Food Tales

ICE-CREAM KISSES

It was intriguing. Who would dare sell it in the Philippines? I am talking about kisses because kisses were what zipped through my mind when I saw the banners fluttering along the drop-off point at Greenbelt 3. I didn’t see the phrase after XOXO until I saw a poster at one of the entrances to the shopping complex. The ads were not referring to smooches, but XOXO handcrafted ice cream, which had been serving cups of ice cream rolls since November 23 on the third floor of Greenbelt 3. Standing right in front of the cinemas, its black and white colours wave at you, beckoning you to try a cup of ice cream which is hand rolled on the spot. The concept, I learnt from one of the amiable trio on duty, came from Bali; the business enterprise is owned by a New Zealander and an Australian, partnering up with a Filipino for their venture in Makati. Discovery 2: the Filipino owner – a part owner, she says – is one of the crew I met that January, who learnt the craft in Bali, “chopping” and “rolling” for four days while squeezing in strolls around Kuta and its famed beach. Discovery 3: the crew is trained to be a little more bonhomous than usual, and advised to replicate what is done in Bali. Picture the crew calling out to passers-by urging them to have a cup of XOXO, asking for their names, and engaging them in chit-chat. The Greenbelt crew, the part owner shared, were a little shy, prevailed upon by Filipino culture never to really engage strangers in a conversation much more call them by their first names. Filipinos are generally trained to address people – strangers and whatnot – as Sir or Ma’am punctuated by “po“, which is short for opo, a Filipino word uttered at the end to signify respect.

XOXO booth
XOXO ice cream booth

XOXO’s ingredients are the same as the ones used in Bali – no cost cutting by finding a cheaper substitute. For now, XOXO ice cream can only be eaten from cups, but they are working on getting their waffles cones out soon. Also in the pipeline is the third outlet at BGC; a second one is already serving the delectable ice cream at NAIA Terminal 3.

I am what I yam
Care for purple ice cream? Try the I am what I yam.
prepping the I am what I yam
prepping the I am what I yam

There are 12 flavours to choose from, each one creatively titled and presented. All the flavours are the same as in Bali except for three which are Filipino-centric. The first is Mabuhay, an homage to the Philippines’ halo-halo, a snack or dessert of shaved ice and a hodgepodge of sweet local ingredients that include fruits and sweet preserves topped with a dollop of yam paste and a cube of flan, and swirled with evaporated milk. Next is “I am what I yam’, a tribute to the halayang ube, or boiled purple yam that’s mashed and mixed with condensed milk, sugar, and butter, that can be eaten on its own or paired with something like halo-halo. The last is “Manny’s Fruit Punch”, an ice cream concoction named after boxer and politician Manny Pacquiao. For the curious, the concoction “The Godfather”, a chocolate concoction smothered in crushed Maltesers, milk chocolate chips, and chocolate biscuit Tim Tam, is the most popular choice among their customers.

prepping the godfather
a few more minutes and The Godfather will be ready

Stoked to try the ice cream, I went for “La Land”, a gluten-free cup of white chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chips, and drizzled with salted caramel on my first visit with a friend. It was smooth and packed tremendous flavours, but sans that saccharine sweetness and heaviness on the tummy. My friend, Joy, chose “Matcha Lychee”, a cup of gluten-free green tea ice cream topped with mochi and drizzled with chocolate sauce. She was in seventh heaven. One visit was not enough. My second visit was with my Uncle Ric right after our lunch. We decided to share a cup of “I am what I yam”, yam ice cream topped with yam mochi and ube wafer sticks, and sprinkled with ube bits. It is a Filipino thing – your life wouldn’t be complete without ube in any of its reincarnation.

hand rolled on the spot
Hand rolled on the spot – presenting La la Land
La la land
Dig into La la Land!
Matcha Lychee
for something with a Japanese taste – Matcha Lychee

For P195 a cup, believe me when I say XOXO hand crafted ice cream is better than any kiss from a former lover.

with XOXO crew
Sharing the ice-cream goodness with the XOXO trio

 

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Food Tales

THE STORY OF BOTTEGA

Bottega Wine dinner table setting
All set for the Bottega Wine Dinner

To tell the story of Bottega, let us begin with the sticker. A visit to the vineyard by a commission is the first step in the process followed by wine tastings before the wines are bottled and shipped to various destinations. If the commission finds the taste agreeable, or up to standard, then the seals are issued. All Bottega wines have the D.O.C seal, a ‘sticker’ given by the government of Italy, on the bottles which attest to the vineyard having passed all the requirements set by the government, thus they are not to be sold as regular table wine. Getting the coveted sticker is not a surprise since Bottega is pernickety about making wine which begins with the selection of grapes. Take the Bottega Soave Classico D.O.C 2016, which comes from Soave City. Made from the best gargarega grape, a type sourced from the 355 varieties of local grape in Italy, it has become the quintessential soave with its medium body, flower-peach notes, and a slight bitter aftertaste of almond. Soave has been around and was very popular between the 1950s and 1960s, but the quality was mediocre. Bottega reintroduced it into the market with a taste that breathes quality.

