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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

24-Hour Food Frenzy Safari

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants – Singapore 2013

Batam and Bali via Singapore Lounge

Chef André Chiang - Restaurant André

Chef Willin Low - Wild Rocket

Ignatius ‘Iggy’ Chan – Singapore’s Sommelier

Innotel Hotel

Kaiseki Yoshiyuki

Kaya Toast – a Singapore tradition

Innotel Hotel

Majestic Restaurant Singapore

Park Regis Hotel

Peranakan Food and Culture, and The Blue Ginger Restaurant

Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra

Raffles Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton - Afternoon Tea

The Ritz-Carlton - Sunday Brunch

Singapore – A moving story

Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier

World Street Food Congress 2015


Book review: Perfection in Imperfection - Janice Wong

Book review: Singapore - Marco Polo

Book review: Singapore Top Ten – Eyewitness Travel

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It’s all about travel and food - lots of international excursions, culture and history, hotel, destination and restaurant reviews.
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All restaurant, hotel and product reviews are sponsored; however, the resulting articles are unbiased and the opinions expressed are my own.

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Travel Reviews
- Singapore

On this page:

24-Hour Food Frenzy Safari

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants – Singapore 2013

Batam and Bali via Singapore Lounge

Chef André Chiang - Restaurant André

Chef Willin Low - Wild Rocket

Ignatius ‘Iggy’ Chan – Singapore’s Sommelier

Innotel Hotel

Kaiseki Yoshiyuki

Kaya Toast – a Singapore tradition

Innotel Hotel

Majestic Restaurant Singapore

Park Regis Hotel

Peranakan Food and Culture, and The Blue Ginger Restaurant

Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra

Raffles Hotel

The Ritz-Carlton - Afternoon Tea

The Ritz-Carlton - Sunday Brunch

Singapore – A moving story

Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier

World Street Food Congress 2015


Book review: Perfection in Imperfection - Janice Wong

Book review: Singapore - Marco Polo

Book review: Singapore Top Ten – Eyewitness Travel


Batam and Bali via Singapore Lounge

Singapore lounge These are destinations known more by Australians than Europeans, but they are more accessible to us now, with convenient flight connections via Singapore Airlines from London’s Heathrow.

Any vacation should start as soon as the head of the household is safely lodged in the cattery, the central heating is set to just ticking over, you have informed the neighbours for security and to make them jealous, the front door is closed and you are off.

Yes, only off to the airport but that can be the beginning of a week or so of pampering, accessible luxury and full-on relaxation. The Singapore lounge awaits and it’s deliciously garnished, marvellously appointed and your first holiday-mood enhancer. The experience starts here. This is the SilverKris Lounge at Heathrow T2.  SilverKris Lounge for First and Business Class customers is a land version of Singapore Airlines’ travel concept of worldwide ‘home away from home’, although much more comfortable than many homes.

bali cocktail Located in T2B close to gate B36, Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris Lounge has more than 200 seats which are arranged in a thoughtful fashion to offer convivial spaces for small groups, work solitude for pressed business trippers, and upholstered chairs for travellers accompanied only by a good book.

The lounge isn’t just for sitting but also for some rather classy casual dining, tempting not only with British dishes but also those from Singapore and Malaysia. Your gastronomic extravaganza starts here.

Arrive and unwind with a glass of chilled champagne - there are also beers and wines - although this seasoned traveller recommends only one glass of alcohol in the lounge, as hospitality continues on the flight, meals being lubricated with classic wines and spirits. Grab a magazine, find a cosy corner and wonder why they don’t offer vacations just to the lounge.

First Class customers are treated to goods from the self-service buffet area, as well as an à la carte menu which changes throughout the day. There might be Singapore Laksa and the famous and ubiquitous Hainanese Chicken Rice. There is also the very traditional British afternoon tea menu, which is obviously a favourite with those flying home to the Far East from these shores. 

But you are off to Batam or Bali and this is only the first step. Those islands are nearer than you think, with just a change of vehicle at Singapore. The beautiful island of Bali, just a connecting flight away from Singapore airport, has many facets and appeals both to those with an interest in learning more about the fascinating Indonesian culture, and to those others who are party animals. The two experiences co-exist and are flourishing.

batam Batam is just a short ferry ride from Singapore and offers a tropical paradise, with a hotel providing calm after time spent enjoying the cosmopolitan vibe of the modern and energetic city state of Singapore.

Montigo Resorts Nongsa, on Batam, is a property which thinks it’s a village. The 88 seafront villas provide everything that you expect from the perfect vacation home. There are light and airy living rooms, private patios for romantic alfresco dining, secluded plunge pools, cooking facilities, sumptuous bedrooms and modern and well-appointed bathrooms. So close to Singapore but a tranquil world away. This stunning resort is ideal as part of a 2-venue holiday. Discerning adults will love shopping, museums, entertainment in Singapore but equally will appreciate the sophistication and quiet of Montigo Resorts Nongsa, whilst the kids will be thrilled by swimming pools and the kids’ club with its host of activities here. All the family will enjoy the resort’s restaurants which will appeal to every taste.

bali Montigo Resorts Seminyak, on Bali, has an outstanding location. It’s surrounded by smart bars and boutiques but the island has more to offer than cocktails and retail therapy. There are craft villages, temples, tourist shops, rice terraces and jungles to entice the visitor away from beaches and pools. Montigo Resorts Seminyak is indeed a tropical idyll but laced with the best of modern comforts and technology.

There are more than 100 stylish and spacious guest rooms and suites which are ideal for both families and couples. The restaurant offers outstanding Asian and European dishes, and they have a bar which is becoming noted for its classic and exotic cocktails. High-end, yet family-friendly luxury.


Learn more about Singapore Airlines here.

Learn more about the lounge here.

Learn more about Montigo Resorts Seminyak here.

Learn more about Montigo Resorts Nongsa here.


food and travel reviews

Singapore with Marco Polo

Not sure if Marco Polo, that celebrated explorer of the East, ever got to the area we now know as Singapore; however, he has given his name to a series of guidebooks to aid a distant generation of travellers.

Singapore Marco Polo It’s true that there are many guide books and all of them, I feel sure, have merit. This particular Marco Polo guide to Singapore does seem one of the most practical. This is a slim and concise volume with a sturdy cover. One might enjoy one of those famous thick blue guides while one is planning a trip but nobody wants to carry a book as big as a bible in the heat and humidity of the tropics.

The Marco Polo guide has a section of ‘Best Of’ recommendations. This is such a vibrant city that I am sure you will be adding your own recommendations in the blank Notes section. Marco suggests hotels, unique restaurants, night life and other stylish options for the enthusiastic traveller. Singapore is a young city. Yes, it has history but it also has energy. Singapore has lots to occupy the children: there are beaches, pools, zoos as well as gardens and the Singapore Flyer.

There is so much to do and see and taste in Singapore. One can be overwhelmed. This guide allows the visitor to plan an itinerary but will also give confidence to change that along the way. The Metro in Singapore is easy to negotiate and one of the cleanest that I have ever seen. There is a Rapid Transit map at the back of the guide and it’s difficult to get lost.

There is a wallet attached to the back cover and that contains the street map. It has places of interest marked and also has 3 self-guided walking tours. One can find a romantic walk, a cultural stroll or a garden ramble. One might need that exercise after enjoying some of Singapore’s diverse culinary delights.

Singapore is a paradise for food lovers. There are plenty of fine-dining restaurants and I can vouch for the quality of the restaurants listed in this guide. There are also more economic eateries and these can be found in Hawker Centres listed here. Marco Polo also offers some very handy Insider Tips, not only in the Food and Drink chapter but throughout the book. There is also a Do’s and Don’t’s section which will give you a heads-up… at least on the Don’t’s. There are few of these in this remarkably safe country but they are good to know.

Marco Polo Singapore is compact but the visitor will find a wealth of information that will ensure a stay filled with fun, food, comfort and unique entertainment. Singapore can be a smart, jet-setting, glitter-filled adventure and appropriate high-spots are listed here; or it can be a gentle introduction to an exciting city where one can explore without the need of a bank loan.

Find this and other guides by Marco Polo here

food and travel reviews

World Street Food Congress 2015

World Street Food Congress 2015 I have been fortunate enough to have been able to spend time in Singapore, in fact every year for the past 3 years. I am an unashamed supporter of this my favourite country. I adore the weather, even the humidity which I find more tolerable than that of London, which tends to be vertical and cold. The locals are for the most part friendly and engaging – many folks speak English – and it has a rich heritage.

I suppose the majority of tourists to Singapore are there only en route. It seems an exotic shopping opportunity, and it is. It’s considered a colourful stop-over, and that’s right, too. But there is also the food that should, to my mind at least, be given a lot more credit.

So how exactly does the food tie in with the aforementioned heritage? Well, let us consider that whatever nationality we are, food plays a great part in our lives. I have the privilege to interview the finest of international chefs. My opening question will usually be ‘What are your earliest food memories?’ The answer will likely be, ‘My nana’s cheese and onion pie’, or it might be if the chef in question is British. My next question: ‘What encouraged you to become a chef?’ The answer might be the same: ‘My nana’s cheese and onion pie.’

That lasting and comforting memory of food isn’t confined to chefdom. Ask almost anyone about fond memories and they will tell stories of steaming pots of soup after school on a winter’s day. There will be memories of Sunday lunch and that special gravy that mum made. There are also foods that remind us of particular places and events. The pasty at the football match, the fish and chips after that block-buster movie, and jellied eels by the coast. Many people profess to have little interest in food as they don’t cook. In truth they love food but they just don’t cook. So that’s our connection to street food.

Singapore has that rich heritage not only of buildings, history and diversity in its citizens but also the food, which is hard to overlook or avoid even if one wanted to, and why would anyone want to? Its food culture has been born of a practical evolution, providing cheap and nourishing food for hard-working locals who didn’t have much cash to flash. The dishes are as varied as the population itself.

World Street Food Congress 2015 A few years ago the government had a campaign to clean up the streets and to consolidate the street-hawkers into centres. These cavernous spaces are dotted all over the city and house hundreds of hawker stalls selling everything from Malay specialities to Fish Balls, from Nasi Lemak to Nasi Padang. There are a few innovations but locals know what they like and each stall has its loyal followers.

Street food is an institution here and workers often eat out four or five times a week. The meals are economical and well-cooked. There is continuity and tradition here and now there is security in organized food halls, with running water and clean tables. I know that they are trying to formalise street vendors in India and other countries too, so that they and their customers can also be assured of good facilities and regulation of standards and practices.

The World Street Food Congress is powered by the World Street Food Council, which is the brainchild of dynamic KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra, the organizers of the event which will be taking place again between 8th and 12th April 2015 in Singapore. The World Street Food Congress is a celebration, conference, demonstration and showcase for street food from all over the world. Singapore has the finest example of the genre but this style of casual but sophisticated dining shows up in almost every country, or it once did.

World Street Food Congress 2015 The aim of next year’s event is to raise awareness about the preservation of street food, professionalisation of its exponents, and possibilities for street food culture in the future. The Congress will focus on actions such as empowering, engaging and opportunities. Street food is alive only because there are people who work long hours every day, but a new generation of cooks needs to be tempted to join their number. This is big business and could be the lifeline to those needing work and respect.

The associated 2-day conference and networking event will feature international speakers who will offer their perspective on skills, opportunities and new ideas for promoting street food culture. Each country has its own issues but this is a form of accessible and sensual pleasure that should be available to all. Street food has always been available in Asia but now western countries are reviving their own street-food traditions. North America in particular has embraced the concept. We are all familiar with the small street carts in New York selling hot dogs and knishes, but Portland Oregon has fleets of food trucks (there has got to be a better word than ‘truck’) offering American favourites as well as dishes from every other continent.

World Street Food Congress 2015 I spend my days in delightful fashion. Yes, I am lucky. I travel and I eat. Michelin-star meals thrill, and every country offers charm and education of some sort. But what do I crave while home or away? Comfort food. We are in real danger of losing sight of real, honest food, proper food. We need to provide an environment in which existing vendors, hawkers, sellers can thrive. We need to develop structures to entice young and enthusiastic cooks who will develop new dishes that will someday become ‘classic’.

World Street Food Congress 2015 is a ‘must visit’ event for any lover of good food. It will be fun, but there is a serious purpose. I whole-heartedly support this and hope that it becomes an unstoppable movement. It’s ‘people power’ and deliciously so.


World Street Food Congress 2015 An event by Makansutra. Visit www.wsfcongress.com

Date: 8th – 12th April 2015

Venue:
Bugis, grassland next to Tan Quee Lan Street,
Singapore

food and travel reviews

24-Hour Food Frenzy Safari

24 hour singapore The name ’24-Hour Food Frenzy Safari’ might, to the untutored, give the impression of something of a greedy teen munchies extravaganza. Well, in truth, it was an extravaganza but the message behind the event was serious.

Eating for a solid 24 hours with no designated sleep breaks is not for the faint-hearted. Two dozen or so enthusiastic food journalists were invited to attend Makansutra’s 24-Hour Street Food Frenzy Safari, hosted by the charismatic KF Seetoh. No, we were not chosen from the ranks of the aforementioned juvenility, but we all had a will to enjoy and learn from this unique experience.

