&MADE, a new bistro by Bruno Ménard in Singapore

chilli crab toastoo at &Made

One of the best meals my gorgeous, foodie wife S and I have ever had was at L’Osier, the now closed three Michelin-starred French restaurant in Tokyo, helmed at the time by Chef Bruno Ménard. The food was original and perfectly executed. The room was warm, clubbish, buzzing, and filled with the laughter of happy patrons. Service was impeccable and memorable; at the end of the meal, umbrella-toting staff walked us around the block and helped us find a taxi. While we are sad that L’Osier has closed its doors, I’m thrilled that Chef Ménard now calls Singapore his home. Last week, we dropped by his newly opened sandwich and burger shop, &MADE. Continue Reading →

Sweltering days: a Pinot Grigio and a Rosé to cool off with

Up and coming white wine, Pinot Grigio.

Ah, Summer. The season of dressing light, ditching the covered shoes and bringing out the flip-flops. Hit the beach and bake the skin to a crisp brown. This may sound great for most people in the world but when you’re actually here in the midst of drowning humidity between 80 to 90 per cent and combined with average temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, it’s almost as if Singapore is a giant dim sum steamer. Continue Reading →

Brandon seeks out Singapore’s best set lunches: Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine

It’s no secret that Gunther’s, affiliated with Roberto Galetti’s Garibaldi group, is one of the best restaurants in town. The Miele Guide 2011/2012 ranked it the 14th best in Asia, and The Peak magazine recently gave it a nod for Outstanding Service. Five years after the restaurant first opened its doors—and five years after it was featured on this very website—people still rave about chef Gunther Hubrechsen’s flair, and the depth of his cuisine. My entire family swears by his cold angel-hair pasta with Oscietra caviar.

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Le Comptoir du Relais, a regular Parisian culinary pilgrimage point

Each time I am in Paris, I am torn between trying out a new restaurant (and thereby discovering a potential gem) or returning to one of my old favorites in the city. On my most recent trip in May, I decided to succumb to my old habits in a city I have come to know well. It was a bright and warm spring day when I arrived from Brussels in the late morning at the Gare du Nord train station. I headed straight for Le Comptoir du Relais bistro at the Hotel Relais Saint-Germain  on the left bank in the 6th Arrondissement and  got there shortly before noon. A small queue had already formed outside the door (the best thing about Le Comptoir is that no reservations are required on a Sunday. For weekday dinners, the waiting list can stretch for several months in advance). Luckily, I managed to get a table inside the small and cozy 24-seater bistro. There are also seats on the sidewalk but nothing beats the cosy intimacy of the bistro’s ambience inside. Continue Reading →

Family Food: Savoury Rosemary-Parmesan Mini Madeleines

Family Food: Savoury Rosemary Madeleines

This is one of those recipes that I reckon works for both papa and toddler. I’m constantly trying to find snacks for T (and CH) that aren’t packed with sugar. These savoury madeleines from Patricia Wells—inspired by Anne-Sophie Pic of the century-old Maison Pic in Valence, no less—fit the bill. They are an easy-to-make treat that T can’t get enough of.

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Julia Child’s braised goose with chestnut and sausage stuffing

On Christmas Eve last year, as we were picking up a prime rib at Huber’s for the lunch we were hosting the following day, I espied a goose in the poultry section. For some inexplicable reason, I decided that I had to have it and that at some point between Christmas and New Year’s, I would prepare a menu with goose as its centerpiece. Mind you, up to that point, I’d never cooked goose. I didn’t even have a recipe in mind. CH looked at me as if I was insane and must have put it down to jetlag. Nonetheless, accommodating as he usually is when it comes to matters of the belly, he made no objection as I hauled the just-under-5kilogram bird into our shopping basket.

