Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Review: Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao

The problem with reviewing restaurants run by a chain is that they're a pain to organise. This is the second post about Crystal Jade's increasingly ubiquitous la mian chains, the first being this one.

Despite being located in Holland Village, I've only been to this place twice, and both visits were in the past three months. However, on my most recent visit, I was very severely irritated, so I don't think I'll be returning any time soon.

Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao

Holland Village is, naturally, convenient for me, but is unfortunately rather removed from any MRT station, though there are several buses that service this route. Oh and parking could be a problem.


In terms of ambience, the Holland Village outlet doesn't do too badly, featuring a large glass pane that allows you to watch the world go by. At night the place becomes even more cosy as the light mellows and the smells and sounds of people enjoying their steaming la mian surround you.

Chinese appetisers

I've never had (what I assume are) Shanghainese appetisers before, so the fried mushroom and celery rolls were pretty unusual. I did think they were a bit oily though, and somehow not quite as delicate and appetising as the Cantonese appetisers.

I forgot to take a picture of my la mian, which was the braised beef option. The beef was suitably tender, if sliced a bit thin.

I suspect the point is to fill you up with large quantities of noodles so you don’t have to eat so much meat.

Xiao Long Bao

We also had an obligatory basket of xiao long bao, which Crystal Jade does very well. The soup contained in these dumplings comes out absolutely boiling hot, which is of course the way it should be.

So all in all this would be a nice place to come for a meal, except for one small problem that ruined my evening. Service. The staff take great pains to welcome you to the restaurant, chiming out welcomes in unison as you enter the restaurant. Personally I find this a bit robotic, but that’s not what got me so upset. What happened was, upon entering the restaurant, I passed my card to one of the waitresses, leaving her specific instructions that I would pay for dinner, and that on no account was she to allow the other diner to pay. She seemed to find this amusing, but agreed nonetheless.

When the bill arrived, a different waitress brought it to us, but without my card. Although it was passed to me, obviously I could not pay for it since I didn’t have my card. What followed was therefore the embarrassing situation I was hoping to avoid in the first place; my dining companion and I had to argue over who would settle the bill. What made matters worse was that the waitress who brought us the bill encouraged me to let the other diner pay, with very patronising comments like “you can pay next time” and “you should make him happy by letting him pay”, all the while smiling very ingratiatingly at us. I was so irked I very nearly told her to be quiet.

Furthermore, the waitress I had handed my card to clearly saw what was going on, but was either so absent-minded that she forgot she had my card, or simply couldn’t care less to rectify the situation, that in the end I had to give in and allow myself to be bought dinner.

Adding insult to injury was that by the time we were leaving, I still hadn’t been returned my card, and had to very specifically and embarrassedly ask them to return it to me, whereupon they finally realised their error and had to apologise sheepishly for screwing up what would have been an abundantly simple instruction. Thankfully this was a fairly friendly dinner, but it could easily have been a much more important dinner socially or financially, in which case the effects of their mistake would have been compounded.

Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao
241/241A Holland Avenue
Tel: 6463 0968
Location: 4.5/5
Ambience: 3.5/5
Service: 2/5
Food: 4/5
Overall: Food offers fairly decent value for money, and is a quick and easy pit stop in Holland Village.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Recipe: Sherry Portabello Mushrooms

Sorry for the lack of updates, but I've interning takes up a lot of time and energy. I'm not looking forward to entering the working world.

Anyway, one of my favourite foods are mushrooms. There's something incredibly earthy and terrestial about them, evoking visions of deep forest and sun-dappled woods, of truffle dogs seeking their prizes at the bases of aged oaks, and of old famers pleased with this year's harvest of morels.

From truffles to shiitakes to chanterelles, mushrooms make for great eating, especially because their versatility allows them to make appearances in soups, sauces, pizza, stews and just about any dish conceivable.

