Travels with a Gourmet

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

PCasa GT Singapore, The Market Grill1After a year in Singapore, we now have a few favorites – Luke’s, for when we’re feeling flush and then there’s the “cheap and cheerful” version of Luke’sThe Market Grill – part of the Unlisted Collection of seven boutique hotels and fourteen restaurants mostly in Singapore but also in London, Shanghai and Sydney. In Singapore, they also manage other trendy restaurants Bincho, Esquina, Pollen and Cocotte.

Located on bustling Telok Ayer street, The Market Grill is in a converted shophouse. A long narrow room lined by a few formica-topped tables with a long counter making best use of the space. Behind the counter is the open kitchen and grill. They also have a large chiller where the different cuts of meat are displayed just like at a butcher which is why they specialize in grilled steaks.

I first went for lunch in the middle of the week with some friends and we made it a point to arrive early so we could get a table as they don’t take reservations. Good thing we did, as the place was packed by the office crowd by 12:30. We started off with the artery-clogging oven roasted bone marrow (S$25) which came with caramelized red onions, a parsley and shallot salad, sea salt and two large marrow bones which we slathered onto slices of crisp toasted sourdough. We never fail to order this when we eat there, even our 12-year old son asks for it when we’re there. This was followed by two side dishes – the crispy pig’s ears (S$18) with a garlic and herb vinegar dip and the onion matchsticks (S$8). The pig’s ears were superb – not greasy at all and still crispy, like chewy chips (much better than the soggy battered version at Pizzeria Mozza). The onion matchsticks were addicting – I could have eaten a whole bowl on my own. The three of us shared the lobster roll (S$45) – a soft sweet buttered roll filled with mayonnaise tossed lobster chunks served with fries and a green salad and a medium-rare 200-day grain fed, 200 gram Wagyu rump (S$40) which was served plain with a dollop of caramelized red onions. Too full for dessert, we walked off our lunch and had a post-lunch coffee nearby.

PCasa GT Singapore, The Market Grill

On another occasion, I lunched with another friend and we sat at the counter and had another enjoyable lunch – the usual bone marrow to start then I had the grilled Maine lobster (S$45) about 500 grams, served simply with butter, lemon, a green salad and mashed potatoes which they gladly substituted for french fries while my friend had a 400-day grain fed, 200 gram Black Angus bavette (S$40) with fries. No dessert again.

We’ve been back again several times with the kids (for dinner and we always had to sit on the counter) and tried the 150 gram CW (chef Colin West’s initials) Burger Breakfast (S$23) which comes with a sunny side up egg, bacon and aged cheddar. Their beef burgers are available in either 150 grams or 200 grams (from S$22 to S$33) and they also have a cod fish burger and a chicken burger for those who are avoiding red meat. We also had the Terres Major and Lobster – a 300 grams artisanal cut of beef with a 500 gram lobster, both grilled and served with a green salad, french fries and strangely enough, just red wine sauce for the meat, you’ll have to order the butter sauce separately and pay extra for it. The kids had to have dessert so we all shared a plate of churros which could have been perfect except for the non-traditional covering of cinnamon sugar (proper churros are served plain) and a tiny pot of melted chocolate. Trust me, you’ll have to ask for more chocolate to dip the churros in as there isn’t enough for the three large churros.

The Market Grill is our go-to when we’re hankering for a grilled steak or a lobster and with the usual prices for steak and lobster at other high-end Singapore restaurants, this place hits the spot and doesn’t leave one with a hole in their pocket. We’ll definitely be coming back.

PCasa GT Singapore, The Market Grill

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The Market Grill
208 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068642
Telephone: +65 6221 3323
*Open Monday to Saturday for lunch (11h30 a.m. to 2h30 p.m.) and dinner (6 to 10 p.m.).
*No reservations, street parking only.

PCasa GT Tokyo, Roponggi

My last Tokyo post is all about Roppongi Hills, Tokyo’s so-called city within a city of modern skyscrapers, high-end hotels, luxury shops, green spaces, world-class museums, numerous bars and night clubs and lively back streets.

My friend Rumi lived nearby so we decided to meet at the 45th floor lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo for a quick view of the city stretched out below. We started our tour outside Tokyo Midtown where we walked around the park, over the bridge and the tiny brook and by the manicured green areas dotted with park benches to the concrete bunker 21_21 Design Sight which is part of the Tokyo Midtown Design Hub.