The 1440 minutes (someone else did the maths) of non-stop eating and travelling was an extraordinary idea and held to publicise the future second meeting of the World Street Food Congress, taking place between April 8th and 12th, 2015. We were along to taste the diversity of Singapore’s cuisine, to be introduced to the faces behind the plates and to hear stories of endeavour, success and fortitude, all woven together with a vibrant tapestry of culture.

The marathon started innocently enough at 10.30 on a Saturday morning at the Esplanade in Singapore. That’s where one finds Makansutra’s street food centre called Gluttons Bay, with its up-market stalls, perhaps giving a metaphoric taste of the delights to come. We were each presented with a survival kit which proved indispensable and included such well-chosen items as herbal medication for headaches, indigestion tablets and a toothbrush! We counted several qualified doctors in our number but these were for the reassurance of the skittish rather than the rescue of the fallen – their advice was never sought and the medical personnel joined with the group, tasting, discussing, comparing and musing.

24 hour singapore Our intrepid throng criss-crossed the island, going from coast to coast and from the tip of Singapore to the border with Malaysia. We journalists from 11 countries were not just offered those dishes deemed to be suitable for foreign palates: we tried and enjoyed everything that Singapore provided to its own population. I doubt that any of us, including many locals, have had the opportunity to eat such a bounty, not only in 24 hours but even in a full adult life!

Our stops, and there were more than 30 of them, presented everything from light snacks such as Kaya toast (a coconut spread, garnishing grilled white bread sandwiched with a cool slab of butter) to Fish Head Curry which proved to be popular with the whole crowd. We were a bunch of passionate eaters who expected to, and indeed did, enjoy even the least-familiar dishes. This was no place for a picky eater. We tucked in but with moderation, being mindful of the length of this culinary journey.

24 hour singapore Our mission was not actually to eat our own weight in food but to experience Singapore’s street food culture and to consider ways of both promoting and preserving the recipes, skills and its popularity for future generations. We took a short but welcome break from bus or stall seats to lounge in a conference hall. No break from food, however, as chefs demonstrated some contemporary departures from traditional hawker-stall fare.

We heard more about the World Street Food Congress, which had its first event in 2013. Although held in Singapore, which has its own celebrated street food, this was an international event which will be repeated in 2015. The 2013 World Street Food Congress (WSFC) was a symposium and a conference focusing on street food around the world. It aimed to elevate awareness of the state of street food internationally and to consider its future possibilities. Now in its second year, the Congress will focus on the actionable, with the themes of Empower, Engage and Opportunities. There will be networking activities, hawker recipes as well as chef demonstrations, and the World Street Food Awards will be announced shortly after the main event.

24 hour singapore Food is a great leveller. We all have food memories and it’s those very memories that have driven some to become chefs themselves. Food plays an important part in society and culture but it’s a fragile prize that needs to be guarded and nurtured. In the past street food earned little respect and those who toiled over long hours and hot stoves were held in distain. That has been true around the globe, but things are changing, and there has been something of a street food revival in some countries and an awakening of the realisation that food is culture.

A nation’s heritage cannot be preserved by tourists alone. It’s refreshing to see this initiative blossom in Singapore and KF Seetoh should be applauded for his vision and driving passion. He provides a platform for debate which we see is already having a positive impact on our perception of a food genre that offers accessible comfort and, hopefully, culinary continuity.

Find more information on the Street Food Congress here

Learn more about Singapore here

food and travel reviews

Park Regis Hotel

Asian hotel review Singapore is blessed with hotels of every comfort hue. There are a few cheap and cheerful (if you are lucky) small hotels and a wealth of high-end spots to lay one’s travel-weary head. But as with property of any kind, it’s location, location, location that adds the word ‘memorable’ to ‘comfort’.

Asian hotel review Park Regis Singapore is centrally located in the heart of the city and that’s just where you will want to be, and especially if your break is a short one. There is so much that is within walking distance, and that’s ‘easy’ walking distance.

Chinatown will likely be on your must-see list and it’s only 10 minutes away. There are more souvenir shops than one could shake an ornamental chop-stick at, and dozens of restaurants offering anything from dim sum on which to snack to full Szechuan banquets over which to sweat.

Park Regis has a metro station just across the road. Clarke Quay MRT serves the eponymous neighbourhood just a short walk away, with its restored warehouses which are now forming a hub of Singapore nightlife. Set on the Singapore River this is a tranquil spot for a coffee during the day, but it comes alive when the sun goes down.

Asian hotel review That handy metro stop offers Park Regis guests fast, clean and safe transport to all Singapore attractions. It’s just a few stops to the remarkable Marina Bay Sands complex with its iconic three hotel towers. That’s right next to Gardens by the Bay with its huge metallic trees. Little India has a metro station – go here for some stunning fabrics. Orchard Road is all about tempting shops and boutiques, and the metro will take you directly into its largest shopping mall.

Yes, Park Regis is a well-placed base from which to explore the city but you will want a haven from the rigors of sight-seeing and you will find it here. The service is impeccable and friendly and that’s welcome after a jet-lagging flight that will have you longing for your room.

This is a fairly new hotel so everything is pristine and smart. Plenty of dark wood but rooms are light and airy and ours had windows on three sides. There is broadband internet access, 42" LCD TV, cable TV with plenty of channels and Interactive TV (IPTV) and movies on demand, although it’s unlikely you will find time for much viewing. The individually controlled air-conditioning is a necessity as are the spacious shower, crisp sheets and a good night’s sleep.

Park Regis has its own restaurant and several bars but breakfast here is a treat. Hotels in Asia can be a joy for food lovers. They cater to both western and eastern tastes and so present guests with lots of early-morning grazing opportunities. There are the usual traditional goods such as mounds of bacon, sausages (these were chicken), eggs and potatoes but so much more. The omelette station was popular with both Asians and Europeans but there were also steamed buns and dumplings and congee for anyone looking for a Chinese start to the day. Japanese guests had miso soup and there was also a simmering pot of Laksa with its array of condiments for those who want a taste of Malaysia.

Asian hotel review So you have had a substantial breakfast and roamed the city for hours and now it’s time to unwind. Park Regis has its own pool in which to cool. There is a fully equipped gym for anyone who needs a bit more exercise, and you will never be far from a snack or a drink. For those unfortunates who must work, there is a full-service Business Centre providing secretarial services. There are iMac workstations with complimentary broadband internet access. Rental of mobile phones and laptops and private meeting rooms are available.

Park Regis ticks all the boxes for this traveller. Yes, its location is unbeatable but it’s that combined with all the other elements of comfort and kindness that makes this one of my favourite hotels in the area. It’s cosy, charming, practical and good value.

Park Regis - Singapore
23 Merchant Road
Singapore 058268

Phone: + (65) 6818 8888
Fax: + (65) 6818 8868

Reservations – sing@parkregissingapore.com

Functions & Events – eventssin@parkregishotels.com

Visit Park Regis here

food and travel reviews

Perfection in Imperfection

I first met Chef Janice Wong at her deliciously unique dessert bar in Singapore in the early hours. It’s called, unsurprisingly, 2am: dessertbar. It’s a showcase for this talented lady and offers a flavour of this, her literary debut.

Asian cookbook review Janice looks even younger than her young years but she has packed a lot into less than 30 of them, and has earned the respect of her peers. That regard was broadcast internationally when she was recently acclaimed Asia’s Best Pastry Chef at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in Singapore. This local girl has brought yet another accolade to a city that is renowned for being the home of some of the most innovative restaurants in the world.

But Janice didn’t initially find this passion for food in Singapore. She was studying in Melbourne, Australia, when she was struck by the wealth of foods from many different culinary traditions. She changed her academic path and eventually went to France to study patisserie in earnest. Yes, Janice has learned techniques from the world’s finest but the imagination, drive and whimsy is Singapore-made and totally original.

Perfection in Imperfection is striking. Its cover is …well, partly missing. The front is torn (each one by hand) and the spine isn’t there at all. But remember the title and you will start to ponder, muse, think, understand …and that’s what Janice Wong encourages her diners and readers to do.

Perfection in Imperfection is a cookbook, but it is so much more. It’s not a culinary destination but more a gastronomic signpost for the reader. Janice’s dessertbar desserts are difficult to replicate. She presents food in the form of art …or is that art in the form of food?

Some recipes are composed with the professional or dedicated and experienced home cook in mind. There are a few with Bloomenthalesque ingredients, but lots that can easily be accomplished by a regular food enthusiast with a more limited larder. Rocher Magnums would be a start, as it uses readily available ingredients to produce a classy, rich and chocolatey frozen dessert. I am intrigued by Bubblegum Gummies, which would make amusing retro edible gifts. Definitely one for every adult with childhood bubble-blowing memories!

Attention to detail of not only the sweet creations but of the book itself is beautifully evident. It’s the class of book that wins awards, the style of book that will become a food literature collectable. Janice successfully combines her love of ingredients with her flair for design. She deftly combs and crumbles, brushes and blends, but – above all – Janice Wong inspires.

Perfection in Imperfection
Author: Janice Wong
Published by: 2am: Lab
ISBN: 978-981-08-9551-8

2am: dessertbar
21A Lorong Liput
Holland Village
Singapore 277733
Singapore

Phone: (+65) 6291 9727

Visit 2am: dessertbar here
food and travel reviews

Kaiseki Yoshiyuki - Singapore

Asian restaurant review Ignatius Chan is unique, a quiet and gentle man who is sparked into animation when talking about food and drink. He is celebrated and respected in Asia but not as a chef: he is Asia’s sommelier.


Singapore is considered by many (this writer included) as one of the finest of food capitals, not just in Asia but the whole world. Ignatius has contributed to that reputation with his eponymous restaurant ‘Iggy’s’. It’s high-end, polished, with outstanding dishes, and unsurprisingly a striking wine list. Its location in the Hilton makes this eminently accessible to international visitors and locals alike.


But Ignatius has other culinary ventures and Kaiseki Yoshiyuki exudes the same quality as ‘Iggy’s’ but it’s discreetly tucked away in the basement of a shopping mall next to the Hilton, on Orchard Road. One might not find this by accident but it’s worth seeking out. The entrance is unobtrusive with just a grey and white banner covering the door and a light-box displaying the restaurant name in flowing calligraphy.

Asian restaurant review
Kaiseki is a style of Japanese cuisine. With many courses that represent both simplicity and complexity, it is becoming more popular outside Japan with those who are looking for the very essence of classic Japanese food preparation and presentation.


Kaiseki is still to be found in ryokan (traditional inns) in Japan, but it is also served in small restaurants, as it would be impossible to produce such refined dishes for large numbers. Kyoto is well known as the home of Kaiseki and outside Japan these restaurants are sometimes called Kyoto Kaiseki restaurants.


Kaiseki’s origins can be traced back to traditions of elaborate feasting at the imperial court and the formalised Japanese tea ceremony, along with the customs of Zen monks of the 17th century. The dishes are characterised by not only their elaborate presentation but the use of seasonal ingredients. The meal should be a homage to taste, texture and visual appeal.


Finished dishes are carefully presented on plates and trays that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonality of the fresh ingredients. Dishes are thoughtfully placed and garnished with vegetables sometimes carved to represent plants, birds or animals.

Asian restaurant review
Kaiseki meals have a traditional order of serving with consideration of cooking techniques, but an experienced chef will introduce or admit dishes to help emphasise the theme of the meal. It’s the highest form of culinary artistry, and chef Yoshiyuki wields his knife to form epicurean tableaux.


Ignatius Chan and two partners opened this US$1.6m restaurant which is named after its head chef, Yoshiyuki Kashiwabara, who has impeccable culinary credentials. He spent seven years as the personal chef to the Japanese ambassadors in San Francisco and Singapore. Chef Yoshiyuki honed his Kaiseki skills at the respected Kyoryori Hosoi in Tokyo, where he joined as a trainee and eventually headed the kitchen team. Yoshiyuki now has his own venue to showcase the very best of Kaiseki cuisine.

Asian restaurant review
This restaurant is instantly recognisable as part of the Chan empire. Its design is thoughtful, inspired and a perfect vehicle for this talented chef. There are no overt trappings of Japan but it contrives to exude that distinct minimalist charm in contemporary fashion. Shelves of tactile wooden book spines, and cases of illuminated origami show imagination and flair but the décor doesn’t overshadow the food. Nothing here offends the senses.


A meal at Kaiseki Yoshiyuki is memorable. The presentation is classic with each of the many courses being offered to the guest as a complete set on their personal tray. Every dish is beautiful, light and delicious, and there are even elements of culinary whimsy. Yes, the impression is of timeless formality, but enjoy the food and the event. This is as far from one’s usual fast sushi outlet as one could imagine. Sit at the counter and savour the ambiance.

Asian restaurant review
Iggy Chan never disappoints. Kaiseki Yoshiyuki is a credit to both Ignatius and this worthy chef who takes advantage of Singapore’s access to the best ingredients from across the globe. This must surely be on the must-visit restaurant list of any local or tourist.


