Monday, 19 August 2013

Princess of Wales

The Princess of Wales Pub is located near Primrose Hill, on a bright, wealthy residential street. A little challenging to get to, especially on a hot summer's day with the London Underground acting up on a typical weekend, forcing you to squeeze on replacement bus services with sweat clinging on to everything.

Colourful nearby houses

I decided to pay this particular pub – which is quite out of the way for me – a visit as a result of winning Zomato's weekly Write-For-A-Bite contest. (They did originally offer me £50 off my bill at Bacco's, but there was some complication with the restaurant, so they gave me £30 off The Princess of Wales instead.)

The view from atop Primrose Hill

The pub was quiet upon our arrival at 1.30pm. (The transport delayed us for an hour. Welcome to London!) The sun was shining, and the shutters were wide open. The place is wood-panelled all over, with the bar in the middle, and there's a cosy garden-basement just down the stairs.

English pubs are great for getting, well, English food. My sister ordered some chicken with gravy and a Yorkshire pudding, as it was Sunday, and they had roast specials with a live jazz band playing at 4pm! The chicken was tender, the gravy just-right, and the veggies soft and generous.

Her husband got a prawn salad with beetroot, which was part of the Sunday specials as a main, but it was quite a scarce portion for the price. (approx. £13)

I got grilled sea bass with potatoes, sliced courgette, and smoked mackerel pâté. The sea bass was very impressive – it had a tasty, crispy skin, and soft meat. The mackerel pâté was particularly interesting – smoky, fishy, tasty, but rather oily – and went well with the cool courgette salad.

By the time the jazz band started playing, the pub was filled and buzzed with summer, pint-induced liveliness. Dessert was a scoop of salted caramel-flavoured ice cream atop a nut-filled brownie. The brownie had rather hard edges, but a soft, cake-y inside. The salted caramel ice cream was so good, I was tempted to lick the plate clean.

We ended up with a bill of about £60, but the voucher helped to pay half of that. The Princess of Wales is a great place to chill and have drinks with friends. Sunday brings you more reasons to visit, due to the roast specials and the live jazz band. A walk afterwards on Primrose Hill followed by a nap under a tree – there was no better way to complete this particular summer Sunday.

22 Chalcot Road
London NW1 8LL
0207 722 0354

Monday, 12 August 2013

Madam Kwan's

You may have heard of the newly-opened Madam Kwan's at Vivocity, Harbourfront, which has been highly-anticipated since its success from four branches in Malaysia. (Unless you don't live in Singapore, or don't know where it is. In any case, stay if you want to hear about this very particular Singaporean dining experience...)

I arrived at the restaurant before the rest of my family, and repeated to the dazed-looking table-usher a few times that, no, I do not want to make a reservation, I already have a reservation for five people.

Feeling quite thirsty after coming straight from work, I decided to order an interesting-sounding yam milkshake while the others come. (Sounds interesting, doesn't it?)Ordering in English seemed to be a mistake – the waitress replied me in Chinese stating that she didn't understand. Okay, I thought, strange for a restaurant in Vivocity, the ultimate tourist shopping mall. I repeated my order in Chinese, pointing to the item on the menu. She gave final confirmation by asking if she had circled the correct item on the mini-menu that she was holding. Goodness, yes, it was indeed a 'yam shake' which you have circled. Thank you.

The rest of my family finally arrived, and we ordered some dishes from the menu to share, and a plate of rice each. My milkshake arrived while we were ordering. I expected it to be purple, (most yam-flavoured desserts in Asia are purple) but I thought that it was white because of a lack of artificial colouring. I took a sip, frowned, and took a few more – lo and behold, it was a regular vanilla milkshake. (Man, I still wonder how a yam milkshake tastes like.)

I waited for us to finish ordering the food, before I spoke up. The waiter suggested the assam fish head while we were making decisions. My sister and I quietly flipped to the item on the menu, and it was priced at SG$49. (£24.50) Sly move, sir – that was what our eyes said when they met – but thankfully nobody on the table was up for fish that night, and the suggestion didn't lead anywhere.