Bottega was in Indonesia on 30 November 2018 for a Bottega Wine Dinner featuring five of their prized wines. Held at Hotel Mulia’s il Mare, it began with a pre-dinner drink of sparkling wine, Bottega il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco D.O.C., complemented by bite-size corn croquettes at the bar. Prosecco is strongly challenging the reign of champagne in the sparkling wine industry as the preferred drink for any occasion. Wine drinkers are now gravitating towards Prosecco for its fruity taste, low acidity, and low alcohol content compared to champagne. The lower alcohol content is due to the short fermentation period of only between 40 and 50 days. It fact, it is because of Prosecco that Italy has been named the largest wine producer in the world for the last three years.  Served in a large wine glass instead of a traditional wine flute, I was told it was to let the aroma waft through the air and tickle the drinker’s nose.

Bottega Prosecco
Prosecco – the national sparkling wine of Italy

Next on the menu was lobster roll with capsicum and heirloom tomatoes paired with Bottega Soave Classico D.O.C. 2016 which whet the appetite for the next dish and wine pairing of ossobuco agnolotti and Bottega il Vino dei Poeti Rosso di Montalcino D.O.C. 2015. Coming from Montalcino where only eight percent, or 24,000 hectares, of land is used as vineyards and the rest are planted with olive trees (think olive oil), grape production is very limited with each vine producing only 1.2 kg of grapes for quality wine.

lobster roll
lobster roll with capsicum and heirloom tomatoes

Close at the heels of Montalcino 2015 is the vintage Bottega il Vino dei Poeti Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. 2010 which went well with the smoked grilled beef short rib with endive and mushroom that my friend had or, being a non-beef eater, the alternative dish of ravioli chicken mushroom I had. Brunello is made from a very sensitive type of grape called santroveza – its quality changes when there are changes to the area of cultivation. It must be aged for two years and resting in a bottle for four months to get that sophisticated taste and good acidity. A bottle of Brunello can be stored between 20 and 30 years.

smoke grilled beef short ribs
smoked grilled beef short rib with endive and mushroom
ravioli chicken with mushroom or what's left of it
half way through the ravioli chicken with mushroom
more Bottega wine
More Bottega wine, please!

Rounding up the wine dinner was the dessert wine Bottega Fragolino rosso and the digestif Grappa d’ Amarone Alexander, which is also produced by Bottega. The strong and smooth grappa helped to make room for the dessert soon to arrive. Fragolino is not new in the history of Italian wines. Produced from a type of grape called Isabella which tastes like strawberry, it was very popular between the 1930s and 1950s, but was banned by the government when wine drinkers decided to be wine makers in their own kitchens. In the 1990s, Bottega reincarnated it as the Bottega Fragolino rosso, a merlot cabernet-based wine infused with strawberry, which is prepared like Sangria, and mostly drank in the summer. But that night it accompanied the delectable dessert of strawberry tart with mascarpone, yoghurt mousse, and coconut snow to end the Bottega story on a sweet, fruity note.

souvenir mask from Venice
souvenir mask from Venice
masquerade vibe
exuding that masquerade vibe
grappa and red wine
grappa and dessert wine to end the meal

 

Food Tales

LUNCH AT THE MARKET

Publik Markette menu
What’s on the menu at Publik Markette?

It was only when I had properly perused the menu and observed the set up did the concept of Publik Markette sink in. Located at the East Mall of Grand Indonesia, Publik Markette is perfect particularly for three hungry friends with diverse culinary tastes. Emphasizing its market concept, the menu presents a variety of cuisine especially the three popular ones in Indonesia, viz. Japanese, Western, and Indonesian, from which diners can choose from just like in a market. The idea is reminiscent of Marché which features a buffet-open kitchen set up except its menu is centered on German-Eastern European cuisine. Publik Markette’s dining space has three areas accessible through one entrance with diners passing through an open kitchen-display of roasted pork, an array of pastries (watch out for the giant chocolate chip cookie), and the cashier’s post. A diner has three options of where to sit – concave booth chairs, picnic benches, or round tables next to faux trees.

