Home Cooked

Homemade: Chicken rice, reimagined

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Something a little closer to home. Not a deconstruction per se, but a familiar dish, re-imagined. 

First, a chicken stock is made by pressure cooking chicken bones. It is then reduced until it tastes very close to the soup that you usually get when you order chicken rice(sans the MSG).

The broth is split into two batches, the first gets tossed with rice krispies. They crackle and pop, and soak up whatever liquid you toss them in; in my case, they take on chicken flavor. They are put into a dehydrator and dehydrated at 40C until crisp again. They take on a darker, browner color from the heat and the color of the stock. They have the flavor of chicken, but the flavor is faint. I re-introduce the same chicken broth into the rice krispies, then dehydrate them again as before. The flavor intensifies. The whole process is repeated a total of 5 times until you end up with chicken rice krispies.

The other half of the broth is further reduced until the flavor is intense, pounded garlic and ginger is added to the broth and allowed to infuse. Chicken breast is placed into a bag with this intense broth, then cooked sous vide at 61C. The breast is removed and chilled.

The dish is completed by tossing the chicken rice krispies with rendered chicken fat, this makes it easier to press it onto the chicken breast. The breast is placed in an oven to bake till the rice toasts slightly and becomes extra crisp. It is served on lines of traditional chicken rice chilli sauce and a ginger-garlic paste. It seems unusual, but when you eat a bite of all components, it tastes exactly kind chicken rice, and yet… it is not.

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Singapore

&made by Bruno Menard, Singapore

The ‘B’ burger- Dry aged beef, onion confit, caper/garlic sauce and comte cheese

The beef was aged beautifully and had a distinct nutty, slightly game-y, strong beefy flavor to it. The tenderness of the beef should not be understated despite being grounded down, it had that fall apart texture that a lot of recent chefs like Blumenthal have worked towards and popularized. The onions gave the burger a sticky, caramelized sweetness that was present with every bite, but never detracted away from the flavor of the beef. The beef was near perfectly cooked for me and retained a nice pinkness in the center. I also enjoyed the sharp tanginess of the sauce. The bun was the real star of the show, unbelievably soft, with a strong buttery flavor, one of the best burger buns I’ve ever had, the only small gripe being that the bun was so soft it got squashed a little when you ate the burger, although this is a small compromise to make for an otherwise excellent burger. I had the truffle fries with this, very mediocre. Good-Very good

The 3 little pigs – Bacon, pork filet and chorizo patty, shitake mushrooms, japanese cabbage, shibazuke pickles, yuzu-kosho mayonnaise

The chorizo was too faint and a smoky oily paprika would have really made the burger pop, despite this, the burger had a strong porky flavor, that paired really nicely with the mushroom, kosho added a tiny bit of heat to the burger. The yuzu was a surprisingly nice addition as well and I thought that it contrasted the pork flavor nicely, but again, the yuzu was actually quite faint and could have been stronger. Although some of the condiments are heavily inspired by Japan, it doesn’t have the inherent delicate nature that Japanese food possesses, it should have been a rugged burger(I felt that the beef burger was) and yet it was not. Good


Lychee, rose, raspberry smoothie(Blended with yoghurt)

Severely lacking any semblance of flavor. The rose was not present, there was barely any lychee, and the raspberry was faint. The whole thing was a pretty watery mess. Bad

Molten hot caramel lava cake with vanilla ice cream coated with paillete feuilletine

The texture of the cake wasn’t great(thick, very dense, almost like is was steamed) but I’ll write that off as having been spoilt at catalunya. The caramel was quite sweet on its own, and when combined with the vanilla, it was a little cloying on the tongue; I think the caramel could have been darkened a little to introduce more bitterness. I did, however, appreciate the paillete feuilletine coating the vanilla ice cream, it added a pleasant crunchy texture to an otherwise disappointing signature dessert. Okay

Lollipop waffle with white chocolate, dark chocolate and caramel sauce

I usually love waffles but this was one of the worst I’ve had. It was slightly undercooked and retained a strong flour-y taste, it also didn’t have a particularly crisp exterior. The ergonomics of the waffle was also a little confusing, if you serve a waffle on the stick, shouldn’t the container holding the sauces be large enough to accommodate some form of a dipping action with the waffle? (It wasn’t) Or, if the container holding the sauces isn’t large enough for the waffle to be dipped, in which case you expect the diner to pour the sauce over the waffle, then shouldn’t the waffle be served without a giant skewer running through the center so that it can be cut with a knife and fork easily? (It wasn’t) Okay, I know I’m nitpicking, this isn’t a three star meal, but another issue was that the white chocolate sauce was far too thinned out and watery, the dark chocolate and caramel sauces were fine though. Bad


I don’t need to tell you about Bruno Menard or the 3 michelin stars he used to own at L’Osier. It was actually one of the highest rated French restaurants in Tokyo prior to closing, but I think the chef has let himself go with his new establishment in Singapore. Thats not to say that I expect 3 star food, far from it, but I do think its reasonable to expect a menu where dishes are well executed and taste good, this was not the case at &made. What confuses me the most is that- to a chef of Menard’s stature and palate, some of the glaringly obvious mistakes on his menu should stick out like a sore thumb, shouldn’t he know that these have to be rectified? My only guess would be that that Menard is rarely in the &made kitchen often, which makes sense since he is starting up his other eatery: a bistro called La Cantine; although to be frank, I think he doesn’t have a strong enough kitchen team at &made to let it function on its own, especially if it is unable to serve food that would pass his standards.