Opening times:
Monday - Friday
12:00 noon - 1:30 pm for lunch
7:00 pm - 9:30 pm for dinner

Saturday
7:00 pm - 9:30 pm for dinner

Kaiseki Yoshiyuki
Forum the Shopping Mall
#B1-39
583 Orchard Road,
Singapore 238884
Singapore

Visit Kaiseki Yoshiyuki here

food and travel reviews

Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra

asian restaurant review
Indian food in any country other than India would not seem the natural choice for the food-passionate traveller, but good food should never be overlooked and there is no reason to introduce geographic dining prejudice into one’s Singapore eating extravaganza.

It’s a city-state famed for its quality and variety of food. It has a neighbourhood called Little India and it does indeed seem an authentic, vibrant and colourful corner of the transplanted sub-continent. But the local demand for authentic and good-quality restaurants seems to have stopped, with a few exceptions, just short of Little India. One can find surprising culinary gems but on the whole the eateries lack polish.

Chef Javed Ahamad had invited me to his restaurant, Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra, and I was expecting something special. The clue was in the address, a million culinary miles away from Little India. Marina Bay Sands only houses creditable food outlets and the smartest of fine dining restaurants, and Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra counts itself in that number.

Those outside India might not be familiar with the name Jiggs Kalra, but anyone with a love for Indian food and cookbooks will know this man, who has built a formidable reputation in the Indian food industry, from writing to presenting his own eponymous small chain of Punjab Grills across India. The Singapore branch is the first outside India, and was an inspired choice of location.

These days son Zorawar Kalra, Founder and C.E.O of Punjab Grill, and business partner and Chairman of LiteBite Foods, Amit Burman, oversee the workings of the chain, and Chef Javed is the man at the sharp end of the Singapore branch. His dedication to presenting fine dishes is evident. He glows with both pride and enthusiasm for this smart restaurant which does itself glow with thousands of soft lights in a kind of man-made firmament.

Diners are welcomed by tastefully-costumed waiting staff and seated at well-spaced tables. There is a view onto the kitchen and into the well-stocked wine rack. Yes, the myth has finally been dispelled that one can only drink cold beer with Indian food. The menu arrives and it offers many dishes that have made Indian food so popular with many of us in Europe.

asian restaurant review Punjab Grill has taken the rich and almost addictive flavours of Northern India and presented them in a refined restaurant. The tandoor-grilled dishes are an absolute triumph with the salmon being possibly the best you will find anywhere. One would think that’s a simple preparation but the skill is in the delicate touch of the tandoor chef. Every second counts, and too many of those can render a moist piece of fish a dry and tasteless travesty.

The grilled lamb chops were another highlight among many. How often has one heard the phrase ‘falls off the bone’ and it always sounds like a poetic exaggeration, but the meat was truly melting, well-seasoned and memorable.

Try the Patiala Shahi Machchi. It is indeed a royal fish dish of moist and flavourful white fish in a spicy sauce. It’s a recipe that takes some care as a heavy hand with the spices can mean a final result of overpowered fish. It’s done well here.

Butter Chicken is a standard on many an Indian restaurant bill of fare but Chef Ahamad offers us a version that is flavourful, well-buttered but lighter than some. It’s a must-try for those who want a classic gravy dish. And don’t forget the indispensible daal which is a speciality here. One might think a bowl of lentils to be dull and ordinary but the daal at the Punjab Grill will comfort and impress the uninitiated and delight the converted.

asian restaurant review Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra with Chef Javed Ahamad at the helm ticked all the epicurean boxes for this food traveller. The ingredients were fresh, the dishes were balanced and full of flavour, the presentation was first-class and the service impeccable. The majority of diners were evidently local and regular visitors, and there were a number of Indians who dropped by and enjoyed their evening, and they know more about this cuisine than do I. The menu was well executed and a delight to graze upon – plenty of choice of classics as well as innovation. Return visits will definitely be booked when I’m craving curry in Singapore.

Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra (Chef Javed Ahamad)
B1-01A, Galleria Level
2 Bayfront Avenue,
The Shoppes At Marina Bay Sands

Phone:+ 65 6688 7395

Visit Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra here

Opening times
Daily Lunch:
11:30AM - 3:30PM. Last order: 2:45pm

Dinner:
6:30PM - 11:00PM. Last order: 10:30pm
Phone:+ 65 6688 7395


food and travel reviews


The Ritz Singapore Spring Weekend Afternoon Tea
with Executive Chef Massimo Pasquarelli and Executive Pastry Chef Terence Pang

Asian restaurant review The Ritz-Carlton Singapore is one of my favourite comfort destinations. It’s a delight to stay there but also to visit and enjoy on Sundays when work is over, or when one needs a civilised sit-down garnished with stunningly delicious food. They are famed for their Sunday Brunch, which must be on every traveller’s Bucket List, but they also present a seasonal Sunday Afternoon Tea.

Spring Weekends Afternoon Tea is held in the striking Chihuly Lounge (named after the artist whose impressive glass sculpture graces the wall), and those seasonal teatimes are destined to become as famed as the aforementioned copious brunch. The Ritz-Carlton does whatever it does well, with flair, innovation and good taste.

Executive Chef Massimo Pasquarelli works with talented Executive Pastry Chef Terence Pang to present this Cheese-themed Tea. That might conjure images of a menu comprising a hefty selection of cheese sandwiches, cheddar as main ingredient for cheese on toast, an individual macaroni cheese, and perhaps a traditional cheesecake to follow. Yes, it’s difficult to see how cheese can be incorporated into sweet confections in any quantity. But I was expecting something special – this is The Ritz-Carlton, after all.

Asian restaurant review This menu is evidently a melding of mind and skill. Both Chef Terence and Chef Massimo have respect for ingredients, and an afternoon tea allows them to show those foods to delicious advantage, introducing a little culinary whimsy to the proceedings. They have devised thirteen desserts that contain cheeses, such as Baked Vanilla Camembert Cheese Cake, Cheddar Raisin Scones, Citrus Cream Cheese Rolls (tangy and fruity and unmissable), and Coffee and Soft Guanaja Mascarpone Cheese Cream (guanaja gives the final product a more intense chocolate flavour).

But one does need savoury to act as a warm-up for those memorable lactic sweets, and there were plenty of canapés on offer, all of them laced with Chef Terence Pang’s evident Asian influence. Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sandwiches started that cheesy homage, but there was plenty more on those non-dessert tables: Beef Pastrami with Pickled Gherkin in a Mini Croissant; Salmon Confit with XO Sauce and Salmon Roe was a triumph; and Scallop Sushi topped with Japanese Mayonnaise and Tobiko was luxurious. That shellfish made a second appearance with Steamed Scallop Siew Mai. These and a host of other ‘starters’ would have been sufficient to fill even the most practised of post-meridian grazers but we had strolled by those desserts at the entrance and it would have been rude not to try a few.

I asked Chef Massimo how he devised the theme for this unique Spring Afternoon Tea. ‘We change the theme four times a year, which follow the seasons. For Spring, it was based on the life of the cow, sheep and goat. In the Winter the animals stay indoors and are fed on just dry grass. In the Spring they are let out and they start to eat fresh grass again. I have a childhood memory of the first 15 days of March when the flavour of the milk was totally different. I remember two desserts: one was bread with sugar, and the second was milk – my grandmother collected the milk in a cast-iron pan and scooped the mousse from the top, and added sugar.’

Asian restaurant review Cheese is a traditionally European ingredient: how does Massimo reconcile that with working with such a talented Asian pastry chef as Terence Pang?

‘We started work on the menu in November. Terence is someone who is very passionate and it’s been very easy to get ideas together. Before we are able to offer this menu to the guests we need to have it clear in our own minds. If we see that there is excitement about the theme then it means that it makes sense.’

At the Ritz-Carlton Singapore the Sunday Brunch and the Tea have an Asian accent. I wondered if that was a difficult step for this very European chef. ‘I went back to basics. At the end of the day it’s all about passion, whether the chef is French or Chinese, and even if he doesn’t speak English, you can see it in his eyes, you can see how much of himself he puts into his food. That’s how I got into Chinese cuisine – I followed those Chinese master chefs, looked at their benchmarks, and came back to the kitchen to see how we could improve what we were doing here.’

Asian restaurant review Having planned this Spring Afternoon Tea late last year, Massimo and Terence must now be planning the next season’s theme. ‘Yes, first of all we have to define Summer, and come up with a new concept. After the Cheese theme, the next one I want to present is a sunny Summer landscape, perhaps with a corner of blue sky ...something with coconut, maybe. Every quarter I want to come up with something different, with the theme coming first and then the recipes.’

These two executive chefs have formed an enviable culinary partnership. They creatively and comfortably straddle both Europe and Asia in a fashion that transcends that rather hackneyed description ‘fusion’. They combine the best of ingredients from across the globe and offer their guests plates of extraordinary culinary artistry and imagination, and the results are harmonious and memorable. Their handiwork is almost too delightful to eat. Almost.

This cheese-themed Spring Weekend Afternoon Tea can be enjoyed between 2.30pm and 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 March to 26 May 2013.
Priced at $52 for adults
and $26 for children (six to twelve years).

asian restaurant review
The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
7 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039799
Phone: +65 6337 8888

For dining reservations:
Phone Restaurant Reservations
at +65 6434 5288

Visit The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore here


food and travel reviews

Raffles Hotel - Raffles Courtyard for a taste of Italy

Asian restaurant review Tell anyone that you have just returned from Singapore and the question on their lips is bound to be ‘Did you visit Raffles?’ They don’t have to dignify that name with any appendage: everyone knows that there is only one Raffles and that’s the hotel.

One walks down Beach Road and there is only one thing missing. The beach. First opened in 1887 Raffles Hotel did indeed have a sea view but years of much-needed local land reclamation has left this iconic hotel around 500 metres from the sea.

It doesn’t need to have its name prominently displayed for one to notice Raffles. It’s gleaming, ornate, imposing and there is that very human and charming trademark – the Sikh doorman, who does command respect even from the hotel’s well-heeled guests.

Asian restaurant review The hotel was established by two Armenian brothers from Persia and it was remarkable, in those days, for accepting guests of all races. Singapore was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, and at the end of the conflict the hotel was used as a transit camp for prisoners of war. In 1987 the Singapore government declared the hotel a National Monument.

Raffles has been around long enough to have legend embroidered into its very fabric. It’s reputedly where the last surviving wild tiger in Singapore was shot, under the billiard table. In fact the probable truth is that the tiger had escaped from a nearby circus and the poor unfortunate was dispatched under the building that housed the billiard table. That was back in 1902.

Another call to fame from this most iconic of Singapore institutions is a much less violent event. That’s the invention of the Singapore Sling. This cocktail was devised by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon between 1910 and 1915 and has remained a favourite ever since.

There are fifteen restaurants and bars at Raffles and all of them have their own personalities and histories. The latest is Raffles Courtyard and it provides an al fresco venue for casual Italian meals at a very reasonable price. Tourists will be surprised to learn that they can afford a meal at Raffles and enjoy at least some of what the hotel guests are offered.

Asian restaurant review The Courtyard is beautifully appointed and gleams with tropical, colonialesque style. Mediterranean cuisine doesn’t seem incongruous served here. One has the sense that this could be Cannes on a fine day, although the service is guaranteed to be better here. There is plenty that gives a nod to traditional Singapore, though. The tropical palms and exotic plants add their own Asian ambiance, but that ice cream vendor’s cart and the brick oven raise expectations of a very Italian bill of fare.

The Courtyard opened on 14th January 2013. The Italian specialities have been created by Deputy Executive Chef Nicola Canuti. He has a creditable culinary pedigree having been Executive Chef at Restaurant L'Albero in Moscow. I am betting he prefers the weather in Singapore. Before that he could be found as Executive Chef for Alain Ducasse Group at the Dorchester London and other locations.

Visitors can choose to have a light lunch and an hour or two’s quiet during the heat of the day, or a leisurely dinner in the evening when the Courtyard beckons those who want a memorable experience that won’t break the bank.

The menu offers light and leafy salads, freshly made pizzas from that aforementioned brick oven as well as classic pastas. The dishes are authentic, delicious and create a perfect marriage of European culinary heritage with that charming Raffles architecture. This isn’t fusion but rather comfortable companionship.

Asian restaurant review My favourites from this Italian extravaganza are many. The salads are well-balanced, the pasta sauces are rich and moreish, and the pizzas are as good as you will find anywhere (including Italy). It isn’t food to hurry but rather linger over with an amphora (yes, they serve wine in terracotta jugs) of good red wine. Do as the Italians do and people-watch, consider the day’s adventures, and perhaps sample another pizza.

The must-try dishes at The Courtyard are:
Carpaccio di Carne Con Rucola e Parmigiano (beef carpaccio served with rocket salad and Parmesan). Freshness is the key with this dish. The beef was tender, the leaves were peppery and the cheese gave that distinctive salty tang.

Vitello Tonnato (thin slices of loin of veal with a tuna sauce and capers). This might sound an unlikely combination of ingredients but they all work together marvellously in this classic preparation. The sweetness of the meat finds a counterpoint in the fish.

