Tag Archives: Tastespotting

A Seductive Lunch at Catalunya

Have I told you lately that I miss my life in London? The lifestyle, entertainment and numerous gateways to the rest of Europe. The freedom to live, breathe, drink and taste whatever we wanted at affordable prices. The broad spectrum of everything that Europe has to offer. Oh yes, I sorely miss that part of my life and have been whining to my husband about how I may never make it to that part of the world again, especially since the baby will be arriving soon. I whined again on Saturday night before falling asleep. After waking up to the blistering heat of Singapore the next morning, I casually flipped the local papers over breakfast and was pleasantly gripped by a review on the newest restaurant to hit the dining scene in Singapore. Something about some place called Catalunya, helmed by Chef Alain Devahive Tolosa who spent a decade in the kitchens of El Bulli. My eyes glazed over at the words Catalunya and El Bulli. Before I knew it, my eyes were skimming over the treats Catalunya has to offer, and it was fastest fingers first on my mobile to make a reservation. You see, my biggest regret in the foodie part of my life was having missed the opportunity to dine at El Bulli. I’ve already got Fat Duck under my belt, but *wails* what about El Bulli?! Ever since it closed, I knew I would die a regretful woman but no, I couldn’t possibly let that slide, could I?

I wasted no time in getting a table for two at Catalunya. We were there a swift two days later for lunch…talk about being efficient. What can I say? When it comes to food, nothing stands in my way, not even the nearing due date of a certain baby or the aches and pains that prevent me from getting off the bed, let alone out of the house.

It was a blazing hot afternoon. We got a little lost looking for The Fullerton Pavilion which houses Catalunya and had to make a huge detour just to park our car rightfully at One Fullerton. The pavilion was merely a short walk away but the heat was rather offensive and I couldn’t wait to get to the restaurant. On arrival, we were greeted by no less than five ladies at the door and were promptly ushered to our seats. Catalunya was about 70% full on a weekday lunch service, not bad for a two-week old restaurant with the office crowd, the occasional businessmen and ladies of leisure. The decor was decent (it didn’t wow me though) and I can see its potential for dinner service, as the pavilion overlooks the bay onto MBS and the night views are bound to dazzle. I did like the way natural light streamed into the pavilion – I kinda enjoy looking at my food when I eat. Catalunya did disappoint in one aspect – it was way too stuffy in the restaurant. It was much cooler and way more pleasant in the bar area closer to the entrance, but the double-volume space in the restaurant area hampers sufficient ventilation and both M and I found ourselves feeling rather hot under the collar ten minutes in.

The food, however, was more than enough to make up for our stuffy afternoon at Catalunya. I might be biased but I have long been enamoured by Basque and Catalan cuisines. My favourite holidays were spent in San Sebastián and Barcelona (yet to blog about) and really, I would kill to relive those times. Catalunya managed to bring these memories back to me. It didn’t wow me as much as I would have been (I reckon) if I had the chance to dine at El Bulli, but the chefs did enough to get me excited. We ordered a good mix of dishes that showcased the prowess of molecular gastronomy and those that sealed the deal that was traditional Catalan cuisine.

The tomato tartar confit and deconstructed tortilla were delightful glimpses into what-might-have-been over at El Bulli’s. The confit was pleasantly tart, surprisingly beefy (even though it’s probably only finely chopped roasted tomatoes) and nicely tampered with a touch of crushed capers, salt, pepper and olive oil. It made for a very refreshing start to a meal, and paired nicely with the wafer-thin toasts. The deconstructed tortilla has the Spanish omelette taken apart down to a T – a layer of sweet onion purée is topped with a dollop of smooth and rich egg yolk sabayon and finished with potato foam. It was a playful appetiser that I really enjoyed, although I would have added a touch of chorizo as I am partial to having that in the tortillas I make at home, but that’s just my personal preference (and my way is probably not very authentic in terms of flavours).

The croquettes were worth fighting bulls over. What’s not to love about piping hot croquettes with an incredibly crisp and light batter encasing a creamy, dreamy bechamel filling of my favourite jamón, smooth cheese and butter? I could have had more of these if they didn’t cost $12 for 4 pieces. The canelón was recommended by the server and we had no regrets chomping it down. The portion was a little small at $19 (I would have expected at least two pieces for that price), but I have to say the roasted pork was subtly divine and meaty, even in that small quantity, underneath that thin pasta.