Despite all its shortgivings, &made does serve up a pretty damn good burger, it is very petite for a $19 burger, but it is the best item on the menu by a mile.

Singapore

Catalunya, Singapore

It seems that every.new restaurant has a head chef that boasts a CV that reads like the St Pellegrino top 50 list. With names like Noma, the Fat duck, Alinea and the like automatically drawing attention to a chef and his new establishment. And perhaps there is no restaurant that generates quite as much excitement as el Bulli. The restaurant commands and aura of exclusivity and secretism that is only exacerbated by the fact that you will now never be able to dine at el Bulli. Those who have missed their chance will probably grasp at any opportunity to be a part of the el Bulli ripple effect, to savour and be part of the widespread zeitgeist of modern gastronomy fame that the restaurant seems to have pioneered. Catalunya opened its doors on mid July with much of this el Bulli hype, before I even knew the restaurant to be ‘Catalunya’, I knew it as ‘the restaurant run by the el Bulli team’, that was impression I felt the  media was trying to drive home when I had read an article about its imminent opening at the beginning of this year. Finally managing to secure reservations.for dinner at 9pm on a Sunday, my family and I entered the restaurant with an open mind but high expectations for the food.

Deconstructed omelette

The only dish we had on the night that would have been on the el Bulli menu, circa 2009(I think), the same year we went, although this wasn’t on our menu. The omelette is deconstructed into three main components, the potato foam, onion confit, and  egg sabayon. The potato foam had a surprising amount of body and intensity of flavor, it was more of an aerated, fluffy mash potato than a foam. The onion confit was expertly caramelized and provided a hint of smokiness with a refreshing sweetness, I would’ve liked the diced onion to be a little bigger in side though. The sabayon was silky and rich, it retained the creaminess of the yolk and carried the egg-y flavor well. The dish is served in a martini glass with 2 main layers, the sabayon on the bottom and the foam on top, the diced onion confit embedded within the sabayon, you dug all the way to the bottom to ensure that you were getting a mixture of all layers with each bite. This is truly one of the most well thought out (and delicious) deconstructed dishes I have ever had the pleasure of having. How much credit should go to the kitchen team for this? I’m not sure, but I’m glad there is a place in Singapore where I can get a well made rendition of this el Bulli classic. Good-Very Good

 

Pa Amb Tomaquet – An iconic Catalan dish, bread with tomato and olive oil

I remember having this at many small eateries throughout my trip in Spain, this was quite a nostalgic dish for me. The bread was slightly over charred for me, but it did carry an assertive smokiness. They did not scrimp on the quality of the olive oil, and the tomato was fruity and sweet, with no hints of acidity at all. I would’ve liked the tomato to be rubbed a few more times to balance out the smokiness of the bread. Okay-Good


Jamon Iberico croquette

A celebration of the best ham in the world, this dish should have been destined for greatness but it fell flat. The bechamel was too viscous and gummy, almost paste like(too much flour?). The flavor of the iberico wasn’t assertive enough, this was the most mediocre dish of the night. Okay

Cod fish “Esqueixada” –  Cod served with olive dressing, tomato, spring onion and olive paste

This was the most surprising dish of the night for me. I usually hate bacalao because of its intensified fishiness and saltiness, but rehydrated and desalted, it can easily be turned into a real treat. The one I had at L2O stands out for me, and this dish doesn’t fall short either. The unctuousness of the oil elevated the natural oils of the codfish, the astringent raw onions cut through that oil, the olive paste seasoned the dish and added a slight hint of smokiness. There were a lot of flavors going on, but they all came together beautifully. Very good


“Escalibada” with foie-gras and smoked eel – Grilled vegetables served with foie gras and smoked eel

The grilled peppers were so soft you could cut through them like butter. The taste of the foie was a little lost in the dish, as was the smoked eel. It seems that the grilled pepper seemed to be the only thing I could really taste and I’m not sure if this was the intention of the dish, although to be fair I didn’t have a very big bite of this. The apple puree worked nicely with the dish, as did the balsamic reduction. Okay

