Monday, December 31, 2012

Nanjya Monjya : Sizzling End to Year 2012

My official last dinner of year 2012 ended much better than I expected. No fine-dining, no  arty-farty French or Italian cuisine, no ritual new year soba but pure comfort Japanese food okonomiyaki.  
 
Okonomiyaki? Yeps, this Kansai style "pizza" (as what was written on the menu though I disagree that it is a pizza) might sound boring to some people but a search for places that serve Okonomiyaki here yields few results. Besides the familiar franchise Botejyu, there is not many that actually specialises in Okonomiyaki. Fortunately, I found Namjya Monjya, a casual Japanese restaurant located in Grand Copthorne Waterfront, which offers more than 20 styles of okonomokiyaki and  monjyayaki respectively. Too many selections that leaves one hard to decide.
 

we ordered the Tuna Flake Okonomiyaki and the raw ingredients were served. Tuna flakes might seemed like a boring right-out-of-the can ingredient but the tuna served here was way better than the average canned tuna. Diners can choose to DIY or request the staff to do it. Being amateurs, we took the backseat to watch our the pancake sizzle in front our eyes.
It was initially made rather thick but upon some guidance, we flattened our okonomiyaki for a wider cooked surface area with that aromatic golden brown crust.  This "pizza" packed full of ingredients with no trace of flour batter in the bowl of raw ingredients hit the bullseye for my Okonomiyaki craving without travelling to Osaka. Simple, cheap and good.
 
If tuna flakes doesn't appeal, go for the fermented natto w dried cuttlefish, pork belly or even the extravagant mixed seafood. Or try the Monjyayaki, a much wetter batter compared to Okonomiyaki. We watched the tables around us having it and the portion is way larger than ours. They have Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki too.

 
One would be glad to know that the place offers all kinds of Japanese food. You name it they have it. The deep-fried Cream Croquette lattered with ketchup and mayonnaise might not look like the standard Hokkaido far round croquettes but was rich and creamy without being too starchy.
The Kani Nabe was a seasonal special that we would highly recommend to any crab lovers. The big pot for 2 pax overflowed with vegetables and crab legs was going at a price of $34 ( a steal as this was originally the price tag for one pax) To be more precise, I would say this big pot feeds a family of four-five and definitely more value for $$ than the nabes found in local Japanese franchise restaurants.
 
 To wait for the soup to boil was as torturous as waiting for the Okonomiyaki to be cooked. But ultimately, patience was rewarded with a very clear robust soup infused with the sweetness from the fresh crab and vegetables.
 
No sauce, no vinegar, this was just about savoring the chunky crab meat piping hot (unlike cold crabs in buffet).  So good was this dish that it even convinced non-crab eaters.
The only gripe with this beautiful Saba Shioyaki was the fish being overly salted. But it was fresh and the skin was grilled perfect.

 
The signature Spicy Mentaiko Cheese Tofu was decent but did not impressed much as the one at Ajinomori. Would be better if they had been more generous with the sauce.

Nonetheless, the ultimate surprise of the day was the Teppan Kaki with Bacon and Japanese leek.
 
This was an add-on dish that would have been gone unnoticed if we had not been searching for oyster dishes.  
This teppan dish consists of six big plump Australian oysters with slices of bacon and sweet Japanese leek that sizzled on the hot plate with butter and oil from the bacon. The pink bacon turned into a lovely dark brown after it was cooked. Never imagined that bacon can go well with oysters.
 
This oyster dish was at a very reasonable price of $18 for everything. Fresh, sweet and much more satisfying than the smaller oysters from France that usually go at $7-$12 per piece.
Would recommend this to any oyster lovers who are willing to try something different from raw oysters.  This is probably the first  and the only place I know that offers Teppan oysters and does it well.


There were a variety of desserts like matcha parfait and yuzu sorbet but decided to skip them.
What surprised us was that this place seemed like a treasure cove with nearly 80 varieties of food including yakitori, salads, cold and hot appetizers, soba, nabe, teppanyaki, sashimi...... with an additional two pages worth of  Namjya-monjya specialties fully hand-scribbled in a worn scrap-book like menu.
 
Though ploughing through the messy words can be time consuming especially with too many selections, Nanjya Monjya can easily be the optimal place to go for affordable Japanese food as one can easily find something that he/she likes on the menu. One advice is not take a bath before visiting that place....as I am sure everyone will leave the place with a nice "smell".
 
