Monthly Archives: February 2010

Come Get Some: Loewen Gardens Farmers’ Market

Paella

It was the search for paella that brought me to this overlooked corner of Dempsey. But what I found instead were memories of my past; a trigger that brought back residual images of brothers-in-arms and an uneventful yet much remembered night.

But first the food.

Now that is a tablescape. 

My love affair with paella started out strangely enough in Syracuse, at Dante’s where I tasted fideuà, a sister dish made with thin noodles instead of rice. It was hauntingly good and an introduction to Spanish food. A trip to Madrid my junior year during a semester abroad in London cemented my love for paella.

Get rich selling cupcakes!

Unfortunately I’ve always had sub-par paella in Singapore. I was hopeful from reading the article in The Straits Times about the farmers’ market that this paella would be different.

The rice was very good, not the usual soggy mess that passes off as paella here. It was imbued with the very simple but distinct flavors of the abundant seafood, chorizo and saffron. My disappointment in this paella was that it lacked socarrat, the slightly burnt crusty crunchy bits of rice at the bottom of the paella pan, one of the defining characteristics of good paella.

Layers of food.

The market itself was a festive but quaint affair. There were gluten-free cupcakes, a butcher selling cut and marinated meats, two friendly Australian women who tricked out their table in pink and turned it to a decadent tablescape of baked sugar and flour treats. Sandra Lee would be proud. Solymer, the Spanish purveyor responsible for cooking the paella, was also selling Jamón Iberico and wines. There were surprisingly more products that produce. Most of the stalls were selling the sort of gourmet products, like pasta and olive oil, that were more for stocking the pantry than the fresh fruit and vegetables I associate with a farmer’s market. I only saw one vendor selling vegetables.

Jamón Iberico

I would have thought that this would be the perfect occasion for our farmers (we actually have around 220 farms in Singapore) to showcase their produce and for us to shop and eat like a locavore. It is after all called a “farmers’ market,” but it was more like a small food fair.

Close up.

Bubbling up.

Gluten-free cupcakes.

More shots of paella, took along my new DSLR.

On the grill.

Finally the finished product, waited a long time for them to cook it.

The only vegetable vendor.

Wines.

The bottarga caught my eye.

Kids with guns and camo.

As I left the market, there was a group of Caucasian children sporting camo paint on their faces and armed with toy “laser tag” guns. Almost ten years ago, I was in that exact location dressed in my camouflaged army fatigues and armed with very real assault rifles. My unit, specifically Bravo Company was tasked as a quick reaction force for some World Bank or International Monetary Fund event.

We had just spent the night in the derelict buildings of the decommissioned Tanglin Camp on Loewen road and were waiting to load up on to our three-tonners for our ride back to camp.

I remember the men bitching and moaning about having drawn what was essentially glorified guard duty when we arrived the day before. We sat tight. We were just muscle if anything happened, boring but a necessary precaution.

It seemed that Bravo Company was always getting the short end of the stick. The other companies in the battalion were back at their bunks in camp, or at the canteen having it easy. But it was rare to be on an actually operation. (This was before / around the time of 9-11, before it became commonplace for units to conduct security operations.) And I think the men were inwardly proud to be entrusted with such a mission, although no one would have admitted it. Bravo Company had proven itself time and again that it was the best company in the regiment.  No doubt we were locked, cocked and ready to rock and roll if higher HQ ever pressed the button. 

The night was uneventful. The soldiers tried to sleep on the bare, dusty floors, at least there was a roof over our heads and the abandoned building was five-star accommodation compared to being out in the field. There were pockets of friends who talked into the night and there was always someone at the smoking area. The only excitement came from a car that got stuck in the ditch of the building we were housed in. 

An elderly couple had gotten lost and had asked us for directions. What they were doing here was beyond me. This was before the Dempsey area was developed. They attempted a U-turn on the narrow road and drove their car into the ditch. An officer, our company Second-In-Charge arrived at the scene and started shouting for a squad, I think it was the 84 mm recoilless rifle anti-tank section, to help push the vehicle out. I’m amazed how vividly I remember the incident now that I’m looking at that same road.