Traditional suckling pig “Segovian style” 2-3 pax

This was the star of the entire meal. The maitre’d enthusiastically told me to come over and try cutting up the pig, I obliged with a smile on my face, but in actuality I really just wanted them to do it so I could dig in. I kid, who doesn’t love cutting up a sucking pig with a plate? Thats right, the pig is hacked apart by a plate, a true testament to how soft this pig was. The skin was crisp to the point of shattering, the the meat took on a texture of soft, melting braised meat, a cooking process that I can only guess would be slow roasting. A lot of the fat underneath the skin, as well as the connective tissue in the meat, had both melted down into oil and gelatin, keeping the pig incredibly moist as it is being cooked. The meat was flavorful(full of pure pork flavor, no fancy spices), unctuous(from the rendered fat), and it had a rich, almost sticky flavor(from the gelatin), a wonderful and delicious combination. Did I mention the skin was unbelievably crisp? Crisp enough that you could hear the crunch when you could bite into it. This was everything that I had hoped Ibu Oka would be, Im glad I got to experience porky heaven. The dish is served with a delightful pork jus, with a consistency that is just right, and a few springs of thyme. There is something therapeutic about eating this, pulling thyme flowers off the sprigs, pouring the jus over the moist pork, and digging in, its the kind of dish you wish you could eat with your fingers, but you quickly realise you are sitting in a posh restaurant floating above a water and quickly hold back, bummer. Superb


Fried aubergines with black olives

This was a side dish that we ordered along with the pork, the aubergines had more of a soft braised texture than a fried one, it was perfectly cooked for me, silken smooth, with a tapenade smeared over it to act as seasoning. The sweetness of the aubergine and the saltiness of the olive paired well together. Good-Very Good

 

Smoked mashed potato

This carried a good amount of butter flavor, not too heavy and thick like the infamous Robuchon one. The addition of the smoky flavor did seem to make the mash feel ‘heavier’ or more substantial. The texture was smooth, almost like a sauce. I’ve achieved a similar consistency of mash using Blumenthals method of making mashed potatoes(ricer + tamis 2x), I especially liked the addition of the roasted hazelnuts, it added a surprising crush when embedded within the mash, actually most of what I ate during the dinner was a surprise because the restaurant was so damn dark and I couldn’t really see what I was eating. Good

Wood roasted pineapple

When this came, I had high hopes that it would be similar to the pineapple dish I had at Chateaubriand, however, this was nowhere near as good. The pineapple came in big chunks, which I appreciate, but they were cut a little too close to the rind. The pineapple could have taken on a little more spices and aromatics for me, although there was a red spice that had a strong pepper taste but a lingering pleasant berry aroma that I particularly enjoyed. Okay

“Torrija” with milk ice cream – Fried milk bread with spices served with smoked milk ice cream

The caramelized coating of the fried milk bread made the dish for me, it was thin enough that it shattered when you bit into it, and that crisp shell contrasted the soft, almost custard like texture of the bread pudding, the fact that the bread pudding was very moist didn’t hurt either. I loved the pairing of the nutty, slightly bitter, slightly smoky taste of the caramel with the milk bread. I wasn’t too crazy about the smoked milk ice cream, I would have preferred it to be made with less sugar so that the taste of the milk is a little clearer. Very good

 

Warm creamy almond tart

A bit of a misnomer with the title, this is hardly a tart. I actually thought they had given us the wrong order until I had a bite of the ‘tart’, wrong dessert or not, this dish is staying. It turned out to be a almond-caramel based lava cake. The texture of the cake was ethereal, the softest and fluffiest lava cake that I’ve had. The caramel wasn’t cloyingly sweet either, which I greatly appreciated. I enjoyed the pairing with the orange sorbet, it had a very assertive citrus aroma, almost lingered on the border of being slightly bitter(use of peel?), the bitterness paired well with the taste of the almond, and the caramel cut through all of that. Lovely. Good- Very Good


A cheese cocktail, made by a mixologist, which is a pompous term for ‘bartender’ 

Catalunya has generated a lot of hype due to its ties with El bulli. As far as i know, only 6 members.of staff were from the original el Bulli , not all of whom are chefs. Whether or not the decision to draw this comparison was a decision by Catalunya staff, or the media; its a comparison that should quickly be shaken off- Catalunya stands firm on its own and doesn’t need to stand in the shadow of el Bulli. The restaurant seems to recognise this that doesn’t fall into the trap of doing too many el Bulli replicas, all of which I’m sure would sell very well. There is a strong sense of back to basics about the restaurant, roasted peppers, roasted pig, smoked mashed potatoes, and at the core of it all, the dishes work. The food isn’t over complicated and flavors are strong, crisp and clear, yet the food still retains the ability to surprise, the addition of crunchy hazelnuts to a mashed potato, the pairing of a sorbet with a molten cake; perhaps this is the best characteristic that Catalunya should adapt from el Bulli.

That isn’t to say that the restaurant is perfect, while service staff was very friendly, the dining room could have used a few more wait staff, it was a little tedious trying to catch their attention at times, we were given a gigantic table big enough to hold a reunion dinner for 3 generations worth of a family, that is simply over excessive for a party of four. We were eventually only moved when some dubious liquid started dripping onto our table from the ceiling. And the darkness of the place, my goodness the restaurant was dark enough that even Bane would have felt uncomfortable having dinner there, and he was born in the darkness so don’t doubt my exaggerated description. The confusing thing about this, is that the management clearly knows about the issue with the luminance of the restaurant, since they provide mini lamps so that diners are able to read the menu. These issues aside, Catalunya serves some of the best food I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting in Singapore, the dishes aren’t innovative in comparison to many Singaporean restaurants that I’ve been to, but they don’t have to be when they taste this good. I might have just discovered my new favorite restaurant.