Wish all a yummy-licious Year 2013!
Nanjya-Monjya
390A Havelock Road
#01-03/04/05 Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel

 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pamplemousse Bistro & Bar

Sometimes festive dining does not necessarily equate to spending a bomb (for instance in occasions when one splurged more than hundred dollars for a lavish set course). At Pamplemousse, 3-course set lunches at $32 were fortunately still available on Xmas day and diners are allowed to mix and match their own appetiser, main and dessert from the 6-course christmas eve dinner that was available the previous night.

The reviews here had been good as the place embarks on a fusion style whipping up classic French food with some local spices/ingredients. The place was conceived by a married couple Adrian Ling and Cleo Chiang-Ling, who wanted to present something different from the usual European or French dishes by experimenting with regional ingredients. 
 
The portions for their set lunches were really generous and thus we were glad that we shared the set lunches instead of ordering one each.

Citrus marinated Salmon | Pamplemousse confit | Saikyo miso aioli | Croutons

Though pamplemousse means "grapefruit" in French, there was no sight of any grapefruit on their menu except in the appetiser shown above (the size can be equivalent to the mains in other places). The fillet of salmon was 70% marinated and 30% cooked. It looks raw but do not taste like sashimi, yet it lacks the salty flavour in smoked salmon. Nonetheless, this salmon has just the perfect tender texture that people who are strictly against raw food might accept it. The salmon is rather bland on its own and thus works well with the brown saikyo miso aioli to produce a strong umami taste.

Eggs "Meurette"
Poached eggs | Red wine | Kecap manis | Bacon, mushrooms & pearl onions | Brioche
This second appetiser is a rendition of the classic recipe of poached eggs in red wine sauce. with the addition of kecap manis, the sauce was full-bodied and had to be eaten with the crispy toasted brioche. This dish tasted better than it looked, except that the poached egg was not really poached well and resembles near fully boiled egg.

Cream of Chestnut
Smoked Foie Gras  | Coconut flesh water and milk  | Croutons
This was from the festive menu and we were glad to have given it a try. Though coconut and chestnut might sound weird together, the sweetness from both components was surprisingly not too overpowering. The brown bits on top of the soup were the foie gras that did not resemble foie gras but turned out to be it. With a crunchy coating on the outside, no one expected to taste it until the fats burst in the mouth.
 
Duck Confit (add $5)

Confit of duck leg  | Braised red cabbage  | Pommes sarladaise  | Lychee gastrique
This main course as recommended by the waitress was fairly decent and the duck met my expectations of a crunchy skin with fork tender meat inside. Though it was "confit" style, the dish was not greasy at all. The huge duck leg might looked daunting but easily swooned up with the gravy that is not just brown sauce but contained sweetness coming from cabbage and the lychee juice in the brown gravy. Nonetheless, it still has not beat the chocolate duck confit from Au Chocolat.
 
Wagyu Oxtail “Rawon” Tagliatelle

Indonesian spices |  Buah Keluak  | Cherry Tomatoes |  Chilli flakes
This asian-peranakan remix did not translate well on plate as the taste was bland and neither savoury nor spicy at all. Cherry Tomatoes and Buah Keluak seemed to be lost in wanderland.

Christmas Turkey
Slow poached turkey breast  |Turkey leg roulade | sausage stuffing  |cranberry  |"chicken rice" arachini
 
Turkey breast turned out extremely tender than steamed chicken with the slow-poached method and the rich savoury sausage stuffing was balanced by the red cranberry sauce. Perhaps turkey are tasting much better these days than 10 years ago.
 However, what I liked best was the chicken rice balls, deep fried with bread crumbs and filled with cheese in the centre that formed strands when pulled apart.



Osmanthus crème brulee | Lychee sorbet
This osmanthus infused brulee was the least sweetest creme brulee I've had so far. Perhaps this might appeal to those who prefer less sugar but the osmanthus taste was not very distinct and the lychee sorbet though small, had undeniably contributed a fair load of sweetness.



Melons + Sago V2.0
This was a welcome twist to the usual Chinese Melon Sago Pudding. Refreshing honeydew ice with caramel popcorn ice cream and a crispy sweet brittle. If only there were real popcorn bits inside the ice cream......
 
