Saturday, June 30, 2007

Peachy Keen Redux*

* Please excuse the title. It was the fault of HM the film buff who has a thing for reduxes.

By the time we had finished dinner at Peach Garden the week before (see previous entry), we already knew we would be back for another meal pronto. Peach Garden was having a promotion - a whole roast peking duck for only $38 - till the end of the month, and the ducks that were flying out out of the kitchen door that night looked wonderful. Sadly, we hadn't been able to squeeze a duck into that dinner, so of course we had to round up the usual suspects for an immediate return visit.

(N.B. Unfortunately I could only arrive half an hour later than the appointed time by which time HM, SGN and KKN had already done the ordering. While what was ordered was not an issue (good job, people!), the "orderers" could not remember what they had ordered. As a result, the names of some of these dishes, as given here, are what I, with a little help from the quick glance I had of the menu and MM's food notes, have essayed...)

roast peking duck

it's a wrap!

We started with the raison d'etre, so to speak, and we were all impressed. Crispy without being hard, not overly fatty, lovely flavour - the duck alone was worth the visit; it was that good. For the length of the dinner, we were sorely tempted to order a second duck...

double boiled seafood in golden melon (aka old cucumber)

double boiled shark's fin in pumpkin

double boiled shark's bone cartilage with fish maw and bamboo pith

Then came the soup. The advance team had ordered six individual portions of soup, two of each kind. The seafood soup in golden melon (sic) was for the bleeding heart liberal amongst us who has eschewed shark's fin, MM, and the usually picky eater, ES, whom the team weren't sure ate shark's fin either. (ES, as it turned out, loves shark's fin...) Anyway, all three soups were excellent. On our previous visit, we hadn't been that impressed with the standard shark's fin soup, but these variants on a theme were quite another story. I'm not sure if these are offered at other restaurants but these really hit the spot. Even our resident bleeding heart liberal gave the shark's fin soup a thumbs up. (Hah, don't get us started about hypocrisy - she who refused to order shark's fin and would later in the course of the dinner and this entry tut tut us for ordering something with foie gras in it insisted on sampling our soup!) Of course, not everyone appreciated the shark cartilage soup. The peppery flavour, slightly reminiscent of pig's stomach soup, is definitely an acquired taste.

steamed soon hock

Then came the fish. Done in the standard Hong Kong style, the fish was good. HM was in raptures over it; 'twas, for her, the highlight of the evening. She certainly took her time excavating all the morsels of flesh from the remaining carcass and savouring them. I think there were other more noteworthy dishes, such as this one:

wasabi prawns

Wasabi prawns are one of Peach Garden's signature dishes. Springy, prawny and coated with wasabi mayonnaise - what's not to like? Or so I thought. Who knew that ES wouldn't touch wasabi with a ten-foot pole? And this is a woman who supposedly eats Japanese food, aigh. The food "orderers" who had done a real good job of avoiding all the "taboo" food groups (have I mentioned that KKN does not eat tubular vegetables such as carrots?) hadn't anticipated that and were consequently mortified.

baby kai lan with foie gras and lily bulbs

spinach beancurd with scallop

The next two dishes were more standard fare. Both dishes were from the list of specials, I think. Of the two, I preferred the latter. The ingredients went together rather well whereas I wasn't sure if the kai lan, foie gras and lily bulbs did anything for each other (although they were certainly delicious on their own). And for those interested, the non-foie gras eater coped by retrieving the stalks of vegetables from the bottom of the pile, the ones unsullied by the stain of human cruelty.

duck meat in cabbage rolls

At this point, the rest of the duck made its reappearance. Usually incorporated into a noodle dish of some sort, the duck meat here was stirfried with some vegetables (I could have sworn some were tubular in origin but don't anyone tell KKN that...) and served on cabbage. It was a nice change, although not spectacular.

steamed baby lobster with mian xian in chinese wine and chicken stock

The meal ended with another Peach Garden specialty. I have to say the taste was exquisite. HM puts it down to the amount of chinese wine used, but I think it's the natural sweetness (the Cantonese call this "teem mei") of the ingredients - the lobster, the chinese wine and the chicken stock. The silky-smooth mian xian or mee sua was the perfect sop for all that sweet goodness.