Portabello mushrooms, in particular, are great to work with, as their larger size allows them to withstand more robust treatment, and they possess a meaty flavour that few other vegetables rival. Most recipes tend to call for these mushrooms to be baked or grilled, but I prefer using wet heat, which renders the mushrooms much juicier and allows them to absorb a greater variety of flavours. Of course, it also means I get to eat them quicker.

Sherry Portabello Mushrooms (Serves 1)
1 Portabello Mushroom
1 Tbsp powdered Oregano
Olive oil
1 tsp truffle oil (optional)
1/3 cup (75ml) sherry

Mushroom mise en place

Notes on ingredients: Try and get large mushrooms, at least 4 inches (10cm) across. Truffle oil really knocks up the taste quotient, but only if you have some around. I generally dislike buying products from Virginia Dare, but I haven't been able to find a viable alternative to their sherry cooking wine.

Clean the mushroom with a damp kitchen towel, remove the stem by breaking it off where it joins the cap (you can save it for soups) and turn it over so that the gills face upwards. If you're using truffle oil, drizzle 1 tsp of it onto the base of the mushroom. Alternatively, drizzle on 1 Tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil. The mushroom acts as a big sponge, soaking up all the oil, so more is better.

After that, sprinkle the powdered oregano on both sides of the mushroom.

Heating oil

Heat up a goodish amount of olive oil in a frying pan till it's nice and hot.

Sauteing mushroom

Fry the portabello mushroom in the pan. It doesn't really matter which side you start with, but I prefer to fry the cap first.

The other side

Of course, remember to fry the other side too. Decently-sized mushrooms should take you about two to three minutes per side, on medium heat. Try to regulate your heat, you don't want to char your mushrooms.

Sherry, and lots of steam

Pour in the sherry, which should start to boil off rapidly once it hits the pan. The idea is for the mushroom to absorb some of the liquid, but also for the evaporating sherry to steam the mushroom, softening it. You also want to boil off some of the alcohol.


Again, ensure that both sides get the sherry treatment. This should only take a minute or two, on low heat, as you don't want to reduce the sherry that much, or it'll just taste salty.


Serve with the sherry/mushroom juice. I like to serve this as a warm appetiser, along with some fresh salad, though it does just as well as breakfast.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Review: Ming Kee Live Seafood

[Ed: My father has been greatly encouraged by the positive feedback he's been receiving on his contributions, so he's very kindly chipped in with another review for the benefit of all you hungry readers out there.]

While the husbands were away in China on a golfing holiday, the wives decided that they were not going to be golf widows and planned a night out on their own.

The first suggestion was to head for the new in-place and eat at one of the restaurants in Rochester Park. Howevever, another lady did not fancy the hip place where the food is so-so and teething problems still exist.

She made a suggestion and the rest were not disappointed. In fact, they were so pleased with the food and service that they insisted the husbands bring them again when they returned from China.

Ming Kee

The place was Ming Kee Live Seafood restaurant housed in 2 coffee shop-styled shops along busy Macpheson Road. Parking was a breeze as there were 2 HDB car parks at the back of the restaurant. The short walk was very welcome by all after the sumptious dinner.

We were given a table that resembled someone's dining table at home with well-padded cushions on the chairs, perhaps a leftover that was not accepted by a customer in one of the many furniture shops in the same row.

Size does matter

The first dish was noodles with crabs. 2 gigantic crabs topped a bed of rice noodles[mee fen], in fact, there was more crab meat than noodles. The huge pincers needed a bit more cracking and don't use your teeth or you will have to make a dental appointment the next day. The meat was thick, firm and succulent. By the time the dish is finished one will be half full. If you do visit , this is a must have.

Mongolian beef

Mongolian beef with buns was the next dish. The buns were good but the dish is not something one should order, as it was not that tender, although the sauce went well with the buns.

Praying Mantis

We had lai lew har or praying mantis crustacean deep-fried with pepper and too much salt. As a result of this the meat was hard, rubbery and saltish. Another dish to pass if you decide to go to this place.

