Proud East– Pop Up Japan

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I miss Japan. That much I can say. So upon invitation to check out ProudEast’s new Japanese-themed popup, I could quite literally feel my belly slowly move upwards. Not that belly-lurching could be any good, in any which way or form, it’s just that I knew all those juices were undeniably angry,  screaming for some oriental nosh. And you can indeed get that sort of thing here in London, little miss dressed-up International, though at hard-shelled prices pasted on seaweed I could get for two cents at my local oriental store back at home. Eat Tokyo (of which there are several outlets here) is pretty worth most bites of sweetly-vinegared rice, but there’s a certain degree of delicacy, an intricacy lacking that, to me, is so intrinsic to Japanese cuisine. Of course culinary chains aren’t meant to be all whimsy, but I can’t help it. Even the most chain-like places in Japan were more like fanciful culinary arenas, where sumo wrestlers gracefully dance and jiggle. But London is London and some things don’t change. Here was a chance to put my worn tastebuds to good use.

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Seated along the blossom-lined path of Regent’s Canal, Proud East describes its pop up as ‘fusing Tokyo’s dynamic cultural hub with century old customs’. True enough, I was greeted with rich reds splashed amongst a contemporary monochrome palette. Lanterns. Clean wood. Sharp lines. Now if only there was a Japanese lady, but you can’t have it all, right?

I started my little self-made food sequence with their Aki Ban Cha, a light and fragrant green tea (though the lady who served it didn’t know what it was). They have a selection of three teas on offer, and mine stayed warm and life-giving for the hour I was there. There had to be some sort of meditation in case anything else went awry.

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Shimeji and shiitake hiyashi (cold) ramen

The star, the silver, the gold. The Hiyashi Ramen, which I chose to eat with shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and homemade kimchi (hit the jackpot here! Not overwhelmingly spicy, delicately sour). Commending the traditional cooking method of soaking in cool water; the noodles turned out cold, bouncy and firm. A tender bite, mildly sweet and lusciously dressed in that supple, slippery ponzu (soy and yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit like a light yet more bitter version of your typical orange). Though I keep eating eggs, dairy and meat to a minimum, hats off to the bright orange yolk tenderly cooked to perfection. A wobbly and ready-to-burst onsen egg would’ve fared even better, especially on this cool base. Well-cut, lovingly-marinated vegetables rounded up the savoury notes with an innate fresh and tangy zeal. I took it all quite seriously as the flavours were almost mesmerising, crisp silhouettes in my head. Almost as good as Tonkichi back at home in Singapore. I liked how they provide free chilli oil and white vinegar too on the side. The noodle volume was a little overwhelming for someone like me, but so worth it when priced at £9.50.

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Salted caramel miso ice cream sandwiched between two layers of chocolate guinness cake (unwrapped)/ upstairs gaming and lounge area

I wasn’t expecting this to be wrapped up and sealed with ‘Happy Endings LDN’, which did sound a bit weird for obvious reasons but compelling all the same. The ice cream alone is its saving grace, for I did taste miso streaked through the marshmallowy fluff of ice cream. Sweet and pillowy. The easy sort of eating, say if you want to grab something unusual (albeit fast-melting) on the go.

The whole concept is cute– you also get to play games upstairs, watch some arthouse Japanese films and indulge in some sushi and sashimi making classes. As they mention, ‘Proud East’s open plan kitchen will be taken over by one of the finest London restaurants, Tonkotsu, with a tantalising menu including fresh Gyoza, Crab Korokke, Chicken Kara-age and Tonkotsu’s signature dish, their intensely flavoursome and creamy Ramen’. Some serious immersion going on here and this spot will satisfy your Asian tooth for as long as you like, just until it ends in about 10 weeks. So get your butts here guys.

 

Art-inspired High Tea at the Rosewood

The best London has to offer. In the grey of day-to-day, there are flickers of inspiration, of tonality and light, that truly spark the mini creative in me. There are some things I simply cannot pass up. Like a kind invitation to a wine party. Or a biscuit-and-jam session. Or an Agatha Christie fan club session, or any deep random conversation topic in general. This kind invitation to tea at The Rosewood London was one of them, and for all the right reasons.

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Art-inspired? Tea? Scones and dessert? Take my life already. Launching next month, the gorgeous Rosewood will be hosting this artist-inspired tea session in The Mirror Room, and they were kind enough to invite me for a tasting. Just thinking about it now is pretty mind-boggling, for I cannot believe, after a hectic library session, hair and mind messes of tornadoes, that I was bestowed with such beautiful works of art and stunning service. My world was turned upside down for a full 2 hours, and fleeting as that period was, I only have good, no, excellent things to say about the whole experience.

