The Porthole – My beautiful new cocktail infusion vessel

Porthole shot

Please indulge me for the next few paragraphs as I show off my latest toy. The Porthole, the sexiest infusion vessel known to man, is one of those products that you absolutely have to get for no other reason than its general gorgeousness. I’m an absolute sucker for great design, and this piece of kitchen porn I got off Kickstarter was well worth the one year wait.
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Soul Food Mahanakorn, street food, sexy setting in Bangkok

soul-food-fried-chicken

I might very well be the last food blogger in Asia to write about Soul Food Mahanakorn in Bangkok. Which is really kind of pathetic since I consider owner Jarrett Wrisley a friend. And I’ve known about this swanky eatery since before it even opened three years ago. Circumstances, however, had kept me from getting a chance to actually eat at Soul Food until just recently. The meal was really great, which is why I’m now, finally, able to give Jarrett a shout-out here. Continue Reading →

House cocktails: Bitter Monk, Gold Rush and a yet-to-be-named frothy rum thing

house-cocktails

Do you have a house cocktail? You know, that one drink that you both love making for friends and also happen to be able to put together exceedingly brilliantly? That one drink that you almost always start a dinner party off with or hand to guests as they walk in the door when dropping by?  Continue Reading →

Pre-prandials

In addition to being a total pig when it comes to good food, I’m also a bit of a lush. Long-time readers will already know about my love for good, well-made cocktails.

I’m a huge fan of starting an evening, before one eats, with a drink. Traditionally, an aperitif serves a couple of functions. First, it’s a really fun and festive precursor to a great meal. A cool cocktail or even just a really lovely glass of vintage Champagne adds that extra bit of oomph or pizazz to the evening’s undertakings. It also allows a host or a restaurant to show off a bit. Creating something exciting, innovative, and delicious hints at more tantalizing gustatory treats to come. Take for example one of the signature aperitifs from Tabla in New York City. Called the “Ginger Citrus Snap”, this cool concoction is a mixture of Stoly orange vodka and ginger eau de vie, which is then topped up with Billecart-Salmon Champagne. When served, a small helping of pomegranate seeds is deposited into the drink. As the bubbles collect around the seeds, they float up. Then as the bubbles fall away, the seeds sink. Some customers have likened it to an alcoholic, edible lava lamp.

Secondly, some pre-dinner drinks can open up one’s palate and stimulate digestion. Traditionally, an aperitif was made only with herb-infused wine-based products like vermouth, Lillet, Dubonnet, St. Raphael and Byrrh. Also, to properly stimulate your appetite, your drink should have a tinge of bitterness coupled with a touch of sweetness, to make it palatable.

Of course, I’m not one to argue whether a good cocktail is or really isn’t a proper “aperitif”. It if tastes good, pour me a double.

My current favourite cocktail is the Alberto #1, named after and created by Alberto Alonso, who spent 40 years working behind the bar at the famous but now closed restaurant La Caravelle. It’s a great but sneaky drink. It tastes deceptively light and refreshing. It’s very easy to drink. You could easily throw back 2 or 3 of these in a row very quickly. But it’s actually pretty strong. I once made the mistake of pouring a few too many of these for a good friend at the start of a dinner party my wife S and I were hosting. By the second course of our meal, he had stopped making sense, slurring and rambling on unintelligibly.

To make one, you will need fresh lime juice, mint, sugar syrup, vodka, and Champagne. Muddle the mint leaves in a cocktail shaker. Add some lime juice, vodka, syrup and ice. (How much vodka, lime juice and sugar syrup should be up to you, to taste.) Shake and then strain into a large Champagne glass. Top with the Champagne.

I’ve very happily been able to convince the amazing bartenders at one of my favourite bars, Coffee Bar K, how to make this delicious drink. Yamato-san (pictured above), in particular, makes it supremely well. And if that wasn’t enough, he and his colleagues have come up with their own variation (which uses mojito syrup and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label), which they and I have dubbed The Titanium. You simply have got to go try and try one.

Two other places I enjoy throwing back a liquid pre-prandial are Mint Bar, at Graze, and the lounge bar in il Lido. It’s always useful when a good restaurant also has a good bar. It means that you can enjoy a couple drinks then walk directly to your dining table. Call me lazy, but I hate going to a bar that’s more than a 5 minute walk from the restaurant I’m eating in after. If it requires a car ride, then I get really huffy.

Both Mint and il Lido’s lounge bar are sleek, sexy places to cool your Jimmy Choos and quench your thirst. Best of all, the drinks are well-crafted and always served chilled.

So, what’s your favourite cocktail recipe? Please, please, please leave yours in my comments so we can all try it out. Cheers!

