31.7.18

Jeonju Traditional Bibimbap Shop, Seoul

I don't like Insadong: it's touristy and gimmicky AF, and lined with price-gouging souvenir shops galore. Think Singapore's Chinatown, but several times larger and with even more artifice. The fact that foreign visitors outnumber locals wandering around Insadong says a lot about its trite attractions. BUT, we heard (from the wonderful concierge at the Four Seasons) that there was an awesome bibimbap shop, "the best bibimbap in Seoul" they'd said, so we thought to do our "foodie" rep justice and brave the hordes.

Located in the bowels of Ssamzie-gil, a distinctive mall right smack in the heart of Insa-dong, Jeonju Traditional Bibimbap Shop is so hidden away (it's located behind a bunch of children's art workshops), you would have to be looking for it to actually find it. There's hardly any foot traffic, but still the restaurant packs a full crowd, largely locals, during lunch. I suppose that's why Seoulites go to Insadong: just to eat aha!!

And, as it turned out, the bibimbap was indeed remarkable, in no small part due to the rice being cooked in beef broth for added oomph, a mark of bibimbap hailing from the Jeonju city. And we loved loved loved that delicious sauce, a proprietary gochujang-based blend. It was so damn good, we bought a few dozen jars of their teoteok gochujang, just to recreate it back home.

The Jeonju Dolsot Bibimbap (11,000KRW), was served sizzling in a hot hot hot stone pot, and topped with beautifully rainbow-hued julienned vegetables (zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, gosari, radish, seaweed, soybean sprouts, doraji, cucumbers), beef strips, and lashings of that wonderful sauce. At once sweet, spicy, garlicky and savoury, this was punchy yet balanced and nuanced.

The Japchae (17,000KRW) of clear potato noodles stir-fried with spinach, carrots, chilli, scrambled egg, and beef, was decent but forgettable.

The Haemul Pajeon (17,000KRW), seafood and green onion pancake, was a half-and-half. The pancake was delightfully toasty and crispy, but the squid was disappointingly overcooked.

I liked the potato jeon and green salad, we got seconds of those. The kimchi, both of the red and white varieties, was middling.

The shop front for reference.

The entrance is through those doors.


Jeonju Traditional Bibimbap Shop (Gogung Insa-dong)
Ssamzigil
44 Insadong-gil, Jongno-gu
Seoul
Tel: +82 2 736 3211
Open daily from 11am to 9.30pm

30.7.18

Le Binchotan

You know, the best thing about working in the CBD, is the easy access to the mind-boggling variety of dining options. So...lately, we've (slowly but surely) been hitting up the gamut of restaurants in the Telok Ayer/Amoy Street enclave, and Le Binchotan was another restaurant that I finally got to tick off my to-eat list.

The late-night speakeasy gastrobar serves French-Japanese cuisine. To wit, the painting at the entrance of Le Binchotan, featuring the Effiel Tower set against the backdrop of a rising sun, is a gorgeously brilliant commission of the restaurant's provisions. Note that while its address stipulates an Amoy Street address, entry is through Gemmill Lane, as with Gemmills and the fabulous Maggie Joan's.

The galley of a restaurant was a veritable who's-who of pleb-ville. There was a gaggle of air stewardesses who were determined to make themselves heard over the piped-in background house music, it wasn't even a challenge to hear the entirety of their conversation. Dreadful English aside (especially with talk of "di-yar tree chew-ren", "di-yar one-der-foo kerliks", and how it was "so sat you noe" that they had to wear girdles under their uniforms on a "Wen-ness-day shiff"), it was an, ahem, entertaining night being an unwitting part of their gossip. BUT, the clincher was the guy who obviously dries his clothes in the tropical humidity, seated next to the unfortunate Hubs. The rancid, sour stench of his clothes, compounded by his sweat, detracted from the food. It wasn't until he finally left, that the Hubs could properly smell our dishes the way they were meant to.

"Amusing" ambience aside, we thought, at first blush, that the food was exceptional, but then inadvertently, by happenstance, commutated that to a hit-and-miss. So...we'd ordered a bunch of dishes, were blown away by them all...and then midway through our entrees, us gluttons decided we would supplement another couple of snacks. Those two dishes, despite being touted as chef's signatures, were markedly deficient to the initial orders. The irony was if we'd have raved about Le Binchotan if we'd stopped at the first round of plates, but because we added on a few more dishes, ended up with a mixed bag.

