Peony Jade Restaurant, Keppel Club

It's fairly well-known that Peony Jade offers one of the most value-for-money ala carte lunch buffets around. Over the Lunar New Year period, the venerable Cantonese restaurant kicked it up a notch with their luxed-up Spring Festival 'Fa Cai' Dim Sum Brunch ($43.88 per adult). The mind-boggling buffet was, like all buffets, a mixed bag of hits and misses, but with a couple of standouts that would make taking a long languid lunch here worthwhile. Just be sure you don't have any meetings scheduled after lunch.

The Atlantic Salmon Yusheng was simple, but delicious. The julienned greens were even, crisp, sweet, and salmon sparkling fresh. I note this year's novel ingredient - fried fish skin, adds a hardy crunch to the Chinese New Year salad.

The Hongkong-Style Deep Fried Soon Hock was swimmingly fresh, and delectably crunchy. This, and the sharks fin soup, would make the buffet cost worthwhile.

The Eight Treasures Sharks Fin Broth was a smidge too starchy and lacking in depth, but bountiful in fins.

The Peony Jade Steamed Har Kau was surprisingly refined, with a thin but resilient skin, and sweet bouncy prawns.

The rustic Steamed Glutinous Rice, swaddled in aromatic lotus leaves, was moist, soft and riddled with plentiful ingredients.

The mint-hued Steamed Salted Egg Yolk Bun was pillowy soft, lightly fragranced with pandan and filled with custard both smooth and grainy at once.

The cheong fun at Peony Jade were commendable; the rolls were the right amount of thin. The Steamed Prawns Rice Flour Roll was flush with springy diced shrimps, complemented by the delicate soy sauce.

The Char Siew Rice Roll was stuffed with honeyed barbecue pork, but I wish they'd been more lavish with the filling.

The Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumpling Siew Mai was nice but forgettable.

The Steamed Phoenix Claws was spiked with Sichuan chilli and black bean sauce for a subtle heat.

A must-try, the Fried Radish Cake, scrambled with beansprouts and eggs in XO sauce, was seriously awesome.

The vapid Beancurd Skin Roll with Prawns and Seaweed was unfortunately speckled with coriander (urghh). 

The Deep Fried Prawn Roll was layered with banana, mayo and sesame seeds, was a little uneven and unmemorable.

Ditto for the Crispy Prawn Dumpling, sided by a mayo dip. Somehow, this reminded me of the coffeeshop variety ones.

The Pork & Century Egg Congee was surprisingly good. Smooth with a hint of grain, rich in depth of flavour, and dotted with pork strips.

Skip the Barbecued Pork and Crispy Roast Chicken, these were pedestrian, and dry-ish.

The Amaranth Poached in Superior Stock was simple but delicious. Clean, clear and light.

The Stir-Fried Spinach in Oyster Sauce was velvety and rich, balancing out the metallic tendencies of the greens.

Another must-try is the flavourful Fried Mee Sua laced with char siew, eggs, beansprouts, onions and mushrooms.

The Wok-Fried Beef Hor Fan with oodles of softly scrambled egg and tender beef slices was pretty scrumptious too.

My favourite dessert here, the refreshing Mango Sago, was tinged with pomelo for a sour hit.

The Glutinous Black Sesame Dumpling in Ginger Tea was served hot for added comfort. An excellent digestive. 

The Cream of Red Bean, served chilled, was balanced and sweet and nutty.

The first serving of Cheng Tng was less than fresh, so we sent it back. Its replacement was a lot better, but a tad saccharine.

Peony Jade Restaurant
10 Bukit Chermin Road
Keppel Club Mezzanine level
Tel: 6276 9138
Open weekdays from 11am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
weekends from 10.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Website: www.peonyjade.com


Sarong Restaurant, Bali, Indonesia

Sarong, a must-try if on a gastronomic tour of Bali, serves up Asian cuisine, with a primary focus on Indochinese and North Indian cuisine. For one of Bali's top high-end restaurants, the food here is surprisingly affordable, with most mains priced below S$20, and starters in the S$12 range. And while most Balinese warungs tend to water down their food, Sarong's spice levels are unadulterated, and unabashedly potent. Don't worry, the staff will warn you, repeatedly, which dishes are spicy.

