24.5.17

Open Farm Community

Work has been absolutely bonkers of late, so I passed over the gym, and went out for lunch with a bunch of my colleagues instead. I was in need of comforting (through my stomach of course), and also wanted to unload. So we drove out of the city to the lush green of the Dempsey Hills. To Open Farm Community which, imo, is one of the best restaurants in Dempsey.

I've only ever been to OFC for dinners, so it was nice to sample a different menu for lunch, by way of a decidedly modest set lunch menu. It rotates every few months for variety, and is unbelievably value-for-money. A 2-course set is priced at $35, while a 3-course is only $42.

A main option from the set lunch menu, the Pumpkin Agnolotti ($35 with the calamansi dessert) was mellow and nuanced in its sweetness. Enlivened with a herbaceous majoram & burnt butter vinaigrette, the kale puree lent a grassy bitter accent, while a sprinkle of gremolata crumble and garden sprouts provided texture.

The Coconut Laksa Barramundi ($30) was sided by a mildly spicy tumeric potato cake, crisp-fried beancurd skin, and poached baby boy choy. They've updated the style of this dish, with different accompaniments, and are now more generous with that luscious laksa sauce. Me likey! Me likey very very much!

The Roasted Red Snapper ($32) set atop a lively calamansi & sesame cucumber salad, squid ink barley, and flavoured with a garden roselle & hibiscus ketchup, was as disappointingly lackluster as before. The combination of flavours were a-ok, but didn't 'pop', and the skin on the fillet was missing that paper-crisp crackle. I don't know why the restaurant always recommends this dish. It's by far, their weakest link.

A dessert off the set lunch menu, the Calamansi & Bandung ($35 as part of a 2-course set lunch) of a calamansi sponge cake, calamansi cremeux, and bandung gelato was another example of how local flavours can be made modern and elevated to sophisticated restaurant-quality fare with refined plating.

I liked the herby contrast to the deconstructed Lemon Tart ($18) with the sweet basil ice-cream and basil chia seeds.

The Pandan & Banana Custard ($18) given some punch with a ginger biscuit, lemongrass sago, and sugarcane sorbet, was beautifully harmonised. Just don't eat it together with the lemon tart, the flavours clashed wildly.


Open Farm Community
130E Minden Road
Tel: 6474 5964
Open weekdays from 12noon to 10pm;
weekends from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.openfarmcommunity.com

23.5.17

Hotel Sofitel So, Auckland

Opened barely a few months ago earlier in the year, Sofitel So Auckland is the "new kid on the bloc". Just a street behind the Viaduct Harbour foreshore where the ferry terminal is, the neighbourhood is noticeably quieter than the Hilton. Which is the good thing. On the down side, the rooms in this newbie don't have the expansive vantage of the rooms in the Hilton.

Taking over the structure previously run by the Westin group, the building originally housed the New Zealand Reserve Bank. Which probably explains why the hotel is so "inward-looking", and not many of its rooms have sea views. Most overlook the internal water feature, which is meh, or have city views, which is so blah.

By virtue of it being the newest hotel in Auckland, the Sofitel So is currently the prettiest. And also by default, the most luxurious.

The French aesthetic is evident immediately when you walk through the lobby. Swathed in shades of taupe, rich jewel tones and dark wood, the hotel is opulent yet tasteful and elegant.

There's no available parking at the hotel (that I could see anyway), or adjacent to the hotel that's cost-effective, and the space at the drop-off porch is limited, but at least there's the valet option (NZ$45 per day).

Many of the rooms in the hotel face each other, which is as dull a view as it gets. Also, I'd advise drawing the shades if you're the type to traipse around the room in your birthday suit.

The small but functional business centre, just off the main lift lobby access to the rooms, which was very useful when I needed to get urgent work done. The con? There's no privacy at all.

We stayed in the Luxury King Room (rates start at NZ$280), stylishly furnished in restful tones.

The bed was comfortable, and we slept well. The tv was properly large, had complimentary cable, and set up so we could move it to somewhat face the bed, or the couch.

The bed is right next to the bathroom.

Lanvin toiletries, which exclusively supply to the Sofitel chain, and these ones were orange scented.

