Okay, nothing to do with food, but oh my lord do I want one of these babies! Don’t know what it is? Click here. All I can say is, “Wow”.
Each year, my wife S and I try to create a fun Christmas gift to give some of our friends. A couple years ago, we gave friends DIY Molten Chocolate Cake Kits. Each kit came with detailed instructions, chocolate, molds, and other essentials for creating this (way too) popular dessert. This past holiday season, instead of creating something edible, we decided to design something that would (potentially) enhance the restaurant-going experience. The intention was to create a tongue-in-cheek gift for friends with a good sense of humour.
The result was a little something we’ve named “Feedback: Calling Cards for Discriminating and Opinionated Diners”. We created 4 different calling cards, printed (as you can see) on cream/off-white cardstock with a cutlery logo in 4 different colors. Two of the cards provide the user the chance to offer a restaurant either positive or negative feedback, depending on which words on their cards they cross out. This is the text on these two cards: “Wow! What a disappointing / fantastic meal. Truly, I’m amazed. I’m definitely telling my friends and never / definitely coming back here again.” and “Hi, I just wanted you to know that the service in your establishment is staggering good / bad.” With just a swift stroke of one’s pen, the diner can tell a restauranteur what they did or didn’t like about his or her restaurant. A third card is entirely positive, giving the diner a chance to tell a restaurant which food item they enjoyed most: “Thanks for the great meal. The appetizer / main course / dessert was particularly good today.” And, of course, we left a line for our friends to fill in their names because if you feel the need to leave a comment, you should always have the courage to take ownership of your opinion.
The fourth card is meant to be used on fellow diners. It reads, “Hi there! I love your shoes / eyes / smile / appetite. Would it be a little too forward to ask if I could join you for dessert?” One friend has already complained to me that her husband has grabbed all of these for himself, to use on upcoming business trips. Each box that we gave away had 80 cards, 20 of each design. As you can see, we also made labels for the tops and bottoms of the boxes. It was really, really fun designing these and we’ve been happy with the response from friends. A couple of them are even trying to convince us to retail the cards. And while we’re giving the idea some thought, for now, we’re just happy with them being rather exclusive gifts for good friends. We just hope that if and when our friends do use these, they do so lightly and the restaurateurs who receive them either (a) see the humour in them or (b) take the opinions as real, heartfelt, constructive criticism.
Last year, I was a little late in posting my Christmas Gift Guide. This year, I’ve decided to get as early a start as possible. Unlike last year, in which I recommended only things that I had already acquired and road-tested, this year I am including things that are at the top of my own wish list. (This is, of course, in the very self-centered hope that good friends and family members will actually consult this before buying us our Christmas gifts this year.) Some of these gifts are pretty pricey; some are very reasonable. Some are only for serious cooks; others are items even the youngest of foodies will enjoy.
I hope that you enjoy my little round-up. Like last year, in honor of the 12 days of Christmas, I’ve chosen 12 nifty gift ideas that will make your favourite gourmand love you more than ever. Singaporean-based readers should also take note that, in conjunction with my beloved bank sponsor, OCBC, we’ve arranged some special prices on some of these items for cardmembers. Happy shopping and happy holidays!
1. KitchenAid products
I’m going to take it for granted that you already have (or your favorite foodie has) a KitchenAid Stand mixer. I know that S wouldn’t be able to live without hers. But what many of us often forget is that KitchenAid doesn’t just make mixers. A couple of shiny countertop appliances that I’ve had my eyes on for quite awhile are their food processor, their espresso machine and their burr (coffee) grinder.
All of them are stunningly designed, with the same gorgeous, brightly painted, metal finishes as the mixers. The processor features the largest feed tube on the market; that means you can easily toss into your mix all kinds of large food items, like tomatoes, potatoes or cucumbers with minimal sectioning. The espresso machine is simply gorgeous. I mean, who wouldn’t want that on their kitchen counter? And if you like your beans fresh, you’ll need a good grinder. The Pro Line series (Model KCG100) one is fantastic. And it’s not just for coffee. I have a friend who has one that she uses for grinding up Asian spices. Of course, you wouldn’t want to use the same one for coffee and spices. Do what she did, and get two.
OCBC Promotion: From 8 December to 28 February 2007, purchase the KitchenAid KES100 Espresso Machine and KitchenAid KCG100 Burr Grinder at a special combined price of $1399 (usual price is $1698), including GST. In addition, purchase the KitchenAid KFPM770 Food Processor (red color only) at just $469 (usual price is $599), including GST. Purchases must be made at Mayer showrooms and stores. Locations below in Terms & Conditions.
2. Stovetop smoker
I love the idea of being able to hot-smoke foods right on my stovetop. These smoketop smokers, from Camerons Professional Cookware not only look really easy to use, they also look pretty stylish. I can just imagine smoking everything from salmon to duck to pork ribs in my new smoker. Experimenting with different smoking ingredients, from various kinds of wood chips to gourmet teas, would be fun too.
3. Bespoke tea
The truly special person in your life needs a truly special present. Some of the best presents I’ve ever received were those that were specially tailored just for me. Singapore’s hottest, coolest and newest gourmet tea label, the Gryphon Tea Company, in addition to producing an exciting range of teas for the retail market, also has the facilities to custom-blend a tea specifically for you or your loved one. The process of creating a bespoke tea blend can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on how many rounds of tastings you need to go through. Teas are packaged loose in vacuum-sealed bags. Because Gryphon is a subsidiary of one of the region’s top tea manufacturers and importers, you can be rest assured that they can create something truly special and of top quality for you. Click here for contact info. Prices for a kilo of bespoke tea, which contains approximately 200 servings, starts at around S$250.
OCBC Promotion: Pay with your OCBC card and get a 10% discount on the price of your custom-blended tea. Promotion valid till 28 February 2007.
