Friday, 23 August 2013

NamNam Noodle Bar at Raffles City

Currently, there are two NamNam outlets in Singapore selling Pho, Banh Mi and other Vietnamese street food favourites, and the queues at both are particularly crazy during the lunch and dinner rush hours. At under $10 the lunch set is a steal, but the a la carte menu is reasonably priced as well, which is probably why you'll see lots of students and young adults willingly hanging about in a line for over 20 minutes. 

A was the earliest one at City Hall station, so he went to queue up first. Even so, by the time everyone arrived an age later, we were still waiting for our table to be readied. After a large group finally cleared out, we were given the table right by the entrance, and shared it with the girls right in front of us in the line. The thing about enforced communal dining though, is that no matter how you do it, unless people at the table feel particularly friendly or happen to already know each other, then you're not actually fostering any sense of camaraderie, just awkward shuffling every time a stranger needs to squeeze past you to get in or out.

Once everyone decided what they wanted, we filled out our order chit and sent A off to place and pay for our orders at the counter. Even with the full house, it didn't take long for our drinks, then our food to arrive. Mn & Mf got cans of coke that came with tiny vintage-looking tin cups that seem all the rage now, while my lime soda came in a more sedate plastic tumbler. I'm fairly sure Sprite instead of soda water was used for the lime soda, which was eye-watering-ly sweet. 

Our table saw a combination of beef, chicken and combination beef Phos, and the overall verdict was resoundingly positive. The chain trumpets their 'no-MSG' policy, but the soup was just a tad too salty for my tastes. L & Mn though, found no fault with it and drained their bowls. I did like was the richness of the broth, which is apparently boiled with all manner of good things for over 24 hours. They're very generous with the beef slices, which were a little tough due to sheer thickness, but less so with the rice noodles, which seemed a shame. For me the noodles were the best part of the Pho. Elsewhere you get distressingly soggy stuff, but here the noodles have enough texture for you to chew on.

An oversight on my part (I neglected to circle the 'later' option) led to my dessert, a vanilla pudding with palm sugar caramel, arriving together with the bowls of Pho. It sat there till I'd slurped up the last of my noodles, and seemed no worse for the wear really. Maybe the sweet potato chip would have been crisper if I'd consumed it immediately, but the pudding itself suffered little. 

It was a lovely pudding the first few mouthfuls. It jiggled and looked almost alarmingly liquid, but held up its shape magnificently and tasted really full and dense. It was richly, deeply creamy and sweet enough on its own without the caramel. Halfway through though, after the first of it settled, I felt too jelak to continue. It got a bit cloying, which was when I fobbed it off to the rest, who very happily finished it for me. 

NamNam is probably the most affordable restaurant under the Les Amis group (Let's face it - Cine Cafe? Still feels indecently high end for those of us who can still remember fast food at Shaw Lido.) right now, but it still feels like the same quality control is being applied to the food here, to good effect. NamNam isn't perfect, but compared to similar eateries, its offerings seem to be of a much higher standard. 

One odd thing about NamNam is that it seems like a place that should have a super quick turnover rate (And that massive snaking line of people glaring at you to finish up and leave certainly reinforces this impression), but the food invites more lingering, which results in a meal that feels abruptly cut short. It's not the best place for long reunions unless you count the time everyone spends together in the queue, but if you're looking for a good, quick-ish meal before you run off elsewhere, NamNam fits the bill. 

252 North Bridge Road, #B1-46/47, Raffles City Shopping Centre, Singapore 179103

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Bukit Merah View Kway Chap at Tahoe Garden Eating House

D & I had our fortnightly lunch session at a kway chap place place he's been coming to for over 5 years. It's apparently the sort of quiet, out of the way place that inspires loyal customers. On and off he'll rave about it, so when he told me where we were going to eat, all I could think was "Finally!". 

It was still pretty quiet when we got there at 11.45 am, although I wasn't sure if it was because we'd missed the lunch rush or if people were put off by the impending drizzle. Either way, finding a seat wasn't an issue.