For our first appetizer, the unanimous choice was calamari. The presentation was far from the usual with the deep-fried battered squid resembling thick fries; another plus was its crunchiness throughout lunch and the smooth aioli sauce with its balanced garlic and mayo combination. The second appetizer was chicken satay with peanut sauce. Publik Markette is generous with serving size with each stick of chicken satay looking way thicker than the usual skewered scrawny chicken strips.

calamari
crispy and tangy calamari
chicken satay
chicken satay with peanut sauce

The choices for the main course were variegated. My Nori Salmon bowl was huge in portion and flavor. Vegetables – lettuce, Japanese cucumber, edamame, mushroom, squares of seaweed, and strips of nori – cradled the more-than-matchbox-size salmon that was sweetish-salty to the palate. Theresia’s choice of Publik Pork belly, sitting on a bed of baby potatoes topped by arugula and other greens, was a smorgasbord of flavors. Her silence testified to her enjoyment of the seamless melding of flavors of the perfectly roasted, juicy pork belly mixing with the crunchiness of the greens, and soft potatoes. Meanwhile, Anto’s choice of the rich Pasta Beef Ragout was a carb-filled bowl of fettuccine topped with melted cheese and succulent beef ragout guarded by a piece of garlic bread.

nori salmon bowl
something Japanese – Nori Salmon bowl
Publik Markette pork belly
a house specialty – Publik Markette Pork belly
fettuccine beef ragout
fettuccine beef ragout

Conversation flowed from every direction, from serious thoughts on world issues to simple venting out of frustrations, as we polished off our lunches. If we were in Europe, an al fresco setting would have heightened the dining experience a few notches, but Jakarta is too humid to even think of dining without air conditioning, among other things. Fortuitously, Publik Markette has successfully recreated an elegant simulacrum of market dining with its far-from-gaudy setting and a menu that elevates the taste from pedestrian to delectable. Even the escalating din from the growing lunch crowd – a nightmarish, headache-inducing occurrence – didn’t have the same impact as I had imagined it would. Absolutely nothing ruffled the muted promise of Publik Marekette of a wondrous dining experience.

table for three at Publik Markette
table for three
Food Tales

DINNER WITH CHEF SUN

Chef Sun Kim and the Arts Cafe team
Chef Sun Kim (L) adds the final touches to the dishes.

Dinner is nothing different. It is as mundane as lunch, and alleviating the humdrum of dinner in Bekasi means facing the derrière – numbing, bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to Jakarta. The very thought of traveling is off-putting, but curiosity about Chef Sun Kim spurred me to book a table for one at Arts Café by Raffles. He was cooking dinner that Friday night.

Art Cafe Raffles
a view of the open kitchen and dining space from my table

Chef Sun, head chef of Meta, a Michelin- star rated restaurant on Keong Saik Road, Singapore, opened his dinner with a trio of canapés. Canapé 1: tapioca fritters topped with roe and octopus, and sprinkled with seaweed. Crunchy, juicy two bites! Canapé 2: mushroom tart with broccoli and parmesan cheese. The first-and-only bite had me thinking of pizza except with a tantalizing flavour, and left wishing pizzas tasted like his mushroom tarts. Canapé 3: amaebi with tartar sauce. The cold canapé exploded in a burst of juicy flavours in the mouth punctuated by the garlic-onion toast it was served on. It did the trick of whetting the appetite for Sun’s six-course meal.

tapioca fritters by Chef Sun Kim
canape 1: tapioca fritters
mushroom tart by Chef Sun Kim
canape 2: mushroom tart
amaebi with tartar sauce by Chef Sun Kim
canape 3: amaebi with tartar sauce

Chefs are akin to magicians except they dazzle their audience – seated at their tables – with culinary magic. Sun Kim didn’t disappoint as he pulled one kitchen trick after another with aplomb. His first culinary trick was surreal in plating and taste. Resting in a rock-designed bowl was sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang that offered a unique taste of seafood and pomelo which did a little tug-of-war on the tongue with the freshness of the seafood, zestfulness of pomelo, and a touch of spiciness.

sashimi of kampashi
sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang

He followed it with scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar in a warm, glazed, black-and-white cup. The chawanmushi was soft, blending smoothly with the fresh scallop at bottom of the cup. Caviar on chawanmushi is a definite first for me and it elevated the flavour to a luxurious height.

scallop chawanmushi
scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar

Sun Kim went for something far from nondescript for his third course. He upped the ante with slow-cooked octopus with homemade X.O. sauce and Jerusalem artichoke sitting on a warm, black bowl. It was like unwrapping a parcel with this dish. Lifting the bokchoy leaf (am guessing) revealed the octopus that cut easily into pieces and a succulence commingled with a piquantness that rolled around the tongue. The spiciness of the X.O. sauce slowly creeps up your taste buds which doesn’t numb them but ignite them. A palate-tickling surprise was the puréed artichoke (reminiscent of molecular gastronomy cuisine) in squid ink that added a soupcon of saltiness to the dish.

slow-cooked octopus
Peek-a- boo! Find the slow-cooked octopus with homemade XO sauce and Jerusalem artichoke.

