31.3.16

Nam Nam, Wheelock Place

Nam Nam Noodle Bar may not be our first port of call whenever a Vietnamese food craving hits, especially since they make you pay for the usual accompanying herbs (seriously, what's that about!), but it is convenient, minimally fussed, and budget-friendly. The Hubs was starving like a marvin while we were out shopping, so we made a quick pitstop at the self-serviced bistro. The food's substantive and churned out fast, so we didn't have to wait very long to satiate (and soothe) the Hubs' hangry pangs.

The Pork Ham Snack Platter ($5.90) was pretty decent, texturally interesting with crunchy black fungus and chilli weaved into smooth mashed-up pork. A lovely bite and lively flavours. I suspect it's a proprietary blend made in-house.

A signature and our favourite appetizer here, the Crispy Imperial Rolls ($5.90) were wonderfully crispy on the outside, and bursting with a juicy medley of carrots, black fungus, glass vermicelli, beansprouts and pork. A little less than authentic but delicious nonetheless.

The Sauteed Lemongrass Pork Noodle ($10.50) was delightfully refreshing, with a mild syrup of chilli-ed and nutty fish sauce slicked through the tepid rice noodles, which was kept delicate with oodles of cool cucumbers and fresh beansprouts. The lemongrass-marinated pork dice was middling, but the imperial roll was a nice touch.

The Quang Style Egg Noodle ($11) stood out in comparison to the forgettable lemongrass noodles, even if it was nothing like the Quang noodles we had in Da Nang. This was more akin to a local-style mee pok than Vietnamese heritage noodles. Except with different adornments like bbq pork ribs, poached prawns, fishcake, and a sesame & prawn rice cracker.

The Pho Chicken ($10) with chunks of tender chicken breast and a soft-boiled egg, was additionally topped off with a few slices of Australian Wagyu Beef ($7.70). The broth passed muster, but it needed the kick of Thai basil or mint for levity. It was just really disappointing that Nam Nam's "fresh herbs" are served as a chopped-up medley of 80% coriander leaves and 20% Thai basil. Also, the beef was awfully gamey. I would give that a hard pass.

The Lime Soda ($4.90), sweetened with lime syrup and finished off with crushed mint, was invigorating.

The Lychee Pandan ($4.90) and Lemongrass Ginger ($4.90) drinks are refreshing thirst-quenchers, especially in the recent heatwave.


Nam Nam Noodle Bar
501 Orchard Road
Wheelock Place #B2-02
Tel: 6736 1488
Open daily from 10am to 9.30pm
Website: namnamnoodlebar.com

30.3.16

Chopsuey Cafe, Dempsey

I've resisted going to Chopsuey Cafe for a while now. I've never really been a fan of P.S. Cafe (methinks they're overrated) and the idea of adulterated Anglo-Chinese cuisine wasn't particularly appealing. But a friend wanted to visit, as he'd missed his Chinese takeaways from the SF Chinatown when he lived there some time back.

Turns out, the food isn't half-bad. Commendable even. Huzzah! I've finally found a PS Cafe group restaurant that I actually like! As oxymoronic as it sounds, Chopsuey Cafe is as authentically bastardised as it gets. So judge it on its own, as a commingling of American culture and Chinese cuisine, and temper your expectations of Chinese food as you know it.

Service was faultless: upbeat, efficient, and sincere. And knowledgeable about the menu enough to make excellent recommendations.

The Crispy Duck Pow Pockets ($17) of pillowy-soft steamed white buns jammed with sliced duck confit, pulled roasted duck, julienned vegetables, and drizzled with a tangy-sweet bean sauce was a must-try.

The Szechuan Pepper Chilli Tofu ($18), a vegetarian variant of kungpow chicken, comprised beancurd squares wok-fried with blackened dried chillis, garlic flower, pickled radish & ginger, mushrooms, long beans, and cashews in a peppery szechuan sauce. Skip this, it was middling and forgettable.

The Crispy Crackly Organic Egg with King Prawns ($18), a fuyong omelette of sorts, was eggs fried till bubbly and crackled, laced with holy basil and chilli for a subtle heat, and drizzled with honeyed soy for extra oomph. Lovely, albeit a little oily.