The Cold Smoked Hamachi ($24) drizzled with a sesame shoyu sauce, and topped with chewy wakame, shishito, and leek was as scrumptious as it was pretty. Crisp, refreshing flavours.

A must-try, the Grilled Hokkaido Scallops ($18), fat and succulent, were sided by a sweet-ish carrot puree, roasted baby carrots, ebi crackers, and microcress.

Another must-try, the Warm Organic Broccolini ($15) tossed with toasted sesame seeds, garlic chips, and a piquant raspberry dressing, was delicious.

Although stated as a chef's recommendation, the Uni & Caviar ($25) was a big big dud. The uni tasted off, a jarring fishy shock to the subtlety of the corn-flecked chawanmushi base.

The Pan-Seared Foie Gras ($23) erred on the livery side, but I liked the stewed daikon, and crunchy nashi pear swimming in an umami furikake-studded dashi broth.

The rich lusciousness of the Charred Pork Jowl ($35) was complemented by a curried mayo, a spin on Japanese curry. I really really wanted more of that awesome sauce. Green apple slaw, and nagaimo (Chinese yam) lent a textural contrast.

A definite cannot-miss, the Mushroom Risotto ($29) was what you'd get if you cross Japanese garlic rice with Italian mushroom risotto. Heady with garlicky and truffly aromas, this was choc-a-bloc with shimeiji and enoki mushrooms. Insanely delicious.

Complimentary crusty bread, paired with an addictive yuzu-flecked butter swirled with activated charcoal.


Le Binchotan
115 Amoy Street (entrance through Gemmill Lane)
#01-04
Tel: 6224 1045
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 12midnight for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 12midnight for dinner;
Closed on Sundays
Website: lebinchotan.sg

27.7.18

Blackwattle

I've been eager for Blackwattle to pass its first birthday, so I could try its contemporary Australian offerings. An affiliate of the vaunted Automata in Sydney, it's also under the stable of celebrated hotelier-cum-restaurateur Loh Lik Peng's Unlisted Collection. I've made no bones that I'm a big big fan of Unlisted Collection's ensemble of restaurants, and was hankering to see if it measured up to the hype of its Sydney mothership and the hype of rave opening reviews.

Walking in one late night for dinner (or supper depending on who you ask), I was immediately struck by the aesthetics of the swanky restaurant. Swathed in blacks and undulating shades of greys, the design was clean, sleek, and modern. Blackwattle just oozed pure luxury and class, all the while remaining understated.

And like its design, the food at Blackwattle was elegant and deft, drawing its influence from the Australian bush. However, it was missing that something-something, that little bit of magic that makes a meal mind-blowing, as opposed to just a competent one. We've eaten here twice, 2 weeks in a row, but our dinners just fell (a smidge) short of magnificent. And in a sea of amazing restaurants like Cheek by Jowl or Maggie Joan's, both of which are just down the road in the hip Amoy Street enclave, I just didn't think Blackwattle was competitive enough.

The Uni & Oscietra Caviar ($28) was balanced nicely on the peppery spice of ohba leaves, but I've had better uni (in many Japanese restaurants) and better caviar (at Dempsey Cookhouse).

The Pumpkin Seed Mousse & Oscietra Caviar ($30) laced with tua tua clams and finished with chrysanthemum petals was ingenuity befitting the sous chef of Automata. This was nuanced and refreshing, haute cuisine but also boasting comforting flavours.

The Miso-Glazed Tuna Cheek ($26) was, on its own, a smidge fishy, but the condiments of a braised black fungus, spring onion compote, and miso onion, with fresh lettuce, orba leaves and mint were cardinal in lending freshness. Good concept, let down by the less-than-great produce.

The Baby Gem Lettuce ($24), a dish that just premiered this week, was charred and set on a pool of green sauce comprising parsley and mint, seasoned with preserved lemon, and draped with a lardo blanket. So so good, this was simplicity at its most exquisite. The house-baked bread, still warm and soft from the oven, was paired with a most awesome XO-sauced butter. The Hubs was trying to stay off carbs but he picked at this so addictively, he'd ended up finishing most of it.

The highlight, was the Black Truffle Linguine ($36), which, despite its appearance as one hell of a hot mess, was glorious. Slicked with fermented mushroom butter and showered with a flurry of grated truffle, this was absolutely scrumptious. Absolutely a must-try.