We assembled the next morning where those kids were, and started to load up onto our tonners for the ride back and a much-anticipated shower and duty rest. While waiting for the lead vehicle of our convey to move out, a car driven by an expatriate woman from one of the big colonial houses got in between my vehicle and another platoon’s. Someone joked (it might have been me) that we should lase the driver. A laser red-dot on the chest emanating from a M-16 would dissuade anyone from following. Anthony, a fellow sergeant, sitting across from me at the tailboard waved to get the lady’s attention. Then he pointed to the explosive sign hanging from the tailboard (which had to be displayed because of the ammunition with us.) Once she saw the explosion graphic on the sign, her eyes went big as dinner plates and she peeled out of there in double quick time. Even through the fog of fatigue from the lack of sleep (or because of it) we both started cracking up uncontrollably. And as I look at that exact place where it happened, I think back to those good old days and bad old ways.

I’m reminded of my time spent in the army and the company of some very fine men.

To the men of Bravo Company:

It’s been a privilege and honor to serve with you all. 

Go Go Go!

Loewen Gardens Farmers’ Market
75E Loewen Road, Tanglin Village
First Saturday of every month; from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Free
For information call: 64740441
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Capping the Night: Tippling Club

PORT POACHED PINEAPPLE, textured yoghurt, spices, sweet herb puree.

I’ve been looking for a dessert place to replace my favorite post dinner hang-out; Will Goldfarb’s now defunct Room 4 Dessert and the sweet memories of the creations from Alex Stupak at wd-50 and Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin. It is as much a search for inventive, elegant and flawlessly executed desserts here in Singapore, as well as an easing of my yearning and associations of New York City, a place that I’ve left, but has never completely left me.

Unfortunately desserts at restaurants in Singapore are mostly a mere afterthought. The problem is that they often aren’t executed properly. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve gotten misshapen quenelles. It says a lot about a pastry chef, and especially a pastry chef, who should excel in precision, to not perfect their technique. But the larger problem lies in our Singaporean mindset. Desserts are often uninspired. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen a fucking molten chocolate cake on menus. I don’t know if it’s a lack of imagination on our part, or that we take ourselves too seriously. Desserts should be fun and not boring.

MANDARIN ORANGE SEA SPONGE, pistachio crumble, matcha distillate & cilantro.

Which is why I love what chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club (formerly of Melbourne’s Vue du Monde) does. He takes something ordinary, like yogurt and gives it personality, actually four personalities in his port poached pear dish with four textures of yogurt. Desserts made interesting. Thank you.

He has mischievous flair. I couldn’t help but chuckle when he introduced the next dish as a mandarin orange sea sponge because it did look like a sea sponge! Definitely something I would see on my dives. The sponge was delicate and airy, but packed the assertive aromatic flavor of a mandarin orange, perfect for Chinese New Year. What is truly amazing about the dish is how the sponge, which was the star of the show, and shine it did, perfectly shared the stage with the other cast of characters; the pistachio crumble, matcha distillate and cilantro. It takes considerable skill and sense to make those components sing in harmony and chef Clift pulls it off with verve.

SNOWBALL, sudachi, white chocolate, yuzu curd.

What I love about the desserts are that they are an exploration of texture. The sudachi snowball had an exciting effervescence, taking on the role of champagne, delightful and celebratory, it was fun to eat. I only wish that there were more sudachi flavor in the snowball. The yuzu curd though provided balance and body with its intoxicating hints of yuzu and assertive eggy taste.

PEAR TARTIN 2009, cinnamon puff pastry, caramel.

There are a couple items on the menu that are deconstructions of your typical dessert staples. There is a perfectly executed tiramisu but it’s too close to the original to stand out. The lemon tart is slightly better. The real show stealer and my favorite dessert is the pear tartin 2009. I couldn’t help but be charmed when I saw it. A “pear” sat on puff pastry crumble studded with hidden crispy caramel. The “pear” was actually a flavorful but clean brown butter sorbet encapsulated with a gel. It’s a simple yet effective trompe l’oeil. Perhaps the smartest move by chef Clift, was breaking down the pear tartin into its elemental parts, the pastry, pear and the brown butter it’s cooked in and showcasing the best (at least my favorite) part, the brown butter. What you get is an emphasis on the most delicious aspect of a pear tartin. 