4. Cook With Jamie
I have to admit. This book really surprised me. Cook with Jamie, by Jamie Oliver, is a great cookbook. Unlike many of his more recent books, which I felt belonged in a “nice to have but far from essential” category, this well-written, clear and informative work has a good chance of becoming a classic cookbook. It’s definitely for me one of the year’s must-haves.
5. Revolutionary Chinese
Few people, Chinese or otherwise, understand Chinese food as well as Fuschia Dunlop. S and I were already big fans of her previous work, Sichuan Cookery. So, when Revolutionary Chinese hit the bookstores, we knew we had to have a copy. It’s a brilliant primer on Hunan cuisine, filled with insightful essays and clear recipes.
6. Justin Quek: Passion & Inspiration
As part of the team that produced this book, I admit freely that I’m extremely biased about it. That said, I do believe that Justin Quek’s cookbook is both beautiful and unique. Justin was insistent that this book tell his story–how he went from being a merchant sailor to becoming one of the world’s finest chefs. He also insisted that this book pay homage to his mentors and friends, featuring them prominently in its pages. Because of these inclusions, this book won’t just offer you dozens of amazing Modern French recipes (which it does), it provides the reader with a unique insight of one of Asia’s most talented artists.
7. Mario Batali cookware
This range of cast-iron cookware, fronted by one of the world’s favorite chefs, is both beautiful and affordable. The range that’s currently available in Singapore includes the 6qt Italian Essentials Pot (S$269); the Panini Grill and Press (S$249); the Risotto Pot (S$259); and the Extra Deep Lasagne Pan (S$239).
I’ve tried out both the risotto pot and the panini press and love them both. In fact, S and I like the panini press so much, we’ve ordered what looks like an awesome book of panini recipes just so we can use it more. S has also been trying to convince me to pick up the Lasagne pan. She likes that it has really straight sides; that ensures pretty plating when you serve the slices.
OCBC Promotions: Puchase any item from the Mario Batali cast iron cookware line and get the following items (worth S$116) free: a large ceramic utensils crock, a small silicone spatula, a large silicone spatula, and a silicone spoon spatula. Plus, buy any second item of cookware at 40% off. Available from the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building.
8. Mariage Freres teapots
These gorgeous glass tea pots from one of the world’s most notable tea companies are really S’s contribution to the Christmas gift list. In fact, she’s dropped many unsubtle hints to me that I should be placing an order for her as soon as possible. The two models above are amusingly named (from left to right) Happy Alladin and Happy Dream. Give one of these to your favorite fashionable female and I guarantee she’ll be happy as can be.
9. Fresh Alba truffle
Nothing is more indicative of the end of the year than the annual clamor for white Alba truffles. And nothing is as seductive or as powerful for food-lovers than the aromas and subtle flavors of these ridiculously expensive and rare tubers. This year, the average price was around 3,000 Euros per kilo. Is it worth it? Only you can answer that. But if one of your loved ones is a truffle fanatic, you might consider shelling out some cash and purchasing him or her a few truffles. Check with local restaurants and gourmet food importers. See if they’ll sell you some at a wholesale price. Or contact a top truffle company, like Tartufi Morra in Alba, and beg them to sell you some directly. Just remember to eat them properly. You never cook white truffles; they are best simply shaved over some risotto, pasta or scrambled eggs.
10. Kasumi 20cm chef’s knife
You can’t go wrong with a Kasumi chef’s knife. I know I can’t live without mine. This beautifully made, well-balanced Japanese knife is thin, strong and sexy as hell. The knives are made in Seki, Japan, which has a knife and sword-making history stretching back 700 years. The main cutting blade of Kasumi knives is V-Gold No 10 High Carbon stainless steel; the blade has a hardness on the edge of 59-60 HRC. The fine Damascus stainless steel pattern on the blade comes from 32 layers of folded steel. It’s both an essential tool and a work of art.
OCBC Promotion: Buy a Kasumi 20cm chef’s knife (usual price is S$290) for S$245 and get a Kasumi 12cm utility knife and a bamboo cutting board free. Plus, you get a voucher for one free knife sharpening service. Available from the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building.
11. Musso Mini ice cream machine
I’ve probably bored readers to tears over the last 2 years with countless stories about the fantastic ice cream that my wife S makes for me. She uses a Musso Mini, which looks a little like R2D2′s cuter, smaller cousin. It’s a fantastic machine. It freezes while it churns and can whip together a fresh batch of ice cream in just 20 to 30 minutes. While it’s certainly not a cheap appliance, it is very well-made and after 5 years, ours is still performing perfectly.
OCBC Promotion: Purchase your super-sexy Musso Mini right now for just $1,344 (usual price is S$1,680, so you save 20%). Plus get a voucher for an ice cream making class (venue and date to be determined). Contact BATS Singapore by calling +65 62925658 or email them at email@example.com. Alternatively call Sebastian Muthu at +65 94241807.
12. A case of Jacquesson Cuvée 730
Nothing is more festive than a glass of good Champagne. One of my favorite Champagne producers is Jacquesson. Founded in 1798, this excellent vineyard produces only 350,000 bottles a year. And while Jacquesson is nowhere near as well-known as some of the other houses in Champagne, like Krug, Moet & Chandon, Bollinger, or Veuve Clicquot, its wines are as elegant and well-crafted as those from these other houses.
The Cuvée No. 730 is the 730th cuvée made by the House since its Centenary Cuvée in 1898. It’s a light, clean, crisp Champagne with slight nutty and citrusy elements. It’s the perfect bubbly for toasting in the new year.
