Gunther’s: grown-up food in a grown-up space

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New restaurants open all the time in a city as busy and buzzing as Singapore. Which means some open with greater fanfare than others. Some open quietly, with nary a whisper of publicity or media interest. Others open with a bang. And when a new restaurant is opened by a chef whose last efforts helped his former establishment get ranked among the world’s top 100 restaurants, everyone notices. The food writers for the two (main) papers of record here raced to see who could be the first to write about Gunther’s, dining not just during its first month of operations but on its very first night. The country’s Prime Minister has already taken his family to dine there, giving the restaurant an unofficial First Family stamp of approval.

Gunther’s, a joint collaboration from the talented and charming carrot-topped Belgian chef Gunther Hubrechsen and the very well-established Garibaldi Group of Restaurants, opened in Singapore on 1 August. After just one week of operations, this sleek 50-seater is fast on its way to establishing itself as one of the best and chicest French restaurants in town. Hubrechsen, as every foodie in the region already knows, was most recently in charge of the kitchens at Les Amis, which last year was ranked by Restaurant Magazine‘s annual survey as the world’s 83rd best restaurant. Before coming to Singapore, he spent 5 years working at Alain Passard’s famed L’Arpege, reaching the rank of sous-chef before his departure.

Hubrechsen’s food is light and subtle. It’s food that demonstrates restraint, maturity and a focus on the purity of good ingredients. It’s not the kind of food that leaves you feeling overstuffed and ready for bed; it teases, tantalizes and leaves you just a little hungry (and energetic enough) for other, equally satisfying and seductive nocturnal activities.

S and I have had the pleasure of dining twice at Gunther’s since it opened. We had lunch there last Sunday and dined with friends just a few days ago. While some have commented that the interiors are a tad too somber and plain for them, S and I really like the dark, urban and minimalist interiors. It’s a nice grown-up environment for very grown-up meals, which is always good to have. After all, not all restaurants have to be fun and bright and cheery. We also need nice, sleek spaces for business meals and romantic tete-a-tetes.

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Gunther’s currently offers, in addition to the a la carte menus, a set lunch at S$38 and a set tasting (dinner) menu at S$128. The latter is extremely good value (given both the high level of service here and the quality of the food). At present, the tasting menu consists of Gunther’s cold angel hair pasta with oscietra caviar; seared foie gras with crushed candied almonds; grilled Scottish bamboo clams; a choice of a cod dish or a braised veal cheek; and a lovely apple tart, served with vanilla ice cream. The angel hair pasta with caviar and the bamboo clams are stunners. Both are beautifully prepared dishes bursting with natural flavours. On our last visit, S had the cod, which is plated in a rich creamy sauce and which I sneaked a taste of. It was very good, tasting like what I can only describe as ultra-high end comfort food. One of Gunther’s specialties is his cote de boeuf, which while excellent is quite expensive (at S$110 a portion). His lobster Provencal is lovely; succulent, tender lobster is served with a rice pilaf that has been inspired by local chicken rice and is cooked with both French and Asian herbs. A dish that I really enjoyed is the grilled mushrooms, served with a sunny side up egg and just a touch of ham. It’s the kind of breakfast food that I could have anytime of the day and works very well as a starter on Gunther’s menu. The apple tart, which is the chef’s signature dessert, is light but full of flavour. Our friends swooned over it. S also enjoyed the restaurant’s cheese plate, which offers 4 small slices of excellent French farm cheeses.

Gunther’s is a nice addition to the local dining scene. It’s a fantastic place for that romantic dinner you’ve been promising your loved one but still haven’t gotten around to arranging. It’s also good for a lavish group dinner — the restaurant has two private rooms that can seat up to 12 persons each.

I have no doubt that Gunther’s, whose phones are, from what I’m told, already ringing off the hook, will soon become one of the must-eat-in restaurants for travelling gourmets who stop off on these shores. And as for how it will rank among the world’s top 100, well, from what I know, the jury for next year’s survey is just only now being regrouped. Hopefully, enough of the panelists will find time to stop in and sample Hubrechsen’s food before casting their next votes.

Gunther’s
36 Purvis Street, #01-03, Singapore 188613
Telephone 6338 8955
Email: restaurant@gunthers.com.sg
www.gunthers.com.sg

Gunther’s is open daily for Lunch and Dinner, from noon to 2.30pm.and from 6.30 to 10.30 pm. The set lunch menu offers the choice between 3 appetizers, three main courses, plus dessert, coffee or tea is prized at $ 38. A 6 course Tasting menu runs $128; also available is the “Carte Blanche” menu, in which Gunther makes whatever he wants for you. Price depends on the produce and ingredients used.

Opening hours:
Lunch: 12-2.30 pm
Dinner: 6.30-10.30 pm

Sadly, all the photos I took turned out awful (tough lighting to shoot in), hence I have asked the restaurant to let me use some of their images in this post.

Blanquette de veau à l’ancienne

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There are some dishes that are made to impress — miniature towers of painstakingly cooked and elaborately presented food that look as delicate and complex as they can sometimes taste. You’ll find such dishes in many fancy restaurants, the ones with managers who like to make you wait for your table, designer chairs that cost more than the ones you have at home, and lighting so dark you feel like asking for a flashlight to see your food. Sometimes, the food is worth it. On a few occasions, it can be outstanding. Too often though, in attempts to wow you and out-finesse the competition, young and eager chefs send out over-worked Frankensteins that scare you more than surprise and satiate you.

Then there are other dishes that are made to simply satisfy. Most often, they’re pretty simple dishes. No fancy, exotic, unpronounceable ingredients. No fancy gravity-defying plating. Just good, uncomplicated, comforting and beautiful flavours. Most of these dishes aren’t too pretty, but they usually taste amazing. And I’d easily take a heaping bowl of chicken curry, a soft and succulent oxtail stew or a rich and tender chicken à la king over a duo of truffled somethingorother and whatintheworldisthat served with a jus of overexpensive stuff and a reduction of ican’tpronouncethat. Of course, I didn’t always think this way. I openly admit that like many foodies I know, I went through the requisite pretentious food stage, during which I (mistakenly) believed that the best food was fancy fusion fare with as many ingredients from as many parts of the world as possible. Thankfully, that phase is long since gone and today, I’m a big believer in the simple beauty of comfort food.