The Honey Ginger Chicken ($24) of ginger-marinated chicken wok-crisped and then tossed with honey, ginger root, sesame seeds, and curry leaves, was reminiscent of sweet & sour pork. I can see why a Caucasian palate would like this.

I liked the Chopsuey Chopsuey ($16) a medley of seasonal organic baby vegetables sauteed with holy basil for a robust lift. The smoky char was evident, as was the delectable crunch.

The Wok Breath Rice Noodles with Snapper ($26) of wok fried hor fan dotted with fat slices of fish, silver sprouts and spinach, was drenched in a rich oyster sauce gravy. It's not the memorable hor fan I've ever had, but I liked the smoky char coming through every bite, and appreciated that the sprouts were relieved of their heads and tails properly.

A seasonal special, the Vodka Cheng Tng Cocktail ($19) was jarring. The sticky sweetness of the local dessert brew only served to exacerbate, not balance, the bitter edge of the vodka.


Chopsuey Cafe
10 Dempsey Road
#01-23
Tel: 9224 6611
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 12midnight;
weekends from 10.30am to 5pm; 6.30pm to 12midnight
Website: www.pscafe.com

29.3.16

Arbour, Marlborough, New Zealand

Arbour was our most exquisite meal in Marlborough. Located off Blenheim town center, the largest township in Marlborough, the standalone restaurant is remote and intimate. Summer will find the restaurant opening earlier, at tea-time, to thoroughly relish the warm weather ("warm" may be a stretch, as Summer temps go up to only about 18C). Grab a bottle of NZ finest Sauvignon Blanc, order a few nibbles, then park yourself on the outdoor patio, which is bathed in sunlight, and while the languid afternoon away.

Until the sun sets, at least, when you return indoors for the dinner service. Save for Summer tea-time bites, Arbour is a dinner-only restaurant. A seasonal degustation of 3, 5, or 7 courses, locally sourced of course, is the only offering on the menu. I suggest getting the full 7 courses, (NZ$98). Each course is pretty petite, so 7 courses aren't exactly gut-busting, and at just under a hundred bucks, it's about the cheapest degustation ever.

Arbour's food has got the soul of a homecooked meal, but the sophistication of a fancy restaurant. Just think of it like dining at a friend's home who's mindblowingly talented and plates like an artist. Really, Arbour has the prettiest plates I've ever seen. Totally Instagram-able and #foodporn hashtag-worthy, as the Hubs rightfully pointed out. And the food tasted as fantastic as it looked. Everything was just so incredibly balanced, and executed with such effortless flair. 

We started off with a salad of Summer Tomatoes, Goats Curd, & Jamon, where the sweet piquancy of the tomatoes was countered by the salty pungency of the jamon, which is then given a twist with the grassy funkiness of the goat's cheese.

The bold flavour of the Cured Salmon Belly was complemented by the intense sweetness of spanner crab, enlivened by fresh green apple dice, and pulled together by a slight weave of white miso.

The 63C Egg was one of the most perfectly formed eggs I'd ever seen. It's a compulsive obsessive's dream-come-true. This was accented by sauteed wild mushrooms splashed with a heady dose of Dom, wilted baby spinach, and toasted brioche crumbs.

The Pulled Duck Leg, luscious and tender, was tossed with green peas, caramelised nuts, grains, seeds, grilled new asparagus, purple basil, and dollops of cumin-spiced tomato puree.

The sumptuous Slow cooked Beef Sirloin was melt-in-your-mouth, and served with roasted cauliflower and baby carrots, and slathered in a black garlic jus.

The palate cleanser was a Cherry & Earl Grey Ice, nuanced, refreshing and clear.

The finisher was a Soft Chocolate Powder, studded with fresh apricots and blueberries, and topped with milk snow. Rich and decadent.

The restaurant facade.