KitchenAid Terms & Conditions:
a) Please note that these offers are valid while stocks last only.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Limited to one purchase per product category only. That is, one card member can only purchase 1 Espresso Machine, Burr Grinder and Food Processor only.
d) Not valid in conjunction with any other promotions and offers.
e) Not entitled to Mayer In-Store Promotions, Free Gifts & Lucky Draw.
f) All items are cash & carry and do not include delivery. Collection of products must be at point of purchase. In the event there is no stock at the showrooms, new stock will be sent to the showrooms and customers must collect within 5 days of notification.
g) Promotion is valid till 28 February 2007.
h) Promotion is for purchases made only in Mayer stores. Locations are as follows: Causeway Point #03-22/23 Tel: 6767 1017, Compass Point #B1-01/02 Tel: 6315 8700, Great World City #02-05 Tel: 6838 4079, IMM #02-45 Tel: 6563 4288, Parkway Parade – Home Haven on 7 #07-10/14 Tel: 6346 9216, Plaza Singapura #05-06 Tel: 6835 8272. Showroom opening hours: 11am – 9.30pm daily.
Mario Batali and Kasumi Terms & Conditions:
a) All items are while stocks last.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Razorsharp reserves the rights to replace free gift items with other items of the same value.
d) Color depending on stock availability.
e) Promotion is for purchases made at the Razorsharp showroom, 315 Outram Road #01-03, Tan Boon Liat Building, Singapore 169074, Tel: +6562277515. Operating hours : Mon~Friday 09:30~18:00 & Sat 09:30~13:30 (Closed on Sunday & PH).
f) Promotion is valid till end January 2007.
Musso Terms & Conditions:
a) This offer is valid while stocks last.
b) Valid for all OCBC cards.
c) Cooking classes are contingent upon a minimum number of participants signing up.
d) Promotion is valid till 28 February 2007.
A few weeks ago, S and I received a wonderful gift from a new friend who is based in the Philippines. Margaux Salcedo is an ex-lawyer, a journalist and serious foodie and, since 2004, an inspiring micropreneur. Her fantastic little business revolves around and started with one product, a traditional Filipino hot chocolate paste made using a recipe from her 90 year old grand-aunt. Nana Meng’s Tsokolate (Nana Meng is what Margaux affectionately called her grand-aunt, whose real name is Carmen Perez) is really interesting. This traditional hot chocolate paste is flavoured with ground peanuts. According to Margaux, the ground peanuts were traditionally used both to add a special flavour but as a thickener. And, as anyone who has ever enjoyed a Reese’s peanut butter cup knows, peanuts and chocolate go really well together. Margaux was inspired to launch her business when she was living in New York in 2003. Unable to find a hot chocolate that appealed to her as much as those she had drunk throughout her childhood, on her return to the Philippines, she decided to try and bottle these childhood memories and share them with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Nana Meng’s Tsokolate is currently only available in the Philippines, but I’m sure Margaux has plans to try and export it as widely as possible. (For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The thing I really admire about what Margaux has done is that she’s preserving traditional recipes that are meaningful to her and that she believes are unique and delicious. And, through sharing them with the rest of us, she’s been able to build a business around them. I wish more people who have access to similarly impressive traditional recipes would do the same thing. One person in particular I am always pestering to do this is my good friend J. Readers of her blog will already know that J is a wizard-chef, especially when it comes to pastries and dessert. In fact, her pastries have proven so popular that J’s been able to launch a mini-bespoke pastry business called Gateaux Fabulous! But, what a lot of people don’t know is that J is descended from an equally talented cook. Her grandmother, like her, has a magic touch when it comes to cooking. I am particularly addicted to a spicy bean sauce/paste that her granny whips up from time to time (pictured above). It’s an amazing sauce which is also highly versatile. I’ve used it in a variety of ways. It was the base for the best sea urchin pasta that S and I have ever (made and) eaten. I love topping steamed scallops with it. Honestly, it works well with almost anything.
Because I had a little free time last week and also because I was so inspired by Margaux, I decided to try designing a label for J’s granny’s bean sauce, with the intention of finally convincing her to launch an ultra-chic line of traditional Chinese sauces. I figured if I could show her some possible packaging ideas, maybe she’d be similarly inspired to convince her granny to go into business with her. My first idea was to go with something slightly cartoony, retro and fun. The above was the result.
This next image is a slightly more jazzed up version of the first idea. I just added a little more colour to it. A little later, I decided to go in a different direction altogether and put together the label design below. Instead of fun and cartoony, I decided to try something more minamalist and clean. The idea for this one was that each sauce could have an assigned number and colour.
Anyway, I’ve since shown these to J and am hoping she shows them to her granny. I’m pretty confident that if she ever does bring her granny’s sauces out into the market, they’d sell like wildfire. They’re that good. (My ideas for packaging, on the other hand, are still pretty rough. If any of you want to give some feedback, or better yet, offer new design ideas, that would be really awesome.)
I’m sure J isn’t alone either. I’m sure there are many of you with access to great traditional recipes. Wouldn’t it be incredible if you could package these exceptional food products and share them with the rest of us?
As mentioned in my last post, my wife S is writing her doctoral thesis on celebrity chefs. As you can imagine, she keeps pretty up to date on the latest comings and goings of these famous foodies. It helps that we’re fans of several of them. We buy their books; watch their TV shows; read about them in magazines and newspapers; and try to recreate some of their better recipes. But the one thing we usually draw the line at is buying their branded merchandise (with, for S, the exception of Nigella’s stuff). Too often, these tools are simply ways to pad these celebrities’ already bulging bank accounts and not the kind of things you’d actually use in the kitchen.