We moved on to share the veal fricandó, which was a tad disappointing in terms of portion size and flavour. A new dish on the menu (it debuted for the second day when we were there), there was something lacking in the fricandó that would have made it a very hearty, flawless dish. Whilst it was savoury and rich, I thought it would have been better if the sweetness of carrots and caramelised shallots came through a little more. The veal was tender, but not quite as tender as the braised beef cheek I had at Bistro Du Vin recently (I know I shouldn’t compare as these are different types of dishes, but I prefer the meats in stews to fall apart when I tuck into it). The whole shallots were undercooked and hence too hard. For $55, I would have expected more veal than tripe, mushrooms and shallots. The real winner was the smoked mashed potatoes though. Smooth, creamy, rich and lightly smoked with what I suspect was the flavour of bacon, it was the perfect accompaniment (and saviour) to the veal.

We couldn’t leave without having dessert; after all, Catalunya is steered by chefs coming from all sorts of wonderful restaurants including Sketch in London, which is famed for its sweets. We had the torrija with smoked milk ice cream to share. Torrija, which means fried milk bread, is a divine piece of work. Soft, achingly tender, moist and wonderfully infused with a good dose of citrus, it went perfectly well with the crumble and milk ice cream, which has interestingly been smoked with charcoal. Eaten alone, the milk ice cream was a little too ‘charred’ and weird for me, but it worked as the perfect companion to the citrusy fried milk bread and caramelised orange peel. I would have this again in a heartbeat.

It’s a shame that we didn’t quite have the budget to go for more tapas and to try the Catalan creme for dessert. Even though the prices are comparable to what we were used to paying for a good meal in London, we have been a little more cautious about spending on food as we tend to be able to get cheap and good grub in different corners of Singapore. We probably need a shove in our mindset about paying ‘London prices’ for food in Singapore but for now, Catalunya will remain a once-in-a-while-special-occasion kinda place to dine at. I hope to visit again, this time for dinner, to enjoy a decent slice of Catalan against the breathtaking backdrop of the glittery bay.

*Updated: This post is featured on Tastespotting. Check out my profile on  Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

A Sweet Farewell to London…and Some News

I’ve procrastinated long enough on this teeny announcement. Or two teeny announcements, if you will. Some of you, whom I know personally, are already in the loop but I thought eight months is a long time to go on the blog without actually talking about it even in the most cryptic manner, so it is time to spill the beans. I had wanted to protect my privacy and keep the news all to my selfish self. The last I heard though, some naysayers have already caught wind of this anyway and I’ve been told by my loved ones that I should share the news because readers (who are still sticking around…I’m very happy to know you are, given that I barely wrote anything in the first three-quarter of 2012) would want to know, so here goes…

…I’ve moved back from London to Singapore for good, since eight months ago…and…I’m pregnant!

After five long years in London, I’m finally back home. Suffice to say that everything and yet nothing has changed since 2007. Suffice to say that I’ve done a whole lot of growing up in the UK, seen countless beautiful sceneries whilst travelling, made the most wonderful friends in the five years, tasted a decent portion of good food, started a blog that I thought no one would want to read, cooked/baked/photographed/styled my way from complete noob to amateur-amateur, interacted with the most amazing chefs, built a home from scratch (literally) and learnt a hell lot on ‘How to Live Life to the Fullest, Responsibly So 101′. I also found time to fall deeper in love with my best friend, get married, graduate with a doctorate and have a baby.

London is a big part of my life.

When it came down to the last second, to leave my home of five bittersweet years, I was devastated. The exit from London was pretty hasty. I quit my job, found out I was expecting (and hence decided that I should return to Singapore prematurely to prepare for delivery, I was supposed to leave London only in the summer of 2012), moved to Boston for six weeks as M was posted to Harvard, flew back to London for a night, switched my bags out for summer clothing and everything that I might need back home before speeding back to Singapore the next day. I didn’t really have time to say goodbye. To-date, I still keep the bucket list I had drafted for London and I hope that I will be able to return to the city one day to check the items off the list. I couldn’t even attend the Olympics events that I had bought tickets for.