One of the most well-known and best-loved comfort foods is blanquette de veau. This rich, creamy, French veal stew is certainly one of my all-time favourite dishes and something I seek out when eating out. During our recent trip to Paris, my wife S and I had the pleasure of eating at a lovely bistro in the 16th called Le Petit Retro not just once, but twice. On both occasions, I had their blanquette de veau. The first time, it was amazing. The sauce was delicious, tangy, thick and full of flavour. The veal chunks were gorgeously tender and the basmati that the blanquette was served with was buttery, fluffy, nutty and aromatic. The second time, however, while the sauce and the rice were still excellent, the veal pieces were just a little tough, but still tasty enough to impress us.

To make blanquette de veau, you poach chunks of veal belly, breast, or shoulder (or if you can’t get either of these cuts, you can use what butchers often call “stewing cuts”) in stock or water. You then sauté mushrooms and onions, which are added to the veal in a rich, creamy sauce made with both creme fraiche and cream. This is a truly satisfying dish, the kind of thing that, when served with buttered rice, hits the spot on a rainy day or a chilly night. We like to make a huge pot of it and freeze single serve portions. That way, whenever I have a craving for this yummy dish, it’s just a few microwaved minutes away. (S, of course, advocates reheating it on the stove and not in a microwave.)

 

 

Eating Paris: a 6 day itinerary

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Paris is still one of my favourite cities in the world and a place I hope to return to over and over again. I first fell in love with the City of Lights when I was an intern there back in 1989. I’ve returned several times over the past 18 years and each time, I fall in love with Paris all over again. If you have never gone, you must. And if you go, don’t, DON’T try to do everything all in one trip. The Louvre will always be there. So will the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Take your time to enjoy the city. The last thing you want to do is spend all your time rushing back and forth across the city trying to see all of its famous places. After all, you can always go back. For those of you interested in a fun 6 day itinerary — and one that noticeably revolves not around the city’s famous tourist sites, but around great food and a spot of shopping — we’ve created the below. Of course, you don’t need to follow it if you don’t want to. Just pick the places that sound interesting to you and create your own schedule.

Day 1 (arriving on a Monday afternoon)
After the ordeal of deplaning and getting your bags in CDG, you’ll need some rest. Make your way to the charming little one-bedroom apartment you’ve rented in the 16th, which at 650E for a week is a bargain. Scout out the neighborhood. Le Table de Robuchon is up the street in one direction and in the other, you will discover Bechu, a great cafe/bakery that won the grand prize for best baguette in Paris in 2004. Unwind a bit, grab a snack if you’re peckish and relax. For dinner, head over to Le Petit Retro (5 Rue Mesnil, 16th, Phone: 01 44 05 06 05). This charming, old-world and affordable bistro is a five minute walk. It’s postcard perfect and the food is very good too.

Day 2
Have a simple breakfast at Bechu. “Deux cafes and un sandwich jambon de pays, beurre et cornichons, s’il vous plait.” That should keep you and your partner going for a while. In front of Bechu, there is a newsstand where you can pick up your International Herald Tribune and, more importantly, a Paris by neighborhood map — this pocket sized book with an alphabetical index of streets will be your best friend for the next few days. Mid to late morning, get dressed in your smartest and chicest outfit and take a stroll down Champs-Elysee and Avenue Georges V, stopping in the shops in between these two smart streets. Around 12ish, wander over to Taillevant (15 Rue Lamennais, 8th, Phone: 01 44 95 15 01) for lunch (you will have smartly made reservations several weeks in advance). While this gastronomic institution may have lost a (Michelin) star in the past year, it is still the poshest place to have lunch in Paris. Splurge on a great white Burgandy and take the wonderful and affordable (70 Euro) set lunch menu. After your meal, head back to your apartment for a quick change of clothes (i.e. lose the jacket and tie). Head down to the St Germain de Pres area and wander around this touristy yet still pretty neighborhood. Have a coffee at Cafe de Flore (172 Bld Saint-Germain, 6th, Phone: 01 45 48 55 26), partly so you can say you’ve done it. Don’t miss a lovely little art gallery called triode (28, Rue Jacob, 6th). Ask the affable owner if he still has any limoges cups by Argentinian artist Ruth Gurvich. These modestly priced porcelain pieces make perfect gifts for friends who appreciate pretty things. Also make time to wander down Rue Bonaparte to visit Pierre Herme (72 Rue Bonaparte, 6th, Phone: 01 43 54 47 77), whose seasonally flavored macarons are hands-down the best in Paris. For dinner, hail a taxi and head down Boulevard St Germain to L’Atlas (12, Boulevard St Germain, 5th, Phone: 01 46 33 86 98). This Moroccan restaurant might have a slightly cheesy interior, but its cous-cous dishes and its tagines are delicious. After dinner, take another taxi (call 01 41 27 66 99 for an English speaking dispatcher) back home.