LEMON TART, meringue, sable, lemon chips, clotted cream.

TIRAMISU 2009. The side of the mascarpone bowl melted while I took photos.

As I’m writing this I’m a little sad because they are going to change their menu soon. So no more pear tartin, but I’m excited too, to see what chef Clift and his new head chef Scott Huggins (formerly from Iggy’s) have up their sleeves. I was given a little preview of what’s to come. This one was a luscious soft chocolate ganache with various textures of chocolate. The plate was garnished with orange juice that had been concentrated to a syrupy consistency with some fancy shmancy lab equipment. The flavor was intense.

New Chocolate/Orange dessert. (Yeah I didn’t get the name…)

Drinks from mixologist/artist Matthew Bax are an equally magnetic draw. As a (former) bartender myself, I think there isn’t any other place in Singapore that serves such well-crafted, inventive and downright delicious libations. There is an attention to detail, like cracking their own ice, as well as a reverence for the barman’s tradition but it’s tempered with progressive technique borrowed from the culinary avant-garde movement. Like the food at Tippling Club, what makes their drinks stand out is the sense of whimsy and theatrics.

“Your book sir.” Us: Huh?

A few weeks ago I ordered a drink and a waiter delivered a book to the table. To much bemused WTF-ery, I finally opened the book and in it sat a bottle within a cut out compartment. What a great way to serve a Teacher’s Tipple, my only complaint was that there wasn’t enough of that delicious drink. There is a drink called Fuck the Subprime, funny name, unfortunately at $35, I haven’t tried it. One of my favorite drinks, the Kopi-O comes in clear takeaway plastic bags like those found at local coffee shops. The difference is that there is a rectangular glass beneath the bag so you can put your drink down, and your coffee shop version probably doesn’t come with aged rum and roasted banana maple.

TEACHERS TIPPLE, Spicy carrot whisky, honey ginger.

I don’t think I fully appreciated before how glassware affects the perception of the whole drinking experience. I took for granted that drinks are supposed to be served in your standard glasses, the martini, collins, flutes and rocks. But most drinks at Tippling Club are served in unique vessels that really change the experience. Just look at what Alinea is doing with its dining ware.

I won’t describe them all  and spoil the surprise. Experience it for yourself, they really are the best drinks in town, and I daresay it’s hard to find better anywhere else in the world. 

CHERRY CHERRY, effen black cherry vodka, vsop cognac, cherry heering, fresh cherries, citrus, champagne, absinth bitters, cherry bark.

Tippling Club

8D Dempsey Rd

Singapore 249672

Tel: 6475-2217

www.tipplingclub.com

Hours: cocktails, bites and desserts, Tuesday to Saturday, 6 p.m. till late. Best to call before you go. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Price range: Cocktails, $18 to $35; desserts, $18 to $20. Or if in a group, get chef Clift to organize a tasting menu for desserts.

 

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I’m including some pictures from two master classes I attended at Tippling Club under the banner of the Melbourne Temperance Society, which was founded by Matthew Bax in his Melbourne based Der Raum bar.

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On the Cutting Edge with Sosa 
Modern Food and Cocktails
14 May 2009, $85++

Reagents.

I’d been getting my ingredients for avant garde cuisine from Le Sanctuaire in the States, so I was excited that I could get them now in Singapore from Sosa though Euraco. Sosa brought in their executive chef Jordi Colomer to teach the techniques that would showcase their products. 

Looks like a cloud… a cloud of liquor.

The food was perfectly executed. Confirming what I thought was a top-notch kitchen team. (The first time I visited Tippling Club was during chef Wylie Dufresne’s World Gourmet Summit dinner. And the crew at Tippling Club executed Wylie Dufresne and Alex Stupak’s wd-50 menu to an exacting T. I was seriously impressed, especially since I was reading some not so good things about Tippling Club on the blog circuit.) But I have to admit, coming back to the Sosa master class that I preferred more “real” food. Desserts were amazing though and totally enjoyable. But perhaps the best thing that night was trying Matthew Bax’s cocktails. It was the start of my love affair with them.

