Friday, April 27, 2012

Singapore 2 - Kraze Burgers

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Kraze Burgers 

This is my first, full overease restaurant review of this recent trip. It didn't take long (maybe 2-3 days?) before I started craving Western food over noodle and rice dishes. Shameful, isn't it? I was day-dreaming about Grill'd when I spied this burger store in the Maria Bay Sands Shopping Centre food court. There are other burger stores like this, by which I mean they're burger stores with an Asian origin and theme. MOS Burger (now in Brisbane) is another such example.

Kraze Burgers has an interesting fitting that's a cross between Western steakhouse and fast food outlet with elements of American comic strip thrown in. I liked it!

The menu has a lot in the way of options. As well as burgers, you can get some meal plates, salads and subs. There are a few central burger items plus a selection of sides. You can see the Asian influences in the menu options with descriptions such as: black rice bun, power amino mango sauce (don't ask; I have no idea), multi-vitamin energy sauce (again, don't ask) and tofu burger patties.

Singapore 1 - Singaporean Must-Eats

Top 10 Singaporean Must-Eats

I'll take a deep breath before diving into my mass of overseas dining photos.

To start with... before I left for Singapore I did some research on the food culture there. The general consensus was that it wasn't so much the fine dining culture that was unique but the street food. By the end of the trip, I started to realize that this translates to most of SE-Asia.

In any case, there are some uniquely Singaporean dishes that are most frequently recommended. I'll share what I managed to get a taste of. Some of the items may be considered Malaysian, or indeed just generally Indo-Chinese but I've put them on here anyway.

1. Kaya toast

Plain kaya toast with butter

I'll start off with something that seems unique to that part of Asia and is also incredibly delicious. I've seen notices selling 'kaya toast' in Brisbane Asian eateries (mostly in Sunnybank, as expected) but never felt the desire to try it. How silly I've been! The concept of kaya toast is simple. Perhaps I should first explain what kaya is. To me, it's a creamy, gel-like coconut spread. Wikipedia says it's a coconut egg jam made with duck or chicken eggs. Well, that would explain the creamy consistency then... it must be semi custard based. Whatever the mechanics behind this spread, I love it.

Inside of kaya toast

We first tried kaya toast at 'Ya Kun Kaya Toast', a frachise that we found in other locations too. The classic variant of kaya toast is simply the spread sandwiched between 2 slices of dark sweet bread (crusts off; noone in Asia likes crusts) with a knob of melty butter. This is what I got and delicious as is.

French toast with kaya

There are other things on the menu. Marc tried a French toast version that is pretty self explanatory but you spread your own preferred amount of kaya on.

Milo and tea Frostyz 

We were also tempted by the beverages on the menu. I had a tea Frostyz whilst Marc got a milo-flavored one. They're basically flavored frappes but IMO quite awesome. In fact I liked the tea Frostyz so much that I picked up another one at the airport on my way home to Brisbane.

Pork floss toast with kopi and soft-boiled eggs

There are other kaya toast franchises - probably tonnes. Another I ate at was called Toast Box. I went to the one located in the Marina Bay Sands Shopping Centre and it had the cutest decor. To satisfy my food blogging obligations of trying something different, I picked up a pork floss toast. It was in no way as awesome as the kaya toast but uh, 'interesting' anyway. It was a huge slab of toast covered with pork floss and mayo. I got a set meal, which came with soft-boiled eggs and coffee (aka 'kopi', which is automatically sweetened even if you hate sugar in coffee, as I do).

A point I'd like to make here is that Ya Kun also sold the kaya toast in set meals with soft-boiled eggs so I take that to be a normal addition to toast breakfast in Singapore? I wasn't a huge fan of mine and didn't see the point of the squelchy bland goo but maybe there's something you're supposed to do to it that I wasn't doing.

2. Chili crab

Chili crab 

The main thing I wanted to try in Singapore is also one of my favorite dishes of all time. That's quite a big call. Peking duck is up there. Ham, cheese and tomato toasties might be too (hey, they don't have to be fancy to be perfect) and Singaporean chili crab is another. There was no way I was going to pass up trying the real deal in Singapore.