Singapore

Garden of Eden, Singapore

Bread with garlic butter

The bread had a surprisingly good flavor, although it was a little on the dry side. I love garlic butter but the garlic to butter ratio was tipped way too much towards the garlic side, plus the garlic was also raw and retained that very sharp, pungent taste; strangely, I found myself going back for more… Okay

Foie Gras
Foie gras mousse, chicken crackers, sherry gel and herb salad

Placing a strong emphasis on contrasts, this starter consisted of a cube of  foie gras, contrasted by a pureed foie gras mousse, crisp chicken skin as well as a crisp meringue. Sweetness and acidity provided by the sherry gel and dates compressed in sherry vinegar. It was a sound dish that worked on many levels, cold/warm, crisp/soft, acidity/sweetness/unctuousness. I thought it was a pity because if the foie used had a better flavor, the dish would have been incredible, nevertheless, the addition of roasted chicken skin was brilliant and rounded off a well thought out dish. Good

Pork Belly
BBQ pulled pork, apple sauce, pork skin, spinach and mash potatoes

We quickly moved onto mains with this pork dish, the pork belly was cooked sous vide for 48 hours in cider, whose flavor tied in nicely with the apple sauce. I personally think that the addition of pulled pork in any dish can only make it better, but the BBQ flavor did add a sweet richness that cut through the acidity of the apple sauce expertly. The pork skin, which cannot be crisped up effectively after being cooked sous vide, was instead removed before cooking, and turned into a Chicharrón, this is something I do as well when I cook salmon(remove the skin and crisp it up in the oven while I SV the fish). Criticisms are that the mash could have used a little more butter and the dish was slightly lacking in sauce. Good-Very good

Beef Cheek
Tender chunks of 48 hour poached beef cheek in a twice cooked goulash sauce with confit potatoes, radish, mushrooms and mirepoix with a big chunk of home made bread

I’m not entirely sure why this had to be cooked twice, my guess would be that the cheek was cooked sous vide, then reheated in the goulash sauce to warm through and soak up its flavor. This was reminiscent of half the meals I hate in eastern Europe, it hit the key flavors for me, namely the smokiness of the paprika and sweet/tartness from the tomato paste. Not terribly inspiring or innovative, but a classic dish updated with a modern cooking method. Okay-Good

Jelly n ice cream
Chocolate poached in liquid nitrogen, strawberry jelly

One of the main reasons why I came to the restaurant in the first place, this turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the night. The main attraction of this was a 66% Valrhona chocolate mousse dunked into liquid nitrogen, then plated with raspberry gel, coconut cream, and chocolate sponge cakes. This is very reminiscent of the Alinea dessert that is plated onto the table itself. Cold foods tend to lose the intensity of flavor and that was exactly what happened with the frozen chocolate mousse, after the smoke had settled, what we were left with was an overall bland-ness; the most prominent flavor on the tongue was the tart strawberry jelly(which was actually very nicely made), I did like the crisp dehydrated chocolate cake as well. Okay

I enjoyed my meal at Garden of Eden, I’ll say I enjoyed it as much as Keystone, although I found Keystone to have more interesting food in terms of flavors, the food at Garden of Eden felt much better executed and a more complete/refined overall product. To be honest, Garden of Eden serves the kind of food that I would serve if I had my own restaurant. You get a strong sense that although the restaurant has been given a ‘modern cuisine’ title, the chefs understand the strengths and limitations of cooking methods being used, and this comes with experience and familiarity with equipment and cooking techniques. Unfortunately, the irony is that the one dish I wasn’t crazy about was one that employed the most modern of techniques- liquid nitrogen, which was the main reason why I was drawn to the restaurant in the first place.

While it is unfair to classify this as a restaurant that is truly pushing the food boundaries, since the menu sticks to classic flavor profiles- Foie and fruit, Apple and pork, goulash, an update through texture and workflow is always welcome, especially when it is done in an intelligent and well thought out manner; it is about taking a dish and refining it, altering it so that looks or feels different, but tastes familiar.

The food was a little on the pricey side, but well portioned and worth the money. For some reason they aren’t listed on Hungrygowhere, and the Maitre’d mentioned that they had intentionally removed their listing, don’t let this deter you from visiting, and be sure to note down the address, the restaurant is not well marked and you could easily walk past it multiple times without realising, trust me, I know.

