Fresh Starts? And impromptu cafe babble

Little bits of nitbobs before I start.

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This is the 31st of December, am I correct?

No, I can’t be.

Not the 31st, no. Can anyone actually put their head around that? Absurd. Ludicrous. More so than I have ever felt in the past few about-to-be years. Well the rain is beating hard and that always makes me feel more in tune with certain situations. But the surety of such a happening has crossed into the frightening zone, whereby I can no longer comprehend such speed. Honestly, the stuff that’s been digging holes into my awareness of the real world. Rapes, protests, Christmas, journalling, France, Instagram, Stephen King, then… School. Marvellous.

After a good Vinyasa 2 yoga session today, I hopped my way to the closest cinema (yes, that would have to be youth magnet Cathay Cineleisure) just to watch The Hobbit, the screening I am far too behind on. Somewhere in there the big-eyed, less than debonair fellow mentioned how time devours everything. You could say from a more morbid point of view how that is so painful yet true; it consumes every minute of our very being and existence. We are never spared in any state of our lives, wherever we are or whatever we may be doing.

Mind starved of some caffeine and protein, I settled down to have a solo lunch somewhere where I could oversee the hordes of angry bumper-to-bumper cars and savour the dim chill of splitter-and-pop raindrops.

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Iced mocha

See those little chocolate syrup worms at the bottom? On the menu, this had a little star next to it saying ‘highly recommended’. To me, that immediately translated into ‘this will actually have the taste of proper coffee and mocha and not be overly sugar-ridden’. Alas, what am I to expect? Having too high an expectation simply leads to inevitable disappointment. I shut my mouth, ordered the thing, gave it a chance. A slight let down with the (predictable) lashings of sugar sugar sugar, but it was a mocha all the same. It even had a dollop of ice cream, and I craved a few cold scoops.

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Mushroom cheese burger

I saw the fried egg so of course I had to give it a go. Good portion size as well given the price tag. It’s a perfectly symmetrical sun softly calling my name, eventually killing me on the inside if I ignore its all-day pleas. The tragedy of this is that I actually like to taste the cheese and mushroom in a dish. The rustic tang of swiss, the rubbery cut of buttered shroom. Minus copious amounts of mayonnaise and a half-tasteless medium patty (I enjoy mine rare.)

Ah yes, and minus the top bun and fries, for I can’t care for excess stodge lying around and disrupting the purity of good flavour. Have mentioned this before, but all that bread is just asking to dilute the taste of a nice burger, no matter how well done. I came here previously to have this darling bowl:

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Unagi and tofu salad

Like most such green mountains, the saviour would normally be the dressing, a perfect balance of sweet and tang, and sometimes some spice. Good thing these guys added fatty unagi and cold cut tofu to provide bites well worth the adjectives wholesome and refreshing.

But that was salad day. Today was I-need-a-damn-burger-and-some-bulk day. Along with a dose of hairy-footed elves, goblins and a hobbit. Sad to think how it all ends here, right now, humbug in hand, a little mascara smudged on my lower lid.

They say a new year’s a new start with fresh resolutions and a will to keep them. Going back to my past with all my tested trials, I will hereby predict that some will be kept, and some will (might, I pray) be broken. I’ll just sit here with Stephen King for the time being, propelled back to the 1960s with Ford Sunliners and manual Cokes, and be comforted by the fact that 2013 may indeed be to my liking.

Perhaps time won’t leave a sour aftertaste in its wake, even after devouring everything.

Life turns on a dime.

Casuarina Curry

6 years of loyal prata service. I remember my first time, hand in father’s hand, unaware of what jewels I was to behold. Crispy, chewy jewels that is.

Only for those who cannot resist a crisp, crunch and crackle. The holy trinity. Some people actually dislike such a texture, and prefer instead a more doughy and dog-eared chewiness. I quite like that too, but this is top-notch, unturndownable stuff. Nothing I love more than a good prata breakfast when I’m firmly set in my unhealthy-and-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-nourish-my-body sort of mindset. Really, it’s typically one of those hopelessly lazy Sunday mornings whereby my father and I look at each other and go, “Yes, prata.”