I discovered a uni friend of mine was actually living in Singapore. Through joint Googling efforts, we found that one of the most highly recommended places to get chili crab was called No Signboard Restaurant. Strange name, I know. There are several locations and we went to the one at The Esplanade.

Singapore chili crab isn't super hot spicy. Rather, the sauce is a perfect mix of a sweet chili and tomato sauce flavor with other special ingredients that make it awesome. Usually you sop the sauce up with some steamed buns. We ordered plain, fried steamed buns (crunchy exterior) that were prefect for the job.

Our crab itself was average. I think we had sandcrab which is far inferior to mudcrab in terms of flesh sweetness and plumpness. The sauce was great though!

3. Cereal prawns

Cereal prawns

The name of this dish may seem confusing and indeed it should be. We saw some other radically named dishes in Singapore such as fried carrot cake but that turned out to be nothing like it suggests. Cereal prawns, on the other hand, at least have some semblance to their namesake. I've had oat-battered prawns in Malaya Corner in Sunnybank and LOVED them. This is dish was similar - fried prawns with a crunchy crumbly outside. Think cornflakes mixed with oaty flakes. It might seem like an odd concept but it works fabulously. IMO much superior to breadcrumbs :).

4. Nasi lemak

Something that's not quite a nasi lemak but similar concept

Nasi means rice in malay and nasi lemak apparently translates to 'fatty rice'. It's something I often get at Malaya Corner as well and what I know of it is: a serve of coconutty rice with an assortment of accompaniments including curried meats, pickled veggies, anchovies, peanuts, cucumber, sambal and usually an egg of some description. I think there are several variants (possibly differing in what accompaniments go with the rice) but you see these types of dish layouts everywhere through Singapore and Malaysia. I had one version on my first day in Singapore. Not sure which type of nasi ___ it was but it came with a chicken leg and some other bits and pieces. I wasn't blown away by this particular one (had it in a casual restaurant inside a shopping centre, when really they're probably best had at street-side eateries) but you win some and you lose some

5. Char kway teow

Char kway teow

This is one of my favorite basic Indo-Chinese dishes. It's a type of stir-fried flat rice noodle cooked with sweet dark soy, often with prawns, chicken, bean sprouts, egg and other assorted goodies. We had varients of this dish at several different locations throughout our trip. A good char kway teow is flavorsome, saucey and packed with stuff. It goes great with beer too. Yum!!!

6. Satay skewers

Satay chicken and beef skewers with peanut dip

I didn't really think I could claim satay skewers as Singaporean but I sorted the skewer photos I had into this blog post anyway... and it turns out that my decision was justified! When I Googled 'Singaporean cuisine', there were tonnes of photos of satay skewers. Whatdya know. We had some awesome ones by the water along Boat Quay (near the Fullerton). There were heaps of seafood restaurants and we picked a random busy one. I liked these skewers so much I found myself randomly craving them throughout the rest of my trip.

7. Chicken rice

Chicken rice

In Australia, I know this dish as Hainanese chicken rice but in Singapore, it seems to be more commonly referred to as just 'chicken rice'. The deal with this is that chicken gets boiled (in a special stock, in a special way so that it stays nice and tender). The stock is then supposed to be used to flavor the rice. The meal usually also comes with cucumbers (as does most Singaporean meals... why??) and a broth, possibly also made from the chicken stock. I tried this at a stall in Lau Pa Sat. I was thinking that the chicken was a bit bland when I remembered you're supposed to have it with dipping sauce! There's usually a garlic sauce and a chili sauce. Oops, I forgot.

8. Coconut juice and other forms of fresh fruit juice

Mango and pineapple juice

Fresh fruit is plentiful around the equator so you'd be crazy not to try some fresh fruit juice. It's so refreshing ordering mango smoothie or mango juice and having something blended from real mango rather than mango syrup or powder.

Coconut juice

I just HAD to order a coconut juice inside an actual coconut. It's one of those tropical holiday must-do's, like sipping pina coladas (which, BTW, I didn't actually get to do). I don't think coconut juice is that amazing but it does complement the humid, hot weather and it's nice with spicy food. The other drink we had was a blend of mango and pineapple. Delish!

