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Fusion Flavours

Fusion Flavours

Sometimes, combining cuisines or food that don't usually belong together, can lead to delicious results.
Veronica Phua
Veronica Phua

H O S T E D
24 floors is enough to make you forget you are in Singapore’a premium shopping district. That’s what I realised when I visited “il Cielo” (it means “the sky” in Italian) last week. This peaceful al fresco restaurant is hidden away on the rooftop of the Hilton Hotel and is a perfect spot for a date night or when you just want to have a quiet dinner with a friend. The recently renovated space which includes a private dining room, is situated right next to the pool that, thanks to clever lighting, is transformed into a glowing purplish-blue body of water that resembles installation art more than it does a recreational facility.
The kitchen is led by Japanese Chef de Cuisine Yohhei Sasaki who was born and raised in Tokyo. What differentiates him is his unique position of having made Italy his home for many years due to him working at a few Two and Three MICHELIN Starred restaurants over there (fun fact: he speaks Italian better than he does English). Little wonder he holiday-ed in Tuscany last year, and subsequently returned inspired to create special “Desgustazione Menus” (Tasting Menus) priced at $138++ per pax. However, partaking in his food is not limited to those because you can also choose from an a la carte menu or a Seasonal one (4 / 5 / 7-course: $138 / $158 / $188++).
When we dined there last week, the aim was to try a wider variety so we each got a different Tasting Menu to share. There’s one that uses Italian ingredients while the other focuses on ingredients from Japan. Here are my favourites from both menus:

1. Small bites: I adored the Bocconcini cheese with Parma ham and tomato puff, as well as the macaron with homemade foie gras terrine and 12 years balsamic vinegar.

2. Insalata alla Cacciatore: Constructed around a heart of a marinated butter lettuce are European organic chicken mousse, chicken jus sauce, dehydrated tomato powder, olive powder and mushroom mayo. This warm salad is the kind of creation that makes you stop and stare after your first bite because its deliciousness exceeds expectations.

3. Capellini Burro e Timo: Cooked in a rich buttery sauce with huge chunks of fresh lobster and finished with shaved truffle, it is an immensely enjoyable pasta. The fine al dente strands are made in classical Italian fashion on the premises.

4. Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare: Another astounding pasta but done Japanese style. For this, Chef Sasaki uses a Ramen-making machine to produce the eggless strands (it seems this technique accentuates the semolina element). Served warm with Hokkaido uni, bottarga and yuzu, it has a lighter taste profile than the Capellini but is extremely satisfying in its own way.

5. Costina di Manzo “Miyazaki Wagyu A4”: One of the choices for the meat course in the Tasting Menu using Japanese ingredients, this boasts a piece of beautifully caramelised short rib that yields easily to a fork as it has been braised for 36 hours. The richness is cleverly combated by sautéed saffron risotto, lemon gel and an Italian parsley sauce.

6. La Sfera: A signature of Chef Sasaki, this dessert from the Japanese Tasting Menu is a refreshing Yuzu Sphere magically filled with ricotta cheese espuma, lemon sorbet and acacia honey gel. Tap firmly to break it and make sure to scoop a bit of everything for the ideal experience.

As you can tell from the above, both Tasting Menus include some really strong courses. I would say though that the pastas are the most outstanding of them, and are must-tries. Good thing is they are available a la carte as well.

I recommend doing the wine pairing (total cost of that with the Tasting Menu is $188++), or at least, having a glass with your food because “il Cielo” stocks some very lovely Italian Wines. Thanks to restaurant manager Sarah, I had the pleasure of sipping on a superb Chianti Riserva 2013.

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M E D I A T A S T I N G

I am calling it: 2020 is going to be the Year of the Pizza in Singapore. How can it not with @bjornshen’s @smalls_sg ready to welcome the public from 1st February and the insanely popular private dining @CasaNostraSg strongly rumoured to be opening a restaurant in the coming months? Let’s also not forget the stalwarts of #Neapolitanstyle #pizzas on our little red dot like @cichetirestaurant @lukasingapore and @trattoriaoperetta, who are still slinging out genuinely tasty stuff.

But allow me to direct your attention back to the ballsy Smalls Pizza Bar.

It’s tiny. So tiny it fits 4 customers and Bjorn. That night at our tasting, after my foodie friends and I had shoehorned ourselves into place, he started by sharing the inspiration behind Smalls. It seems everything on the Omakase menu ($125++ per pax) was inspired by his experiences at various pizza eateries while growing up in the ‘80s and early 90’s. Which was why a parade of playful takes on classics-from-that-era landed first. Think spicy, juicy Hot Chicken Butts (yums!), delish meatless Meatballs “Alfredo” with maitake, a refreshing Heirloom Tomato Salad with kelp, and an Oyster Cream with Trout Roe - perfect to swish slices of his first pizza, a garlic bread-inspired Pizza Aglio Olio, in. Naked save for garlic oil, this was the ideal vehicle to show off the Neapolitan crust he’d been slaving over since Smalls was but a spark in his noggin.

