Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jacob's Cafe

In my earlier post, I blogged about comfort food in the West. Today's post incidentally broaches on comfort food in the East.

I visited Bistro One Zero Three and Jacob's Cafe for dinner within one day of each other. Both seem to sport similar decor, although Jacob's Cafe seems to exude a more homely feel. The dinner crowd is also substantially larger at Jacob's, thanks to its better placed location and more extensive menu. Reservations are highly recommended.

Our ravenous party of 4 started off by ordering a mixed seafood platter, (SGD23.90) comprising battered calamari, fries, fish fillet and scallops. It was an instant crowd pleaser - sinfully satisfying in a cheap greasy kind of way.

Those curly things are especially addictive

Word of caution: Skip the cheese nachos. They cost a bomb and simply comprise of supermarket nachos drizzled with melted cheese. An overpriced no brainer that you can easily whip up at home.

Hubby's borscht soup (SGD4.90) arrived next. It didn't look like soup to me, with a deep red paste-like consistency. Nonetheless, it must have been good as he slurped the whole bowl up.

For main courses, we ordered baked macaroni (SGD14.90), mutton stew (SGD10.20), beef stew (SGD10.20) and steak kidney pie (SGD18.90). First to arrive was the mutton stew, which the server mistakenly identified as beef stew. It was prepared Chinese style, braised in a herbal soup with bits of diced chilli and black fungus. We were a little befuddled by its appearance but enjoyed the tenderness of the meat and the richness of the broth.

My order of baked macaroni was greeted with oohs and aahs. It was stacked like a lasagne and a sight to behold, brimming with the aroma of melted cheese and smothered with a generous serving of minced beef drenched in tangy tomato paste. Every bite left us craving for more. This is definitely one of the best versions of baked macaroni I have eaten.

Since I'm not much of a pie person, I wasn't harboring very high expectations of the steak kidney pie. This pie however looked like it was baked with love, sporting a lovely golden brown crust and piping hot creamy interior. I couldn't resist taking a nibble and immediately felt a sense of contentment wash over me. The cubed mushroom and chicken pieces were one with the creamy sauce and blended perfectly with the buttery goodness of the crisp pastry crust. My only (personal) grouse was the addition of kidney in this dish- I absolutely cannot stand the taste of innards.

And then we waited for our final dish- the purported "mutton stew" to arrive.

After 15 mins, we sensed something was amiss and quickly caught the attention of our server. It was only then that we realized that the "beef stew" earlier served to us was actually "mutton stew". If we wanted beef stew, we would have to wait another 5 mins for them to prepare the dish.

As we were not hard pressed for time, we decided to oblige. 5 mins later, we were duly rewarded with a steaming bowl of the real Mc Coy, complete with yummy stewed carrots, potatoes and fork tender beef. Eaten with a crusty baguette, this definitely felt like the ultimate comfort food. However, as everyone was feeling a little too full by then, we struggled a little to finish this dish.

The menu also features an extensive range of juices, drinks (alcoholic and non alcoholic) as well as desserts (cheesecakes, ice cream sundaes etc). Unfortunately, they tend to border on the pricey side (a can of bitter lemon soda cost me SGD4.40!) The upside however is that the restaurant does not charge for service and GST.

In terms of "soul" factor, Jacob's definitely trumps Bistro One Zero Three. Food is hearty, servers are sincere and the vibe feels right. Just remember to come with the same laid back casual attitude and you've got yourself a great night out!

Further update:
In a subsequent visit, Hubby and I ordered the Chinese style roasted pork knuckle to share. It was delicious and a steal at just until 30 bucks for a set (even comes with complimentary soup and soft drink). Hubby and I were practically fighting over the rinds of crackly skin. The pork slices were infused with a slight herbal flavor (somewhat like five spice powder), which might be an acquired taste for some. We also thoroughly enjoyed the generous side servings of thick crisp fries and steamed vegetables.