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There are no words for the ambience of the Mirror Room, which exudes such sophistication and  old-world beauty. Plush buttoned sofas lined up along the middle of the wide and dimly-lit corridor, waiters like secret soldiers welcoming and smiling. I was Alice, the Mirror Room a very real rabbit-hole.

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Now I do apologise for the quality of the photos here– although I did bring  Tim (my camera), the settings messed up halfway and I ended up with just one dark picture, so you will only find slightly inferior iPhone shots here. Still no excuse to not sing high praise for the highlight of my week. I must agree with the words of talented pastry chef Mark Perkins, the hidden star of the show, who also nicely summarised the ethos behind his stunning creations:

“Rosewood London’s quirky interiors reflect the British capital’s history, culture and sensibilities, featuring the works of some of the world’s most renowned artists, with contemporary pieces complemented by more traditional art throughout the hotel.”

The menu is a real work of art in itself. To take you through this fairytale of a teatime, I’ll describe each inspired creation from left to right (1-5) in the picture you see above:

  1. Yayoi Kusama: Goodness. Milk chocolate mousse, passionfruit cremeux with chocolate set, on chocolate sable biscuit, inspired by Kusama’s recent exhibition at the London Victoria Miro galleries. This was one of my favourites, the firm chocolate sable supporting the delicate mousse and cremeux (pudding custard), everything dressed in a vibrant yellow glaze.
  2. Damien Hirst: It would be impossible to forget one’s virgin encounter with Hirst (ok not him, rather his shark-in-a-tank get-up), spellbound by his abstract, almost vulgar creativity. This white chocolate tart flavoured with cassis jelly and yuzu curd is inspired by his pharmaceutical-style series of spot paintings, finished with Hirst-style regimented and decorative pop-art coloured spots of gel.
  3. Alexander Calder: The American is renowned for his innovative approach to art by using wire and industrial materials to craft ‘drawings in space’. This is the inspiration for a delicate but impressive sculpture that combines the flavours and colours of pistachio and cherry. The perfectly executed, tiny cake was glazed with red chocolate, reminiscent of Calder’s famed mobiles.
  4. Banksy: By far my absolute favourite, and so much so that I recreated a caramel-inspired bit of sweet just this morning. I sat there on one of those plush sofas, meditating on the  classic flavours of vanilla and chocolate, amplified by the overall textural complexity. The little cube honoured and perfectly replicated creativity honed and sporadically discovered over so many years, each bite a spark of magic. Banksy’s iconic ‘Girl With a Balloon’ – arguably one of his most famous artworks – provided inspiration for a delicate white chocolate cube filled with a light vanilla cream choux, cherry jelly, hazelnut caramel and chocolate crémeux, garnished with an intricate and tiny replica of the enigmatic artwork itself.
  5. Mark Rothko: Rothko’s bold use of colour has provided the inspiration for a layered coconut and raspberry sponge, filled with coconut mousse, fresh raspberries and adorned with bright pink raspberry chocolate. The flavours here were simple but still admirable.

Do yourself and a loved one a favour and head down to the Rosewood next month for the most unforgettable high tea experience. The whole tea experience comprises a delicate, time-honoured set of finger sandwiches, the five art-inspired works, a glass of champagne, plain or raisin scones, your tea of choice (their pu-erh is potent as potent gets), and the best service you will find in London. It will be priced at £45 per person (£55 per person with a glass of “R” de Ruinart Champagne or £57 per person with a glass of “R” de Ruinart RoséChampagne).

Mirror Room

Rosewood London

252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN

Open daily 7am-10pm

Review: Paddy Hills

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Another day, another café. I’ve done a little review on Paddy Hills before, but I could not pass up the chance to visit again to sample a few items on their new menu. When I stepped through the entrance doors, I was reminded why, when I first visited more than a year ago, I kept telling myself, ‘come back, you gotta come back’. I haven’t done a review in aeons, but this place deserves one, and more to come.

Having been to many a ‘hip’ café before, safe to say that Paddy Hills lives up to its hyped name. A little off the beaten track at South Buona Vista, interior brimming with rustic majesty, flooded with wood and light. Tiles, the most beautiful navy wall, smiles. A close friend and I sat down excitedly, and were first served drinks.