All the pizzas here are light, crisp and traditional. A simple Pizza Margherita would be delightful with perhaps a chilled prosecco but the signature pizza must surely be Pescatore made with fresh tomatoes, clams, shrimps, calamari with a sprinkling of vibrant green parsley. This is a pizza for adults with discerning palates and it’s a million miles away from anything you would have encountered at home …unless you hail from Italy.

Pasta will be high on many an Italian dinner wish-list and The Courtyard won’t disappoint. Linguini Con Pesto (linguini garnished with basil pesto) is a summery plateful and this deserves a rustic red wine alongside, but the star of the pasta selection must surely be Spaghetti Con Vongole Zucchini E Botarga (spaghetti with clams, courgette and botarga). Yes, I am suggesting seafood again because it is famously good here in Singapore. The sweet clams are marvellously complemented by the remarkable flavour of the cured fish roe. Just a little grating of this transforms any seafood dish.

Save some space for the frozen desserts. The menu is short but none the worse for that. These are artisanal ices that have remarkable flavour. The sorbets in particular are outstanding. Try Sorbetto Alla Fragola (strawberry sorbet) or Sorbetto Alla Pera (pear sorbet) for the refreshing taste of real fruit.

The Courtyard at Raffles Hotel has something deliciously Italian for every taste. All the dishes are reasonably priced so a meal at Raffles is accessible to everybody.

Opening hours:
Raffles Courtyard is open daily from 12 noon to 10pm.
Gazebo Bar Cocktails: 11:00am to 10:30pm

For reservations, contact Dining Reservations at +65 6412 1816 or email dining@raffles.com

Raffles Hotel
1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673

Phone: +65 6337 1886

Visit Raffles Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Willin Low - Wild Rocket, Singapore

He hasn’t got a ‘serious’ chef persona. Willin rushes in and tells me to wait right there. He has some curry puffs that he wants me to taste. Just simple food and not even his, but Willin Low has not only talent but real passion for taste and texture.

asian restaurant review We settle in the courtyard of Willin’s first restaurant (there are others), Wild Rocket. We nibble our savoury pastries, sip a cocktail and cool off. This is a quiet haven away from the baking concrete of the Singapore streets in the city below. It’s an oasis of green calm with just the sound of splashing water to gently invite the guest into a comforting stupor. The dining room of the restaurant reflects the same quiet over lunch, but becomes vibrant with conversation in the evening.

I asked Willin if there were any food-related connections in his family. Does he come from a dynasty of restaurateurs?

He laughs. ‘My mum hates to cook, and I have always enjoyed cooking. My mum’s very clean and neat and I was never allowed to mess up her kitchen. I’m a really fussy eater, so it was inevitable that there would be a showdown. She would cook something, and my siblings and my dad would eat it but I would say, “That’s overcooked! That fish died for a reason, and the least you could do is not to overcook it.” That’s a really rude thing to say to your mother, and she would say, “I’ve slaved all day over this, your brother and sister are eating it, I don’t see why you won’t!” and she would send me to my room with nothing. I always had an emergency supply of prawn crackers under my bed, because I knew she would send me to my bed without anything to eat. So there was no-one in my family who really loves to cook, but we were blessed with a neighbour who cooks really well, and she would make curry puffs and send them across, and that’s where I got to eat lots of good things!

‘I think I have always known that I enjoyed good food, which was why I was so fussy. The hawkers (food stalls in Singapore) were so good, and we ate out all the time, so as a school student I was exposed to lots of good food. I remember someone from England asking me, when she was eating at Wild Rocket, whether the Indian and Chinese influences in the food were deliberate, and I explained that when my mum went to the market to buy breakfast there would be Indian bread, Malay soup, Chinese noodles and I would be eating them never thinking about the origins of the dishes, it was simply breakfast. I think that food is a binding agent, it allows us to understand and respect other cultures.’

But there were culinary challenges ahead for Willin. ‘When I went to England, to Nottingham University, the food in the halls of residence was horrendous. I remember we had rice, but cooked in lots of water, so you had to fish out the rice from the ‘soup’! And why was it yellow? Everything came out of a tin – the tuna was grey, the mushy peas were grey – and I couldn’t eat it. Next day we had spring rolls, and I thought, “Oh, good – can’t go wrong with something deep-fried!” but when I cut into it, it was filled with those mushy peas! So I had to cook something, and the first thing was chicken congee – a chicken porridge that my mum often cooks. Make a stock with the chicken, cook the porridge in the stock, take the chicken out and shred it, marinate it with sesame, soy sauce and white pepper, deep-fry shallots to use as a condiment, some spring onions and cut chillies. That was the first time I had made it, because mum never let me cook at home, and I really enjoyed it.

‘My corridor mates all loved my food so I started cooking more, and all my Singaporean friends started coming over to my room to say hello, conveniently around mealtimes, and that’s how it started. I cooked things I missed from home, like fried vermicelli with braised pork belly – mostly things that my mum would make. The irony of it was that I used to complain about mum’s cooking, but there were actually things that I really loved. Now we have learned to understand each other and when I’m home for dinner she will cook my favourites.

asian restaurant review ‘I moved to London to study for my bar exams, and I wanted to eat in restaurants, but I couldn’t afford to do that, so I cooked at home, trying to replicate restaurant food. I got a bit bolder, making things like rack of lamb. I was craving giant prawns, and they are very hard to come by in England, so I went to Selfridges and all I could afford was three giant prawns, and lychees – just seven! I had two housemates, so I came back with three lychees for me and two each for them! That was the first ‘fancy’ dish that I made. I removed the shells from the prawns, pan-fried them in butter, chopped some garlic into the pan, parsley, chilli, squeeze of lemon, and we really enjoyed it! That was the first time I thought, “Hey, maybe I could sell this!” I think seeing the reaction of others to my food helped a lot, and I had learnt so much from other Singaporean and Malaysian students, who would teach me how to cook their favourites. I cooked all the time in my corridor, despite being the butt of jokes from some of my English friends: “Hey, is that my friend’s cocker spaniel you’re cooking?” “No, don’t you know that we Chinese only eat German Shepherd?” This was at a time before chefs were ‘sexy’ – there was no Jamie Oliver, just Delia Smith (more a favourite aunt).

‘Then I came back home to Singapore, and worked as a lawyer. I did my bar exams and worked for a very prestigious law firm for about a year. Hours were very long. Once I came home at seven in the morning, and my mum was horrified and I was very disillusioned.’ It seems all the things you see lawyers doing in the movies was only fiction and Willin was just stuck behind piles and piles of paper. He looked at a colleague five years his senior and asked himself if he wanted that to be his future. ‘I looked for an exit plan,’ says Willin.

‘I decided to find a post as an in-house legal counsel, and worked for several firms including Singapore Airlines. It was wonderful – the hours were great, it was a hospitality business and I travelled everywhere first-class (that was the first time I had tried caviar – I kept looking around the plane to see how to eat it!). I was exposed to lots of fine dining, and I fell in love with the business, and started thinking about what I would do next, because I had said I would work as a lawyer for five years and then start my own business.’

During this period Willin was cooking every weekend for friends. ‘I read that to be taken seriously in anything that you do, you need to charge money for it – if you get it for free the value is less. So when a friend wanted me to cook for a house-warming party, I said “Yes, if you pay me.” Everyone loved it, and started talking about it. Then I asked a friend to help me build a website, and that made a world of difference in making the business legitimate. So Mondays to Fridays I worked as a lawyer, and weekends I became a private chef for hire, my colleagues working as waitresses!’

After two years of part-time chef/part-time lawyer Willin was confident enough to take the next step and took the advice of a friend who told him to leave his ‘day job’ and open his own restaurant. ‘He told me to quit my job, because if you don’t you’ll never have the impetus to get going. So I did and started looking for a restaurant that would hire me. That proved to be difficult, as restaurant owners were suspicious of employing someone from the legal profession!’ I wonder why?

In the meantime Singapore Airlines started a budget airline, and Willin was able to work there setting up the legal department. ‘A month later a restaurant took me on as kitchen assistant, so I continued at the airline one day a week, to help pay the bills, while I cleaned squid, chopped vegetables and made bread for the other six days. I did that for 6 months, and between the two jobs I learnt everything I needed to know about running a restaurant and managing a business.’

Willin started looking for a location, and a friend mentioned the Hangout Hotel, up on a hill, but Willin had never heard of it, and wasn’t sure he could just walk in and take over the premises. Later that week the Straits Times wrote an article about this private chef and mentioned that he was looking for a place to open a restaurant. ‘Following that story someone emailed me saying that they needed a person to take over the Hangout Hotel! I had never heard of the place before, and then twice in one week!’

asian restaurant review That was eight years ago and at a time when there were not many restaurant openings, so the media were eager for any new projects; and from a story perspective a lawyer who quits his lucrative career to become a chef was interesting. The newcomer worked hard to cultivate good working relationships with butchers and produce suppliers at the market and it took a while for them to take Willin seriously but eventually all those business and culinary threads came together. ‘Word got around, people started coming, and we did really well. I wanted to grow and share ownership in the business with the employees, so as they came onboard we opened more, and now we have five restaurants.’

Wild Rocket is now a well-respected restaurant in a beautiful location. Willin is a highly-regarded chef and has a close relationship with his local suppliers. The bill of fare relies on fresh ingredients and there are lots of fish and shellfish on the menu. The dishes are thoughtfully presented with Asian flair, but how would Willin Low sum up his cuisine, his style of food?

‘When I first started cooking I just cooked food that I liked to eat, we never thought of what to call it. But the media wanted to put me in a category, and I had to come up with a name if I didn’t want them to name me, so I thought, well, it’s basically Singaporean, so I decided to call it Modern Singaporean – that’s what I am, and no-one can fault it because no-one knows what it is! Some people had asked us if it’s Fusion, but I didn’t want to call it that because in the 80s fusion wasn’t done well. In those days it was just Western and Asian ingredients thrown together without any understanding of either, and it became ‘confusion’.

‘We are in Singapore and that puts us in the right position to marry the two, because everything that we have is already a fusion. I call my food Mod-Sin for short, and already four restaurants that opened last year are calling themselves Mod-Sin as well, so it’s caught on. The regional foods of China are becoming better known; now people are coming to live here from Burma, the Philippines, Thailand, so there are lots of traditions to draw upon.’

Wild Rocket presents thoughtful combinations of fresh ingredients and aromatic spices tempered with that confident Willin Low gastronomic inspiration. The ‘Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants’ Awards seems to have overlooked this animated chef, and that must surely be an oversight to be rectified in the near future.


Wild Rocket @ Mount Emily
Hangout Hotel
10A Upper Wilkie Road
Singapore 228119

Phone: +65 633 99448
Visit Wild Rocket here

Opening Hours: Tuesday - Saturday
12 noon to 3pm - Lunch
6.30pm to 11pm – Dinner - last order at 10.30pm

Sundays
11.30am to 3pm - Brunch
6.30pm to 10.30pm – Dinner - last order at 10.00pm

Closed on Mondays

food and travel reviews

Majestic Restaurant Singapore

Asian restaurant review There is good food to be had all over Singapore. It’s famed for it. One can sit with the locals and enjoy a bowl of laksa at one of the numerous, cheap and buzzing hawker centres. There are small side-street restaurants specialising in steaming bowls of congee for breakfast through to hot, grilled skewers of meat after the sun goes down. There are fusion fine-dining restaurants, and Japanese cuisine has taken hold in a big way.

The Majestic Restaurant offers a stylish departure from the mostly rustic options of the majority of Chinatown restaurants. It’s Cantonese, it’s refined and it’s contemporary. There are indeed traditional Chinese accents to the decor but they are manifested in a memorable etched bronze sculpture and a striking geometric Chinese robe motif on the back wall. There is a colourful trishaw parked at the front, which adds to the eclectic mix.

The restaurant doesn’t need to persuade you of its Chineseness with displays of red lanterns and dragons around every corner. Nothing wrong with those traditional decorative devices but they wouldn’t work in The Majestic with its clean lines and artful use of dark wood. Yes, The Majestic is confident and modern and is housed in the New Majestic Hotel which is stylish, unique, tasteful and delightfully retro.

There is a remarkable architectural feature and that’s the ceiling: it sports holes. These are not decorating oversights. It’s not energy-saving low-tech air conditioning. They are in fact portholes set into the bottom of the swimming pool above. They shed a soft and dappled light onto tables below and provide a memorable experience for both diners and swimmers.

Majestic Restaurant Singapore Opened in January 2006, this award-winning restaurant seats 100, and has four private dining rooms, one of which has views into the kitchen. Owner/chef Yong Bing Ngen and his team present a Cantonese fine-dining menu in an equally refined setting, making a meal at The Majestic a treat for all the senses.