The Steamed Butter Fish ($58) was complemented by a dried porcini-dusted langoustine butter cream and sided by charred flowering garlic chives. A lovely, if a tad forgettable, dish.

The A5 Kagoshima Wagyu Ribeye Roll ($250), sided with white kimchi, pickled jalapeno, green chilli sambal, white radish, and natural jus, was sumptuous. For the first 3 or 4 mouthfuls. And then it just got too rich too fast. The Hubs says "I like my meat to taste like meat", and I get it. There is a thing as too much fat on steak, and a large piece of red meat as this would really suffer from the law of diminishing returns. I think, this would be ok for 4 or more persons to share; to share between a couple such as us would quickly get cloying. Also, I felt its price point to be markedly exaggerated: at 250-buckaroos, it should have been, but wasn't, twice as satisfying as a prime ribeye at Cut or Ruth's Chris.

The Iberico Pork Rack ($52) flanked by a sticky-sweet red-wine bbq glaze, mild sansho peppers, and charred flowering garlic chives, was a much much better main dish. Excellent, actually. The pork was delicate, perfectly cooked to just-past pink, and luscious. We loved this. So much so we actually fought over the last bite (oh yes...we're at that age, and stage of married life, where no f*cks are given to fighting over good food).


Blackwattle
97 Amoy Street
Tel: 6224 2232
Open weekdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays
Website: blackwattle.com.sg

12.7.18

Sushi Mieda

Remember how I said before that price usually correlates to how good a Japanese restaurant is? Well, it's obviously not a rule set in stone, and Sushi Mieda, unfortunately, falls into that category of an overpriced and overhyped washout of a dinner.

The Singapore outpost, at the revolving OUE Tower at Collyer Quay, is the first overseas venture of the one Michelin-starred, Hokkaido mothership, Mieda. I guess that's the problem inherent of most affiliates of Michelin-awardees, the principal chef who propelled the original to Michelin stardom isn't around here to whip up any Michelin-quality magic.

What a pity, because our Mutsukari Kaiseki ($300) dinner actually started out pretty decent...but then devolved into a middling, almost mass-market quality, entirely forgettable meal. Unsurprisingly, the four of us went on out to have prata for supper, right after dinner.

The appetizer, a trio of roasted baby yam and eggplant, tempura fish and beancurd jelly was great. Loved every aspect, and polished them all off.

The sashimi course was shaky, at best. The goldeneye snapper, lightly torched on the skin, was delicious, but the other two were pedestrian, at best. The slices were jagged on the edges, a sign of a hesitant hand, and I needed to drown them in soy, wasabi and lime to mask the less-than-sweet taste.

The next courses that followed fared way better: the Monk Fish Liver, steamed in a melange of soy, sake, mirin; and Braised Octopus, treated with soy and sugar, were fantastic. The liver was not livery at all, and the octopus was mild and delicate. A sprinkle of grated yuzu zest lent levity.

The Grilled Unagi, burnished in an exquisite teriyaki sauce, was fantastic. The light smoky and sweet notes of the glaze complemented the seafood.

When the Sushi course arrived, my heart sank. One look, and we could all tell it was NOT gonna be good. These were as unappetizing as they looked, clunky in execution, lacking in finesse and less than sparkling fresh. The ones at the top, namely the Chutoro, and Maguro (lean tuna), and the bottom ones, the Maki (maguro and kanpyo pickles) and Tamago, passed muster, but the rest, like a Tai (snapper), nodoguro (black throat sea perch), Anago (sea eel), and that pangolin-looking nigiri were impossible to keep down. Suffice it to say, none of us finished our sushi course.

The Uni and Ikura Mini Chirashi was overly vinegar-ed, we were not fans.

After that bummer of nigiri duds, the dessert of a Japanese musk melon and oranges was a godsend, a refreshing cleanser that was much needed to clear our palates.



Sushi Mieda
OUE Tower Level 10
60 Collyer Quay
Tel: 6634 3233
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.sushimieda.sg

10.7.18

Bon Juk, Seoul

Bon Juk is a major household name for porridge, and as ubiquitous a breakfast stop as Ya Kun in Singapore. With dozens of branches spread out all over the city, Bonjuk is insanely popular with Seoulites. The Four Seasons concierge had recommended us the one within strolling distance from the hotel, and so we checked it out one mid-afternoon.