From our table, I looked out at the groups of old men who were drinking coffee and playing chess a way away while D went to place our order. Apparently the lady running the stall knows him as 'The Egg Guy' because whenever he orders, he gets two braised eggs for every person eating. This has led to situations where they've plated 16 eggs or more for his table, which apparently does not happen with other diners. Today, with just the two of us there, it was a simple order of kiam chye (salted vegetables), four eggs, a serving of pig intestines, and two kinds of bean curd (tau pok and tau hoo).

The kway (Thick, flat noodles) here is wonderfully silky, without being so soft that it disintegrates - there's enough bite to it The chap (Soy sauce broth) itself is also enjoyably light but flavourful. But what really stood out for me was the chilli, which had a nice sour tinge to it. Halfway through, I idly toyed with the notion of getting a second helping of kway just to be greedy, but found one bowl to be sufficiently substantial. 

The kiam chye was pleasant. Nothing to shout about, but perfectly serviceable and a good counterpoint to the other flavours. 

Most braised eggs have been cooked in sauces for just long enough to stain the outside brown without really being seasoned. Here though, the aroma permeates the entire egg, making it good and savoury, and as you can see the egg whites are a nice tanned shade all the way through. The intestines were surprisingly tender, and while I didn't quite enjoy the tau pok because it was a tad too dry for my liking, I greatly enjoyed the tau hoo. 

All in all, a good place for kway chap. 

Tahoe Garden Eating House, Blk 493 Jurong West Street 41, #01-148, S 640 493

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Tapping Shoes at Potato Head

The first thing you notice when you pull up to Potato Head are the queues. There's an endless stream of cars going in and out of the long foliage-lined pathway where vehicles are stopped and checked for food and alcohol that might be illicitly smuggled in (M thinks they're really just checking to see if you're hiding a terrorist in your boot). Then there's the queue to get into the Potato Head Beach Club. Since the location has been named one of the top places to visit in Bali, the lines themselves weren't much of a surprise, but I was amazed by the sheer number of people waiting to get in without a reservation. 

Possibly the only fine dining establishment where slippers and shorts are accepted by the dress code
With our table at Tapping Shoes booked since D first decided we were going to Bali over the extended weekend, we swanned past the queue easily 50 people long and up the ramp past the painstakingly vintaged-up shutter installation. To get to Tapping Shoes, we also had to walk a way through the Beach Club and it's booming indie disco mixes. It was fair to say that the place was absolutely packed, with people occupying every seat along the bar and laying across the large sofa seats by the infinity pool, overlooking the Indian Ocean and its hypnotic tides. 

Tapping Shoes, in contrast, was a quiet haven, and throughout the evening only four tables were taken up. A pity for the restaurant but a boon for us really, since it was easy to pretend we were the only ones around to enjoy the place. The whole room was bathed in a warm amber glow from the many chandeliers dripping from the textured ceiling, evoking perhaps old school glamour or some kind of charming nostalgia. 

It was lovely to experience it there, but the yellow lighting's cast a jaundiced pallor over all my photos from the evening. 

Vintage looking decorations on off-white shelves, handmade crockery used to hold flowers at every table and candles completed the look. 

The Japanese Head Chef was apparently away when we dined there, so the menu had not been changed in the two months since D visited previously. It was no matter though, since that was the dining experience he'd wanted to share with us anyway. 

We were given amuses of warm and fluffy Parmesan choux pastries to start, which immediately reminded me of cocktails at the Ritz with J. 

Even with all the chandeliers, the whole place only had a boudoir glow, so reading the drinks menus required the full deployment of the lone candlestick at our table, as well as two others we cannibalized from elsewhere with the help of the serving staff who noticed M getting all squinty in the absence of proper lighting. 

D went for the wine flight as expected, while M & I had the non-alcoholic and alcoholic berry cocktails respectively. My Bellini was so tempting that halfway through the meal a couple of flies saw fit to pitch themselves into it. Once I noticed, the unfortunate glass of doom was quickly substituted for a fresh replacement. Our main server was fresh from a vocational school but carried himself with aplomb. 

