Monday, December 22, 2014

Fat Cow at Camden: new reference for beef in Singapore?

Its time for a new reference for steaks in Singapore: The Fat Cow is it! But with a twist. This is not the standard fare of US styled steak, but with a strong Japanese accent...and I don't mean only in the wagyu, but also the style.

I have eaten at The Fat Cow several times, and each time, it is fabulous. I have stopped short of recommending it before because I feel it is rather expensive, and not good value for money. But my last visit just 10 days ago changed that. They offered for dinner a S$128+++ menu, when previously they only had S$168, S$188 and above sets for dinner. 

We began with the Momotaro Sashimi Salad

Superb. the tomatoes were very fresh, with the characteristic tangy sweetness. The sauce was a very light fresh herb and ginger ponzu, and very refreshing. 

Second course was sea bream with black truffle

Called the Tai no Kuro Toryufu, it comprised of slices of braised sea bream, superb freshness, and slices of black truffle on a bed of seasoned kelp. Very light, elegant. The fish was cooked only just so, and was almost raw, but it was sashimi grade of course. The fragrance of the black truffle, though precious little was enough to lift the experience.

Third course, onsen tamago

There was a choice of 3 third courses, I selected the Onsen Tamago no Furai. The lightly cooked egg, with deep fried crispy bone marrow and dashi. The chef scores again. Every element was well considered, matched each other perfectly and tasted delicious. 

And for my main course, I had the A3 Sirloin Wagyu

As is my custom, I asked for charred on the outside, medium on the inside. Perfect. The steak was grilled over a charcoal fire. The full smoky flavour from the coals were apparent. The steak cooked exactly what I had asked for, showing mastery of the grill by the grill master. And was accompanied by a small pot of roasted ginger sauce. The meat was absolutely divine. Smooth, creamy, with a wonderful nutty flavour, and truly melt in your mouth experience. Superbly tender. Excellent plus plus flavour. Very, very good. And compliments very well with the salted roasted ginger the steak was totally "nude", no seasoning, not even salt and pepper.

Dessert was part of the meal, but I had a simple yuzu sorbet, which was home made, and quite good, and a wonderful way to cleanse the palate.

Very good place for a meal, and certainly a new reference for steaks, even though this is in its own class of wagyu steaks. It certainly equals the experience I had in Tokyo at Gyu-An. And at S$128+++ is certainly very reasonable for the quality of the food. Very highly recommended.

  1. Fat Cow

  2. Japanese Steakhouse
  3. Address: 1 Orchard Boulevard, 248649
    Phone:6735 0308

Monday, December 8, 2014

Food Glossary at JTC Summit

It is not often one finds great food, reasonable prices and good people serving it. It should be easy, but it is not. When Good Morning Nanyang Cafe closed in Hong Lim, I was saddened...for Byron Shoh, who runs the outlet is a friend and he serves great food at reasonable prices in a convenient location.

When he re-opened with some partners, I was overjoyed...but on discovering that the new location is at JTC Summit, my joy was tempered. Its way out there in the West, nowhere near my habitual route, and opening hours of Mon-Fri 7am-4pm is also not convenient. But I always enjoy a chat with Byron, and always enjoy his food and kopi, so trotted over one weekday to sample his offerings.

Initially he had partnered with a friend, also an aquaintence of mine Jimmy Cheang to offer smoked meats, which also quite pulled on my heart strings...I always longed to re-live the smoked meats at Schwartz's in Montreal or those in the Texas towns. But when I arrived last week, they had closed the Western kitchen. Perhaps the taste of the local clientele, in a HDB area, JTC offices were not atuned towards smoked meats. The Local Kitchen seemed to be doing well, though. I sampled the Char Kway Teow and the Rendang Chicken with blue rice.

First the visually interesting rendang chicken.

Fragrant blue rice, with chicken rendang. The rendang was very fragrant, with chunks of tender well marinaded chicken within, and potato chunks. Full flavour. I found the rendang a tad too salty, but the taste was excellent and very fragrant. The blue rice, other than being a beautiful spectacle was also very fragrant

Topped with a fried egg, it was very nice. 