9. Something pandan flavored

Pandan coconut milk

Pandan is something that confuses a lot of people but is very typical to Indo-Chinese desserts. It's a large leafy plant and the leaves are used to infuse the flavor into things. Pandan flavoring can be applied to cakes, breads, desserts, puddings... the list goes on. I didn't have anything too extravagent on my trip. On the first day, I had some pandan coconut milk. It was nice! Pandan had a refreshing, almost grass-like flavor that goes really well with milky things.

10. Iced kacang/mango pudding

Mango pudding

Iced kacang was something on my list that I DIDN'T get to try on the trip. We can get versions of it in Australia - shaved ice often with red bean, jelly, lotus seeds and misc, topped with condensed milk. I NEARLY bought some but tried a mango pudding from the same dessert shop. That's why mango pudding is on here... not because it's uniquely Singaporean but because I wanted to upload the photo somewhere haha. It was a nice mango pudding though!

And a bonus no 11 for BEVERAGES!: Tiger beer/Singapore Sling

Finally, no list from me can be complete without some BOOZE. I won't upload any photos of Tiger because it features in many other food photos of mine. We didn't just drink Tiger in Singapore. It became our staple throughout Borneo and Kuala Lumpur too. I had a couple Singapore Slings from a club we went to (name eludes me) and loved them.

Lau Pa Sat

As I mentioned above, most of this food is street food and can be found in hawker centres. We were directed to one such food court by a kind cabbie: the Lau Pa Sat food market. It was unreal. There's a giant pavillion filled with hundreds of food stalls selling every type of Asian street fare imaginable (we got some decent Vietnamese food from there too) all at incredible low prices. The seating is food court-like so you and your friends can satisfy your differed cravings and come together to eat. If there was something like this in Brisbane, I would die and go to heaven.

Hopefully the above guide will give you an idea of some things to try if you are to visit Singapore in the near future.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cocktails and Tapas at Subsolo, Sydney

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Subsolo Spanish Restaurant and Bar

Saturday night, our good friend Dani decided she would take us 'Asian-clubbing'. Being a Sydney local, she was also responsible for feeding us beforehand. We met up at Subsolo, which is an underground Spanish restaurant. Despite having a booking for 8:30, our table wasn't ready for a significant period of time... so we stood around waiting for a bit.

The place was packed! There was a festive, happy vibe about the restaurant, which lightened the underground feel. I liked the rustic brick walls with red lamps and gothic chandeliers. Noice.

After we were finally led to our table, we let Dani take charge. She had eaten there once before and knew what was good. That's perfect for me because I hate making decisions (except for that rare instance where I know exactly what I want) and like surprises.

Crunchy bacalao (salt-cod) croquettes on aioli

The first dish to arrive was the fish croquettes. These were really yum! I went in to dinner with a small appetite and not intenting to pig out too much but these really challenged my resolve. The outside was lovely and crunchy and the fact that they were cod made the croquettes more interesting than stock standard potato/cheese varieties.

Paprika salt and pepper squid with saffron mayonnaise 

Next came the paprika salt and pepper squid. I didn't enjoy this dish too much. One of the other girls commented that it was very fishy and I have to agree. The squid didn't taste fresh and also had a rubbery texture. No amount of aioli can disguise that.

Crumbed meatballs with melting manchego cheese centres

I was excited about the next dish even just on site. Meatballs! I love meatballs. It's sooooo disappointing when meatballs are bad because there's no reason for them to be.

Gooey cheese 

These were fortunately not a disappointment at all. They were packed full of flavor with a cheesy interior and delicious sauce. The meatballs were also lovely and juicy.

Char-grilled chicken fillet and miso completo espatatas 

Finally the pièce de résistance... our meat skewers, or more attractively named the 'char-grilled espatadas'. Dani ordered 2 varieties: the Portugese chicken fillet and the miso (with a bit of everything).


