Birthday meals

Sometimes you have to be in the mood to write. Unfortunately, I haven’t really been in that mood for a week or so, which explains why this blog hasn’t been updated for a while. For that, I apologize. Fortunately, a lack of eagerness to tap on my keyboard hasn’t reduced my appetite. (It did mean, much to the pleasure of my wife S and other dining companions, that my camera stayed home when we did eat out.)

I celebrated a birthday early last week. As you might expect of a greedy guy like me, birthdays translate into a slew of yummy meals. The first among these was Sunday brunch at Au Jardin Les Amis, a beautiful French restaurant in a “black & white” colonial bungalow in the Botanic Gardens. Brunch was hosted by two wonderful friends and fellow gourmands, B and V. When they invited us to Au Jardin, I grilled S, asking her again and again if the invitation was authentic. I did this because last year, another friend had invited me to the same restaurant for a Sunday birthday brunch. He told us he’d swing by and pick us up so that I wouldn’t have to drive (meaning I could quaff all the Champagne I wanted). I love the Au Jardin brunch; I believe it’s the best Sunday brunch in Singapore. I’m not usually a huge fan of buffets. I’ve never been particularly taken with the enormous Sunday spreads at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons or Grand Hyatt. Au Jardin’s brunch includes a light appetizer buffet, a la carte eggs (the egg cocotte with foie gras and truffles is the one to order), an a la carte main course, an a la carte dessert, and some additional desserts at the buffet. To me, it’s the perfect indulgent brunch. But it’s not cheap, and it’s not the kind of thing anyone can eat often. Anyway, back to last year. I hadn’t been to Au Jardin for a few months so I was really excited to have brunch there. Really, really excited. So, when the doorbell rang, I quickly opened the door ready to fly out of the house with S. Instead, I was confronted with a group of 8 friends, carrying buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food edibles, meant of course for the surprise Birthday potluck that S and that dastardly friend had engineered. My immediate reaction–much to S’s horror–was to close the door. Of course, a few seconds later, I opened it again and grinned my way through the afternoon, but deep down I felt conned. I was so looking forward to an afternoon of elegant service, good Champagne, the gorgeous setting of the restaurant, perfectly cooked eggs and great French food, that despite the fact that I love my friends, I was let down and made S promise to never again throw me a surprise party (unless that surprise involves taking me to Le Cinq in Paris). So when B and V made the same invitation this year, I was excited but wary. I also realized that we hadn’t been for over a year–not since before my birthday last year. Anyway, we did go and it was lovely. We had a bottle of Bruno Paillard Champagne and another bottle of a sweet and tasty Riesling with our food. Amusingly, all 4 of us picked the same menu: egg cocotte, slow-cooked pork belly, and confit of white peaches. It was, to put it plainly, well worth the wait.

My next celebratory meal was actually the same night. My parents had asked me to choose a restaurant to celebrate in; I chose to go to one of Singapore’s top Indian restaurants, Rang Mahal, located in the Pan Pacific Hotel. Rang Mahal is a ridiculously expensive, chic, dark and elegant space that serves amazing, modern Northern Indian food. S and I rarely come here for dinner because the price to us is a tad prohibitive (the lunch buffet is a tad more reasonable). So I was very much looking forward to devouring some yummy curries. As said, the food here is excellent. Unfortunately, that evening, the waiter who took our order was the complete opposite. In fact, by the end of the evening, I was really pissed off at him. Le me explain. While ordering, the waiter kept insisting that his portions were really small and that we needed to order two of everything. I must have asked him at least 4 or 5 times if he was sure we weren’t ordering too much food. He kept right on saying, “No, no, you need all this or it won’t be enough.” As you can imagine, we had way too much food. The 7 of us ate until we were all ready to burst and we still left more than 1/3 of the food untouched. Which at the prices that Rang Mahal charges came to way too many wasted dollars. We had tandoori chicken; prawns stuffed with crabmeat; grilled baby lamb chops; the most beautifully roasted (I think) lobster; dhal; saag paneer; saag with baby corn and mushrooms; Goan fish curry; and lamb curry. The lobster was breathtaking. The Goan fish curry was also a winner. But the prices and the way we got conned into ordering more than we needed were not.

On my actual birthday, S and I enjoyed a quiet dinner alone at my favorite Chinese restaurant in town, Hu Cui. Hu Cui is a sleek Shanghainese Crystal Jade restaurant on the second floor of Ngee An City. I love Hu Cui’s modern Chinese and ultra-hip interiors. And I love the food even more. We sat in comfy leather armchairs at a cute little table for two in the back part of the restaurant. I like this area. It was originally meant to be a hip wine bar for the restaurant. Unfortunately, the bar never took off. There are 4 of these little tables with armchairs, all in a row along the window. We ordered some of my favorite dishes: xiao long bao (of course); river shrimp sauteed with a salted duck egg yolk sauce; crab roe and bean curd sheets; braised pork belly with mantou; braised cabbage with oyster sauce. We hadn’t been to Hu Cui for a while, so I had forgotten just how good the food was. I almost fell off my chair when I tasted the shrimp and the crab roe dishes again for the first time in a long time.

Later in the week, S and I had dinner with a big group of friends. Only a few of them knew my birthday had just come and gone, so it was less of a celebration than it was a fun get together. We ate at Wild Rocket. S had arranged a set menu with Chef Willin Low, something we felt was safer given that the restaurant was still less than a week old. The food was good but the service was a tad sloppy, mostly because the place was packed. We had a mushroom cappuccino, followed by a pasta with a laksa lobster bisque sauce and the choice of either a steak or a baked cod (I had the cod). This was concluded with Willin’s yummy cheesecake.

It was so good in fact that one of our friends, a bubbly, sexy gal with a huge appetite, ordered herself a second portion. Here she is enjoying her second order, shot quickly with my camera-phone. It does look like she’s enjoying it, yah?

Finally, another friend took S and I out for a celebratory dinner on Saturday. I mentioned that I’ve never been a huge buffet fan. That’s true, but at the same time, I’ve been dying to try The Line, the Adam Tihany designed buffet restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel, since it opened. S had been; in fact, she had lunch with Anthony Bourdain when he was last in town. And she said it was surprisingly good. I’d seen it as well. It looked fun. All white and shiny with modern orange lights and video screens. So when asked where I wanted to go, I suggested we try The Line. Once seated, we ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and attacked the buffet. The stations are beautifully designed and all the staff at the restaurant surprisingly friendly and cheery. The food was good and the great attitudes of the staff made the meal that much better. I specifically enjoyed the fresh oysters from the seafood bar, the California handrolls from the sushi bar, the baked tortellini with ham in cream sauce, the a la minute roti prata, the laksa and the Cantonese roast meats. Sadly, while they had a pretty sundae section, the vanilla ice cream was lousy. Overall, it was a fun night and I left slightly converted. The Line is one buffet that I wouldn’t mind returning to again.

Anyway, that’s the bulk of last week’s eating. I’m actually taking off to the UK (Cheltenham and London) and then Germany (Frankfurt) later this week for a work trip. I’m hoping to update while traveling so stay tuned.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!