Cooking the goose turned out to be an enterprise of epic proportions, but it was a delightful indulgence spread over a number of days which was well worth the effort. It is by no means a dish to be prepared on a whim (despite the fact that I acquired said bird on a whim). You need to have the luxury of time–especially if you plan on serving other dishes with it. I’d liken the process to reading War and Peace. Fortunately, I actually take great pleasure in wading through epic novels. (Keep Reading)

The Layover

1am: Stuck in line. Standing in the Air France customer service queue in Terminal 2F in Charles de Gaulle airport. The line’s not moving at all. Stuck on the runway in Italy for hours trying to get here and now I’m stuck in line. At first, I thought everything was going to be fine. The pilot had originally announced that Air France would try and get all of us onto our connecting flights. But when I asked a steward a little while later if our flight would be held for us, he gave me one of those “you-silly-little-man” looks that the French are so good at and said, “Mais non, you will have to spend the night in Paris.” S and I are with two other friends, B and V, who had also attended the wedding in Venice and whom are also trying to get home. Unlike us, they have to be at work on the following day. Thankfully, we’d closed our office until the new year.

2am: We’re all finally checking into the Ibis hotel at Charles de Gaulle Terminal 3. Took us forever to find the damned place. The Air France customer service guy said it was easy. Just go out the doors and take the CDGVAL, he said. I think he was just trying to get rid of us. Once through the doors, we spend the next twenty-five minutes looking for signs for the damned shuttle. While waiting for it, one of our friends said, “Hey, there’s also a Sheraton and a Hyatt Regency here. Why didn’t they put us up there?” My very tired wife S said it best, “Because the Ibis is cheap.” (Keep reading)

The Complete Robuchon

There are some cookbooks that you know, after just one use, that are going to be a keepers. And constant kitchen companions. You know what I mean. These are the books that, no matter how large your collection becomes, you keep going back to. Because they are dependable and inspiring and comforting all at the same time. The recipes always work and the results are always scrumptiously satisfying. These are books that almost always also cover all the bases, meaning that whether you’re looking for a blueprint for a quick and simple one dish meal or planning a multi-course extravaganza with which to wow your friends’ socks off, you’ll always be able to find something in their pages.

Some of these books might surprise you. I know that when I look back and try to pinpoint the oldest keeper in my collection (based on date of acquisition not publication), it’s The Harry’s Bar Cookbook. My very first cookbook, that I still own, was Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook. And while it was a fabulous book for a then vegetarian Sophomore in university, it has probably been at least half a decade since I have wanted to cook anything from it. The Harry’s Bar Cookbook was my second cookbook, purchased in 1993. It’s a book I still use, as recently as this past weekend. Of course, what is a keeper to me may not be to you. The books I love most might seem trite and uninspiring to you. And I might find your favourites to be interesting but not works that I’d ever think about saving from a burning building. (Keep reading)

Sunday roast and chocolate cake

Whenever a friend who we know is a pretty darned good cook calls us and invites us over for a meal, we’re usually pretty excited. When that friend is more than just “good” — when she’s taught cooking classes in Europe, comes from a family of restaurateurs, and most recently worked on Anne Willan’s The Country Cooking of France — we get ridiculously giddy.

Our good friend V moved back to Singapore a couple of years ago. Since then, she’s been thrilling us and over-feeding us with a slew of delicious meals and dishes. (Sadly though, ever since she’s come back to the Lion City, she’s been a tad delinquent on updating her blog, A Life in Food.) Last week, V called us and said a couple of magic words, specifically, “Easter lunch” and “roast leg of lamb”. Well, that’s all I needed to hear. Nothing could have kept me from that meal.

The lunch was everything I knew it would be. V pulled out all the stops. She whipped up a sloppy, sumptuous gratin dauphinois; a perfectly roasted leg of lamb with salsa verde; baked her own ham; prepared a humongous bowl of peas; mixed up a super-yummy vegetable and feta orzo salad; and put together a mean cheese plate. To follow all this, she served a lemon tart and a sinfully rich and gooey chocolate-raspberry cake.

The meal was fabulous. I pigged out on the lamb, ham and potatoes. When it came time to serve the cakes, everyone crowded around the table, eagerly jostling for a piece of the “gateau cocoframboise”. (Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera with me, so the pictures that accompany this post were taken with my Nokia e61i.) The great food, good wine, and cool company made this past Easter’s feast one of the best I’ve ever enjoyed.