I didn't have uber high expectations because in my mind, I was still thinking 'meh, meat skewers'. The chicken fillet really surprised me - they were just amazingly succulent with just the right amount of that open flame grill taste without coming accross as burnt. The miso contained some rump, which didn't leave a huge impression but was still quite good. At the top was a piece of 'morcilla' aka black pudding. Dani recommended we try it and I thought it was rather tasty.


The espatadas came with sides of potato, salad and sauces. I didn't think much of the potato but anyway, the meats stole the show.

Despite our delay in getting a table at Subsolo, we enjoyed our cocktails and the food was much better than I expected. I should've trusted that Dani would know her stuff! This was a great stop for a good meal and pre-drinks before hitting the dance floors. It was both walking distance from my hotel and to the destination club in heels - bonus!
Subsolo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gourmet Traveller's Restaurant of the Year, 2012 - Marque, Sydney

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Marque Restaurant

Last Thursday, I got straight off a plane from Singapore, had a micro nap, did some shopping/repacking and returned to the airport for a CPD conference in Sydney. Although the conference was work-related and hence quite a contrast from the 3 weeks of relaxation I'd been enjoying prior, it was a great chance to catch up with old friends and I was also looking forward to being in another city that wasn't Toowoomba.

Being the food enthusiasts we are, Mochi and I started planning the dinner trips months in advance. Apparently that's what you have to do in this town too! I had tried Quay but it was fully booked so we scratched that off the list. Marque Restaurant has a much smarter booking system that allows you to get an instant confirmation online, rather than enquiring via e-mail and getting rejected (as with Quay) so we were happy to secure our booking there.
The dinner was planned for the evening of our first lecture day. We were all a bit tired from hours of brain usage. I was especially tired from weeks of sleep deprivation but I perked up for dinner time.

We caught a cab to Surry Hills, home of many of Sydneys best restaurants. Marque has a very understated exterior and I think that if I wasn't looking out for it, I would've walked straight past.

The interior is simple, elegant and very dim. My decor photography is appalling. I used a flash for the food photos but didn't think I could get away with flash-photographing other diners who were probably trying to eat in peace.

Regular readers will know that I often complain about being confused and indecisive about what dishes to order, especially when there are multiple offerings that catch my eye. This problem is eliminated at Marque - where there is only one option: an 8 course degustation. I've been to restaurants like Rockpool where you can choose between the full degustation or a smaller number of courses but here, you don't even get that option. It might be daunting to some but I was relieved. Yes! No thinking. We were asked about food allergies etc so I believe they would be accomodating to anyone who has special dietary requests.

We got the ball rolling with some drinks. Mochi ordered a mojito and I got a gin and tonic for myself (with many more to come).

Yellow fin tuna with foie gras, potato and olive truffle

The amuse bouche was yellow fin tuna and foie gras, sandwiched between 2 glass-thin potato crisps. This was a very impressive start to the meal. Though the serving was bite-sized, this just emphasized the level of detailing and technique involved.

Almond jelly with blue swimmer crab, almond gazpacho, sweet corn and avruga 

Our first course was the blue swimmer crab. Though it looks a bit strange and snow cone-like on the plate, this dish was delicious. Jack and Tanya gave positive remarks of 'this is really good' and Mochi and I agreed so much that it later became one of our favorite courses.

Beer, bone marrow sea urchin and coral

Next came a 2-part course. First was a strange frothy broth described as 'beer, bone marrow and urchin'. As though that's not strange enough, Jack and Tanya both heard 'bear' and were even more stunned with what was being offered. I wasn't a huge fan of this broth as I found it too fishy.

Rottnest island scallop with lemon balm, yuzu and broccolini 

The second part of this course was the scallop and broccolini. I know people who are nuts about scallops but I'm not one of them. The best I could say about this one is that it was fresh. Oh and the plate looked nice.

Blackmore grain fed wagyu with cabbage, mustard and garlic 

The next course was the first of our 'mains' and comprised of wagyu with cabbage. The plate looked simple and I suppose ultimately, it wasn't a fancy dish. The star was definitely the wagyu. The meat wasn't over-dressed or disguised. The quality of the wagyu spoke for itself. Delicious. This ended up being my favorite course.

