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A hidden Ramen gem in Berlin
At the end of Jas' hen do weekend in Berlin when we thought we couldn't be more hungover, we stumbled on a hidden gem that cheered us right up. A little Japanese Ramen noodle bar called Cocolo was tucked away in a little sidestreet centrally near Rosenthaler Platz and Oranienburger Str area. Though it had a German owner, the staff are all Japanese and it felt like a little piece of Tokyo in Berlin. The small menu had a focused ramen selection with classics like  Miso (vegetarian), Shoyu (soy), Shio (salt), Tonkatsu (pork). Tonkatsu was the natural choice, and the broth was deep, rich, and intense in a way that could cheer up anyone caught in the rain. Who would've thought?

Gipsstrasse 3
10119 Berlin

I'm back!
Finished my last day at work this past Friday, welcome to the land of joblessness. Thought I'd mark it by coming back to post to this blog, that I'd neglected woefully for months. Lots to update. Heading off to Barcelona for a last Europe hurrah then one last week to work through our London bucket list before we move back to Singer-town. Lots to update.

Noma, Nordisk Mad
Sometime last Christmas I received a cryptic message from Goz, something about March and Copenhagen. When I realised he was inviting me to Noma, the current winner of San Pellegrino Awards' Best Restaurant of the World, Si and I jumped at the chance and booked our flights rightaway. Noma, and its lead chef, René Redzepi, was getting a lot of press for their recent win, having displaced five-time winner El Bulli, and was a rare two-starred Michelin restaurant that didn't focus on French cuisine but had a purely Nordic approach to fine dining. I had also seen him speak in London during his book tour (Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine) and watched him when Noma was featured on one of the final episodes of Masterchef Professionals last year. I was impressed with his dedication and pride in Nordic cuisine, and his connection to nature. He often forages in the Copenhagen beach and countryside for wild grass and herbs to cook in his restaurant, and he uses only ingredients found in the Nordic region, and with a very light touch. It was very exciting to know that we would get the chance to dine there.

March finally rolls round, and we're in Copenhagen to join a table of eight. This may be my longest blog post ever, get ready.

Read more about my five hour dinner...Collapse )

Last thoughts on the meal...Collapse )

Sunday night tonkatsu

On our Saturday trip to broadway market Si picked up a couple of pork steaks to make tonkatsu cutlets for dinner tonight. Each steak was sliced in half and pounded further, then dredged in egg wash and panko before being panfried till crisp. Jap mayo and bulldog sauce is drizzled over, then served with a tomato-feta-onion salad, and a soy-based cucumber salad. Happy Sunday night.

Posted via LiveJournal.app.


Scallops from Rye - Five Ways
My food-mad friends and I made it out to Rye, East Sussex one drizzly weekend to check out the Rye scallop festival, read Wen's account here. The weather and food wasn't exciting, but we did score really good and fresh scallops straight from the source at a really good price. Inspired by our quality loot, Si made us a scallop feast for dinner that night. I'm a lucky girl :)

First: Scallop sashimi stack with avocado and lumpfish caviar, and panfried scallop roe on the side. The fresh sweet scallop contrasted with the salty caviar and the creamy avocado. The hot  fried roe was a nice textural contrast to the stack.

Scallop tartare with soy, sesame oil, fish sauce and toasted sesame seeds. With scallops this fresh you really don't need to do much to it.

Third: Scallop cerviche. The acid cooks the scallop partway, giving it more bite but still keeping it refreshing. Yum.

Fourth: Panfried scallops with capers. Salty and tangy from the capers, buttery and char from panfrying, so easy so good.

Fifth: Scallop Fritti. The last, easiest, and our favourite preparation. Lightly dredged in salt- and peppered- cornstarch and deep-fried. They were crispy outside, still translucent inside. Dressed with a little lemon and we were practically licking our plates.

I made a fresh side salad in a Thai fish sauce dressing to accompany our little scallop feast. Beautiful and vibrant.

La Degustation Boheme
Prague. The romantic city in the centre of Bohemia. We flew in for a long weekend, and found beautiful bridges, plentiful good beer, and lots of history I've never heard about. Fascinating. The old town centre where we were staying is pretty touristy, and many food places promise to serve authentic Czech food - which as far as I could tell, involved smoked hams and meats, and varieties of goulash and dumplings. Tasty beer stodge.

Si did a little online research and planned what turned out to be the highlight of our trip - Saturday dinner at La Degustation Boheme - a Michelin-starred restaurant serving haute Czech cuisine. Oldřich Sahajdák is the chef and co-owner, has a name I could never pronounce, but runs a tight ship at his restaurant tucked into a quiet street.

