Sunday, 24 May 2015

Fyr Cycene Ond Drinc - A Good Grilling

After a month of indulging on Asian meals, a small part of me was craving for slabs of meat. Just as well the girl who got me the job here suggested Fyr Cycene ond Drinc for lunch. Miss P sold me Singapore over the phone and has been spot on with her recommendations - she knows her stuff.

Nested among a row of trendy restaurants on Boon Tat Street, 5 mins walk from the banking offices, Fyr Cycene ond Drinc is pronounced as “Fire Kitchen And Drink”. No idea what language they derived the name from, but they seem to put much emphasis on their Josper grill, so it’s safe to assume a meat-heavy grill menu. The lunch menu offered 3 options for each course. It appears that Miss P and I have similar taste...

Roasted Duck Foie Gras with buttered toasted brioche, mixed berries, gula melaka
We both went for the same starters. As you could see the foie gras was a tad wrinkly as it wasn’t seared to a crispy edge to give it the charred fragile shell. Nonetheless the centre was still of a wobbly softness; it was buttery rich and exuded powerful greasy fragrance. Gula melaka translates to palm sugar, which was the intended substitute for the usual port reduction. The sweetness was either very subtle or the sharp berry compote had pierced through it. That said the acidity helped to lift the oils and worked well. The slice of brioche could be a couple of centimetres bigger to even out the ratio with the weighty slab of foie gras, but this is minor.

Grain-fed US Holstein Cow Striploin 365 days with roasted baby potatoes house salad, red wine sauce
The kitchen uses a josper grill, which makes it perfect for thick cuts of meat to sealed the juices in at high temperature.

I asked for medium rare but this came as a medium. I didn't send it back - medium was still okay. The steak was a decent piece of meat, inch-thick with a generous rind of fat, unfortunately I have been crazily spoilt when it comes to steak. Having enjoyed dry-aged beef for the past few years, this striploin wasn’t beefy and intense enough; though juicy, the flavour felt diluted and slightly bland. Moreover I’m a rib-eye girl, so the leaner loin isn’t my preferred cut as it has a coarser texture. Sadly it didn’t quite hit the steak-craving spot for me.

DeRazza Iberico Pork Collar with roasted baby potatoes house salad, Cilantro salad
Originally we both opted for the same mains, but like real foodies ordering identical courses is frowned upon, so we agreed to diverse and share. 

And I’m so glad we did because this was sublime. Pork collar is sometimes referred to as butchers’ secret; the sturdy muscle is laced with fat that creates a marbling effect, which keeps the meat incredibly succulent upon grilling. Thai cuisine often barbecues this neck muscle with lemongrass and serve as a starter. Here the collar was beautifully charred to give it a smoky aroma, then eat chew was squirting more nutty piggy oils as the soft meat dissolved away. It was heavenly. Yes it’s greasy and heavy, but damn it’s worth the 8-mile run that follows.

Baked Pistachio Melt & Pandan Ice Cream with Pandan Creme Anglaise, Pistachio, Cinnamon
This could be the best dessert I have had in recent years. Regulars may have noticed I rarely write much about dessert because you could more or less deduce what to expect by reading the description on the menu, unless it’s epically awful then I take pleasure in ripping it apart - it’s cheaper than anger management.

The ‘melt’ is like a fondant; hot fragrant pandan custard oozes from the moist, spongy pistachio shell, playfully contrasted by the ice cream. The toasted marshmellow with a gooey centre added extra textures to the ensemble. Apparently some people think it’s too sweet, we thought it was just right.

It would have been an ultra heavy weekday lunch, but given it was Friday… we were allowed. I really enjoyed Fyr Cycene ond Drinc. Though there was nothing signatory about the menu, the kitchen did justice to the meat, especially that hunk of pork collar. Even the striploin, it was definitely more my spoilt palate than their under-delivery. With the vibrant vibe, friendly staff and super satisfying menu, I can see myself coming back. 

Good call Miss P.

19 Boon Tat Street
Singapore 069619
Tel: +65 6221 3703

You may also like: PS CafeLocal Eats

Monday, 18 May 2015

PS Cafe - So Near yet So Far

Michal’s condo is 2 mins walk from where I am staying at the moment, yet it has taken us a month to meet up. Wow I’ve been here for a month already. Wow we’re busy people. Wow I’ve met a lot of people over the last few weeks. A good girly catch up over Sunday brunch is finally in order. Since Dempsey Hill is only 5mins taxi away, we thought we’d check out PS cafe.