I’ve asked V to do me a favour and share two of her recipes. I’m running them below, as written by her. I hope you enjoy making them as much as I enjoyed eating the resulting dishes.

Easter Recipes by V

Roast leg of lamb with salsa verde
Serves 8 normal people (or 4 greedy ones!)

Lamb is a fairly traditional Easter meal, but I like it with an Italian twist. The Salsa Verde really adds a lot of flavour as both a marinade and a sauce and is extremely versatile. I sometimes add mustard, chopped cornichons and/or other herbs (fresh coriander or basil are good ones). And any leftovers can be used for poached or grilled fish or chicken. You can keep it in a jar in the fridge for a week or more.

Salsa verde
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 handfuls of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
6 green onions, finely chopped
1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup salted capers, soaked in cold water 30 minutes, chopped
3 or 4 fillets of anchovies, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

1 2kg boneless leg of lamb, butterflied, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt

Stir the salsa verde ingredients in large bowl. Taste and see if you want to add any more of anything; like most things in cooking, it’s all very personal. Place lamb on a tray, smooth-side down. Season the lamb with salt and pepper, then garlic. Massage 1/4 cup salsa verde into lamb (lucky lamb!). Roll up the lamb. Using kitchen string, tie the lamb every 2-inches in order to hold it together. Bear in mind this can be a slippery process and prepare to get a bit messy. Ideally you have a kitchen slave on hand to cut you bits of string. Or you could be super organised and have all the string you need cut beforehand. I have/am neither so messy it is.

Preheat oven to 220°C/450°F. Place lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for about 30 minutes then lower the oven temp to 170°C/350°F and add about an inch of water to make sure the lamb doesn’t burn (this also makes yummy pan juices). Continue cooking until thermometer inserted into thickest part of lamb registers 60°C/120°F for medium-rare, another 45 minutes or so.

Serve to happy friends.

Gâteau CocoFramboise (based on a Nigella recipe)

This cake is a fine example of a marriage made in heaven; chocolate and raspberries. The texture is what I would call a bit sludgy, in the best possible sense. Don’t worry that the batter seems too runny, the oven will sort it out and that’s what gives the cake its lovely gooeyness. And please, please, please use the best chocolate you can get your hands on. In my kitchen, that means Valrhona.

40g cocoa powder
200g self-raising flour
250g butter, cut into small pieces
100g dark muscovado sugar
100g golden caster sugar
300g dark chocolate, chopped
350g of water mixed with 2 teaspoons of instant expresso
2 eggs, at room temperature
350g frozen raspberries, well thawed

To serve
2 punnets of fresh raspberries
crème fraîche, quantity at your discretion

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F. Lightly butter a 9in/24cm cake pan (I use a silicone one). Combine the cocoa and flour in a bowl, whisk vigourously to remove any lumps and set to one side. In a pan over low heat, mix the next 5 ingredients (butter through expresso) together until smooth. Add this mixture to the cocoa and flour, mixing well. Then add the eggs, again mixing well. Pour half of the batter into the cake pan, then cover with the frozen thawed raspberries. Add the remaining batter and put into the oven for about 30-40 minutes, turning the cake around half way through. The best way to tell if this cake is cooked is to look at the top. If it is cracked and a bit firm, she’s good to go. Don’t try the normal skewer test with this one as the desirably sludgy factor will yield a very dirty skewer. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a rack for about half an hour.

Turn the cake out carefully onto a platter and dust with icing sugar. Best to eat this whilst warm and gooey with the fresh raspberries and crème fraîche dolloped on generously. Long live sludge!

