27.8.15

Joo Heng Restaurant

A stalwart of the Joo Chiat neighbourhood, Joo Heng is a household name to the Easterners that's synonymous with homestyled cze char. It may not be particularly rave-worthy, but it's an old reliable that churns out familiar favourites at slightly upmarket prices. Personally, I thought the above-average pricing was justified; we were graciously treated with a good dose of warm friendly service not commonly felt in most cze char joints.

The Claypot Chicken ($16), laden with baby corn, snow peas, carrots, cabbage, black mushrooms, and red peppers, tempered the spicy undertones of the chilli peppers with the rich savoury overtones of the oyster sauce.

The Black Pepper Beef ($18) was tender without the overt taste of artificial tenderizer. The punchy chilli-spiked black pepper sauce was contrasted with the sweet tartness of the shallots and fresh spring onions.

The Sambal Sweet Potato Leaves ($12) was unctuous with copious lashings of belachan and dried shrimp bits.

A must-try signature, the Beancurd with Prawns ($18), slathered in a gooey egg-drop gravy, was sweet and sumptuous.



Joo Hing Restaurant
No. 360 Joo Chiat Road
Tel: 6345 1503
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 2pm for lunch; 5pm to 10pm for dinner;
Closed on Mondays

26.8.15

Ola Cocina del Mar

The demise of celebrity restaurant Santi was a sad day for the culinary world lost one of its legends. Regretful as it was, there's the silver lining - several alumni of the Michellin-starred affiliate went on to establish restaurants of their own here in little ol' Singapore. So, instead of just 1 culinary heavyweight, our little island now has at least 3 restaurants, all Spanish, helmed by ex-Santi staff. Purportedly, the executive chef at Santi was so enamoured of our sunny island that, instead of returning to his homeland, he put down roots here to set up OLA Cocina Del Mar. The cosy restaurant, innocuously tucked away at the commercial hub that is MBFC, has been surreptitiously churning out Spanish cuisine with a Peruvian inclination. It's totally underrated, and flies so low under the radar, that it was 3 years before I learned of its illustrious lineage.

Dinner-time will find the restaurant a lot more chilled and tranquil, compared to the frenzied boisterousness of the lunchtime crowd. I much prefer dinners here; there's a languorous ambience perfect for savouring OLA's exquisite tapas, and catching up with old friends. Service is also a lot more intimate and attentive. 

Ola's amuse bouche, a trio of baby squid, thinly breadcrumbed and fried to a golden crisp, served with an yin-yang dip of white bean puree and squid ink, was addictively good. So good I was seriously tempted to hoard my galfriend's portion for myself. If I was more thick-skinned; I'd have shamelessly requested another portion. Or three.

No visit to a true-blue Spanish restaurant is complete without an order of their jamon, and the 36-months aged Jamon Iberico '5J' ($48), fatty salty ribbons of cured pork shoulder sided by catalan toasts and fresh tomato puree, was just sublime. Pricey, but sublime nonetheless.

An off-menu special of the day, the Burrata with Pesto ($35) with heirloom tomatoes, edamame, and crispy jamon curls was a fantastic recommendation by the affable manager. Incredibly balanced in terms of flavour and texture, this is a must-try if ever it's in season.

A classic, the Gambas ($25), of fresh sweet prawns swimming in a medley of roasted garlic oil, dried chilli, and espelette pepper, was heady and aromatic.

The complimentary crusty bread was great fodder for the robustly flavoured oil.

Another must-try, the Pulpo ($26), Spanish octopus grilled to a luscious and smoky finish, was complemented by a nutty lentil sauce, and lightly spiced romesco vinaigrette. I'm not a fan of octopus (the tentacles scare me), but even I was blown away by this.

The Conchas a la Parmesana ($35), a duo of plump Hokkaido scallops baked to a succulent caramelization, was set atop parmesan grains, and a creamy lime and brandy aioli. Decent, but not outstanding.

I really liked the Fiduea con Secreto Iberico y Setas ($45), a flavourful noodle paella dish loaded with organic oyster mushrooms and grilled iberico pork, even if my galfriend found its sweet undertones disconcerting.

The only lackluster dish was the Ceviche ($25), where the potent taste of the wild seabass overwhelmed the delicate flavours of the lime, chilli, and onion marinade.




OLA Cocina del Mar
Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower3
#01-06
12 Marina Boulevard
Tel: 6604 7050
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 2pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 10pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.olarestaurant.sg

25.8.15

Vegetarian Paneang Curry

I thought I'd make a vegetarian version of the chicken panang curry I learnt to make in Koh Samui. Whoever said vegetarian food had to be boring and/or tasteless? 