Unfortunately, they'd run out of the crab porridge by breakfast time, which was a real pity, because the juks we ended up having were middling and entirely forgettable. The silver lining, and highlight of the meal, turned out to be the jangjorim banchan. The soy braised pulled beef brisket was superb, its salty and slightly sweet flavour added a much-needed spark to the plain, staid gruel.

The Beef Bone Porridge (8,500KRW), studded with tiny vegetable cubes of carrots, sliced shitakes and spring onions, was so incredibly light I dumped the whole saucer of jang-jorim into the bowl just so it had some taste.

The Mushroom Oyster Porridge (9,000KRW) fared much much better, as the molluscs lent a rich savoury note to the juk. Note to self: wake up early to get the crab porridge. Or else get the Hubs to wake up early and takeaway said porridge back to the hotel for breakfast, aha!!



BonJuk Gwanghwamun-jeom
105 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu,
Sejong-ro 204-1, Seoul
Tel: +82 02 733 6288
Open daily from 9am to 10pm

9.7.18

Summer Pavilion

Summer Pavilion is one of our favourite restaurants for Chinese cuisine. Consistently impeccable, the food marries the sophistication of fine dining with the unpretentious comfort of homespun flavours.

And, for such an elegant, upscale setting, the vibe is totally unfussy, and utterly unassuming. I mean, the strikingly stunning chinaware is from Richard Ginori, which is like fancy schmansy to the hilt.

And while most people have big family dinners here, there are a good number of somewhat-private-ish booth seats perfect for cozing up with a loved one on a date-night.

We also like the service here, attentive but unobtrusive, efficient but warm, and unfailingly gracious. With the trifecta of flawless food, beautiful ambience and faultless service, it's little wonder the venerable restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star for both years since the awards was launched in Singapore.

A specialty that's a must-try, the Marinated Tea Leaf-Smoked London Duck ($45 for half-portion) was just fantastic. Redolent with the smoky aroma of tea leaves, the meat was deliciously juicy and skin, paper-crisp.

The Summer Pavilion Barbecued Iberico Pork ($42 for small) steeped in a spiced honey and soy marinade, was luscious, albeit a smidge gamey.

The soups at Summer Pavilion are exquisite and although all of them are amazing, a couple of our favourites are the Double-Boiled Chicken Soup ($16 per portion) with spongy bamboo pith, a plump black mushroom, and Chinese cabbage.

And the Braised Diced Seafood Soup ($20 per portion), brimming with the umami richness of scallops, prawns, fish, and conpoy. For crunch and texture, there was bamboo pith, pine mushrooms, egg-white drop, and kailan slivers.

A chef's recommendation and another must-try, the Sauteed Dong Xing Grouper Fillet ($126 for 600gm) looked deceptively, at first blush, like a whole, still-intact fish. But it'd been deconstructed, and then "reconstructed". This was scrumptious, the fish was perfectly flaky, a purposeful light touch was employed in the seasoning, and the shredded sweet peas, beansprouts, carrots and cucumbers lent a refreshing counter.

The Braised Beancurd ($28 for small), smooth like a custard, topped with bamboo pith, carrots, Chinese black mushrooms, and poached choy sum, was slathered in a velvety oyster sauce gravy. Wonderfully comforting fare.

Another Chef's specialty and also a dish I always order, is the Lobster Poached Rice ($20 per portion). I love the textural contrast of the crispy rice puffs, soft steamed rice, and springy lobster flesh. Add to that the sumptuous lobster-based broth, and you get unadulterated decadence in a bowl.

The Hubs loves the Black Pepper Seafood Fried Noodles ($32 for small), liberally dotted with akagai clam, squid, shrimp, and heady with the punchy kick of black pepper.

Another one of my favourite dishes here is the delicate Shredded Chicken & Mushroom Vermicelli Soup ($10 per person) enlivened with preserved vegetables and chilli shreds. If you're seeing a pattern here, yes, I love soups: soup with rice, soup with noodles, and just good ol' plain soups, thick and thin.


Summer Pavilion
7 Raffles Ave
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore
Tel: 6434 5286
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website

Migabon, Seoul

Porridge, or 'juk' as the Koreans call it, is another thing on my to-eat list whenever we return to Seoul for our yearly visits. And although the Koreans generally eat this for breakfast, I typically eat this for a late lunch or dinner. I'm staunchly in the brinner camp, and also, erm, I'm rarely awake before noon.

Migabon is situated just upstairs from Sinseon Seolnongtang (I swear that piece of real estate has the best fengshui), and while it draws a healthy tourist crowd (seeing as it's ranked pretty high on tripadvisor, which may be in part due to its convenient locale in the shopping district of Myeongdong), the porridge here is outstanding.

