Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

 

PCasa GT Tokyo, Ginza

2014 is definitely the year of travel. In January we spent a few days in Bali with family rediscovering the island. In March, a much-awaited return to Moscow (last time I was there was 17 years ago) to show A the new and improved MOCKBA. This was followed by two weeks in Manila with the kids and a trip to Tokyo in the spring. As it was my first time to Tokyo, I was lucky that my good friend Rumi had just returned home to Japan after several years abroad which gave me the best food tour guide for my initiation to the amazing gourmet offerings of Tokyo.

We stayed at the Imperial Hotel, a classic Japanese hotel, located close to the famous luxury shopping area of Ginza. On our first evening, we decided to see what the area had to offer. Close by was a small street parallel to the train tracks lined with restaurants on either side. A & I meandered along until we found a packed sushi bar towards the end of the road. I won’t even be able to tell you the name as all the signs and menus were in Japanese so we did what tourists usually do and just pointed out something on the menu. It was a 12-piece sushi platter with amaebi (sweet shrimp), maguro (tuna), hotate (scallop), ikura gukan (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin), negi toro (chopped tuna with chives), tamago (cooked egg), aji (mackerel), chutoro (fatty tuna belly), hirame (flounder), unagi (grilled eel) and the very strange kazunoko (herring roe) which neither of us ate. All that plus a side dish of fried egg with mushrooms set us back around US$25 each – a bargain after all those stories about overpriced Tokyo. We walked around the block a bit to digest our dinner and as we neared the hotel, we witnessed aTokyo phenomenon – hundreds of ladies queued up in several orderly single file rows waiting to greet a stage performer about to exit the theater across the street. No pushing and shoving, each one waiting patiently with a piece of paper (greetings?) or a bouquet of flowers to offer the star. The sense of order and respect – that was what my first impression of Tokyo.

PCasa GT Tokyo, Ginza1

The next morning, A set off for work while I had a leisurely breakfast and did my first day exploring Ginza which was several blocks away. I started off at Hakuhinkan Toy Park, Tokyo’s version of Toys R Us, and walked slowly up the street, window shopping and people watching. By the time I reached the middle, it was time for lunch so I followed Rumi’s advice and went to Mitsukoshi where there are five floors devoted to food – the 11th and 12th for restaurants, the 9th for smaller self-serve counters with a large terrace, B2 for the food court and B3 for grocery items. I went up to the the 11th floor and walked into the first one that caught my eye – a tonkatsu restaurant which has almost full with mostly Japanese and two solo diners, just like me, who looked like tourists. I sat at a corner table and chose the tonkatsu and ebikatsu (prawn) set which came with soup, rice and pickles. The food came quickly with the crunchy but not oily panko-crusted pork cutlet and the equally crispy deep-fried prawn set on a wire rack over a plate with some lemon and tartare sauce served with the brown rice I asked for. On the table were the two containers of homemade tonkatsu sauce – one sweet and the other spicy along with some implements that I had never seen nor used before. It was basically a shallow corrugated ceramic bowl and a piece of wood. I looked around and saw what my neighbors were doing and realized that this was like a mortar and pestle and was being used to hand grind sesame seeds to be added onto the tonkatsu sauce to thicken and flavor it. The tricky part out of the way, I finally began to eat my delicious lunch and finished it off with the tangy crunchy pickles. One of the things I enjoy when I’m discovering a city is eating on my own – it gives me chance to concentrate on my food and at the same time observe the locals and their rituals.

PCasa GT Tokyo, Ginza2After lunch, I walked to Ito-ya – Tokyo’s premier stationery shop to have a look and ended up spending hours and lots of yen, ordering embossed leather luggage tags and purchasing cards and stationery. It was late afternoon by then and my energy was flagging so I went to the nearest coffee shop I saw – Le Cafe Doutor – which was filled with locals sitting alone having mostly iced coffee. I ordered a black coffee and enjoyed my caffeine for half an hour before walking the roundabout way back to the Imperial.