Coffee Bar K, 205 River Valley Road, #01-076 UE Square, Singapore, Tel: 6720 5040
Mint, 4 Rochester Park, Singapore, Tel: 6775 9000
il Lido, Sentosa Golf Club,Bukit Manis Road, Singapore, Tel: 68661977

OCBC cardmember offers:

Mint Bar (at Graze)
25% off for cocktails and house pours 6.30pm to 9pm.
From now until 6 April 2007.

il Lido lounge bar
1-for-1 housepours by glass and 10% off on all other beverages including bottles.
From now until 6 April 2007.

Coffee Bar K
Order the Titanium cocktail at the special price of $20 (the normal price for a champagne cocktail is $28).
Additionally, you get a 20% discount on housepour whisky, spirits(vodka/rum/gin) and wine, plus a 20% discount on the following: GLENFIDDICH Solera Reserve 15 years old; GLENFIDDICH Ancient reserve 18 years old; and GLENFIDDICH 30 years old. Additionally, the $15 cover charge will be waived from 6pm to 9pm.
From now until 31 December 2006.

Promotion is subject to Service Charge, prevailing Government Taxes and GST. General Terms & Conditions for all Dining Privileges apply. These promotions are valid every day except eve of and on public holidays. For more details, visit www.ocbc.com.

Love at first sip

There was a time in my life, not that long ago, when I would have been considered a barfly. During this (hazy but fun) period of my life, which lasted for quite a few years, I probably spent some part of each and every day in a bar. After school, after work, before dinner, after dinner, for no reason whatsoever, a bar stop was a routine and requisite part of my life. Of course, even back them, I was finicky and particular. I had two preferred kinds of bars. The first is the dive bar. I love dive bars. I love them for their ugly and bargain-basement interiors, their dirt cheap drinks, their overplayed jukeboxes that always have a few Patsy Cline songs on their playlists, and their regulars, who always sit in the same seats and drink the same drinks. I love them most of all because they’re places where you can go and drink with friends… drink seriously, without stupid interruptions, music so loud that you can’t hear yourself talk, dumb young things looking for a sugar daddy or noisy over-testosteroned knuckleheads. These are also many of the same reasons that my second preferred type of bars are, for lack of a better term, civilized bars. By civilized, I mean clubbish, high-end drinking establishments. You know, the kind of bar in which you can sit with friends, get a perfectly made cocktail and speak to each other without having to yell. The kind of place where the music is soft but cool, the bartenders are immaculately dressed and don’t toss bottles in the air. The kind of place that uses a spray to mist vermouth into your martini and offers you a choice of a dozen different vodkas, none of them flavored. The kind of place where the clientele look great but aren’t bothering the people they didn’t come with. Unfortunately and especially in Singapore, it’s so very difficult to find a civilized bar these days.

At least, that’s what I thought for the longest time. Unable to find the kind of watering holes I love, I had pretty much given up on going out for drinks in the Lion City. Then a few weeks ago, a friend brought me to Coffee Bar K and I knew I had found a new home. Coffee Bar K opened here in Singapore in April, the third in a group that has outlets in Ginza and Chiba, Japan. Coffee Bar K is sleek, sexy, and cool. It’s also expensive and very Japanese. When you arrive, you’re handed a warm towel. As you settle into one of the comfortable black leather armchairs that front the glowing bar, a platter of snacks is placed in front of you. The drinks are made exquisitely and served in proper and beautiful glasses. The bar’s drink menu is huge but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can tell one of the bartenders what you’re in the mood for and let him surprise you with a custom cocktail. Whiskey-lovers will love it here. They have a ridiculously good list of Single-malts from Scotland and Japan. Ask for yours on the rocks and it comes in a nice heavy lowball glass with one giant, round and perfectly clear ice cube. Sit at the bar for awhile and you’ll realize that these cubes are hand-chipped by the bartenders.

Since discovering Coffee Bar K, I’ve been back several times. I’ve also been bringing friends as often as possible. They’ve all had the same reaction as I did, love at first sip. In fact, I bet that my wife and these same friends are probably going to kill me for blogging about this great and hidden gem. But I think a bar this good needs to be written about and shared. Cheers!

