Otaru: No Name

Having Italian cuisine (or any European cuisine for that matter) in Japan is always an experience that requires an open mind. As much as Japanese have great admiration for western cooking techniques and flavours, they also have an incredibly deep respect for local produce – which brings about a delightful combination of tastes and textures, as long as you don’t go in looking for something too traditional. We experienced this at Moliere in Sapporo, and equally so at Otaru Dining No Name, a hidden gem of a restaurant that’s just recently opened in Otaru.


This ヘラカニスパゲティー crab spaghetti in a tomato cream sauce is a case in point. A massive umami bomb in that sauce which quite certainly had crab roe mixed in to create layers of incredible flavour oscillating between the underlying sweetness of tomato and the distinct hit of crustacean brininess. The spaghetti, meanwhile, was dense and chewy – almost ramen like – but absorbing well the flavours of the sauce. So good. 

We also had antipasti, which interestingly included an eggplant parmagiano, only made with a dashi/soy base instead of tomato sauce, a soft cheese (camembert would be my guess), herb sausages, ham, pickled asparagus, smoked salmon and mentaiko on croquettes. Delicious, and very value for money at the ¥1500 it was priced.

This was followed by salmon and kinoko cream pasta, an elegant take on the otherwise classic combination most often found in Japanese supermarket sauce packets. Also, a seafood aglio olio with a massive langoustine bloated with roe, another whole crab, calamari, sea urchin and grilled prawns. Sea salt was used generously, as were herbs grown in the restaurant’s quaint front porch garden. Ramen-pasta was the base in both dishes. No complaints.

We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner here, in a quaint, beautifully appointed space with a most hospitable chef-owner quite enamoured with Europe. A small but well-rounded menu – I would love to see how it progresses the next time I stop in Otaru.

Otaru Dining No Name

2-1 Shinonomecho, Otaru, Hokkaido

Japan 047-0026

Tel: +81 134 31 1020

London: The Palomar

Food is so much a part of any adventure. And it isn’t difficult to make that a good part, memorable for all the right reasons, like dropping an email to secure two counter seats at the buzzing Chinatown/Soho outpost that is The Palomar. Even better when doing so gets you plonked right in front of the captain – “CHEF” Tomer Amedi – who was an excellent host and all-round incredible multitasker.

Amedi manages to refine and intensify already addictive Israeli / middle eastern flavours, while delivering generous portions. We curated our menu for the evening based on a mix of recommendations and tastebud inclinations. And I must say that the latter proved the most reliable, after all. Highlights include the Beets-Go-Prawns, smoky beets propping up Josper-grilled prawns with just a hint of sumac and char. The hand-chopped chicken liver pate was chunky without being grainy, and well-balanced by the crisp, almost biscotti-like toast squares that accompanied. Truffle lovers would also go wild at the silky polenta topped with bright asparagus, mushrooms, parmesan and truffle oil – classic combinations that never fail to delight.

But the real star was, without a doubt, Octo-Hummus – a wild party of the earth and sea with octopus grilled to the point where a delightfully crispy exterior has formed, while leaving the interior unctuously velvety. Accompanying hummus was the perfect foil for the oily octopus, and the basil cream dressing lifted the entire dish by leaving a lovely clean aftertaste on my palate. So divine, we had seconds.

It’s near impossible to end a meal here without a huge smile on your face. The Palomar team have such a love for the food they cook, which is quite palpable in each dish. And that really makes all the difference.

The Palomar
http://www.thepalomar.co.uk
34 RUPERT STREET, LONDON, W1D 6DN

Cape Town: The Test Kitchen

They say food is memory. And I would be doing South Africa such an injustice if I didn’t document the absolutely fantastic meals we had, at great value too. We were fortunate enough to secure a lunch booking at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, recently awarded the 26th position in San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurants list! It does help that the entire reservation system is now done online.

Quite apart from the flavour pairings, the ingredients themselves were foreign to us – linefish (kingklip for the day), veal sweetmeats, springbok all featured on the generous lunch menu. We also opted to add the day’s specials, making our meal 6 courses with matching wine pairings.

We began with a fragrant onion brioche as part of the bread selection – I love chewy, tasty surprises in my breads. Then came a fish mousse with cheese dust and fish crackers, very much a refined ‘Super Ring’ snack. Asian influence on South African cuisine was most evident in the next few courses – tuna tataki with kimchi and beans and a quail cracker done peking duck style. All very tasty, if a little heavy on the salt.