Arbour
Blenheim, Marlborough
New Zealand
Website

28.3.16

Mount Faber Nasi Lemak Fast Food Shop

We'd just returned on the red-eye from Seoul and needed sustenance. It was in the middle of the night, we wanted local fare, and needed a place somewhere centralised so we could grab a quick bite before crashing to get some shuteye.

Mount Faber Nasi Lemak was three-for-three, and although nasi lemak isn't on our list of most-missed foods whenever we travel, there's something about it being supper food that's just so deliciously indulgent.

Previously hawkering its wares at the foot of Mount Faber in Telok Blangah, the stall is now at Chinatown round the corner from Restaurant Ember and Burnt Ends. There's a hodgepodge of accouterments to top up your rice with, apart from the usual fried egg, ikan bilis, and fried fish accompaniments. 

Mine was loaded with cabbage curry, a fried chicken wing, fried egg, and luncheon meat ($5). The rice was intoxicatingly fragrant but delicate in flavour. I would have preferred it more flavourful. That said, the grains were fluffy and plump, but not slicked with oil, which was a big plus. The curried vegetables and fried chicken were commendable, the egg and luncheon meat just passed muster, but the sambal was excellent. Punchy, robust and just the right mix of sweet and spicy.

The Hubs' plate was brimming with chicken curry, fried chicken drumstick, egg scramble, and luncheon meat. The chicken curry was decent, and so was the drumstick, but the eggs were overcooked and rubbery. Another thing we noticed, was that the rice and garnishments, were served tepid. We would much favoured it all steaming hot. Ah well, it was in the middle of the night afterall.


Mount Faber Nasi Lemak Fast Food Shop
47 Kreta Ayer Road
Tel: 6323 5601
Open daily from 5pm to 4am

26.3.16

Wither Hills, Marlborough, New Zealand

Marlborough is the preeminent wine-growing region in New Zealand largely credited for putting New Zealand wines on the map. I'd mistakenly thought Marlborough was a town, but it's actually a region, made up of several towns, the biggest of which are inland Blenheim where most of the wineries are at, and waterfront Picton, the gateway into the Marlborough Sounds.

Many Marlborough wineries run their own in-house restaurant, mostly serving lunches, and with a smattering additionally offering the occasional dinner service. The food at these winery restaurants are, for some reason other than intoxication, generally fantastic, and you'll do well not to miss out lunching at any of them.

Wither Hills marked our first lunch in Marlborough. I'd heard that the young royals dined here, and thought that if they found it good enough a refueling pit-stop for their recent tour of the Commonwealth, it should be good enough for plebeian folks like us!

The modern New Zealand cuisine at Wither Hills was indeed awesome; I can see why the royals liked it. The food was hearty but refined, innovative but effortlessly so, and totally delicious. Even through my drunken haze (don't judge, but I'd visited 8 wineries before lunch), I thoroughly enjoyed lunch. 

The restaurant is teeny tiny, with a capacity of just over 20 persons, so make reservations if you want to dine for lunch. Another thing, allocate at least an hour and a half for all meals. New Zealanders like to graze over a languid meal, so courses are spaced accordingly, i.e. far far apart. For most efficient Singaporeans used to inhaling through their meals, slow eating can be a nightmare. But, I say, live a little, slow down and smell the roses! You're on holiday and have all the time in the world!

We started off with the Citrus Glazed Free-Range Chicken Salad (NZ$26) laden with ancient grains, roasted pumpkin and kumara, baby leaves, caramelised hazelnuts, fresh strawberries, and dressed with a cheery saffron & putake honey yoghurt. Clean, fresh, and yummy.

The Marlborough Mussel Chowder (NZ$24), choc-a-bloc with New Zealand green-lip mussels and mirepoix, thickened with brandy-infused cream, and enlivened with a drizzle of lemon oil, was sided by sourdough toasts.

The Grilled Foccacia with Pesto (NZ$10) was simplicity at its finest. Superb bread, excellent olive oil, and an outstanding kalamata olive pesto, 3 little unassuming things that came together beautifully.

For mains, the Angus Beef (NZ$33), indulgently swaddled with bacon, slathered in a robust shallot jus, and done to a perfect medium, was outstanding. A fondant potato flavoured with cafe Paris butter, and fresh micro cress were balancing accompaniments. 