Singapore

Esquina, Singapore

Located along Jiak Chuan road(which I had never heard of prior to this visit) in Chinatown, Esquina is probably a place where you would least expect to find a Spanish tapas bar. The place is headed by Andrew Welsh, who followed Jason Atherton(Culinary director) from the UK over to Singapore to set up Esquina; Jason Atherton, incidentally, was the first British chef to complete a stage at El Bulli in 1998, its something I would list on my CV as well, but in truth, Esquina doesn’t serve up molecular cuisine, so don’t go there expecting tapas that will foam and blow up in your face.

The website states that the restaurant opens at 6:00pm, I arrived at 6:05pm, only to be told that the indoor portion of the restaurant had been completely filled out, and we would have to wait for about 1.5 hours for a seat at the bar. We could, however, dine outside if we wanted to. I did not come to a tapas bar to eat at anywhere other than the bar, so I ordered a sangria and decided to wait it out. After about 40 minutes, a waitress came out to offer us a table inside(not at the bar), but having already waited so long, we decided we would continue waiting. At the 1 hour mark, we finally managed to get a seat at the bar, albeit one right at the edge, away from all the kitchen action. The bar is very elongated and sits maybe…14 – 16 people, the chefs are saturated at the center and slightly towards one end of the bar, the other end, where I was, was where the drinks were being made.

Le comptoir

   

Sangria (with sangria foam)

All the components of the meal which contained sangria (total of 3) were nicely made, it had strong hints of citrus that made the wine seem lighter than it actually was, even under the sweltering singapore heat, when my sangria was warm, it still tasted pretty good. This would be the only ‘molecular’ portion of the whole meal, but this sangria foam made sense, the foam packed quite a lot of flavor, so it wasn’t like the drink ended up having to carry the foam through. A similar concept to the ‘Gin Fizz’ aperitif served at El Bulli. My one gripe was that although the foam improved the overall aesthetic of the dish, what’s the point putting a foam on top if you’re going to provide a straw? Good

           

Salt and pepper squid, black ink aioli

This was easily the best dish of the night. Squid was expertly cooked, had a light crisp coat that gave way to a meaty interior with good bite, tentacles were extra crisp and provided a natural contrast in texture. The real star of the show was the black ink aioli, the perfect consistency for dipping, or in my case, dragging the squid though delicious black sludge, hitting all the right spots: the creaminess, richness from the egg yolks, the kick of garlic, the refreshing zing of lemon, the unctuous mouthfeel, with a briny taste from the black ink that always lingered in the background but never intruded on the key flavors. I could have a lot of this. Good

         

Scallop ceviche and radish salsa

This was touted as the best ceviche in Singapore by Appetite magazine. Although it was a good ceviche, it was nothing mind blowing like the magazine seemed to suggest. Props to the restaurant for getting using really good produce, the scallops were very fresh and had a complex natural sweetness, this balanced out well with the acidity in the vinaigrette. Contrast in textures between the soft ceviche and crunchy radish was lovely. Also liked that the dish was served at the right temperature, cold enough to be refreshing, but not too cold so that the flavors were muddled and couldn’t pop. Okay-good

           

Ox cheek oloroso, mash, caper, bacon, bonemarrow crumbs

The ox cheek is braised in oloroso, which is a kind of sherry. The ox cheek was a little dry on the inside and it was tough to look past that; overall the dish also needed more sauce because whatever glaze was on the ox cheek was getting pulled into the mash. It was just a dry, dry dish in general, the bonemarrow helped a little, but nothing really stood out for me. Okay

            

Iberico pork and foie gras burger

The foie and iberico burger was the biggest disappointment of the night. For the record, Iberico pork and foie gras are 2 of my favorite ingredients, so I was prepared to fall in love with this. The main issue I had was that I couldn’t taste the foie in the burger at all. If I’m going to consume those foie gras calories, I better damn well taste the foie gras. The iberico patty was just too strong in flavor and overpowered the foie, plus the patty wasn’t particularly juicy anyway. Ironically, the best component of the dish was the bun, which had a nice crust and soft, fluffy center. Who raves about the bun when talking about a burger? Bad

             

Sangria ice cream (Given free as a pre-dessert)

I had expected this to be more sorbet like, regardless, it had a strong sangria flavor and a wonderful richness from the cream. Good

             

Pistachio cake, sangria jam, vanilla ice cream

The pistachio cake had a good, moist consistency, but didn’t carry a very strong pistachio flavor. The vanilla ice cream was surprisingly well made, very strong vanilla flavor, nice creamy texture without being cloying on the tongue. The sangria jam worked well with the ice cream, its a pity the pistachio flavor was pushed back into the background. Okay

I quite like Esquina, the quality of food being put out is high, the chefs have a clear vision for the food and aren’t trying to do too much. I wouldn’t exactly call it “authentic” by Spanish standards, but if the food is delicious, who really cares?

Service was hit or miss during the night, because of the logistical nature of the restaurant, it can be quite difficult to flag down a waiter or waitress, plus some of them are not very attentive to begin with. The chefs do not really mingle with the customers, even those who are sitting at the counter right in front of them(which I found surprising consider that would be how many Spanish tapas bars work), so don’t expect a very personal experience from the place. Prices are high for what you are getting, most plates of food will cost approximately $25 on the average, and I’d say the average diner can finish 2-3 plates of food with dessert, and therefore the bill will easily run up to about $80. All in all, if you are willing look past all the faults I’ve listed, rest assured that the food is reliable and you’ll have a tasty meal at Esquina.