Then came scallops with cauliflower puree, and cauliflower foam, a classic combination made exciting with the addition of black garlic (I love!). The accompanying caper and pine nut salsa added a surprising zing and contrast to what might have otherwise been a rather heavy dish. Next, the veal sweetbreads smoked in a pot, wrapped in bacon – most decadent and with a moorish, creamy texture.

For mains – a perfectly seared kingklip glazed with curry, carrot and cashew puree and some deep fried carrots to add crunch. I think carrots are a most versatile vegetable, and the addition of the cashew nuts made it really nutty and buttery – clever to have all that flavour without the divergent crunch of the raw ingredients themselves that would have otherwise clashed with the fish. All set off nicely with a dry Lammershoek Chenin Blanc 2013. This was followed by a springbok loin, rich in gamey flavour and intensified with red cabbage puree and emulsion. Almost like eating the hunt, with the addition of pine oil and almond cream. Delicious.

Dessert, though, was the absolute highlight – “sunflower seeds” was a dream pairing of silky smooth chamomile ice cream and pops of honeycomb atop a bed of sunflower seeds toasted in brown butter. All at once intense yet light, with such clarity of flavour – I could have bowls of this. But restraint makes for fonder memories.

Overall, the food was suitably rich, as I have found that South African cuisine is wont to be. Yet interesting flavour pairings highlighting beautiful local produce, executed more than satisfactorily, is what you will get from a meal at TTK. The vibe is rather casual as well, though the waitstaffs’ leather aprons definitely made me do a double take. Despite eating a good amount at the nearby Neighbourgoods Market, we were more than happy to find additional space in our tummies for a thoroughly lovely meal.

The Test Kitchen
http://www.thetestkitchen.co.za
The Old Biscuit Mill
375 Albert Road
Woodstock, Cape Town
South Africa
Tel: +27 21 447 2337

Singapore: Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare

Italians do such classic things with seafood out of their immense respect for it – right up there with the Japanese. I have thoroughly fond memories of my meals at southern Italy’s many seaside towns, and am glad for a very decent substitute here in Singapore, at Chef Lino Sauro’s Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare, until my next trip back.

A brought me out for a lovely celebration to mark my passing of the bar! We started with 6 creamy, briny, and clean tasting French oysters, accented with lemon juice and a little tabasco, followed by a sardine appetizer which we chose out of adventure – and were most pleasantly surprised. Japanese sardines filleted and marinated, stuffed with a parsley creme and rolled into cute little bundles perched atop crisp croutons made for a very umami combination, the firm flesh of the salty sardines well balanced by sharp parsley. And as always, that delightfully unique taste of silver-skinned fish.

We shared our mains – a grilled pork loin with balsamic vinegar reduction and pine nuts, and sea urchin (aka uni aka ricci di mare) tagliolini topped with parmesan (I think). The pork was delicious, if on the fatty side, well-marinated with a lovely smokey aftertaste, set off by the creamy, earthy nuts. The uni tagliolini transported me right back to Polignano A Mare, although Gattopardo’s version was significantly brinier and less sweet, with a heavier mouth feel overall.

I loved every dish, the attentive service and generous helpings of bread – as well as their piquant Sicilian olive oil. It’s a huge bonus that this place is part of The Entertainer’s options, and one of those that make 2016’s set worthwhile, actually. Would definitely go again with or without.

Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare
http://www.gattopardo.com.sg/menu
34/36 Tras Street
Singapore 079026
Tel: +65 6338 5498 / +65 9325 8843
Mon-Fri: 1200h-1430h, 1830h-2230h, Sat: 1830h-2230h, Closed Sun

Singapore: Mouth Restaurant

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Massive dim sum lunch one Friday at China Square’s Mouth Restaurant a while back with my fantastic colleagues – a veritable feast (a.k.a what happens when all your bosses are out of town for a firm conference). Obviously there are way too many dishes to do an individual review of each so I shall note the particularly memorable ones (in both good and bad ways):