Sun Kim’s fourth dish, grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip taking centre stage on a huge white-black plate, was a new palate teaser. The tender quail tasted similar to chicken teriyaki, but the taste takes a different direction to a new, ineffable yet flavourful taste enhanced by the tangy parsnip.

grilled quail
grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip

The guests at the table to my right finally arrived, and I unintentionally caught snippets of their chat. The yarn went something like this: Sun Kim was treated by the male guest to an Indonesian Padang dinner that he enjoyed immensely given its similarity to South Korean cuisine in terms of spiciness. It was not the case with his sous chef Jared who couldn’t handle the chilli, and was sweating buckets.

As the guests to my right started their dinner, I was on my second to the last course which truly showed why Sun Kim is a Michelin-star chef. Called 40-hour cooked beef short rib shiitake mushroom purée, pickled shiitake, and buckwheat, the beef, hiding underneath yet another leaf, fell into bite-size pieces with a mere touch of the knife. Sliding the beef, pinned with mushroom and onion bits, across the buckwheat sauce and popping it in your mouth, everything melded into a perfect blend of tenderness, juiciness, and well-prepared beef.

beef short rib
Peek-a-boo 2! Lift the leaf to discover the treasure called 40-hour cooked beef short rib.

Sun Kim’s magical culinary show closed on sweet, fruity note. Sitting prettily in the middle of a chilled bowl was mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint. My notion of dessert is something chocolaty so I was bit sceptical about Kim’s choice, but part of Kim’s magic is making your scepticism fade away and pushing you to embrace confidence in him. Spoon in hand, I glided it from the coconut cream, crowned with mint syrup, down through the sherbet and the mango cubes. It was a beautiful salsa of seamless tanginess and sweetness with every bite.

mango salsa
mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint

Dinner with Sun Kim was one amazing experience, and facing Jakarta’s traffic was worth it. There was always a treasure to discover in each dish, unearthing it as you go through the layers of the ingredients aesthetically plated in stunning crockery.

*Standing ovation*

“The Star of Singapore” Wine dinner list

Dish Wine
sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2011, Alsace, France
scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar Chateau Villa Bel Air blanc 2014, Graves Bordeaux, France
slow-cooked octopus with homemade X.O. sauce and Jerusalem artichoke Domaine Anne Gros 50/50 Cotes du Bris 2015, Minervois, France
grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Les Theurons 2012, Burgundy, France
40-hour cooked beef short rib shiitake mushroom purée, pickled shiitake, and buckwheat Chateau Malmaison 2007, Medoc, Bordeaux, France
mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint Diel Riesling Kabinett 2012, Nahe, Germany

 

Food Tales

LUNCH, ANYONE?

Lunch in Bekasi has become a humdrum affair as the choices remain the same and predictable. At Grand Metropolitan Mall, for example, you have fish porridge and fried shimeji mushroom at Tawan; Hainanese chicken set at Imperial Kitchen; teriyaki chicken at Yoshinoya; and salmon-chicken set at Pepper Lunch. A new Vietnamese restaurant has opened, but eventually the fresh spring rolls lose its appeal. Kenny Rogers closed shop while a shabu-shabu restaurant has yet to open.

An exciting lunch means braving the traffic to get to Jakarta and drown in the myriad choices confronting your senses. Nomz Kitchen & Pastry was a suggestion from Kelvin Gotama who has combed Grand Indonesia for worthy restaurants. The open-restaurant concept of Nomz Kitchen & Pastry where potential diners can see through the restaurant – the traditional walls are gone – lends it a warm, cosy café vibe completed by the earthy interior and furnishings, and a counter display that would make gourmands salivate. Its menu truly overwhelms one with choices so much so that it takes a while to order. The choice must be right because getting to Jakarta is no walk in the park. Following my rule of thumb when I dine in Jakarta, which means selecting a dish that is not regularly found in Bekasi or a dish that would better be interpreted, I opted for Chicken Katsu while my lunch partner, KG, went for the all-day Sunday brunch choice of Nomz Benedict. Our shared appetizer was Crumbed Escargot.