Playing with liquid nitrogen.

Amuse bouche: Mango and bronze sphere.

Sosa executive chef Jordi Puigvert Colomer.

FOIE GRAS & PISTACHIO SANDWICH, light pear mayonnaise, goat cheese powder, porto caviar.

Paired with APPLES & PEARS, calvados, poire william, Italian vermouth, falernum, clove apple bubbles. 

CHICKEN HAMBURGER, fake potato truffle gnocchi, mushroom cous cous, raw almond prawn emulsion.

Paired with GIN PINE FIZZ, gin, pine, champagne & lemon

If the chinois was a definitive piece of equipment for modern cuisine, then the immersion blender is the post-modern equivalent.

MEDITERRANEAN FLAVORS, olive oil rosemary sponge cake, green apple foam, yoghurt, pine nut, mandarin lavender sorbet.

Paired with GREEN TEA AFFOGATO, nikka Japanese whisky, genmaicha green tea, matcha sorbet.

A layer of  “fog” forms as liquid nitrogen boils off.

COFFEE AND GOLDEN SPHERE, caramel, mascarpone, mango, passionfruit.

Paired with MOROCCAN AFTERNOON, espresso rum, passionfruit, crispy mint shard.

PETIT FOURS, pistachio raspberry crispies, chocolate, peta zetas

 

Cocktail Master Class with Sam Ross
Milk & Honey NYC
28 October 2009, $150++

Fizzy grapes. A Tippling Club signature.

Milk & Honey was a bar that I’ve always wanted to go to in New York. Unfortunately you need to make a reservation using a “secret” phone number. I finally got that number courtesy of Meredith, she deserves a shout out here. But it was my last week in New York and the bar was closed for renovation. So I was extremely psyched when Sam Ross, their head bartender was doing a master class with the Melbourne Temperance Society. The drinks where phenomenal, there was a particularly gorgeous one, the Rebel Champagne, it was a velvety, sensual dessert-in-a-glass without being cloying or heavy. My only complaint was that the class was pretty dumb-ed down for the non-bartenders (everyone but me.) Still Sam tailored bits of the class to talk about refinement of the bartender’s art. In those short minutes I learnt more than in the last few years. Very informative and inspirational.

Char-grilled peppers (black from squid ink) miso soy dip. Another signature.

It was also at that event that I tried chef Clift’s food (as opposed to a guest chef’s) for the first time. I was particularly impressed with his bourbon coulant dessert. It was like a molten chocolate cake that I hate to see on menus turned upside down. The honey and white chocolate made a very interesting flavor combination. It could almost be mistaken for butterscotch, especially since it was off white in color and not dark like chocolate. Cold, white, chocolate but not, it was a refreshing and delicious take the molten chocolate cake cliché. I felt it was a jab at all the uninspired chefs who allow such garbage on their menu. It made the dessert even more enjoyable. 

The man: Sam Ross

PENICILLIN, j&b scotch, lemon juice, ginger honey syrup, caol ila float.

Paired with SCALLOP TARTARE, honey film, peaty caviar.

DON”T MIND IF I DO JULEP, bourbon, calvados, demerara syrup, mint.

Paired with MINT CONFIT SKATE, bourbon bacon, peas, lettuce.

GORDON’S CUP, tanqueray gin, simple syrup, lime chunks, cucumber.

Paired with GIN SPICED PORK, pancakes, green apple gel, sour apple chips.

Sam Ross preparing his Rebel Champagne. Just a gorgeous drink.

REBEL CHAMPAGNE, bourbon, liqour 43, henriot champagne, honey syrup, egg yolk.

Paired with BOURBON COULANT, nitro honey, white chocolate fluid.

It too has a liquid (cold) chocolate interior. 

No J. Tastes exactly like orange juice, but without any juice. Made by chef Clift in collaboration with a lab.