The Pan-Fried Fresh Market Fish, a Barramundi (NZ$30), was draped with a nuanced caper beurre blanc brightened with fresh lime, and topped with a tomato, sorrel & cucumber salsa dotted with pocket potato cubes.

For dessert, the Chocolate Celebration (NZ$15) was a cocoa tableau of dark chocolate torte, white chocolate mousse, chocolate ice-cream, and coffee toffee.

For those who aren't exactly fans of chocolate, the fluffy pillowy Pistachio & Summer Fruit Roulade (NZ$15) with a tangy passionfruit sorbet, fresh strawberries and a berry coulis, was a refreshingly light way to finish off a substantive lunch.

The Barrel Hall, heady with the scent of French oak, makes an excellent venue for private functions.

The sleek but imposing facade of Wither Hills.


Wither Hills
Marlborough
New Zealand
Website

25.3.16

Marlborough Farmers Market, New Zealand

If you want to get a bird's eye view of the local produce, the farmers' market is where it's at. It's a veritable trove of the season's best and freshest, all of the "heirloom", "farmstead", and "free-range" buzzwords.

I love farmers markets. It's about the only thing I'd wake up early for, save for dolphin swimming. I love strolling through the open-air setup, the sampling of vendor offerings, the small town feel, the local sense of community, the convivial celebratory vibe, the grazing through seasonal cuisine. It's through farmers' markets that I get inspired to cook. Which may explain the 12 bottles of artisanal olive oil, a collection of specialty marmalades, and a cache of handcrafted spice mixes in my pantry. All organic and sustainable, of course.

We spent 4 days at Marlborough, the premier wine-growing region of New Zealand, and our first stop was the Marlborough Farmers Market at Blenheim, the main townstead in Marlborough.

Held every Sunday morning, it's best to arrive with an empty tummy, as the food trucks here serve up a mean breakfast.

Get the Bubble & Squeak ($12) with poached eggs, chorizo sausage and bacon for a hearty start to the day. You'll need the carbs to line your stomach for wine tasting through the valley.

from the Gourmet Deli Catering food truck

And the most awesome Ham & Cheese Croquettes ($6) with smoky bacon mayo, ever. Be sure to get your own, they're so good I didn't want to share with the Hubs.

from the Feast Merchants .

Our favourite stalls include Lusatori, a prominent olive oil producer in Marlborough. They retail at many shops, but we thought we'd skip visiting its farm and just get a bottle at the market.

We've got to be conservative with our olive oils, as this small 250ml bottle of Single Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil (NZ$15) was the 11th one in our pantry

Nutt Ranch Products, which owns a hazelnut orchard, and produces hazelnut butters, oils, and nuts, whole or ground.

Samples!

We bought a packet of Hazelnut Dukkah (NZ$6 for 100gm), which lends a sweet-ish twist to the traditional spice-laden dukkah mixes.

Garden Bees, which produces honey, raw, organic, and all-natural without any additives.

We scored ourselves jar of Lavender Honey (NZ$6) that was perfectly balanced.

A Taste of Yesteryears is reminiscent of the good ol' days, where jams and marmalades are made with love and dosed with a homey flavour.

We got the Summer Marmalade (NZ$8), a sunshiney burst of lemons and apricots that was bright and fruity. 

Mississippi Herbs, which hawks artisanal bread and homemade herb dressings.

From whom we got a bottle of Lemon & Lime Herb Dressing (NZ$5), blended with Marlborough olive oil and honey.

And Traditional Country Preserves, which makes its own fudges and fruit sauces, perfect for drizzling over ice-cream and desserts.

Where we got a bottle of Blackcurrant & Raspberry Sauce (NZ$8) that's perfect for finishing an ice-cream sundae.

The market bustling with the sounds of a live band, local of course, rocking it out.

The market is held on the grounds of a livestock showground and auction, which explains the livestock pens on the left.

Park along Alabama Road outside.


Marlborough Farmers Market
New Zealand
Sundays from 9am to 12noon
Website
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