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Monday, 31 March 2014

Dinner at Salt Tapas & Bar

Salt Tapas & Bar is a spinoff from its flagship, more extravagant branch, Salt Grill and Sky Bar. It is Australian Chef Luke Mangan's first tapas dining concept, located at 252 North Bridge Road #01-22A Raffles City Shopping Centre, Singapore 179103 and the number for reservations is 6837 0995.

Salt Tapas & Bar exudes Spanish vibes entwined with the easy ambience of Australian culture providing a fun and vibrant space for friendships to be cultivated and diners to relax.  It also serves a wide variety of unpretentious cuisine and wines. I was glad that *Valerie suggested to dine here.

We started with Oysters Served Natural, Nam Jim. Instead of the usual lemon and Tabasco sauce, they served the fresh oysters with a light, spicy sauce. The oysters were fresh but we thought them to be a little small. Paired with the unique chilli sauce though, it was utterly delicious. 

Next, the Salt and Pepper Squid with Lime Mayo - the squid rings are fried to a lovely golden brown shade, and we loved its crispy texture. The best part was that these tiny calamari-style rings did not come with the thick layer of flour. The squid flesh was tender and tasty. It was a delight to pop these into our mouths.

After that, we were being served the Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait with Pear Chutney and served with Toasted Brioche. We enjoyed the Parfait because it did not come with a heavy / strong odor; in fact the flavor of birds' innards were subtle, and the paste was scrumptious. We spread it over the crunchy bread slices and topped with the slightly-sourish pear chutney. The combination was a flavor heaven.

Our final savoury tapas dish was the Seared Scallops, Lemon Curd topped with Leek, Bacon and Horseradish. We thought that the scallops were slightly too soft and buttery in flavor. In contrast, the crispy bacon slices added an enticing twist to the creamy scallops.

We were full, but being females, always have another gastric for desserts, have we not? We were oscillating between the Churros with Chocolate Sauce or Luke's Liquorice Parfait and so we asked one of the waitresses for recommendation. When introducing the latter, she said it was their "signature dessert", however when we asked her to suggest, she recommended the Churros, and said that no one ordered the Parfait. Was she being confused or what??

It was my first time trying Churros, and I have been meaning to, since I've heard it was a traditional Spanish dessert. While the same waitress abovementioned demonstrated that the Churros were merely fingers' length, the actual Churros placed in front of us were nearly the length of Chinese fritters aka doughstick ("you tiao"). Fortunately, the Churros were crispy, fluffy and light overall, so it wasn't that filling. We slathered the delectable dessert with thick chocolate sauce and some cream, making them look like eclairs. I also loved how the Churros kind of melted in the mouth, so it somehow met expectations.

We spent SGD$128.00 on this interesting and scrumptious dinner. Thank you, *Valerie!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Dinner at Club July Restaurant

Who would have thought that hidden in the west side of Singapore (namely, Choa Chu Kang area), there is another chillout place that while is not eye-catching, does offer a getaway from the stress of the day and an escapade from doing nothing at home on a boring evening. 

Club July (formerly known as "Pet Lovers Cafe") has several outlets, we visited the one at 5 Stagmont Ring, Singapore 688241 - interesting as it is situated, I quote the Beau, "at the end of the railway tracks". The number to stay connected is 6363 3381. And yes, the entrance is shown above here - a fence that swings in! Can't blame me for feeling a little frisson of trepidation when I saw this, lol.

As the name suggests, this place is also the perfect haven for pet owners, as you could bring your beloved dogs, cats etc here while you dine. Look, there is even a cute little swimming pool up here for those cute furries of yours.

Ambience-wise, do not expect much. This is very much an alfresco dining concept that resembles a dolled-up coffeeshop, with a spacious outdoor area (for the pets to roam around?) and music from the radio station all night long.

We chose to sit indoors, where the furnitute looked slightly better, and we noted that there is actually a Karaoke room further in. Service was slow, but we were brought to a table eventually.

This is the view I got - seated beside the fence facing the main road. I actually found it to be rather interesting since I have never dined in such a setting before. The feel is totally relaxed and mellow, one could just kick back the heels and stare at passing cars, understand the sense of "on the inside looking out" kind of feeling.  It was also appreciated that this outdoorish dining area did not have any bugs or mosquitoes at all (I am sensitive to mosquito bites).