cake display 1_Nomz
an array of pastries await diners at Nomz
cake display 2_Nomz
more cakes and pastries to choose from

My rice bowl was a satisfying melange of crunchy chicken, egg, and soft rice drizzled with sweet sauce and mayonnaise. The portion was huge, but a long lunch had it finished down to the last morsel. As for the escargots, they provided a nice contrast to the Chicken Katsu particularly when dipped in the balanced sweet-sour-spicy dip sauce. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that the escargots, which have a tendency to become tough when overcooked, were soft underneath the coating of crumbs, which I believe to be the kind used in cooking tempura. Meanwhile, KG’s Nomz Benedict was a filling and flavourful split bagel topped with poached egg, roe, arugula, and drizzled with hollandaise sauce.

chicken katsu
Chicken Katsu by Nomz Kitchen
Nomz Benedict
Nomz Benedict for brunch
crumbed escargot ver 2
Crumbed Escargot for appetiser

It goes without saying that an exciting lunch is far from rousing if it only focuses on food. A huge part of the excitement is the conversation, in which KG is adroit at much like the older brother Kelvin, with topics running the gamut of everything under the sun, including, naturally, gorgeous men with the initials of TH.

Toby’s Estate at Grand Indonesia is next on our list for another exciting lunch at the city. It is another suggestion from gourmand Kelvin.

Food Tales

THE CAKE TRAIL

It was the ube flower icing that rekindled the hunt that ignited the cake trail. The ube flower icing added that punch to the palate after every bite. It was a must to have my fork glide down the slice from top to bottom because leaving out the ube flower icing completely marred the cake experience. To the uninitiated, ube (pronounced oo-beh) is roughly translated as yam, and back then in, I believe, the early ’90s, Red Ribbon was indubitably the ube cake maker. A craving for its ube cake meant popping by the nearest branch and getting a slice. But I lost my craving for it after being given a pitiable excuse the one time I set foot in a branch after years of being away that having a slice was no longer possible because there were no ube cakes that had been cut up.

Classic Ube Cake
Classic Ube Cake by Cara Mia & Gelato

Fast forward to now, thanks to Instagram, I was put on the ube cake trail. Prior to the launch of their Classic Ube Cake last August, Cara Mia Cakes and Gelato in the Philippines teased cake lovers with videos of the ube cake being made from scratch: the main ingredient, halayang ube, or boiled yam, spinning away in the mixer. No shortcuts for this baker! No instant ube mix being peddled in the market for this ube cake! Joy! The hype lived up to its name, as every bite was a palate- satisfying bite that didn’t leave one cloyed, but sweetly satiated down to the last ube icing swirl and a promise to come back for more.

Meanwhile, an outing Jakarta put me on a different cake trail – I was just looking for a very good cake which Bekasi is mournfully bereft of. The first serendipitous find was the Banoffie Pie from Nomz Kitchen and Pastry, an eatery with a warm café-vibe to it at the East Mall of Grand Indonesia. Ordered post-lunch, the bowl, which was good for sharing, was a merry mix of graham bits, slices of banana, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings, and caramel sauce that completed the sweet coup de grace.

Banoffie Pie
Banoffie Pie by Nomz Kitchen & Pastry

Rounding off the cake trail was another stupendous find within the same mall but at the ground floor of the West Mall this time. The Greyhound Café had this Choco Banana Crepe that partnered well with the lemon grass tea thus making for a perfect high tea selection. The cake is two alternating layers of bananas, chocolate, and custard that ends with glazed bananas on top that – contrary to first glance – are not chips but soft – not mushy – bananas. Just like with the ube cake, it is a must to have the fork glide down the cake to get all the layers and savour all that thrilling choco-banana goodness.

Choco Banana Crepe
Choco Banana Crepe by Greyhound Cafe

The cake trail is far from over because there are still a lot of untrodden cake trails.

Food Tales

STOKED ABOUT PURPLE OVEN

the new Purple Oven at Rallos

 Purple Oven came much later in my life. In fact, we just got reacquainted on New Year’s Eve thanks to my mother who was stoked to track down its new branch in Quezon City. She had heard about Purple Oven when a long-time friend asked if they could drop by its outlet in Makati so she could get some cookies. The place was packed to the rafters when they got there. Apparently, Purple Oven’s fantastic cakes and pastries had been drawing in crowds for quite some time. I was hopped-up because I am always keen to try out new – it is for me – cake shops.

