Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Singapore 2015 - Dinner at Catalunya

Catalunya is reputed to be one of the best Spanish restaurants in Singapore. The chef was trained under the legendary Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame - and some of El Bulli's dishes have been carried over to this restaurant. The restaurant is located at the Marina Bay - with full view of the Marina Bay Sands. 

This is a Spanish restaurant so of course you start with some Tapas. First off was the ubiquitous Pan Con Tomate. A very simple but tasty Tapas with just bread, olive oil and rubbed with fresh tomatoes on top.

The Bikini Sandwich here comes in rectangles rather then the usual triangles. Stuffed with Jamon, cheese and truffles - this is one posh and tasty sandwich.

Next came the Avocado Roll - a dish that was carried over from the Adria brothers' Tickets Bar in Barcelona. Strips of sliced avocado are wrapped around shredded fresh lobsters, dressed with a Ponzu sauce and topped with Tobiko and Ikura roe. A luxurious dish that tasted wonderful and decadent.

Octopus Catalunya Style - grilled octopus with pork belly in creamed potato topped with Paprika. Another great dish with an interesting play on flavours, textures and mouth feel. 

You can order a whole suckling pig here, but if you can't finish a whole pig thankfully they also serve the suckling pig in small portions. Unfortunately this is not the best Spanish roast sucking pig I've had - the meat was tender, but the fat under the skin had congealed into an unattractive jell - a sign that the pork had been sitting for too long. 

The highlight of the night was without a doubt the Lobster Rice - a luxurious serving of rice cooked in rich lobster stock and topped with generous portions of lobster meat. This dish was simply divine.

We had 2 desserts - Catalan Ice Cream and Chocolate Fritters. Both were interestingly presented but taste-wise nothing unusual. The Chocolate Fritters were filled with molten chocolate inside.

The food at Catalunya is really great - with a couple of standout dishes which would make repeated visits worthwhile if you have a very deep pocket - the lobster rice and the avocado roll. The tastes and ambiance transports you back to Spain, saving you an air-ticket in the process. So even with the high prices - it is worth it. 

*Just found out that Catalunya at Fullerton Pavilion has closed permanently on 2nd June 2016. They are now looking for a new venue to reopen the restaurant. If for some unfortunate reason they never reopen - this post serves as my tribute to this great restaurant.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Singapore 2015 - Shinji by Kanesaka

If you search for the best sushi restaurant in Singapore you will probably end up in Shinji by Kanesaka. The original flagship outlet in Tokyo - Sushi Kanesaka, has been awarded with 2 Michelin stars. There are now 2 Shinjis in Singapore, one at Raffles Hotel and the other at St Regis. Both are supposed to be identical in terms of quality. We were at the St Regis branch. 

The sushi chefs are all from Japan and trained in the craft for years. The head chef for Shinji at St Regis is Kikuchi Shunsuke who hails from the Tohoku region. Just watching them expertly slice the fish and prepare the sushi is a visual delight in itself.

Lunch started with an amuse bouche of cubed tuna with salmon roe. 

This is not your standard sushi experience, so the sushi are served one by one in succession - in the order of the tastes which the chefs want the diner to experience. The fish are all extremely fresh and as close to what you will get in Japan, barring buying them straight from Tsukiji Market yourself.

Dining at Shinji is not cheap. The set lunch courses with 12 pieces of sushi is SGD125, and with 15 pieces is SGD180. Dinner go up to SGD450 for the Omakase. Whether it is worth it depends on how much of a sushi aficionado you are. Though it was good - it was definitely not mind-blowingly good. In fact a much more reasonably priced sushi meal I had at Tsukiji Market was way more memorable. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Singapore 2015 - Ristorante Pietrasanta

Consistently appearing in the top 10 list of Italian restaurants in Singapore - I was quite happy to be invited to dinner at this popular restaurant in an obscure area of town - Portsdown Road. Like many of the trendy F&B places in Singapore - Pietrasanta occupies a space in a row of Colonial era building that has been re-purposed into a laid-back F&B hub.

The interior of the restaurant is quite simple, with a predominance of wood and rustic furniture. The overall ambiance is relaxed and cozy.