Baby Octopus

A somewhat too-exotic live baby Octopus cooked with plenty of garlic allowed one to take revenge on Octopusi if you have seen the movie with the giant Octopus. It is all right if you like adventure, but if I were so inclined I would climb Mt. Kinabalu. With food I would rather stay safe.

Stout ribs

Pork spare ribs have been marinated with coffee and all sorts of things. But Stout? Guiness would be thrilled that their sales are up because you don't drink it anymore. You eat that Stout beer! I wouldn't write home to mum about this [pork ribs cooked in Stout] except to say that the leftover Stout can be used for cooking! [Ed: I've had it - it's not that bad, really, interesting taste. Give the Stout ribs (haha, get it?) a try.]

This next offering costs one third of the total bill so avoid this if you want a cheapish bill and don't want to blow all of your progress package handout from the Government.

Soh Mei

A 2 kg soh mei fish which is something you can't find easily as these big coral fishes are not easy to come by.

However, a diver friend advised that it is not a good idea to eat this fish as it is caught by cyanide poisoning and even though the gills are flushed there are remnants of cyanide in the fish. As they are deep-sea coral fish this is the only way to catch them, unless they are shot with a spear gun by divers.

A very good test of any Chinese restaurant is how well they steam fish. This was a 10 as the meat was cooked just right and was not rubbery. [Ed: Tried their steamed tiger garoupa too, but that was a bit over-steamed] Despite the fact that everyone was rather full it was polished off, maybe because it was so good or perhaps because it was so expensive and rare.


To round off the meal we had beancurd with mushroom and broccoli - fairly run of the mill stuff after the soh mei fish.

The meal was over and we still had some cold Reisling white wine left. Incidentally, this is a great white to have with Chinese food, especially if you order seafood. To our pleasant surprise, the chef and owner Ivan whipped out a gratis fruit and prawn salad topped with mayonnaise. "Goes well with your white wine," he said. Good PR stuff. This also gave him the chance to come out from the kitchen and chat with us.

Total bill for the experience...$600+ for 10 people. As mentioned earlier it was the fish that upped the bill, so go for the deep-fried soon hock if you want a smaller hole in your pocket. Plus points are the easy and free parking on sundays, air-conditioned comfort and good food in the heartlands.

[Ed: Minus points include actually getting to Macpherson if you don't live in the area, though there are a reasonable number of buses serving that route. Ming Kee can accommodate 50 - 70 diners, in air-conditioned and open-air areas. The toilets here are somewhat primitive, so take note if little things like hygiene bother you.]

Ming Kee Live Seafood (casual)
556 Macpherson Road
Tel: 6747 4075

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Recipe: Vanilla Cupcakes

I said I'd make them again.

Ingredients (Serves 18)

2 cups sifted cake-and-pastry flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Vanilla cupcakes mep

Notes on ingredients: I didn't have cake-and-pastry flour, so I used self-raising. Make sure to sift well in order to aerate the flour and make it as fluffy as possible. The actual number of cupcakes depends on the size of your cups.


In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. You can use any spoon or fork for this.


Using electric mixer on low speed, mix in the butter.

And milk

Next, mix in the milk. Your mixture should pretty lumpy and resemble oatmeal or cereal.

And eggs

Mix in the eggs and vanilla, at which point your dough should immediately smoothen out.


Beat on high speed until smooth, creamy and luscious, about two minutes.


Spoon the batter into muffin trays lined with paper cups, filling them about 3/4 full.


Bake in the centre of a 190°C oven until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes (my oven was set at 180°C). My cupcakes seem to be a lot browner than Cheryl's were, for some reason.

You can enjoy them warm and freshly-baked, or you can wait for them to cool down completely before applying some of the suggested buttercream icing.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Plug: Sia Huat and Lau Choy Seng

Someone once told me that you can buy anything in Singapore provided you know where to look.

When it comes to professional kitchen equipment, one need look no further than Chinatown. While it may seem an odd place to begin furnishing a kitchen, there are actually two shops there that specialise in kitchen equipment and tableware.