Nested among trees and gardens with the greenhouse-façade, the vibe at PS Café oozes an unmistakably hip vibe. And there is inevitably a queue, luckily it was only a brief 20-min wait before we were seated on the patio. It wasn’t too hot to sit outside as we were in the shade with fans here and there. However I forgot I’m a mosquito-magnet… my blood must be sweet.

PS. Brunch Burger
Grilled wagyu & US Chuck patty topped with Gruyere cheese, wilted spinach, crispy smoked bacon, tomato, crispy onions, herby mayo and fried egg, on a toasted sesame bun with PS. Fries and Aioli
Despite the brunch burger craze in London, where there seemed to be a competition around who could serve up the tallest burger tower that challenged the flexibility of our jaws, this is my very first brunch burger. I was very tempted by Foxlow, but their menu had other much more exciting options than cramming a full breakfast between buns. Seeing PS Café is offering a wagyu patty here, I thought it’s worth trying.  

The patty was nicely done to a medium as requested; normally I’d ask for medium rare but if there is a high proportion of wagyu in the mix medium usually works better. Turns out there isn’t in this one. As I previously mentioned, the term “wagyu” is used very loosely nowadays, even beef with only 1% wagyu breed in the bloodline can still be branded with the name; I suspect such in this case.

I may be wrong on this, but I believe the legendary Yianni Papoutsis from MeatLiquor led the “steaming” of the patties on the grill to preserve their succulence (I may not be a MEAT franchise fan but they deserve credit for revolutionizing the burger scene in London).  PS Cafe still needs to pick up the art here as the meat was leaning on the grainy and dry side, it wasn’t sinfully parched that the cow died a meaningless death, but I have had juicier and more flavoursome burgers.

That aside I wasn’t mad about the spinach either as the whole lump came off in first bite and ruined the mouthfeel. On the plus side the patty was thick and hunky, the bacon was just done with a crispy edge, the overall bun:filling ratio was good and the chunky chips hits the spot with the slightly sweet aioli.

Cesar Salad with grilled chicken
Michal went for a salad; I didn’t try it. Oh please – I choose fries over salad even as a side dish, this is how much interest I have in rabbit food. She thought it was a good salad and the chicken was apparently tender and well-marinated. I’ll take her word for it. (#yawn)

I loved the ambience and décor at PS Café; food was average though I have yet to establish the benchmark for western food in Singapore. Regardless it was a great spot for a long overdue catch up; I can see myself coming back for lazy Sundays, sitting indoors, of course.

28B Harding Road

Singapore 249549
Tel: 9070 8782

You may also like: Singapore Local EatsIggy'sSingapore 2013

Monday, 11 May 2015

Chapter One at Singapore - Local Eats

 The last 2 weeks has been frantically busy; I may have underestimated the amount of admin... But the girl has to eat, right? They say eating is a Singaporean national past time. As a newbie to town, I need to draw on recommendations before I could work out the best-eats for myself. Let’s start with the locals...

Chicken Rice Tian Tian
Chicken rice is one of the most iconic Singaporean dishes, despite its confusing Chinese name of Hainanese chicken, which refers to a province in China.  The chicken is soft-boiled then plunged into ice water to retain the springy skin and prevent overcooking. The cooking broth, which has all the chicken essence and oil, is then used to cook rice. The dish is served with a trio of sauce: thick black soy sauce, chili sauce and a ginger paste.

Tian Tian in Maxwell food centre near Chinatown is renowned for their chicken rice, and it’s true you can’t miss it because it simply has the longest queue and photos of Anthony Bourdain’s thumbs-up at the kiosk. I beat the queue at lunch and opted for the standard at SGD 3.50 (c. £1.80). 

The rice was soft, fluffy and fragrant; it was excellent. The chicken, on the other hand, though succulent and soft, was a bit lacking in terms of flavour. And this isn’t just at Tian Tian; I checked out high-end chicken rice at Chatterbox, successful chain Boon Tong Kee and the more traditional Wee Nam Kee too. I am at the risk of offending the entire nation here, but chicken in Singapore is... bland. This is largely due to the Centralised Food Processing the government enforced, for health and hygiene reasons (and probably why there is no bird flu here). However because there is no fresh chicken, the dish loses its colour.  There is general consensus that certain restaurants in Hong Kong actually does chicken rice better… but let’s not go down that route.

