25.4.17

Imperial Herbal Restaurant

Not to be confused with Imperial Treasure group of restaurants, Imperial Herbal Restaurant is an old-school old-timer hidden in one of those dusty Havelock Road hotels with those hostess-filled nightclubs. To be exact, it's at Four Points by Sheraton, revamped after a major overhaul from what used to be the Riverview Hotel.

Purporting to incorporate traditional Chinese health concepts to the food, Imperial Herbal Restaurant approaches healthful gourmet with an oriental flair.

I liked the food, but I don't think regular revisits are on the cards. Sure, the food was tasty without the contrived assistance of salty additives, and there was a wholesomeness that was quite appealing, but the acute chinoiserie of the place (and the food) just wasn't my thing. Even though I love my herbal soups and do believe in the partaking of TCM as a daily herbal supplement, the thought of eating Chinese herbs as a meal doesn't quite excite my tastebuds in this instance. I feel that Imperial Herbal is one of those once-and-done sort of restaurants. A place you should try at least once in your life. Or else, you'll have to really really really love your TCM to love this place.

A large part of the appeal is that the set menus here are comparatively reasonable and extremely value-for-money. We ordered the Imperial Set Menu ($188 for 4 persons) and supplemented with a couple of dishes from the ala carte.

The signature Fluffy Egg White with Dried Scallops was perhaps my favourite of the lot. Exquisitely delicate, this was light as a cloud and incredibly nuanced.

The herbal soups are a must-order, but take note that these are strikingly robust, and the herbal accents manifestly potent. The Lady's Tonic Soup, uses black chicken, and ostensibly improves the complexion and maintains a youthful appearance. Obviously, this was the premier choice for the women-folk.

The Shou Wu Beef Shank Soup, was preferred by the men, as it professes to prevent the pre-mature greying of hair and promotes longevity.

The Tian Qi Soup, which reduces cholesterol and increases blood circulation, was opted by those of us with high cholesterol.

I love lingzhi for its restorative and immune system-boosting properties and despite the overtly bitter taste of the Lingzhi Soup, I drank it all.  It supposedly prevents cancer afterall.

An ala carte dish and a must-try, the Braised Cod Fish with dangshen and huang qi ($16 per 100gm) was mellow and nuanced. Just beware the bones in the fillets.

The Salt Baked Chicken, succulent and fork-tender, was delicate but flavourful.

I loved the Pumpkin Butter Prawn Balls as well, the richness of the pumpkin butter lifted by the spice of the curry leaves, and grounded with a smattering of walnuts and dusting of pork floss.

The Poached Baby Cabbage in superior stock with beancurd skin, roasted garlic, and wolfberries, was the best version of this vegetable dish. Refined and restrained, I was happy to mop up every last drop of that amazing stock.

The Braised Ee-Fu Noodles with straw mushrooms was steeped in a most delicious stock as well, so it had incredible flavour.

The Eight Treasures Cheng Tng was sweetened primarily with rock sugar than red dates, which I loved because I'm not a big fan of the heady saccharine sweetness of red dates. If you prefer a pronounced red date taste, then this wouldn't be your favourite thing.

Another dish off the ala carte menu, the Red Bean Paste Souffle Egg White Balls ($14) wasn't well-received. They were a little stingy with the red bean paste filling, and the egg white flavour overwhelmed the icing sugar.

I liked the appetizer of lightly spiced XO sauced green beans and fried tofu.


Imperial Herbal Restaurant
382 Havelock Road
Four Points by Sheraton Level 2
Tel: 6337 0491
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.15pmto 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.imperialherbal.com

24.4.17

Sushi Zanmai, Ginza, Tokyo

I didn't think it was possible to eat bad sushi in Japan, but our trip to Tokyo proved me so so wrong. Shockingly enough, the most awful sushi we've had in a long long time was at a renowned chain sushi-ya, Sushi Zanmai. Granted, it's dirt-cheap, but the fish was far from still-squirming fresh, and execution was clumsy and amateur-ish. What a terrible waste.

Having heard the stories of how Sushizanmai broke the record at a recent tuna auction, we thought, "must-eat the tuna here, sure to be good". Oh wow were we wrong. The Magurozanmai Special (JPY3000), with otoro nigiri, toro nigiri, broiled toro nigiri, negitoro nigiri, and tuna maki, was middling, at best. The knife-work on the slices of fish was unwieldy, you can practically see the jagged edges, and the vinegar-ed rice was packed so loosely the nigiri fell apart even in the steadiest of hands.

The 2-person assorted sashimi Kashimori (JPY2980), with arkshell, sweet prawn, toro, ikura, squid, and yellowtail, fared worse. Save for the tuna which barely passed muster, the rest of the sashimi, despite an attempt to drown them in soy, was waaaaay too fishy. In fact, I (discreetly, of course) spit out the sweet prawn into my tissue to throw away.