Sia Huat facade

Sia Huat occupies three shop spaces along Temple Street, and supplies top-grade kitchen tools to restaurants and hotels. Everything from Cole and Mason to KitchenAid can be found here.

Sia Huat kitchenware

Walls are lined with racks containing ladles, whisks, knives, pots and pans, as well as numerous other things I couldn't name (think of those gizmos you use to whizz soups).

Sia Huat tableware

There's even a second floor that provides tableware, from fine bone china to frosted glass plates and crockery.

As to pricing, I doubt you'd be able to find steep discounts here, though it's probably cheaper to buy your KitchenAid mixer here than at Robinson's or Tang's (it's still a hefty $900+ though). It is possible to bulk order directly from them for a trade discount, but I assume that's only if you're looking to open a resaurant. Depending on what you're looking for though, it is possible to pick up some bargains. Things like souffle ramekins, mixing bowls, baking moulds, thermometers and scales are probably cheaper here than many other stores.

Sia Huat Pte Ltd
7, 9 & 11 Temple Street
Tel: 6223 1732

Just two doors down from Sia Huat is Lau Choy Seng, also a specialist in kitchen equipment and tableware.

Unlike Sia Huat, Lau Choy Seng is less upmarket - you won't find any Staub or Miele products here. Items are also laid out much more haphazardly, compared to Sia Huat's comparmentalised organisation, Lau Choy Seng is messy and confusing.

Lau Choy Seng

However, while Lau Choy Seng can't match industrial Sia Huat in terms of layout and product range, it's got a certain old-world charm, as if it were one big shophouse (in fact, many of Lau Choy Seng's workers are Chinese, not Singaporeans like Sia Huat's).

If that still doesn't convince you, service is also better at Lau Choy Seng, with no less than three people asking me if I needed help in the ten minutes I was there, compared to no assistance at all despite being in Sia Huat for half an hour.

If you still require more persuasion, prices at Lau Choy Seng are considerably lower than Sia Huat. Many of the smaller items such as plates and bowls can be found at two-thirds or less the prices quoted at Sia Huat.

Lau Choy Seng
23, 25 Temple Street
Tel: 6223 5486

So there you have it, the two-stop answer to all your baking and cooking needs.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Review: Il Lido

Every few months or so, the Next Big Thing opens. The Next Big Thing is a new restaurant that everyone fights and battles to be seen at, and is usually the haunt of socialites and tai-tais.

Il Lido is the latest Next Big Thing (though it may soon be overtaken by the eateries at Rochester Park). Located in Sentosa, I can think of no reason anyone would want to go all the way there for a meal, unless you've just finished a round of golf in the evening. Despite this, Il Lido seems to be enjoying fairly brisk business.

Recently, I had the chance to have lunch there and see for myself what the fuss was all about.

Sentosa Golf Club

Il Lido is almost completely inacessible without a car, (although its being located on Sentosa would probably have given you some sort of hint) as it is to be found deep within Sentosa, in the building that houses the golf club. It is fairly impressive to be greeted by the towering clubhouse, and you know the view's going to be good.


The outdoors dining area offers the best view of the sea, but it is rather hot. As usual, the only people eating outside were expatriates. All the Asians were indoors enjoying the air-conditioning. The view, while extensive, is somewhat marred by the fact that the only things you get to see are large tankers.


The interior of the restaurant is pretty funky, with black surfaces and gauzy white drapes. Oddly-shaped lights and see-through chairs complete the ensemble, brightening up the restaurant.

Starter platter

I had a starter platter ($22), which consisted of a bit of everything - prosciutto with melon, bruschetta, salad, cheese and grilled vegetables. Pretty decently sized as well, which is a good thing, because prices here aren't that cheap; on par with such heavy Italian luminaries as Pontini, Garibaldi and Senso. Coupled with the remote location, that could be a problem in the future.

Veal Ravioli

For the main course, I decided to have a veal ravioli ($26), which was already one of the more economical orders on the menu. This was, unfortunately, quite a disaster. The ravioli was very cheesy, and the sauce wasn't meaty enough. The worst bit though, was the ravioli itself. The veal filling was powdery, as if there was flour mixed into the veal - not pleasant at all.