My Plum Juice got served first - I was complaining that a 'plum juice' could cost SGD$4.50, but when it came, and after I took the first sip, I felt it was all worth it. The drink consisted of crushed iced tasting very strongly of plum's sweet fragrance. The tiny "pearls" were delightful because they were so crispy they popped in your mouth litereally. It was a very refreshing and delicious beverage, especially for those dining outdoors on a warm evening.

Next, the Salted Egg Prawns were being served. Actually, given the location and standard of mediocre service, we both had to admit that this dish surpassed our expected standard. The gigantic prawns were rather succulent, and the shells were all fried to a golden-brown crispiness. The flesh was tender and sweet. The best part was the salted egg paste of course - it clung onto the crispy shell, giving it a very scrumptious sandy, buttery texture and taste, turning the sea-sweet delicacy into a saltish tongue-teaser.

The Tomyam Bee Hoon (dry) was served next. The texture of the beehoon was springy, and the entire dish was moist (with stock / tomyam?) but not soggy. There weren't much ingredients save for some shrimps, squids, eggs and vegetables, but the taste was good and highly redolent of tomyam's spicy-sour flavor. We thought the food pretty much compensated the lousy service we were accorded.

Finally, the Pineapple Fried Rice - not spectacular at all, especially after we had tried two other items of far more superior quality. It was sweet with raisin  taste, but there was not a trace of pineapple to be found anywhere in the fried rice - not cubes of pineapples nor flavor at all. 

We spent SGD$44.60 in total for the meal and were glad we dined out so that the lights in both our homes were shut to observe Earth Hour 2014    :)

Some additional remarks on the lousy service here (they charge 10% service charge, mind you):-
(i)  kept us standing outside a long while before coming over to attend to us - they had 3 to 4 staff on duty

(ii)  there was a Sprite can with half-drank Sprite on our table (left behind by previous diners??) but no one bothered to clear it even though the wait staff came to our table a few times to attend to us on other things

(iii)  when the Beau tried to change / replace prawns with chicken for his pineapple fried rice, the F***p**o watiress kept insisting that we would have to top up $$$ to add chicken if we wanted that. I explained that we were asking for chicken to replace a pricier item (i.e. prawns) then she said she would give us "alot, alot of chicken". She then suggested we could ask for "no prawns", so I asked her what would they replace it with if that was the case. She replied, "vegetables."  Hellooo???!!! Ridiculous logic, no?

(iv)   I discovered that my metal table spoon was dirty, so I asked another passing waitress for a change of spoon. She immediately informed us that they had no more spoons. Huh? Then could she not offer to clean it or something? Anyway, I later asked another male waiter and he gave us one full set of clean utensils politely! No spoons??

(v) Very limited parking space - probably because they didnt expect a full house? Cars were parked all ways, blocking each other. When we wanted to leave, we had to ask the waitress to make an announcement for the 4 cars parked in front of the lots blocking all means of getting out

Bottom line is, come here for the chillax ambience and quite good food, come here for your pets' comfort, but forget about service even though you have to pay for it. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Ching Ming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival)

This year, the Ching Ming Festival falls on the 4th - 6th April weekend on the Western Gregorian calender (or 15th day after the Spring Equinox and is the first day of the 5th Chinese seasonal division point).

In English, it is also known as the Tomb Sweeping Day, Ancestors' Day, Clear Bright Festival or Cold Foods Day A traditional festival in which the Chinese would go pay respects to their dead ancestors / kins.  It is similar to the Halloween / Samhain of the western calendar.

Photo source: http://dailytombstonephoto.blogspot.sg/2010/05/tombstonememorial-of-corinne-elliott.html 

Traditionally, this festival is marked by family descendants visiting the gravesites of their ancestors to clear the overgrown weeds, sweep the dust / leaves off the tombstones, place fresh offerings such as fruits , fruits, flowers etc on the tombstones and pray to their deceased loved ones. The maintenance and upkeep of gravesites is considered a responsibility of family descendents and reflects the deep cultural values of ancestor veneration and filial piety of Chinese people.