Jacob's Cafe
Blk 5, Changi Village Road

Tel: 6542 7500

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bistro One Zero Three

We weren't feeling particularly hungry that day. All we wanted to do was to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Since our car was veering towards the West, a colleague's recommendation of Bistro One Zero Three suddenly came to mind.

The restaurant's address (103 Pasir Panjang Rd) runs synonymous with its name. Given the restaurant's unassuming exterior, we would have zoomed past it without batting an eyelid if not for GPS. Parking is a breeze since there is a huge public carpark just behind the restaurant.

I was a little apprehensive upon stepping into the restaurant. It felt like a flashback into the 80s. The chairs were old and the furnishings felt a little dated. Even the air smelt a tad musty. After scanning the restaurant, I was slightly relieved to find 2 families tucking into their main courses with much gusto- a very good sign indeed.

Since I already had in mind what I wanted to order, I quickly caught the attention of our very smiley waiter and impatiently rattled off my orders. While waiting for the food to arrive, I suddenly felt some stares coming from the counter and realized I was being "sized up" by a group of aunties (one of which probably comprised of the towkay neo, this being a family run restaurant).

Our dishes arrived in quick succession.

Bruschetta- Well toasted garlic bread topped with chopped tomatoes, onions and a drizzle of olive oil. Flavors were simple and clean but nothing to shout about.

Mushroom soup- Couldn't help but detect a hint of Campbell's canned soup in this dish. Surely the cook could have done better?

Rack of pork ribs- This dish came highly recommended in the various food reviews and it didn't take long for us to realize why. The BBQ sauce boasted sufficient kick and it only took a gentle nudge from the fork for the meat to fall off the bone. The accompanying sides were equally impressive. I really enjoyed the piping hot potato wedges which were crisp on the outside and fluffy soft on the inside. They tasted so good on their own that I didn't even have to baptize them in chili sauce (which is my usual practice). Even the portion was generous- Hubby and I shared this as our main course.

Dessert- Brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream- Again, Hubby and I ordered this to share. The brownie came slightly warm and tinged with nuts. Eating it brought back fond memories of our dating days, when brownies with vanilla ice cream were vogue (that was before chocolate fondant came along). Even the scoop of vanilla ice cream that came with it boasted a smooth creamy texture that is far superior to the icicle speckled ones you find in supermarkets.

All in all, this was a wholesome dining experience with no frills. Prices are also pretty reasonable (SGD50 for the whole meal).

Whilst it is unlikely that we lazy Eastlanders will be making a return visit anytime soon, we would definitely drop by this unpretentious hole-in-the-wall eatery if we find ourselves in need for some good ol soul food in the West.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Old Cucumber Soup with Pork Ribs

Before I got married, I used to eat dinner at home almost everyday. Chinese soup was a staple and Mom's specialties included old cucumber soup, ABC soup and lotus root soup.

Fast forward to today. Hubby and I eat out almost everyday because we are too lazy/tired to cook. We usually give in to unhealthy food cravings like satay and fried chicken. Whilst we try to make up for it by eating more fruit and vegetables, it is an uphill challenge.

Recently I stumbled upon an old cucumber soup recipe from this website. It looked easy peasy so I decided to prepare an adapted version of it. The results exceeded my expectations. Looks like this will be one healthy and nourishing soup dish which I will be making more often in future!

PS: Goes well with home made char siew rice.

One medium size Chinese old cucumber, cut lengthwise into small pieces, with seeds scooped out
1.5 litres of water
10 red dates
3 honey dates
10 dried scallops
400g pork ribs
1 sweet corn, cut to small pieces
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut

1. Blanch pork ribs in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Throw away the water and set ribs aside.
2. In a separate pot, add 1.5l fresh water, throw in the blanched ribs as well as all the other ingredients and bring to a boil for 10 mins.
3. Transfer items from (2) above into a slow cooker and simmer for at least 2 hours. Season with salt before serving.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Paradise Inn ( Marina Bay Link Mall)

Mom is a quintessential Cantonese. She likes soup, braised meats, rice and dim sum.