Jewish quarter in Prague.

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Rose Bakery - A British gem in Paris... and your kitchen
I bought the Rose Bakery cookbook back in 2006 when it first came out, not because I knew anything about the Cafe and its owners, only because I saw a writeup on the food photography in the book, which has that photo journalistic feel rather than the high gloss style that I still love but always makes me feel slightly dirty afterwards, like I've been watching too much food porn. I didn't do much with the cookbook for the first year except read it (yes I'm a cookbook voyeur) then sometime in 2007 I tried the pancake recipe. It was really easy, fluffy, and delicious. I didn't know I was capable of turning out such fabulous breakfast food. Over the years I ventured into lemon cakes, mushroom risotto, and tarts, but I always went back to the pancakes. Because I love them, and now that I have rediscovered my hand mixer they're a lot less effort than they used to be. My absolute favourite recipe is the ricotta pancakes - they're extra fluffy, have a hint of savouriness with the ricotta, and are impressive without the effort. Rose Carrarini, the bakery owner and author of the cookbook specialises in pastry (there aren't many savoury main dishes in there), but her recipes are easy to use, and have useful annotations (and I paraphrase the following) like 'don't overwork the pancake batter or it won't rise', or 'this shortcrust recipe is based on an Italian, rather than French way of preparation so it's less fragile and doesn't break off as easily. Don't be afraid to work the dough.'. She also has handy variations of each recipe, including gluten-free and vegan versions.

I've tried and love the lemon cake recipe (picture shown on bottom right) and am still practicing to get the consistency and look as beautiful as it is below. It's still very yummy though.

(source: Images from 'Breakfast, Lunch and Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery' by Rose Carrarini, via Amazon.co.uk)

Rose is British and together with her French husband, Jean-Charles, are both self-taught cooks and used to own Villandry on Marylebone High Street in the 1990s selling, soup, sandwiches, and cakes. They've since moved to Paris and opened Rose Bakery in the Montmarte district, selling the same high-quality British deli food with a focus on organic ingredients. This is a nice article on Rose Bakery from the Guardian, and it notes interestingly that most of their staff are from all over the world because of their interest in the organic movement.

Last September Si and I made a weekend trip to Paris, and while roaming around Montmarte on a picture-perfect sunny Saturday we stumbled onto Rose Bakery on Rue des Martyrs. I was very excited, we stopped in for a coffee break to rest our feet and check out the little cafe one of my favourite cookbooks is based on. The interior was long, and sparsely furnished with concrete floors and functional wooden tables. But the place smelled very good, and flour dusted cooks regularly came out from the kitchen in the back to bring more freshly baked goodies to the display counter up front. Staff were very friendly, and though we were too full to order anything more than a coffee each, they arrived with a half slice of a lemon cake on the house. The coffee was excellently roasted and rich, and the lemon slice was buttery, lemony and moist. Oh man.

Was such a pleasant surprise to find Rose Bakery, do check it out when you're in Paris. Back home, I find the cookbook my go-to guide especially when it comes to matters of baking. Just this weekend I made the Orange Chocolate Ricotta Tart (picture left, though I sub-ed cream cheese for ricotta because my dreaded local Sainsbury didn't have any even though they usually carry it, grr), and the Ricotta Pancakes (picture right, same sub for the ricotta). The output isn't perfect, they all need work. But the cookbook is a safe pair of hands when you're trying to lift an entire sheet of shortcrust pastry that you're desperately trying not to break. It all makes it slightly less daunting somehow. But always tasty.

Grammercy Tavern - A classy birthday
I've spent almost all of my birthdays back home in Singapore. I can count the times I wasn't in Singapore for it on one hand. It's on New Year's Eve, which is a big day and I've always wanted to be home with friends and family, even when I moved away. Last year I was spending my birthday in New York, which turned out to be my best birthday ever but we didn't know how to celebrate it. The year before that I was in London and spent my birthday jet lagged having a big 80s birthday party and trashing the flat.

So when Si told me he was taking me out to a nice early birthday dinner in New York he left it up to me to choose the restaurant. It was difficult. How to choose a restaurant in a city I didn't know? Options I considered were Peter Luger, because many swear by the steak and it's such a cult classic. There was Craft, by Tom Colicchio who is so famous even I've heard of him and his minimalist modern American cooking. Babbo could be cool, and Per Se was another option, an exciting chance to try a Thomas Keller restaurant. Peter Luger's would've been amazing, and I need to try it at some point, but I wanted to experience what American cooking is like beyond steak and burgers. Craft sounded very clinical somehow, with its single ingredient small plates, and Babbo's vibe was a bit too casual than what I was looking for. Though I would've loved to try Per Se I frankly thought it would just be too expensive. In the end I decided on the Grammercy Tavern.