The following day while walking around Ginza again, Rumi and I stumbled upon a months-old coffee boutique – Toriba – where they roast their own beans on site and have a small coffee bar where we sampled two types of their funky-named music-influenced blends – Jamaican Dub Mix and the Deep House Mix. Later on, she also took me to the Bulgari’s Il Bar where she made me the typical cold coffee served with sugar syrup and lots of ice. This being the Bulgari, a tiny bowl of chocolate covered almonds also came with our coffees. On our last day, after a morning spent at mega-store Muji, A and I had lunch and coffee at the nearby Dean and Deluca in Yurakucho. For a coffee lover like me, the amazing selection of coffee and different cafes from the self-serve Doutor to the high-end coffee with a view at the Bulgari, was a pleasure.

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Tokyo Cafes

Le Cafe Doutor

Toriba

Bulgari’s Il Bar

Dean and Deluca

PCasa GT Singapore, Luke's

I’m on a roll and yesterday and todays’ post are my favorite Singapore restaurants so far (in the almost ten months we’ve been here). Luke’s has been around for some time with its’ original location near hip and happening Club street well-loved by many for the food, the drinks, the ambience and the fact that the kitchen stays open till midnight. The new one opened a few months ago in a strange spot inside the renovated Robinson’s department store at The Heeren building. Once you walk through the store and enter the doors of Luke’s, you realize why the location was right all along. The place is sleek with black leather banquettes and cozy mini-booths for two lining the upper level and a long bar on the lower level with a floor to ceiling window overlooking busy Orchard road.

PCasa GT Singapore, Luke's1

 

The menu is simple and spread out over two pages – one with items from the oyster bar, table snacks to be shared, a caviar service and starters then the second for chophouse classics, chops and side dishes and a listing of specialty beers and cocktails. The wine list is extensive with eleven of them, from sparkling to fortified, served by the glass.

As soon as the order is placed, a plate of warm mini-cornbread served with a dab of sweet butter is served. From the winter 2014 menu, we shared the smoked trout dip with crackers, celery and radish – a smoky almost dry shredded trout which we spread onto the accompanying extra-thin brown crisp bread and the oysters “lukefeller” (instead of Rockefeller) – baked oysters with spinach, Pernod and parsley.

It was hard to choose a main course from the selections offered but as I hardly get to eat steak tartar, its what I had even if it was listed as a starter. This one came perfectly seasoned and chunky with capers along with toasted slices of rye bread. A had a well-seared veal chop with anchovy marmite butter. We shared several sides – the extra crispy Old bay seasoned french fries, green asparagus and the creamy lobster mac and cheese topped with ritz cracker crumbs.

For lunch one day with the ladies, I had a delicious caesar salad topped with fried oysters. There are also a few specials (like their famous hamburger) not available for dinner. On another occasion, four of us dined on a couple of starters (tuna tartar and the smoked trout dip) followed by two orders of 400 gram USDA prime rib-eye “naked” (meaning just with salt and pepper) and a tableful of side dishes. Desserts are few and the two we tried were ok but nothing to write home about – it’s the only thing they could improve on. Otherwise, the service, the atmosphere and the food are outstanding.  At Luke’s, there is always something delicious to eat with no surprises or gimmicks, just real good food served simply.

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Luke’s Oyster Bar and Chophouse
03-02, The Heeren (inside Robinson’s department store)
260 Orchard Road
Singapore 238855
Telephone: +65 6733 4813
*Open Mondays to Saturdays from noon to 10:30 p.m.