So we go. We come in our shorts, the lovely Indian guys take down our orders entirely by memory (due to years of hard experience and perhaps inherent talent). We are the inferior ones in their exotic prata world. We sit up straight before gradually descending into caveman slouches, digging excitedly into whatever’s in front of us. The CC syndrome, I’ll call it.

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I will politely point out that this has got to be one of the best curries around in Singapore. And yes ignore the unsightly contact between the kosong and (usually quite) dirty table. A succulent, almost fishy aroma dominates each casual metal plate of curry. It almost spills over, promising to do the same on your plate of prata. It promises a lot, and you trust the curry like an old friend. Coats everything with a good, chunky layer of greasy love. A munificent coat. It’s more important than enough butter on french toast, to be honest.

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onion and cheese prata

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Their menu is delightfully extensive. No skimping on the options here. Everything is laid out in appealing lists: banana, honey, onion and cheese, chicken floss (guilty pleasure), chocolate, egg and so on. Don’t forget your kopi or teh.

This is precisely what I love about this place; the classic traditional comfort (albeit rather garish orange and blue decor), good food and consistency. Each time. You will most certainly receive your plate in less than 10 minutes, if not for some large and annoying crowd. But patience, please. You will come and you shall experience the magnificent original invention that is the almighty prata. So crisp you might cry, and so wonderfully chewy on the inside that you will forget going anywhere else on a Sunday morning.

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honey tissue prata

Welcome my two lovely younger sisters, routinely downing their iced milos. The tissue prata here like to make a grand and rather concave entrance. Never scaly, never limp like the real stuff I blow my nose with.

Delicate and layered. Break the golden, honey-drenched arches down to reveal the sharp icicles of prata. I’m the type who doesn’t mind stuff half-burnt, and prata is no exception. I may come across as lenient in this category now, but I have no regrets. This prata place is an old friend still holding on to youth. Trendy in flavour, trustworthy in service.

6 years. I plan to go again since I haven’t done so in a while, just to relive memories and let people scoff at my garlicky, sticky fingers. Parading my good hygiene.

Rating: 4.8/5

Casuarina Curry

138 Casuarina Road
6455 9093

Oriole Coffee Roasters

Don’t tell me you don’t like coffee.

Actually that’s alright because it really isn’t for everyone, though I’m strictly out of that category. Very very strictly. What wonder, what pleasure caffeine brings. The delectable joy of a sharp espresso just before or after a meal, or poured over vanilla bean ice cream with some coffee jelly cubes to go along. Pleasure is the only word that comes to mind right now. Pleasure and perhaps some sophistication. Je ne sais pas.

I’m sure most of you (Singaporeans) know about Oriole Cafe and Bar at 313 Somerset in Orchard, which is owned and managed by my uncle. However, most don’t know about its slightly shyer cousin, who hangs around Jiak Chuan Road, Chinatown like an old fashioned aproned grandmother chasing chickens or whatnot (random images like to appear in my mind and fail to run away unless I put it down in some abstract form).

A grandmother who whips up the best cappuccinos, piccolos and half boiled eggs in town. Sophistication and traditional kopitiam rolled into one. It’s pretty magnificent stuff, though it’s not the sort of breakfast place where you can freely put your legs up like a trishaw driver (and spit out some chicken bones on the table, if you like).

Legs crossed. Manners, please.

It’s airy and modern, whilst retaining old charm with wooden decor and old fashioned Chinese blinds. There’s even an entire coffee gadget area upstairs, if you dare venture up the creaky staircase. Oriole is a type of bird, and birds fly high. Caffeine makes me high. I finally get the connection. Revelations.

Now I have yet to go to some place like Melbourne for their wondrous cappuccinos, espressos and lattes, but as for now, I declare Oriole coffee highly refined and simply ah-mazing. The baristas wave their wands over each cup and churn out spectacular coffee with darling latte art each and every time. Some coffees just never actually taste of ground beans, and are dampened with too much milk or sweetener. As if the beans are stamped on, squashed and suffocated, prohibited from parading their exotic flavour (for the daring ones, I recommend downing an Ethiopian espresso at Oriole. It’s caffeine heaven; almost noxious but not too addictive).

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I admit that I have had better slabs of beautifully buttered kaya toast elsewhere, such as Killiney Kopitiam and Toast Box. I admired the transparent, adorned platters for a few minutes before tasting. The toast was a tad too crumbly and the flavour of the kaya not as sweet or rich as i would have liked. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, just not mind blowingly excellent (yes, ‘blowingly’ is a word in my dictionary).