The next months went by in a blur. There was so much to do with my relocation. I had to get my accounts, documents and life in order. I missed M terribly when he returned to London to finish up his studies. I went through pregnancy alone, save for support from my family and in-laws. None of the relocation bit, physical or emotional, was easy. The days started looking brighter when M came back, triumphant as a fully-qualified doctor after five gruelling years in med school. He packed up our flat in London as hastily as I had left UK, attended his graduation ceremony with his parents but without a very pregnant me, flew back to my arms in Singapore, sorted out whatever I couldn’t handle and supported me through the last trimester.

We had a heart-to-heart talk yesterday night before we fell asleep at 3.30am. It’s been a while since we chatted this much, for four hours in fact. And we both realised how different life is in Singapore. London was a dream. We lived life to the fullest, laughed and cried the hardest, seen the best and went through the worst. It was a city where we grew up the most as individuals and as a couple. It was our first real home together. Coming back to Singapore makes for an almost surreal dive back into reality, where we are suddenly challenged with obligations and responsibilities to others other than two of us, issues to do with fitting into the local culture and soon-to-be parenthood. Even though Singapore is our home, we haven’t got the slightest inkling as to what lies ahead and we will need to do to rise up to the challenges. One thing’s for sure; we are back now and we will make our lives here work. We will carve out new memories, strive towards new goals and conjure new dreams.

To celebrate the chapter that was London, and welcome the new that is Singapore, I prepared my very first dessert table before I left UK. I was challenged in every way, as I have been during my life in London. Different pastries and desserts to make on limited resources, thinking about what really mattered to me that would fit in with the theme, and putting it all together so it makes sense and gives heart. So there you have it, a blue-white-red presentation of a Victoria sponge, Marmite cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and macarons with rose buttercream, a true culmination of something that is quintessentially English, a little bit of what I have learnt to love and another that is a little cosmopolitan owing to the time I spent in Europe. I’ve also scattered the cards, letters, notes and gifts from family and friends around the entire dessert table just for…the two of us to enjoy. Shame I couldn’t offer the sweets to anyone else. Oh well, maybe next time.

Happy homecoming to us, and may we meet again, my fair London.

*Updated: This post is featured on Tastespotting. Check out my profile on  Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Read on for my new journey as a mother.

Like my bakes? Then check out my other sweet adventures in the kitchen!

A Call For Celebration: The {Red Velvet Cake} Edition

Boy meets girl. They kinda like each other. They like each other enough to want to get hitched. Wedding bells rang. Then there was one of us. And another. And another. Decades later, they welcomed a grandchild. 39 years on, the boy and girl still love each other very much. I don’t know what their secret is to a long, successful marriage, but I know we have lots to learn from them.

Said boy and girl are my dearest Dad and Mum. For decades, they have stood by each other and raised the three of us, my brother, sister and me. They taught us to respect people, love others, work hard towards our goals, do the best we can regardless of the outcome and be gracious towards those who are unkind to us.

In a society flecked by fleeting relationships and featherlight commitment to people, it is hard not to be astounded by a couple’s 39 years of love, sheer hard work and understanding (not to mention doing this with three impish children in tow). How can we not celebrate?

I couldn’t think of a better way to do so than with a Red Velvet Cake. It is something that my parents have not heard of, and I thought it would be lovely to surprise them with something novel, just as how they have taught me new things every day of my life. It doesn’t help that a Red Velvet Cake is a stunning cake to look at and an equally delicious one to have when done properly. I tried my best to do the cake justice and I’m glad that this version brought a sense of wonder and satisfaction to my parents with its perfectly moist crumb and tangy, fluffy frosting.

Happy Anniversary, Mum & Dad! You are our role models and we can only aspire to be half as awesome as both of you are.

P/S: Pardon the mismatched styling – all my props are still in transit…..

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

*Updated: This post is featured on Tastespotting. Check out my profile on  Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Decorating at Bea’s of Bloomsbury

You know that I have a rather hefty backlog when I write about something that happened…(more than) a year ago. I’m truly embarrassed but erm, better late than never right? Right.

