself had a char grilled smoky smell but it was not oily despite the fact that they were deep fried. It went very well together with the tangy yoghurt cheese base and it was a good thing that we ordered this to balance with the cheese and meat we had together.
There were also pomegranate seeds, blackcurrants, almonds, fried garlic chips so this dish is really packed with different textures. Sweetness from the fruits and the savoury from the smoked paprika salt.

The Grilled Haloumi Cheese ($16) is actually described as the squeaky cheese steak because when you cut into it, it goes "squeak', "squeak". It is an interesting dish because the whole steak has the firm texture of a pressed tofu or 板豆腐. I had imagined the slab of cheese to be soft and mushy but it turned out totally opposite. Cheese fans and non cheese fans can try this because it does not have any of the blue cheese smell, neither would you get too sick of the cheesy taste.

According to BBC Food, this is a firm, slightly springy white cheese from Cyprus, (in Mediterranean) traditionally made with sheeps’ milk, although these days mass-produced varieties often use cows’ milk. In texture, halloumi is similar to a firm mozzarella, making it a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. Unlike mozzarella, however, it has a strong salty flavour, particularly when preserved in brine. (Ah...no wonder it is so salty)
However, the saltiness matches very well with the salad of tomatoes, olives  and walnuts. Could not find what exactly is the taste of Sumac  that in this dish because it is a fruit that is grounded into powder and commonly used to add a lemony taste into salad and meats (mostly in Arab cuisine). A highly recommended dish to try.
The Merguez Sausages ($18) consists of Moroccan lamb sausages with toum garlic puree. Extremely savoury, even when compared to the grilled cheese steak. The dip does not help to curb the saltiness because the dip itself is also very salty. But the sausages taste very unique as it has a kind of smokiness and chewy meatiness to them. Rather 重口味 but some who prefer stronger flavours would  definitely like this.

The dip, known as Toum, not Tomb, is actually a garlic sauce as prepared in Lebanon, the Levant and Egypt similar to the European aioli. As well as garlic, it contains salt, olive oil or vegetable oil and lemon juice crushed using a wooden mortar and pestle.

The Lamb Ribs ($28) are twice cooked with chermoula spices, pomegrate BBQ glaze and tahini yoghurt. Actually this is similar to making Tandoori chicken, in which the meat is marinated in yoghurt sauce to tenderise the meat.

Indeed, the glaze was very tasty, leaning more towards the savoury rather than the usual sweetness of American-style BBQ ribs. The meat is not say totally tender throughout but does have some bite to it.

Thick blubbers of fat can be found beneath the skin....but the exterior skin was very crispy. 外脆内嫩. It resembles the crispy pork suckling but the lamb ribs definitely tastes way much better than the pork. There are about 6 pieces on the plate and thus very convenient for sharing.

The desserts were as equally impressive as the mains.

The "Date Pudding" ($14) is really not your traditional date pudding. Look at how it is covered with peanuts and sea salt, sitted in a pool of smoked milk custard and peanut caramel sauce, and dusted with cocoa.

The date pudding is served warmed and was surprisingly not cloyingly sweet as compared to typical sticky date pudding. The cake is slightly moist and not too dense/heavy. It was a perfect match to the salty custard and it leaves me thinking.....if this is so good, why should we still insist on pairing date puddings with the traditional butterscotch or toffee sauce? Time to embrace new changes like this=)

So heavenly that this was a favourite for all of us.

The Malabi ($12) is a chilled Israeli milk and rosewater pudding with red berry sauce and crushed pistachios.

I thought this would be similar to Indian rice pudding but I was wrong. It tasted like a chewier version of vanilla cotta and has a very nice flowerly fragrance to it. Some might not be used to the red layer of rose and berry sauce at the top though. A Middle East + Italian fusion perhaps? Good that it is not too sweet.

The Galaktoboureko ($16) was a newly added dish to the menu. Coated with a layer of sticky lemon syrup, this Greek semolina custard sits on top a not very crispy phyllo pastry.

Paired with orange blossom honey gelato.
The texture is totally different from what I had imagined a custard would be. This tasted like kueh perhaps because of the use of semolina flour. Very compact and dense kueh that leaves one very full after finishing this. It is not very sweet but because of its slight rubbery texture, one would take quite some time to consume this. So would not really recommend this as a dessert after having the mains though.

Nice place to chill out
Overall, this place left a deep impression not only in terms of its food but also its ambience and friendly service. The grilled cheese, lamb ribs and the date pudding left me with a deeper impression. Many people came in groups and could tell that the atmosphere is very suitable for dining and chitchat. It is not very noisy and the seats are not cramped together. Would definitely return one day for its famous hearty brunch.

Are you feeling moreish for Moorish food?

Artichoke
161, Middle Road
Inside Sculpture Square
http://www.artichoke.com.sg/

3 comments:

  1. Why should halloumi have a blue cheese smell? It is not a blue cheese.

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    Replies
    1. precisely! by writing that "cheese fans can try this because it does not have any of the blue cheese smell" I meant to encourage those who tend not to try unfamiliar cheese for fear of any possible unpleasant smell, to try halloumi because it is delicious

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