Day 3
paris_foie.jpg After your morning coffee, take a walk down Rue de Longchamp, which is lined with yummy food shops, to Place D’Iena. There, you’ll see a market (only there on Wednesday and Friday mornings) that runs down the middle of Ave President Wilson. Walk through it, stopping to sample various goodies. At the end of the market, head over to the Alma-Marceau metro stop and take the train to Saint Paul (you will have to change trains once). From Saint Paul, walk up Rue de Turenne and check out L’Argenterie de Turenne (19, Rue de Turenne, 3rd). This awesome shop sells stunning silverware and silver pieces, both old and new. Some pieces are even sold by the weight. They have a fantastic range and if you or your partner is really into cutlery, coffee and tea sets, etc, make sure to set aside a good 45 minutes to an hour for this shop. Walk up from here, through the very sexy Marais area, to Rue de Vertbois and have lunch at L’Ami Louis (32 Rue du Vertbois, 3rd, Phone: 01 48 87 77 48); this you will also have had to book in advance. Definitely split one order (only one because the portions here will kill you) of the foie gras (pictured) and either a roast chicken or a leg of milk-fed veal. After your ridiculously good but heavy (and also astronomically expensive) lunch, take a metro to Palais Royal and do some credit card damage on Rue St Honore. Stop for a mid-afternoon snack, if you still have any room in your belly, at Jean-Paul Hevin (231, Rue St Honore, 1st, Phone: 01 55 35 35 96). We recommend sampling three of his famous chocolate-based macarons. Rue St Honore turns into Rue du Faubourg St Honore. At the intersection of Rue Boissy D’Anglas, you’ll find every fashionista’s fantasy shop, the Paris flagship of Hermes. Steer your loved one to the right (and away from the entrance of Hermes) down Rue Boissy D’Anglas and into the very small but well-appointed Forge de Laguiole (29, Rue Boissy D’Anglas, 8th, Phone: 01 40 06 09 75) store. Pick up a set of the incredibly chic Eric Raffy steak knives; guaranteed to make all of your friends green with envy at your next dinner party. After an afternoon of shopping, head down Rue D’Alger and into the Renaissance Hotel Place Vendome (4, Rue du Mont Thabor, 1st, Phone: 1 40 20 20 00). Have a perfectly-made Bellini or Kir Royale at the Chinese Bar, followed by dinner at Alain Dutournier’s Modern restaurant Pinxo (Phone: 01 40 20 72 00), where the food is served in small tasting portions.

Day 4
After a nice brekkie at Bechu (can you tell we LOVED this place?), take a metro to the Sevres-Babylone stop. Here you’ll find Le Bon Marche (24, Rue de Sevres, 7th, Phone: 01 44 39 80 00) and Le Grand Epicerie (38, Rue de Sevres, 7th, Phone: 01 44 39 81 00). Spend your morning at this awesome department store and Paris’ trendiest supermarket. When you start to feel peckish, walk 10-15 minutes and grab one of the few tables in the super-cute Huitrerie Regis (3, Rue de Montfaucon, 6th, Phone: 01 44 41 10 07), around the corner from the Marche St Germain.

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This tiny restaurant specializes in oysters. We recommend ordering a dozen of the fin de claire specials number 3 and a glass of Sancerre. The side plates of saucisson and crevettes also look awesome. End your meal with a coffee but no dessert because now you will walk around the corner and into the very austere and cool Pierre Marcolini boutique (89 Rue de Seine, 6th, Phone: 01 44 07 39 07). Buy some of his exquisite chocolates and a little individual tub of his caramel beurre sel ice cream to eat as you walk. You won’t walk far though. Just down and across the road is Gerald Mulot (76 Rue de Seine, 6th, Phone: 01 43 26 85 77), whose old-fashioned pastries are de rigeur in the City of Lights. Head back over to Rue des Grands-Augustins and into Mariage Freres (13, Rue des Grands-Augustins, 6th, Phone: 01 40 51 82 50), possibly the greatest tea shop on earth. If you are still peckish, have a cup of tea and a pastry. Paris_mariagefreres.jpgAfter stocking up on beautiful teas, tea cups and tea pots, hail a taxi and head over to the Musee D’Orsay for a few hours of culture. After filling up on this collection of fantastic 19th Century and early 20th Century artworks, take a metro or a taxi down (quite a way down) to the Place D’Italie area (the 13th) and head to one of Paris’ hottest gastrobistros, L’Avant Gout (26, Rue Bobillot, 13th, Phone: 01 53 80 24 00). If you’re early, check out the restaurant’s new wine store, located just across the street. This unpretentious and always busy little bistro is helmed by Chef Chistophe Beaufront, an ex-Guy Savoy protege. For your main course, definitely order the pork pot au feu. While it might not exactly be what you’d expect from a pot au feu, it is amazingly delicious. After dinner, take a cab up to the Hotel Costes (239 Rue St. Honore, Paris, 1st, Phone: 01 42 44 50 50) (it’s on your way!) and have a drink at this still ultra-trendy boutique hotel. You might have to be a little forceful to score a great table — the staff tend to be a little full of themselves — but there’s no better place for a cool digestif.

Day 5
Start mid to early morning and head down to E Dehilleren (18-20, rue Coquillière, 1st, Phone: 01 42 36 53 13). It’s Paris’ most famous kitchen supply store where you can stock up on everything from madeleine pans to copper pots. Once finished, walk to the Etienne Marcel metro station and head over to St Placide. From there, it’s just a five minute walk to Sadaharu Aoki (35, Rue Vaugirard, 6th, Tel: 01 45 44 48 90). Grab one of the few seats and have an exquisitely-made pastry. Then walk up Boulevard Raspail, stopping at Un Jour Un Sac (27, Boulevard Raspail, 7th) to purchase the coolest tote bag — you assemble it yourself, choosing the straps and the bag separately — that you’ll ever own. Head up to Rue Montalembert for lunch at the first and still best branch of L’Atelier de Robuchon (5, Rue de Montalembert, 7th, Phone: 01 42 22 97 91). Pull whatever strings you have to get a reservation or else you may end up in line, being told to come back in an hour. After an awesome and very filling lunch, head east down Rue Grenelle, stopping at Christian Louboutin (8, rue de Grenelle, 7th, Phone: 01 42 22 33 07) and Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums (37 rue de Grenelle, 7th, Phone: 01 42 22 77 22) to buy your loved one some sexy stilettos and a unique scent respectively; while the cost might be high, trust me, she’ll reward you later for your generosity! Head west now and visit the Rue Jean-Nicot outlet of Bellota-Bellota (18 rue Jean Nicot, 7th, Phone: 01 53 59 96 96) where you can buy some of the best Spanish ham (jamon iberico) on earth; these are the same guys that supply Robuchon. They vacuum pack so you can truck as much of this delicacy home as you can carry. If it is your first time in Paris, walk west a few minutes and see the Eiffel Tower, just so you can tell friends you’ve seen it. Then wander down to Avenue de la Motte-Picquet and dine at Le Florimond (19, Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 7th, Phone: 01 45 55 40 38), one of the city’s best casual bistros, where the food is great and the service (amazingly) is fantastic.