Under the circumstances, I decided to forego the dessert.

Service was fairly reasonable, with the waiter being good enough to accomodate our special requests. Ambience isn't too bad, and I suppose enjoying a dinner as the sun sets over the sea must be fairly spectacular. Not enough reason for me to go back though, especially at such inflated prices.

Apparently there is a $26 set lunch, but that's only available on weekdays.

Il Lido (Italian)
Sentosa Golf Club
27 Bt Manis Rd #02-00.
Tel: 6866 1977

Location: 1/5
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Food: 2/5
Overall: Save your money for Oso or Garibaldi

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Review: Cumi Bali

I don't eat that much Asian food, mainly because I'm not that good around spices. I dislike Tom Yam soup, and a blight upon whoever decided peppers and chillis in soups would be a good idea. Hence, I stay away from almost all hot and spicy foods, of which Asian cuisine seems to be particularly strong in. Curries are a different story though.

Anyway, when my father suggested lunch at Cumi Bali, a house of Indonesian food, I was slightly concerned. However, he told me that Balinese cuisine wasn't as spicy. Thankfully, this was indeed the case.

Cumi Bali

Cumi Bali is located in Duxton Hill, not far from the central business areas, which makes it a hop and skip away for working executives, but a bit far to come otherwise.

Open Concept

The restaurant is fairly open, with no doors at the entrance, which means it can get pretty warm although they have air-conditioning units and fans. The decor is meant to put you in mind of something traditionally Balinese, but it's okay. Nothing very spectacular nor awful.

Sayur Lodeh

We had an order of sayur lodeh, or curried vegetables, in this case made with beancurd, beans, carrots and cabbage. Sweet and mild, it was a good sauce-like dish that helped the rice go down easier.


Some sort of chicken dish, which I cannot now recall very distinctly. It was good, though.

Chicken Satay

When my father ordered chicken satay, I was expecting the normal grilled meat on wooden skewers, but apparently Balinese satay isn't quite the same thing. Crispy on the outside, but succulent on the inside, these were pretty good.

Beef Rendang

The beef rendang here is not spicy at all, almost as if there's no chilli in the dish. Good for tastebuds that can't abide spiciness, but somehow I feel rendang should have a certain hot kick to it. It's just something that I've grown up used to. The beef chunks were very tender though, some almost gelatinous after being stewed in the rendang.

Flat Fish

Some sort of flat fish dish which I didn't really try.


My father recommended the chendol at Cumi Bali, but personally I didn't like it. The restaurant doesn't have a proper ice machine, so the ice shavings in the dessert are rather too coarse. The gula melaka (brown sugar syrup) used was also extremely generous, making the whole dessert overly sweet. It also tasted a little starchy, for some reason. I couldn't finish mine.

Since my father did all the ordering, I have no idea how much the dishes cost, but knowing my father's penchant for value, I imagine they must be fairly reasonably priced.

The Duxton area is not terribly accessible, unless you're travelling via MRT, or if you're already in the area, and the ambience of Cumi Bali is pretty casual and laid-back, good for a lunch over which you catch up with the latest office gossip. Service is friendly if you strike up a chat with Fiona, the owner.

Cumi Bali (Asian, casual)
20 Duxton Road
Tel: 6220 6619

Location: 2/5
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Food: 3.5/5
Overall: Not a bad place to come for lunch if you're in the area, and looking for something a little different.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Mensiversary Cupcakes


I have never made cupcakes before, never having had the occasion nor inclination to do so. Still, if a friend asks for help in making a special batch of cupcakes, I'm not one to refuse. Courtesy of a recipe from Food TV California recommended by Cheryl the Baker, my friend and I spent an afternoon in the kitchen with a mind to producing some.

A dozen cupcakes

Je vous souhaite tout le bonheur

The result? Not too shabby, actually. I might even make these again, though for different reasons.