Berry Bellini

M & D weren't terribly interested in choux, so I polished them off. Next came a chilled cauliflower foam velouté with croutons and a dash of curry powder to keep things interesting. After that disappeared, we kept ourselves busy with the warm nut and raisin slices at the table. The butter wasn't salted, but it went well with the oddly savoury bread, so we demurred when a waitress came by with a salt mill the size of my arm and offered to grind some out. 

At the beginning of the evening they took note of M's & my preference for something other than foie gras as a starter, and surprised us with a ginger fish carpaccio with caviar, cherry tomatoes, vinegared radish and extremely finely chopped sweet peppers. 

There was a good crunch to the carpaccio, which was lovely and bright tasting. The fish itself was very fresh and had an enjoyable slightly chewy texture. Nearly licked my plate clean, but the looks M & D were shooting me as I mopped up the last bits of sauce I could with my remaining sliver of fish convinced me not to. 

Look at all those wee bits of peppers!

Next up was a lobster salad on a mound of quinoa tabbouleh, gazpacho sauce and capsicum purée. 

The lobster was chewy without being tough, and the tabbouleh was refreshing. However, I wasn't too keen on the gazpacho sauce, which tasted more like watered down bell pepper, or the capsicum purée, which had achieved a puzzling level of solidity more like a marshmallow. 

It really just seemed to be the year of fish in pea purée and milk foam when the garoupa course came out, but this one managed to differentiate itself. For one, the hint of sharpness from the verbena cream foam made the fried garoupa taste less heavy. 

Then came two surprise cockles that literally melted away on my tongue, and were so fresh that they left only a pleasant savouriness behind. M & D hadn't even noticed they'd eaten cockles until I pointed mine out to them. (Well what can I say? They scarf down their food while I take my own sweet time tasting everything)

Magically good cockles
Unfortunately, since some ingredients face a tougher time getting imported into Bali, our wagyu steak course was replaced with a somewhat less fancy cut of grass fed beef. But with a reduced jus, snap peas, edamame beans, courgette and sweet potato chunks, a slice of onion and some roasted baby carrots and corn, it was still perfectly flavourful and satisfactory. 

Looking more like salad  than steak

After all those dishes, we had some time to recover before our first dessert was brought out. It was a tropical fruit salad of mango bits, passion fruit and kiwi, with a spoon of mango sorbet in the middle and a generous glob of glorious coconut cream crowning the dish. I'm mad for coconut cream, so this broke me out in paroxysms of joy. The sweet mango on sweet mango overload was effectively countered by the tartness of the kiwi and passion fruit, and tempered by the delicate, foam-like coconut cream. 

Oh beautiful, quivering mass of coconut cream.

Our next dessert was a serving of passion fruit sorbet with a mango panna cotta. Much of the same ingredients, but jazzed up enough to keep me excited. 

The panna cotta was topped with more passion fruit, but also achingly soft bits of lychee. It managed to be rich without being cloying, though since there was so little of it, there was no opportunity to get sick of it. 

And then there was the most intriguing bit of the dessert. 

D: Look! It's like an egg yolk!

And so it did.But the bright orange blob was really just more mango, this time in the form of a purée and somehow richer than all the other iterations we'd eaten this evening. Not knowing how best to eat it, I nicked a hole in the gelatin casing and sucked out the purée, but then I was left with a rather plain and sadly deflated gelatin casing that I had to eat on its own, so I figured maybe it wasn't the smartest option. 

Post-dessert, it was time for tea. I had a Lapsang, and it seems TWG has sunk its talons into Bali as well. 

Look how the teapot and the flower jug match

The petit fours came on a big platter, consisting of coffee eclairs, friands, lemon macarons, madelines, chocolate pralines and nama (raw) chocopops. By this point I was full to bursting, which meant I had to give my madeline and macaron to D lest I explode. 

On our way out, we managed to lose M, so I doubled back to look for her. I found her in the ladies' restroom taking pictures of the remarkably quaint looking vanity area.

Vanity Fair

I'm still not quite certain if the things were on display or there for us to use. Either way, M & I had to drag ourselves away from the toilet to the hotel car waiting downstairs. Pity really, once I saw the toiletries I wanted to try everything out. 

Jl. Petitenget, Seminyak, Bali 80361, Indonesia