Another one at:
20 Gemmill Lane
Singapore 069256
Telephone: +65 6221 4468
*Open Mondays to Saturdays from noon to midnight

PCasa GT Singapore, Ma Maison

My favorite tonkatsu restaurant in Singapore is Mandarin Gallery’s Ma Maison.  A franchise from Nagoya, Japan, this restaurant only serves several versions of its’ namesake tonkatsu (deep fried Panko breadcrumbed pork cutlet in 120gr., 180 gr. or 220 gr, portions) from the Japanese Kurobuta pork cutlet to the pork millefeuille (thin slices of pork layered into a cutlet). They even have Hungarian Mangalica pork and Iberico pork. There are also other deep-fried battered goodies – prawns, fish, oysters and chicken all served in a set with accompanying grated radish, soup, pickles, shredded cabbage and a choice of either white or brown rice. On the table are the usual accompaniments – sweet or spicy sauce for the tonkatsu, sesame seeds to grate into the sauce, soy sauce and sesame dressings for the salad and radish. The concept is simple – make your choice from the extra large menu with photos then wait for them to bring you your set menu tray. I always go for either the Rosukatsu 120 gram (pork loin) with brown rice and a side order of ebi katsu (deep fried prawn) and kaki katsu (deep-fried oyster). It’s a popular place so get in line early especially for dinner on weekends.

Ma Maison
02-36 Mandarin Gallery
333A Orchard road
Singapore
Telephone: +65 6733 4541
*Open daily for lunch from 11 to 3 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. No reservations but the queue moves quickly.

PCasa GT Singapore, Chop Suey Cafe

 

One of my favorite restaurant areas in Singapore is Dempsey Hill where the old (colonial black and whites) and the new (modern restaurant concepts) have successfully come together and with the added bonus of free parking, a rarity in Singapore where sometimes, the cost of parking equals an expensive main course. A newish addition to the P.S. Cafe group, Chopsuey Cafe quietly opened late last year in a quiet corner of Dempsey road. We have been several times now (for brunch and lunch) to this beautiful, airy, light-filled all black and white interior (from the floor tiles to the chairs) with color brought in by the towering flower arrangement and the cakes displayed in huge glass domes.

The extensive menu of mostly Asian dishes, from dim sum – both steamed and fried to noodles and rice along with a selection of classics with a twist and Asian versions of western dishes makes it accessible to all tastes. When we go, we usually do a mix of some Western with some Asian dishes which we share family-style. Dim sum is beautifully presented on pewter edged dim sum baskets stamped with the restaurant logo, plates are placed on different height pewter stands and the accompanying sauces – spicy tamarind, sweet chili and a fiery red chili. There are also daily specials on the blackboard including starters, main courses, desserts and even drinks. There’s a cozy indoor dining area, an roofed open-air conservatory and an outdoor terrace for those willing to brave the humidity or for smokers.

For brunch one day, we had the west corn, coriander and potato rosti benedict – poached eggs with a sweet sour hollandaise and the mandarin French toast – thick slices of caraway bread with mandarin marmalade and a passion-fruit lime butter.  Lunch is more of a family affair with lots of dishes placed in the middle for everyone to share. From the dim sum menu, we’ve had the char skew steamed buns and the har gau (prawn dumplings), the deep-fried crayfish stuffed bean curd skins and the crispy spicy prawn wantons. For starters, our favorites include the classic prawn toasties (sesame prawn toasts), the sticky crunchy baby squid and the san chou pau (minced chicken and pork with corn and green beans wrapped in lettuce cups and eaten like a taco). For main courses, we had the orange beef – battered deep fired beef in a sticky orange sauce, the chili jam prawns, Szechuan string beans with minced chicken and a maple apple crispy pork belly form the daily blackboard special. We also shared a mud crab fried rice while the kids had the usual egg fried rice. For drinks, we always have one of their special fruit coolers – lychee and lime or lemon and basil, although there is an interesting list of cocktails and wines as well. Dessert was their hummingbird pavlova – a tropical version of the classic, this time filled with pineapple, many and passion fruit. As with all restaurants from the P.S. Cafe group, the average check is usually high but in the case of Chopsuey cafe it’s well worth it.

Chopsuey Cafe

Block 10, Dempsey Road 01-23
Dempsey Hill 247700
Singapore
Telephone: +65 9224 6611
*Open for Lunch Mondays to Fridays from 11:30 a.m., Dinner daily from 6:30 p.m., Brunch and Tea on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays from 10:30 to 5:00 p.m.

