Friday, June 29

Escriba, Barcelona

Right on the famous La Ramblas, this place caught my attention more for its lovely exterior than for what was on offer inside. Sure there was a lot to choose from, and most of them looked pretty tasty-my chocolate tart was easily above average. What I didn't like though was that they were careless about the food. Maybe I've been spoilt by San Sebastian, but I certainly wasn't happy when I was served re-heated pizza with once-melted-but-now-dried out cheese. Also, the mass confusion among the staff was quite a turn-off. At least 2 people in succession had had their orders mixed up or not taken down properly, and had to be appeased with freebies. I'd still come back here though, just to poke my nose about and maybe give the pastries another go. But I'd definitely do take-away, cos hanging around was just stressful.

Labels: ,

Taller de Tapas, Barcelona

This place had garnered worldwide fame, or so it seemed from the endless display of articles on the walls and windows. Can't be bad I thought, even though there were tourists everywhere. The queue outside was always long-and that's usually a good sign, no? But it was expensive, and a complete waste of calories. The duck was overdone and therefore tyre-tough, the iberian ham was doused in pepper so you couldn't really taste the meat, Catalan creme brulee had a layer of caramelised sugar so thick you couldn't break it..I could go on. Maybe the chef was having a bad day, I can't be sure, but this was definitely my least satisfying dining experience yet.

Labels: ,

H-Original, Barcelona

I didn't manage to veer very far off the tourist track while I was in Barcelona, so most of my meals didn't excite me much. H-Original in La Ravel was the only local-ish place I went to and it definitely stood out. I didn't have anything complicated, just Arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood). But the rice was cooked to perfection: moist, light with sweet undertones, and the seafood, the prawns in particular, had been marinated so well with spices and were so juicy i couldn't restrain myself from slurping once or twice (quietly of course!). Worth remembering.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 22

Arzak, San Sebastian

This is truly a labour of love. From the restaurant being based in the house built by his grandparents in 1897, to Jean Marie Arzak engaging with every customer continuously throughout the meal, to the food itself which is prepared with such precision and parsimony, and is presented so exquisitely you could not have asked for more. Every thing on the plate is there for a reason-the minced pimientos on the grilled squid gave it a bite every so often, the citrus pips and rose petals that decorated the apple with foie gras gave the sweet-savoury a touch of acid. The green tea crusted lamb was delicate but flavoursome. But the piece de resistance was the chocolate pearls in strawberry soup: would never have expected the pearls to burst in my mouth as they did, and for them to ooze rich chocolate! Wow. By the way, the wine was excellent, and the coffee also was the best I've had in San Sebastian. Even the sugar cubes were of superior quality, and as some of you may know, I'm very particular about my sugar cubes.

Labels: ,

La Cuchara de San Telmo, San Sebastian

A great many chefs and restaurants claim fresh produce and quality ingredients as the reasons for their success, but a meal at these places often doesn't leave you feeling nourished or at the very least, better for having eaten there. La Cuchara de San Telmo is one exception. My meal made me feel renewed, refreshed..even rejuvenated (the 3 'R's of good eating). This is what an old friend and I call 'zen' food. Seems an easy enough formula, but you wouldn't believe how hard it is to find outside the home. Quite easily my favourite restaurant in San Sebastian for this reason alone.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 18

La Cepa, San Sebastian

Most of the time, squid takes a lot of mastication and focus because of its firmness. At La Cepa though, it was soft and tender, and somewhat like fresh fish it melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to force myself to eat more slowly to savour the flavours. Cooked in their own ink and served with rice, that this dish is a San Sebastian speciality comes as no surprise. I can taste it even now.

Labels: ,

La Vina, San Sebastian

Cheesecake!! Home-made, so none of that icky, plasticky smoothness nor the excessive sweetness. Just a lot of good cheese and plenty of crispy burnt bits. Sure, those aren't the healthiest parts, but once in a while, they're such a treat!

Labels: , ,

Restaurante Portaletas, San Sebastian

There were a lot of elements in this meal that were good but only a couple are worth mentioning here. First, the vegetable pudding. I suppose this is the vegetarian equivalent of meatloaf, with bread and lots of mushy veggies. The other, was the cod. On the face of it, this looked like the most plain thing ever-a piece of cod covered with some leek in a garlic jus..didn't seem too exciting really. But I really enjoyed both the fish and the veggies. Felt quite earthy, and very home-cooked, so left the place feeling quite healthy. It wasn't a spectacular meal, sure, but this place deserves a solid 'good'.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 17

Pow Sing Restaurant

Pow Sing Restaurant
65 Serangoon Garden Way
T. 6286 4813

Great place for chicken rice. Nice succulent chicken, served deboned and without the skin, on request. To top it off, it also offers an extensive Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) food, from ngo hiang (deep fried prawn roll), to assam pedas (fish cooked in a spicy tamarind sauce and otar (steamed spicy fish cake). Meal was rather costly though for a casual dining place. The lunch for three cost S$60 / US$40.

P.S. Café

P.S. Café
28B Harding Road
T. 6479 3343

PS Café has one of the nicer brunch menus in town. I tried the cheese and onion flan today and it was delish. Nice and light, and fab with the fresh green salad.