I have been rather busy, just not in the kitchen, unfortunately; for the record, I’ve only baked thrice this year, all for M’s birthday. Lately, a spin round the bakeries had me thinking about cakes again. Baking remains very much a passion of mine, and I do hope to do it on a more regular basis when I have the time and resources. Nailing recipes for the right taste and texture aside, I do love to try and churn out pretty treats, something that I don’t achieve very often with my meagre talent for craft. As such, I have always yearned to attend a decorating course to help me along but these are often costly ventures that add up and being a miserly self-taught baker, I dropped the idea very quickly.

I was thus absolutely delighted when E invited me for a cupcake decorating class at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. She had won four passes and thanks to her, I got to attend my very first decorating class! I made my way to the bakery at Holborn on a weekday, eagerly anticipating the lesson to come. We were going to learn all about buttercreams, ganaches, and decorating techniques; all these fitted perfectly into my agenda. I was also excited to get to see and work in a professional kitchen.

We took down recipes on how to create the perfect frosting, made our own piping bags, practised writing with ganache, and of course, worked on perfecting rosettes and what-not on the cupcakes. I haven’t got the piping perfect, but oh well, I had loads of fun decorating my cupcakes! We even got to take two dozen of these babies home (vanilla and chocolate ones, smothered in an assortment of dark chocolate ganache, praline Italian buttercream and raspberry Italian buttercream). I particularly enjoyed the chocolate cupcakes, which were moist, very dark and chocolatey, yet fluffy. The frostings were wonderfully light and not the least bit cloying – my colleagues were a big fan of the raspberry buttercream, while I loved the praline.

Now, all this talk about baking and decorating is making my stomach groan. Excuse me while I go rummage in my kitchen for some emergency sweet treats, before somebody gets hurt.

*Updated: This post is featured on Tastespotting. Check out my profile on  Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

Reliving the Smells & Tastes of Wanderlust

Pan-seared scallops, with  jamón ibérico chip, pomme purée, served with jamón ibérico foam and chestnuts.

Blimey, is it 2012 already? I can’t believe I have been away from the blog for three whole months! Thanks to all who have been dropping me tweets, messages and emails to check on how I am (and maybe to see if I’m still alive hehehe), I just want to say that everything’s good and I’m finally back with an entry that hopefully makes your mouth water, as much as it did to mine when I was browsing through my photo archives.

Black truffle spaghetti

I hate to admit it but oh gawwwwd, the backlog on my photos is truly appalling. Believe it or not, these pictures were taken a whopping ten months ago, in May 2011, after we returned from back-to-back travelling to Florence/Pisa and Murcia/Cartagena. Better late than never, eh (and yes, travelogues are coming up in future posts)? These dishes were lovingly prepared (how else would we have done it? =p) in our tiny kitchen in London, following our gastronomical trips which swaddled us in romantic (f00d) affairs.

Spaghetti with pan-fried prawns, green olives, and jamón ibérico chips

Like most of our holidays, we planned the trips according to meals and everything else was secondary to eating. This comes as no surprise as we’re after all the forever-hungry-pair-of-food-mongers. The delightful produce had us feeling like glam goddesses rolling in silk sheets that were the unspeakable pleasures; flavours of the earth and the sea couldn’t have been better represented by the black truffles we had in Florence, the fresh seafood and our favourite jamón ibérico de bellota we indulged in when travelling in Spain. We returned from our trips, completely inebriated by the tastes and smells of western Europe, and very quickly, we found ourselves working hard in the kitchen, slaving over the stoves all for the sake of reliving the experience.

The best thing that came out of this? Having to brainstorm, cook and savour a truly breathtaking meal with the one I love. There is really nothing quite like beating about the kitchen in our shabby home clothes, bantering, exchanging tips on cooking and  fussing over each other’s poor plating skills. That, and reminiscing the wonderful memories we made on our trips together. Ahhhh, the good ol’ days…

Check out what’s cooking in my kitchen!

Also check out my other food adventures.

Christmas Is Here: Dark Chocolate & Coconut Cookies

Christmas is just around the corner. Are you busy wrapping up your work to prepare for a week’s worth of feasting and gifting? Well, for me, I have finished work for the year and aside from packing, tying up loose ends, spring cleaning and cooking for dinner parties, I’m mostly relaxing in the apartment, idling when I can and savouring some me-time and time with my husband.