Also note, Anthony Bourdain only said the rice was so good he could eat it on its own, he didn’t say the chicken was.

It’s still good, especially the rice… please don’t deport me.

Bak Kut Teh
Literal translation is pork rib tea. My first encounter with bak kut teh was in my teenage years when I was on holiday in Malaysia. I didn’t like it back then; we had it for breakfast as per local tradition, but it didn’t feel right to have pork soup for breakfast, not to mention the overpowering Chinese medicinal herbs. Since then I have been exposed to much better versions and bkt has grown on me.

There are 2 types of mainstream bkt, one originated from Chiuchow (Teochew) and the other from Hokkien. The Teochew variation holds very strong flavours of Chinese herbs and spices, not dissimilar to traditional medicines with its pungent smell. The Hokkien version is much milder, the heady spices are replaced by peppers, which made the soup fiery on the nose, but very gentle on the tongue. I prefer the latter.

I suppose every restaurant would have their own recipe for this traditional dish. Ng Ah So and Founders are arguably the most famous for their bkt on the island, both served patrons of celebrities and global leaders. I chose Founders based on the cabbie's recommendation. 

The broth was delicious, packed with meaty sweetness and peppery fragrance. I particularly liked how it was almost grease-free. The ribs were soft and tender, not to the point that the meat was hanging off the bone, it remained firm with some structure, but was effortlessly torn off the bone when I bit into it. I ordered rice to go with the soup, dipped the meat into the viscous sweet soy sauce and started slurping away. They offer unlimited top up for the soup, too! Bonus. The dark soy marinated beancurd was also quite good, though the bkt alone was more than enough to satisfy my tastebuds.

Prawn Mee
Prawn mee is another iconic staple of the locals. One could choose to have it dry where the noodles are served on the side, tossed with oil and sprinkles of lardons and the prawn and pork soup as the main event, or with the noodles soaked in soup. I had mine dry with eggy noodles from the Zion Riverside food centre, where the stall is famous for the enormous prawns they serve. The owner manage to source giant king prawns and the price of your meal depends on the size of prawns you choose. It was truly impressive; the noodles were bouncy and full of chew with the occasional crunch from the deep-fried lardons, and the soup was out of this world - packed with oceanic sweetness supported by a sturdy pork bone base broth - stunning.

326 Katong Laksa
I love laksa. I love the concoction of spices and aromas with the sweet coconut cream. I love the complex mouth feel from the mixture of vermicelli and thick egg noodles. I love the seafood toppings. During my time here so far I have had about 4 Laksa noodles from different eateries, two famous and two unknown. All of them were freaking brilliant, ticked all the boxes though I only got the thick noodles. 326 Katong Laksa is particularly famous, its wall is plastered with celebrity photos. Interestingly the laksa didn't come with chopsticks, patrons were only given spoons as noodles were all chopped to shorter strands. Quite a messy affair with the occasional splash...

Kaya Toast & Soft boiled eggs
When I visited Singapore as a tourist, I went to Ya Kun for kaya toast, soft boiled eggs and kopi. It is now an international chain as it stretched its claws all over SE Asia and even Hong Kong. This time a friend recommended Tong Ah Eatery in the Telok Ayer area, a much older and local joint. He wasn’t joking when he said local…

I am lucky enough to not have experienced bad kaya yet, and I don’t know enough to tell this from Ya Kun, the sweet coconut / egg yolk spread were both addictively good. What is very worrying is the amount of butter these cafes tend to put in the toast; a 0.5cm thick disc of butter that covers 70% of the toast surface, on each quadrant! Amen to arteries. The soft boiled eggs are my kind of thing, though I know a few people who’d find it too raw or too “snotty”… Unfortunately the local kopi doesn’t do it for me, I shudder at the bitterness from over-roasting of cheap coffee beans, no amount of sugar or condensed milk could cover that. I still think it’s coffee-flavoured ink.

Apart from these, I also checked out fried kway teow, fried tow kway, aka stir fry carrot (turnip) cake, pork congee and cheung fun... Some dishes didn't quite click with me, either I haven't found a good stall or it's not my kind of dish, but very glad to have sampled the range and worked my way round the local food scene.