I also tried the char kway teow

The kway teow used is very wide, more like hor fun than kway teow. And fried very well. Wok hei is apparent, and the prawns were fresh, juicy and very tasty. A small but very important detail - the taugeh (bean sprouts) were fried just right, a tinge of wok hei, and still very crunchy.

Of course I had Byron's famous kaya toast and kopi for dessert

Hand made kaya, done by Byron himself, generously spread with slices of butter on crisp toast. Very nice. The kopi was nice and fragrant, though ultimately loses out in flavour and fragrance to the Hylam Street in ABC, was better than the fare served up at the big chain kopi joints like Ya Kun, Killeney, Toast Box and the ilk.

Highly recommended. I wish the location was more convenient, but even as it is, I will make my way to eat here frequently, I suspect.

Food Glossary
#02-01, The JTC Summit
8 Jurong Town Hall Road, Singapore 609434

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Black Sheep Cafe: Value meals in Thomson

Chef Ratha and his Black Sheep cafe is one of the favourite places I seek out when I need a comforting, nice French meal, without having to fuss with what one usually fusses about when one goes to eat at a French restaurant.

Fuss free, just stroll in...though a reservation is recommended for dinners on Fri, Sat and eves of holidays. The menu is straightforward, simple dishes, all cooked very well. The wine list does not require one to have a degree in oenology to decipher. Again, short, to the point, all wines are well chosen and work well. No pomp. No ceremony.

I often feel the chef is reflected in his food...and Ratha is certainly like the food he cooks. This lunch I had the baked brie as a starter

Premium brie, encrusted in a pistacio crust, and baked. Accompanied by a citrus fruit salad. Nice way to start. The crust was crispy, and very nicely browned, and the brie within, though not exactly oozing out as one cuts into the cheese, is just starting to melt.

Kin had the escargot in garlic sauce

Huge escargots, sans shell, in a lot of garlic, butter...hugely unhealthy, I guess from the copious amounts of butter...but oh, so delicious. The escargots were plump, juicy. Marvellous.

For mains, Kin had the time and tested confit canard

This is one of the favourites at Black sheep. The confit is made in-house, seared till lightly crisp on the outside on order. Sitting on a apple rosti, and accompanied by a mango relish. The skin was not as crisp as the ones in France, in particular our reference confit from Chez Dumonet. But Ratha's version is very good. Very good indeed, and perhaps the best in Singapore. The skin was delicious, and under just a small sliver of fat to give oomph, and tender, moist meat within. Perhaps a tad salty...only the slightest tad so, but the salt boosts flavour. The combination of the apple rosti helps cut the grease, and the salad was fresh and nice.

I had what the menu calls Cheeky Pork

The pork cheeks were probably braised, and then fried till crisp. And served on a bed of greens and pear and an orange glaze. The skin was very crispy, flavourful. The meat within was very tender, but I found the sinews to be very apparent, and it felt a bit like pulled pork having to cut with the grain of the muscles to make bite sized morsels. Tastewise it was excellent. A slight porky flavour, but all in the proper order and proportion. 

For desserts, we had the double chocholate boudini

Double chocolate refers to the chocolate bed which the strawberries, banana and the pistachio ice cream rests on. Within the outer cake like chocolate shell, is a molten chocolate interior. Superbly gorgeous chocolate, especially for the chocoholic.

And Chef Ratha's famous soufle

Wonderful. The Kalua soufle rises to the occasion, and within the slightly elastic skin, is a superbly light, airy interior, and was wonderful with the chocolate ice cream.

Superb meal, excellent cooking, with little fuss, and very affordable as well. Highly recommended.

p.s. This is an invited review. And in the interest of full disclosure, I have know Chef Ratha for many years. And I have always enjoyed his cooking.

The Black Sheep Cafe
11 Sin Ming Rd, Thomson V, B1-30, Singapore 575629
6459 5373 (11.30a.m-10.30p.m) or 92721842
Closed Mondays

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nodaiwa in Tokyo for the best grilled eel on the planet.

