Summer Chicken Stew with leek & pesto

This is an incredibly delicate stew, light with fresh leek and pesto, and choc-a-bloc with vegetables galore.

Ingredients (feeds 4-6 pax):
8 chicken thighs, skin-on, bone-in (apportion 1-2 per pax)
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 head garlic, minced
2 cups leeks, only light green portion, sliced finely
4 cups white wine
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups petit pois (baby green peas)
2 cups skinny green beans, cut to 2" lengths
15 stalks fresh thyme, tied together with butcher's twine
8 tbsp pesto (apportion 1 tbsp pesto per serving)
8 tbsp grated parmesan (apportion 1 tbsp cheese per serving)
1 tbsp olive oil

1) Brown chicken on medium-high heat with olive oil, about 4 minutes each side, taking care not to overcrowd the pan, and salting liberally.

2) Set aside browned chicken in soup pot.

3) Taking 2 tbsp of chicken fat-infused olive oil, fry onions on medium-high heat till translucent, about 2 minutes.

4) Add leek, fry about 1 minute.

5) Add garlic, tossing through and fry about 1 minute.

6) Add white wine, reduce by half.

7) Transfer to soup pot with browned chicken, add chicken stock and thyme. Bring to a boil, and lower to a simmer for at least 35 minutes, or until desired tenderness.

8) 15 minutes before serving, add peas.

9) 5 minutes before serving, add green beans.

10) Serve with a tbsp of pesto and a tbsp of parmesan dolloped over each bowl.

DB Bistro Moderne

We were in Marina Bay Sands for an event when we thought a juicy burger would make the perfect complement to all the champagne we'd been imbibing. So we popped into DB Bistro Moderne upstairs for a late dinner.

DB Bistro has been on my to-eat list since forever. I haven't been to its Michelin-starred sister restaurant in the Big Apple, but I grew up on a diet of tv reality shows/cooking competitions such as Masterchef and Top Chef, both of which hosted restaurateur/chef Daniel Boulud as a guest judge. So, obviously there was some kind of standard expected of an outpost of a Michelin-starred celebrity chef. Unfortunately, DB Bistro falls under the curse of most celebrity chef-affiliated restaurants in Singapore. The food, while adequate, was dismally pedestrian, and we walked away full but thoroughly unsatisfied.

A surprising hit, and undisputedly the best dish of the night, the Mediterranean Seabass ($25), beautifully burnished and boasting crisp of skin, was flavoured with brown butter and topped with a caper-raisins blend for a salty piquancy. Sided by cauliflower done two ways, a smooth mash and roasted florets, this was delicious in every aspect. A must try here.

The Coq Au Vin ($38) was lackluster. The red wine was too blubbery, too honeyed, and too miserly in portion. And the roasted chicken topping was just superfluous, its delicate taste overwhelmed by the richness of the red wine sauce.

The Original DB Burger ($45), a signature here with a hefty short rib mince patty stuffed with melty foie gras, and sandwiched between parmesan laced buns, was competent but far from mindblowing. The shoestring fries were pretty addictive though.

I could hardly make out the shellfish in the Lobster & Cauliflower Gratin ($25). There were lobster chunks a-plenty, but the sauce was plain as day, with barely a trace of the umami of lobster stock. A blah, middling side dish.

The complimentary bread basket comprised bagel rolls, foccacia loaves, and crusty baguette. This was remarkably fantastic, with the bagel rolls taking the prize for its chewy texture and wonderful salty-sweet notes.

DB Bistro & Oyster Bar
2 Bayfront Ave
Galleria Level The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands #B1-48
Tel: 6688 8525
Open Mondays from 12noon to 10pm;
Tuesdays to Fridays from 12noon to 11pm;
Saturdays from 11am to 11pm;
Sundays from 11am to 10pm


Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee

As with Peranakan restaurants, I'm always on the lookout for good Teochew restaurants. They're both my heritage, and because both grans have passed on, without passing on their recipes, I've had to settle for restaurant fare, to supplement the rare meal where I've resorted to bribing my way into friends' homes for homecooked Peranakan or Teochew food.

I'd heard about Huat Kee back when it was still in the CBD along Amoy Street, but never got around to visiting the old-timer until it moved to the Orchard Road district. And since we were at the Shangri-La Hotel nearby, we thought to have some Teochew a little up Orange Grove Road at Huat Kee.

Huat Kee turned out a mixed bag, some dishes were tediously middling, whereas some others were absolutely fantastic. In this regard, I feel Chui Huay Lim is still best for Teochew cuisine. Though service was resoundingly first-rate; from the kindly owner/chef with twinkly eyes who reminded me so much of my gran (she impressively took our orders without a need to write them down), to the wait-staff who diligently turned over our plates and kept our water glasses filled to the brim. A big big plus: BYO for the first bottle is complimentary!!

I always order braised duck at any Teochew restaurant, it's the measure of authenticity and excellence. Huat Kee's Sliced Braised Duck ($20) unfortunately fell a little short. While it was sparkling fresh, with nary a whiff of game, it was less than meltingly tender.