Time to get on the front foot for quirky and trendy eats round the city. I'm going to mix things up here, for a true East meets West experience.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

City Social - My Last Date with London

I’m a fan of Jason Atherton. Out of his series of Socials, Pollen Street and Social Eating House are my firm favourites. When City Social took over the top spot on 42 Towers, I was keen. It wasn’t easy to find someone to go with though; I have always thought of it as a date restaurant and the last guy, well, is history. Since I was leaving London, if not now, when?

Regardless of how pretentious and OTT the other critics make of the place, it was a very impressive dining room. The circular booths were all facing the city skyline towards the window, offering a sense of seclusion and privacy. I wanted one of those. It was bye-bye Londres so champagne felt appropriate - any excuse really. In our usual manner we took our time mulling over the menu; my mind is now transparent to him and he effortlessly picked out my top two options for each course. Impressive.

Roasted French quail, pancetta, fried quail egg, peas, quail vinaigrette
This ensemble carried an earthy tone from the luscious pea puree. I am not usually a fan of any peas or beans, but this was subtly sweet with a hint of subdued grassy fragrance. As expected the bird was roasted to perfection; thin crispy skin enveloped soft and delicate meat. Finished with brittle pancetta to give it the nutty and savoury touch.

Warm fruits of the sea, linguini and shellfish cooking sauce
Pasta is an unusual choice, but I sometimes go with recommendations. The linguini was hidden beneath the array of seafood, cooked to precise perfection; crunchy prawn, plump mussels and bouncy razor clam. The highlight was the sauce, which was similar to a crab bisque, creamy and packed with crustacean goodness. Why did they only pour half a boat of sauce?

Yellow fin tuna tataki, cucumber salad, radish, avocado and ponzu dressing
We left our table and wandered across to the windows to watch the city skyline as the sun began to set. It wasn’t long until we were summoned back to our table, not for our mains, but for the second starters that we didn’t order. Apparently the kitchen was conscious that it has been a long wait between our starters and mains, and so offered us this to keep us entertained. That’s a nice touch, except it didn’t feel like that long a wait.

The thick disc of tuna was lightly seared on the outside but retained its soft, bouncy sashimi texture in the centre, worked well with creamy ripe avocado, both dressed in a thin citrusy grapefruit sauce . The pickled cucumber and wafer thin radish slices were mildly acidic, served well to cleanse the palate for our mains.

Lincolnshire rabbit saddle and sausage, Pommery mustard mash, trompettes, garlic
This was exquisite. The saddle was sous-vide to retain its succulence, though not dissimilar to chicken, it was less compressed and carried meatier flavours. The walnut-looking lumps were a type of fungi, they soaked up the jus like mini sponges and worked well with the disc of meat. The sausage was made with the dark meats from the rabbit, it had a coarser and grainier texture to it, like boar, and packed with plenty of herbs. My favourite was saddle meat coated in the crispy breadcrumbs, it was juicier and more tender. There was so much going on but it was controlled chaos; each component contributed equally to keep the ensemble exciting.

Yea alright the kitchen could work on presentation, it does look a complete mess, but one could not fault the flavours.

Middlewhite pork loin and belly, grilled asparagus, shallots, black onion crackling
By comparison my pork dish was somewhat less sophisticated, but much more pleasing to the eye. The loin was slightly pink in the middle, though still glistening with pork juice, I prefer the softer and pinker Iberico pork. The slab of pork belly underneath the pile was more enjoyable with its layer of gelatinous lard, nutty and fragrant. Together with the airy crackling and crunchy asparagus, it was still an accomplished and rounded dish. 

Interestingly this was the third pork dish I had at Atherton’s restaurants - I like the pork chop at Little Social best.

Peanut and Banana, chocolate ‘old fashioned’, nutmeg coral, banana ice cream
Chocolate old fashioned referred to a take on a cocktail. I’m not sure if we could find it on the plate…

It’s hard not to fall in love with / at City Social; the all-round view over London , the intimate ambience and the magnificent food - how could you not? I agree the clientele could be a tad stuffy with the suited and booted city boys during the week, but on the evening we visited it was mainly well-dressed ladies and gents. Like I said ages ago, City Social is a date restaurant. 

It was a wonderful way to bid London farewell. I shall miss you, so very much.

Tower 42
25 Old Broad Street
Tel: 0207 877 7703

City Social on Urbanspoon