Day 6
Pack. If you need a new suitcase because you’ve bought so much stuff, head over to Printemps (64, Bld Haussman, 9th, Phone: 01 42 82 57 87) or Galeries Lafayette (40 Bld Haussman, 8th, Phone: 01 42 82 34 56), Paris’ two most famous department stores located just behind the Opera. Printemps stocks some very cool collapsible bags from French brand Sequioa. If you are not in need of excess baggage, head over to Lafayette Gourmet and spend an hour or so ogling all the pretty things in this huge homeware and kitchen supply store. Walk down Rue De La Paix and then over to the Place du Marche St Honore. Spend an hour wandering around this open-air market before ducking into Le Point Bar (40, Place du Marche St Honore, 1st, Phone: 01 42 61 76 28) for lunch. This tiny contemporary bistro serves inventive and affordable food. After lunch, head back, call your taxi and fly off, satisfied with your perfect Paris vacation.

Per Se, New York City

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I’m skipping our trip to Los Angeles and Orange Country briefly in order to write about one of the most amazing meals that S and I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. (We do have a post on California in the works; that should be up by early next week.) This past Sunday, we had the honor of dining at, according to Restaurant magazine, the 9th best restaurant in the world. There are few things that need to be said about either Thomas Keller or Per Se. Both need no introduction. Better writers than I have described Keller’s skills, talent and passion in print and on the web marvelously. If you are one of the 4 persons on earth who hasn’t heard of Thomas Keller, pick up a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef; a section of the book is devoted to telling this kitchen-magician’s story. Per Se is Keller’s New York outpost and one of only three three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the city.

Per Se is beautiful. From the moment you enter, you feel like you’re in a different world (which is a trait of some of the other, great three-star restaurants we’ve been to). Everything from the service to the interiors to the dining accessories are so perfectly polished and elegant. Upon sitting down, we were offered some Champagne, which we immediately accepted. And thus began a four and a half hour gastronomic extravaganza. The food was exceptional. The service was brilliant and we had three great bottles of wine. All I can really say about Per Se is that you must visit. Do whatever it takes to get one of their coveted reservations; it is an experience worth having and savoring. I’ve decided that instead of trying to describe every course (which would be a repetitive exercise of me writing, “yummy”, “sexy”, “delicious”, “gorgeous”, “witty”, and “brilliant” a dozen different times), it would be simpler to simply list what I ate (I say “I” because S and our dining companion J had slightly different things on their menu). I’ve also numbered the courses that are pictured (and grouped them) so you can easily refer to the pictures on this post. Continue Reading →

Green tea madeleines

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When I was younger, I had the pleasure of spending two summers working in Paris. During that first summer, I didn’t explore the city as much as I would have liked to. The second time, however, I made sure to block off days which I dedicated to simply wandering around that fabulous city, happily exploring as much as I could. Paris’ metro system is so good that I knew that no matter where my feet (and tummy) took me, I would always be able to find a metro station within 5 minutes walking distance.

That summer, I had subletted a tiny studio apartment on Rue de la Sante, which sits squarely between the 13th and 14th arrondisements, from a friend who was partying her way across Eastern Europe. It was a walk-up and the studio was on the sixth floor. You can’t imagine how loudly I would curse on the occasions when I’d leave the building only to realize I’d forgotten something important in the apartment. On the ground floor of the building, there was a cute little bakery. Its smells would waft up to my open windows (it was summer and like many French apartments, the studio had no air-conditioning) early each morning. Next to the bakery was a humble Moroccan restaurant. It was a great place to grab a simple and satisfying meal after work. It was that summer and at that restaurant, whose name now evades me, that I first began to really enjoy cous-cous and the cuisines of North Africa. Even today, when I think of Paris, I think just as much about good cous-cous as I do awesome confit de canard and Pierre Herme pastries.

Living at the edge of the 13th also meant that good Asian food was a hop, skip and a jump away. I punctuated my early forays into cooking (I was working my way through Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food that summer) with occasional visits to various delicious Vietnamese restaurants in the Place d’Italie area (doing my best, of course, to avoid those horrid places that advertise themselves as an all-in-one Asian, “Vietnamese, Chinoise, Thailandaise”).

ethnicparis_72dpi200x260pxl.png While it’s culinary culture is (in my humble opinion) nowhere near as diverse as a city like New York, Paris does has a very good and well-developed non-French food scene. Which makes a book like the newly-published The Ethnic Paris Cookbook worth reading. I was recently sent a copy of this attractive and cute book, authored by Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije and published by DK. It’s fun as a recipe resource but also useful because it offers addresses for many of the restaurants, cafes and shops that inspired the authors, or whose chefs loaned the authors their recipes. I was particularly excited by the North African section, both because of the recipes but also because S and I are planning a trip to Paris in a month and a half. A couple of the restaurants listed are now on my must-try list.

S was most excited by the section of Japanese food, or rather, the subsection on pastries as re-interpreted by Japanese wunderkind pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki. While I was eager to make “cous-cous royal” a la Taghit restaurant, S decided that the first recipe I would test from this book would be green tea madeleines. (And of course, this fat fella was not about to disagree with his sexy spouse.)

Making these madeleines was pretty easy. However, the cooking temperatures and timings suggested in the book didn’t quite work for me on my first attempt. On a second attempt, I decided to trust my instincts and the madeleines turned out perfectly. I was very pleasantly surpised by how light and fluffy they were. Personally, I like my baked treats sweet, so when I try these again, I may add a little more sugar or honey. But S thought they were fine (she blames my American upbringing for my penchant for very sweet desserts) and liked both the balance of tastes and the subtlety of the green tea flavour. Because madeleine batter must be made ahead of time and chilled, serving these evocative little cakes as dessert at a dinner party is fun and easy. You just preheat your oven when everyone is finishing up their main courses. When ready to serve, you just have to scoop the batter into the pan and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes. Since these are best served warm, your friends will be thrilled. (While The Ethnic Paris Cookbook instructs you to simply grease and flour your pan, I like to butter mine and freeze it for a couple hours before using it.) Below, you’ll find an adapted version of the recipe. I hope it works as well for you as it now does for me.