S and I, though, are obsessive kitchen tool shopaholics. Whenever and wherever we are, and especially when we’re travelling, we try to suss out cool kitchen stores. We’re always on the look-out for cool or well-made equiptment that isn’t available in our home town. One of the things we’ve (sadly) realized that we can’t easily find here in Singapore are good quality wooden spoons. You would think that given how essential wooden spoons are in cooking, high quality ones should be easy to find anywhere. Amazingly, they’re not. Too many times, the spoons we’ve found at our local neighborhood department stores or kitchen supply stores are cheap and poorly made. And, as expected, even the ones branded by famous foodies, are less than perfect.
Case in point, S recently bought a wooden spoon endorsed by Donna Hay. While she had high hopes for it, after rinsing it and washing it just once, we discovered that water had seeped through the wood. Suffice it to say that the spoon ended up in the trash.
So we were pretty surprised recently when we checked out the range of wooden spoons and other tools that are being sold under Mario Batali’s The Italian Kitchen brand. I’m a big fan of Batali. When I lived in the West Village in New York City, I loved going to Po and ordering his amazing US$25, 5-course pasta dinner. (These days, when visiting my old hometown, I love eating at Lupa, the cool, casual trattoria on Thompson Street.) Despite my inclination for his food, I have to admit that when I first heard that Batali was launching a line of cookware, I was a tad skeptical. But after taking a really close look at some of his products, I have to say that I am impressed. The wooden tools, made from beechwood, are really well made. The handles have a nice thumb groove, making them really comfortable to hold and use. The spoon especially is nice. The edges are nice and fine, making it easy to scoop things up and the impression is actually deep enough to hold the things you want to scoop. It’s also nice that the branding is very subtle. Batali’s name is engraved in small letters on the back of the spoon’s handle.
Hopefully, this is a good step for other celebrity chefs. The worst thing is to be let down by the people we admire. And selling inferior products to one’s fans just to make a quick buck is hardly respectable. I’m happy I’ve found these tools. I intend to try out some of Batali’s other cookware over the next couple of weeks; I’m very turned on by his panini press and risotto pan. I can only hope they are as well-made and useful as these wooden tools have turned out to be.
In my non-blogging life, my wife and I manage various media-related and lifestyle projects (ranging from, but not limited to, putting together editorial products to public relations, events, corporate retreats, and restaurant consultancy). One of the most fun events we did recently was a series of tea parties for specially invited media to launch a fantastic local tea brand. We held our tea parties in a gorgeously decorated suite in the New Majestic Hotel and hired a trio of super-smart, attractive, and cool young people (pictured here), togged out in French maid and butler uniforms, to help serve. Most importantly, we hired the amazing baker, J of Kuidaore, to make a medley of amazing cakes and cookies. J’s just put up a post that shows what she made. Check it out by clicking here. Jut try not to drool too much on your keyboard when you do.
Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I really like knives. When I was younger, I bought a lot of silly knives, like f
olding blades and boot daggers. These days, though, my purchases are limited to kitchen knives. Over the years, S and I have amassed what I consider a pretty nifty collection. At last count, we have well over a dozen gorgeous chef’s knives. My personal favourites among them include a Masahiro Deba, a Kasumi, a Wusthof Classic with an exceptionally wide blade, a Chroma Type 301, and a Wusthof Culinar.
Buying knives is easy. Maintaining them is not. A good knife, to be really useful when working with it in the kitchen, has to be razor sharp. The only problem is that, for the longest time, I was neither confident nor sure how to properly sharpen my knives. Part of me feared that if I tried and somehow did something wrong, I’d ruin my precious tools. I do own one of those fancy-shmancy Global sharpeners, the kind which sits on the table and has litle grooves for you to run your knife through. But I’ve never really felt that it works properly. I also own a Global wetstone, but, as said, I’ve been too nervous about screwing up an expensive tool to acually use it. For the longest time, S has been sending my knives out to be professionally sharpened.
Fortunately, a very kind and very skilled new friend (I’ll call him Knife-Sensei David) spent a good chunk of a recent afternoon walking S and me through a knife sharpening class. The first thing we had to understand, Sensei David told us, was our knives themselves. German knives and Japanese knives are quite different. German knives are two-sided and each side is ground at a 20 degree angle. Traditional Japanese knives are only one sided and the angle is sharper, at 15 degrees. Modern Japanese knifemakers are also making double-edged blades now. These are also ground at around 15 degrees. But what does all this mean? Basically, the more acute the angle, the sharper your knife can be. A straight razor, for example, is ground at a 10 degree angle. However, the sharper the angle is, the thinner the blade becomes. And for a chef’s knife, a thin blade is only useful if it won’t break. The strength of the metal in a blade is measured by something called Rockwell Hardness. Most German blades measure between 55-58 while most Japanese blades measure between 59-60. The steel used in most Japanese knives are thus stronger, which is why they can be ground to a finer angle, i.e. thinner, (and are often made single-sided) without fear of becoming brittle.
Once we understood this, Sensei David then walked us through his 4 important points of knife sharpening. They are (1) angle, (2) abrasives , (3) technique, and (4) control.
Angle: Basically, he explained, as long as you understand that knife blades are sharpened along an acute angle ranging from 15-20 degrees, what actual angle you use to sharpen your own knives doesn’t really matter as long as you are consistent and stay within this range. For a quick check to ensure that you are somewhere on the right path, he advises holding the knife at a 90 degree angle, halving that to form a 45 degree angle, and then finally halving that again. You can then adjust according to your own preference.
Abrasives: Sensei David advocates using a wetstone. He advises to soak the stone in water for 5-10 minutes before use and to always let it dry properly afterwards. Wetstones are graded according to how rough and smooth they are. They can start as low as 200 and go all the way up to 10,000 (the higher the number, the smoother the surface). Stones graded between 200 – 1,000 are considered cutting stones. Those graded over 1,000 are for polishing and honing. Essentially, what stone you use is determined by how sharp or blunt your knife is. Start with a cutting stone. If your knife is dreadfully dull, you’ll need a very abrasive (low-numbered) stone, like a 400. If it’s already quite sharp, you could start with a 1,000. Polishing stones are used later to hone the edge of your knife as well as to create gorgeous, shiny edges on your blade. Most people, Sensei David suggests, will be thrilled with the polish from a 4,000 level stone. “Only kitchen samurais who want super-sharp, super-shiny knives use 10,000,” he said.
