Thursday, May 30, 2013

La Cicala

Take a stroll down Club Street and you find yourself spoilt for choice on where to dine. The number of restaurants there are countless, and to add on to your dilemma, almost every restaurant on the street serves up different cuisines.

La Cicala is a modern Spanish gastro bar anchored in traditional Spanish gastronomy and Japanese grilling method. Of course, tapas in this case is included, with a contemporary twist. The restaurant also features a full height wine cellar housing an expansive selection of international wines - perfect for wine lovers to chill over food and drinks.

We started off with the Jamon Bellota - hand sliced Spanish ham with country toast and fresh tomato dip. To be honest, it wasn't impressive, although addictive. The tomato on the bread paired well with the country ham but after awhile of sitting on the table, the bread got a little soft and soggy.

The Croquetas however, kind of won my taste buds over. With bits of chorizo and fontina cheese breaded and served with chiplote sauce, there was basically nothing to fault with this dish, except the fact each ball probably contains at least 100 calories. They were light and crispy and there was a generous amount of cheese oozing out once you bite into it.

Moving on, the Cerviche of Swordfish wasn't too bad either. The nicely seared swordfish with a slightly raw middle in beet emulsion and topped with seagrape wasn't too heavy for the palate. My only take to this dish is that some people might not like beet, therefore this dish might not suit everyone.

The star however, was the Dry Aged Striploin that was grilled and served with roasted potatoes and sherry jus. The only downside was that there wasn't enough sauce and i had to ask for more. Otherwise, the 10 days aged striploin was cooked perfectly and the whole dish was good enough to make any diner satisfied.

Dessert was Mascarpone Custard with Masala Gelee, topped off with espresso foam. The espresso was a bit too heavy for my liking (coffee lovers will like it) and i didn't find anything special about the custard. To me, it tasted just like any other mascarpone cheese in a glass.

While La Cicala does most of their things right (except maybe dessert), don't expect to be paying cheap for a meal there. The portions are not exactly the biggest you can expect but it is Club Street after all - and that most restaurants there are like that.

La Cicala 
49 Club Street
Singapore 069426
+65 6534 8812

This was an invited media tasting.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


If you are a wine connoisseur, Hardys shouldn't be a complete stranger in your "wine-tionary". With 160 years of Australian winemaking excellence, Hardys is debuting three wines in Singapore (and hopefully more to come).

The William Hardy range (William Hardy Shiraz and William Hardy Chardonnay) was launched last year to recognize Bill Hardy's 40 years as a winemaker and brand ambassador with the business founded by his great-great grandfather, Thomas Hardy.

Honestly, the William Hardy Chardonnay 2012 was quite an acquired taste. The intense aromatics of melon and white peach, combined with notes of spicy oak wasn't something i quite enjoyed. Or to put it bluntly - a little too fruity for my liking. However, it paired well with the fish dish that was served with it.

As compared to the Chardonnay, i preferred the Shiraz. The acidity of the wine in my opinion (i am no wine connoisseur by the way) was just right and it was good on its own and no doubt better when accompanied with the red meat.

My favorite of the three however, had to be the 2008 Sir James Vintage Pinot Noir Chardonnay, which resembles champagne. The sparkling wine was undoubtedly also the favorite amongst everyone at the table and it was good on its own. With its rich nuances of lychee, butter sauteed mushroom and lanolin, it is one of the premium wines that make Hardys the biggest-selling wine brand in the United Kingdom.

For now, the William Hardy Shiraz and William Hardy Chardonnay are available at Cold Storage and Jason's at SGD 37 a bottle. For that price honestly, i wouldn't dare complain or make any noise. The only thing i am complaining about is why isn't the 2008 Sir James Vintage Pinot Noir Chardonnay available yet - which also means from now till then, we will still have to pay the exorbitant amount for champagne, which taste similar to the 2008 Sir James Vintage Pinot Noir Chardonnay.

So, the next time you have a party or if you are going to one, you won't be having to ransack the shelves of wine to find a bottle (or two). The Chardonnay chilled over a sunny afternoon, the Shiraz over dinner and of course, the Sir James for almost any occasion.

This was an invited media tasting.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tim Ho Wan

The much raved about Tim Ho Wan, a One-Michelin Star restaurant that recently opened its first in Singapore is worth all the hype it is getting. The 3 hours queue time justifies for the delicious dim sum delicacies served up. Before we go on an appreciation post on the food (having tried everything on the menu), the main thing to note is the chef's golden rule : eat while it is hot. Shall we begin?

Something that needs no further introduction at Tim Ho Wan, the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork is something you must have on the table. The fluffy bun with barbecued pork within will definitely leave you wanting more. Honestly, the bun is no secret recipe, the trick as i mentioned earlier is to have it fresh out of the oven and pipping hot. To put it bluntly, it is good enough to make your trip to Tim Ho Wan complete.