PCasa GT Singapore, Esquina

In bustling Chinatown are several small streets where Singapore’s hip and happening restaurants are located. Shophouses line these tiny streets and one after another, they have been dolled up on the outside and restored on the inside for the many young chefs starting out. Created by Jason Atherton, a Gordon Ramsay alum from Verre in Dubai and Maze in London, this tiny tapas bar headed by Andrew Walsh has been serving Spanish-inspired small plates since it opened in 2011.

Getting a much-coveted stool at the communal bar was a challenge which is why we never risked a Friday evening dinner there as we never knew how long the wait would be. Recently, they opened a second floor dining space – Esquina 2.0 – which accommodates about 25 diners and we were lucky enough to snag a table here on a weekend evening.

PCasa GT Singapore, Esquina1

The Esquina menu is printed onto a simple paper placemat and divided into six sections: Snacks, Soil, Sea, Land, Desserts and Drinks with each section listing about half dozen choices. On that evening, there were three of us for dinner and we shared many small plates, making sure to order a few from each section.

We started out with a bottle of Cape Roca Fisherman Tejo red along with a couple of Snacks: the warm thyme and onion bread served with smoked bone marrow butter (individual popover-like rolls were served with a couple of bone marrows which we slathered onto the hot bread), the pork crackling, salt cod and smoked herring roe – a modern version where pork crackling seem like a large cracker (like a pork krupuk) topped with several dots of salt cod mousse and roe – this was more form than substance, it tasted fine but was a bit too much for so little and the classic jamon croquetas – no tricks here, just the usual breadcrumbed creamy béchamel with jamon Iberico bits. From Soil, we had the salt-baked beetroot with whipped burrata, truffle honey and a raspberry pine nut crumble – thinly sliced beetroot over creamy bur rata made smoky sweet from the truffle honey – exceptional flavors which made modern with the addition of the raspberry pine nut “soil” (full disclaimer – I’m not a fan of endless foams and soils in food). From Sea, we had the and excellent seared sea bass with the chorizo black paella and some kind of foam (could it have been olive?). From Land, the roasted duck breast with carrot escabeche and tarragon citrus couscous topped by another pork “krupuk-style” crackling and the roasted lamb loin with sweet garlic puree, salsify and broad beans which we shared a large side of chorizo paella with chorizo “soil”. For Dessert, we had the chocolate mousse with chocolate soil (again) and vanilla churros along with a Manchego cheese custard, black olive, brioche crumbs (more soil) and apricot jam. All in all, an enjoyable meal. I just wish they didn’t overdo the soils and foams. Often, food can still be fun without being overly-gimmicky.

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Esquina
16 Jiak Chuan Road
Singapore 089267
Telephone: +65 6222 1616

*Open for lunch Mondays to Fridays for lunch from 12:00 to 2:30, Dinner from Mondays to Saturdays 6:00 to 10:30, Closed Sundays
*Dinner Tasting Menu for $130++ (nine small plates)
*Supperclub Menu for $120++ (eight small plates)

To finish off my long-delayed posts on Moscow is a list of a few restaurants I went to that I really enjoyed. Most are located either in the center or just off the garden ring road. Here they are in no particular order:

PCasa GT Moscow, Moloko

Moloko Cafe
Ulitsa Bolshaya Dimitrovka 7/5
Moscow
Telephone: +7495 692 0309
*Open 24 hours daily

Moloko Cafe used to be a state milk store hence the name (moloko means milk in Russian). Interiors are modern – great velvet chairs line each side of the room with a large bar in the middle. There’s a good crowd of expats and locals and not everyone is dressed to the nines. We came for lunch on a Sunday and the place was half-full with mostly young Russian couples and their kids. We shared a starter of smoked mackerel on baby potatoes followed by the sea bass in red curry for me and the beef stroganoff with mashed potatoes for A. Food was fine and service was friendly, the only downside was the dessert which seemed store-bought. As it’s open 24 hours, I’m sure that there is a pre-club crowd that hangs out for cocktails and a post-clubbing crowd who come for breakfast before heading back home at dawn.