Technique: It’s better to sharpen your knives with a large stone. You’ll want one with a wide surface area so that you can draw all of the knife’s edge along the stone in one motion. Gripping the handle of your knife with one hand, get it into your desired angle along your stone. Place three fingers of the other hand on the flat of the blade near the tip. Start at the top left corner (if you are right-handed) and and run the blade along the stone towards the near right corner. Go back and forth in a consistent motion, sharpening only one side of the knife. Every so often, check the blade. You stop only when you can feel a burr running down the total length of the edge of the blade, on the side that you were not sharpening. When you feel this, stop, flip the blade and sharpen the other side the same way until you feel a fine burr. Sensei David said to us, “the burr is your friend, it is how you know your knife is sharp.” Then use a polishing stone to hone your knife. Holding it the same way, run the blade back and forth on both sides until the edge is smooth and gleaming.
Control: As in anything that requires technique, control is everything. You need to be consistent. The good thing is, according to Sensei David, that despite what you may believe, you really can’t ruin a good quality knife by botching up the sharpening process.
Once your knives are properly sharpened, you won’t need to sharpen them every day. Only professional chefs, who have to cut through endless produce every day, need to do that. Home chefs should, though, hone their blades with a few quick sweeps against a straightening steel (the ceramic vesions work equally well) each time they want to use one.
(Phew. Talk about long-winded posts.) Hopefully, this has helped you all a little. Or maybe you knew all this and I was the only moron out there who was spending a lot of money buying fancy knives without knowing how to take care of them properly. Thanks to Sensei David, I now understand how to sharpen these gorgeous babies myself. (So does S, which is great because hopefully she’ll feel motivated to shapen them for me.)
If, however, you still want to get your knives professionally sharpened (and you live in Singapore), feel free to call David’s company, Razor Sharp, any time. They can make your knives look like new and cut through paper as if it was air. I’ve been amazed at how finely-edged some of my knives have been after a visit to his office. And, because David knows I love it when the edges are super-shiny, he gives this fat foodie the kitchen-samurai special, honing my knives with a 10,000 graded stone.
315 Outram Road
#01-03 Tan Boon Liat Building
Tel: 6227 7515
S and I had a wonderful time in Vienna. We ate, shopped, drank copious amounts of coffee (einspanners, melanges, kleiners, you name it), ate multiple varieties of cake, and drank fantastic local wine and beer. Instead of recounting our exploits chronologically, I’ve decided it would be easier and potentially more useful to write a simple guide to the Austrian capital, based on our experiences. Thus, the below is by no means in-depth or meant to be the “guide to beat all guides”; it just represents the places that we loved visiting. I’ve also, given the food focus of this blog, left out descriptions of the various museums, galleries and other cultural institutions that we went to. These–especially the MQ (MuseumsQuartier) and the newly renovated Mozarthaus–were excellent and not to be missed. But you can find info on those places somewhere else.
Places to sleep:
Fans of uber-designer hotels will love Style. It’s sleek, modern and ultra hip. The lobby and the rooms are plushly decorated with a warm cream and brown palette, perfectly accented with striking red touches. The rooms are incredibly comfortable and there’s wireless Internet throughout the hotel–vital for today’s travelers. The lobby bar is always hopping and the minibar’s contents are complimentary (i.e. the cost has been included in your room rate). The hotel is also perfectly located, sitting opposite Café Central and just 2 minutes from the Graben, one of the city’s main pedestrian shopping streets (which leads directly to St Stephen’s). Unfortunately, rooms here are pricey and the staff are less than “with it.” In fact, some times they were quite unhelpful, which to me far overshadowed the great location and stylish rooms.
12 Herrengasse, 1st
Tel: 227 800
I’m a new and loyal fan of Hotel Altstadt. This 4 star pension, just a few minutes walk from the MQ, is housed in an old 18th Century building–formally an aristocratic home. Owner Otto Wiesenthal has decorated the hotel’s finely restored interiors with a tasteful selection of contemporary art and plush, comfortable and chic retro furniture. We walked in without reservations (having decided that the other hotel we were checked into–the Viennart–was just plain vile) and asked if there were rooms available and if we might have a quick walkthrough. Petra, the reception staff on duty that morning, was fantastic. Charming, warm, and enthusiastic, she gave us a short tour and offered us a great rate. Our room was large and comfortable, with a big, red leather club chair, a comfy double bed, and some cute vintage furniture. There’s also free wireless Internet access here. Breakfast at the hotel (included) was delicious, as was the daily afternoon tea and cake spread (also included). Most importantly, all the staff, young, attractive and charming women, were perfect. This is a hotel I plan on staying at again and would recommend to any friend.