Salt and vinegar potato with saltbush, vadouvan and chicken hearts 

We progressed to a potato dish with chicken hearts. I wasn't blown away by this. Tanya made a comment 'I can make this at home' (indicating the potato strips) and although they were more delicate and had more elements, I recall my mum makes something similar at home too.

Rye with butter 

Mochi had been eyeing off the bread for ages. We watched waiters floating around and offering bread to other tables but not ours. Where the confusion lies is that normally, bread is offered at the start of the meal. At Marque, it is offered bang in the middle. So no, we weren't forgotten about... we just weren't up to that yet. There were a few varieties offered and we 3 girls chose the rye whilst Jack went with the white bread. I heard several complaints about how sour the rye was but hey, it's rye! It's supposed to be sour. I was getting a bit full by this point and didn't finish the bread for that reason.

Murray cod with leek, fish milk, pomelo and roe 

The next course was cod with leek. Despite my relative fullness distorting my tastebuds (everything tastes better when you're hungry), I liked this dish. I don't usually like fish as served in Western restaurants but this fillet was so soft and buttery - it was lovely.

Rosewood pigeon with boudin noir, pickled corella pear and native hibiscus

We were getting overwhelmed with the number of courses by this point. Yet still, another main was to come - the pidgeon. I was surprised half a pigeons head was placed bare on the plate. It's amusing that back in my day (and even nowadays, depending on who you're with and where you are) the Asians are so often critisized for eating strange animal parts and offal... yet here was a tiny bird head on the plate of a fine dining restaurant. The gourmet movement has made the public more accepting, which is nice to see. That aside, I didn't actually eat the head. The breast was nice though.

Being the dessert fanatics that we are, Mochi and I were keen to see what Marque's dessert offerings would be like. Our table forwent the optional cheese course (everyone getting excessively full/tired).

Macadamia soup with soubise and rye 

A plate was brought out to us, described as macadamia soup and rye. We were expecting something sweet but the rye was very savory. It was explained to us that this course was to transist us from savory to sweet so I suppose it was intentional, but the bottom line is I didn't enjoy eating this.

Charred lemon with white chocolate and tarragon 

 Our first dessert was charred lemon with white chocolate and tarragon. The lemon sorbet was intensely sour. Each one of our group tried some and pulled a face. Just about the only thing I really liked on this plate was the white chocolate, because it tasted like white chocolate.

Sauternes custard

We were feeling disappointed with the dessert but ready to head home when it was announced that there was yet another dessert to come: the last course. Spirits soared again. This dessert was presented in a plain eggshell (innovative but visually does not make me drool the same way as oozy chocolate does). It was described as a sauternes custard. The sauternes sauce was incredibly bitter. As bitter as the lemon sorbet was sour! I gave up at that point but the others said that the custard underneathe was actually quite nice.

Although it may sound like we ended on a bad note, I must say that my overall experience at Marque was great. There were a couple of outstanding courses (the blue swimmer crab and the wagyu) but each course succeeded in bringing forward taste and visual sensations creatively assembled on a plate. I won't deny being disappointed by the dessert. Whilst I support the notion of stepping outside the box, I think that sometimes what you really want is a dessert that just tastes good and it should be possible to achieve both criteria. Marque on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Back in town...

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On recovery mode from my holiday
View from the infinity pool at night, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

If you've noticed the sudden depletion in new posts, it's because I've been overseas for 3 weeks, followed by a back-to-back (literally flew back to Brisbane in the morning and out again by evening) dental course in Sydney. But I'm back, baby, and ready to roll.

Honestly, I'm feeling a tad intimidated by the sheer volume of content I have to post up. I'm planning to drop off my new Sydney restaurant reviews (for Marque and Subsolo) first then pop up a couple of categorized posts regarding what I ate in Singapore, Borneo and Kuala Lumpur. I know this is predominantly a food blog (and Hungry Kittens is now mostly for Brisbane restaurant reviews) but I'll share a few holiday snapshots and tidbits of information along the way.

 I'd say it was good to be back guys, but I'd be lying.

Going from this...

and this...
to work today was ROUGH.

Oh well. Chin up, yeh?