Or soft boiled eggs, however you would like to call it. LOOK at that tender mound of orange goodness, just waiting to pour out rich and luscious yolk at the slight prick of a fork. The most impressive thing is that they crack it for you, and the yolks come out in perfect, trembling balls. Give me an egg and the yolk will scatter everywhere.

Better yet, on both you and me.

These were perfect, perfect, perfect. The best ones I’ve tried so far, and that tops any other coffee shop I’ve been to. The yolk was rich and provided orange oomph, not merely liquidy and mediocre. The whites caressed the edges, healthy strings and pools of almost translucent jelly, which happily slithered down my throat.

Quaint shophouse exterior. Smell the brew and walk straight in. Enjoy those sacred early morning breakfast hours alone or with the family. Indulge and eye the colourful, old-fashioned chinese cakes and kuehs sitting on platters under glass bell jars.

Sip that Joe.

Rating: 4.8/5

Oriole Coffee Roasters

10 Jiak Chuan Road

6224 8131

France: La Bastide St Antoine

Only fools can revel in such selfish self-appraisal and a holier-than-thou attitude if they dare try rating a Michelin-starred restaurant. For honestly, what is there to rate at all? Alright yes, there is definitely some controversy surrounding what constitutes as Michelin material, however there is simply no question (if any at all doubt) here. Hence, I shall not name this a review, and will instead insert it fittingly into the ‘Babbles’ category. This will simply be my gushing over a place which deserves to be called a palace.

Plain and simple. This is what it is. Fabulous french food at a respectable cost, wrapped up nicely in a little package with a dollop of charisma, humour, perfect service and exquisite ambience. All decked out in glorious shades of ivory and mitten, as if ready to flex and expand once your belt and waist pops.

This lunch lasted from 1 to 4 30pm.

So yes, we dined for more than 3 hours. Dangerous. Very dangerous. But we came and we ate and we guffawed at every little Michelin-starred detail in sight.

This was a quartet of culinary daintiness. We were instructed (in rather stern yet soft French accents) to go from right to left, like this: cauliflower soup, pumpkin, pickled vegetables and rabbit. We followed that order, in order to allow the flavours from each petite compartment to meld into one another seamlessly. Oh it works alright. No to mention those little sporks are ridiculously adorable. The entire thing felt indeed to be more like a dream than reality, and the whole time I was simply wide-eyed, admiring course after course, half the time too scared to ruin the spell at the touch of my fingertips.

What more do I need to say here.

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Ah, my entree. Mind you, more of an entire meal in itself. This was by no means a meagre, expectedly small portion. The French like to emphasise the strength of their dishes, and I guess this is exactly what they meant by a strong and unfaltering dish. There was a party of shellfish upstairs, and absolutely perfect, al dente, lobster-infused risotto downstairs. It came with a little jug of what appeared to be some amber sauce or reduction, and surprise surprise, the little French waiter next to me graciously poured every drop over the plate, careful to coat every grain of rice in sight. Taking my fork, I scooped a little before going straight in. And oh my goodness, was it perfect. Such precious moments render me speechless, and this was one of those priceless moments. The seafood sauce was creamy without taking away the pleasurable oomph and personality of that slightly chewy, alabaster risotto.

I’m personally not a huge fan of big portions for they dilute the personality of a dish after a while, but this was marvellous to say the least, and I ate up. I just did.

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And this was my main course (thanks to my habitual obsession with any sort of fish). It was a hard time trying to sift through a list of options before coming to some risky and painful decision. Life choices, life choices. Magnificent, life-changing choices! The fish was surprisingly predictable albeit very well cooked. A good fillet is never actually as bland as many people assume to be when it comes to fish or other types of white meat. The saddest part was that I was already terribly full by the time my main course arrived (my small stomach hardly does me any favours).

I present to you the star of the desserts that bleak and wintery afternoon. This is no ordinary strawberry souffle, may I just first point out.

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See that pouf? The high rising glory (before my spoon sank in, of course)?

It’s all sweet and mildly tangy whipped air in a ramekin. I still remember the slight give as my spoon made a curved cut, as if the little thing was too shy to reveal the pockets of strawberry-kissed air inside. You get the tender, slightly chewy meringue edge, followed by the bliss of whipped nothingness. Nothingness with substance, that is.