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Iced Matcha. Creamy, thick, rich. This reminded me of Haagen Dazs’ green tea ice cream blended with a little milk. Perhaps just a little too sweet for a sustained sip, but refreshing nonetheless.

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Bubbly Yuzu. This fared well for the both of us. The bubbles added a lovely flair, but it was the perfect ratio of sparkle to sweet of the drink itself, combined with the textural difference of plum and grape jello, that really made this a special, whimsical drink.

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Berry Muffcakes! Complete with vanilla bean ice cream cubes, magic mango balls, a garden of berries, chocolate sauce and chocolate crumble. OK, these are not part of their new or limited-time-only menu, but I just have to throw these in because… I mean, can you not see the pictures above. It’s just ridiculous. After trying these the first time a while ago, I immediately started writing about them because I was so enamoured by its spot-on texture and toppings. I’ve had my fair share of hotcakes and this was by far the best I’ve tried. Friends, I do not joke. Crispy, robust edges, fluffy, pale yellow cakey belly, a firm, browned bottom. Not too sweet, either. There’s nothing more you can ask for.

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Winter Truffle Fries. Golden fries, shaved pecorino, and shaved black truffle. Some truffle aioli on the side, because what’s lush without sin? Truffle fries have a bit of a confusing rep because it’s true you can’t actually taste truffle; its expensive scent enhances the whole fry-eating experience. For a limited time only, I implore you all to get your hands on these absurdly crisp, golden strings of heaven. If you’re like me and enjoy crispy-only fries, as if they were fried through and through and then fried just once more, then get your foodie selves down to Paddy Hills stat (yeah, they definitely beat PS Café’s).

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Truffle Breakfast. House-cured salmon, soft scrambled eggs and shaved truffle on a bagel, with house-cured bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and arugula.

I don’t consume much meat, but I daresay the few bites I took were tender like none. The bagel was crisp and chewy; eggs silky, creamy and buttery without being cloying or gloopy. The milky, more earthy flavours of truffled egg and mushroom complemented the cured meats which cut through with a blaze trail of umami. A king-sized, well-balanced dish.

As the meal came to an end, it started to darken outside. The light all at once was harsh, then subdued. The sky gradient followed the rise and defeat of our appetites, as we looked despondently at our leftovers. Full, happy, done.

 

Paddy Hills

38 South Buona Vista Road

Weekdays:  10 30am-5pm, 6-10pm
Weekends: 9am-5pm, 6-10pm

6479 0800

 

 

Hotcake For One

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As like every Saturday, I took a route less travelled. That morning was colour and fairytale light and a whimsical plate. The perfect respite welcomed me at Paddy Hills, one of my favourite local hideaways for moreish brunch fare, ambience (and not going to lie, the lighting is always perfect for photographs). The light. Almost as if the window behind me had the slightest blue filter. Why is it that I remember these things and not actual important things like the bus routes back home?

Every time I venture out alone in search of a particular foodthing or breakfast dish (for I’m the sort who wakes up way too early to wait for brunch, though that’s always welcome on the social agenda), I savour every little component that arrives at the table. Food is meditation. Every sit-down is an analysis, a reconnection with the humble plate. A cup of coffee is a bit of serendipity, its acidity meaning more than just caffeine. It precedes the awakening of senses; always a bit of displeasure before every reward. Just like my laboratory internship that started in July– each new theory or paper encountered is an adventure for the senses. Every moment is to be savoured, every experiment a full-on thrusting into the meat of the mind.

Having tried many a hotcake before, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for the one at Paddy Hills, but it’s by far the best one I’ve tried. Golden, crisp edges encased a cake-like, fluffy interior, leaning towards pound cake on the density spectrum. Its perfect texture was proven by the soft drag of my fork’s prongs along the edge, followed by the total lack of resistance as they sank into the domed surface. It was then that I decided I just had to recreate something similar at home, and that’s exactly what the following morning demanded. With the mother’s new stash of gluten-free coconut flour at home, I have also included a gluten-free version for any of you who swing that way for personal health reasons. It took a couple of tries to get as close as possible as I could to what I enjoyed. The original recipe I followed online included the unusual addition of Japanese mayonnaise, which apparently is what the Jap folk use in their sky-high, souffle-like pancakes. Unlike American mayonnaise, the Japanese version is typically made with apple or rice vinegar instead of distilled vinegar, and uses egg yolks instead of whole eggs. Perhaps its the chemical structure of the soy vegetable oil they use or the underlying sweetness that lends a hand to the delish result. It did turn out with a desirab;e ratio of texture and flavour, though next time I shall try it without the mayo and look out for the slightest of differences.