In summary, this was one of the those meals that ended with everyone sitting back, relaxed and burping, feeling entirely satisfied, or as my Mum would put it, "hati puas". There was not a note wrong. Of course you get what you pay for. The bill came up to $465 or so, but after a Visa Platinum discount, it came down to exactly $400 in total. Divided six ways, it was $66.67 per head, and worth every cent.

P.S. The next time we will consider bringing a bottle of wine. Many a table was having some, and a quick search of local websites revealed that either Peach Garden does not charge corkage for BYOB or charges a relatively small fee.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Peachy Keen

HM owed her father a Father's Day treat, so we decided to take Momma and Poppa out for a good meal. These being good Chinese people, we thought we should opt for a "safe" choice. Peach Garden seemed to fit the bill. Central location not requiring too much travelling? Check - the Novena branch is not difficult for us to get to. A cuisine familiar enough for conservative eaters? Check - modern Cantonese, hehe. Recommended by other Chinese people? Check - my parents like it. Case closed.

wasabi prawns

We chose the set menu for four persons ($168++) which started with Peach Garden's signature wasabi prawn dish. The prawns were excellent - plump and crunchy. HM wasn't sure she liked the wasabi mayonnaise but then again she's not a fan of mayo anyway. Momma though mopped up every last bit of it, and I liked it too, although I have to admit, neon green isn't exactly an appetising colour. The accompanying softshell crab was tasty but no match for the prawn.

shark's fin with bamboo pith

This dish arrived accompanied by some hooha. It had been whisked off to be "separated" into bowls. When the individual bowls returned, we were told that we should have been served more soup stock, and that the kitchen had been told to deliver more. Shortly after, a deep dish full of soup appeared. I would have preferred more ingredients, rather than more soup, but hey, at least they care about the quality of food served. Anyway, I hate to sound ungrateful, but I have to admit that I think Tung Lok does a better job with this dish...

steamed fish with mui choy

The steamed fish was excellent. I know that a Cantonese restaurant should be expected to deliver on the fish, but it was still a delight to find the fish lightly steamed to just the right amount of doneness and ably complemented by the mui choy.

crispy chicken with plum sauce

If the fish was good, the chicken was a big hit at our table. The chicken was crispy on the outside and yet juicy and tender on the inside. The plum sauce plus, we believe, orange peel were brilliant accompaniments. The topping left us baffled. The shreds were slightly crispy too but tasted very slightly of egg. Eventually we asked and were told that it was pork floss!

fried Japanese ramen with prawns and scallops

After the chicken, the ramen was a slight letdown. In a nutshell, it reminded us of Hokkien mee with prawns and scallops. It was decent enough but no big deal.

almond paste with tofu

For dessert, we were given the choice of a hot dessert, almond paste with tofu, or a cold one, mango pomelo. The mango pomelo somehow felt wrong, too Hong Kong cafe perhaps. The almond paste with tofu was the classier choice. We've had more spectacular desserts before, but this was good enough an ending to a fine meal.

Overall, I would say Peach Garden was pretty impressive. The quality and presentation of food was above average. The tea (we had pu-er) got the elders nodding in approval. The service was very good, and price-wise, it was cheaper than Tung Lok (although I suspect the portions and quality of ingredients are correspondingly more "premium" at TL).

P.S. We didn't get a chance to try Peach Garden's signature roast goose and roast pork; the roast goose was not in stock and the parental units did not have the capacity for an additional dish. What a pity... But all is not lost - watch this space for more developments...


Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Countryside Experience

We took so long to get round to eating there that the place changed its name in the meantime. In making the reservation for the long overdue lunch, I discovered that the restaurant was now Bistro Petit Salut, no longer Au Petit Salut, the latter having moved on to swankier premises in the Dempsey cluster, leaving behind a new junior sibling and, I assume, taking with it the chef that built its reputation. Oh well, whoever took my reservation assured me that the menu was quite the same, give or take a few small exceptions, and the set lunches were still available, so I went ahead and booked us a table for five.