Chef Yong Bing Ngen has already had an impressive career. His professional biography reads like a directory of must-visit spots in Singapore: Executive Chinese Chef at Hai Tien Lo restaurant in the Pan Pacific Hotel; Chef de Cuisine, the Empress Room, Raffles Hotel; Executive Chef for Jade restaurant in the Fullerton Hotel. That history will lead one to expect remarkable food. Chef Yong Bing Ngen won’t disappoint. He has many deserved awards under his belt including one for the Majestic Restaurant - Asian Cuisine Restaurant of the Year (Singapore Category) at the World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence 2012. That is a worthy accolade when one considers the standard of the competition.

The dishes here are inspired, with a definite nod towards Cantonese. Put aside any prejudices you may have developed through years of over-indulgence at your local Chinese take-away – the sign over the door might boast that the food is Cantonese but in truth it’s unlikely to be authentic and I can guarantee that it will bear absolutely no resemblance to the fare at The Majestic.
asian restaurant review
The subtle and aromatic dishes are plated in European style and include signature dishes such as the combination platter of crispy wasabi prawn and Peking duck served with pan-seared foie gras, braised lobster in a creamy milk and lime sauce, grilled lamb chop in Chinese honey. You’ll likely not find these on your high street. I would also suggest that your first taste of the ‘celebrated’ durian should be here. The chef transforms this much-maligned fruit into confections that allow its distinctive characteristics to remain but in a fashion that will be appreciated by nervous Westerners.

The wine list is creditable, offering a good selection from the New World as well as Europe. There are wines by the glass for those who would like to taste different vintages to complement each course. There are wines here to suit every taste and every pocket.

The Majestic Restaurant should be on the Singapore restaurant list of any traveller who wants to try some imaginative modern Chinese food that pushes the culinary envelope, while still remaining true to its classic flavour palate.
Majestic Restaurant Singapore

The Majestic Restaurant
The New Majestic Hotel
31- 37 Bukit Pasoh Road
Singapore 089845

[This venue is now closed]



food and travel reviews

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore - Grand Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch

Asian restaurant review
Singapore is special in so many ways. It’s many-faceted and presents the food lover with temptations at every turn. Opportunities for vibrant casual eating abound but there are also those restaurants that present the visitor with delicious memories along with unadulterated gastronomic pampering. The Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch at Greenhouse in The Ritz-Carlton is iconic and unmissable.

asian restaurant review Sunday brunch is now available in every city across the globe. One can expect a brace of egg dishes and a couple of roasts and a fish option. There might be a nod in the direction of vegetarians with roasted vegetables in a sauce, and there is bound to be a dessert or two. But then there is The Ritz Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch at Greenhouse and that puts the gilding on brunch, and those other meagre impostors in the shade.

It’s Sunday and we want to relax with friends and family. Perhaps it’s a celebration, although every Sunday brunch here seems festive. Folks arrive in their Sunday best with ladies sporting floral finery, and every shoe and child is polished. The guests bring their own touch of charm to the occasion and they will be rewarded for their trouble from the moment they arrive in the high-ceilinged, light and airy salon. Sunday Brunch at The Ritz must surely rate as one of the finest of its genre. The smart-casual event is famed. It’s not stuffy and muted. The staff are friendly and helpful. There is a buzz of conversation from groups of guests enjoying good company along with that unbeatable food. It offers an excuse to dress up a little and to indulge a lot.

Younger members of the party will be eyeing the ice-cream station by the entrance, while more mature grandparents are drawn to another ice display which offers seafood. There are eight types of oysters and all shucked to order and served with red wine vinaigrette or lemon. It might be a couple of years before the kids appreciate those but they will surely be tempted by some prawns.

asian restaurant review Moët & Chandon vintage Champagne fills the flutes of all those who haven’t chosen an expertly muddled Mojito or shaken exotic cocktail from the bar. The champagne is unlimited and marvellously complements the aforementioned chilled crustacea – every class of shellfish seems to put in an appearance at this brunch. One might consider moving on to a more robust red to pair with a traditional roast with all the trimmings. It is Sunday, after all …but a more exciting one than usual.

Yes, it’s Sunday but this is Asia so the bill of fare here offers a wider tapestry of taste than one might find in a European or North American restaurant. Diners are free to mix Mediterranean tapas with Japanese sushi, cooling leaves with spiced pork ribs. The Ritz-Carlton Sunday Brunch contrives to represent the very best of all that Singapore food has to offer, and that is the best available from every continent. Diners can travel the world by stepping from one counter to the next, from nigiri garnished with delicate green wasabi and shreds of pink ginger (there are trays of various sushis), to slices of traditionally roast meat with glazed orange carrots (there’s always a choice of several roasts).

A cheese board is very much a part of any self-respecting Sunday brunch but I confess I had not expected to find one in Asia and more to the point, I hadn’t expected a restaurant in Singapore to have the best selection of cheese I have ever come across on one table! Yes, it’s true that I have found equally magnificent arrays of artisanal lactic goods in Europe but only in specialist shops. The striking international cheese selection features over 50 different cheeses from Australia, England, France, Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland and there is even Port available at the bar. That’s a marriage made in heaven.

asian restaurant review The kids may well have grazed on desserts all through brunch, but those sweets are sophisticated enough for the most discerning palates. The beautiful confections are created by Executive Pastry Chef Terence Pang and they range from Kuih - a broad term which includes Chinese cakes, dumplings, puddings and biscuits - to European pastries. There is plenty of choice for those chocoholics as well. If cheesecake or crème brûlée is your passion then you won’t be disappointed. There is also fresh fruit to help you feel noble, and ice cream if the kids haven’t finished it!

The Vintage Champagne Sunday Brunch is served from 12 noon to 3 pm in a single sitting and is priced at S$168 per adult, S$84 per child (6-12 years) or S$42 per child (3-5 years). It includes unlimited Moët & Chandon vintage Champagne, house red and white wines, selected cocktails, chilled juices and sparkling mineral water. Prices are subject to 10% service charge and prevailing government taxes.
asian restaurant review

For dining reservations
Call Restaurant Reservations on 6434 5288
or
email rc.sinrz.restaurantreservations@ritzcarlton.com

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
7 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039799

Phone: +65 6337-8888
Fax: +65 6338-0001
Visit The Ritz here



food and travel reviews

Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier

asian restaurant review For years it was referred to as Mei Ren Wu (Mei Ren Wo) or “den of beauties” in Chinese, as many rich men housed their mistresses in this rather stylish 1930’s estate.


This is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore. It was the first project undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust and is made up of about 30 apartment blocks containing 900 or so flats of various sizes; but it’s the architecture that is noteworthy.


The buildings have Streamline Moderne curves and local Straits Settlements shop-house characteristics. The overall effect is attractive, iconic and in harmony with the tropics. The construction was very much in keeping with the favoured Deco design of those pre-war years.


Tiong Bahru Market, built in 1955, was the first modern market for hawkers built in a housing area. The neighbourhood has retained its close-knit village or Kampung (in Malay) ambiance and has become celebrated for its food sellers: it is rumoured to have some of the finest hawker stalls in Singapore. The competition is fierce, and to be so well respected is an achievement.

asian restaurant review
Ex-pats and monied locals have been rediscovering this unique neighbourhood which is now revitalised with smart boutiques and the very French Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier, which maintains that eclectic thread.


Gontran Cherrier is himself French and looks every inch the part, with designer-ruffled hair and Gallic good looks. His pastries are equally as tempting and cover the whole spectrum of baked goods that one would expect to find on the streets of Paris, but with a few Asian twists to remind us where we are.


The window display looks authentically French and the selection of coffees on offer would do credit to even the most popular tax-avoiding Western coffee-shop chain. One can sip a refreshing tea and nibble a flaky fruit tart or linger over a latte partnered by a Pandan Croissant. This is Singapore, so take advantage of some sweet Asian innovation.


There is seating both inside and out but this is a popular spot so be prepared to wait. Take your time and seek out a little something different. Join the sophisticated regulars and enjoy what is bound to become a Tiong Bahru institution.
asian restaurant review

Tiong Bahru Bakery by Gontran Cherrier
56 Eng Hoon Street
Singapore

Phone: +65 6220 3430

Opening Hours:
8am - 8pm
Closed on Tues


food and travel reviews


Asia's 50 Best Restaurants – Singapore 2013

The list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants has now been announced and it is a role of honour for celebrated chefs and restaurants across Asia. They have been voted for by a panel comprising food critics, chefs, restaurateurs and the great and good of the foodie world. Each of these culinary worthies was given seven votes to use in support of their favourite restaurants, rather than the associated chef. Of these votes, at least three were used for restaurants outside the voter’s region. Ten panellists from each region change each year to allow for fresh opinions and tastes. This is a unique award designed to show some of the best gastronomic arenas with which Asia has been abundantly blessed.

asian restaurant awards The results were kept secret until they were announced at the award ceremony at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. The only clues were the silk scarves presented to those who were to be awarded a place amongst that group of fifty. Those eagerly anticipated results were published online as soon as they were announced to the chefs and panel members.

The rules for voting were simple:

• Voting is strictly confidential before the award’s announcement

• Panellists vote for 7 restaurants; at least 3 must be outside their region

• Voters must have eaten in the restaurants they nominate in the last 18 months

• Voters are not permitted to vote for restaurants they own or have an interest in

• Nominations must be made for the restaurant, not for the restaurateur or the chef

• Panellists submit their 7 choices in order of preference (this information is used to decide on positions in the event of a tie)


Every restaurant in Asia is eligible, from the most humble serving exceptional food, to the celebrated and polished. I would have liked to have seen a few lesser-known establishments showcased as I have listened to many a story from chefs of their preferred restaurants, which are mostly small and obscure eateries - ‘just behind the garage’ or ‘opposite the pharmacy’, ‘a bowl of laksa for just $2 and it’s the best’. Perhaps the organisers could consider an extra category: ‘best-kept local secret’ – although many a chef/writer will be reluctant to publicise his/her personal backstreet gem.

I have my favourites from this list which is, after all, about personal taste and preferences. Singapore was the host for this event and it has a creditable number of restaurants on the list: ten awards in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, with only mighty China gaining more accolades! It is my culinary paradise, from its hawker stalls to fine dining restaurants.

My Singapore selection includes Iggy’s, with its Japanese-inspired dishes all considered, measured and stunningly realised by Chef Akmal Anuar – deliciously memorable.

The eponymous ‘Iggy’ is none other than Ignatius Chan and he isn’t a chef but a respected sommelier and inspired restaurateur. There is a thread that runs through all his dining enterprises and that’s quality – quality of ingredients as well as regard for detail in every element of his restaurants. Iggy’s was voted no.9 in Asia and it’s easy to see why it’s in the top ten, although I would have expected it to have been higher.
Visit Iggy's here
Read the interview with Ignatius Chan here

I will be looking forward to next year’s awards when I hope to find Wild Rocket included. This is another Singapore restaurant, and owned by self-trained chef Willin Low. This man has style and flair writ large. His passion for sourcing the best ingredients has earned him the respect of his produce suppliers and the gratitude of his well-fed guests. He truly is one to watch.
Visit Willin Low here

The Award for Asia's Best Pastry Chef went to the talented and charming Janice Wong. Best Pastry Chef conjures a picture of a middle-aged (at least) matronly sort with a substantial girth, cantilevered breasts, chubby ankles and big bowls. Janice is attractive, petite (I am demanding the secret to her trim proportions in the face of so much chocolate) and talented, but her expertise wafts her away from the predictable butter and flour and elegantly into the sweet mists of alchemy. I feel her award should have been for ‘Outstanding Culinary Innovation’ and she is indeed a worthy winner.
Visit Janice Wong here

Other awards

Lifetime Achievement Award: Paul Pairet

The Veuve Clicquot Asia's Best Female Chef: Duongporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava

One to Watch: Jaan


Asia's 50 Best Restaurants considers entries from the following countries:

Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Macao, Malaysia, Maldives, Micronesia, Nauru, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Vietnam.


And here is the list of the top 50 for 2013 by country:

China

4. Amber - Hong Kong
6. 8 ½ Otto E Mezzo Bombana - Hong Kong
7. Mr And Mrs Bund - Shanghai
8. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet - Shanghai
12. Caprice - Hong Kong
13. Lung King Heen - Hong Kong
15. Bo Innovation - Hong Kong
18. The Chairman - Hong Kong
23. L'atelier De Joel Robuchon - Hong Kong
25. 28 Hubin Road - Hangzhou
34. Franck - Shanghai
37. Robuchon Au Dome - Macau
40. Fu1015 - Shanghai
45. Jade On 36 - Shanghai
46. Yardbird - Hong Kong
48. Fook Lam Moon - Hong Kong


India

17. Dum Pukht - New Delhi,
20. Wasabi By Morimoto - Mumbai
26. Bukhara - New Delhi
28. Indigo - Mumbai
30. Varq - New Delhi
41. Indian Accent - New Dehli
44. Karavalli - Bangalore


Indonesia

50. Mozaic - Bali

Japan

1. Narisawa - Tokyo
2. Nihonryori Ryugin - Tokyo
16. Quintessence - Tokyo
21. Hajime Restaurant - Osaka
27. Sushi Mizutani - Tokyo
31. Takazawa - Tokyo
33. Kahala - Osaka
39. Sushi Saito - Tokyo
42. Ishikawa - Tokyo

Singapore

5. Restaurant Andre
9. Iggy's
11. Waku Ghin
14. Les Amis
22. Jaan
24. L'atelier De Joel Robuchon Singapore
32. Shinji By Kanesaka
35. Osteria Mozza
43. Gunther's
49. Imperial Treasure

Sri Lanka

38. Nihonbashi - Colombo

Thailand

3. Nahm - Bangkok
10. Gaggan - Bangkok
19. Eat Me - Bangkok
29. Sra Bua By Kiin Kiin - Bangkok
36. Bo Lan - Bangkok

Vietnam

47. Don's - Hanoi


food and travel reviews

Singapore Top Ten – Eyewitness Travel

It might sound like a very narrow perspective – Singapore Top Ten. Is that a list of the ten most exciting attractions? Or is it a collection of ten interesting restaurants, perhaps? In fact Singapore Top Ten from Eyewitness Travel has a list of lists.