Grammercy Tavern is a long-standing establishment that served modern American food, and I didn't know what modern American food was. But I do like modern British cooking, in how they turned something traditional and tired and made it fresh and exciting again. So I was keen to start my foray into the NY dining scene with a fresh look at American cuisine. Though Grammercy Tavern was started up by Tom Colicchio 15 years ago, he sold his interest in 2006 and no longer has any involvement with the restaurant. Chef Michael Anthony since took up reins and has been doing a great job. There's a very flattering write-up from Edible Manhattan here.

For a Wednesday night (albeit during the holidays), the vibe was busy, buzzy, but not too crazy. Service was flawless, from start to finish, our server was an older gent who was probably an aspiring actor, his delivery was so slick, but in a charming, not smarmy kind of way. And he knew his stuff. Now I know what modern American cuisine is. Our meal at Grammercy Tavern used local, seasonal ingredients, multi-cultural influences to reflect the melting pot that is America, and brought new life to traditional but previously dowdy dishes.

The buzzy bar and casual dining room up front.

Ready to eat.. and drink... excellent wine recommendation for a Pinot Noir from Sonoma Valley. Very quaffable.

Starters was a Morrocan-inspired Lamb Parpadelle (bottom left) with preserved lemons and olives. Very tangy and surprisingly light shredded lamb and sauce, very delicate pasta. Si had the venison tartare (bottom right), which was silky, flavourful, and not gamey at all

Mains were pork belly and loin with red rice (bottom left) and this amazing, rich, dark, soulful sauce. The red rice is such a rustic ingredient, it was nice to see it cooked with such care till it became creamy and yummy. And the pork was cooked to sublime perfection. This was probably my favourite dish of the night. Si had the lamb (bottom right) - a couple of different cuts (shank and loin I believe) - and that was spectacular as well.

The timing of the dishes was perfect, there was an amuse bouche, palate cleanser, and petit fours after our desserts, Si had cheese and I had a beautiful little pudding/cake/fondant thingy, I was so full by then I could not eat any desserts beyond 3 bites! Congrats, Grammercy Tavern, you have broken me, but in the best possible way.

"I want the restaurant to be consistently delicious, not just consistent,” explains Chef Michael Anthony: “Simply consistent is mediocrity.”
(source: http://www.ediblemanhattan.com/20101103/gramercy-tavern/)

Hear hear!

I'm obsessed with Xian Famous Foods
So it's been a while I posted. But I haven't been this inspired by fast food since discovering beef kway teow in Geylang when I was 18.  When Si brought me to this die-die-must-try Xi'an food stall in New York I thought it sounded good but never knew how much I would be obsessed. Maybe it's the cold weather outside that makes the intense savoury spicy Western Chinese dishes hit the spot even more, but the moment I had a bite I was hooked. We returned twice within an 8-day stay in New York. Xi'an Famous Foods has tiny stalls in Flushing, Queens and Manhattan and now I'm searching for a decent alternative fix in London. Help me if you can.

One of their signature specialties is the chilli cumin lamb hand pulled noodles which has lovingly hand torn meat and hand pulled fresh cooked noodles, then tossed together with spring onions, beansprouts for crunch, and gorgeous spicy chilli oil. Man, just typing it makes me drool. Other signature noodle dishes are the "Liang Pi" Cold Skin noodles but I was too obsessed with the hand pulled noodles that I didn't try it this trip. Next time. I can't wait for next time.

The noodles are rolled out fresh from small balls of dough, the long strips hand torn to make them rugged and hand pulled, then cooked to order in boiling water. The cooked noodles are then tossed with the spicy cumin lambs chunks, veg, and chilli oil and served to you piping hot. Simples!

Si's fave dish is the spicy lamb burger, which is where the Chinese and Middle Eastern fusion really shows. The "burger" is flat bread, kneaded out and pressed in a hot press to cook to order. Everything's cooked fresh here! It's like a really spicy and moist kebab burger. Mmm...

Specials of the day include slow cooked oxtail in a slightly tangy soy sauce. Plastic gloves are provided so you can rip the meat off the bone. Preferably have some noodles waiting for this additional meat, but we housed ours and ate these separately.

The Manhattan stall is about the size of a large service toilet only, and cramped in this tiny space you have one counter that allows max 3 people to stand side by side and eat. On the walls there are accolades from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and other food celebs. Xi'an Famous Foods have already won many fans, I'm just late on the bandwagon. And kind of obsessed. Sob.