Ditto for the Cabbage Chicken ($16) which gravy was exquisite and cabbage so sweet even the vegetable-averse J-Cup lapped it up. The chicken could be stewed a little longer for maximum lusciousness.

The Oyster Omelette ($18) was outstanding: fat juicy oysters bursting with the salty brine of the sea, chewy flour flurry, and that wonderful crunch of the caramelised golden omelette. A must-try here.

Another must-try, the Pan-Fried Threadfin with Soybean Sauce ($60) was superb. The fish, swimmingly fresh and flaky, was beautifully crisped, and slathered in a velvety gravy that was delicate and rich. If there's one thing to order here, this was it.

The Signature Fried Kway Teow ($18) was a dud. The sweet sausage was jarringly so, and threw off the balance of the rice noodles. Skip this.

Teochew Restaurant Huat Kee
30 Orange Grove Road
Tel: 6423 4747
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.teochewrestaurant.com

Mindil Beach Sunset Market, Darwin

Darwin is quite distinct from its arguably more famous Australian counterparts like Melbourne or Sydney. For one, the weather's tropical, as it's at the Top End of the continent and nearer to the equatorial line than any other major city in Oz. The makeup of its populace is also different, notably with more Southeast Asian immigrants as it's also the closest to the Asian continent. The latter may explain how its markets are teeming with nasi padang stalls, a sight rarely seen in most other Australian markets.

One of the biggest attractions, and arguably the most prolific market, in Darwin is the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. The beach, relatively scarce during the day-time (because crocodiles), comes alive at sundown, when locals and tourists alike are drawn to the bustling market for a fun night out.

Several musical acts scattered all around lend to the electric atmosphere of the market, and first one right off the bat, near the entrance of the market where the main carpark is, was local music act eMDee. They describe their music "high tech didgeridoo meets drum & bass" but really, it's world music to us plebs.

Then there was this cutie-pie singer-songwriter girl, very taytay-like, belting out covers and original songs.

Another cute-as-a-button singer-songwriter girl.

At one of the picnic spaces was an electronic music duo, playing with traditional aboriginal instruments.

One of the cooler shops around, the telescope viewing station, which you can take a good look at the constellations come nightfall.

The Thursday market is better for food, so hit the market hungry, whereas the Sunday market comprises more knick knack stalls. For food, there are a few open arenas set up with makeshift tables and chairs for eating.

Slushies, a favourite pitstop at a market with tropical-ish weather like in Darwin. So. Many. Flavours. Our fave was the green apple, so much yums.

Easy to eat while walking around, was a market failsafe Corn Dog (A$5).

Find it at the Aussie Burgers & Hot Dogs stand.

A fusion of the East and West, seafood satays slicked with a spicy sambal sauce for heat.  The shrimp skewers and battered basa were pretty delicious.

Get them at the Seafood Truck.

The Paella (A$15) topped with chicken, chorizo, prawns, calamari, mussels and vegetables, looked better than it tasted. The seafood was overcooked by the time we got to them.

The stall for reference.

The Burritos were commendable, well-marinated meats and generous with the stuffing.

Can't really go wrong with ultra fresh oysters at the Oyster Bar either.

Mindill Beach Sunset Markets
Maria Liveris Drive
Darwin 0820
Open Thursdays and Sundays from 4pm to 9pm


Tok Tok Indonesian Soup House, 313 Somerset

We chanced upon Tok Tok when we were in the bowels of 313 Somerset. A casual eatery serving Indonesian soups and stews, its warung in Orchard is the offshoot of its wildly successful mothership at Ann Siang Hill. Efficiently low-frills, it's entirely self-serviced, and you order, pay, and collect your dishes at the counter. A sure sign of authenticity, Tok Tok has 3 different sambals, to cater to every whim and taste.

A must-try, the Soto Madura ($8.80) was the best rendition of the Javanese staple I've ever had outside of the Indonesian archipelago. The tumeric-seasoned broth was bold and heady, and rich in depth of flavour steeped from the beef bones. Copious lashings of fried shallots, a hard-boiled egg and fork-tender brisket lent heft.

The Soto Ayam ($7.80), which accompanying rice was switched out for glass vermicelli, was delicate yet robust. A nourishing homey bowl of soup that hit squarely on the comfort button.

The Sop Buntut ($9.50), sumptuous with luscious oxtail meat, was sweetened with carrots and enlivened with piquant tomatoes.

There are also a couple of fried sides to pick at the counter, and while the vegetable fritter Bala Bala ($1.60 left) and chicken mince wanton Pansit Goreng ($0.90 on the right) were delightful, I suspect they would have been awesome if eaten fresh out of the fryer.

The Es Chendol ($3.80) needed more gula melaka, but methinks this is more an Indonesian thing than the Peranakan style I'm more used to.

I thought I'd accidentally ordered an ice kacang instead of the Es Lychee ($3.80) but that was just deceptive colouring. Scrape away the condensed milk and fushia sweetener, and you'll get a refreshing cocktail of syrup lychees and coconut jellies.