I liked that the bathroom at the Sofitel is well fitted out, and definitely more luxurious than the Hilton's almost depressing one. For one, the tub was deep and could easily fit the Hubs and I.

The water pressure of the hand shower was ridiculously low, I would have taken a year to wash out the shampoo in my hair. I'm all for the save-water movement, but that was just ludicrous. Use the rainshower instead, the water pressure was much more efficient.

The modest seating area, which was next to the wardrobe and mini bar. Dilmah teas and nespresso capsules were complimentary, as with tea and coffee making facilities, and the standard honour bar snacks and drinks.


Hotel Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
21 Viaduct Harbour Ave
Auckland 1010
New Zealand
Tel: +64 9 909 9000
Website

22.5.17

Cut by Wolfgang Puck

Cut by Wolfgang Puck regularly features as one of the top steakhouses in SG. I'm personally partial to Ruth's Chris, but I thought it high time to check out the illustrious MBS tenant, it being on my to-eat since forever, and me never bothering to hit it up because I'm such a creature of habit.

While the steaks were superb, it was the side dishes that were truly outstanding. Typical comfort foods like mac & cheese and sauteed mushrooms were finessed with polish and elevated with the use of luxurious ingredients. If there was a reason to return to Cut, any of the unforgettable side dishes would be it. The steaks, while faultless, were also unmemorable in that they were no better than the meats at Ruth's Chris or Mortons.

Service was a mixed bag. Despite making reservations at the precise time of 8.30pm, we were only shown to our table 20 minutes after said reservation of 8.30pm. I was a hangry hulk by then, which hunger-induced anger would have been mollified if the front-of-house had bothered to offer us a seat at the bar instead of looking as blank as the space between her ears.

To exacerbate the situation, I was given looks of consternation when I very politely pointed out that my reservation was for 20 minutes ago. Like I was in some way wrong for being displeased?! Or that my displeasure was unjustifiable?! Urghh, what a major fail.

That said, the serving staff was the best:- cheerful, professional, efficient, and whose jovial nature quickly dissipated the abominable front-of-house. They were such lovely folks I was hesitant to bash the atrocious front-of-house. But, it is what it is. So although the front-of-house was abysmal, the serving staff were wonderful.

Still, would I return? Not unless a friend insisted on Cut's steaks. Cut wasn't bad, all things considered, but I much rather Ruth's Chris' authenticity and consistently fine service.

A must-try, the Asparagus & Poached Egg ($35), neatly stacked on a garlic butter toast and slathered with a mushroom marmalade bacon vinaigrette, was an OCD's dream. Each of the components shone on their own, but together, the dish sang, with the flavours harmonizing seamlessly. 

Complimentary starters of the most addictively delicious Gougeres, cheese puffs light as a cloud and so damn good I didn't want to share with the Hubs. If only I could buy these by the truckload, they'll make an incredible tv snack.

Amongst the array of bread, the Pretzel Bread was awesome. Chewy and flavoursome, this rendered the herbed butter superfluous. I confess, I had three helpings of this.

The Foccacia, on the other hand, was middling. It lacked flavour and aroma, and had obviously been left out too long, it'd gone hard and was dry and tough. 

The USDA Prime Ribeye ($99 for 395gm), corn-fed and aged 21 days, was grilled to a smoky perfection over hardwood and charcoal. There weren't any latticed sear lines, but it was scorched evenly through, so that gave the meat an all-over layer of char.

The USDA Prime Petit Filet Mignon ($80 for 170gm) was unbelievably juicy, the charred crust sealing in all those luscious juices. And for a small little thing, it was big on flavour.

The Cavatappi Pasta Mac & Cheese ($22) loaded with white cheddar for a more mellow bite, was topped with breadcrumbs for a textural contrast. Compelling and sumptuous, this was one of the best renditions of an American classic, and for sure a must-order.

I loved that the Wild Field Mushrooms ($24), a melange of shitake, shimeiji, and white button, was spiked with shishito peppers for a subtle heat. No need for pepper in this!

Also, feel free to ask sommelier for recommendations, we had the Sottano Malbec and Torbreck Shiraz at over $30 per glass, which were pricey but absolutely exquisite.