PCasa GT Moscow, Vogue Cafe

Vogue Cafe
Kuznetsky Most 79
Moscow
Telephone: +7495 623 1701
*Open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. till late, Weekends from noon to midnight

Another concept from the Novikov group, Vogue Cafe is a modern, bright space with a black and white interior with some color brought in with the large framed model shots on the walls and shelves of Vogue magazines. Food is modern European Russian-style which means Italian or Mediterranean with some sushi and sashimi thrown in. The combination works though as the place is crowded on most days with fashion-conscious Muscovites enjoying the Euro-inspired menu. Its’ location alongside trendy department store Tsum also helps. We had a decent mixed salad, a penne arrabbiata and a pappardelle with cepes.

PCasa GT Moscow, Il Forno

Il Forno
Ulitsa Neglinnaya 8/10
Moscow
Telephone: +8495 621 90 80
*Open weekdays from 8:00 till midnight and weekends from 11:00 a.m. till midnight
Other branches on Ulitsa Ostrozhenka 3/14 and Kutuzovsky Avenue 2/1

We stumbled into Il Forno on a cold windy evening on our first night in Moscow since it was on the same street as our hotel not expecting anything special and we were pleasantly surprised with the pizza and the service. We had a salad to share and some pizzas on one evening and pasta on another night. The menu has classic Italian pastas, risottos and pizzas and a few meat and fish main courses. It’s a casual restaurant with a proper brick-oven which makes the pizzas perfect.

PCasa GT Moscow, William's-001

Brownie Cafe
Maly Kozinsky Pereulok, 10
Moscow
Telephone: +7916 336 26 33
*Open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

In hip and happening Patriarch’s Pond, Brownie Cafe is a tiny. welcoming place owned by the Friends Forever group, which has a dozen hip cafes specializing in cakes and coffee. This newest addition which opened in February of this year, has a retro vibe with it’s multi-colored chairs, communal wood tables and large display case filled with all sorts of cakes and sweets. We shared two – a chocolate raspberry cake and a strawberry shortcake with excellent coffee. I dare you to enter and not have a slice of cake.

PCasa GT Moscow, William's

Moscow’s restaurant scene is still growing and the other group responsible for this is Ginza Project. Hot on the heels of the Novikov restaurant group, Ginza project currently manages forty restaurants including the franchise for Paul.

Williams (or as the Russians call it – Uilliams) is located in Patriarshiy Prudy (Patriarch’s Pond), which was made famous in Mikhail Bulgakov’s cult novel The Master and Margarita and has since become Moscow’s hip and happening neighborhood. Just off the garden ring road, the small streets surrounding the pond are now home to cool cafes, funky boutiques and high-end restaurants which also means that it is now achingly cool live here and many of Moscow’s bright young things do.

The place is small and rustic – wooden floors and simple metal-edged tables in the front where the in crowd sits and a smaller back area where a few tables are placed. The restaurant’s piece de resistance is the open kitchen showcasing a large red rotisserie where all the action takes place. The menu is modern European (some Italian, some French) with a some bruschetta, salads, soups, risotto, pasta, plus meat either from the grill or the rotisserie along with some side dishes and a few daily specials. They have a separate breakfast menu and unusual for Moscow – a good selection of vegetarian dishes.

A late lunch one day with the girls was a bruschetta of crab, avocado and sprouts and a plate of grilled vegetables followed by a delicious pasta special – spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce. Fresh warm bread is served in a brown paper bag along with a complimentary plate of beet hummus. On our last day in Moscow A and I went back for Sunday brunch after a morning of sightseeing where we had a creamy roasted eggplant, tomato and mozzarella bruschetta and shared a rigatoni with veal ragu and a seasonal dish of gnocchi with rabbit and cream. If I lived in Moscow, this is where I would go for a simple dinner on a weekday or brunch on the weekend just as much for the food as for the people-watching.

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William’s / Uilliams
Malaya Bronnaya 20A
Moscow
Telephone: +7495 650 64 62
*Open daily from 10:30 a.m. till late

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