Singapore

Keystone restaurant, Singapore

I’ve heard of Keystone restaurant for some time now but never really made the effort to go out and try it. To be honest, I get pretty lazy when thinking about going out to fine dine in Singapore; but Keystone recently piqued my interest with chef Marks presentation of Sous vide cooking at the Savour.sg event. I’ve always wanted to document the impact on Sous vide on a modern restaurant that embraces the technique, and thus I emailed chef Mark to ask for a chance to view the kitchen if I happened to have a meal at his restaurant. I should probably point out as a disclaimer at this point that Chef Mark knew I was going to be coming in for a lunch reservation; I do not know if I was given preferential treatment based on this information, or if my dishes were plated differently, but to stay true to myself and the blog, I will be upfront with how I felt about the meal.

      

Amuse: Caramelized banana, pineapple with shaved almond, truffle popcorn with soy
The banana portion was a pureed banana, with a brûlée-d sugar finish over the top, truffle popcorn had a custard like texture, both were quite surprising texture wise, but it was the flavor of the cold pineapple with shaved almond that popped the most. Okay

   

Parmesan rosemary focaccia
The Parmesan gave the soft fluffy bread a nice crunch and textural contrast. The use of rosemary, which can be quite an aggressive herb, was spot on, it perfumed the bread nicely. I don’t usually go crazy about bread courses bur this was quite enjoyable. Good

   

43° SALMON GRAVLAX 
Tat Soi | Smoked Cream | Arctic Char Caviar | Tarragon Pommery

The salmon was cooked sous vide at a very low temperature, even lower than mi cuit, it was very similar to sashimi. I liked the dish, the cream tied everything together, the caviar had a firm, almost crunchy like texture. The orange pommery provided flavor encapsulated bursts of sweetness that provided a nice pop to the dish. The black calamari crackers had a similar texture to keropok(sorry for those non singaporeans/malaysians), albeit slightly more crisp, and it packed a lot of briny flavor that worked well with the fish. I wish it had been served in smaller pieces, because of the nature of is texture, it was quite impossible to break using utensils, so they had to be eaten in one bite. Just a slight issue with ergonomics in an otherwise solid dish. Good

   

GREEN EGGS & PULLED PORK
Agria potato Espuma | Atsina Baby Cress | Tsukiji Seaweed Soil | Green pea puree

The ‘green’ portion of the dish that isn’t quite visible is a pea puree. The pulled pork is first cooked sous vide, then braised in a Japanese style to infuse flavor. To be completely technical, it’s not really pulled pork since it wasn’t pulled, but the braise definitely gave it strong soy flavor that balanced out nicely with the vibrant, sweet pea puree. The egg was poached sous vide and the custard like texture of the yolk bound the whole dish together. The potato espuma tasted like an incredibly fluffy, light, savory potato puree, incredibe. Lots of soft textures in the dish but it all amalgamated together in harmony, one criticism is that the Atsina baby cress was slightly chewy, unpleasantly so, but this was the best dish of the meal, although I wish the pea puree was served on top for a greater visual effect. Good

    

NORWEGIAN FLAT WHITE 
Chanterelle Fricassée | Smoked Berskshire Belly | Smoked Sea Urchin Foam

A beautifully plated dish, but easily the one I agreed with the least. First, the faults- The fish was overcooked, which I found surprising considering the fact that Keystone utilizes a lot of sous vide cooking. The fish was seared before plating and this was probably where the fish got overcooked. The mushroom stew was completely over-seasoned, and it was all you could taste of the dish after a couple of spoonfuls. I assumed that the belly would throw the richness of the dish completely overboard before eating it, but to my surprise, the belly had a sweet glaze, which actually played off the savory notes of the dish beautifully. Unfortunately, there was a lot more mushroom stew than there was belly, and the dish was quickly off balance again. To my surprise, there was a hidden veal sweetbread hidden under the fish. Personally, I have no problems eating offal, but I can imagine some who would be quite upset to discover sweetbreads in a fish course, I pointed this out to the waitress, who responded that it was intentionally placed there to surprise the diner, hmm.. Regardless, the surprise addition of the sweetbread completely pushed the dish into a different direction, it was like going to an engineering class and discovering that your professor is about to give the class a surprise quiz on stem cell research, everyone is bewildered and noone is happy. While there were times when the dish worked for me, overall it was much too convoluted. Bad

   

KUROBUTA STEAK FRITES
Dehyrdated Yukon & Cheese | Heirloom Vegetables | Mission Fig Ketchup