41 Kirchengasse, 7th
Tel: 526 33 99
Places to eat:
Warm milk with bitter chocolate, orange and ginger
Helmut Osterreicher, the chef that made Steirereck Vienna’s most celebrated restaurant, may have left, but with chef Heinz Reitbauer (son of the restaurant’s owner) at the helm, who cares! Chef Reitbauer’s food is gorgeous, better than anything I’ve eaten in a long time and worthy of more than just one Michelin star. In fact, I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say that the dishes there with S were much better than what I ate at Gordon Ramsay in London (which has 3 Michelin stars) last year. The food was perfectly executed, complex yet well-balanced, intelligent, sophisticated, light and delicious. S and I both had 5 course menus. Of course, before menu options are even presented, deft waiters have already presented 3 small tasting portions to wake up and excite the taste buds. My first 2 courses, from the ordered menu, and my dessert were especially inspired. The first course was called Suckling-Pig-Ham & Egg Yolk (a square of gelatinised ham sauce with an egg yolk in the middle served with parsley-spinach and suckling-pig-ham); the second was simply called Trout “Blue” (lovely filet of trout poached in bouillon in a jar with various local herbs). The dessert was Rhubarb & Lemon-Melissa (marinated and cooked rhubarb with lemon-melissa cream, strawberries and cereal crisps). My other two courses were a filet of St. Pierre with pumpkin seed-spinach, sandwiched between thinly sliced white and brown bread and a roasted filet of milk calf with almond-honey shallots. I should also mention one of S’s courses that was surprisingly delicious, a goose liver praline with rose flower-chocolate, lychees and green pepper. We enjoyed our dinner with a lovely bottle of Alzinger (a local, cult Wachau winemaker) Riesling. Steirereck’s location, in one of the city’s most beautiful parks, is also stunning. The only thing, in my opinion, holding it back from 3 Michelin stars is its service, which while good was not amazing.
Am Heumarkt 2A im Stadtpark, 3rd
Tel: 713 31 68
On the back side of Steirereck, there’s the cutest little café-restaurant. Meierei specializes in milk and cheese, specifically farm fresh milk and Austrian cheeses. The restaurant opens up onto a lovely view of the Stadtpark, and its big, glass, sliding doors are kept open during warm weather–making it the perfect place for lunch. The range of milks is interesting, everything from fresh cow’s milks to sheep’s and goat’s milks. Even soy milks and coconut milk. The one pictured above is a cow’s milk served warm with bitter chocolate, orange and ginger. The 60+ cheeses available here are fantastic. And each is served with a small piece of paper with a typed description. While I had a sampler of Austrian cheeses, S had their “Cheese Duel”, a plate of 4 top French cheeses matched against 4 top Austrian cheeses. In addition to the cheese selection, Meierei also serves some simple Viennese fare. Dessert addicts will want to get a table a little before 2pm, because at 2pm, 2 freshly baked apple strudels are brought out, still warm from the oven. The day we were there, all slices were snapped up in less than 10 minutes.
Am Heumarkt 2A im Stadtpark, 3rd
Tel: 713 31 68
Osterreicher Gashaus & Bar
Osterreicher, helmed by famed chef Helmut Osterreicher and located in the MAK (the museum of applied arts), has been open for a little under 2 months. It’s also THE restaurant of the moment in Vienna and, according to friends, the toughest reservation to get in town. Built in a large extension of this century old building, the restaurant and adjoining bar are stunningly designed. While preserving the historical beauty of the room, modern furnishings and fixtures–like a truly amazing glass-bottle chandelier–have been introduced. Old meets new on the plate as well as in the interiors. Osterreicher’s menu is divided into two halves. One the left, patrons are offered traditional Viennese dishes. On the right are Osterreicher’s modern reinterpretations. The food is good. It’s very simply plated and very fresh. It’s nothing as fancy as the food at Osterreicher’s previous restaurant, but this new place is not meant to be fancy. It’s meant to be the kind of place you might drop by a couple times a week, for a drink and a bite.
5 Stubenring, 1st
Tel: 714 01 21
Plachutta is Vienna’s most famous Tafelspitz specialist. Tafelspitz, for the uninitiated, is a traditional Austrian dish of slices of beef boiled in bouillon and root vegetables, served with fried potatoes, a horseradish sauce, an apple sauce and a variety of side dishes like creamed spinach. Traditional Tafelspitz uses aitch bone of beef but the restaurant also offers at least a half dozen other cuts to choose from. While touristy, a visit here is a must and the specialty is surprisingly delicious. There are now a couple branches of this very popular restaurant, but the one to eat in is the first branch, on Wollzeile. The restaurant is packed and noisy. And it’s essential to book a table.
38 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 512 15 77
S and I had read that Figlmuller, just off Wollzeile and near St Stephen’s, was THE place to eat Wiener Schnitzel. They have two branches, an older, tiny place brimming with ambience and a larger, less charming space. We chose to go to the smaller, older branch. Which meant, since we arrived without reservations, a long wait. The schnitzel here is pretty good, pounded thin and served in giant-sized portions; each serving is so large it dangles over all sides of the plate. The service, however, is surly.
5 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 512 61 77
Zu den Zwei Lieseln
This tiny, humble little hole in the wall owned by two sisters, just a short walk from the MQ, is also known for its schnitzel. And I have to say that if I were to pick between Figlmuller and Zu den Zwei Lieseln, I’d pick the latter without hesitation. While nowhere near as charmingly furnished, the schnitzel served here is simply better. It’s thicker, juicier and tastier. And cheaper.
63 Burggasse, 7th
Tel: 523 32 82
S and I had read about Una in the Time Out Guide to Vienna. The review said that it had “the best address in the Museumsquartier” and described its gorgeous vaulted ceiling, “clad in Turkish tiles.” But the review didn’t say that much about the food. Fortunately for us, we met Chef Una’s mother (Henny Abraham, see “Where to shop” below) who offered to make a reservation for us. And I’m extremely glad that we accepted. This trendy, crowded and delightful restaurant serves up some delicious modern Viennese/European cuisine. S and I shared a lovely round of burrata with braised vine-ripened tomatoes and basil. I then had a calf schnitzel stuffed with fresh mushrooms and served with a truffled potato gratin. S had a gorgeous plate of chicken thigh and leg braised in a local vinegar-based sauce and served with polenta. Everything was excellent.
1 Museumsplatz, 7th
Tel: 523 65 66
UPDATE 9 MAY 2008: Una has moved. Here is the new address:
Restaurant Una Abraham
Tel 01 526 90 53
from 5-12 p.m.