PCasa GT Tokyo, Roponggi1

From Midtown, we walked several blocks away to the bustling area around Roppongi Hills where the Mori Art Museum and the Eiffel-tower-lookalike Tokyo Tower are located. On the way there, we stopped for a quick takoyaki snack – Japan’s version of street food. Takoyaki are deep-fried flour balls made with octopus, tempura bits, green onion and pickled ginger, topped with bonito flakes and a squirt of Japanese mayonnaise. Traditionally eaten as an after work bite along with a highball, a shot of whiskey topped up with ice cold soda water served in a large mug like a beer, Rumi knew that it wasn’t the right time to eat the takoyaki but she and I decided we wouldn’t be able to wait till sundown. We split a highball and half a dozen takoyaki which were delicious and hit the spot for more wandering around the shopping mall nearby, passing by the Mori and admiring Maman, Louise Bourgeois’ humongous bronze spider sculpture. We stopped afterwards at the beautiful shady terrace of The French Kitchen in the Grand Hyatt for a cold drink and some sunshine before walking back and trying to find a simple place for lunch.

PCasa GT Tokyo, Roponggi2

We finally stumbled on a small ramen place on a quiet side street.  The dark entryway had a vending machine at the entrance where Rumi dropped the coins and chose two bowls of hot ramen topped with roast pork and a medium boiled egg. As soon as we sat at the counter, we surrendered our tickets from the machine to one of the ramen cooks and waited for our order.  The atmosphere at the ramen place was like a club with rhythm and blues blasting inside. I noticed, again, that the restaurant was packed with Japanese men again and we were the only ladies there (just like the other evening at the yakitori place) and I asked Rumi why it was that Japanese women weren’t often seen eating in Japanese restaurants. She explained that the ladies preferred more sophisticated Western food for lunch than traditional Japanese fare.

The ramen noodle soup came with self-serve pitchers of iced tea and the usual condiments of chili oil and seaweed flakes. We dug in and started to sweat from the hot soup and it was only then that we also noticed that all the men having ramen were eating cold ramen to stay cool on such a hot day.  We started to laugh because it seemed like we were in the sweltering American south listening to John Lee Hooker, getting shiny faces from the heat of our soup (instead of having barbecue), keeping our hair away from the broth and slurping away with the blues.  We finished our ramen and on our way out, we laughed even harder as we realized there were paper bibs and elastic hair ties provided on top of the vending machine to hold one’s hair back from getting into the soup and cover one’s clothes from the splatter – leave it to the Japanese to think of everything. That ramen lunch was another dining culture experience shared with my foodie partner Rumi.

We walked lunch off, returning to Tokyo Midtown where we escaped the heat from the streets for a wander around the mall, looking into the Umami boutique (a shop selling umami flavored everything from crackers to sauces to nuts), Toraya (the traditional Japanese tea cake place) and for a quick espresso at Dean and Deluca and window shopping.

PCasa GT Tokyo, Roponggi3

After that, it was a short walk through Hinokicho park to Rumi’s neighborhood in Akasaka where we put our feet up and relaxed before heading out to a Yakiniku (Japanese table barbecue) dinner nearby – again filled with Japanese businessmen. I don’t know how we managed to eat several platters of grilled beef and offal along with a large green salad tossed in a sesame dressing. We were both so full that Rumi insisted we go to the local pharmacy for a tiny bottle of an herbal concoction that Japanese drink the night of food or alcohol excess to avoid indigestion and a hangover. We downed them right then while the pharmacist looked on in amusement. It didn’t taste bad, just like a shot of herbal liqueur without the alcohol burn. It was a fun-filled, food-centric, non-stop exploring day which gave me a chance to discover a part of town on foot and enjoy the city quirks with a Tokyo native.

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Tokyo Midtown

Tokyo Midtown Design Hub

Roppongi Hills

Mori Art Museum

National Art Center Tokyo

Suntory Museum of Art

Tokyo Tower

PCasa GT Tokyo, Yoshimatsu

After a morning spent shopping for children’s presents at Hakuhinkan Toy Park, Tokyo’s version of Toys’R’Us, Rumi and I were escorted by the shop’s owner to his favorite tempura restaurants a few blocks away. Just off Ginza, in a back alley was an unmarked sliding door which led to my best lunch in Tokyo. One of those memorable meals that magically combines a sense of place with delicious food and hilarious company.