Another of their "Big 4 Heavenly Kings" is the Pan Fried Carrot Cake, which i honestly didn't find especially fantastic (either that or i was too engrossed with the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork). Still, the carrot cake was soft inside and crispy on the outside - which is what it should be like. In all fairness, it wasn't mind blowing, neither was it a disappointment.

The Vermicelli Rolls at Tim Ho Wan are also one of my favorites. They have five different kinds - Pig's Liver, BBQ Pork, Shrimp, Beef and Vegetarian Black Pepper. Although the Vermicelli Roll with Pig's Liver (one of the "Big 4 Heavenly Kings") was supposedly the favorite among patrons, i preferred the Vermicelli Roll with BBQ Pork and Vermicelli Roll with Shrimp being i am not a fan of liver. The silk textured rolls were done to the right thickness and there were enough filling in it to make sure each mouth full isn't just sauce and vermicelli roll.

The last of the "Big 4 Heavenly Kings" is something i least expected. The Steamed Egg Cake resembles a sponge cake, except that it has a caramelized taste to it (from the sugar used). However, because this comes off sweet instead of savory, i recommend this to be ordered towards the end of the meal (with dessert).

Moving on to the more common items you would see on a dim sum menu, the Prawn Dumpling and Pork Dumpling with Shrimps were also done very well at Tim Ho Wan. The prawns were fresh and had a good bite to it, and of course like everything else they serve, it came steamy hot.

The partner's favorite was the Beancurd Skin Roll with Shrimp that was deep fried. It was extremely crispy and had generous filling within the thin layer of beancurd skin. The only downside was that they didn't have mayonnaise when we requested for it. But because it was good enough on its own, it's pretty forgivable they don't have mayonnaise stocked up in the kitchen.

One of the dishes that really impressed me however, was the Congee with Lean Pork, Century Egg and Salted Egg. The smooth congee filled with tender chunks of diced pork in it is a perfect example of comfort food. I love the infused taste of the salted duck egg that sometimes brings a flaky powdered taste. The congee is known to be sold out daily so it is recommended to go early to avoid disappointment.

We also tried other stuff (yes, i wasn't kidding when i said we literally tasted the whole menu) like the Pork Rib with Black Bean Sauce and Rice with Chicken, Sausage and Mushroom, which were equally good and worth the calories.

Apart from the mainstream dim sum items, i was glad to know Tim Ho Wan also serves other kinds which are not as common. We had the Garlic, Mushroom and Spinach Dumpling which had great texture from the ingredients. Also, the Beancurd Skin Roll with Pork and Shrimp is like a steamed version of the Deep Fried Beancurd Skin Roll. The most unique of the lot i would say was the Beef Ball with Beancurd. Unlike the normal kind of beef we get, the balls were extremely smooth, soft and tender.

For dessert, we had the Yam Puree with Sago which i liked very much due to the fact it wasn't overly sweet. Also, it has a less thick texture as compared to the traditional yam paste, which i thought was perfect after a heavy meal. Of course, besides the Baked Bun with BBQ Pork, another item you will have to try at Tim Ho Wan is the Tonic Medlar and Osmanthus Cake which is actually jelly. Initially, i didn't like it at all, but i slowly grew to appreciate it after the second bite. It was extremely fragrant and the wolf berries in it resembled raisins.

Truth be told, the review is obviously positive. Despite the fact i have tried everything on the menu, i am definitely coming back (for more). Although you would have to wait quite awhile for a table, the delectable dim sum justifies the waiting time. The best part would probably be that the One-Michelin Star status isn't going to cost you a bomb by dining there. I just wish they had a separate take-away counter for their buns. And yes, i shall make it public - i had six to myself within two hours. Also, they do not take reservations, which is also why i foresee Singaporeans sending their domestic workers to stand in queue for them pretty soon.

Tim Ho Wan 
68 Orchard Road
Plaza Singapura, #01-29A
Singapore 238839

This was an invited media tasting.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Given a choice, i'd choose red meat over white meat any day. Ito-Kacho is a franchise from Japan that landed in Singapore, or to be more exact - Mandarin Gallery. Offering a wide variety of premium quality Wagyu, there is no reason why any beef lovers should miss this place.

At Ito-Kacho, all their fresh stocks flown in from US, Australia and Japan. They are chilled and not frozen to ensure that the meat quality stays at its best. They carry a wide range of Wagyu of different cuts, as well as seafood. If you are worried about smelling like barbecue after the meal, fret not as the barbecue method at Ito-Kacho ensures that you do not smell like barbecue beef after your meal using convection methods to keep the smoke from getting onto you.

To start off, we had an assortment of Kimchi. Also, we had the Ito-Kacho Salad which had fresh greens tossed generously in sesame dressing. Everyone agreed that the salad dressing was good, but the best part of the salad to me was the slices of crispy lotus roots which gave the salad a lot of texture and crunch.