The low-lit restaurant was romantic and gorgeous, but the open-aired garden setting made for a most uncomfortable meal, good food notwithstanding. Despite being seated directly in front of a fan, we were still hot and bothered. The humidity meant that we perspired throughout dinner. Worse still was the mosquitoes that have made themselves home at Sarong. I got 4 bites and the Hubs got 2 (he was more covered up than I was). Suffice to say, we didn't linger after dinner. 

A signature, the Crispy Pork Belly (IDR110,000/S$11.60), burnished with a honeyed sichuan chilli glaze, was kicked up a notch with a grilled tamarillo for a lingering spice. A lime-tamarind dip provided a tart-ish relief.

One of 2 must-trys at Sarong, the Sashimi Salmon (IDR120,000/S$12.65), dressed in a mint and yuzu sauce, and garnished with radish, baby watercress, edamame, organic flowers, and enoki, was bright, piquant and totally refreshing.

The other must-try, the fork-tender Slow-Cooked Short Rib Beef (IDR180,000/S$19) and marrow was flavoured with kikil black nut chilli, and laced with shimeiji mushrooms in a punchy spicy soup, while crispy cassava was instrumental in mopping up the potent gravy. I was sniffling like a poor sod, but for the spice-loving Hubs, this was just fantastic.

The Tandoori Seafood (IDR180,000/S$19), a melange of king prawns, scallops, snapper and squid marinated in a yoghurt and mustard lemon, were imbued with the lovely smoky char of the tandoor oven, wonderfully juicy and moist.

Complimentary crackers with an incredibly addictive minty yoghurt-based dip.

A must-try cocktail at Sarong is the Candy Floss (IDR120,000/S$12.65), a whimsical girly blend of Thai basil candyfloss, with Havana Club rum, fresh strawberries and citrus juice.

Despite the Sarong Mary (IDR115,000/S$12.12) being a signature here, I didn't think its vodka, lemon juice and cherry tomatoes mix was as outstanding as its Candy Floss. This was more grown-up, with a more assertive taste and, well, staid.

The entrance to the restaurant

The garden tables

The indoor seating

My personal take on the best seats in the house, a comfy couch for up to 4 persons.

Sarong Restaurant
Jl Petitenget No. 19

Crystal Jade Jiang Nan, Vivocity

You know, when I first stepped into Crystal Jade Jiangnan at Vivocity, I was asking myself "what the heck is Jiangnan cuisine?!" A quick google search later revealed that Jiangnan is a region south of the yangtze river, and its cuisine draws influences from the Shanghai, Sichuan, Hunan and Jiangsu provinces, so expect dishes like hand-pulled noodles (la mian), dumplings (xiao long bao and the like), stewed dongpo pork and chilled meat jellies to dominate. 

I noticed that the dumplings at Crystal Jade Jiangnan are distinctively thicker-skinned, making for more hearty textures. The Pork Dumpling with Spicy Chilli Sauce ($6.80) was juicy and robust, having been slathered in a rich and oily sichuan chilli sauce.

The Minced Pork and Mushroom Dumpling Soup ($6.80) had skin so thick it would suffice as a winter coat. The stuffing was decent but the thick dumpling skin wasn't quite my thing.

The Beef with Mushrooms ($10.80) was succulent, tossed with black fungus and carrots for crunch and a luscious oyster sauce laced with dried chilli for a toasty heat. I liked the copious lashings of golden fried garlic, so fragrant and added a lovely crunch. 