Buddhist and Taoist temples also perform ceremonies to dedicate spiritual merits to the deceased ancestors of sponsors.

Besides family outings for tomb sweeping rituals, the people also start the spring plowing (soil is supposed to be very fertile during this period), sing, dance, fly kites and young couples start courting.

Photo source: http://www.hsn.com/products/grandin-road-haunted-ash-urn/7260812

Though, in local context, due to the lack of space causing many graveyards to be cleared for building of houses, offices etc, cremation is the chosen burial method for most families these days. The ash urns are usually placed in a number of temples / crematorium around the island.

During Ching Ming, the family members would visit these temples / crematoriums and sweep the ash urns of their loved ones. Some would also bring along offerings to be placed on tables  set up at the front of the temple / crematorium.

It is a meaningful day of commemorating dead ancestors of the past, as well as for the younger generations to show their respects, love, filial piety and a continuation of the familial tree.

Unfortunately, this period is also often associated with heavy rain on a frequent basis. Hence, a beautiful Chinese poem has been written for it.

Photo source: http://jadeturtlerecords.blogspot.sg/2011/04/qingming-festival.html

The meaningful poem translates into the following:-
(source: http://thanhsiang.org/en/qing-ming-festival)

A drizzling rain falls like tears on a morning day,
The mourner with a broken heart is on his way;
Where can a wine shop be found to drown his sad hour,
A cowherd points to a cottage amidst apricot flowers.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Dinner at Bistro Gardenasia @ Nyee Phoe Garden

We visited another secluded hidden gem in the west, an enchanted little garden I did not know existed. Welcome to Bistro Gardenasia at Nyee Phoe Garden - the exact address being 240 Neo Tiew Crescent, Singapore 718898 and the number to dial is 6898 9111. This used to be called the Petals and Leaves Bistro, just in case you are wondering.

From its exotic lakeview reflecting the serene of the restaurant lights to the lit-up green trees, Bistro Gardenasia exudes beauty from entrance to exit. The effect is fairy garden cum romantic, need I rave more about the ambience?

We chose alfresco dining so we could immerse in the scenic setting, and let the breezes soothe us on a warm night. The water vapour filled the place with a dreamy charm, giving it a heady sense of charm. After browsing through the fusion menu where they served interesting stuff such as fresh Wild Rocket Orange Salad, Nicoise Salad with Quail Eggs, Hokkien Mee Pasta, Mee Goreng Pasta etc. we placed our order with the amicable staff.

We started with drinks - a glass of House Red (Merlot) for me and Iced Lemongrass for the Beau. My full-bodied wine was a contrast to his refreshing and cool Lemongrass, soothing our parched throats.

The food came next. The Grilled Rosemary Chicken with Mushroom Sauce - farmfresh chicken leg seasoned with rosemary and herbs. Tender chicken leg that combined juiciness with hints of smokiness, fragrant with the exotic flavor of rosemary and saltish tinge of mushroom sauce.

Then we had the Chargrilled Rib-Eye Hor Fun - east meet west in this unique dish with tender chargrilled ribeye steak and hor fun noodles. The result? A swooning good slab of succulent and tasty beef steak atop smooth hor fun, producing a delicacy that was very pleasing to the teeth and tongue. Though, we thought that it would be more perfect if there had been an egg beaten into the gravy to add form and flavor, like the one we recently had at Beaulieu House.

Having completed the savoury dishes, we were game for desserts, thus we shared a Warm Chocolate Lava Cake - tantalising rich chocolate delight served with single scoop vanilla ice-cream. While the chocolate cake was indeed rich in its chocolate splendour, we we slightly disappointed with the "lava" did not ooze out of the center when we speared the cake. The chocolate fudge stayed in the center, giving the cake an extra ounce of sweetness.

We spent SGD$30.00 each on our dinner here and continued to take a walk around the area where we chanced more mystical sightings here such as the seemingly Roman garden, and Farmstay Villa etc. This place is truly a delightful spot away from the conventional, commercialised beauty of city life and city lights.