Aged for three days and boasting a higher-than-average hydration level of 70%, his baked crust was a wonderful thing of airy crunch and soft chewiness. Whatever it was topped with: squid ink sauce, baby zucchini, smoked octopus, cow’s milk mozzarella, pecorino, basil, olive oil for Pizza Black, or heirloom tomatoes, sautéed Sunset clams, pecorino and sea asparagus on Pizza Vongole; or filled with, as in the case of the Pizza alla Banh Mi which I’ve done a separate post about since I was smittened from first bite, MASSIVE tastiness reigned. He even did a version of the Stuffed Crust which I thought was a lot of fun.

There were two desserts at our sneak preview and I must admit, although the finale of Neapolitan Cookie (a piping hot molten chocolate chip cookie topped with strawberry compote and vanilla ice-cream) was perfectly fine, it was the first, a sweetish burrata and tomato that resonated more with me.

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A bunch of us met for Boxing Day dinner. I knew all of them separately but most did not know each other at all. However, I’d had an inkling the group dynamics would work. Sure enough, it turned out to be so much fun! 😄
We began our night at the Mandarin Gallery branch of Blue Label Pizza with some really tasty food, and ended the night rolling out of “CUT By Wolfgang Puck” (but that’s a whole other story and post 😆).
Head Chef Boon Teow revved our engines with the basket of corn chips he sent over. It came with two addictive dips: a Chicago-style spinach and artichoke, and a smoky roasted salsa.
We then moved on to the food I picked for us and the first to arrive were the Chicken Wings. Of course I had to get the ones coated in Buffalo Sauce as well as the Honey-garlic-sriracha. Both variants were accompanied by the same blue cheese ranch dip which boosted the yumminess level further. Funnily enough, when it came to their favourite wings, it was split by gender with the ladies voting for the tangier, spicy Buffalo and the guys, the Honey-garlic-sriracha.
We then came to the main event and the six of us put away three pizzas in total. What makes Blue Label Pizza’s so special is Chef Boon Teow’s crispy-crunchy crust coupled with unconventional toppings that are decidedly bold in taste profile.
We had the “J-Dog” ($37++ - this was my favourite of the lot with pork sausage, bacon, pepperoni, jalapeño, chilli and red sauce strewn across the base), the “Umami Bomb” ($29++ - a funky mix of shiitake mushroom, spinach, lemon, anchovy, goat's cheese on cornmeal crust) and “Summer In San Sebastián” ($36++ - a pizza with chorizo ragu, hokkaido octopus, espelette chili to be eaten with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and aioli - also really good).
When we were settling our bill, a plate of warm cookies was set down by the lovely Jay who’d been waiting on us all night, “compliments of the chef”, she said. They turned out to be fabulous - oozing plenty of hot gooey chocolate when we broke them apart.

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Making an appearance for the first time today at Spago Bar & Lounge on the 57th floor of Marina Bay Sands is this Wagyu Tongue Tacos.

And what an interesting Mexican-Indian hybrid it is.

Inspired by staff meals cooked by the Indian members of their international kitchen team, this features made-from-scratch tortillas and very tender cubes of Wagyu tongue cooked in masala spices, and then smoked with cloves and ghee. Fresh avocado, airy-light, crunchy pork crackling puffs and a side of creamy raita (yes, you read right, it’s the team’s take on the Indian yogurt with chopped onions and cucumber) amp things up further, elevating this exotic and very tasty taco to greater textural heights.

We were besotted from first bite!

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I love this modern take on the Korean bibimbap.
The hearty salad is built around a large piece of smoky bincho-grilled salmon that’s done so beautifully the flesh falls smoothly away in thick moist flakes. It is planted on a mound of flavourful hijiki seaweed rice and is surrounded on all sides by as many Korean “banchan” (assorted pickled/marinated vegetables) as Jon Snow was by White Walkers (ok, that may be an exaggeration 😆). Anyway, the bold punch of savoury-sweet “gochujang” sauce, sesame seeds and chilli guarantees this is as far from meek and mild as a salad can possibly get.
If you are in the MBS area and fancy escaping for a solo or quick lunch at the breezy and relaxed Bar & Lounge area of @spagosingapore, I think this is a pretty darn perfect choice.