For five years now, Christmas has mostly been rather quiet for us. If we’re not back in Singapore to celebrate the season with our families, we spend the holidays all wrapped up in the freezing cold, with each other in our cosy home. The shops are almost always closed during Christmas Eve and Day in Europe, and unlike Singapore, there’s nowhere to go during the holidays. At first, this came as a bit of a shock, because we didn’t know where to get groceries, or even a bottle of mineral water if we happen to be travelling. Over the years, however, we have come to appreciate the quiet time that is Christmas.

When there is nothing else to distract us, we focus on being with people. I’m not just talking about merry-making, but we catch up, talk about hopes and dreams for the new year, learn more about each other or about our friends and families, and most importantly, we appreciate and give thanks for the wonderful people in our lives. It is afterall the season of Joy and Love.

What better way to spend quality time with people whom you love than to sit around on the floor, huddled together under thick duvets by the drafty windows, laughing over mugs of hot chocolate? What better way to say thank you to your loved ones with a cosy dinner at your home? And what better way to send them home with good memories of the night, each with a bag of warm cookies in hand? I honestly can’t think of better ways to celebrate the season than with good food and good times together, but that’s just me.

Wherever you are, whatever you do and whoever you are with, I hope you enjoy the holidays. And I wish that the new year will bring you love, happiness and good health.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Here’s the recipe for my Dark Chocolate & Coconut Cookies, if you’re interested:

Dark Chocolate & Coconut Cookies:
(adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

230g unsalted butter, room temperature
300g soft light brown sugar
50g liquid glucose
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
400g plain flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 and 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g 70% chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Lindt)
100g flaked coconut

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

2. Beat butter, sugar and glucose on the stand mixer with a paddle attachment for about 8 minutes on medium speed till creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

3. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat at medium speed till combined (scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula after each addition to incorporate the unmixed parts). Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the vanilla extract.

4. Add flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda and mix until just incorporated. Stir in the roughly chopped chocolate chunks and flaked coconut.

5. Arrange 6 tablespoon-sized drops of cookie dough on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Ensure that these drops are spaced well apart (more than 2 inches apart) to allow for expansion. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-9 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. At this point, the cookies will be quite flat, and frighteningly soft and pliable. Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the tray before transferring the cookies onto the cooling rack.

6. You can choose to eat them while they are warm (not hot!) and wash them  down with a glass of cold milk, or have them at room temperature. I like them warm. When the cookies have cooled completely, store them in an air-tight container. These cookies should remain slightly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

Enjoy!

*Updated: This post is featured on Foodgawker and Tastespotting. Check out my profiles on Foodgawker and Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!

Check out what I have been baking in my own kitchen.

Also check out my other food adventures.

The Pleasure Monger serving up at Plusixfive tonight!

Hello everyone! Just dropping by quickly to make an announcement, well…sort of anyway, because something’s big happening tonight at a mysterious location in London and I’m part of it!

Those residing in London may have heard of (if you haven’t, I wonder if you’ve been living under a rock…) PlusixfiveTHE supperclub that has been making waves in the dining scene with its kick-ass Singaporean food. Now, head chef gozgozgoz has kindly invited me to serve up some sweets tonight (some of you may have caught wind of this on Twitter, and boy, am I glad that gozgozgoz thinks I’m worthy of his supperclub)! It kinda came at a good and bad time. You see, I have been toying with the idea of doing the whole baking thing on a small-scale commercial basis after receiving some requests to do dessert tables for weddings in Singapore (I can’t do this ladies, because I’m not based in Singapore..unfortunately), but never had the guts/opportunity to do it, so this was the perfect thing to be commissioned for. The bad really showed up unannounced when I ran into some oven trouble last week and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to deliver. After a whole week of troubleshooting, I’m happy (and relieved) to present my Gula Melaka Salted Caramel Buttercream Macarons, and a new-and-improved version of my Lychee Chiffon Cake for the supperclub tonight!

This may be nothing much for all you funky, cool, talented chefs out there, but for a nondescript home cook like me, this fares pretty high up on the list. Wish me luck, everyone! And to all who are attending the supperclub tonight, I hope you enjoy the dinner (and the sweets, hehe)!

*Updated: This post is featured on Tastespotting. Check out my profile on  Tastespotting to see my other featured posts!