For her birthday this year, we brought her to chi chi Paradise Pavilion at the newly opened Marina Bay Link Mall for a quick lunch.

Marina Bay Link Mall in the morning

Paradise Pavilion is the latest addition to restaurateur Eldwin Chua's empire of eateries. Eldwin started off with humble beginnings, operating a highly successful seafood restaurant "Seafood Paradise" out of a dingy industrial estate in Defu Lane. To this day, I remain a fan of his succulent Sri Lankan Butter Crabs which go exceptionally well with battered mantou.

Everything about Paradise Pavilion screams "high class", from the fine cutlery to the plush curtains, spectacular waterfront view and baby blue furnishings (strangely similar to Royal China)

Since the media was waxing lyrical about the restaurant's famous Peking duck, we (like almost every other table in the restaurant) decided to give it a try. It takes 1 hr to prepare the duck as it is painstakingly roasted over apple wood so remember to make advance reservations to avoid a long wait.

At the waiter's recommendation, we also ordered an assortment of ala carte dishes.

Trio of appetisers- Foie Gras, wasabi prawn and scallop: Judging by the lightning speed Hubby polished off this dish, I can only assume that it was good stuff.

Seafood beancurd roll: My favourite dim sum dish in the menu. The chef steams a thin layer of tofu on a glass dish before placing a delicate stack of fresh prawn, scallop and asparagus (secured by a ring of seaweed) over it. Doused simply with an addictive XO sauce, the resulting medley of flavors was exquisitely refined.

Sorry...this picture doesn't do the dish justice

Battered custard rolls: This came highly recommended by the waitress. However, I found the custard cream artificially sweet. We should have ordered the mini egg tarts instead.

Not nice at all. We should have ordered the egg tarts

Char Siew Pau: A simple yet delicious treat. The light fluffiness of the pau skin blended well with the smokey sweetness of the char siew.

Steamed chicken feet: My parents really liked this very much, leaving only a clean trail of bones behind. I suspect it must have been finger lickin good. We subsequently learnt from the restaurant manager that we could order this dish in XO sauce next time.

Siew Mai: Whilst this version was reasonably well executed, the one at Peach Garden still wins hands down in terms of bite and flavor.

Sharksfin dumpling soup: Sharksfin soup for the poor man, this is one treat not to be missed. The price tag ain't that expensive either at under 10 bucks per bowl. It was fun breaking through the thin dumpling skin and unraveling all the yummy treasures (mushroom, bamboo pith, sharksfin etc) hidden within. Some people like to take this with a dash of vinegar.

Quick! Pop it!

Trio of desserts (coconut ice cream with chilled pulot hitam, mango puree and flaky custard puff):

The coconut ice cream with pulot hitam was my favorite of the lot, boasting an intriguing mix of sweet, salty and savoury. Once again, I couldn't help comparing it against Peach Garden's legendary pulot hitam served in young coconut, which outranks this version by a mile.

Peking Duck: This was the centerpiece of our meal. At SGD88 per duck, (30% off if you pay with HSBC credit card), expectations were naturally high. This is how it works:

Step 1: A gloved (and masked) chef armed with a cleaver smartly rolls out a cart containing the prized poultry.

Step 2: Upon obtaining your blessings, he proceeds to deftly slice the first layer of glistening skin (just skin, nothing else) off the duck's breast and invites you to dip it in sugar before consuming it. The end result is almost orgasmic. Crispy crackling and sugar are like a marriage made in heaven.

Step 3: Thereafter, the chef thinly slices the remaining pieces of skin (this time with meat attached) onto platters for guests to help themselves to.

Each person is also furnished with an individual dish of assorted condiments (black bean sauce, julienned vegetables and sugar) for added pleasure.

I was a little put off by the gamey taste of the duck after awhile. There was also a whiff of ammonia from some of the pieces I ate, which made me wonder if I was eating out of the duck's butt area. Since the restaurant doesn't provide diners with the option to enjoy the rest of the duck's carcass cooked in other ways (which I personally find a waste), we decided to doggy bag it home and stir fry the meat with some beehoon for lunch the following day.