Ingredients (feeds 6 pax):
8 cups broccoli florets
4 cups baby corn, cut into 1" lengths
8 cups oyster mushrooms (fresh shitake, white buttons are great substitutes)
4 cups carrots, diced into 1" cubes
8 tbsp heaps curry paste
8 kaffir lime leaves, deveined and julienned into fine strips
2 large red chillis, deseeded and sliced into fine strips
1 cup fresh coconut milk
4 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp fine white sugar
8 tbsp canola oil
3 cups vegetable stock


Directions:
1) Fry paste in oil until browned and toasty, add carrots to fry for a minute on medium-high heat.

2) Add mushrooms to fry until water released is almost evaporated.

3) Add baby corn to fry for about a minute.

4) Add broccoli to fry for a minute.

5) Add stock, fish sauce, sugar, fresh chilli and kaffir lime leaves, and stir until bubbling. Turn off heat and add coconut milk, stirring through, just before serving.



Conrad Koh Samui

Conrad is another posh resort in Koh Samui, popular with Americans and Hongkongers alike. It's extremely remote, far out on Taling-Ngam Beach on Koh Samui's south-west tip, and about 45-minutes away from the nearest developed stretch of restaurants and shops. The drive up the cliff on the single-lane access road to the resort alone takes 7 minutes.

Conrad was perfectly lovely, with breathtaking views from just about every part of the resort. Really. There wasn't a single vantage point that wasn't sensational. BUT, for a resort this isolated, its amenities just weren't flawless enough to warrant being so cut off from the rest of the island. The Hubs rightly pointed out: when a resort is this remote, it's all the more paramount that every aspect of it is impeccable.

Reception

Like Banyan Tree, Conrad's reception is perched right at the top of the resort. After that twisty 45-minute transfer to the resort, this spectacular view is the surest way to brightening up your day. And quelling the green bile coming up your throat.

The teeny tiny reception that's detached from the other amenities of the resort. Check-in was a breeze though. Speedier than at Banyan Tree.

From the reception's lofty perch, you can look down onto the entire resort and the azure sea beyond.


Accommodation

The villas, all 1-bedroom occupancies, are the same size, face the sea, and attached to a private plunge pool; the only difference between them all is how high up the cliff the villas are built; ie. the higher your location, the more expensive the rates. For larger sized parties, you may want to opt for the 2-bedroom villas at the Conrad Koh Samui Residences, instead of the Conrad Hotel & Resort, located at the top tier of the resort. Personally, I thought the views at the lowest level, the King Ocean View, were sufficiently magnificent.

Because the Conrad is designed simply, like a gentle-terrained padi terrace, it's easy to figure your way around, and amenities are accessible on foot, if you want some exercise. For those who prefer to bum around, buggies can be easily hopped on and off, to get around.

King Ocean View Pool Villa

Like the 2nd level Waterfront and 3rd level Oceanview Retreat villas, the 1st level King Ocean View Villa is chic and elegant, designed with a modern feel (S$700 onwards). We spent many hours lazing in front of the telly here.

The bed faces the patio with the 10-meter infinity pool that overlooks the sea.

The bathroom, with its own inset TV in front of the circular tub for maximum soaking pleasure. It has direct access to the pool patio so you can go straight from the pool to the tub to rinse off.

The view from the room

The moon-lit bay...so dazzling it woke us up in the dead of night. Perhaps the most mesmerizing full moon I'd ever seen in my life.

The same moon at dawn

Sunset view.



Fitness Center

The Conrad gym is on the beach level, so working out in the small-ish gym doesn't seem so depressing when you've got a beautiful view of the sea to look out at. Because the nearest convenience store is miles away, we cheapos bagged as much of their in-house complimentary mineral water as we could carry.

Muay Thai classes were held, open-air, at this boxing ring on the beach. It's a novel concept, but faltered in execution because the dawn class got blazing hot as soon as the sun rose. We quickly scooted off 10 minutes after the sweltering sun rays hit the deck.

Main Pool at the mezzanine above the gym with beach access and a pool bar. Hardly hit up by hotel guests because everyone was busy waddling in their own private pool.


Conrad Spa

The spa is located at the opposite end of the promontory from the reception. Views are just as dramatic here at the spa reception.

Welcome drinks at the spa - a traditional Bale Fruit tea commonly found and served in Koh Samui - we bought a bunch of these as souvenirs.