I was quite taken aback by the amount of food in this dish, easily the most bang for buck choice in their set lunch menu. This is basically Kurobuta pork shoulder, cooked sous vide, then finished on the grill. The grill must have been at quite a high temperature, because the meat stayed moist and tender, with no cook ‘rings’ around the edge of the meat. I found the pork to be slightly under-salted, but when eaten together with the fig ketchup, it was perfect, very intelligent seasoning. The strong char on the pork from the grill gave it a distinct smoky aroma, as well as slight bitterness that again, worked nicely together with the sweetness of the ketchup. Im not sure why the yukon was referred to as “frites” since they were more similar to chips. A solid, safe dish, but not particularly boundary pushing. Okay

   
360 BRÛLÉE TEXTURE
Caramel Custard Foam | Salted Maple | Valrhona Equatoriale
I was not entirely sure what to make of this dish, the name seemed to point in the direction of a modern take of a creme brulee, but what arrived was basically a chocolate pots de creme, with a salted maple layer sitting atop of it, and a custard foam to top it off. The only flavor profile that reminiscent of a creme brulee was the custard foam, everything tasted foreign. Despite the inconsistencies with expectations, the dessert was delicious- the chocolate creme(55%) had carried the flavour of chocolate through the custard and maple well, the foam had a nice body to it. The main technical fault was that the mouse was either not strained properly, or did not freeze right, because there were distinct lumps in it. The dish has a striking resemblance to Le Bernardin’s “Egg” dish, right down to the layers- Bernardin’s consists of a milk chocolate Pots de creme(55% as well), caramel foam, maple syrup, and maldon sea salt. The dish was also plated with dehydrated mandarin oranges, which doesnt sound like much, but tasted amazing. Okay
COMPOSITION OF FRUITS 
Coconut Palm Sorbet | Sudachi Lime Curd | Peppered Tropics | Dehydrated lychee
The coconut sorbet wasn’t too intensely flavored, and its muted flavors worked well with the peppered pineapple(the pepper revealed itself at the end of the dish). There was a freshness about the dish with all its acidic notes, but the lime curd was slightly overcooked and had a gummy texture. Quite unfortunate because it was difficult to get past, seeing as to how it formed the base for the dish. Okay
Overall, I had a pleasant meal at Keystone, this is going to sound incredibly greedy, but my lunch at Keystone(at 2pm) was my first meal of the day, and I opted to have 2 lunch sets by myself. Yes, I literally ate everything that I’ve just posted by myself. Somewhere along the Kurobuta dish, I was ready to give up, I could feel lethargy starting to creep in and a belly starting to form; instead I pushed on and by the end of the meal, I was pretty glad that I got to try quite a few dishes. The strengths of the restaurant clearly lie in their starters, lots of innovation and creativity flowing through both dishes- many subtle, delicate flavors interplaying with one another.
The mains came out with lesser, but more distinct, stronger flavors, unfortunately the Norwegian Flat White dish wasn’t well executed and didn’t work for me. Desserts brought the creativity back a notch, I loved the use of the dehydrated fruits, it brings about a familiar taste in a strange texture, but were let down by the technical aspects of the dish- Lumps in the mousse and overcooked curd.
Service was absolutely top notch, Id go as far as to say that it is on par with a 2 Michelin star restaurant, my server had no problems answering all of my food related questions, although I should also point out that I was the last customer in the restaurant. Chef Mark seems to be genuinely passionate about his food, and wants to educate the general public about it as well, I spoke to one of his sous chefs, who told me that he loves working for chef Mark because he is open to testing out new dishes and embracing new ideas, this is reflected in the food- a lot of flavor memories and profiles borrowed from different cuisines, Japanese, American, French. At its core they are all strong flavors, but slightly let down by finesse and execution. I personally think that the direction the restaurant has taken is a sound one, although my criticism is that they should cut down on the number of dishes in their repertoire and iron out the nooks and crannies of each dish. For those wanting to try Keystone for lunch, do note that parking in the area is a bitch.
Singapore

Savour.sg 2012

Its been a while since I last went for a food event in Singapore, the last being Ferran Adrias 2 speeches approximately 3 years ago. Its not to say that there haven’t been many food events, in fact, there have been lots of celebrity chefs frequenting our tiny island; unfortunately, the meals that they host are usually quite pricy, and I cannot justify paying that amount of money when I feel that going to their own flagship restaurant would be a better reflection of the food that they strive to put out.

Savour.sg offered a way to savour(points for incorporating the title) some dishes from world renowned chefs such as Alain Passard of L’Arpege, Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation, and Hans Valimaki of Chez Dominique. It was actually Passards name that piqued my interest for the event, my meal at L’Arpege last November was one of the most technically brilliant meals I’ve had in my life, a chance to attend one of his workshops was too good an opportunity to pass up.