Estrella’s, now rebranded as Estrel’s, was the go-to cake shop in my youth even though its only outlet then was somewhere in Laperal, Manila. Their caramel chiffon cake with butter icing flowers was the cake for all occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, family get-togethers. I strongly recall the “fights” to get any one of the four corners of the cake which had two sides of caramel icing unlike when you just get the middle part. Second go-to cake shop was the dubbed “national” bakery of the Philippines, Goldilocks, famed for its brazo de mercedes (soft meringue roll with custard filling), ensaymada (the Philippines’ version of the brioche baked with butter and topped with grated cheese and white sugar), egg pie, and moist chocolate cake.

Then Red Ribbon came into the picture, providing very stiff competition to Goldilocks. Estrella’s remained unfazed, focusing on its exclusive clientele. Red Ribbon blazed into the cake scene with an array of newfangled cakes: ube cake (it was the first yam cake), black forest (the thick shavings of chocolate and cherries were quite a sight), coffee crunch (the honeycomb crunch topping provided that sweet crunch to the palate), and chocolate mousse (the usual mousse in a cup had turned into a cake). Red Ribbon cranked up the competition by offering pastries such as bite size chicken empanada (chicken pie) and banana crunch loaf.

Sombreros, an independent cake shop on Pasay Road and relatively near to the defunct Celebrity magazine, was another go-to shop particularly for their crema de fruta or layered cake of cream and fruits topped with gelatin. Unfortunately, they closed shop after a few years.

pay and collect your cake at the counter of Purple Oven at Rallos

Cake or pastry from Purple Oven?

Cakes are placed in Christmas box and, for a fee, in a purple cloth bag.

Purple Oven’s Classic Chocolate cake

ready to dig into my slice of Classic Chocolate cake

The cake shops are still going strong, but my interest in cakes had petered out until I took a bite of Purple Oven’s Classic Chocolate cake. It was the simple but palate-tickling chocolate taste of my childhood, which was neither too sweet or bland, that I had been missing for ages. The cake had the right level of moisture which meant it didn’t rely on the icing for the flavor and texture. Each bite – cutting through with the fork from the top to the bottom of one’s slice – was precision in flavor, texture, and moisture. After the Classic Chocolate, we went back to get Grandma’s Classic Chocolate, a cake done with milk chocolate, and a dozen chocolate crinkles. Now, I am stoked to try Chocolate Campfire during my next vacation.

chewy chocolatey crinkles by Purple Oven

Stoked to have a slice of Grandma’s Classic Chocolate cake

Purple Oven at Rallos

F7 Building Scout Rallos St. Quezon City

Tel: +63 631 4221

Hours: 7am to 9pm

Price list: 

Classic Chocolate cake               PhilP725

Grandma’s Chocolate cake       PhilP750

Chocolate Crinkles (12 pieces) PhilP365

Food Tales

VIOLET’S HIGH TEA

Welcome to National Kitchen by Violet Oon! Your table is ready.

The meeting happened this time unlike my unsuccessful Sunday Brunch get together. Her suggestion was high tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon. I was game because I hadn’t seen her – her is my former-freelance writer-now-friend Marguerita Tan based in Singapore – in ages and I have always been partial to high tea since Bekasi is bereft of it. There is also this inexplicable elegance in sipping tea (or coffee) in fine china and nibbling bite-size delicacies. Curiosity was another factor. The Peranakan restaurant, nestled nicely in the refurbished City Hall building which is also the new home of the National Gallery, is new to me. There were truly a lot of things to look forward to.

Look at the exquisite chandeliers! Check out the mirror ceiling!

For the uninitiated, Violet Oon is a household name in Singapore being a food critic, author, cooking show host, restaurant owner, and former journalist. Her National Kitchen by Violet Oon is drawing crowds that it is a must to reserve a table because it is impossible to just drop in and dine. Our meet up was propitious; tables were available, but we had to get there before high tea. No problem. Both of us were ready to savor the pre-high tea menu and waiting an hour plus was a walk in the park.

To get to National Kitchen, one is advised to enter via the Coleman Street entrance. The restaurant is at the corner of the City Hall wing of the National Gallery on the second floor in which you get to by walking a bit and turning here and there. The strategically placed signs easily gets diners to the eatery. It is small establishment yet not cramped although you will hear cachinnations from the tables around you and see what the others have ordered. Still, it is a cosy venue to catch up on each other’s lives. Plus point: the service crew is polite without being too unctuous and well-versed in the dishes. One recited the items of our high tea set without skipping a beat!