Rumi and I entered the simple room with just a seven-seat counter in the center lined by blond wood walls – no decorations or music and no chef. We were offered something to drink by the kimono-clad server – Rumi ordered a cold beer for us to share and this was served with a small plate of cold silken tofu. While we waited to see what would happen, the unsmiling chef came in from the kitchen, nodded his head to us and quietly approached his large bubbling vat of oil carrying with him several bamboo baskets filled with all sorts of seafood and vegetables. He gave us three tiny plates with grated radish, a bit of lemon juice and some fine salt then, the show began.

As this was a tempura restaurant, all the food that the chef prepared was first dipped in a light ice-cold batter then deep-fried. First came a single block of soft tofu – hot and silky soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside. As soon as we had gobbled this up, the chef would fry the next morsel: lotus root followed by sweet shrimp, asparagus then young corn and a small bundle of thin green beans. Halfway through the meal, the chef could see the glazed look in our eyes and hear the oohing and aching after every bite and finally, a flicker of a smile finally appeared on his face. Next up was a quail egg, a scallop, some white fish, shiso leaf, several more tiny sweet shrimp and finally a small plate of pickles and served with the traditional last course, a bowl of cooked short-grain rice in which the chef had poured some green tea and topped it with a delicate prawn fritter. By this time, the chef was chatting with us and telling us about how he loves what he does and that although, Michelin wanted to list him, he asked them not to as he wanted to keep his restaurant small and as is and just keep cooking the food he loves to do. Lunch lasted a couple of hours and ended with some lemon jelly and green tea. We left the restaurant with a full belly, smiles on our faces and a hand-wrapped onigiri gift from the chef. Tempura will never taste the same again. That’s what happens when one visits Japan, all the other previous Japanese meals start to pale in comparison.

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Yoshimatsu
*Open for lunch and dinner
*I promised the chef not to publish the location, so please email me at: gourmettraveller@gmail.com for the address

PCasa GT Tokyo, Torishige

My friend Rumi recommended this traditional yakitori restaurant, one of the oldest in Tokyo with over 80 years of mastering the art of grilled skewered chicken. What started out in 1931 as a simple food stall located behind the Kabuki theater, quickly became a favorite of the Kabuki actors and theater crowd which then prompted the owners to make it into a restaurant in 1939. It moved to its’ current Ginza spot in 1958 and has been run by the same family for three generations. Torishige is not the usual elbow-to-elbow, crowded, smoky and noisy yakitori joint (there are other places to experience that) but a simple refined version frequented by locals and concentrating on the grilled chicken and not so much on the ambiance.

On the mid-week evening that we visited Torishige, I was the only female in the whole packed restaurant. We were seated in the middle of the counter, not too close to the grill but close enough for us to watch the chef pay close attention to dozens of skewers laid out on a narrow grill filled with hot coals. We decided to order the Jidori menu (4800 yen – around $45) for 8 sticks with soup and rice. We didn’t have long to wait as the skewers started to be come straight from the smoky grill – aigamo (duck), tebasaki (flat wing tip), aigamo shimeji (brown beech mushroom rolled by sliced duck), tsukune (chicken meatballs) and chunks of jidori (free-range chicken) with leeks – all savoury bites of perfectly char-grilled poultry. The set menu also included the chestnut like-ginnan (ginkgo nuts), asparagus or Shiitake mushrooms (we ordered one of each so we could have both), and kimo (chicken liver) that we asked them to substitute for shishito peppers. By the time the famous curried rice and chicken broth were brought, we were too full to finish either and just and had a taste of each. Another wonderful dinner which explains why Tokyo is on every foodies’ must-go list.

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Torishige
6-9-15 Ginza
Chuo-ku, Tokyo
TEL: +81 3 3571 8372

*Open for lunch Mondays to Fridays 11:30 – 14:00
*Dinner Mondays to Fridays 17:00 – 22:00 (Last call 21:15)
*Saturday 16:00 – 21:00 (Last call 20:30)
*Closed Sunday and National holidays

 

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.

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