Saturday, October 25, 2014

Singapore 2013 - Lucha Loco

A friend introduced us to Lucha Loco - a gourmet Mexican restaurant in the Duxton Hill area which has been creating quite a buzz in the Singapore food scene since opening not too long ago. The restaurant is in a detached shophouse with a garden terrace on the side - a very rare find in land scarce Singapore. We were very happy to be placed on the garden terrace as it was quite a pleasantly cool evening. A pleasant surprise was they were celebrating the Day of the Dead - and all the waiters and waitresses were made up with ghost faces.

Lucha Loco doesn't take bookings except for groups over 12 people, and with groups you need to go for the group menu which is not too bad as it includes most of the popular items from the normal menu. The food concept is based on Mexican street food, but taken up a few notches with quality ingredients and inventive cooking. I am happy to report that the food at Lucha Loco is really good, most of the dishes were delicious and a few were exceptional.

One of their must have items is Elotes - Mexican street style grilled corn. The sweet corn is rolled in mayo and then in Cotija cheese and sprinkled with chili. This is the best grilled corn I have ever tasted.

I also loved the Octopus and Prawn Ceviche which had a nice balance of flavours and tartness that excited the palates. 

All the tostaditas are good but the stand out was the crab with habanero oil, avocado and scallion. 

The New Zealand Rib Eye tostaditas was also very good and looked very pretty on the plate.

You must have tacos at a Mexican restaurant, and the best one was the Pork Belly Taco with jicama and cilantro mayo. The pork belly was melt in your mouth and very flavourful. Suggest you order a double serving or you will be fighting over it.

Compared to the pork belly, the Baja Fish Taco was a bit pedestrian.

They also have some more substantial dishes for sharing. The New Zealand Rib Eye Steak on cactus and chimichurri sauce was wonderfully tender and packed with big flavours from the sauce. 

The pork ribs with chipotle-honey glaze and pickled onions was even better. The meat was smoky, sticky, tender and falling off the bone.

They have limited dessert selections here but make sure you order the blue corn cake with agave nectar and mezcal cream. The cake has an interesting crunchy texture from the corn, and combines beautifully with the smooth mezcal cream.

Lucha Loco is a surprise find in Singapore. It has great ambiance, the diners all seem to be out for a good time and enjoying themselves, and the food is delicious.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Singapore 2013 - Gardens By The Bay

I haven't visited Singapore for a while, then all of a sudden had to make 2 trips there in the past few months. It is always nice to visit our upmarket neighbour, except that the exchange rate can put a big dent in the wallet. And Singapore is now officially the most expensive city in the World - and if you check the hotel rates you would totally agree.

On the surface not much has changed since my last visit which was around 2 years back, but if you look closer you will see that the island is undergoing some deep transformations, both in positive and negative ways. On the positive side - lots of quirky shops, cafes, restaurants are popping up everywhere, and Singapore is beginning to see the emergence of creative cultural endeavours and alternative lifestyles which makes the city a more interesting place to visit. On the negative side - the island is just getting too crowded, and certain parts of the city are bursting at the seams, and others are beginning to show their rough edges.

One of the most exciting new additions on the island is the Gardens By The Bay. I missed it during the last visit, and this trip it was on the top of my list. The main attractions there are the supertrees and the flower domes. The supertrees are quite amazing to look at - it is a clever mix of high-technology and nature, and the colour scheme and design strangely reminded me of the movie Avatar.

There are 2 huge glass domes at Gardens By the Bay. Once is called the Flower Dome, the other the Cloud Forest. The Flower Dome is a cool-dry conservatory which replicates the climate of Mediterranean and semi-desert regions. It features plants from those regions including palm trees, olive groves, cacti, etc. In the middle of the dome is the Flower Field where the flower display change according to the season. 

I found the Cloud Forest more interesting and impressive compared to the Flower Dome. The Cloud Forest features plants from tropical highlands up to 2,000 feet above sea level. Right in the middle of the dome is a huge cylindrical structure fully covered in plants, with a number of waterfalls at different heights. To visit the display you enter into the cylindal and make your way to the top, and a series of floating sky-walks take you round the vertical walls to view the beautiful display of plants. The suspended sky-walks are quite an experience in themselves -  and definitely not for those who suffer from vertigo.

It cost SGD 28 to enter both the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest (locals pay only SGD 20) which is one of the best bargains you can get in Singapore nowadays.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Penang 2013 - Dinner at Il Bacaro

For our last dinner in Penang, we decided to revisit Il Bacaro where we had a very nice meal during our last visit. Located on the ground floor of a stylish boutique hotel - Campbell House on Campbell Road - the decor is very nicely done in a modern Italian style and very cosy.

Il Bacaro is not just an Italian restaurant - but a Venetian restaurant. We were very happy to know that they serve Cicchetti - Venetian small bites. We ordered the Chef's Selection of 6 small dishes to try. These great small dishes included a tomato bruschetta, deep fried calamari, meatballs, omelette with shrimps, sauted clams in garlic and herbs, grilled veggies, and croquettes.It was a feast for the eyes and the senses.

For mains we had a Spaghetti with Gamberi and Zucchine (Prawns and Courgettes). This tasted really clean and fresh, with the sweetness coming from the fresh prawns and zucchini.

Four Seasons Pizza is not on the menu, but the chef happily obliged with this tasty creation. Unfortunately we were not able to finish this as we were already quite stuffed after the Cicchetti course and the pasta. We took half of it back to the hotel and had it for breakfast the next morning - and it was still good.

If you are in Penang, you owe it to yourself to head over to Il Bacaro. It could be one of your best meals on the island.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Penang 2013 - BTB & Restaurant @ China House

BTB & Restaurant is right next door to the cafe in China House. It is a more up-market venue serving Western food with local twist. The decor is a bit less eclectic compared to the cafe side - it is more pared down with indigo blue walls and classic antique Chinese furniture. 

The menu is also quite pared down with just a few selections for Entree, Mains and Desserts. That is actually a welcome relieve compared to restaurants that put too many things on the menu.

The salad with baby shrimps was very interesting. The shrimps were deep fried until crispy and served with fresh greens and mayonnaise. It was an enjoyable starter.

For mains we order a Beef Fillet and Duck Cooked 2 Ways. The beef fillet was very tender and flavourful - complemented nicely by the potato puree and aoili. 

The Duck Two Ways was interesting - a contrast of Eastern and Western Style cooking. Both were nice, with the Eastern take having an edge due to the strong flavours from the herbs and spices.

We saved room for the cakes and ordered a plum cake and carrot cake. It was a great finish to the meal.