Molecular Xiao Long Bao (Bo Innovation, HK, **)

My sister, who was at the event with me, headed straight for the Bo Innovation counter the moment we had entered and ordered everything that Bo had to offer. Her justification was to try some of Bo’s most famous dishes because she will, in all probability, never go to Bo. On the other hand, I will be having a meal at Bo this coming July, so this was all hers. I appreciated that they brought their own specific cutlery for the delicate item. On a side note on this (almost dead) spherified fad, I preferred my spherified mojito at Providence over the infamous spherified olive at El Bulli


Har Mei Lo Mien, with Har mei oil and powder (Bo Innovation, HK, **)

Basically pasta tossed with roe, with dried shrimp for flavor. It was comfortable and satisfying, the pasta was a good vehicle to carry the Asian flavors, but it was hardly pushing the boundaries. Reminded me a lot of Mentaiko pasta but obviously here with a different flavor profile. They also reduced this from $15 on the website to $9 at the fair, I don’t think anything more than $9 would have been a reasonable price. Okay

  

Egg waffles with black truffle and Vanilla Ice cream (Bo Innovation, HK, **)

The best dish I had during the fair. The waffles managed to stay crisp despite being topped with ice cream and a sauce(my sis thinks detected salted egg yolk in this but I have my doubts), and the infusion of truffle into the egg waffles itself was a nice touch. The ice cream had an interesting consistency, it was slightly more viscous than normal, and packed a lot of vanilla aroma in it as well(high fat content?), the pairing of truffle and vanilla worked gloriously together, I’m not particularly crazy about truffles, but this is one instance where I truly enjoyed it. Very good

  

Cod 2.0 for all your senses, Cod brandade flavored with dashi stock and served with cod skin crackers (Chez Dominique, Finland, **)

Fact: add ‘2.0’ to the back of any dish and it will sound molecular. I had half expected there to be some sort of dashi foam on the plate, I was a little glad when a conservatively plated dish emerged. The cod was very soft, but it had a slightly ‘pappy’ texture that happens when you sous vide food for too long, it was also slightly overseasoned for me, and lost some of its natural flavor. On a positive note, the bed of grains(Barley? Spelt?) it sat on was delicious. Okay

   

Potato and Malt, Sea buckthorn potato ice cream with malt (Chez Dominique, Finland, **)

The recreated potato is actually a white chocolate shell encapsulating an ice cream center. The crunchy malt bits at the bottom brought a delightful contrast in texture to the ice cream. Potato, Malt, white chocolate, an unusual combination of flavors that works well together, although I believe Wd~50 has used a similar combination in a dessert that they used to serve. The original dish served at Chez Dominique does look pretty different though, it just goes to show that many of dishes served at the fair are probably slightly modified to survive our climate. Good


Mexican pig with white spice sauce, alfayayocan bean, red and black radish (Pujol, Mexico)

I was quite amused by the black radish, having never seen one before. The pickled red radish provided a nice acidity to balance out the richness of the pork belly, unfortunately the belly wasn’t particularly well cooked. Okay

  

Cacao, corn and chilli. Cacao peru 64% and corn, rocoto pepper oil (Central Restaurante, Peru)

I had initially thought the chocolate was an ice cream, but it turned out to be an incredibly dense chocolate…. I dont even know what to call it. It was slightly gummy and way too thick to be called a ganache. The corn nuggets were severely lacking in any kind of flavor at all, and there was very minimal heat and aroma from the pepper oil. It was difficult enough trying to find flavor in the corn nuggets, and the flavor of the thick chocolate bulldozing its way though your tastebuds didn’t really help either. Bad

  

Coconut braised pork belly, with pickled cabbage and caramelized daikon (Xu, Vietnam)

This was one of the softest pork belly’s that Ive ever had, the thing literally broke apart with a fork, so much so that it became difficult to eat when the skin, fat, and meat separated due to its own weight, I would actually have liked the belly to have more structure so it would be easier to cut into. Whatever coconut flavor present in the dish was faint, and got lost in the pickled cabbage. It seemed to be an Asian take on German pork + sauerkraut, but with punchier flavors, especially with the pickled cabbage, I tasted quite a lot of soy sauce in it. Okay

  

Chocolate Brigadeiro, truffle candy, with cupuacu (Brasil sensational, Brazil)

It was my first time having cupuacu, and while I didn’t particularly care of the dish, the aroma of the cupuacu is quite unique, a lot of aromas and flavors all happening at once, definitely something that makes you sit up and take notice if you’ve never tried it before. Okay

Alain Passard’s masterclass

Unfortunately I didn’t try anything from the L’Arpege booth, but I did get to see Alain Passard in action, which made the trip to the entire event worth it.

He is ridiculously thin for a 3 star French chef, and I had no idea that chef Gunter trained under Passard for some time as well. Hearing Passard speak about food was quite inspirational, plus learning how he cooks his egg yolk in his soft egg dish was quite exciting too.

There were many other mini demonstrations, wine tastings, samplers going on at the fair, but I didn’t snap any pictures. Overall it was a well organized event, my only critique would be the line forming up to get in during the first 1/2 hour when the event started, congestion was quite bad and there could have been more staff allocated to the entry booths; I’m not sure why I’m even complaining about this because I went straight to the front, but if I had to queue up to get in, it would be something that I would like rectified.