A basket of crepes is provided for those who wish to savor this dish in its traditional form. I found the crepe skins too thick for my liking but understand from the manager that this has been intentionally done to give the dish more bite. As no measures were taken by the restaurant to keep the crepes warm and moist, it was only a matter of time before the individual pieces started to stick together and harden.

Verdict: Decent but not mind blowing. I like Paradise Inn for its palatable offerings, pretty waterfront views and accessibility to my office. Parking in Marina Bay Link Mall itself can however be an expensive affair and first time visitors making their way to the restaurant would probably get a little lost along the way.

For better dim sum at more pocket friendly prices, my vote goes to Peach Garden (OCBC Centre).

For Peking duck, my favorite haunt remains Imperial Treasure Super Peking duck at Paragon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Char Siew Attempt No 1

Having recently redeemed a "xue di zi" using Citibank credit card reward points, I decided to put the appliance to the test by making char siew.

It's hard to think of a better char siew than Kay Lee's. However, I was determined to come up with something decent on my own and was highly inspired after reading this post.

Here's my adapted version:

1kg pork shoulder butt cut lengthwise (I got mine from NTUC..choose those cuts with more fats and of a thinner width...they cook and taste better)
500g sugar
300g oyster sauce (use good quality Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce for better results)
200ml light soy sauce
3 tsp rice wine (Hua Tiao Jiu)
1 tsp rose wine (good for added fragrance but optional. I got mine from Sheng Shiong)
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp of red colouring (I use battleship brand and it comes in powder form)
3 cubes of mashed fermented red beancurd

1. Mix all the above ingredients together in a dish (use plastic gloves to avoid getting your fingers stained with coloring). Cover with clingfilm and leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. (If you want to be extra kiasu, take the marinated meat out and massage it again with the liquid during halftime)

Gooey mess

2. Place the meat in the xue di zi. Use a brush to generously coat all surfaces thoroughly with marinade. Then let it grill at 200 degree celsius for 10 mins.

it becomes darker and looks more glorious as you go along

3. Turn the meat over and coat the surface generously with marinade again before grilling for another 10 mins. By now, the marinade should be happily bubbling on the meat. The meat should also be starting to look a little charred.

4. Turn the meat over and make a final coating. Leave to grill for another 5 mins before removing.

5. Let the meat cool for about 10 mins before cutting into bite sized pieces


and After

6. Enjoy with a steaming bowl of rice, old cucumber soup and scalded vegetables.

Verdict: For a first attempt I am quite pleased with the result. The char siew was super yum! However it was a tad too salty and a little too lean for my liking. Next time I will use 2 cubes of fermented beancurd instead of 3 and use a mixture of pork belly and shoulder butt.

Other notes: This is a relatively easy recipe and is great for parties. Cleaning up can however be quite a hassle since the burnt bits of marinade have to be painfully scrapped from the glass base of the xue di zi. (Useful tip: Add hot water and dishwashing detergent to loosen the burnt bits before washing)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas lunch at Bar and Billard Room

By this time, if you are planning a pre-Christmas lunch with colleagues and friends, chances are that you would be unable to secure a reservation at a good restaurant.

A and I were initially planning to go to Sheraton Towers for a very affordable pre- Christmas lunch international buffet (SGD45+++ per pax) but subsequently decided to splurge on a more atas luncheon at Bar and Billard Room instead (SGD118+++ per pax). Thank God for the Feed At Raffles Card which shaves a whooping 50% discount off the bill for 2 diners.

Many have lamented that the food quality in Raffles Hotel has declined over the years. Being a relatively frequent Feed At Raffles Card diner, I tend to agree. Gone are the good ol days where the chocolate buffet at Bar and Billard was purportedly "the best in Singapore" and the cold seafood section "to die for".

Nonetheless, the buffet spread yesterday did not disappoint. The ambiance was charming, with high colonial ceilings adorned with fairy lights, humongous Christmas trees and giant wreaths.