Christmas Log Cake
Available on their regular menu as well, this chocolate dessert is made up of log-shaped milo  ice cream, opera cake, cocoa crumbs, rose and pandan meringue. Tasted rather flat and failed to leave any deep impression.
 
The mains and appetisers fared much better than the desserts and it is heartening to taste creations of local chefs who seek to innovate. The place is actually quite famous for its Uni Tagliolini with Crustacean cream sauce and pork gratons ( not on the set menu) but our stomachs could no longer afford any more space for it. The set menus here are highly value for money for its quality and quantity. Suitable for those looking for something familiar and yet not too extravagant.
 
Pamplemousse Bistro & Bar
7 Dempsey Road, 01-04,
Singapore 249671
Menu and Details : http://www.pamplemousse.com.sg










 
 
 
 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Tiong Bahru Bakery : More than Croissants

The name Tiong Bahru Bakery caught my attention since I have been back here as the place is famous for its signature croissant. Since August, I have been trying out several breads and pastries with both hits and misses.

The signature croissant (eaten up before any photos could be taken) lived up to my expectation partly because I had reheated it in my oven till the crispness I want. But I doubt it will be the same eating in the shop unless they are straight out the oven. 

 
However, I think their Almond croissant with Chocolate filling (left) and Kouig Aman (right) are equally competent , if not better than its croissant if you prefer something sweet.
Both flaky and fragrant, the almond croissant was heavenly while the latter, despite its ugly appearance, was swirled with salted caramel remains my personal favourite.
If you don't like chocolate, do try the Plain Almond Croissant. It was consumed at room temperature but remained crispy.
 

However, some of the pastries left me in a blur. The Raisin Roll (right) was average while the Pandan Flan (Bottom Left) lacked any distinct pandan aroma or flavour and the pastry was soggy. Meanwhile, The Rapsberry Crumble (Top Left) was underbaked resulting in a slightly chewy lacklustre pastry and the crumble toppings were too little. 
Managed to takeaway the Triple Chocolate Mousse with a praline crunchy base despite the staff insisting that it can only be dined in for fear that the mousse might melt. But the fact that it reached my house safe and sound proved that the mousse was not really as soft as they expected. However, the varying textures and flavours of the three chocolates satisfied the chocolate crave.
 
 

The Chocolate Mendiant Tart (Right) is a more elaborate version of a chocolate mendiant-the tart is filled with dried fruits and nuts topped with rich dark chocolate ganache. The Lemon Tart (Left) was simple without the extra white meringue and sour to my liking. Probably one of the better lemon tarts in town.

 
Just as I thought there would be no new items anymore, it's Christmas specials- A Chocolate Snowball Globe tart took me by surprise. Filled with sweet milk chocolate mousse and the tangy pineapple and passionfruit compote, the chocolate ball sat on a crumbly almond tart whose sweetness was just right.

At the centre sits a mini delicate red balloon of salty raspberry sauce which burst open at the poke of a fork. This is not something new but still very interesting to have in local bakeries.
 
Galette De Rois or King's Cake: a traditional puff pastry filled with almond paste. The lucky one will find a king miniature and be blessed for the year ahead. Many places sell this as a whole pastry but I was glad they had it in individual serving size as well.
 
 
After trying their range of croissants, I do think that it is very close to my No.1 Croissant- the Echire Croissant in Tokyo Marunouchi and is able to satisfy my cravings for the simple yet often overlooked pastry. Despite having so much for their sweet pastries, the bread lover shall return for its croque monsieurs, black squid ink buns and other more delectable goodies.
 
Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier:
Raffles City Shopping Centre Basement
56 Eng Hoon Street #01-70, Tiong Bahru Estate, Singapore 160056

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Esquina : Spanish Tapas or Dimsum?


The well-acclaimed Esquina, opened by Michelin Chef James Atherton who has worked under Gordon Ramsay, has been on my must-visit-places-before-I-fly-off list.
 
 Currently headed by executive chef Andrew Walsh, the place offers quite a unique dining experience where you can watch the preparation of the food in front of a stretch of 12 indoor bar seats and the chef will briefly explain what the food is when they serve them.
 

The visit left me with mixed feelings as I realized that dining here with The Folks here could be a complicated issue. Admittedly, the portions here are small for the price and they could afford to be more generous. 