Green Tea Madeleines

Makes 12
115g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon green tea powder
2 large eggs
80g sugar
1 tablespoon honey
115g butter, melted and cooled

Butter a madeleine pan (use one for 12 large madeleines) and place pan in the freezer.

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and tea powder together twice to mix thoroughly. Place the eggs in the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer amd beat for 30 seconds. Add the sugar and honey and beat on medium speed for 5-8 minutes, or until pale and thick. This is an important step–do not underbeat. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat just until incorporated. With the mixer running, slowly add the butter and beat until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180 Degrees Celsius. Take the madeleine pan out of the freezer. Fill each cavity two-thirds full with batter. Place in the oven. After 9-10 minutes, when the madeleines have risen well and the edges are golden brown, take out. Invert the madeleines onto a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Two wonderful French outposts in HK

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hazlenut tropizienne with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream from Caprice

Two of the restaurants we were most excited to visit in Hong Kong were L’Atelier de Robuchon and Caprice. Both establishments opened recently to great fanfare. Both are French imports, the former part of a growing international chain helmed by Joel Robuchon, once considered the world’s greatest chef. The latter is an off-shoot of Le Cinq, the respected flagship restaurant of the Four Seasons Georges V Hotel run by Philippe Legendre.

I visited the Paris branch of L’Atelier a few years ago and loved it. I’ve also eaten several times at Robuchon’s restaurant in Macau, of which I am a huge fan. S, however, had never eaten at any of his establishments. I was thus really thrilled to be able to take her to the Hong Kong branch of L’Atelier, located on the 4th floor of the Landmark building, for her first taste of Robuchon’s cuisine.

As at all L’Ateliers around the world, the HK branch has striking and sexy red and black interiors. Unlike some of its sister branches, you can sit at either the counter or at a table. By contrast, the original branch in Paris only offers counter-dining. Because we wanted to see the action (in the kitchen) and we because we always enjoy chatting with a restaurant’s staff, we chose counter seats. While L’Atelier offers a pretty awesome 9-course “menu decouverte” for HK$1450, we decided (mostly because we were so stuffed from our lunch at Yun Fu) to order a la carte. S chose 3 courses from the “small tasting portions” menu and then a main dish from the hot and cold appetizers menu. She had the “Iberian Bellota” ham served with toasted bread and tomato; scallops in their shells with seaweed butter; steak tartare with handmade French fries and foie gras ravioli in warm chicken broth. I ordered similarly, but chose my main from the fish and meat entrees menu. I had the scallops with seaweed butter; crispy langoustine papillote with pesto; the beef and foie gras burgers with lightly caramelized bell peppers; and the free-range quail with foie gras, served with truffled mashed potatoes. I ended my meal with Robuchon’s version of a mont blanc, described as “cream of chestnut with aged rum and crunch pearls”. S had ice cream. The meal was fun. The food was very well-executed and very tasty. The staff (once we ordered our second bottle of wine) were very nice and chatty. I have to admit that I think the food at Robuchon’s much pricier, more formal and more old-fashioned restaurant in Macau is a little bit better. But unlike the Galera a Robuchon, which I would only go to on special occasions, I would feel comfortable popping into L’Atelier often, ordering 2 or 3 things off their small tasting portions menu for lunch or a light dinner. I think L’Atelier is a great addition to the HK dining scene and I wish that someone would open one in Singapore so that I could dine there weekly.
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pork cheek with mashed potatoes from Caprice

There are some restaurants that simply look best at lunch, with the afternoon light flooding its rooms. Novus in Singapore is one such restaurant. And after having visited Caprice, the French restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, for Sunday lunch, I think it is one of these as well. The main dining room is large, with extremely high ceilings and huge picture windows. The color scheme is light. The interiors have a touch of old-world elegance that both S and I really loved. At lunch, the restaurant is bathed in natural light and, well, glows.

Lunch is also a great bargain, so long as you order from the set menus (you get to choose either two or three courses from a list of dishes) or from the tasting portions menu, available (I was told) only on Saturdays and Sundays. I opted to order my first course from the tasting menu, a langoustine and sweetbread ravioli served in a reduced lobster broth. It was a gorgeous dish and the best of the day. For the rest of my meal, I opted for the two-course set lunch and had a pork cheek served with mashed potatoes and a hazlenut “tropizienne” with salted caramel sauce, tangerine slices and vanilla ice cream. Both courses were very good. Not life-changing but good. S also had the langoustine and sweetbread ravioli to start but had a Challans duck for her main course. It was gorgeous — tender and flavorful. To end the meal, she tried the black and white chocolate geometry with caramelised almond and cocoa sorbet, an elegant and light dessert. She also ordered a cup of the hotel’s signature tea, a blend of lavender, jasmine, vanilla and green tea. She liked it so much she bought a whole tin of it.

In all, both restaurants were lovely. L’Atelier is dark, moody and sexy, Caprice, during the day, is bright, elegant and glamourous. If L’Atelier is Angelina Jolie, Caprice might be Gwyneth Paltrow. Personally, I liked Caprice’s interiors better. But that’s a purely personal preference. Food-wise, I’d be happy eating at either restaurant any day of the week.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Shop 401, 4/F The Landmark
15 Queen’s Road, Central
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2166 9000

Caprice
Four Seasons Hotel
8 Finance Street, Central
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3196 8888

A book and cuisine bourgeoise

One of the things that I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to do over the past few years is work on a number of pretty nifty books. The latest one to see print is titled French Classics Modern Kitchen (okay, I’m tootin’ my own horn a little here). It’s the cookbook for the well-regarded and awarded, Singapore-based French restaurant, Le Saint Julien.

