Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hayashi はやし, Tokyo

Hayashi Ramen was pretty highly-rated on Tabelog, and so when I needed a good ramen option near Shibuya where I was staying, I decided to hit up Hayashi to see what the fuss was about. 

There was a (predictably) long queue at around 1pm when I visited for lunch, comprising some students, salarymen, and tourists like me.

Over here, there aren't that many options for you to try. It's just the basic ramen, or basic ramen with toppings.

Sometimes that's better, since it saves me the trouble of having to choose. I hate choosing.

The ramen was really delicious. The noodles are relatively firm and of medium thickness; the egg was impeccably done. The char siew had a good pork flavour even though it wasn't quite so sophisticated. But the star was the broth, and what a delicious broth it was. The broth was very flavourful, consisting of a blend of chicken and fish stock with a hint of citrus - powerful, smooth and tasty. There was a very harmonious balance between the chicken bone depth, shoyu, and the fish stock, the kind of flavourful broth you could sip all day and not get sick of it. Gorgeous. (8.75/10)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Kotaro 高太郎, Shibuya

I really love reading Rebecca's blog on Tokyo - it is chockful of good recommendations, particularly sake. The izakaya itself wasn't hard to find, located on the other side of the Cerulean Hotel Tower Shibuya, which is a massive complex. Up a narrow street and we reached Kotaro, which is highly recommended both on Rebecca's blog, and on Tabelog - with a rating of 4.00 (out of 5) and No. 6 on the izakaya list.

The entrance was pretty nondescript, though what is distinctive is the words "高太郎" on a lamp located outside the restaurant. 

The restaurant itself is tastefully decorated, the highlight being the counter where the chefs are in action - and featuring loads of wooden panelling that lines the sides of the restaurant.

We started off with some sake, as usual - this one was a pretty easy-drinking sake, known as "priest". I couldn't quite catch the pronunciation of the words (someone, please help). Taste-wise, pretty dry, easy-drinking. Smooth. 

As we are non-Japanese speaking "Gaijin", we decided to order omakase - basically letting the chef decide, which saves us the hassle of having to order dishes. Having said that, all the dishes were pretty amazing and I don't think we encountered a single bad dish.

First up, we had spring vegetables from Shizuoka province, with dashi stock and topped with katsuoboshi. The spring vegetables included beans and some leafy greens, and all of the vegetables were just so fresh and flavourful especially the beans. A good start to the meal: 8/10.

Next up, we had the sashimi platter featuring an assortment of baby squid, octopus, and cured Spanish mackerel. The highlight was undoubtedly the baby squid which was seriously oishii to the max - accompanied by some grated ginger, the baby squid had intense flavours of the sea, a clean "seafood" sweetness - so very delicious. The mackerel was also one of the stars, lightly cured and again, a deep umami taste of the mackerel. Octopus was good too. Another great dish. (8.65/10)

Third course - beans (they look like giant edamame!) paired with some miso. Good. 7/10

Fourth course was one of the signature dishes of the izakaya - Potato salad with smoked onsen egg. The egg was absolutely delightful, lightly smoked such that the smokiness permeated through the egg. The potato salad - a mixture of sweet, savoury, potatoey... - was balanced. (8.25/10)
I really liked the Kikuyoi sake which Rebecca mentioned she drank while at Kotaro. This was so tasty - a light junmai sake which was redolent of fruits particularly pineapples. We understood from the waiter that it's from Shizouka and the brewer is Mr Aoshima. (8.5/10)

The next course was gratin - I didn't expect to see gratin in an izakaya and expected it to be just passe, but this baked squid and radish gratin was delicious! The cheese balanced perfectly well with the seafood flavours of the squid to create a harmonious whole. The aromas of the gratin was particularly inviting on a slightly chilly spring day. (8.5/10)

Next up, an enormous croquette - filled with delicious pork and - I suspect - some offal as well. There were really deep flavours at work here; and the crust was light and crisp. It paired well with a rich sake we had. (8.5/10)

We were still hungry, hence the chef brought us some otsumami - duck marinated with miso, light clams, and eggplant that was braised till soft. All of these were good accompaniments to the sake. 

Last, but certainly not least - was one of chef Kotaro's specialties - cold bukkake udon, handmade each day, with grated radish and topped with a slice of lemon. There was something very refreshing and fresh about this dish - everything was incredibly delicious and balanced. The udon had a very springy texture which comes from the fact that it's handmade. Delicious, and a great way to end the meal. (8.75/10)

The damage for all of that? 12,700 Yen for 2 people. Pretty good value.

Kotaro is a highly recommended izakaya and well deserving of its esteemed reputation. I highly recommend that you visit it the next time you're in Tokyo. Good stuff. If this is how we're going to eat the rest of the trip, I'll be a happy foodie.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mad About Sucre

If there is one place that has earned unanimous, effusive, praise thus far - Mad About Sucre must be the place. Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow had proclaimed it the "best patisserie in Singapore", and Daniel Food Diary has called it "one of Singapore's best new patisseries". Accordingly, I had huge expectations for this place.

But was it met?

Hell, yeah.

And more.

The space is gorgeous. A long corridor greets you; the decor is so tasteful that it reminds one of a Parisian patisserie, replete with themed walls, chairs which were thoughtfully selected to create vertical lines along the long corridor, and so on. Everything here was just so tastefully designed and curated. 