It must be taken into account that the size of your pan (mine is about 4.5 inches wide), as well as how close your pan is to the kiss of heat, affect the final result. There’s nothing more gratifying than a big, fat hotcake on your plate.

It was a Sunday morning and the café came to me instead. Here goes.

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Hotcake For One (adapted from this lovely lady)

Ingredients

1/4 cup cake flour

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (substitute with coconut flour for the gluten-free version, but take away 2 tbsp)

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

4 tbsp white sugar

2 tsp Japanese mayonnaise (substitute with American/homemade mayo if you have that on hand)

1 egg white

1/2 cup (180ml) milk or buttermilk

2 tbsp melted butter

splash of vanilla extract

whatever toppings you desire; I chose berries for a berry garden, mascarpone cheese, cashew butter and maple syrup

 

Directions

Preheat your pan on low heat and ready some butter for cooking. Make sure to have at least a healthy knob of butter for each hotcake you make, for this ensures the crispiest golden edges and ease in removing the cake from the pan. In a bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg white until it becomes white and frothy. Add the milk, vanilla extract, mayonnaise and melted butter. Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and mix until everything is just combined. Tip the mix, which should have a thick dropping consistency, into your preheated pan and let cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes or when you can see that the edges have hardened and there are small bubbles around the same area, flip the hotcake (carefully) and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the hotcake and serve with whatever you wish.

 

Oatmeal Date Pancakes

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Straight up, no fuss.

Post-flight mornings warrant simplicity. Being back in Singapore is still very surreal– everything still feels the same, yet somehow different. Anyways. 13-hour flights typically leave me feeling a little bloated, distended, out of sorts. So all I want to come home to is my morning ritual comprising the papers, iced coffee, and a standard bowl of my favourite banana-based oatmeal. Yet somehow this morning I opted out of this bowl ritual in favour of something more texturally interesting. I craved that same fluffy texture, but it needed a robust edge. Heck, just something with edges. It needed fork and knife action.

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Was intrigued by why I favour oatmeal over other breakfast foods some days, or just when I’m especially hungry in the morning. It’s well known that the stuff keeps you feeling fuller for longer, but it’s only recently that I discovered that it has to do with a particular fluid property: viscosity. It’s the viscosity of oatmeal, that sticky, runny texture it has like glycocalyx on epithelial cells, that provides the feeling of satiety. Specifically, it’s the degree of initial viscosity in the mouth and subsequent viscosity in the GI tract that influences the release of appetite hormones. A high initial and subsequent viscosity, apparently best provided with instant oatmeal, will prolong fullness. My current favourite oatmeal is this one. It’s incredibly voluminous, nutritious and chock full of texture.

It’s all almost a bit silly. A good silly. Why would you straight up fry a perfectly good bowl of oatmeal? Oh, the wonders of a little pan action. The frying provides a crisp outside, while the inside remains fluffy and a little chewy, depending on how you cook the oats in the first place. The torn up bits of dates provide a good deal of goo and sweetness in each little pancake. These oatmeal pancakes are the halfway mark for proper versions of either oatmeal or pancakes, and I’m ok with that sometimes.

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Oatmeal Date pancakes (serves 1; makes 4-5 mini pancakes)

Directions

Make one serving of your favourite porridge or old-fashioned oatmeal: In a bowl, mash up half a banana, then add 45-50g (around a half cup) of porridge or old-fashioned oats, half a cup of milk of choice (I adore almond), and half a cup of water. Alternatively, you could use either just milk or water for the liquid bit. Preheat a pan on medium heat and ready some butter. Cook the mixture over the stove or in a microwave until you get the consistency you like. I like to microwave mine for 2 minutes, let stand for 30 seconds, then microwave again for another minute to achieve the perfect, just-under-thick consistency. Take out your oatmeal and stir in a pinch of cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar.

Once cooked, add a knob of butter to the hot pan and let sizzle. The butter should not brown or burn, indicating the right temperature. Ladle spoonfuls of oatmeal onto the pan and use the back of the spoon to flatten into a circle if it’s on the thicker side (as I like mine). Add the bits of date (optional) to the surface of the batter. Let cook for 2 minutes, then slide a spatula underneath to see if it’s done. Flip and let the second side cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove using the spatula and let cool on a paper towel while you cook the rest.

Serve as a stack, topped with peanut butter, more date bits, and maple syrup. I added some homemade raspberry chia jam for some tangy oomph.