Our intention was to sample the set lunches which we had heard were reasonably priced. Indeed there were two set menus offered, one at $22 and one (the executive set lunch) at $35, both of which seemed perfectly reasonable for a three-course meal. For an additional $6, one could also opt for the main from the executive set lunch. These prices included regular tea or coffee.

The range of options were fair enough, suitably reflective of the French countryside cuisine that the Petit Salut restaurants are well known for. Since there were five of us, we could make a fair stab at the choices on offer.

KKN's vine-ripened tomato salad

my half dozen escargots (snails, for the uninitiated)

MM's beetroot salad with goat cheese

ES' mixed green salad with fresh herbs

HM's soup du jour, cream of lentil

Good sized portions, well balanced flavours - the appetizers got us off to a good start, but the highlights of the meal were yet to come. Incidentally, for those who prefer their escargots served with a vicious kick of garlic, these will disappoint. They were buttery and "herbally", somewhat subtle for a countryside cuisine perhaps.

ES' and KKN's oven roasted "forty onions" chicken leg with mashed potato

braised lamb shank (available for an additional $6)

seared pork chop provencal style (from the executive set lunch menu, also for an additional $6)

HM's catch of the day, seared threadfin

It was in the mains that the Petit Salut French countryside style shone through most clearly. The chicken was suitably robust, with an excellent potato mash. The fish too was perched on a very tasty mash (we're not sure what kind - cauliflower?). The lamb shank was a big hit, so tender it practically fell off the bone, and so smooth. The star of the show though was the pork chop which was juicy to say the least. The sauce was pronounced to be "very Provencal", with its full-flavoured mixture of ripe tomatoes, olives and olive oil. The only thing was the frites were a little disappointing. They should have been more flavourful perhaps, more crispy on the outside.

my blanc manger with fresh watermelon (left) and KKN's “petit pot au chocolat” 72% dark chocolate ganache with whipped cream (right)

HM's creme brulee with vanilla

MM's nougat glace with red berry coulis

ES' choux buns filled with vanilla ice cream in warm chocolate sauce and sliced almonds

The desserts were not to be sniffed at either. MM's nougat glace - a frozen dessert made with whipped cream and candied fruit - was a revelation. It reminded us of ice cream in texture and taste. I liked my blanc manger (milk pudding) too - it was delicate and light - although at first taste, we all exclaimed "almond jelly" or "tau huey". KKN was similarly impressed with her "little pot of chocolate", offering it to one and all at our table.

So the food was excellent and the price was right ($177.50 for five people, including some sparkling water and a glass of wine). The space was pleasant too, informal enough for a cosy lunch.

The only blot on the experience was the unexpectedly awful service. KKN asked if she could change her main course and was told "yes", only to be served her original order. Over and over again, we were served each other's orders. Worse, we were repeatedly brought food and drinks destined for other tables. This might have had something to do with the fact that a number of the waitstaff appeared not to have a working grasp of the English language. But we were in excellent spirits, thanks to the good food. Otherwise the service could have been excruciating. We surmised that the problem had something to do with the turnover in staff resulting from the revamp. A more senior elf, when asked by MM in a classic MM move to explain the diference between the old Au Petit Salut and the new Bistro Petit Salut, blurted out that the food and setting, post-makeover, was more "country" (I believe she was looking for the word, "rustic") and that the service was more "rough". Touche - we couldn't have put it better.

P.S. A HM quip: "When they call it 'Food Court Petit Salut', we'll know what to expect."


Monday, June 18, 2007

Chin Lee

The parents and I had been meaning to try this place just across the road from their flat, but each time it had been crowded, Chinese New Year and all. Apparently Chin Lee used to be a zi cha type stall in the same location. Then it upgraded and became a full-fledged restaurant, upmarket enough to host a wedding dinner, and word had it that it was good and it was expensive.

zhe jiang pork ribs

jia xiang tofu

steamed pomfret Teochew style

fried mee sua

We ordered four dishes for the three of us. On the plus side, the zhe jiang pork ribs were pretty well done, both in terms of taste and texture. The fish was good, as can be expected from a Teochew restaurant. On the minus side, the tofu was unremarkable. The mee sua was a lost opportunity. Instead of a more interesting treatment, it was given the sing zhuo chow mein makeover. Such a pity.