Then I requested a change of drink, but the waiter refused. Why, I asked, the waitress who took my order made a mistake, I wanted yam, not vanilla. It's a restaurant regulation, he politely stated – once a customer tries their food, the kitchen can't take it back. My family and I exchanged amused faces.  Then, he said, you shouldn't have drunk it, if you wanted to change it. Internal laughter of disbelief rippled through the table.

"How would she have known it was wrong, if she didn't drink it?" Many variations of this was thrown towards the resilient waiter, who didn't bat an eyelid, and refused, again and again, without much apology.

After lots more slightly heated demands for explanation, as well as some mutterings of 'bad service' under our breaths, the waiter couldn't be persuaded. We gave up, and I drank that vanilla milkshake. (I've never seen a yam milkshake on a menu before... I'm really curious.)

The food came fast in a flurry, the plates all barely fitting onto the table. The best of it was the fried chicken – lovely tenderness, and a nice, crispy skin. There was also some great but spicy sotong, (squid) kangkong, (water spinach) and chicken curry – the latter had a distinct flavour of coconut milk, which was nice but activated a siren against my diet plan! The beef rendang tasted so-so, but was bad on the presentation front: plonked on a plain diner's plate, about three stingy scoops, with two pathetic cucumber slices sticking out of the side of the plate. Costing somewhere between SG$10 to SG$13, (£5 to £7.50) it certainly wasn't worth it. The beef satay was big and chunky but lacked charred, complex flavours I could get from my own barbecue party, although the accompanying peanut sauce was great.

The drinks were rather overpriced – SG$5 for my brother's 'Honey Lemon Tea', which was basically water, lemon slices, ice cubes, and honey.

The bill came up to SG$144 (£72) for the five of us. For local food that we can easily find elsewhere – despite the higher quality of just a few dishes – it was not worth it, and I don't think I'll be going back to Madam Kwan's unless this branch at Vivocity does some serious staff-training and policy-reviewing. (How in the world does a yam milkshake taste like!? I NEED TO KNOW!)

The information presented in this account is true to the best of my knowledge. I wish Madam Kwan's all the best, and hopefully I'll see more customers and better staff on a Sunday night in Vivocity the next time I visit.

Also, I was not happy about having to pay compulsory service charge. Singapore needs a lesson or two from the UK.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Flor Patisserie by Chef Yamashita

Flor Patisserie is a little bit of a trek for those who don't know the area well. Its closest MRT (stands for 'Mass Rapid Transit' – Singapore's version of the Tube/Underground) stations are Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar, but Janice, Venetia and I unknowingly took a long walk from Outram Park Station with the help of a smartphone.

The patisserie is small – there's a capacity of six diners within the shop, with another three or so additional sets of tables and stools outside along the walkway. A few shelves affixed on the wall holds little bags of special cake-slices and cookies which are up for sale, such as walnut cookies, chocolate madeleines, butter cakes, coffee biscuits, sesame cookies, etc. Most of these have a covered bowl of sampling pieces by their side, which is great for curious tasters like myself.

The three-tiered display cabinet by the cashier was empty other than the top shelf, which was quite a shame, as options were limited, and it showed. Janice and I went for the mont blanc (above) for SG$6.95. (£3.50) After unwrapping the surrounding foil, there lay a light yellow sponge cylinder topped with chestnut cream, pierced by chocolate curls and a flaky pastry shard. Unfortunately, the latter was soggy and papery, and I felt that the dessert should have done without it.

The taste of the entire cake was extremely subtle, a la Japanese baking style of Chef Yamashita. The first bite didn't speak much, but the light chestnut flavour came through with more bites, and a single sweet chestnut is later revealed under the carefully-piped cream. Both the texture of the sponge and cream was light and airy, very easy to eat. It was my first time trying a mont blanc, and I quite enjoyed it, but I must say that it was overpriced for its size.