I had a great time working with Chef Julien Bompard on this book. It’s always great to work with someone who is extremely passionate about what he does. Plus it was a wonderful way to get to really know and understand this talented and experienced chef. For those who have never eaten at Le Saint Julien, the restaurant serves classic French cuisine bourgeoise. And while the food may be presented in modern and elegant ways, Julien is a staunch traditionalist. You won’t ever find him experimenting with Asian herbs or spices or trying to create new ways to re-imagine popular dishes. The very best food, as far as this Frenchman is concerned, is the food that his parents and grandparents before him dined on. His food is unapologetically and unabashedly French, which is something he takes great pride in.

A dinner at Le Saint Julien is always an elegant affair. Julien’s wife Edith is easily one of Singapore’s most charming hostesses. Her staff are also among the very best in town; they are polite, charming, never in the way but always on hand. Honestly, from my experience, the service alone is a darned good reason to visit Le Saint Julien. The restaurant is perfect during the day for a business lunch and equally fitting in the evening for a seductive dinner date. The menu, as I’ve said above, is filled with classic dishes. I would suggest trying the lobster bisque, not just because I love this rich soup, but also because this soup is what brought Edith and Julien together.


photos courtesy of Le Saint Julien

Many years ago, Julien ran the very well-equipped kitchens of Hong Kong’s poshest French restaurant, Gaddi’s in The Peninsula Hotel. Edith worked in the hotel as well. One day, Edith was asked to arrange lunch for some VVIPs at Gaddi’s. After the meal, one of her guests told her that he simply loved the lobster bisque that Julien had prepared. “Could you get me the recipe?”, asked her guest. “Of course,” she replied. However, when she asked Julien for it, he refused to give it to her. Edith, to her credit, persisted and continued to try to convince Julien to share it with her. To his even greater credit, instead of giving her the recipe, he asked her out. In the end, the guest never got the recipe, but Edith and Julien both found love. (The recipe, by the way, is in the cookbook.)

Julien’s food is rich, savory and filling. It’s also very satisfying. Wine-lovers will be thrilled at Julien’s amazing selection of French wines. To celebrate the launch of French Classics Modern Kitchen, I’ve convinced Julien to create a very special offer for OCBC cardmembers. If you and a loved one both order the menu extravaganza (degustation tasting menu) at his restaurant, you will not only each get a glass of Champagne (or a mocktail) on the house, you will also get an autographed copy of the cookbook for free.

Le Saint Julien
3 Fullerton Road
Singapore 049215
Tel: +65 6534 5947

Menu Extravaganza

QUATRO DE FOIE GRAS / QUATRO OF DUCK LIVER
Terrine of foie gras with Port wine reduction
Pan seared duck liver with orange sauce
Mesclun salad with confit, rillettes and pine nuts
Warm brioche

BISQUE DE HOMARD / LOBSTER BISQUE
Signature lobster bisque with garlic aïoli

SAINT JACQUES / SEA SCALLOPS
Seared sea scallops with yellow wine sauce “Arbois”
Tomato and anchovy fondant
OR
CHEVREUIL / VENISON LOIN
Seared venison loin with crème de cassis dressing
Winter vegetable râgout

SORBET
Home-made seasonal fruit sorbet

DESSERT / CHOCOLATE
Classic caramelized chocolate mousse with berries
Coconut ice cream and pralines

CAFÉ & THÉ
Coffee or Tea with petits fours

$368 nett per couple
Each guest receives one complimentary glass of Champagne or Mocktail. Each couple will also be presented with one complimentry copy of French Classics Modern Kitchen autographed by Chef Julien Bompard. Valid with all OCBC cards. Promotion valid from 19 January to 31 March 2007.

Simplest crème brûlée

One of my all-time favourite desserts is crème brûlée. It’s also a dish that I’ve found challenging to perfect. As many of you know, my wife S and I have an insane number of cookbooks, close to 400 at last count. We’ve tried a huge host of crème brûlée recipes written by some of the world’s best chefs. Most fall into two categories, i.e. two cooking methods. The first, most common method is to prepare a custard on your stovetop that you pour into ramekins and then cool until set. The other way is to combine your ingredients, divide them into ramekins and then bake them in a water-bath. Both work, but I’ve always found that the crèmes made with the first method tend to be a tad heavy. And because I tend to be a bit of a klutz, I get a tad nervous working with preparations that require me to not only balance large trays of water but also put them in and pull them out of an oven.

Recently, however, I’ve discovered what may be the easiest way of preparing a perfect crème brûlée. Over the past year, my wife S has been helping Chef Justin Quek write his first cookbook, which is being released later this year.


the cover of Justin’s first cookbook

Justin is an icon in Singapore. For almost a decade, he was the head chef of Singapore’s top French restaurant, Les Amis. Trained in France and England, Justin is today considered one of the world’s best chefs by both his customers and by many of his peers–including Tetsuya Wakuda, Michel Roux Jr, Ferran Adria, Neil Perry, Charlie Trotter and Pierre Hermé, all of whom contributed glowing endorsements to Justin’s book. Currently, Justin is based in Taipei, where he runs a small, very well-reviewed restaurant called La Petite Cuisine. At the end of the year, he’ll be embarking on his most ambitious project to date, a super high-end, fine-dining restaurant in Shanghai, near Xintiandi, called Le Platane.

Justin’s crème brûlée recipe is notable because it follows neither of the two preparations described above. It’s closer to the second method but doesn’t call for a water-bath. His secret is that he bakes his crèmes on very low heat for an hour. The resulting custards are sinfully silky and delicious.

S and I have tested Justin’s recipe a few times, with fantastic results. The recipe that apears in Justin’s book includes wild blueberries. We tried this one first and when it worked perfectly, we started experimenting, using different fruits and then eventually infusions. My latest favourite version was made with cream and milk that had been infused with Gryphon Tea Company’s delicious Straits Chai tea.