The Tempura Moriawase (JPY980) was unrefined - the batter was too thick so instead of being light and crispy, it was oil-soaked and heavy.

The only worthwhile dish, was a Broiled Miso Black Cod (JPY800) which was creamy and a good balance of the sweet and fatty, even if it was riddled with bones.

We were served a complimentary seaweed salad with crabmeat and edamame. Save for the sweet kani, we weren't big fans of this mayo-ed appetizer.


Sushizanmai
6-4-6 Ginza
Chuo-ku
Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 6255 4177
Open Mondays from 11am to 12midnight;
Tuesdays to Saturdays 24 hours;
Sundays from 12noon to 10pm

il Cielo

Orchard Road, on the weekend, may be an annoyingly congested place to be, as the crowds swarm to Singapore's premier shopping belt, but insiders know that there are pockets of tranquility, away from the madding masses, which are perfect for a night-out on the town.

Like at il Cielo, the Italian ristorante at the top of the Hilton Singapore, perched high above the Orchard jam, and situated next to the hotel's pool. Its breezy, relaxed vibe is boosted by the musical talents of their in-house singer, belting out acoustic covers of current hits and evergreen melodies.

Casual ambience aside, the restaurant is swish and elegant, and diners speak in hushed tones - a point I had to remind myself because I'm boisterously loud otherwise. heh

Service was top-notch:- attentive but non-intrusive, sincere and generous. Like many restaurants, the waitress asked if we liked the food...but unlike many restaurants, they actually took criticism well in their stride. We were hesitant to complain about the food, because it was mostly alright, but after a little prodding, we apprised that one of the dishes was unbalanced in one aspect. Which, to our utter surprise, was later comp-ed. That alone, was impressive.

Also remarkable was the price-tag of the 4-Course Italian Set Dinner ($74++), which was a steal. That said, the ala carte menu was pricey, and the food was generally a hit-and-miss. All things considered, il Cielo was a pretty pedestrian Italian restaurant with excellent service, decent food, and a lovely ambience.

A starter option from the set, the Pan-Fried Foie Gras possessed a bit more heft than I'd like, but I liked that that body was balanced with the fruity elements of apricot compote,  raspberry gel, and fresh strawberries.

The lighter option was the Mediterranean Salad of mesclun greens dotted with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, black olives, tapenade, and croutons.

We also ordered a couple of ala carte starters, the Burrata ($25) with marinated tomatos, basil cream, and purple olive tapenade, was scrumptious. Like the mozzarella before, the burrata wasn't the best I've ever had, but it passed muster.

The best of the starters was the Hokkaido Scallops ($28) fat and succulent, beautifully caramelized to a golden, and slathered in a saucy cream flecked with shimeiji mushrooms, pine nuts, bottarga mayonnaise, red radish, black truffle. Elegant and refined.

First of the set dinner mains was the Homemade Parpadelle, laced with wild mushrooms, blanketed in a parmesan foam, and showered with black truffle flakes. I loved its clean simplicity.

Ditto for the Butternut Risotto flavoured with anchovy sauce, and topped with a fat Hokkaido scallop. The grains were perfectly al dente, and texture oozy and creamy.

And from the ala carte menu, we had a Pumpkin Charcoal Ravioli ($24) drizzled with chickpea cream, and sided by pink pickled onions, and balsamico. This was the dish we didn't like; the onions were overwhelmingly sour and obliterated the delicate taste of the pumpkin ravioli. We didn't finish this.

The secondi main course off the set was a Pan-Fried Seabass with asparagus, black mussels, and tropea onion. The fish was delicious, as was the white wine sauce, but the mussels and asparagus were clunky.

The ala carte secondi main, a Rack of Lamb ($46) was a much more cohesive dish. The full-bodied lamb was luscious and balanced against the sundried tomato tartar, baby carrots, and sweet peas.

We loved the sweets, and the set menu dessert course, was a rich Chocolate Dome, which mousse inside was sumptuous.

The Citrus Pannacotta, with its lemony overtones, was bracing and refreshing.

No Italian meal is complete without its classic dessert, which ala carte rendition of Tiramisu 'il Cielo' ($14) was deconstructed for a pretty but ultimately unmanageable confection. Still, it was magnificent with cappuccino gelato.

Mini biscotti, lightly dusted with icing sugar, as complimentary finishers.

Complimentary bread basket overflowing with charcoal buns, olive foccacia rolls and sesame crackers.


il Cielo
581 Orchard Road
Hilton Singapore Level 24
Tel: 6730 3395
Open weekdays from 12.30pm to 3pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
weekends from 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner only
Website

23.4.17

Ginza Mitsukoshi, Tokyo

You know how in Singapore, we have those food halls in the basements of most shopping malls? There's usually a mix of casual affordable eateries and takeaway counters selling small bites? So, Tokyo has the same thing, except that they do it So. Much. Better. Like the food sold in these depachikas, or 'department store underground mall', is so awesome, and array so extensive and varied, you can actually have a thoroughly satisfying and totally delicious dinner here. 