London asian restaurant review I love Singapore. It seems to offer so much for everybody, whatever their particular interest. It’s compact and manageable. Public transport is easy to use. The city is famously clean and safe, and it’s diverse in every regard. There is such a lot to see and enjoy but most people, unfortunately, only stay a day or two. If you are one of those on a flying visit then you will want a guide which offers suggestions to enable you to cover highlights in a timely fashion.

Singapore Top Ten – Eyewitness Travel is a condensed volume with laminated maps of the central area of The Colonial District and Chinatown, as well as a paper map to fit in a jacket pocket, showing both that area and Little India. These are the places that you won’t want to miss. There is an itinerary for a whole day in Chinatown. It gives metro stops to get you there and a proposed lunch stop.

In fact food is a big part of local culture. Singapore is blessed with a wealth of culinary options. There is the unique Peranakan cuisine as well as Malay, Chinese and Indian. Celebrated chefs from all over the world are opening restaurants here, but the home-grown talent still shines bright. But you will likely want to try the iconic dishes at the food courts which offer traditional plates and local specialities at very reasonable prices.

You can enjoy casual grazing along with the locals. Try Kaya Toast, Chilli Crab for spice lovers, and the ubiquitous Chicken Rice for those who prefer something mild and savoury. You will also find stalls selling freshly made exotic fruit juices.

Singapore Top Ten – Eyewitness Travel gives a concise overview of the best of Singapore. Culture, history, sights, shopping and, yes, food. You will take this book with you on your first short trip but you will keep it for the next, longer, visit. There are tens of tens of things to see and do in this vibrant and friendly city.

Singapore Top Ten – Eyewitness Travel
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
Price: £7.99
ISBN 978-1-4053-6098-2

food and travel reviews

Innotel Hotel Singapore

asian hotel review Singapore is perhaps my favourite spot on the planet. At least I can say it’s the most wonderful place I have visited to date. Its climate, cuisine (that should be plural), its architecture, history and also its people make this an unmissable city vacation.

It’s a shame that Singapore is so often viewed as just a stop-over. Folks are likely to stay for just a day or so; they love it but then move on. For me it’s a destination in its own right, with hotels and restaurants to fit every pocket and plenty of things to do when one isn’t either sleeping or eating, although dining is a 6 times a day hobby in this region.

Innotel Hotel Singapore ticks boxes for comfort, quality of service, location and price. It’s new with contemporary design, light and bright and described as a boutique business hotel. It’s appealing to business travellers as well as tourists, an intimate hotel but with personal service that one would likely only have experienced in a 5* classic chain.

The jet-lagged guest will be glad of the warm welcome. They will be seated at a desk to check in, escorted to their room, and their bags delivered. Each room has the following facilities:
Complimentary broadband internet access
Complimentary Wi-Fi in all rooms
Complimentary drinking water (that’s an important extra in this climate)
TV with cable channels
DVD player in some suites
Tea- and coffee-making facilitiesasian hotel review
Electronic in-room safe
Bathroom toiletries
Hair dryer
Mini fridge
iPod / iPhone docking station in some suites

You will enjoy a shower and some sleep, but once you are revived you won’t be lost in an anonymous crowd. You will be a name at Innotel. Just sit in reception for a moment and you will be recognised and asked if you need anything. Would you like directions? Perhaps some advice about a favourite restaurant? Staff here want you to enjoy both Singapore and your stay in Innotel.

It’s hard to find a better location for one’s stay: just a short walk to Orchard Road and a few yards to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station (the Singapore equivalent of the Underground). That might not mean much to a first-time tripper to Singapore but this station puts you between Chinatown and Little India, and within striking distance of every other attraction in this city-state. Chinatown and Little India are the two iconic neighbourhoods that you will want to visit, though. Both have retail therapy opportunities aplenty as well as restaurants in which to relax, and temples in which to contemplate. This is the Singapore of vibrant colour and flavour.

asian hotel review Innotel Hotel is designed with the busy business traveller in mind. It has all the technology one would want to maintain contact with local and international clients. Staff here can assist with your every communication need; cabs can be called and faxes forwarded.

This hotel has a café attached. PappaMia Bistro and Bar is on the ground floor and the place for your nearest breakfast. You might consider that option on your first morning while you are still getting your bearings. Do try a local speciality, Kaya Toast: this is a sweet spread made with coconut. Have this with a cup of coffee or tea or as part of an Asian breakfast of steamed buns and dim sum. Breakfast is served between 7 am and 9.30 am daily. The bistro is open throughout the day till 11.30pm for lunch and dinner and all-day delicious grazing.

Innotel Hotel Singapore gives great value for money. But more than economy, this boutique hotel offers a positive impression of the city. The location is hard to beat but the staff are its strongest asset. You might not remember the smart wallpaper but the charm, smiles and courtesy of the staff will assure your return to Innotel.

Innotel Hotel Singaporeasian hotel review
No. 11 Penang Lane,
Singapore 238485 (@Dhoby Ghaut MRT)
Tel: +65 6327 2727
Fax: + 65 6645 0808
Email: reservations@innotelhotel.com.sg
Visit Innotel Hotel Singapore here

food and travel reviews

Ignatius ‘Iggy’ Chan – Singapore’s Sommelier

There are few restaurants owned, run by, and named after a sommelier but Singapore’s iconic “Iggy’s” is just that. Ignatius ‘Iggy’ Chan is an immensely likable, warm and animated restaurateur who has given his name to one of the most celebrated destinations for food lovers across Asia and indeed the world. “When I’m in a gathering of chefs I feel a little embarrassed because many people call me ‘chef’ – but I’m a sommelier. I have so much respect for chefs that I don’t want to pretend to be one!” he says modestly.

asian restaurant review It would be easy to assume that Ignatius had come from a family of caterers and that perhaps he had always had a passion for fine ingredients, but he drifted into the business by chance, and a happy one for us, the appreciative diner. He didn’t embark on his career because of some kind of culinary passion, it was hardship and the practical need to survive, he says, that forced him initially to take that path. “I had no clue that my future would lie in this business. I am in the Baby-boomer age group. Singapore was just industrialising, times were tough, kids like me who didn’t come from a privileged family didn’t have the luxury of being exposed to fine dining. We grew up eating well because we cooked hearty Chinese food, we drank a little beer and Chinese wine, but that’s it – we were not into this ‘lifestyle’ thing. Food was a necessity, something to nourish us, to bring people together.”

“I finished high school and had not done well – I had been naughty,” he says with a grin, “and failed most of my exams – so I went into the army to do my national service. I finished that and had to get a job quickly, but that was the time of Singapore’s recession, about 1984.” He tried every job, but entry-level hotel receptionist posts demanded A-levels and good English; he even went to a furniture design shop, but they could not offer him a scholarship to continue his education. “Then I walked into the Goodwood Park Hotel: they needed a commis waiter in the coffee shop. I saw all the equipment, the siphon gadget, I had never been to such a place, I was so excited and I said ‘Yes, I’ll take it!’ even though they were only paying $400.” Iggy learned how to make the different coffees, but looking through to the restaurant he could see the elegant diners and waiters, and was impressed.

Singapore was developing, and there were eight or ten new hotels opening. Desperate for staff, these hotels were offering scholarships for hotel schools, and Mandarin Oriental gave Iggy his opportunity. He says that’s why now when he travels he always tries to stay at a Mandarin Oriental hotel. “They sent me to a local hotel school which was a joint venture with Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. That’s when I really started learning about the business. My work experience gave me a head start over the other students who had come straight from school, even though I wasn’t as smart as some of them.”

“Here in the UK students interested in food and wine can so easily hop over the Channel to the ‘land of wine’, and you are brought up in a culture that teaches appreciation of wine from a young age; but not in Singapore – it’s been more challenging for me there. But somehow, I don’t know why, I had an instinct to want to discover wine and food – it’s not from my parents, maybe it’s from the television.”

asian restaurant review Is it more difficult to head a restaurant as a sommelier rather than as a chef? “I see it as an advantage. When a diner eats something that they are not totally happy with, or encounters flavours that they don’t like, they won’t mention that to the chef, especially when the chef comes out and asks, ‘How was the meal?’ They will say, ‘Oh, yes it was excellent, wonderful...’ But the advantage of my role is that they feel comfortable telling me the truth, because they know that although the restaurant bears my name, I’m not physically the one preparing the food. They are happier telling me because they know I will convey it to the kitchen. If I were the person preparing it, the comment would hit harder, more personally, but I’m a ‘proxy’. I’m in a better position as the sommelier/owner, especially if I have a good team of people that connects well – as opposed to a team around a celebrity. I try to play down my role as a personality.”

“We call the restaurant ‘Iggy’s’ – we are not the most creative people,” he jokes. “When we started we wanted to call it ‘Chardonnay’ or ‘Pinot Noir’ and then we moved on to vegetables: ‘Aubergine’, ‘Peppers’, and so on, but it was not representative of what we wanted to do. We said, ‘Actually, let’s just call it “Iggy’s”.’ A lot of guests who come don’t know me and just think it’s the fictitious name of the restaurant – which is good!”

Ignatius Chan isn’t a chef, so how does the restaurant develop its menus? Which comes first, the wine list or the bill of fare? “It’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation,” he says. “I believe there are no absolutes in wine and food pairing. A lot of people play along with a restaurant, they dare not criticise because ‘the restaurant employs professionals’; even though you personally think a combination doesn’t work, you assume ‘maybe that’s how it’s supposed to taste’. I felt drawn to the marriage of food and wine, even though I was not exposed to it like kids in Europe.”

I asked Ignatius if he felt that that freedom offered him some advantage. “Because I don’t have that tradition that says ‘This is the right way, this is the wrong way’, when I travel and see something different I am not so set in my ways and I am confident enough to bring ideas together, adapt it and introduce it for our market. We have to find a concept that people from Europe can understand. We call ourselves a ‘Modern European restaurant’ but I don’t know what’s so European about our concept, apart from the kitchen layout! A lot of our food and techniques we adapt from the latest top progressive restaurants; flavours we adjust for the diners we have in Singapore; ingredients we take from wherever we think is the best source. So if you ask me what kind of restaurant we are running, I would have to say it isn’t a Chinese restaurant, we are not a Singaporean restaurant (apart from the fact that we are in Singapore), but definitely we are not traditional European; so we call ourselves ‘Modern European’.”

asian restaurant review I asked Iggy why he considers his restaurant European at all. “My explanation is that it is European because the kitchen is laid out on European lines. With regard to the menu, we offer lots of snacks to start, then something cold and refreshing and light – oysters, or sorbet, something to wake up the senses – and then we jump into something warm, building up to hot – fish, fried food, noodles. Sometimes we serve rice at the end, which is not European: we don’t have rules. We have learned that ultimately we can’t please everyone. Running a restaurant you constantly feel that you might fail tomorrow, even if you are successful today, so that keeps you on your toes! We fear that tomorrow people are not going to like us – my advice to others is ‘Don’t open a restaurant!’” he says with a wry smile.

Ignatius Chan is a successful sommelier, so what advice would he give on wine pairing? “You need to find flavours of wines that don’t overpower or dominate; flavours of food that don’t overpower the wine. For example, tannic red wine with oysters – the wine has an ‘iodine’ taste and that’s not what you are looking for, it’s a disastrous match. But if you take a Chinon from the Loire, young, very light, or a Pinot Noir from the Loire, and serve it slightly chilled, that’s not so bad; not the ideal match, but if someone wants to drink only red wine and likes oysters, you can do it. I use that perspective: we have a wine list comprising wines that are complementary to food – nothing extreme, we focus on Champagne, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, and a good selection of Bordeaux simply because we are in Asia and every Chinese customer wants to try it. So our wine list is predominantly Burgundy-driven because I find that Pinot Noir works very well with food: if you want to take a bottle of red wine that will go through our menu, which is predominantly seafood, and then finish with meat and cheese at the end, then a Pinot Noir will work with everything. It is light enough to go with certain seafood dishes, and has enough body to take on meats like pigeon, quail and even steak.”