One thing that you may notice from the photographs above is that S and I have also been playing with unmolded crème brûlées. We’ve found that serving a crème brûlée that’s been released from the confines of the usual ramekin surprises and delights our guests. Pulling this off is actually pretty easy. Follow the recipe (below) but instead of using ramekins, bake your crème brûlées in small, non-stick silicone molds. When the custard has cooled sufficiently, pop the molds in your freezer. At least 6 hours before you serve them, unmold them onto the plates you intend to serve them on. Put these into your refrigerator so that the custards defrost slowly. The custards should hold their shape, even when you blowtorch them.

Justin Quek’s crème brûlée
Serves 10 to 12

8 egg yolks
600 millilitres fresh cream
100 millilitres milk
100 grams sugar
150 grams fine brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius.

Combine the egg yolks, cream, milk and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk and pass through a fine sieve into a jug. Pour the egg mixture into small ramekins.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove, cool and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle the top of each portion with a thin layer of brown sugar. Caramelise the sugar with a blowtorch and serve immediately.

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Elegant comfort food

oxtail pastilla

I’m a huge fan of small, humble restaurants that are owned and operated by young couples, especially when one of them is the chef and the other runs the front-of-house. One of my newest, favourite restaurants is such a place. Sage, located on the second floor of Robertson Walk, is run by chef Jusman So and his wife Kimberly Chew.

I first learnt about Sage a few months ago through a few friends. They were raving about this hidden gem of a restaurant that served fantastic food at great prices and never charged corkage. When they told me it was in Robertson Walk, I have to admit, I was a little doubtful. A few weeks later, some friends and I finally checked it out for ourselves. And from the first bite, I was totally hooked.

Chef Jusman, who trained at the Hilton’s Harbor Grill & Oyster Bar, serves delicious, hearty, yet refined French food. What I like most about his dishes is that they’re elegant and comforting at the same time. When eating them, you can tell that Jusman has a great grasp of his fundamentals. His dishes are clearly steeped in tradition, but they’ve also been deftly updated by this young, talented chef.


lamb shank ravioli

Since my first visit, I’ve been back several times and have tasted a good number of dishes. My two favourites so far are Jusman’s fricassee of Burgundy escargot with lentils du puy and field mushrooms, poached egg and Italian parsley foam, and his pastilla of braised oxtail meat and duxelle mushrooms on a sage and potato gratin, brunoise vegetables and a reduction of its own braising jus. I especially love the oxtail pastilla. It’s super-tasty, rich, and has fantastic textures, both crispy and soft at the same time. It’s an amazing and highly addictive dish. Unfortunately, on my most recent visit, I’ve discovered that Jusman has just taken it off his regular menu. That said, he did admit that he will still have a few available for regulars like me (the version at the top of the post is plated with a chestnut and truffle ragout instead of the potato gratin).


duck cassoulet

S and I recently tried out a couple of new dishes from Jusman’s latest menu, which he has just launched. In addition to my requisite order of oxtail pastilla, we tried an order of ravioli of lamb shank topped with sauce choron and crispy Parmigiano Reggiano, Provencal ratatouille and roasted garlic jus, and Jusman’s duck cassoulet (confit of duck leg with smoked pork belly and sausage, a ragout of haricot beans, parsley and fresh bread crumbs). Both were fantastic. S especially liked the cassoulet, a dish that we’ve found hard to find here in Singapore. We’re also keen on trying a couple of his other new dishes, especially the medallion of braised pig trotter filled with lardons and sausage farci topped with French green lentils, grated eggs and sauce Bearnaise, and the blanquette of braised veal tongue on ragout of savory cabbage and lardons, sweet white onion confit and light mustard cream.

For now, Sage is still pretty much a secret. But next Friday, 19 of Singapore’s better known food bloggers are going to be getting together there for dinner. So, pretty soon, I expect the word will be out. But that might be a good thing. A restaurant as good as Sage needs to be publicized and definitely deserves as much support as it can get.

Sage, The Restaurant
11 Unity Street
#02 -12 Robertson Walk
Singapore 237995
Tel: (65) 6333 8726

Sage is open for lunch only on Friday and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. A three course dinner is S$50; four courses is S$55. They don’t charge corkage (for now).

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Damien Pignolet’s (friend Eve’s) delicious dessert


The very yummy cake that chef Pignolet whipped up during his cooking demonstration

One of the restaurants that I’ve always wanted to eat at but have not gotten around to visiting yet is Bistro Moncur, located in Sydney, Australia. My good friend J, who runs the sumptuous blog Kuidaore, went there a while back and has raved about it ever since. Chef-owner Damien Pignolet is known for his exquisite, refined yet also classic renditions of French food. Many consider him to be one of the fathers of French cuisine in Australia.

I had the pleasure this past week of not only meeting chef Pignolet but of eating a meal half-prepared by him, attending a cooking demonstration conducted by him, and sharing a lovely meal with him at Sin Huat Eating House. I say “half-prepared” because chef Pignolet cooked half of the dishes served at this multi-course extravaganza, while host chef, Chris Millar of Poppi, cooked the other half. All of the food was wonderful—chef Millar really out did himself with a delicious boneless, rolled and stuffed suckling pig course. But for me, the high point of the night was an amazing dessert that chef Pignolet calls “Eve’s Chocolate Cake.” Regular readers know that I’m not a big chocolate person. And because I tend to like milk chocolate a bit more than dark, my wife S, who is a real chocolate fanatic (snob), considers me a bit of a heathen. But I loved this cake. It was rich without being overpowering. And it had a wonderful light and semi-moist texture—derived from a combination of baked and unbaked batter (yup, unbaked… I’ll get to that in a moment). Sadly, because I was so incredibly stuffed, and because the Eve’s Chocolate Cake was presented as just one thing in a large dessert sampler (and greedy me wanted to taste everything), despite my taste buds spurring me on, I couldn’t finish the portion served to me.

Luckily, just a few days later, I was presented with another heavenly slice. And not only did I get to eat every last crumb, but I also got to watch chef Pignolet make this dessert. Of course, in the hands of a professional chef who has probably made this hundreds of times, the process looked really simple. With my rather clumsy baking skills, I’ll probably mess this up somehow.