Moi Kong Hakka Restaurant

Moi Kong Hakka Restaurant
22 Murray Street

I was looking forward to trying the new place. It looked promising. Packed. Then the dishes started arriving. We tried a variety – chicken fried with fu yu (fermented soy paste - top right), intestines stir fry (bottom left), tofu topped with minced chicken. Looked interesting, but tasted oh so average. Doubt if I will be back.

Sunday, June 10

La Torre De Pizza, San Sebastian

Okay, so this isn't typically Spanish, but change is good every once in a while! All three of us had been craving a pizza eversince a friend told us about the amazing pizza he'd had at this place. But everytime he tried to take us there, we always got lost..hmm, maybe it was a ploy:) In any case, this was good pizza: thin crust, crisp but not biscuit-hard and good cheese. We had a half -Margarita (tomato and mozzarella) half-Napolitana (salami, pimientos, ham, mushroom, unspecified cheese) pizza. The Swiss among us pointed out that the cheese used on either half was different..the rest of us were eating too fast to notice, but hey, can't quarrel with the expert can we?

Labels: ,

Bar Txepetxa, San Sebastian

I think I refrained from posting this for a while cos I wasn't sure if my mind was playing tricks on me: could anchovies taste so good? Sure, the walls are plastered with awards won by the bar, and mostly for anchovies..but c'mon! It was only when a usually not-so-culinarily-adventurous friend gasped at first bite that I knew this was defintely a winner. Anchovies that melt in your mouth, flavours that meld so well together you can't help the "ummmmm" of pure satisfaction that escapes from within. There's a reason why this is one of the best bars in the city.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 6

Xukela Restaurante, Bilbao

This little gem of a place is in the old part of Bilbao, and we happened upon it on our way home. Loved the decor and layout. This salad was so delightful-warm pate on pimientos and cured ham. Just look at that! Ahhhhh... Oh yes, funny story. An old lady, French I think, passed our table on her way out and her face lit up when she saw the bread on our table. She asked for a bit, and also some chorizo. We didn't mind at all but her family was so embarrassed. She was such a sweet little lady though, and she looked so pleased!

Labels: ,

Zuga, Bilbao

It's in the same square as Cafe Bilbao (see previous entry) but Zuga's more modern, and a little more creative with its pintxos. Definitely see the difference here, even in presentation, but there were one too many flavours for me. But am now curious to see what other modern pintxo places have to offer!

Labels: ,

Cafe Bilbao, Bilbao

I really enjoyed the energy of this place. I loved the decor, the three-arm central bar, the convival atmosphere: old-timers mixing with tourists, barmen laughing with everyone and of course the pintxos . I could've sat here all afternoon, but of course there was more eating to be done! Check out the pintxo in the foreground: cured ham, brie, anchovy and olive. It might sound like a strange combination of flavours to some of you, but trust me, it's great! Also the round one on the left-that's almond-encrusted cheese with grape sauce. Whaddya think about that?:)

Labels: ,

Chocolates, The Basque Country

So you know I like my chocolate. And if you've been out with me often enough, you know I feel compelled to enter every chocolate store I come across-its the way I sight-see! So here is my review of the chocolates in the Basque Country. From left to right: Henriet (Biarritz), Puyodebat (Bayonne) and Penaquel (La Rioja). All of them are dark, at least 60% cocoa solids, and cost between 4.50-5 euros a bar. The first two are French and the third, Spanish. Have to say I prefer the French ones. The one from Puyodebat in particular is sharp and slightly bitter but these are gently balanced with a little vanilla. That from Henriet was smoother and sweeter. My friends liked it but I expected the flavours to linger a little longer on the palate. I didn't like the one from Penaquel so much. It was good no doubt, but it was too sweet for me and I felt the original flavour of the cocoa had been compromised. But it would work well as an easy after-dinner tidbit.
(By the way, we even went to the Henriet museum of chocolate. What fun!)

Labels: ,

Monday, June 4

Blu Lobster, Beijing

Blu Lobster
Shangrila Beijing

Fun and interactive. This is how chef Brian McKenna creates his menus. Nothing is ever straight forward. The crab meat risotto was altogether hot from the rice, cold from the advocado ice-cream, and light from the lemon grass foam. The spinach pacel served with the 60 degree beef looked deceptively simple until you break it and release the gorgeous yolk within.

The dessert selection is equally fun, with the chocolate tart served with chopped bits of chocs and sizzling candy, that leaves an explosion in your mouth with each bite.

The expresso was served deconstucted with the ground beans at the base of the glass and coffee foam. With each bite, you savour the crunch and flavour of the beans while the foam gives it a lightness.

The different dishes were part of the constantly changing tasting menu. To wrap up the feast, we were served with this minty drink and a paste that when eaten together, is supposed to clean your palate. Delicious and fun meal overall.

Chef McKenna is one passionate chap. He makes it a point to present his dishes to the diners, works with the local farmers to grow the ingredients that he needs for his cooking (and that includes rocket and foie gras), and recruited a complete Chinese kitchen which is very rare for expatriate chefs in China. And if you get the chance, have a chat with him. He is the stellar example of what the love of great food is all about.