Bottles of bubbly and fine wines for those who can afford it

A most delicious looking bottle of French liquer. I would have ventured a sip if not for the fact that I am pregnant...

What is a Christmas spread without turkey and ham? In this case, both dishes were executed perfectly. The turkey meat was surprisingly moist and tender. Accompanied with savoury bread and chestnut stuffing and giblet sauce, it was easily one of my favorite dishes.

Piece de resisance. Don't forget to ask for the stuffing!

Not forgetting the ham, which was prettily studded with cinnamon cloves and basked in honey. A little dry but otherwise sublime, especially when doused with apple sauce.

What is Christmas without ham like this?

Ham with apple sauce- a marriage made in heaven

Sauces and side dishes to go with your ham and turkey...stewed carrots, brussel sprouts, squash and cranberry sauce

I happily skipped the cold seafood section (having resolved to reserve room for dessert) -but not without taking some shots of the neatly arranged prawns and glistening oysters.

Prawns arranged in almost military precision.

The forgotten oysters...didn't look too fresh

There was also a special section for ham and cold meat cuts this year.

The salad, cheese and bread sections looked decent but otherwise boring. Next please.

Bar and Billard Room also offers a cooked food station where meat lovers can feast on meat dishes like veal, lamb and duck confit. Based on previous experiences, these dishes are named fancifully but often taste lack lustre.

Red snapper with coco bean and roast peppercorn. I tried a coco bean out of curiousity and it tasted like..emm..just an ordinary bean?

Veal what?

Dry looking duck confit

some other meat dish which looked too gamey for my liking

My eyes started to twinkle after spotting my favorite potato gnocchi with four cheese sauce happily bubbling in the adjourning pasta station. Mama mia!

Three cheers for the four cheese gnocchi

What can I say about the gnocchi? It was creamy, rich and luscious, boasting a melt in the mouth texture. Frankly, I couldn't ask for more.

Strategically placed next to it was a dish of tantalising baked eggplant parmigiana. Being a sucker for all things eggplant, I couldn't resist scooping a generous portion for myself too.

Crumbly soft and strangely reminiscent of the breaded pork chops my late grandma used to lovingly cook for us. How I miss mama.

If you like your pasta prepared ala minute, get the pasta man to whip up something for you.

Dessert was a lavish affair centred around a gingerbread theme (gingerbread ice cream, gingerbread tiramisu, gingerbread cheesecake etc). I couldn't resist taking a small scoop of gingerbread ice cream doused with chocolate sauce and chocolate balls.

Gingerbread and candied chestnut cheesecake

Festive gingerbread tiramisu

Waragaw's gingerbread ice cream concoction..unfortunately this didn't taste great.

For non gingerbread aficionados, there's always Christmas pudding, vanilla ice cream and other chocolate delights to contend with.

some hits and misses. the creme bulee is not bad though

Of all the logcakes featured that day (Green tea azuki, Berry cointreau with cranberry, pear lemongrass and milk chocolate, chocolate truffle), the pear lemongrass and milkchocolate log won hands down, with milk chocolate that was not cloyingly sweet and tangy morsels of pear embedded within.

Prettiest presentation of the lot- the green tea azuki

Summarized in two words: Sour vomit

The Winner!

I like to end off my meals with a cup of good tea and cookies/chocolates/lapis. The restaurant offers quite a good selection of TWG tea. However, being my usual boring self, I opted for camomile tea with honey. This went reasonably well with the Christmas cookies offered at the dessert station. I would have much preferred some chocolate truffles instead.

TWG rocks! love the feel of the muslin tea bags- so quaint

The Christmas cookie selection..all are nice except for the squarish almond studded one at the far right corner

Having thoroughly overdosed on Christmas food (unceremoniously gaining yet another kilo in the process), I grudgingly trudged back to the work with A.

After thought no 1: Always take half day off to recuperate after a good meal.
After thought no 2: Opps! I forgot to eat fruits! (but at least I managed to take a picture of it)


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