It may be sardine-jammed crowded, but trust me, trawling Tokyo's depachikas for food is worth it. Besides, you're on holiday! So take the time to smell the roses! Or in this case, have a good long look-see. And have fun! Besides, the Japanese are so polite and so, it's not like people are jostling for space anyway.

The only trouble we had was that just about everything was written in Japanese, which then begs the question, how on earth were we to know what to buy, right? But, we quickly observed a couple of quirks, which I'd recommend any non-Japanese speaking tourists as "guiding principles" to follow. One: look out for the "No. 1" sticker tagged to whichever food set out at each counter - it denotes the best-selling food in each counter, and even if you don't know what you're eating, it's a pretty safe bet it'll be delicious. Two: and Singaporeans should be intimately familiar with this "proverb" - 'Where there's a queue, there's good food'. And it turns out that the Japanese love to queue for good food as well. So, we followed suit and joined in long snaking lines wherever we saw them, that's how we discovered Giotto. 

So now that you've gotten your food, you wanna eat it right? But then you look around, and there's "no eating" signs at seated rest lounges, and nowhere else to even stand to eat. You can either go back to the hotel to eat, or at Ginza Mitsukoshi, there's a designated open-aired patio on the 9th floor to enjoy the sunshine, breeze, and slow savour your depachika food.

An absolute must-buy, and the best thing at Ginza Mitsukoshi's depachika, was the Pork Katsu (JPY778), juicy mince patted into a rectangular form, breadcrumbed and fried to a golden crisp. This was incredibly luscious.

Their Ebi Katsu (JPY559) was just scrumptious. A plump sweet prawn that stays moist and bouncy on the inside through the deep-frying, while achieving that crunchy texture on the outside.

The counter for reference.

================================================================

Aother food we loved was this innocuous-looking nori-strapped Onigiri (JPY270), which wonderful flavour belied how its boring appearance. Like a kinder bueno egg, there was a soy-and-sake-marinated ajitsuke tamago swaddled within, perfectly oozy and umami.

The counter for reference.

================================================================

These popcorn chicken-esque Deep Fried Shrimp-Stuffed Shitake (JPY389 for 100gm) were the most addictive things ever. The salty notes of the shrimp seafood paste was balanced by the earthy accents of the mushrooms.

The counter for reference. There's a lovely selection of salads here as well, which were excellent.

================================================================

The Japanese are amazing bakers and their baked goods have this gossamer-light quality to it that sets them apart from their French counterparts. Like this Mini Baguette (JPY168) from Johan, which was rich and buttery, yet delicate in its flakiness. We returned the day we were due to return to Singapore, and bought 3 more packets of this to bring home.

There's a Johan in Singapore too (at Isetan Shaw Lido), but it pales in comparison to its Tokyo sister. 

================================================================

So, we saw this ridiculous line outside this patisserie, and at first the Hubs baulked, but then saw how unbelieavbly beautiful their cakes were, and decided to join the queue. Free wifi in Ginza Mitsukoshi helped pass the 40-minute wait for our turn. So we got 2 cakes, the top selling Mont Blanc (JPY648), which was heaven in a bite. A confection of fresh whipped cream and candied chestnut puree layered upon a vanilla sponge base, then blanketed in chestnut buttercream. Exquisite and remarkable, and this alone made the wait worthwhile.

The second bestseller was the Strawberry Shortcake (JPY540), ubiquitous to Japan's patisseries. Giotto's rendition was a hit-and-miss. The subtly lemony sponge, whipped cream and strawberry marmalade were stellar, but were let down by the overbearingly sour fresh strawberries. 

The Giotto counter for reference. Note that even after you've placed your orders, it'll take another 15-20 minutes for your cakes to be ready: the staff need time to meticulously box up your cakes in a pretty little bow.

================================================================

We also bought a box of wafer-like millefeuille (JPY1620 for 15 pieces) as souvenirs to bring home. These were only so-so, the cream between the layers lacking in oommph and volume, and the matcha ones at the airport were notably nicer.

The counter for reference.

================================================================

We also had Gyoza (JPY421), pork methinks, coz no English notes, and I can't be sure. Flecked with leek, these were flavourful and yummy.

The counter for reference.

================================================================

The only dud of our haul, the Tempura Moriawase (JPY568) was soggy, and batter less than light and crisp. I suspect this may be a lot better freshly cooked.

The counter for reference.

================================================================

A view of the mall from the street.


Ginza Mitsukoshi
4-6-16 Ginza
Chuo-ku
Tokyo
Open daily from 10.30am to 8pm
Website
There was an error in this gadget
Related Posts with Thumbnails