Who does Ignatius consider to have had the most impact in the culinary forum? “I think Ferran Adrià has been the most amazingly influential person in the culinary world in the last fifty or a hundred years; it’s through people like him that food evolves. But you must understand how to interpret what he is trying to do, and not follow blindly – that’s the danger, because people think that they can follow Adrià by looking at his books, or on Youtube. But that is two-dimensional, you can make something that looks like his but when you eat it you are a thousand miles away. You have Bocuse, Alain Chapelle, great Japanese and Chinese chefs who have created a lot of interest, but not like he has done.”

asian restaurant review “It’s almost like a virus spreading around the world, and a virus can be either good or bad – that’s the danger, people can be over-creative. There are two kinds of food today: food that nourishes and satisfies, and food for the intellect. Too many are trying to make intellectual food and forgetting how to make nourishing, tasty good food, and that is very sad. Nine out of ten young people that I interview only want to work for us for six months, to see as many things as possible and then to move on. Everything is about creation, breakthrough, innovation, progression; they forget that the foundation of food is the pleasure of flavours and taste, and food has become too academic. Too many want to be chefs, and nobody wants to cook!

We are treading a very dangerous path – I can’t pretend to be a chef, but in moving forward some are missing the long and difficult training that chefs used to go through. Michel Roux, Ferran, Robouchon, Yoshihiro Murata in Japan have all put in so many gruelling hours in the hot environment for 8, 10, 15 hours at a time to refine, to learn. It’s not happening today – they will do it for 3 months, take a break for 2 months, then move on somewhere else. It’s more like going through university, there is no longer the discipline, the quest is no longer to create a good dining experience, it’s to absorb as much knowledge as they can and eventually to ‘break through’, to do something as great as Adrià and become a star. There’s the big divide: there’s only the super-innovative, or the chains of restaurants that make good comfort food but are doing nothing with passion.”

Ignatius Chan has infectious enthusiasm and imagination but he remains grounded. Iggy the restaurant is a product of vision and good taste, presenting great food with flair. Ignatius maintains a grip on old-fashioned ethics and it’s served him well. No hint of celebrity ego, it’s all about the food ...or is it the wine?

Iggy's
The Hilton Hotel
581 Orchard Road
Singapore 238883
Visit Iggy’s here

food and travel reviews

André Chiang

He is handsome and tall with casual-chic attire, and has a winning smile, but when he talks about food his visage changes to reflect a serious regard for his art and passion.

Although still a young man André Chiang has had a lifetime filled with food and restaurants. His Mum was a chef and had a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo. His brother and sister were not interested in the food industry, so from being a small boy he knew he would be the one eventually to take over his Mum’s business. “I was born in Taiwan and left when I was 13, and worked with my Mum for two years in Tokyo.”

london asian restaurant review André says that there were disadvantages working with his Mum. “She didn’t allow me to change anything about her recipes, but I had lots of crazy ideas. I loved watching Iron Chef, which was very popular on Japanese television. I saw Hiroyuki Sakai, who specialised in French cuisine, and thought this guy was amazing. I told my Mum that I wanted to train in his restaurant, and she managed to arrange for me to work there one winter vacation. I had believed that myth that only the Chinese could cook Chinese food, only the French could cook French cuisine. Here, I realised that he cooked French cuisine beautifully, with his own twist. That was what I wanted to do – finally I saw the light!”

The teenager left Tokyo, aged 15, and arrived in France not knowing what to expect. He worked 16 hours a day like all the other chefs and assumed that was how French people worked. He evidently found his path and stayed for 17 years, nine of them in Montpellier in the south of France. He graduated from apprentice to chef-de-cuisine, and then André moved to Lyon and Paris. “I had thought that I might work in France for a few years, as everyone does, and then return to Tokyo with a different concept, to help my Mum and evolve her restaurant. But once I arrived in France I fell in love with it.”

In 2003 André was invited by Raffles Hotel to go to Singapore for a week as a ‘guest chef’. He returned each year for four years, but was still happy to continue his career in France, until his thirtieth birthday. “Suddenly I looked at my future and wondered whether it was time to go back to Asia. I realised I had been away for a long time. I had been to Singapore on several occasions and people seemed to like what I did. So I thought maybe I should contact Raffles. We worked together for a couple of years, and I began to understand Singaporean culture and the cuisines that they liked. People there are very open to different cuisines – they don’t see me as Taiwanese or French, they see me as Singaporean.

“From the first day I arrived I tried to cook the food that I believe in, that I like. There’s no day that I feel that I have to make compromises for the local palate, and I think I’m very lucky in that regard. If I was in, say, Taiwan or China I would have to think about local tastes – maybe it’s too spicy or too heavy for those people; but looking back I see that in Singapore I haven’t had to adjust anything. People are open to different ideas, different ingredients, and they want the cooking to be as unique as possible.”

london asian restaurant review André Chiang is famed for his ‘Octaphilosophy’. The eight elements are Unique, Texture, Memory, Pure, Terroir, Salt, South and Artisan – all perfect culinary concepts, but what is ‘South’? Why is it 8, not 7 or 9? “When I first started, before the restaurant opened, I asked ‘Who is André, what is André’s cuisine?’ I went back over everything I had done up to that time, the things that I like, the things that I create, and I realised that I was evolving every day, every year. I’m very ‘freestyle’, so there is not a single dish that represents André. I saw that these 8 elements kept repeating every year, in many different forms, and I said, ‘This is it, these 8 elements are me.’ ‘South’? Well, I spent those 9 years in the south of France, and the South was the source of the inspirations that influenced me most – regions, flavours, my foundation. So you will find a lot of southern French touches in my food.”

Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe is a painting by Manet; it inspired André to think about Spring and how people enjoy food, dining together, with the season’s changing produce. “You have to be emotional when you deal with food in my restaurant. We have ‘concepts’ not ‘menus’. In the picture we don’t see so many colours or flowers, but different greens, everything starting to sprout – that for me is Spring, and we create a lot of dishes around the season. In Singapore many people don’t understand which ingredient is Spring, which is Summer – you can see pumpkin in Summer in Singapore, though in Europe it’s more associated with Autumn; and asparagus, which is a Spring vegetable – all the ingredients together on one plate. I would like to use a different approach to remind people ‘This is Spring’ or ‘This is Summer.’

This chef is very open, inspired by many things. “I don’t force myself to create, to say ‘This season I must find something to talk about.’ The inspiration can be anything – last night’s news, a sad story, a love song. I’m a chef so I like to take the produce as my alphabet, to tell the story that I want. The produce has a message. The most beautiful part is the intention, the story, behind the dish.

Last year André went to the Borneo jungle, because he had heard that every year 5% - 12% of the jungle vanishes. “It is the oldest rainforest in the world, with a history going back 13 million years, but it’s disappearing every day because of global warming and people cutting down the forest. So I decided to make a trip there to see how bad it was. When I came back I made a dish called Orang-utan Salad.” André stressed with a laugh that it’s not a salad made of orang-utan meat but rather a salad of all the wild herbs and fruit that the orang-utan eats. “Because of the deforestation the orang-utan is getting less and less in number, and those that remain can’t find a home. There is so much illegal logging, and clearance for palm-oil plantations, and that kills the ecosystem. I came back wanting to do something, not using the foods from the rainforest, but orang-utans eat wild eggplant, wild baby figs, so I use those as a medium to explain to people my experience in Borneo.”

Recently André created his Rainforest Cuisine Movement, which will launch in June. “It’s about how we can help local tribespeople to use the rainforest, to make some money from it without selling their land to businessmen, so that they will see the value of their environment. I don’t need to source from France or Australia, Borneo is right next to Singapore. We are small individuals – I run a restaurant of 30 covers – but we chefs are the people in touch with natural elements every day. We can tell that ingredients are different from year to year, that for instance as the sea gets warmer the crayfish quality is changing. We are part of the chain and I feel we should do something to protect the Earth. I arrived in Singapore 3½ years ago, and I didn’t know where to source things. I spent a lot of time travelling the region – people said I could easily get things from the UK, Spain, France, it’s so simple, but you forget to look locally. Nothing grows in Singapore but buildings – and they grow really fast. But the project is bigger than just sourcing food – it’s saving the rainforest and the people, plants and animals that live there. I want to tell my restaurant guests all about what I’m doing, but 30 people each night is not enough – I need more people to know about this.”

Restaurant André in Singapore remains an icon of contemporary regional cuisine, and continues growing in popularity, as does André’s reputation for quality and innovation.

Visit André Chiang’s restaurant here

food and travel reviews

Singapore – A moving story

One huge flyer, 2 feet, 3 small wheels and 4 F1 tyres

Singapore is my destination of choice. It offers everything for which any civilised traveller could hope: vibrant and delicious food (eating is a universal hobby here), friendly locals and a rich and diverse heritage. Singapore has a wealth of contemporary design and fashion outlets, alongside history and traditional culture, still very much alive on the peninsular.

This is the land of the short break, so how does one make the best of just a few days on that first visit (for there will doubtless be many happy returns)? What would constitute an overview? How to see lots without the kids complaining?

The Singapore Flyer

asian restaurant review The quintessential ‘overview’ must surely be that afforded by the Singapore Flyer. This is the wheel that dominates the Singapore horizon, higher than the London version and in fact the world’s largest observation wheel. This month (April 2012) the Flyer will celebrate its 4th year.

Singapore Flyer stands 165m from the ground at its highest point and gives stunning views of Marina Bay, the city of Singapore and even across to Malaysia and Indonesia. The cargo ships offshore will remind you that despite its exotic charm Singapore has one of the world's busiest ports in terms of total shipping tonnage and it’s the world's busiest container port.

Strategically located at the new developments of Marina Bay, the Flyer has 28 air-conditioned capsules from which your view will slowly change – historical and cultural buildings and neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Little India, the financial district and now Marina Bay Sands. That’s the beautiful and impressive 3-towered structure with a boat-like platform straddling those skyscrapers. High-flyers on this wheel can indulge in a flute of Moët & Chandon Champagne, a glass of Singapore Flyer Signature Cocktail or a version of the Singapore Sling. Those who are celebrating and who want an exclusive experience while enjoying those views can take advantage of the world’s first full-butler Sky Dining on board the Singapore Flyer.

asian restaurant review The Singapore Flyer extravaganza doesn’t end with your landing. Back at ground level there is a lush tropical rainforest as the centre-piece of a three-storey shopping mall. There is a waterfront dining promenade and a street-food option for those who want a retro eating adventure. It’s called The Singapore Food Trail and presents a selection of old-fashioned food carts (you will remember them from the Singapore of the 1960s if you’re of a certain age, like me) which will give you the chance to try so much that is typically local and delicious. Try Nasi Lamak from one of the carts – rice, chicken, spicy sauce, dried anchovies and a fried egg.

Singapore Flyer opening hours:
Daily flights: 8:30am – 10:30pm - last admission: 10:15pm
Ticket sales: 8:00am – 10:00pm

Visit the Singapore Flyer here

Singapore F1 – the Ultimate Drive

Singapore Flyer is the only observation wheel to be part of a Formula One Grand Prix race circuit. It is a rotating grandstand at the F1 night race in Singapore.

asian restaurant review The Singapore Grand Prix is a celebrated motor race, currently in the calendar of the FIA Formula One World Championship. It is held at the foot of the Singapore Flyer in the Marina Bay area of Singapore. The event was resurrected in 2008 and was the championship’s first night race; it was won by Renault F1 team with Spaniard Fernando Alonso driving.

It would be a horrible tease to show you the circuit from your vantage point of the Flyer and then not invite you to take a closer look – a very close look. The ‘Ultimate Drive’ is a 15-minute or half-hour experience that will take you around most of the track used by those famous F1 racers.

‘Ultimate Tour’ is an extended option that will allow you to get your eye in on the F1 circuit before taking to the local freeway for around an hour of performance driving. This extended route will give you plenty of opportunity to discover the power of a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. If you are a couple then you can have one car apiece and swap your Supercars halfway through the tour and experience the pleasure of each of these celebrated vehicles.

Visit Ultimate Drive here
Visit the Singapore Grand Prix here

The Endearing Trishaw Uncle

There are still a few of us around – that dying breed of folk who don’t drive. I can appreciate a Supercar for its superb lines and gleaming paint finish even though I couldn’t turn a wheel myself. I won’t be driving when I visit Trishaw Uncle, either.

asian restaurant review There are truly quite a lot of Uncles and that might encourage the untutored to come to the conclusion that everyone in Singapore must be related! The term Uncle or Aunty is used by younger people to show respect. In this case the Uncles are the trishaw riders on the streets of Singapore.

It’s a quaint mode of transport that was a necessity before the era of the combustion engine. Originally the vehicle would have been a 2-wheel affair and pulled by a wiry gentleman. Eventually a bike was tacked on the side and the contraption was driven by that same surprisingly powerful style of men, mostly labourers who formed the historic work pool of Singapore. Trishaw Uncle is a term of respect for the riders, and it’s the name of the company that employs them.