On a side note, check out this video of a Japanese YouTuber mum making 'dessert soba noodles'! (Actually a giant mont blanc) Watch until the end, her daughter's reaction is priceless.

I had a bit of Venetia's Wakakusayama, [pause to catch breath] which is a green tea Swiss roll filled with red bean cream, topped with fruits and sweet chestnuts. (SG$7.30, £3.65)

Janice is busy Insagramming her mont blanc too. A table full of mentally unstable people.

The flavour of green tea was strong in this cake. Rather heavy, almost bitter, not for those who usually stick to sweet treats. The red bean cream had a lot of authentic red bean taste, which is special to taste. 

My friends and I decided to share an 'Ice Cheese Tart' out of curiosity. Each tart costs SG$3.40 (£1.70), and has varieties of strawberry, green tea, maple, mango, chocolate & orange, yuzu and caramel, which we ended up choosing.

The 'Ice Cheese Tart' turned out to be pretty much a frozen mini-cheesecake stuck fast to a paper mould, with an almond biscuit base. It was pretty annoying trying to bite or cut through the rock-solid cheesecake, but we didn't have patience to wait for it to thaw either.

The taste of the cheese tart was striking, and absolutely great. There's a distinct saltiness in the cream cheese which really improves the flavour of it. I didn't notice any obvious caramel flavour, but I'm guessing it was infused into the cream cheese somehow. I wouldn't mind going back to try the other flavours, especially maple, but I do wish they would sell these un-frozen!

Just when the three of us thought that we'd had enough cake for the day, a tray of Strawberry Soufflé (SG$6.60, £3.30) magically appeared on the only-occupied shelf in the display cabinet when it wasn't there before, threatening to become dessert for our dessert!

Gotta have it, we thought. It was okay height-wise, but was a narrow slice. Piled with blueberries and strawberries encased in clear jelly, the cake is made up of a thick middle layer of light, aerated cheesecake topped with chantilly cream and strawberry chunks, all sandwiched between light sponge cake, plus fine biscuit crumbs stuck to the side.

It was a very impressive cake, and I loved the hint of lemon in the cheesecake, which gave it a quiet, pleasant tang. Despite it being cheesecake, it was not too rich at all, because of the soufflé technique used to create an airy texture. The other two girls commented on sour strawberries, but the ones I ate seemed fine. This is a cake I'd come back for, it's delicious.

Due to the long walk under the hot, late-afternoon sun, we each got iced tea to cool ourselves down and quench our thirst. Janice went for green tea, Venetia a peach tea, and for myself, a mango tea. (SG$4.50, £2.25, except for the green tea which was slightly cheaper)

The teas were very pure – teabag, water, ice cubes, and no added sugar. I could barely taste mango in mine, but it was refreshing, nevertheless. The staff at Flor gladly lets you top up the water in your cup, so you can maximise the use of the teabag.

We each ended up spending about SG$15 (£7.50) per person, with all the drinks and shared cakes. Not somewhere one would frequent as a student, but a nice, quiet place to go for an occasional dessert-escapade, especially if you're into Japanese desserts.

Flor Patisserie
2 Duxton Hill
Singapore 089588
+65 6223 8628

(Another branch at Siglap, plus a Takeaway at Takashimaya too.)

Monday, 5 August 2013

Beach Road Fish Head Bee Hoon

Hawker centres in Singapore are sheltered eating areas with rows of unique stalls selling a particular type of cuisine. Most of the local delicacies are present, including Chicken Rice, Roti Prata, (flatbread with curry) Yong Tau Foo, (a pick-n-mix of veggies, tofu, seafood and meat, to boil in soup, with or without the addition of noodles) and local desserts and drinks. There are also stalls selling Japanese, Korean, and Western food.

Really, one can never run out of options at a Singaporean hawker centre. There is most likely something for everyone.