Fave recipes: Lentils a la Balthazar

lentils2.jpg

I remember when Keith McNally opened Balthazar. It was the Spring of 1997. And even though I was no longer living in New York, word of this ultra-hip, retro-chic, uber-trendy and neo-traditional French bistro reached me in Hong Kong. The NY press went wild over SoHo’s hottest new restaurant, dedicating several column inches to cover its opening. Several friends also emailed me, telling me about it while also very slyly asking if, perhaps, I had or knew anyone who had Balthazar’s secret reservation phone number. You see, when this very sexy bistro first opened, they had an interesting reservations policy. Basically, as far as the public knew, they didn’t have one. Which meant, given the typical New York frenzy among punters to be among the first to try any new restaurant, you could end up waiting from around 1-2 hours for a table. Fortunately, the bar was long and the drinks good, so waiting for your table also meant getting sloshed while also chatting up fellow patrons. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Now, here’s the kicker. Balthazar did indeed take reservations. But you had to have their very special reservation number, which was only given out to a handful of very carefully selected and cool people, and which most of these people guarded preciously. Armed with this number, you could call, get a table and then walk in without so much as a glance at the throngs of black-clad wannabes elbowing for space at the bar. (Of course, there was an amusing story in which one magazine Editor, who was given the number, decided to print it, which both caused a flood of calls and a forced change of the number… but that’s not my story to tell.)

Fortunately, thanks to some of my parents’ friends who were pretty well-known patrons (i.e. big-spenders) in the NY food scene, I did, in fact, have the phone number. But there was no way I was going to email it to friends unless I was going to be dining with them. Knowing them, they’d pass it around to anyone and everyone they knew. Fortunately, I had made plans to be back in the Big Apple that year and arranged with my buds–some of whom had sucked it up and waited in line for a table–to gather for a feast at Balthazar.

The restaurant blew me away (and still does). While not entirely authentic, it has cool, fantastical retro-French stylings akin to sets in Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge. It was glam, kitsch, sexy, retro, ultra-stylish, loud, crazy, mad, intimate and comforting all at the same time. And the food was good. Very good in fact. After just one meal (with lots and lots of wine), I was a fan. And I’ve tried, on every trip back to New York since, to grab at least one meal there or at its sister restaurant Pastis.

(On a random side note, when a good buddy of mine, who was helping to run the Raffles Hotel here in Singapore, asked me what the hotel should do with its Bar & Billiards Room, I told him immediately, “You should open an ultra-chic bistro just like Balthazar.” Sadly, he didn’t take my advice and opened a pretty blah buffet restaurant instead. But recently, I’ve heard rumours that the management is now considering converting the space into a bistro. If that’s true, I hope they go the Balthazar route and don’t opt for something cheesy and touristy.)

S and I both, in addition to loving the restaurant, also love The Balthazar Cookbook. It’s both a nifty souvenir of one of my favourite restaurants and also filled with good recipes for classic dishes. While we cook from the book frequently, the one item we make the most is a simple lentils side dish, which in the cookbook is prepared to go with a mustard-crusted salmon. We serve it with the salmon dish, of course, but we also serve it with a dozen other things, from roast chicken to lamb chops. It is a great, easy to make side has become something of a constant on our table. We hope you like it as much as we do.

Lentils
Adapted from The Balthazar Cookbook
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup lentils du Puy
2 slices of bacon, finely diced
4 sprigs of thyme
½ medium onion, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 cup chicken stock

Make sure that you prepare all the diced and minced items before you start cooking the lentils. You will need to cook them as the lentils simmer. We find that if we try to prep the ingredients while the lentils simmer, we tend to end up with overcooked lentils and undercooked vegetables. Feel free to ignore this tip if you move with the swiftness of Superman in the kitchen.

Rinse the lentils and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover the lentils with 4 cups of water. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan over a medium flame. Place the bacon and thyme in the hot pan and cook until some of the fat has rendered from the bacon (about 2 minutes). Next, add the onion, garlic and salt, and cook until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the butter, carrot, celery, white pepper and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Drain the lentils and return them to the saucepan you cooked them in. Add the bacon-vegetable mixture and simmer gently for 7 to 10 minutes, until the lentils are very tender. We often simmer the dish for a shorter period of time (about 5 minutes) and leave it to stand until we need to serve it. Just before serving, we simply heat the lentils. By slightly undercooking them earlier on, we avoid ending up with mushy lentils when we reheat the dish before serving it.