Cut by Wolfgang Puck
2 Bayfront Avenue
Marina Bay Sands Galleria Level
The Shoppes B1-71
Tel: 6688 8517
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 5.30pm to 10pm;
Fridays & Saturdays from 5.30pm to 11pm
Website

Little & Friday, Newmarket, Auckland

We'd also heard about Little & Friday, a confectionery-cafe churning out the most delectable baked goods. The good: they make beautifully scrumptious pastries and sweets. The bad: they only offer 1 type of pie per day, in limited quantities, which sells out within minutes. We got to their Newmarket branch half an hour after they put out their pies, and were left with just 2 lonely little sausage rolls, which the staff had to rustle from the back kitchen. Of course we snapped up them all up. 

The shortcrust pastry of the Sausage Roll (NZ$9 each) was fantastic, but the filling of minced free-range organic pork laced with parmesan, tomato relish, and fresh garden herbs, unfortunately included a bit of parsley, which wasn't enough to make me hurl, but enough to have it fall short of my list of must-tries. I think, a few of my parsley-loving friends like Izzy and Vin and Ms Smarty-Pants would absolutely adore this.

The cafe front. It's a chic space swathed in white and clean lines, with a quiet relaxed ambience perfect for a languid breakfast.


Little & Friday
11 McColl Street
Newmarket
Auckland 1010
New Zealand
Tel: +09 524 8742
Open weekdays from 7am to 3.30pm;
weekends from 8am to 4pm
Website: www.littleandfriday.com

21.5.17

Clooney, Auckland

Auckland may, imho, be New Zealand's most boring city, but it appears to harbour an extraordinary number of the most incredible restaurants. I think, gastronomically speaking, Auckland is top dog in all of New Zealand.

We had a wonderful induction to New Zealand cuisine at The Grove, but that was surpassed by the sublime Clooney. Tempering innovative haute cuisine with comforting flavours, Clooney distinguishes itself from other molecular gastronomy outfits with a uniquely heartwarming appeal. It's like the restaurant takes you out of your comfort zone, but then puts you in another comfort zone that's wholly unexpected. And while the flavour compositions are, at first blush, novel and unfamiliar, it quickly becomes familiar in a way that we found ourselves asking how no one ever thought to put them all together before. It's been a while since we had fine dining like this, and it's mind-blowingly exciting and we were absolutely enthralled.

The chef's Japanese-American heritage features heavily in the food, so you'll find distinct elements of Japanese influences, effortlessly weaved together with American sensibilities in Clooney's fare. I think, to date, Clooney is the best meal we've had in all of New Zealand. And it didn't cost as much as you'd expect, a 3-course dinner, made substantive with snacks, was priced very reasonably at (NZ$130). A meal like that in SG would have been priced a-third more expensive.  

Service was also impeccable. Our waiter, a hipster personified with his man bun and facial hair, was gregarious and eloquent. He took the time to elaborate on the intricacies of every dish, and slowed down when he noticed I was taking notes.

First of the trio of snacks was a duo of Nashi Pear compressed in white sangria and crowned with baby mint leaves. This was quite the refresher, prepping and cleansing our palates in anticipation of the sumptuousness to come.

Next up was an "edible forest" - set on a moss bed, was a deep-fried Beetroot Fibre piped in with creamed cheese and sprinkled with yoghurt powder, and that cigar-looking thingamabob was a Nori Cracker stuffed with pureed sushi rice, and dotted with crispy quinoa "barnacles".

The last of the snacks was a bunch of semi-dehydrated tomatoes and yuzu peel blanketed in clear watermelon gelatin, drizzled with elderflower oil, and flecked with shiso flowers which gave an acute bite.

The filler was a set of naturally fermented bread, using flour that was milled in-house only an hour before service, paired with a kaffir lime-smoked butter that was at once light with citrusy accents and heavy with smoky notes.

My first course was a soft cake of Roasted Golden Kumara seasoned with rausu kelp, set in a sauce of koji in barley butter and manuka oil, and burnished with dehydrated cherry blossoms.

The Hubs' first course was a Hiramasa Kingfish Tartare blended with chives, sesame, yuzu peel, koji vinaigrette and lime dashi, swaddled in an icy kohlralbi watermelon radish wrapper, crowned with shiso flowers and a wasabi blob, in a pool of yuzu pepper paste sauce.