In the end, the meal wasn't that good (although it wasn't bad per se), but neither was it that expensive. The bill came up to $56.80 including the fish which cost $30. The other items were $9 each. That's a little more expensive than the $5 or $6 which zi cha stalls charge. However Chin Lee's portions were substantially bigger. We agreed that it was at least good value for money.


How Fun, Hor Fun

We ended up at Lee Tong Kee Ipoh Sar Hor Fun in Chinatown one night, tired and footsore from shopping. We just wanted a quick bite and weren't feeling too picky.

prawn and chicken hor fun

plain hor fun

stir fried bean sprouts with cuttlefish

claypot duck with ginger

HM's hor fun was silky smooth, but mine was mushy and goopy. The bean sprouts were pleasant enough, but there was something that made me think "msg". As for the duck, which was what HM wanted to try, I found the duck texture too tough and somewhat dry, but HM liked the ginger. All in all, the bill came up to $22.60, including two drinks, so I guess we shouldn't complain.


Macaroon Anyone?

Canele at Robertson Quay makes the yummiest macaroons ever. They come in flavours like rose and pistachio, and the texture is exquisite. We had five for $7.20. Anyway, while we were there, we had a little something else.

almond griottine, for $2.30


A Taste of Brown Sugar

We had just gotten back from Bali, and waiting in my email inbox was a suggestion from our friend, MM, that we "do" brunch at Brown Sugar the minute she got back from her travels to the Himalayan region. I had to do a bit of scrambling. Brown Sugar? Where that? It turned out that Brown Sugar was a small eatery housed in Stardus along River Valley Road. Like Wild Rocket, it had been started by a self-taught chef. Its website looked promising enough, so off we went that Sunday.

Unfortunately, for Brown Sugar, Stardus is just not a pretty building. The brutal truth is that it's a glorified community centre. Still, whoever did the interior design for the space tried his or her darndest to add some style to the space, and didn't do too badly.

The menu also didn't do too badly - there were some hits and misses.

huevos racheros

mushroom and gruyere cheese omelette

the ultimate breakfast

prawn salad with roasted tomato sauce

The three of us ordered a main each, from the brunch menu, and the prawn salad from the lunch menu. Of the three brunch mains, the most successful was the huevos rancheros. The spicy tomato sauce did a good job of blending sausage with egg, and the ciabatta was just the thing to mop up the sauce. In comparison, the omelette and the ultimate breakfast were decent enough but not special. In fact, the omelette was overcooked (HM said it was more like fried egg than omelette!)

The prawn salad was another case of a good idea gone wrong. The prawns were super fresh and nicely done. However all we could taste was the olive oil, not the roasted tomatoes. How odd.

sticky date pudding with vanilla bean ice cream

tarte tatin of pear with vanilla bean ice cream

lavender creme caramel

The desserts were unequivocally more impressive, but again there was a boo boo amongst the three. The lavender creme caramel was stodgy, yes, that's right, stodgy. HM speculates that the eggs were overwhipped. The other two desserts were actually good. The sticky date pudding tasted richly of dates, although it was very slightly too sweet. The tarte tatin was the classiest of the lot and the stewed pear was tender without being mushy.

grilled squid

MM's friend, A, arrived some time later and ordered this grilled squid. He had no complaints.

In conclusion, Brown Sugar could have been better. If anything, the little things showed that the place is not quite there yet. The service was a little patchy. The handwritten menu on the blackboard was, shall we say, not so aesthetic. And the name card! Whoever did the classy decor and signboard should have been asked to design the name card as well. The best thing about Brown Sugar was its relative affordability - the bill, inclusive of drinks, came up to $158.51, for four people.


Friday, June 08, 2007

The Great Singapore Sale: Blobbesian Buys

I guess the GSS is as good a time as any to stock up (finally!) on the necessary...

Glenhill shirts, from Robinsons's, for $117.73 in total

from some shop in Velocity, for $83