Korean juk is like a cross between Cantonese congee and Japanese zousui. It's loaded with ingredients a-plenty, but thick and smooth and mild.

Most would order the abalone version, but I would steer you to the King Crab Porridge (10,000KRW) instead. Barring any seafood allergies, this was far superior a choice than the almost stodgy abalone porridge. The sweetness of the shellfish just balances out the sesame seeds, crushed seaweed, and spring onions so much better. This was pure comfort in a bowl, and wonderfully exquisite. And that kkakdugi (radish kimchi) was amazing. So incredibly delicate and refreshing.

We also ordered the Ginseng Chicken with Wild Sesame (15,000KRW) which was just so-so. The glutinous rice was excellent, but the chicken hadn't stewed long enough, and the broth was lacking in depth of flavour.

The restaurant front for reference. It's the green one with the big big word "粥" on it.


Migabon
2F, 2-23 Myeong-dong-gil 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-809, South Korea
Tel: +82 02 752 0330
Opens daily from 8am to 4pm; 5pm to 10pm
Facebook Website

8.7.18

Two Plus Korean BBQ, Seoul

Two Plus is our other favourite Korean barbecue restaurant in Seoul (the other being Han Wa Dam). A new-ish contemporary Korean BBQ joint that's recently become popular in Korea, it's got about the same number of branches as Han Wa Dam. A big plus, it's also walkable from the Four Seasons.

And like Han Wa Dam, Two Plus specializes in 1++-rated Korean Hanwoo beef. For background: Hanwoo beef, like Japanese wagyu, has different grades: namely 1++, 1+, 1, 2, and 3, in descending order. And therein lies the backstory of the restaurant's moniker, Two Plus, because it exclusively serves 1++ Hanwoo beef that's graded one with two pluses, geddit??

A second plus (pun intended): the prices here are a smidge cheaper than at Han Wa Dam.

The Aged Ribeye (44,000KRW for 150gm) balanced heft and fatty sumptuousness. This was simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and char of the coal rounded this off with an intoxicatingly smoky aroma.

The Aged Striploin Diamond (39,000KRW for 150gm) was a carpet steak that rolled out into a juicy hunk of full-bodied opulence. Even though I'm generally partial to ribeye cut, this was just exceptional.


We also had some Bulgogi (29,000KRW for 150gm), which was served on a griddle with a broth moat to catch all that delicious beef jus. Absolutely glorious, and a must try. 


But this, the Beef Brisket Fried Rice (22,000KRW) was some kind of wonderful. It's like a cross between a paella and claypot rice, where the beef-studded rice, redolent with the kick of gochujang and tang of kimchi, was spread flat on a sizzling cast iron pan, so the bottom gets all charred and crispy. Insanely good. This alone warrants a return visit. Which we did. The very next day. 

The Hubs loved the Spicy Intestine Casserole (12,000KRW), which was lively with a tinge of sour, heady and spicy. So apparently the Koreans, like the Chinese, love eating intestines. But unlike those intestines you find in Singapore, even in the best of the kway chap stalls, the Koreans really clean the crap out of them intestines. Seriously, squeaky clean. If I didn't read the menu, I would never have known there were intestines at all: there was not one whiff of that bung-like stench. 

I preferred the Egg Souffle (4,000KRW) at Two Plus, it was thick and dense, but airy and light. Also, because I'm not crazy about pollack roe.

There was a bunch of banchan too, but I wasn't nuts about them. The Spicy Lettuce Salad had coriander leaves, which made it an immediate write-off.

The Spicy Chive Salad was better though, simply because no coriander leaves aha!!

The Kimchi here was decent, robust and vibrant, but it just couldn't compare to Han Wa Dam's version. If I had to rate this, it'll be a close third behind Sinseon Seolnongtang's kimchi.

I liked the Water Kimchi, it was piquant and lent crunch to the bbq-ed meats.

Best of the lot was the Roasted Pumpkin, sweet and earthy and absolutely lovely.

The Pickled Radish and Cucumbers was decent, refreshing and snappy.


Two Plus Korean Barbecue
B1 Seoul Finance Centre, 97 Mugyo-dong
Jung-gu, Seoul
Tel: +82 2 3783 0607
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 5pm to 10pm for dinner;
weekends from 11.30am to 10pm
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