My main course was a meltingly tender Slow Braised Devon Black Pork Belly, infused with carrot juice, and showered with fermented carrot crisps. This was sided by carrots done 3 ways: carrot mash, roasted carrots, and dehydrated then twisted carrots.

The Hubs' main course was a Seared Hapuka, fleshy and flaky and accompanied by celeriac mash, roasted celeriac tubes, sunchoke chips, and a sauce of parsley oil.

A mid-course snack, the charred notes of the Roasted Broccolini was enlivened by the soy-olive oil dressing, and nutty elements of the shaved almonds.

We were served a kitschily plated Feijoa Sorbet, made from a local fruit, as a palate cleanser. It's reminiscent of guava, milky but still fruity in a citrusy way.


For dessert, I had the Bay Leaf Ice-cream with preserved berry compote, greenwood sorrel, verbeno oil. I loved its bracing, tart, and grassy flavours. A wonderful finale to the gut-busting meal.

The Hubs had the Hokey Pokey, a honeycomb and vanilla ice cream stick on a twig, coated in a dulce de leche-infused cajeta, bee pollen and edible flowers. The gorgeous creation was surprisingly comforting, which the chef had apparently meant to be evocative of a NZ childhood.

Ask for a table facing the window to the pass, it gives you the best vantage of the kitchen.



Clooney
33 Sale Street
Auckland 1010
New Zealand
Tel: +64 9 358 1702
Open daily from 6pm to 9pm
Website: www.clooney.co.nz

The Market Grill

It's been eons since I last visited The Market Grill. Among the first settlers in the gentrification of the Telok Ayer/Amoy Street area, the bistro is one of more enduring legacies of the hip enclave frequented by the cool and beautiful of the CBD-set. 

This time round, my friend scored a reservation at the no-reservations restaurant. He's a regular customer and I suppose "cronism" works in this case for us. Unfortunately, even though we were seated near the entrance and away from the open kitchen, it was still as uncomfortably warm as before. We were all sweating through our already thin clothes.

At least the dinner was saved by the fantastic food. Classic fare buttressed by excellent ingredients and a skilled finesse with the grill.

The Charcuterie Connoisseur Board ($32) with a rosette superieure saucisson, chorizo iberico, parma ham, duck rilette, pate forestier, and toasted sourdough was superb, but that rilette was truly outstanding. So good I was reluctant to share.

To up your fibre intake, the Green & Blue ($16) of a base of baby spinach dotted with grapes, candied bacon, walnuts, pickled shallots, and tossed with a piquant vinaigrette and finished with a flurry of crumbed blue cheese, was a delicious option. Hearty and beautifully balanced.

The Morrocan-inspired Lamb Kofka ($25), breadcrumbed balls of tightly packed minced lamb, deep fried to a crisp but still juicy on the inside, was contrasted with a cool tzatziki dip. Robust, full-bodied, and sumptuous.

The Lobster Roll ($48) had lumps of lobster meat dressed in a herbed mayo pommery stuffed into a buttery toasted brioche. Rich but not cloying, it was sided by mesclun and shoestring fries. It wasn't the best we've ever had but it was classic done very well. 

A must-try, the Seafood Platter ($138) was a massive charger loaded with a whole seabass, chargrilled 500gm lobster, and grilled scallops in shell, with melted herbed butter and skinny fries. This really showcased the sparkling freshness and natural sweetness of the seafood.

Also part of the set was a trio of freshly shucked oysters, which briny notes were complemented by the shallot-chive-red-wine vinaigrette.

The Market Grill whips up pretty awesome burgers, and one of its more popular hits, the Portobello Burger ($25) layered with a hunky dory beef patty, creamed portobello, crisp bacon, and romaine lettuce, sandwiched between fluffy sesame buns was absolutely delightful. Be forewarned that eating this will be a messy, dribble-filled affair.

For dessert, there's the Banana Split ($15), made less sinful with scoops of zesty raspberry and lemon-lime sorbet. Just scrape away the whipped cream and chocolate syrup.

The Pecan Tart ($10) with raspberry sorbet and butterscotch caramel was decadent and scrumptious.


The Market Grill
208 Telok Ayer Street
Tel: 6221 3323
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; and 6pm to 10pm for dinner
Closed on Sundays
Website: themarketgrill.com.sg
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