My mum brought me to try out the Fish Head Bee Hoon at Balestier, which was preceded by a 10-minute long queue. (Worth noting that the other stalls had under three customers at a time)

Beach Road Fish Head Bee Hoon @ Whampoa Makan Place is mended by two stall owners – a cook, and a lady who handles the orders and payment.

At $3.50 (£1.75) for a pretty big bowl, it's great value. There's nothing to pay for service nor eating area. Just grab your food and find a table. That's why I love eating in hawker centres.

Yes, that is a bucket of plastic chopsticks.

I often find myself thinking that London needs something like this. I'm tired of going into places and sighing at the price labels, the voice in my head whining, "But... but I'm a student..." I'm tired of supermarkets (and not even all of them) being the only cheap option, I want a budget dining-in choice like good old Singaporean hawker centres!

I'm no expert on Fish Head Bee Hoon, as it's not one of my usual hawker choices. However, after trying this one from Beach Road Fish Head Bee Hoon, it has become a favourite! I love the light, milky, fish stock soup, as well as the slippery, thick rice vermicelli. The meat from the fish's head is cooked to perfection, stiff enough to grasp with chopsticks, but not tough or rubbery, and it falls apart nicely when eaten. This particular stall is awesome, because there is a generous serving of sliced fish. It is infuriating when you get lots of noodle, soup and vegetable, but just two pieces of meat. There's another version in which the fish is fried in batter, which I'm eager to try – an excuse for another visit!

Beach Road Fish Head Bee Hoon
Whampoa Makan Place
Block 92 Whampoa Drive
Singapore 320092

Friday, 2 August 2013

Bon voyage

I departed to Heathrow on the one day when London hid its rare, persevering sun and threw out a layer of grey, indifferent clouds, as if it had decided to say farewell by serving a taster of what I'd get when I come back in September. (Hopefully not.)

Terminal 3 of London Heathrow Airport's departure hall is pretty much an actual hall, huge and oblong, lined with shops like Starbucks, Boots, WHSmith, YO! Sushi, duty free, etc.

Breakfast for me was a Ham & Egg Salad sandwich from Boots (£2) which was so-so. I mainly tasted peppered egg, but it filled me up nevertheless.

It's been a year, but I still don't understand why the English don't mind cold sandwiches. In fact, they probably eat more cold sandwiches than warm ones, because they can be taken straight from the fridge in any supermarket or a pharmacy with snacks. Warm sandwiches are so much nicer – there's more taste, and the meat tastes like meat, instead of cool rubber.

Yes, this is a breakfast menu from Singapore Airlines. Having forgotten to take a picture of the menu, I contacted Singapore Airlines, and they kindly scanned me a copy of the menu from that particular flight within a few days, even though they've probably got better things to do!

I got the Tandoori Salmon served with raita, vegetable curry and Kashmiri pilaf – it was a good choice! The Tandoori salmon was cooked well and tasted great, with fragrant, fluffy pilaf rice, and a decent vegetable curry. The bread roll that came with it was as soft as a pillow, and light-tasting, it was pretty much perfect!

This mango chutney tart served atop salad intrigued me. It looks a little dodgy, but it tasted very interesting! Under the chutney is ground chicken tikka, and the flavours all went together wonderfully in the firm pastry.

Pad Thai for breakfast sounds outrageous to some people, but noodles for breakfast happens sometimes in Southeast Asia. These noodles were average, they didn't reeeally taste like Pad Thai, but reguler fried broad noodles with seafood, egg and veggies. The bread roll was ten times tougher than the one served during dinner. *insert pout face here* There was also a random butter cake at the side, along with raspberry yoghurt and fruits... there was a lot on that breakfast plate!

Now that I'm in Singapore, I'll be attending the best culinary school in the world, held exclusively and privately in my home kitchen, led by Chef Mummy. Progress and updates will be slow, because I've got many other things to do during my time here. I'll also be visiting eating places that I've heard about and always wanted to try!

However, don't ignore my blog for this month just because you're in London! Singapore has a brilliant food culture which I will be exploring from a whole new perspective, having experienced many other international foods in London.
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