Tok Tok Indonesian Soup House
313 Orchard Road
#B3-10 313 Somerset
Tel: 6634 1501
Open daily from 11am to 10pm


Coriander Leaf, Chijmes

I've resisted going to Coriander Leaf for a long time now, and if you're a regular reader, you'd know why.

For the uninitiated, I absolutely detest coriander leaves. I hate hate hate it. So notwithstanding the illustrious accolades, or the restaurant being a stalwart of the mod-Sin movement that I love, I have not felt any compulsion to dine there.

Until the other day when we couldn't get a table at El Mero Mero, and saw that Coriander Leaf was just above the cantina. And so, we hopped upstairs and into the restaurant; we figured there would be at least a couple of edible dishes we could ask to hold off the parsley/coriander leaves/cilantro.

It's the biggest irony of the year: me loving the food at a restaurant named 'Coriander Leaf'. Who'd have thought, right?? But WOWZA, Coriander Leaf was truly outstanding. Absolutely incredible. Every dish was finessed with aplomb and flavours were fused harmoniously. Service was stellar as well; we were seated at the chef's table, so in addition to having front-of-house seats to the theatrics of the open kitchen, we were engaged by the affable chefs who somehow juggled conversation through the frenzy of the kitchen.

The Salt & Pepper Squid ($14) was one hell of an addictive nibbler. Like Pringles, you can't stop at one. The batter was thin and crisp, the squid was springy yet soft to the bite, and the seasoning was sprinkled evenly.

The Soft Shelled Crab ($18), deep fried to a delectable crunch, was slathered in a creamy salted duck egg sauce that's all the rage now, and speckled with batter bits for added texture and fried curry leaves for a subtle heat.

The Steamed Seabass Fillet ($24) was technically flawless: the fish was luscious and plump, bathed in an exquisite broth spiked with chilli padi slivers, lime, palm sugar, charred onions, and a spicy relish. This was surprisingly piquant, almost sour, and I would have preferred a more savoury tilt to this. The Hubs slurped every last drop up anyway.

Samia's Signature, the tongue-numbingly spicy Frontier Chicken ($20) was flush with chilli paste and coriander seeds, and lifted with refreshing notes of peppery arugula, lemon and yoghurt cream. This was painfully delicious, I was sniffling through this, watery eyes, runny nose and all. The chilli padi-eating Hubs loved this, and because I'm a little masochistic, I loved it too.

A seasonal special, the Sambal Udang Nanas ($18) of fat succulent tiger prawns fried in a pineapple sambal, was fantastic. Bold, punchy, robust.

The wonderfully fluffy Plain Naan ($3) boasted heady smoky notes of the tandoor.

Coriander Leaf Restaurant
#02-01 Chijmes
30 Victoria Street
Tel: 6837 0142
Open weekdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays
Website: corianderleaf.com



Persian cuisine is not often found this part of the world. We have the occasional 'Middle Eastern' restaurant, encompassing food from all of the Middle East, which is a bit like having Singaporean and Thai food lumped under the umbrella of 'Asian restaurant', but I digress. So anyways, country-specific cuisine like Persian fare, nada, I don't recall ever having Persian food on our shores.

It was Jaleesoo who recommended Shabestan, which is a little bit like Arabian Nights come to life. It's a lot kitsch, and its ambience by the riverside at Robertson Quay was plenty fine, but unfortunately, the lovely setting didn't translate to excellent food. In this regard, Kazbar remains my favourite spot for Middle Eastern cuisine.

I first had hummus at a girlfriend's home, who set the standard of hummus ridiculously high, coz, boy does she make amazing hummus. This Hummus ($10) a blend of garbanzo beans, tahini, olive oil and lightened with lemon juice, didn't come close. The consistency was thin and the olive oil insipid, so much so the wonderfully toasty Iranian bread couldn't save the absymal hummus.

We also ordered a medley of grilled meats, the Shandiz ($48) lamb on the bone, Gulf Prawn Kebab ($39), Fish Kebab ($37), and Chicken Shish Kebab ($36) all marinated in saffron and lime juice, and served with saffron & dill basmati rice. The meats were a half-and-half, ranging from the pedestrian to the inedible. The gulf prawns were fresh and sweet, the lamb fresh and luscious, and the chicken was succulent and flavoursome. That said, the spice rubs could have been more punchy, they were lacking in that special something, that oomph that would have made it pop. The fish was terribly fishy, which the heady spice mix failed to mask. Suffice it to say, we didn't finish the fish.

The Baghlava ($10), layered filo pastry chunky with chopped nuts, honey and rose water, was aromatic but a little dry.

The Persian Saffron Ice-Cream ($8) dotted with crushed pistachio and pomegranate seeds, was a much better dessert option. Nuanced and refreshing.

80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-13
The Pier at Robertson
Tel: 6836 1270
Open daily from 12noon to 11.30pm
Website: www.shabestan.sg
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