The Naschmarkt is Vienna’s main food and produce market. It’s a must-visit for every foodie. It’s basically organized along two long paths, with food and produce purveyors lining the longer one and cafés lining the other. Upon entering Nashmarkt from the north, directly on the left, there’s a small seafood café with both indoor and outdoor seating. Given how bountiful the produce is here, it comes as no surprise that the seafood served here is amazingly fresh. On a warm day, Calamari is, in our opinion, the best place in the Nashmarkt to sit and have some Prosecco and seafood. In S’s case, that meant an open-faced salmon sandwich and a half dozen fin de claire oysters. For me, that meant a half dozen of the most beautifully plump scallops, covered in butter, herbs and garlic and grilled to perfection.
This tiny little gem of a shop off the Graben has been serving up perfect open-faced, egg-based sandwiches for generations. Each little sandwich costs Euro 0.80 and all 21 varieties are delicious. You can buy them over the main counter and eat at one of the few tables or standing counters or have the staff pack them for you in delightfully utilitarian boxes. This is a must-visit.
1 Dorotheergasse, 1st
Tel: 512 32 91
My colleague and I wandered into this cute little Greek restaurant located near Karlsplatz because she was having some serious Mousaka cravings. And I’m glad we did. The food here was great. I had a delicious spinakopita followed by an equally delectable lamb souvlaki served with rice and salad. If you’re getting sick of Viennese food, this is the perfect place to go for a break.
6 Friedrichstrasse, 1st
Tel: 586 37 29
Places for coffee (and cake):
This is, despite the high prices and the hordes of tourists, obviously a must-visit. Because I had raved about Sacher Torte to S for years, it was especially necessary for us to go. Fortunately, the Sacher Torte lived up to its reputation and S finally understood my predilection for this sweet chocolate cake. By comparison, neither of us liked the one served at Demel.
Tel: 514 56
I’ve always loved Café Central. When I was a cheap student back in ’94, I would go there, order one coffee and sit for hours. These days, I can afford a coffee and a slice of cake. It’s a wonderful place to sit for a while and soak up atmosphere. It’s nice that this café is still frequented by the Viennese as much as it is by visitors. The decor is simply beautiful, with ribbed vaulting, columns, marble, wrought-iron chandeliers and plush banquette seating.
Corner of Herrengasse and Strauchgasse, 1st
Tel: 533 37 63 26
This dark, smoky café oozes charm and character. Stepping in here is like wandering back in time, to a day when intellectuals would spend their days arguing politics over cups of coffees and cigarettes. Visit the café during the day for a shot of coffee and then come back at night, a little after 10pm, when the buchten (delicious cakes) are seved fresh from the oven.
6 Dorotheergasse, 1st
Tel: 512 82 30
Where to Shop:
Silver cutlery with mother of pearl handles
Henny runs a lovely antique and fabric store on Shliefmuhlgasse, a street near the Nashmarkt that has become increasingly trendy. While she stocks a gorgeous assortment of hand-printed kimonos, it was the display case of antiques near the back of her shop that caught our eye. In it, we found some gorgeous items, including the above pictured 19th Century British cutlery set. I knew that the moment S saw these gorgeous dessert forks and knives, with their mother of pearl handles, she’d want to take them home.
13 Schliefmulgasse, 4th
Tel: 513 79 61
Coffee machine lovers have got to check out this cute store. Among the brands they stock, they carry a great range of Isomacs and Illy machines. They also sell a good range of coffee.
27 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 512 94 23
Wiener Silberschmiede Werkstatte
Last year, a courageous German woman named Christa Berghaus-Fölster decided to do something pretty amazing. She bought a company with roots stretching back to 1883. It is Vienna’s last surviving silversmith and silverware manufacturer. In the early 20th century, Vienna produced some amazing silver pieces. But over the decades, most of these silverware manufactures closed down. Christa is devoting her time (and money) to revitalizing this amazing craft. Having gone through the company’s archives, not only has she found blueprints for beautiful silverware and cutlery, but also a small number of actual vintage pieces. She’s been using these historical references to produce brand-new all silver pieces, handmade and cold stamped. The work is stunning. Some of these pieces can be traced back to royal and aristocratic families; others are linked to famous designers who had worked with the manufacture. The pieces, I have to say, are very expensive, but given the quality and historical properties, very much worth the prices asked for. Christa is also open to custom orders. This is, for any silverware freak, like S, a must-visit.
14 Spiegelgasse, 1st
Tel: 513 67 51
Earrings from Reisch
This cute little store, sandwiched in the antique store district, sells wonderfully modern women’s accessories, most of which have been cast in hard plastic, designed by Viennese designer Barbara Reisch. She’s crafted some gorgeous and witty necklaces, earrings, bags and other items that female fashionistas will surely drool over. The prices are also reasonable so this is a good place to shop for a nice gift for that special someone.
4 Stallburggasse, 1st
Tel: 533 20 64
Vinothek St Stephan
Despite being located smack in the middle of the tourist district, this little wine shop offers fantastic service and great prices. Ask the charming Claudia to recommend some local wines to buy and bring home. I recommend especially the Wachau Rieslings.
6 Stephansplatz, 1st
Tel: 512 68 58
Chocolate fans should make their way to the Vienna outpost of this Salzburgian chocolate maker. All their chocolates are handmade and are sinfully delicious. Especially recommended are their bars, available in a huge assortment of flavors. As you can imagine, S grabbed several to try. I like best their orange flavored milk chocolate. It has none of the artificiality that so many other flavored chocolates have. We were told at the store that the manufacture uses only freshly squeezed orange juice. I also really liked their strawberry chocolate.