First, a confession...I love unagi (grilled eel, done Japanese style). It is definitely one of my favourite dishes, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find great unagi. The great unagi restaurants in Singapore, there was one standout, but they seem to have perished to the grasp of commercial realities.

The reason is the global supply of eel is becoming scarce. Especially the high quality anguila japonica prized in Japan for unagi. As a result, unagi have become more and more expensive. And today it is almost as rare and as expensive to have a unagi meal as it is to have a wagyu steak meal.

I tried one of the oldest eel houses in Japan, Nodaiwa, which was founded in 1850, and still family owned. The main store in Minato-ku, just across the road from the famous Tokyo Tower is a transplanted old storehouse, transplanted from Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture.

Downstairs house the kitchen, and a small dining room, and upstairs some private rooms. The room we had booked had chairs instead of the normal Japanese style tatami floor seating.

As my Japanese friend knows the current owner Kanemoto-san, we managed to score a visit to the kitchen.

And saw how the eel was prepared. We did not manage to see the slaughter of the live eels, but saw how the shirayaki was prepared. The shirayaki is grilled without any sauce. The style of Nodaiwa was the Kanto style, where the unagi is first steamed, then grilled. The other major style is the Kansai style, where the unagi is not steamed but grilled directly. The skin is a bit more chewy, and the unagi is more fatty to the palate.

The eel is first pierced with thin bambo sticks as shown above. Then steamed in a large bamboo basket as seen in the photograph below:

As each order is prepared a la minute, the large steamer only had one order of eel. 

The steaming melts some of the fat, and softens the skin, and the eel is then passed to the master to grill

The hot coals quickly cook the eel, and in the shirayaki style, no sauce is added. In the kabayaki style, the eel is repeatedly dipped into a vat of kabayaki sauce, resulting in a sweetish, sometimes thick coat of sauce. Nodaiwa's unagi kabayaki, however, the sauce is never overpowering. 

Back to the dining room, the first course we were served a grilled unagi in a egg roll

The tamago dashimaki with unagi is painstaking prepared by an unagi specialist. This style of Japanese omelette is made by rolling layers of egg as it is being cooked. The taste was rather fluffy, a nice rounded egg flavour with the mild taste of the grilled unagi within. 

We tried various types of unagi.

First the shirayaki

As mentioned, this was grilled without any sauce. The texture was very tender, soft, but still a bit springy. The eel was not flaky that it fell apart with the probing of the chopsticks, but remained rather elastic. It melted totally in the mouth. On the palate, it was mild, with flavours very subtle, and was a bit dry.

We also had 3 different types of unagi on rice. First unadon, on a bowl of rice

The aromatic sauce provided a sweet, salty punch to the unagi. The sauce, grilled till almost caramalised on the unagi was still quite subtle. Unlike many other lower end unagi stalls that dot the country where the powerful kabayaki sauce tend to overpower the taste of the eel. Here it was light, providing essential support but never taking over the prima donna role left for the unagi to shine. 

The same unagi, but served on a lacquered box is known as unaju. Here is the large was quite big, with approximately 400g of eel on one single layer with hot steaming rice below:

And shine it did. The taste was really tender, soft, with a mild flavour. A slight oily mouthfeel, only the slightest hint of grease, and never too intrusive was prevalent. The meat itself was so soft and tender, but still moist was wonderful. 

The unaju above was served as a double layer. Below the first layer of unagi and rice was another layer of unagi. This provides a slightly different experience as the eel continues to subtly cooked under the rice, flavouring it as one eats. 

Certainly one of the best unagi meals I have had. The flavour and incredible texture of the eel takes center stage. Truly memorable and excellent. And very highly recommended.

Awarded a Michelin star for this outlet in Tokyo, the restaurant also have several other branches in Tokyo and one in Paris.

Many thanks to my friend M. Kondo for booking the dinner and taking us there.

Nodaiwa AZABU

1-5-4, Higashiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106, Japan
Tél : 03 3583 7852 - Fax : 03 3589 4227 Japanese