For instance, the Miso Grilled Mackerel, with wasabi avocado, lime & cucumber relish was a thin flat slice of fish that is much smaller than the average one from Japanese restaurants but the lime relish was refreshingly crunchy and it curbed the savouriness of the fish as the umami from the miso was quite heavy. However, this is not recommended as the freshness of the fish was not guaranteed. 
 
The Oysters with Vietnamnese dressing (7each).
Freshly shucked in front of your eyes.
 
The Roasted Padron Peppers with Chilli Garlic & Salt  
Nothing exciting about this and one may perhaps spend it on other dishes.
 
 
Roasted Pork Belly on Coriander Seaweed Salad, poured with Bacon Onion Dashi Broth. 
The meat was tender and coriander seaweed salad at the bottom was soft and sweetened by the broth. The clear soup was full of umami but did not dilute the taste of the meat. This dish of simple looking pork belly is unique as most would serve it as it is with sauce or mash potatoes.


Spanish Breakfast Slow cooked egg with bravas sauce , potato cubes and crispy Iberico ham

I thought this dish would be super greasy and would burst the calorie-meter but it did not. This breakfast was transformed with an elegant touch with a pool of bravas sauce (spicy tangy tomatoes) that is more of a rich thick salsa. It was interesting to watch how this dish was prepared as the egg was placed on top and cooked with heat coming from the above. The cubes of oil-fried potatoes were no more than five but were fragrant. Mix the beautiful egg yolk up with the rest for the maximum taste in a spoonful.
 
A dish from the festive menu is this Roasted Guinea Fowl in Empanadas with Cranberry with Seared Foie Gras.
The pastry and the filling did not impress but what did was the well-seared Foie Gras with sweet slightly sautéed sweet cranberries instead of simply sweet fruit jam. The two mini slabs of foie gras on top of the pastry was crispy dark brown on the outside and the thickness was just right so it was not too rich for those who usually shun Foie Gras.
It reminded The Folks of curry puff or more appropriately chicken mushroom puff and I would not deny. However, it is actually a traditional stuffed bread from the Latin America either baked or fried.
It is understandable why the Ham Croquettes have been raved by many.
 
There was no sight of mashed potatoes like Japanese croquettes but the entire ball was just rich sticky rich cheese with iberico ham which doubled the saltiness. Guessed this tapas must have gone well with beer or sangria. It has made me look forward to try out more Spanish croquettes in future.
 


For the desserts, the limited festive Rompope-Spiced Eggnog with Pedro Ximenez foam was full of alcohol kick and highly recommended for any alcohol lovers. It was more of a drink rather than a dessert though it was covered with the white grape wine foam. Be surprised by the salty taste coming from the crushed almonds stuck around the brim of the cup.
 
The Japanese Green Tea Cake with Sake Blueberries, Calamansi Curd and Fennel Seed Ice Cream sounds very cultured but did not translate well onto plates.
 The two small squares of matcha cake were dry though the fennel seed ice cream was quite special. The taste did not leave lasting memories as the tiny portions of the various components did not paint a complete picture. It was perplexing to have a dessert that only covered 20% of the plate.
Fortunately, the Cookies & Cream did help to salvage the meal a little by appealing to everyone’s inner child. Indeed as the name Cookies & Cream suggest, the first way of eating is via the condensed milk ice cream that was mixed with cookies crumbs and topped with air chocolate.
The second and more direct way is sip the vanilla-infused milk in the glass bottle and have a bite of the chocolate chip cookie. It is a dessert divided into two separate plates. Sweet endings but something was still lacking. The salted hazelnut paste was either missing or too little to be detected.   
 
The Complimentary Sangria Ice Cream from Chef
Some have said that one should arrive early to get a seat especially on Fri/Sat or be prepared to queue. This was because they do not they any reservations. Ironically, we promptly arrive at 6pm but it was only ready for service after 15minutes. The place was about 80% full and the service was insincere.
Foodwise, it was acceptable to me and I enjoyed experimenting with the new combinations of flavours but not for The Folks who commented that they had no idea what they were eating that night. Perhaps Spanish tapas might not be the cup of tea for everyone but I shall still continue to search for one that will be comfortable not only to the tastebuds but also to our stomachs and pocket.
 
Esquina
16 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore 089267
Monday-Saturday hours 12:00 pm–3:00 pm, 6:00 pm–11:00 pm 
 
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