The Dashimaki Tamago is a recommended dish at Ito-Kacho. Unlike the normal Tamago you get at your mainstream Japanese restaurants which are cold and slightly sweet, this one isn't. Instead, the omelette you get here is soft, fluffy and served warm. Accompanied by a special sauce and fresh radish, this simple dish wow-ed everyone (and myself) despite its simple presentation and ingredients used.

Moving on to the stars of the meal, we had the Wagyu Tongue which cooked on the grill within a minute. Accompanied by the specially concocted leek and salt sauce, the flavor of the tongue was wonderfully rich and deep.

If you are not adventurous enough to try the Waygu Tongue, settle for the Wagyu Platter, which has an array of premium cuts. We had the Toku-Jo-Bara (Short Ribs), Wagyu-Sasami (Flank Steak), Wagyu Kainomi (Flap Meat) and Wagyu Tomo-Bara. They all went very well with the in-house made barbecue sauce. Some cuts also go well with sea salt but i preferred the barbecue sauce over it. My favorite cut was the Wagyu Tomo-Bara which has the most fats - the slice of beef literally melted in my mouth. Of course, the rest of the cuts were equally succulent and meltingly good.

Although the Wagyu at Ito-Kacho is mind blowing good, the Tsubo-Zuke Kurobuta (Pork Collar) left to impress as well. The perfectly seasoned pork collar served in what looks like a jar sizzled and charred beautifully as soon as it hit the grill. The aftermath - juicy, flavorful and tender pork ready to be indulged into.

Apart from meat, Ito-Kacho also serves seafood. The King Crab-Yaki and the Grilled Tiger Prawns were very fresh. With a bit of sea salt and grilled, the prawns were extremely bouncy in texture and slightly firm with a slight hint of crunch. The crab on the other hand was also very sweet and fresh.

Arriving sizzling hot on the table, the Ishiyaki Sundubu Chige (Clam Soup) which has clams and a lot of mushrooms and tofu in it was bursting with flavors. The Ishiyaki Bibimbap with nice charred bits of rice (from the hot stone bowl) was also very delicious.

No prizes for guessing what dessert was. Like in most Japanese restaurants - Mochi. This time served with ice cream flavors like Kuri (Chestnut), which had little bits of chestnut in it and Kurogoma (Black Sesame), it was really a perfect ending to the meal.

While prices may not exactly be that pocket friendly at Ito-Kacho, one thing's for sure - you are paying for quality and not quantity. And if you ask me if the food and service is worth your money, i'll tell you without a doubt yes. So much to the extent i am thinking when i should come back for the Tsubo-Zuke Kurobuto. Go ahead, salivate.

333A Orchard Road
Mandarin Gallery, #04-08/09/10
Singapore 238897
+65 6836 0111

This was an invited media tasting.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

TreeTop Walk

After much persuasion, i gave in and spontaneously went for the TreeTop Walk. It took more than a month for the other half to convince me to attempt it because i am clearly a town kind of guy. I do not mind sweating it out at the gym or playing sports but trekking up mud and having insects all over me is the last thing i want to do if i had an option.

There are a few ways to get to the TreeTop Walk but the nearest from my place was the Venus Entrance. There's a free of charge car park there that closes at 7.30pm so my advice is to park there and take your time to walk over to the TreeTop Walk since parking is free. The Venus Entrance car park is also located quite near the main road so it is pretty convenient and accessible.

The terrain is pretty muddy and uneven so it's best to wear a trusty pair of track shoes that you know will not die on you. And if there is one thing on your list that you should bring with you apart from a bottle of water, it will be insect repellent. It slipped my mind that we needed it and i ended up going back with a few mosquito bites.

Apart from blood hungry mosquitoes, there were of course more interesting "objects" that you may encounter. I was hoping to find a snake slithering down the tree branches, or a scorpion on the tree barks. Instead, we only managed to bump into a huge lizard blocking our pathway, a rooster, tons of monkeys and different species of butterflies which i thought were pretty interesting, even though i am no insect lover.

The trail from the Venus Entrance to TreeTop Walk takes about an hour, we walked a little quicker and reached within 40 minutes. Since i have a phobia of heights, i passed the camera to the partner and just walked straight without looking down (yes, i am that scared). Looking at the pictures now, the view was indeed quite spectacular.

The walk back down from the TreeTop Walk is a little more tedious and tiring with steps going uphill and downhill simultaneously. It's difficult to lose your way as there are plenty of navigation signs around. However, take a wrong turn and you might end up at Bukit Timah. I suggest you check the weather forecast before making a trip down to avoid disappointment. Also, it is best to go around mid-day so that you are out of the "jungle" before the sun sets. Again, point to remember - comfortable shoes, water and insect repellent. 

TreeTop Walk 
MacRitchie Reservoir Park