It was still early for high tea so Markie, as she is called, and I went for two popular starter dishes on the menu: chicken satay (S$15) and kueh pie tee (S$17). These we complimented with the hot and cold versions of Kopi VO “C” or coffee with evaporated milk. The chicken satay was generous in terms of thickness and number of pieces skewered on a stick. Tender too and with just the right level of spiciness, meaning the satay doesn’t “burn” your tongue. It is served with spicy peanut sauce with grated pineapple (a new take for me), steamed rice cake, cucumber, and red onion. Meanwhile, the kueh pie tee never fails to capture my attention. First, I am taken by the esculent cup masquerading as a “top hat” and, second, I like how the flavors come together and end with a crunch. The deep-fried cup-top hat holds the julienned bamboo shoot and turnip poached in prawn bisque which is topped by prawn, and can be dipped in chili sauce or sweet sauce depending on one’s preference.

The chicken satay is good for one or two diners.

Kueh pie tee – split it with a friend or have it all

Hot Kopi VO “C” goes well with the satay and kueh pie tee

Kopi VO “C” Peng or coffee with evaporated milk and ice with satay? Go for it!

KWe were finally able to sink our teeth into the Singapore High Tea by 2pm. Priced at $56++, the three-tiered serving stand showcased savory and sweet bites along with Kopi VO or teh (tea). Counting from the bottom, the first platter held the pulled beef sambal in steamed bun and hae bee hiam sandwich or spicy dried shrimp floss finger sandwich. The second platter highlighted the nasi kuning serunding, glutinous rice with turmeric and topped with spicy fried coconut flakes; kueh pie tee; otak crostini, spiced coconut cream fish quenelle on a buttered crostini; and buah keulak crostini, buah keulak infused with spices, minced prawns, and milk on buttered crostini. Skipping the pulled beef sambal, each savory delight was a bite of piquant flavors rolling in the mouth.

The top tier held the sweet stuff of which I instantly checked these two as my favorite kueh or cake: kueh lapis legit (layered buttery cake) and roti jala (traditional Nyonya laced pancake served with gula melaka – dark palm sugar – and banana coconut sauce). The other kueh included kueh beng kah, tapioca cake with coconut cream; kesturi pie, citrus curd on a a buttery shortcrust base topped with papaya and limau kasturi (golden lime) compote; kueh dah dah, grated coconut cooked with gula melaka wrapped in crepe infused with pandan; and kueh lapis sago, pearl tapioca multi colored layered steamed cake infused with pandan.

the piece de resistance – Singapore High Tea for two

Meet ups with good friends are never unpleasant events. The hours go unnoticed with the exchange of stories in between sips and bites. Undoubtedly, the whole experience is ameliorated with a good selection of a restaurant for the recollection of the past, talk about the present, and musings on the future. Indubitably, high tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon made the meet up even memorable.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon at National Gallery Singapore

1 St. Andrew’s Road #02-01, National Gallery Singapore 178957

E-mail: eat@violetoon.com

Reservations: +65 98349935
Lunch: 12pm – 3pm (last order 2:30pm)

Dinner: 6pm – 11pm (last order 9:30pm)

Veranda: 5:3m – 11pm (last food order 10pm)

Food Tales

SUNDAY BRUNCH FOR ONE 

cupcakes and meringues
The plan was a meet up, but it fell through because she got caught in traffic at the opposite side of Jakarta. So I ended up enjoying Fairmont Jakarta’s Sunday Brunch alone one November. It was not a sad affair as a table for one normally impresses upon others who are with friends, family, or a special someone. I wasn’t really all by my lonesome self. The crew of Spectrum came up every now and then to inquire about how I was doing or to suggest something that I should try. On two separate occasions, two trolleys trundled up to my table: caviar and liquid nitrogen ice cream. I just let the caviar chef do her magic with the multi colored caviar likewise with the one making the liquid nitrogen cheese ice cream. At that time, too, I was accompanied by Italo Calvino whose book “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” I went back to after putting it down for a while. 

Spectrum’s Sunday Brunch is a grandiose affair compared to its regular buffet. The dessert station burgeoned into a station plus a long, tall table teeming with sweet delights and a medium one across it with cupcakes and meringues guarded by superheroes. Another station that whets the appetite is the seafood laden with fresh shellfish – clam, bamboo clam, mussel – ready for the picking along side lobsters and its cousins. Sauces are below the seafood waiting for be slathered on the chosen seafood. For meat lovers, the piece de resistance is the huge leg of roasted beef that is immediately seen when one emerges from the entrance into the dining area. Behind the roasted beef is a long array of Chinese and Indonesian dishes ending with a turkey ready to be carved at one’s bidding. A second long table features a wide assortment of salads and appetizers. Parallel to this smorgasbord are several open-kitchen stations viz. Japanese, noodles, grill, and Italian which ends, on a diner’s right side, with the open-kitchen dessert station overflowing with ice cream, cookies, bread and butter pudding, waffle, etc.