Labels: ,

Ke Jia Cai (Hakka Restaurant), Beijing

Ke Jia Cai (Hakka Restaurant)
Hou Hai

This was one of the best meals I had on this trip. Simple home-cooked Hakka dishes. The fish that was first fried, then baked in the foil was exceedingly fresh, similarly the steamed vegetables topped with pickles had a delicious clean taste, the beef wrapped in lotus leaf went very well with rice and I just could not stop picking on the spicy fried chicken pieces. This is one place that I will be back for on my next visit.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 3

Xiao Wang’s Home Restaurant, Beijing

Xiao Wang’s Home Restaurant
Guang Hua Lu
No 2 Bldg, Guang Hua Dong Lu
Chao Yang District
T. 6591 3255

It was the Peking duck that we came here for. And we were in for a treat. The duck was crispy and fat. This seems to be the main theme for all Chinese food here.

They did have a very tasty fried chicken wing dish that had a delicious sprinkling of spicy cumin on top and a delicious sweet and sour fried fish topped with pine nuts.

Labels: ,

Northern Chinese Food, Beijing

We walked into a restaurant located near a major shopping area looking for lunch. We had an interesting selection of chilled cucumbers, spicy cold chicken, chicken soup (flavourful but oily), and dan dan noodles (noodles with minced meat in peanut sauce).


Street Eats – Shao Bing, Beijing

It’s easy to eat your way around the city. If you are adventurous enough, stands that sell snacks are aplenty. This one stall sold shao bing, or a biscuit – savoury, filled with minced lamb or beef, or chives and sweet, filled with a bean paste. It is also greasy, so go easy on them.


Noodles, Beijing

The folks here just love their noodles. You can have it large bowls in a variety of styles: beef soup, hot and spicy soup, hot and sour soup, won ton, and even cold dressed in a sesame sauce. They are tasty and generously dressed in oil. And they usually don’t come with a spoon. The locals explained that that’s because they drink very little of it. Very affordable at US$1 and under a bowl.


Hong Kong Restaurant, Beijing

Hong Kong Restaurant
Wang Fu Jing

It may be called Hong Kong Restaurant but what we had were more like northern Chinese food. Platters of cold shredded tofu, shrimp and szechuan chicken (chicken stir fried with dried chillies).


Yong He Dou Jiang (Soya Bean Milk), Beijing

This all time favourite of mine seems to be all over the place. Originally from Taiwan, I have since spotted branches in Shanghai and now Beijing as well. It serves the usual soya bean milk, dumplings and you tiao (fried dough sticks). The Beijing and Shanghai stands have bumped up the menu with noodles and rice dishes too.


Noodles, Beijing

This food street was really getting interesting. I had both the zha jiang mian (noodle with minced meat sauce) and a xuan la mian (sour and spicy glass noodle) that were ideal in that cold cold weather.


Tea Soup, Beijing

My friend Beijing friend insisted I tried this. It was a mixture of some white flour, sesame seeds, water and other ingredients that I could not make out. Stir it altogether and it gives you this gummy mix. Had a taste of it but it just was not quite my thing.


BBQ Skewers, Beijing

I also saw some other interesting offerings, including starfish(?!!!) and scorpions!


BBQ Meats, Beijing

Given that it was the midst of winter (it was 1°C) when I was here, this was rather popular among the folks here. They had a wide selection, from chicken to beef, to lamb and even innards. What made it more interesting was the spice that they sprinkled over the skewers after its been grilled. A combination of cumin and chilli that made it very delish. The locals have huge appetites. Its not unusual for them to polish off half a dozen sticks at a go.


El Sitio Del Magueyal, San Sebastian

I wonder if you are as sick as I am of the current fad with molten chocolate cake. Sure, its good, but it's (as my sister would say) so five minutes ago. So this was a pleasant surprise. Actually, more than just pleasant. I was blown away. And I couldn't help thinking how it was the perfect cake for my choco cake partner-in-crime and me. It's got the sponge that she likes, the mousse that I like, and the richness and bittersweetness that we both adore. Did I mention the crunch of the choco bits that iced the cake? The only thing I can think of that comes close in flavour and texture is Haagen-Dazs belgian chocolate ice-cream. I thought about it all night long, and I couldn't sleep til I'd emailed her this photo for her vicarious enjoyment-it had to be shared, immediately. This is a winner in my books. Oh yes, I forget, we also had very good spinach and salmon lasagne and lamb and pork kebabs, but those turned out to be mere means to an end. An excellent end.

Labels: , ,

Brussel Sprouts (Belgium)

Brussel Sprouts
80 Mohammed Sultan Road #01-12 The Pier @ RobertsonT. 6887 4344

I head that this bar serves tiny mussels so I steered clear of this, not knowing that the “small” factor applied to its other dishes as well. We ordered a starter of fried mussels only to be served a dozen (or less) tiny morsels served in an even tinier class. And it didn’t come cheap. The bites cost S$12 / US$7.