Crystal Jade Jiang Nan
1 Harbourfront Walk
#01-52 Vivocity
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 10.30pm; weekends from 11am to 10.30pm
Tel: 6221 1830


Flor Patisserie, Takashimaya

This was another light-as-air confection from the Japanese-inspired French bakery, Flor Patisserie. A bestie brought this over for luncheon on Saturday, which was devoured happily by our guests. 

The Strawberry Souffle ($59.90 for an 18cm, 1.2kg cake), an impossibly fluffy cheese souffle slathered in fresh whipped cream, swaddled in crushed almond butter biscuits, was piled high with juicy strawberries and blueberries.

Flor Patisserie
Takashimaya B2 Food Hall
Tel: 6737 1789
Open daily from 10am to 9pm
Website: www.cakeflor.com.sg

Gorgonzola Buffalo Chicken Linguine

Buffalo wings are a major feature of any tailgate or block party. I've adapted this all-American staple, and its blue cheese dressing sidekick, into a pasta. It's saucy and spicy and creamy, having been mellowed out with a good dose of chicken stock and melted gorgonzola cheese.

Ingredients (feeds 4):
200 gram dried linguine (or any variant of string pasta you like)
3 cloves garlic, minced
500 grams chicken thigh fillet, sliced thinly
3/4 cup hot sauce (Frank's Red Hot is the closest, get your USA-bound chums to carry it back for you)
1/2 cup gorgonzola
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp bacon fat-infused oil
Grated parmesan for serving

1) Start cooking the linguine. It takes about 9 minutes for dried linguine to cook through in boiling salted water, so cook it until the 7.5-minute mark. It'll finish cooking in the sauce. In the meantime, fry garlic in bacon fat oil, about 1 minute on medium-high heat.

2) Add chicken, and fry till cooked through.

3) Add hot sauce and worcestershire sauce, and stir through.

4) Add chicken stock, stirring through.

5) Add gorgonzola, whisking through to dissolve.

6) Add boiled linguine to sauce, tossing around for a minute.

7) Serve with a sprinkling of grated parmesan.


Garlic Shrimp in Olive Oil & Chilli (Gambas al Ajillo)

Gambas al Ajillo is one of my favourite tapas, and an absolute must-order whenever I'm having Spanish food. I love the confluence of fragrant olive oil, pungent garlic, and fresh prawns brimming with sweetness, all kicked up a gear by the subtle punch of chilli.

Some people like their olive oil flavoured with shrimp essence, but I prefer mine simply seasoned with copious amounts of garlic.The key here is to use the absolute best extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on. We were recently gifted by a bottle of Argentina's best, and decided this was as good an occasion as any to pop it open to cook with!

While I usually abhor anything frozen, I'm quite partial to frozen prawns. Afterall, the prawns sold at the markets which have been defrosted and then chilled on ice, are no less fresh than those kept frozen in the freezers. So unless the prawns are the live ones that go straight from the watertanks to your fridge, I'd stick to the frozen shrimp for maximised freshness.

Be sure to have crusty bread on hand, you'll need to mop up all that aromatic delicious goodness!

To make the shrimp bouncy (like those in dim sum in the restaurants), I give it the baking soda treatment listed below.

Ingredients (feeds 4 as a side dish):
700 grams jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
25 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 dried red chillis, sliced into chunks
Salt to taste

The baking soda treatment for ultra crunchy shrimp:
1) Soak prawns in cold, mildly alkaline water.

2) Add 2 tbsp heaps of baking soda, and stir through. There'll be a little bubbling. Leave prawns alone for 30 minutes in the fridge.

3) Drain and wash in mildly alkaline water until prawns no longer feel "soapy".

1) Fry minced garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until golden and crispy. Set aside and reserve.

2) Fry sliced garlic and dried chilli in remainder olive oil on low heat, about 10 minutes. It'll soften and disintegrate over the cooking process, making a garlicky olive oil mush.

3) Add prawns to cook through.

4) Salt to taste, and sprinkle with fried golden garlic before serving in individual bowls.

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