Trishaw Uncle is introducing a new fleet of 100 battery-assisted trishaws. It’s tough work and some of the Uncles left youth behind a while back, but they are just the sort of characters to enhance your ride, with faces that one would want to sketch. A bit of electric assistance must be welcome.

asian restaurant Take one of the Trishaw excursions on offer. There is even a taped commentary which is piped to your bench – a relief to the nervous who will want Uncle to keep his concentration on the road. One does initially feel a little exposed, and particularly if you are used to having the metalwork of a 4 x 4 between you and other transport, but there honestly is no need to worry. These chaps spend their days negotiating the traffic and other drivers are aware of these knights of the road. After a few minutes you will relax into your seat and enjoy the sights at close quarters.

That’s the beauty of this expedition – no glass between you and the action. It’s all at eye level and passing slowly enough for you to snap some pictures and take note of shops to return to or restaurants to visit. It’s all conducted at a very civilised pace. You will smell flower garlands, munch some Subcontinental snacks as you drive though Little India; you might spot a Buddhist family burning paper money and even a paper iPhone to honour departed family members. This is Singapore in all its colourful diversity, and you are in the middle of this moving tapestry.

Trishaw Uncle offer a couple of tours so visit them here

Starting point: Albert Mall Trishaw Park
Ending point: Albert Mall Trishaw Park

Highlights: Bugis and Little India
Duration: Approximately 30 minutes (subject to traffic conditions)

OR

Starting point: Albert Mall Trishaw Park
Ending point: Singapore River Cruise, Liang Court Jetty

Highlights: Bugis, Little India and Singapore River
Duration: Approximately 45 minutes (subject to traffic conditions)

The Albert Mall Trishaw Park is Trishaw Uncle’s home base where they wait and from where they operate their trishaws. It’s located at Queen Street between the Fu Lu Shou Complex and Albert Centre Market and Food Centre.

Trishaw Uncle opens daily from 11am to 10pm

Henderson Waves

So you are visiting Singapore for a few days and you have, it seems, spent much of your time sitting. The landscape has moved before your eyes with little energy used by the viewer. You need an outing that will make you feel healthy and noble and which will show you another face of Singapore: Henderson Waves. It’s not a water park with indoor surfing and slides, although this structure does indeed have waves.

asian restaurant review Henderson Waves was commissioned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore following an international competition. The commission was awarded to IJP Corporation and RSP Architects, Planners and Engineers in 2004, with concept and scheme design engineering by Adams Kara Taylor Consulting Civil and Structural Engineers. They have been worthy of the task and brave in their vision. It’s organic, contemporary and appropriate for its use and the environment. Henderson Waves constitutes the highest point of The Southern Ridges, which is a 9km trail connecting parks along the hills of Singapore.

At 36 metres above Henderson Road, Henderson Waves is an unforgettable landmark. It is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore and was built to connect the two hills of Mount Faber and Telok Blangah Hill. It has a unique ‘wave’ form constructed of seven curved steel beams that create a unique walkway.

Slats of yellow balau wood form the surface of the walkway. This wood comes from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is a tropical hardwood very much like teak, and often used for garden furniture. It isn’t yellow in colour but a soft natural grey. The timbers undulate and wrap over to create shade for sun-kissed walkers.

This footbridge is 284 metres long and was built at a cost of S$25.5 million and it’s the largest project of its kind in Southeast Asia. Its curves mimic the undulations of the landscape and offer not only a casual arena for gentle exercise but also a platform from which to admire the city, and a tranquil (mostly) refuge from the activity of modern life. Stroll through tree tops and listen to the birds.

Find a DIY Guide to park walks here

food and travel reviews

Kaya Toast – a Singapore tradition, and the Ya Kun Kaya Toast Coffeestall

I had been given plenty of advice about celebrated dishes and even drinks to try when I visited Singapore. Laksa and Gin Slings were high on every list, but nobody mentioned toast.kaya toast

It doesn’t sound very exotic. Not something one would spend 12 hours travel time to try. Toast is toast is toast, isn’t it? Well, yes that’s probably true. The bread might differ in style and even thickness, but the spreads are pretty much the same worldwide: jam, peanut butter, marmalade and even chocolate and nut spread which I have never quite managed to appreciate. But visit Singapore and you will be introduced to Kaya Toast, and it’s everywhere.

Kaya Toast is a popular snack amongst Singaporeans, and consists of kaya, a spread made of duck or chicken eggs, sugar and coconut milk and flavoured with pandan, and toasted bread. It’s served with a smear of butter, and that takes the edge off the sweetness.

Kaya, also called Srikaya (from the Malay word meaning "rich" due to the golden colour of the home-made version), is also called coconut egg jam. Commercial Kaya is more often pale green in colour from the pandan extract.

The invention of this delicacy is often credited to the Hainanese Chinese. Many Hainanese worked on British ships as kitchen hands. They settled in Malaysia and started selling Kaya and other snacks they had prepared for the British, along with coffee, tea and French toast.

In Singapore Kaya Toast is enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee, not only for breakfast but throughout the day. It’s available in many coffee shops but Ya Kun Kaya Toast is perhaps the most celebrated of those, with its many outlets across the city and even at the airport. Ya Kun Kaya Toast sells kaya toast and very soft boiled eggs with coffee for a traditional start to the day that you won’t get anywhere else in the world.

In 1926 15-year-old Loi Ah Koon scrambled aboard a Chinese junk and set sail from China to Singapore. Ah Koon eventually landed on Singapore soil and found work with the local Hainanese community as an assistant in a Hainanese coffee shop.

kaya toast Loi Ah Koon worked hard and learned his trade and eventually aspired to have his own business. He and two fellow Chinese workers started their own coffeestall at Telok Ayer Basin but the partners moved on, leaving Ah Koon to run the business himself serving hot coffee and charcoal-grilled toast.

Ah Koon returned to China to find a wife and in 1936 she joined him in Singapore. This lady was responsible for adding homemade kaya to the coffeeshop’s repertoire. Ah Koon began roasting his own coffee to improve the quality of beverages on offer.

After more than 15 years at Telok Ayer Basin, Ah Koon relocated his business across the street to Lau Pa Sat. The stall was then simply called Ya Kun Coffeestall, the name 'Ya Kun' being the hanyu pinyin equivalent of 'Ah Koon'. The business stayed there for another 15 years during which time it was awarded 'The Most Courteous Stall in Lau Pa Sat'. In 1984, it moved back to Telok Ayer Transit Food Market to make way for the refurbished Lau Pa Sat that we can see today. In 1998, Ya Kun Kaya Toast Coffeestall found its present site at Far East Square and is now run by his children.

A visit to Ya Kun Kaya Toast Coffeestall is a must when in Singapore. There is also peanut butter toast on offer but it’s a shame to come all this way and not try the local speciality. Go for breakfast and order the set combination of kaya toast with those aforementioned runny eggs and coffee. I am not usually a coffee drinker but I rather enjoyed the smoothness of the coffee here. It looks strong but it lacks that over-roast bitterness that I dislike.

kaya toast The eggs are SOFT but don’t be put off. The creamy yolk with just a drizzle of soy sauce makes a delightful breakfast. The kaya toast is a foil for the savoury soy, and the coffee is hot and mellow and perfect for tropical mornings – it’s true that hot tea or coffee can be pleasantly cooling. Failing that you can always fan yourself with a copy of the Straits Times and wish you had booked a longer stay in friendly and fascinating Singapore.

Ya Kun Kaya Toast Coffeestall
Far East Square
18 China Street #01-01 Singapore 049560
Phone: 6438 3638
Opening hours
Monday to Friday: 7.30am to 7.00pm
Saturday and Sunday: 8.00am to 5.30pm
Public Holiday: Closed


food and travel reviews

Peranakan Food and Culture, and The Blue Ginger Restaurant

In the 15th century some city-states on the Malay Peninsula paid taxes to China and Siam, now Thailand. There is a legend that the Emperor of China sent a princess, Hang Li Po, to the Sultan of Malacca as a token of appreciation for his tribute. The 500 nobles and their servants who accompanied the princess eventually married local girls and became “Straits-Chinese” or Peranakans.

blue ginger nuts You might think you know nothing of this unique culture, but Peranakan nyonyas were the original ‘Singapore girls’. The Singapore Airlines stewardesses wear a striking and iconic costume that is loosely, or more accurately, tightly, based on the Peranakan kebaya. The traditional dress for nyonyas is a long skirt adapted from the Malays’ batik sarong with a light blouse (that’s the kebaya) and three fastening brooches called kerosang. Female Straits-Chinese descendants were called nyonyas. The word nyonya or nonya is Javanese, thought to have come from ‘donha’, the Portuguese for lady.

Malaysians and Indonesians use the word ‘Peranakan’, meaning descendant, followed by a qualifying indication of ethnicity, such as Cina for Chinese, and Belanda for Dutch, the term referring to the origins of someone’s great-grandparents, or ancestors even further back than that.

The new trading port of Singapore, founded by Sir Stamford Raffles at the tip of the Malay peninsula, attracted many Peranakans, who adopted some English ways including, it is said, their rectangular dining tables, in contrast to the typical round table favoured by the local Chinese population.

From the Malay influence Nyonya recipes have developed. They use a larder of regional spices, and a battery of unique dishes has evolved to entice and intrigue the population of Singapore as well as visitors to that City State. Laksa Lemak – rice noodles in coconut sauce – is a popular dish in Singapore, as is Ayam Buah Keluak – Chicken with Keluak nuts. It’s delicious but needs to be prepared by professionals: the seeds contain hydrogen cyanide and are poisonous if consumed without proper processing. The nuts are boiled and buried in ash and banana leaves and covered with earth for more than a month. They change colour from a creamy white to dark brown or black; the hydrogen cyanide released by the boiling and fermentation is washed away with fresh water.

blue ginger inside The Peranakan food in Singapore is generally sweeter than that found in northern Malaysia, which is spicier. It is noted for its use of coconut, coriander and dill. A small number of restaurants serving Nyonya dishes can be found in Singapore, and Blue Ginger presents some of the finest examples of this vibrant food, even the chancy Ayam Buah Keluak. This classic preparation is thought of by many Peranakan food aficionados as the characteristic expression of how well a chef has mastered the Peranakan culinary arts. They are true masters here.

Nyonya cooking in the home has been in decline over the last several decades. It’s not lack of regard for the epicurean heritage but more the constraints of modern life. Long marinating of meats and seafood before cooking, and the time-consuming preparation of spice mixes make some of these dishes appropriate only for celebrations these days. Blue Ginger gives us a chance to try the food without hours of work beforehand. Fresh herbs such as lemongrass, galangal (similar to ginger) and turmeric are traditionally pounded using a heavy granite mortar and pestle. Kaffir lime leaves, pandan, bay leaves and even the leaves of the turmeric plant give distinctive flavours, whilst chillies, candlenuts and belacan (shrimp paste) are the cornerstones of Nyonya cuisine.

blue ginger front The Blue Ginger Restaurant
97 Tanjong Pagar Road
Singapore 088518

For reservations: +65 6222 3928
Fax: +65 6222 3860
For corporate functions and private events
contact Susan +65 9635 0983
or Alan +65 9755 8603

Lunch: 12 noon to 2.30pm
(last order at 2.15pm) daily
Dinner: 6.30pm to 10.30pm
(last order at 10.00pm) daily
Visit Blue Ginger here

Kueh Pie Tee

kueh pie tee Here is a recipe for a Peranakan Kueh Pie Tee – ideal for hors d’oeuvres and very attractive. You will likely not have the pastry iron used for making the fried fluted cases, but the filling will be just as delicious when used to stuff shortcrust-pastry tart shells.

Fills 50 small pastry cases.
1 tbspgarlic, crushed
4 tbspvegetable oil
2 tbspsalted soybean paste (tau cheo)
1 kgChinese sweet turnip (bang kuang), shredded
180 gcooked bamboo shoots, shredded
40 g carrot, shredded
120 mlwater
2small blocks fried tofu (tau kua), cut into strips
300 gsmall prawns, shelled and heads removed
1 tspdark soy sauce
½ tbspblack pepper, crushed
Salt
Sugar
For garnish:
1 egg, hard-boiled and chopped
A few sprigs of coriander or parsley
Red or black caviar (optional)

Method:
Fry the garlic in the vegetable oil until the garlic just turns golden.
Add the soybean paste and stir-fry for a minute.
Add the sweet turnip, bamboo shoots, carrots and water and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
Add the fried tofu, prawns and dark soy sauce, and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through.
Add pepper, salt and sugar to taste.
Allow the mixture to cool and then fill the cases. Top the filling with a pinch of coriander or parsley, and chopped egg, and caviar if used.

The Peranakan Museum

peranakan museum If you want learn more about this fascinating culture then visit The Peranakan Museum in Singapore. It’s housed in the former Tao Nan School Building. Construction of this charming house was completed in 1912 and it still retains many of its original features. The Peranakan Museum provides a glimpse into the living culture of the Peranakan community in the region. The museum is a part of the Asian Civilisations Museum, operating under the National Heritage Board of Singapore.

The Peranakan Museum
39 Armenian Street, Singapore 179941
Opening times:
Monday: 1pm to 7pm
Tuesday to Sunday: 9am – 7pm (9 pm on Fridays)
Visit the Peranakan Museum here



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