Coffee Bar K
205 River Valley Road
#01-076 UE Square
Singapore 238274
Tel (65) 6720 5040

Classic cocktails and new discoveries

I’m a big fan of a well-made cocktail. I appreciate the combination of skill, passion, creativity and great ingredients that goes into mixing the perfect drink. All of these are important, perhaps not in equal measures, but without the presence of all four ingredients, that post-prandial you’ve been craving for might just leave you a little disappointed. These days, my tastes run pretty simple. I pretty much stick to ordering classic drinks. A glass of Champagne or some ice-cold sake and I’m happy. If pushed to order a mixed drink, I’ll take a bellini, vodka gimlet, mojito or Pim’s cocktail over newer, fancier libations any day. Of course, I was not always so simple. In fact, when I was younger, I’m embarrassed to say, I was quite the wanker. My tastes in my early teen years ran to bottled wine coolers. From these disgusting alcopops, I soon found myself exploring and enjoying sickly-sweet, garishly colored cocktails with stupid names like Woo-Woo, Fuzzy Navel and the way-too-popular Sex on the Beach. Pathetic, right? Thank God by the time I went to university I had moved onto microbrewed beers and handcrafted vodkas.

Despite my current penchant for classic combinations, I still enjoy occasionally discovering (and tasting) smartly-crafted and unique cocktails. One of my favorite finds of the past few years is the Alberto #1, named after and created by Alberto Alonso, who spent 40 years working behind the bar at the famous but now closed restaurant La Caravelle. It combines fresh lime juice, mint, sugar, and vodka, and is topped off with Champagne. It’s a delightful, zesty drink that packs a huge punch.


photos courtesy of American Express Publishing Corporation

I recently had the opportunity to peruse Food & Wine‘s Cocktails 2006, a cool, pocket-size guide with over 150 drink recipes. While I have to admit that I probably would never attempt to mix many of the cocktails in this book, there were several that did catch my eye and a couple that had me drooling over the book’s glossy and well-designed pages. I really like that the recipes are all attributed to bartenders and bars across America. It’s a great way to discover interesting drinks and interesting places to drink in at the same time. Many of the drinks in this book have some pretty wacky names, like Label Whore, Heavy Petting, Finding Nemo, Periodista, and The Naughty Greek. In addition to the cocktail recipes, Cocktails 2006 also has a chapter containing 14 very yummy-sounding bar snack recipes. I was particularly excited by the stilton sirloin burgers with onion jam, attributed to the bar at the Peninsula in Chicago (pictured at the top right of the above montage). As a resource, this is a fun, attractive and informative book. I urge any amateur mixologist to pick one up. It’s available in bookstores across the USA and off Food & Wine’s website.

As a sneak preview, I’m transcribing 3 drink recipes that I find particularly yummy and one snack recipe that I’m sure you’ll all love.

Blackberry-mint margarita
From The Hungry Cat, Hollywood, California
8 blackberries, 2 skewered on a pick
10 mint leaves
1.5 ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce sugar syrup
ice

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 6 of the berries. Add ice, the mint, tequila, lime juice and the syrup shake well. Pour into a rocks glass; top with the 2 berries.

Boa 405
From Boa, Santa Monica, California
2 strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 ounce sugar syrup
1.5 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
dash of balsamic vinegar
large pinch of coarsely cracked black pepper

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberries and syrup. Add the vodka, lemon juice, vinegar and ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with pepper.

Vanilla old-fashioned
From Mas, New York City, New York
one 1-inch piece of vanilla bean, split (they recommend Madagascan or Tahitian)
one 1-inch piece of orange zest
1/4 ounce sugar syrup
2 dashes of orange butters
2 ounces bourban
1 orange wheel
ice

In a rocks glass, muddle the vanilla bean and orange zest with the syrup and bitters. Add the bourban and ice. Stir and garnish with the orange wheel.

Truffled popcorn
From Suba, New York City, New York
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced black truffle (optional; I suggest using black truffle salsa)
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup popcorn kernels (7 ounces)
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the truffle, truffle oil and a pinch of salt; keep warm. In a large heavy pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and cook over moderate heat until they start popping. Cook, shaking the pot continuously, until the popping has almost stopped. Carefully pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Add the truffled butter and toss well. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Cocktails lovers looking for an alternative guide should check out The Cocktail by Jane Rocca. I wrote a little about this gorgeous book in my holiday gift guide last December. With 200 recipes and stunning illustrations, The Cocktail is as much an art book as it is a fantastic resource. Like some of the drinks in Food & Wine’s guide, Ms Rocca has given many of her drinks some pretty witty names, like Violent Little Ol’ Lavender Girl and Tina’s On A Taipei Bus. Of the many drinks in this delightful book, the one I’m planning on making very soon is the Geisha Fizz. To make it, muddle 2 lychees in 10ml lemon juice. Then mix 15ml sake, 110ml Champagne, 15ml creme de gingembre with the muddled lychee and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake and strain into a flute. Garnish with a broken kaffir lime leaf.