Chef Pignolet conducted his class in the swanky Miele showroom in Singapore

The recipe for this cake and many more delicious dishes can be found in chef Pignolet’s gorgeously designed cookbook, French, which was just recently published by Penguin. The beauty of this cake lies in its texture. It has a wonderfully moist top which acts a bit like a sauce but isn’t (am I making any sense?). It’s actually unbaked cake mix which is spread over the baked cake. And since this cake is flourless, this unbaked mixture is essentially a chocolate mousse or pudding.

Chef Pignolet explained to us that the recipe is named after his friend Eve, whom gave him this recipe in exchange for one of his. I urge you all to try making this and tell me how it turns out. I’ll be doing the same and hopefully (fingers crossed), my product will be as tasty as chef Pignolet’s was.

Eve’s Chocolate Cake
360g bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits
50g soft unsalted butter
12 x 65g eggs, separated
50g caster sugar
a little extra bittersweet chocolate and cocoa to decorate

Grease a 26-28cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 150 Degrees C. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a bain-marie of hot (but not boiling) water and then work in the soft butter. Beat the egg yolks with 30g of the sugar until pale. Then combine them with the chocolate and butter mix. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Then beat in 20g of the sugar until stiff. Beat ¼ of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mix. Fold this gently but thoroughly back into the remaining egg white mixture. Transfer ¼ of the cake mixture into a bowl and refrigerate. Pour the balance of the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes. It should remain slightly moist in the centre. To test, press the centre with your finger after 30 minutes – it should hold the indentation. When the cake is ready, invert it onto a serving platter. Remove the ring and base. Leave it to cool completely. The cake should collapse and leave a crater in the centre. Fill the crater with the reserved cake mix and scatter with the extra bits of chocolate. Dust lightly with cocoa and serve with whipped cream.

Recipe comes from French, published by Penguin, copyright owned by Damien Pignolet.

Food for kids and adults

I’m a big believer that food should be fun, for adults as well as for kids. Which is why, when I saw the recipe for the delightful dessert pictured above in a new cookbook my darling wife S had just purchased, I knew I had to make it. The book, which I urge all of you to buy (for two reasons), is called Off Duty, the world’s greatest chefs cook at home. Not only is this book filled with great profiles of and recipes by 48 terrific cooks like Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Raymond Blanc, Nobu Matsuhisa, and several generations of the Roux family, proceeds from this book go to The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation. The Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation was started by chef David Nicholls after his son was left paralyzed following a swimming accident. It’s mission is to fund research to cure spinal injury.

One of the chefs featured in Off Duty is Michel Richard, considered a pioneer in Franco-Californian cooking. I’ve owned Richard’s book Home Cooking with a French Accent for years and have always treasured it. Understandably, I was excited to discover some new recipes by this talented chef. The first two recipes in his section are Salmon Rillettes and Aubergine with Scallops and Goat’s Cheese. But it was his third recipe, for Egg Soufflé, that had me jumping up and down like Cruise on Oprah.

This is a great dessert. Looking at it puts a smile on my face. It’s fun, delicious and easy to make. It’s so very surprisingly easy to make. Which was one of the reasons why I was so taken with it and so astounded that it worked as well as it did. You see, the only cooking that is required is done in the microwave… yup, you read correctly, the microwave. Essentially, the dessert, served in an egg shell, is two layers of meringue with a surprise “yolk” filling made of lemon curd. The top of the soufflé is blowtorched briefly, giving it a lovely browned color while also puffing up the meringue.

S and I hosted some friends for dinner last Saturday. We served these gorgeous and humorous little soufflés, accompanied with a scoop of homemade Almond Roca ice cream, for dessert.

Egg Soufflé
Makes 8 portions

8 eggs
Juice of 3 lemons
325g sugar
40g unsalted butter

Using an egg cutter, cut the tops off the eggs. Discard the tops and separate the yolks and whites of 4 eggs. Reserve the remaining 4 eggs. Make the lemon curd by placing the 4 egg yolks, lemon juice, butter and 100g of sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave the mixture for 5 minutes, pulling the bowl out to whisk every minute. Cover with cling film and leave to cool. The curd will thicken as it cools. Place in the fridge for at least 6 hours. This can be made a day in advance.

To prepare, whisk the egg whites, adding half the remaining sugar little by little, until they form soft peaks. Fold in the remaining sugar with a spatula. Place the eggshells in egg cups. Put the meringue in a piping bag and fill half of each shell with meringue. Put the lemon curd in another bag and pipe a teaspoonful into each shell. Then add more meringue on top to make it look like a soufflé. Place the eggs in the microwave for 5 seconds right before serving. If you own a blowtorch, quickly brown the tops of the soufflés; if not, use a hot broiler and broil the soufflés for a few seconds.

Note: you can actually replace the lemon curd with other ingredients. I’ve made these with chocolate and they’re equally delicious.

In addition to the egg soufflés and ice cream, we prepared 3 savory courses. For a first course, I made some crispy sweetbreads with curry sauce, plated over some risotto à la Milanese. For a second course, S made a lovely steamed ocean threadfin with ginger and spring onions. She got the recipe from a book she’s just helped finish editing. The book is being produced by uber-kitchen manufacturer Miele and is a compendium of steamed food recipes, as contributed by 8 big-name Asia regional chefs. This threadfin recipe was created by Justin Quek, chef-owner of La Petite Cuisine in Taipei.

Our last main course combined two of my favorite foods, braised pork belly and macaroni and cheese. S made the pork following a recipe from Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef. I made the mac & cheese. The pasta was cooked in a simmering combination of milk and water that had been flavored with a bay leaf and some salt. It was then tossed in a sauce made from reduced chicken stock, a little of the milk poaching liquid, some reblochon, parmesan, and a generous portion of Tetsuya’s truffle salsa. Each portion of the pasta was placed in a ramekin, topped with more parmesan and then grilled under a hot broiler for a few seconds. Not exactly the mac & cheese of childhood memories, but it’s something that I think references our youth well while appeasing our more adult tastebuds.