All of a sudden you seize up and shut your eyes, just to quickly catch what you just experienced. A soft spot amongst the mountains of other rich and dense dishes. The souffle managed to retain the perfect tang of strawberries, even with the airy fairy sweetness. And here’s more. Keep in mind that that entire dessert platter you see below was totally complimentary. Mr Chibois, the head chef and top mastermind of the restaurant, is a humble genius.

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This was no meal. I was privileged enough instead to enjoy an entire experience that afternoon (and half the evening). To simply sit there and watch plate after plate come and go was both visual ecstasy and sensory delight. Each waiter entertained us with such wit and charm, and served us olive and raisin bread between each course. So unlike the common wooden waiters here in Singapore. Then again, I’m only being mean since it’s also pretty common for people to have their bad days, no? (Though I must say, if ever these lovely French waiters DID have a bad day, I doubt they would show it).

La Bastide, I shall come for you again one day.

Perhaps with 2 more stomachs to help this pathetic one out.

Au Petit Salut

It’s a French affair. Let’s pretend I’m saying this entire post in an amateur and incredibly annoying French accent. Just. Pretend.

My 16th birthday was approximately 3 weeks and 4 days ago, yet the memory of my Frenchie Penchie dinner at this dimly lit restaurant on Harding Road is still fresh in my head; a throbbing memory retracting images of glowing candles and brick and rich post-dinner sugar rushes and the colours burgundy and gold all round. Oh yes, and wads of cash slammed down on the bill collector after the happy feasting subsides.

My goodness there were quite a few hits and misses, though more of the former may I happily say. It was my first time after a long time, and so I prayed for my expectations not to override my vague memory of the dishes there. Crossed my fingers and hopped along the ride with an empty belly.

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The most fantastic pan seared duck foie gras

I ordered this as an entree because I am infatuated with liver of any sort, so foie gras would be a natural choice to warm up and seduce the palate. Soft, not overly greasy, mildly robust and shamelessly rich. The tang of the balsamic reduction coated each tender bite and bathed it with a sharp contrast in flavour. Dark yet light, rich yet not overwhelming and overly glorified. Shall praise this dish till my death. Beautiful simplicity. I could have had just this and been duly satisfied.

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Baked black cod, quinoa, mussels & chorizo, saffron aioli and crustacean froth

The purity of cod can never be mistaken or masked in a good dish. This would have been slightly monotone if the cod wasn’t accompanied by the quinoa, aioli and froth. They are all best friends; the pompous group which would almost outshine the sophisticated intellects in school. The quinoa is necessary to provide some differing texture, whilst the aioli was gorgeous and buttery on its own. A good cod is always a smidgen translucent, buttery and beautifully flaky, and this ticked all the right boxes (though more mild sweetness would have sent me straight to cod heaven).

Cuts like butter, looks like it too.

Tragically, dishes such as the polenta (my poor mother) suffered grainy dullness, looking like lonely cuboids thrust pretentiously on a plate.

We proceeded to dive straight into the Orange and Grand Marnier soufflé with chocolate truffle for dessert, as well as the choux buns filled with vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sauce and slivered almonds. That souffle was the king and the buns, the queen. It’s a tragic picture I have photos of neither, but just imagine a bulging, hole-bitten souffle and gorgeous choux buns drizzled in molten chocolate. Absolutely nothing is complete without ice cream. Nothing nothing nothing.

The finale went along as such:

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The best cheesecake in Singapore, if one is willing to indulge in the richest, cheesiest splendor around. Dense, heavy, strong, proud.

No denying the genuine chocolate flavour swirled within as well. There’s the plastic, overly sweet sort you’d get on an unfortunate occasion, and then there’s… This. Perfect cheesy ridges and crisp crust. Shards of chocolate and glossy glaze. Oh.

Just looking at that slice now… ugh I just can’t.

That concludes my one night stand with this restaurant. They also like to shimmy seemingly knowledgable blond French people around. perhaps to show just how French they are. But a huge thumbs up to the comforting auburn ambience during the soft night, lit by a sad moon.

Rating: 3.7/5

Au Petit Salut

40C Harding Road

6475 1976