  • coloured har gaus more gimmicky than anything, but the prawns were plump and well seasoned
  • crispy whitebait was delicious and nicely salted, a great appetizer
  • fried carrot cake was filling, not too sweet and pretty spicy
  • xiao long baos were average and under-seasoned
  • black skinned meat dumplings were not my cup of tea at all – starchy minced beef that tasted more flour than cow
  • congee was very silky and tasty, delicious
  • baked salted egg yolk buns were downright sinful and greasy, could stop at half for the sake of my arteries
  • fried dumplings were very tasty, but could do with a wee bit more chives (excellent with the chunky chili)
  • siew mais were good, if nothing to shout about
  • beancurd skin prawn rolls (fu pi juan) were nicely crisp and well stuffed, but extremely greasy
  • siew yoke / roast pork wasn’t crisp enough – as if it had been left out for a while, and slightly tasteless
  • fried rice had a good hint of wok hei, though that dissipated unfortunately quickly
  • char siew sou was lovely and buttery and flaky, with a very tasty bbq pork filling
  • lotus leaf glutinous rice was decent, well-seasoned meat, but not outstanding
  • egg tarts weren’t too sweet, which I appreciated, encased in a flaky tart shell. Unfortunately we were way too stuffed and could only weakly down these two hours later for tea.

I think I missed out a dish or two; we shamefully went a little overboard. But it was lovely getting to know my colleagues, and Mouth Restaurant (or any classic Chinese place really) is a great, if not the best, place for communal dining – whatever those new-fangled bistros would like you to believe. A valuable, affordable CBD option to satisfy any dim sum cravings, of which I have many!

Mouth Restaurant
http://mouth.com.sg/en/
22 Cross Street #01-61 China Square Central
South Bridge Court Shop House, Singapore 048421
Tel: +65 6438 5798
Hours: Mon-Fri 1130h-1500h, 1800h-2200h Sat/Sun 1000h-1630h, 1800-2200h

Singapore: Bao Makers

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Having had the chance to eat at Bao London (arguably the hip leaf bun pioneer), I was pretty amused to see Bao Makers open shop where the old Windowsill Pies once stood, somewhere along Horne Road. It was pretty empty for a Saturday evening, which hardly bodes well.

A valiant attempt was made at introducing innovative fillings for the baos, but none quite hit the spot, save for the salted egg shrimp mantou, which was nicely sandy, creamy and crunchy all at once, especially when stuffed between a deep fried bun. However, the bulgolgi and pulled pork fillings didn’t quite have the depth of flavour to make these as swoon-worthy as London’s; when eaten with the steamed buns, which lacked the typical hint of sweetness in the dough, the entire flavour profile was really quite flat. Neither did the fish and chips or slightly overcooked crabmeat pasta standout either, apart from the fries tasting really, really like McDonald’s.

I was rather disappointed, given the huge potential in a bao concept shop. But more effort has to be put into crafting a sufficiently soft, pillowy yet yeasty and sweet bun, and finding the right balance so as not to overwhelm the flavours of each component. I thought that some combinations were simply too haphazard, and ultimately a thinly-disguised effort to ride on the global success that are leaf buns, but falling quite short. I’m glad I tried it, though I doubt I’d return again.

Bao Makers
https://www.baomakers.com/
78 Horne Road
Singapore 209078
Mon-Fri: 1200h-2200h; Sat/PH: 1100h-2200h; Sun: 1100h-1800h

Singapore: Kilo at Pact

In my humble opinion, Kilo is one of the more creative, inventive and yet affordable modern food places in Singapore, thus cementing it as a firm favourite. Amos and I had a lovely languid lunch one Sunday afternoon in Kilo at Pact, the baby sister of Kilo at Kampong Bugis, tucked away in a corner of Orchard Central.

The baby eggplant with mascarpone cheese and tempura crisps has always been a must-order for me; the eggplant’s oily, gooey creaminess is balanced by the rounded flavours of the mascarpone, while deep fried tempura batter adds a wonderful textural crunch. Earthy, woody beetroot complemented a bed of spicy arugula, with sweet, sour and savoury notes provided by candied pecans, deep fried shallots and a generous dollop of ricotta cheese. Finally, a yuzu ponzu truffled tai roll, stuffed with crab, was yet another example of how outstanding a pairing of citrus and seafood can really be. My only (tiny) gripe was that rice grains loosed from each roll – a sushi sacrilege – having been soaked by the ponzu.But no biggie.

My boss and I agree that the Kampong Bugis outfit offers a better menu, but Kilo at Pact will do in a pinch if you a) don’t happen to have a car, b) need some aircon and c) want to get a great haircut at the neighbouring Pact + Lim, i.e. is a great alternative any time. While these dishes are only offered on Sunday (all day brunch), great value rice bowls are available during weekday lunches. If you’re in the CBD, they also run Grain Traders. Expect great nosh.

Kilo at Pact
181 Orchard Road #02—14-23 Orchard Central
Singapore 238896
Mon-Sat 1100h-1500h, 1730h-2200h; Sun 1100h-1800h