22 Wollzeile, 1st
Tel: 513 70 62
While this vinegar producer is based in the 10th district, we visited its small stall in the Naschmarkt. This family owned company sells a great variety of handmade vinegars, flavored oils, wine, juices and mustards. We especially liked the drinking vinegars and the pumpkinseed oil, a Viennese specialty.
3 Waldgasse, 10th
Poehl am Naschmarkt
This cute and (especially on Saturdays) crowded store in the Naschmarkt has a fantastic range of Viennese produce, from meats to preserves, wines, juices and chocolates. Ask Johannes, the charming proprietor, for recommendations and you won’t go wrong.
Stand 167, Nashmarkt, 4th
Tel: 586 04 04
Babette’s, named after the fantastic food film Babette’s Feast, is a wonderful little cookbook bookstore just a short walk from the Naschmarkt. In addition to the great range of books, there’s a small counter which serves snacks, soups and whatever else the owners feel inspired to make each day.
17 Schliefmuhlgasse, 4th
Tel: 585 51 65
Meinl am Graben
Meinl started life as a coffee bar. Now it’s a major gourmet purveyor as well as a huge financial institution (with even its own bank). This glorious, shining multi-storey temple of gastronomy with a fantastic location on the Graben is the ultimate Viennese gourmet’s paradise. There’s a café, an uber-chic and very expensive restaurant, a wine bar, a sushi bar, and a supermarket stocking over 13,000 products from all over the world. This is a great place to spend an hour exploring.
19 Graben, 1st
Tel: 532 33 34
S went nuts in this shop. Located just around the corner from Café Central, in the Freyung Passage, is this great little store that stocks chocolates from all over the world. You can get artisanal chocolates, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and a number of other delicious chocolate products here. Come to stock up on those hard-to-find brands that you’ve always wanted to taste.
2 Freyung, Palais Ferstel, 1st
Tel: 535 43 63
2nd Annual Independent Food Festival Awards:
Best Hand Crafted Virgin Soy Sauce in Southeast Asia
Many thanks to Hillel from Taste Everything for once again organizing the Annual Independent Food Festival Awards. This unique web-based Festival asks participating bloggers to come up with an award to present to a person or organization creating exceptional food. My award is for a soy sauce manufacturer that produces the best-tasting soy sauce I’ve ever tried. More importantly, they make it by hand.
I never knew that soy sauce could be special until I visited Penang in 2001. My wife S and I spent a few days there while working on a book we were putting together on Malaysian and Singaporean food. While there, we were lucky enough to be taken around by two charming women, cousins and local food experts. We followed them around the island as they took us to cafés, restaurants, hawker stalls, a durian plantation, and several markets.
At the edges of one of these markets, we came across a curious sight. Dozens of large vats, filled to the brim with a dark liquid and what looked like crushed beans, covered a large vacant lot. As we got closer, the smell was overpowering. The air smelled toasty, salty and slightly yeasty. Opposite the lot was a small one room, open-air store. It was manned by an old man and his wife. Our feisty and energetic tour guides were regular patrons and quickly introduced the couple to us.
The couple, they explained, were part of a dying tradition, that of making soy sauce by hand, with no extra ingredients, unwanted additives or preservatives. They make their sauce the same way that it had been made for generations before them but which, sadly, is becoming more and more rare today.
This traditional method for making Chinese soy sauce uses cooked soybeans, wheat flour and sometimes a powdered starter from a wheat-flour based mold block. This is mixed with salt water and left to sit in large earthenware pots or vats. The vats are then left outdoors, open during the day (positioned under the sun) and covered at night. This is stirred once or twice a day. The warmth from sunning accelerates the fermentation and enhances the sauce’s color and aroma. After about 3-6 months, a slender strainer or sieve made of woven bamboo (sometimes wrapped with a course cloth) is pushed down into the surface of the fermented mash; the liquid soy sauce that is collected in it is ladled or siphoned off into smaller earthen jars, covered with cloth and bamboo leaves, placed in the sun for about 2 more weeks. This resulting sauce, bottled without being heated or pasteurized, is considered the very best soy sauce, i.e. “first grade”. European food fans can consider this the equivalent of extra virgin olive oil.
Meanwhile, more salt water is added to the original vats and fermented for another 1-2 months before a second drawing. This method of drawing might be repeated a total of 3-4 times, with each drawing representing a lower grade of soy sauce. All of these soy sauces, I should point out, are what people are speaking of when they refer to “light soy sauce”. Dark soy sauce, which is both darker and thicker, is essentially light soy sauce mixed with caramel.
Our new friends and guides convinced us to buy several bottles of both light and dark soy sauce from Kilang Kicap Kwong Heng Loong. They especially recommended buying the first grade soy sauce, or “virgin soy sauce” as S and I have taken to calling it. Because we were rushing around all day, we didn’t have the time to taste the sauces when we bought them.
When we eventually did, we were astounded. The virgin soy sauce, especially, was really special. It was also nothing like all the factory-made commercial stuff that we’d been buying and using for most of our life. Where most supermarket soy sauces are simply salty, this hand-crafted sauce had depth. It also had a distinct and delicious flavor. The level of salt was strong, but not overpoweringly so. More importantly, we could taste the flavor of the soy beans, something that I had never gotten from factory-made sauces.
Since having discovered Kilang Kicap Kwong Heng Loong, we’ve become hooked. We now make any friend who visits Penang pick us up a few bottles, always encouraging them to buy a few for themselves of course. Right now, however, we’re down to our very last bottle–and it’s a bottle of dark soy sauce as well. Which means that unless someone we know is heading to Georgetown, I might have to make a special trip to Penang really soon. Not that I’d mind; Penang, as many know, has some of the very best hawker food in both Malaysia and Singapore.
Kilang Kicap Kwong Heng Loong
No 7A, Jalan Pasar
Pulau Tikus, Penang, Malaysia