Dinner at Fern and Kiwi @ Clarke Quay

Fern and Kiwi Bar & Eatery was suggested by another friend a few months ago, but we did not dine there eventually. I have been meaning to visit, since I was curious about New Zealand cuisine. So, tonight, I finally got to have dinner here. Fern and Kiwi is located at 3C River Valley Road #01-02 / 03 The Cannery, Clarke Quay, Singapore 179024 and the number to dial is 6336 2271.

A typical New Zealand cafe slash bar slash restaurant, this Fern and Kiwi offers a fun, relaxed environment with its wood decor and dim lighting. The doors and windows remind me alot of winter in Australia, actually. Level one is the bar area, level two is the restaurant area where we were dining at - alfresco seating is available, as well as great music playing all night long.

We kicked start with Pan Fried Foie Gras - pan fried polenta crumbed foie gras with a red currant coulis - this was interestingly delicious. Instead of being crispy on the outside with a buttery-soft interior, the foie gras here is crispy on the whole. It is a little dry, but the taste was good, especially when dipped with the currant coulis (a little sour / berry hint) and the crispiness was welcoming.

For main courses, I had actually taken close-up, cleaerer shots but mysteriously lost them, so I have no choice but to borrow the ones taken by Charliez* to crop for us here. Le sigh.

My main course was the New Zealand King Salmon Fillet - grilled salmon served on a bed of green lipped mussels and sumac risotto with dill creme fraiche and vine tomato confit. The salmon skin was crispy and the flesh was freshly tender; the sweetish flavor was very scrumptious. The risotto was a little too sweet for my liking, but I loved the juicy green lipped mussels and huge cherry tomatoes. 

Charliez* had the Oven-Baked Cod - grilled cod fillet served with roasted baby potatoes and grilled asparagus and special Fern & Kiwi sauce. The cod was freshly succulent, and like my salmon - it was crispy on the outsde and the inside was fresh with the sweetness of well-prepared cod. It melted in the mouth. The savoury-saccharine sauce added a hint of flavor in contrast with the pure, light taste of the cod. The baby potatoes were soft and the asparagus + tomatoes made for great accompaniments.

Finally, it was time for some New Zealand desserts. I had the Kiwi Eton Pavlova - crushed pavlova and raspberry snow with passion fruit, kiwi, chantilly cream and doris plum ice-cream. The plum ice-cream was very tasty and refreshing (first time I had it!), totally redolent of the exotic richness of plum. The fruits  and chantilly cream were a great combination, a wonderful dessert albeit its sinful nature.

And the Trio of New Zealand Kapiti Ice Cream - three giant scoops of ice-cream namely double chocolate, vintage strawberry and classic vanilla served with homemade crumble, chocolate sauce and island berries. The flavors were all rich and soothing to a salt-parched throat, with their flavors heightened by the sauce and berries. Not only do these cold beauties look good, they taste marvelous as well.

The total damage for the night was SGD$82.00 per person.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

I Light Marina Bay 2014

I am aware these are not the best shots, but the lights are pretty, innovative and we had loads of fun "hunting" them down. The map trail goes this way, along Marina Bay area:

Source: http://www.ilightmarinabay.sg/installations/map/

Herein marks our trail and some eye candy and visual souveinirs along the way:

Heartbeat City Lights
Tiny little colorful dots of moving lights (orbs)

Giant Dandelions

The Wheels of Industry
Colorful faux stained glass windows that lit up only when someone pedals on the stationary bike in front of it

Beautiful canopy of tiny, round white light bulbs forming one giant cloud
Cords may be tugged to turn on or off the light bulbs.

Digital Wattle

Celebration of Life 

I Light Booth
Love how it lights up in this eerie blue glow

Purple Tree (not related to, nor part of I Light)

Colorful balls of lights on a grass patch

The Wishing Tree
Leaves made up of wishes, interesting

Happy Croco
Cute, they place warning sign outside this display saying it will bite...

Colorful floating "beads" found on Marina Bay Gallery waters
Not related to I Light as well

"Satellite dish" that changes colors  

Close up, each square contains a different message

Cute bear heads that change colors

Floating Hearts
Lights up when tapped, I think

The Guardian Angels
Colorful lights that took me a while to decipher, but nonetheless, enchanting

The Pool
Colorful discs of lights that light up when stepped upon, changes colors too
In fact, the discs emit rainbow shades of hues, but too fast to capture