This is not a place you come for trendy food. The cooking here is decidedly traditional and old-fashioned - like what your Italian mama used to make. So it is natural to start with some antipasto. Here they have quite a large selection for you to choose from. We ended up with some cold cuts and olives which were delicious.

Another antipasti was Grilled Squid with Italian Tomato Chutney and Rocket Salad. The squid was cooked very well - very tender and with a nice smokey flavour from the grill.

For pasta we had the spaghetti with seafood, which came with prawns, mussels, squid and clams. The prawns were on the smallish side, but the flavours were good.

My main was Grilled Sword Fish with Tomato Puree, Olives and Capers. The fish was very lightly marinated and had a nice firm texture, and complimented well by the tomato puree and olives.

The food at Pietrasanta is simple but nicely cooked with clean and uncomplicated flavours. The focus is on fresh ingredients and uncluttered plates. Sometimes that is all you need.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Singapore 2015 - Lee Kong Chiang Natural History Museum

Not to be outdone by Shanghai - Singapore has also opened its own natural history in 2015. The Lee Kong Chiang Natural History Museum is located inside the National University Singapore compound - so it is a bit difficult to get to. However the iconic building and the interesting displays make it worth the extra effort to get there.

The exterior of the building is shaped like an ark - but a concrete one. The imprint left on the concrete by the timber formwork creates an interesting texture and pattern on the facade. The most interesting external feature is a series of planted terraces which spill out from a cut in the building facade. This feature makes literal the concept of the design - which is a vessel holding natural treasures.

The museum can't compare with the one in Shanghai in terms of size and scale. However it is still quite a mind blowing collection with over 500,000 South-East Asian plant and animal specimens.

If you have a bit of time - this museum  is well worth a visit - especially to see the collection on the natural history of Singapore. It will give you a much deeper insight under the sleek surface of Singapore.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Singapore 2015 - Tiong Bahru Bakery

You can find Tiong Bahru Bakery not just in Tiong Bahru nowadays. It has developed into a successful chain with outlets in Raffles City and Tangs on Orchard Road - but the original store is on Eng Hoon Street in Tiong Bahru and that was where I went. The bakery is not very big - with seating for around 20 people. The decor is simple and practical - with the focus firmly on the products. 

It is an overwhelming range of pastries, bread and sandwiches - and for a first-time visitor it can be quite difficult to decide what to sample first.

As I was between breakfast and lunch - I just wanted a snack. I finally settled for a croissant which they are famous for - and it was great. The flaky pastry, crispy crust, and fluffy interior all combine to make a perfect croissant. You will not find one better outside of Paris.

Once you have tried their pastry you will know why they are so popular. Singaporeans are really lucky - as a bakery of this quality and charm is hard to find in Malaysia.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Singapore 2015 - Tiong Bahru

Singapore used to be just Singapore - but nowadays you can't talk about Singapore without talking about its neighbourhoods. This is partly due to the emergence of hipster culture - young urban trend-setters who are constantly on the look out for the next in thing. These hipsters who speak with their wallets are the main contributors to the rise and fall of a particular neighbourhood. In the past 5 years or so several distinct neighbourhoods have become very popular - Little India, Kampung Glam, Keong Saik Road, Tiong Bahru, and one of the latest up-and-coming hipster hangout - Everton Park.

It was a nice clear day and I decided to visit Tiong Bahru which I haven't been for decades. I was mainly drawn there by the famous Tiong Bahru Bakery - but also curious to revisit this neighbourhood and find out why it was so attractive to the local hipsters.

Tiong Bahru is an urban housing neighbourhood built in the 1930s. Here you find some of the rare examples of Art Deco design in Singapore. In the old days the buildings might have looked utilitarian - but today the small Art Deco touches give the neighbourhood its laid-back charm.

After wondering around for a bit I finally found Books Actually - one of the first ventures which kick-started this area as a hipster hangout. It is a very charming bookshop packed to the brims with books you don't normally find in chain bookstores. They even have their own imprints - it is good to know that the printed word is not dead yet in this digital age.

Tiong Bahru is a little paradise in Singapore - very quiet and serene even though it is just a stone's throw to Chinatown. There are lots of quirky shops and cafe to hang out - its easy to understand its charm.