We opted for the Traditional Thai Massage (THB3,200/S$126 for 60 minutes), which lulled me to sleep almost right-away. If I had to choose, Conrad comes a close second to Banyan Tree's awesome massages. Even though the massage rooms at Conrad, annexed to an outdoor balcony with that signature Conrad view, are prettier.

The massage huts, just steps away from the spa reception, on the mezzanine level.


Library

The Library isn't particularly well-stocked, so it's easy to see why hardly anyone hangs out here. 

It's directly below the Aura Bar, and just across from the meeting/conference rooms.


Meeting / Conference Room

I was tasked to scout out the MICE facilities, and the Conrad's conference hall is well-sized for a medium-ish party of 60 persons, lined on one side with floor-to-ceiling glass windows for an arresting view of the Andaman Sea.

The outdoor terrace that'll make for a perfect cocktail hour.



Dining

Jahn

The fabulous restaurant, the crown of Conrad's dining options, serves up contemporary Thai cuisine. Hits and misses here, but it does make for a lovely date-night. Reservations for a table right by the windows, just before sunset, are required for enjoying the view.

Fireworks the very night we had dinner, courtesy of some wedding reception.

I liked that the resort gave us hotel guests advance notice of the fireworks, so we could make it a point to enjoy them.

Zest

The main breakfast spot serving up an international buffet spread, replete with the most awe-inspiring view. Dine early to snag the window seats, or the outdoor deck tables if you can take the heat and humidity. Stick to the ala carte eggs or Thai fare.

We were treated to a Thai dance performance, halfway through our breakfast, at the lawn just outside Zest. This was most kitschy but entertaining.



Aura Bar

We went out for a drink at Aura Bar, the hangout place for all things beautiful.


For a resort that's a lot less lush than Banyan Tree, Conrad was swarming with mozzies. We were bitten as soon as we arrived at the bar. It got so uncomfortable we each ordered our cocktails, a Zestini (THB340/S$13.50), a martini of Smirnoff green apple, fresh apple juice and vermouth, and a Mango Fizz (THB340/S$13.50), a tropical blend of Gordon's gin, fresh mango, orange juice and tonic, gulped them down, and went right back to our villa to jump into the pool to soothe the damn itching.

Not even this view was impetus enough for us to stay on to watch the band.

A broken piece of safety pin that was left on the daybed. Luckily, I spotted it, before sitting down, and brought it to the staff's attention. That was an accident waiting to happen!


Room Service

The room service at Conrad was lackluster and middling, disappointingly depressing. I'm not usually this fussed about room service, but because the resort is so far-flung, we were stuck in the resort the entire time. I thought the room service needed to be a lot better to warrant such isolation from outside restaurant options.

The Tod Mun Goong (THB360/S$14), prawn cakes, was halfway decent, crispy crust yielding a juicy prawn mince.

The Moo Yang (THB250/S$10) of char-broiled kurobuta pork was a little overdone, it got chewy at times.

The piquant Tom Yum Goong (THB250/S$10) was punchy and robust, and generously laden with juicy prawns, straw mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes.

The Kang Jeud Woosen Gai Sub (THB200/S$8), the Thai version of chicken soup, with cabbage, shimeiji mushrooms, chicken, carrots, tofu, and glass noodles, was comforting wholesome goodness.

The Gaeng Karee Gai (THB310/S$12), the Thai renditon of chicken curry, was lovely, rich and creamy and choc-a-bloc with succulent chicken pieces and soft potatoes.

The Phad Krapow Moo (THB300/S$12), minced pork sauteed with Thai basil and chilli, was fiery and juicy. Too bad the egg was fried to a rubbery finish.

The Phad Thai Goong Sod (THB320/S$13), prawns fried with rice noodles, beansprouts, and tofu, had good flavour, but not very finessed; the noodles were all stuck together.

The Phad See Eiw Gai (THB250/S$10) wok-fried flat rice noodles with chicken, cauliflower, broccoli and kailan was flat and saccharine. Not even a drizzle of lime juice could liven this.

The Risotto of Wild Mushrooms (THB750/S$) was cloying, and lacking in depth of stock.

The Mango Sticky Rice (THB300/S$12) was pretty good. Rice was soft and moist, and mangoes juicy and sweet.

The Doitung Coffee Mousse (THB350/S$14), with raspberry coulis and pistachio, was pedestrian and uneven. We didn't finish this.



Conrad Koh Samui
Website
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