One of the owners of the place, Eric, cheerfully seated us, and proceeded to explain to us cheerfully the origins and workings of Mad About Sucre, that all the ingredients are organic, no preservatives are used, fresh ingredients, and so on; and that the baker used to head a team of chefs at a Paris patisserie before heading back home.

Such effervescence and warm-heartedness from Eric is really such a blessing these days, in the day and age of recycled chain cafes and waiters with zero passion for their craft and for the food. 

We were the happy recipients of many of Eric's tales shared through his past life as a consultant and a jet-traveller around the world, but it would be best if he shared them with you when you dine at Mad About Sucre.

The cakes were all delectably crafted. Eric generously offered to pair each dessert with a suitable tea. We started with the "Coco Citron", which consisted of lemon curd and coconut mousse, with a biscuit base. The inspiration was the Basilica de Sacre Coeur in Montmarte, Paris. Out of all of the desserts, I thought this stood out for me, with its very balanced tropical flavours - a heady combination of lemon curd and coconut with the slight tartness of lemon combining well with the flavours of dessicated coconut which also presented some textural variety between the dessicated coconut and the smooth lemon curd. Importantly, this was not too sweet. There was also added texture from melted sugar crystals that had to be timed just right to prevent it from turning into caramel even as the sweetness is lost. A harmonious whole. (8.5/10)

This was paired up with a tropical lemon grass tea which emphasized the "tropical" flavours.

Second, we enjoyed "Passione", which consists of passionfruit and light cheese, with some cocoa nibs. Very smooth and harmonious, with the tartness of the passionfruit combining well with the light cheese. Very natural flavours indeed. Eating it with cocoa nibs introduced a whole new dimension; roasted and nutty flavours emerge. It starts off with roasted flavours and then the passionfruit takes over, leading to a long finish at the sides of the palate while the cocoa flavours remain at the back. Very well thought out. (8.25/10)

It was paired with a mango tea with mangoes from Cambodia, which was again just spot on with very natural flavours of mango.

Third - we had Carpentras - strawberry vodka cream, and vanilla cream. The dessert was served in a martini glass and comprised various layers, some infused with gin, others with lychee, and topped with some almond bits. A heady mix indeed. I quite liked this as well as the strawberry was very natural-tasting and the addition of vodka and other alcoholic condiments really uplifted the entire dessert. (8.25/10) Paired with a wild berry tea. 

Last up - chocolate domed San Dominique, comprising a "rum jewel box" and a ball made of chocolate and caramelised plantain. You start with rich dark chocolate encasing rum, before moving on to a ball of mousse-like texture with delicious caramelised plantain. All very rich, very decadent. Lovely. (8.25/10). A mint tea accompanied the dessert.
Overall, I was really impressed with Mad About Sucre. Every little fine detail was meticulously thought out and planned, from the design of the space, to the cutlery which curves so ergonomically to allow for easy access to the cakes, to the cakes themselves, of course. One of the finest patisseries to open up in Singapore for a long time. I have heard that the cakes themselves change on a very regular basis, and I can't wait to try them!

PS: I hear it gets really crowded over the weekend, but when I was there on a Wednesday night, it was surprisingly empty, much to my disbelief. Maybe I was just fortunate, so it afforded us more time to speak with the proprietor. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Eastern House of Seafood Delicacy

Had an awesome time praising God and listening to Rev Chris Chia at the Easter outreach at the Singapore Expo, so we were in the East and needed to find something to eat, hopefully something that is worth the calories i.e. delicious. I did a search for "food", "east", "singapore", to hopefully find something that would be good, and I saw many bloggers who I respect blog about "Eastern House of Seafood Delicacy", so I decided to try the restaurant out to see what it's like.

The place (55 Chai Chee Drive) turned out to be a Kopitiam located in the middle of a HDB estate in Chai Chee. Thankfully we now have Google Maps, because it was really rather ulu and far away from any other landmark. Even the cab driver made a wrong turn. Thankfully it wasn't too crowded, and so I thought - this could be a really good lunch.

I wasn't wrong. 

There were three of us, and we ordered the following dishes:
(1) Assam Fish Head - it came highly recommended;
(2) KL-Style Hokkien Mee;
(3) Salted Egg Prawns; and
(4) Egg Soup.

The KL Hokkien Mee, for me, was the standout: the sauce was flavourful with alot of lard, and the noodles done right, and everything was just spot on. I wouldn't have minded more 'wok hei' in the dish, but still, a pretty good effort. Very flavourful sauce. (8.25/10)

The Assam Fish Head was not bad; the fish was very fresh, that must be said, but personally I would have preferred a far spicier assam gravy; this one was rather sweet. The Forture Assam Fish Head still wins in my opinion. (7/10)
The egg soup came with seafood and some pork slices. Rather tasty and comforting as well although the flavours were not what one'd call distinctive in any way. (7/10)
Lastly, the salted egg prawns were great; coated with a savoury salted egg sauce and deep fried. Extremely unhealthy, however; the prawns though were very good - there was much roe in the heads even. (7.75/10)

Certainly a very respectable cze char, and one that I'll come back again if I'm ever in the East again. Cheers.