Enjoy your “frozen” cheese ice cream
Caviar on wheels right at your table
bite-size caviar
Grilled shrimp and chicken satay
Get your fill of dimsum.
Clams, mussels, and lobster from the seafood corner

Sunday Brunch for one is, as I have discovered serendipitously, far from an affair of solitude. Mine turned into a time of being away from the general melee of society, narcissistic individuals, and everyday struggles. It was just me, my book, and excellent food.

Clockwise: orange cheese tarts, apple crumble cake, zepote, and salted caramel popcorn cake
Food Tales

MORE LUCE, PLEASE 

Luce and Attems wines waiting to be poured

History has seen King Henry VIII making heads roll for whatever he deemed were their transgressions. But somehow the Luce Estate escaped his edict related Peter Ferguson. Apparently, there must have been something in their wines that he enjoyed, continued Ferguson, as laughter erupted from the cordoned off room. This was fact number one that had me intrigued me about the red and white wines my friends and were all set to taste that night. Continuing with his annotation about Luce Estate, fact number two was completely unexpected. Ferguson revealed that their wines are organic – meaning pesticides are not used to ward off the bugs and whatnot that ruin crops. They use earthworms which are then hunted by birds. The winemaking process is all natural, he emphasized.
Mr Ferguson is the Global Sales Director- Commercial Director of Luce Della Vite and Attems, wine brands of the Luce Estate. He presided over the Luce Wine Dinner at il Mare of Hotel Mulia on September 26. It was a night of unforgettable gastronomic culinary experience with special thanks to Chef Roberto who, in the words of the Ferguson, “did a magnificent job of pairing the dishes and wines.” 

I couldn’t agree more. Chef Roberto’s opening salvo for the five-course meal was cod fish tripe, green peas, Chilean sea bass confit that he paired with Attems Pinot Grigio 2015 with its crisp citrus alternating with ripe apricot bouquet. The vibrant fruitiness of the wine proved an excellent partner to the fresh, flavorful fish: it was a smooth tango of sipping and dining.

First dish: cod fish trip with Attems Pinot Grigio 2015

Second dish: Don’t call me lobster soup paired with Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato 2015

Following up the energetic opening that greatly stoked the diners’ palates, Roberto served up a whimsically named dish that belied a taste that one would seriously relish. He was on a roll as he partnered Don’t call me lobster soup with Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato 2015 and its aromatics of fragrant strawberry and wild cherry mingled with roasted espresso beans and ginseng. The lingering crisp finish ending on a tasty bitter note on the palate combined effortlessly with the succulent seafood trying hard not to look like lobster. Scooping from the bottom was a secret on how to enjoy it that Maurizio, head of il Mare, shared with us as he table-hopped making certain everything was fine.

We were then immediately introduced to the next two stars of the night, Lucente Tenuta della Vite 2013 and Luce Tenuta della Vite 2006. Lucente, sourced from the same vineyards as Luce, arrived first and was a perfect companion to the truffle scented duck tortelli, mushrooms, and foie gras. Its underlying crisp balsam taste blended with the succulence of the roasted duck, tickling the palate to no end. Close at the heels of Lucente 2013 was Luce 2006, the first wine created in Montalcino by blending Sangiovese and Merlot. Its rich aromatics of red berry fruit, dried plum, and blackberry plus pungent balsam and sweet vanilla provided the flavorful backdrop for the charcoal grilled lamb rack served with eggplant and sesame to further dazzle the diners.

Third dish: truffle scented duck tortelli paired with Lucente Tenuta della Vite 2013

Fourth dish: charcoal grilled lamb, eggplant, and sesame paired with Luce Tenuta della Vite 2006

As the hours moved towards the new day, the conversation at our table grew animated and so did the laughter. Yulianto, a non- wine drinker, was taking to the different wines poured into the glasses like fish to water. The creases on his brow had vanished and his thoughts on work were eclipsed by deciding on which bottle of wine he liked the most. Meanwhile, Theresia was comparing notes on the previous wine dinner she had attended and was discovering Luce was more to her glass of wine. 

Enjoying my first glass of Luce wine

Good friends, Luce wine, and good food – simple pleasures of life

Chef Roberto, like a maestro of the orchestra coming to the conclusion a moving music piece, closed dinner on a soft, elegant note with the creamy strawberry mille-feuille, leaving an audience fully satiated but sans the uncomfortable heavy feeling in the tummy. A wine pairing dinner can be an easy affair to conduct for professional chefs, but it takes a maestro of the kitchen and a top quality wine maker to create an unparalleled dining experience. My glasses are empty – I need more Luce, please.