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I was under the impression that Roketto Izakaya, Willin Low’s latest concept, was tucked in a corner of his existing establishment Relish, but nope, it is actually what the whole of Relish becomes (yes, with twinkling fairy lights and all) when the sun sets. So basically, Willin has two concepts in his space at Fraser’s Tower. I also just learned there’s a private entrance now as well. So do turn left when you get off the escalator on level two, go through the auto doors and head out the glass door at your ten o’clock. It will take you through a rooftop garden, directly to Relish/Roketto.
The place was quite quiet when my friend Annette and I arrived around 6pm on a Wednesday but was full at 8pm when we left. Once we settled our drinks—there’s a good selection of sakes, draft beers and sours but I had a strawberry milkshake (don’t laugh) and Annette, a Yuzu Soda—the menu-perusing began. Despite being tempted to order many of Willin’s Mod Sin creations, we sensibly shared the following...

From the Individual Bites:

1. Fish Collagen Broth ($5) - I liked this creamy, dairy-free soup a lot. Another bowl would not have gone amiss.
2. Mala Prawn Donut ($6.50/$7.50) - We both adored this! Seconds were required.
3. Black Pepper Crab Donut ($6.50++) - Richer than I expected as it has a creamy filling.
4. Bak Chor Mee Negitoro ($15) - Appetising mix of raw minced tuna and glass noodles.

As for the bigger Sharing Plates, we chose:

1. Aburaage Rojak Salad ($15) - Shiokness! We liked the twist of the “hae go” appearing as an ice-cream. It complemented the Tiger prawns, crisp Japanese “tau pok”, fresh pineapples, jicama and mango really nicely.
2. Har Jeong Tin Gai ($12) - Our server was adamant we order this. Glad we listened to her. The shrimp paste battered and fried frog legs were highly addictive, more so with the young ginger kosho.
3. Krapow Prata Pizza ($13.80) - Every bite of the flaky crust loaded with fragrant, spicy minced chicken, cheese, chilli and Thai basil had us cooing with pleasure.
4. Sarawak Curry Chicken Shepherd’s Pie ($15.80) - This began life as a staff meal but was so tasty Willin decided to add it to Roketto’s menu.

For dessert, we shared the Wild Rocket Strawberry Cheesecake ($9.20), one of Chef @willcookwilleat’s long-time signatures, and the Fresh Pineapple Sorbet ($7.80). I preferred the former personally but the latter with touches of chilli padi and soy sauce salt, would be ideal for those hankering after something more refreshing and exotic.

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Chef Ming Kiat is gifted in unshackling the DNA of traditional flavours and harnessing it, along with the “feeling”, to create shockingly sublime dishes that leave you staring at them in awe as you eat. The current menu (it changes monthly) has some of the most imaginative and delicious tasting Mod Sin (Modern Singaporean) creations that have ever landed on my palate. With each (details listed below), I was astounded, dazzled and ultimately, satisfied to no end. Here is the complete list:

1. Insanely good opener of seared local squid, in a laksa leaf pesto, enlivened with pickled green apple and a kerabu (Asian salad) of wing bean, mint and red onions.

2. Chockfull of Hokkaido scallop and fish maw, the chawanmushi was steamed in a stock of dried seafood and Jinghua ham, and topped with a very umami housemade X.O sauce. Extremely flavourful and a favourite of many.

3. Highly imaginative course of Ebi Katsu (crunchy prawn and fish patty) in a pool of Chef Ming’s tartare sauce which was concocted from fish chowder, turmeric leaf, laksa leaves, coriander and belimbing.

4. The herbal duck and Japanese mushrooms hot pot is a great example of minimal waste done to really tasty results. While the bones were brewed with Chinese medicinal herbs, the thighs were made into meatballs and the body meat, sliced and poached.

5. One of my favourites was the dish derived from Indonesian Soto soup featuring local grouper. Roast chicken stock was reduced to a “bumbu” (spice paste) and enriched with butter to become a velvety-smooth and terrifically aromatic gravy. Served with it, a smoked fish bergedil that was good on its own but better soaked in the gravy.

6. Chef Ming’s version of his mum’s Popiah Porridge is pure comfort food. The taste was sweet and savoury due to the simmering of turnip, carrots, cabbage, “hae bee” (dried shrimp) and Japanese rice in a potent prawn stock.

7. Peranakan meets Italian in the form of fresh egg noodles with buah keluak oxtail ragout. Adding sambal belachan and fresh lime juice brought the rich earthy flavours of the ragout to another level.

8. Nothing is straightforward with this team. For a palate cleanser, Chef Shin Yin made us a sorbet of cold-pressed star fruit juice and served it on Japanese muscat grapes and pomelo from Ipoh.

9. Baked a la minute, the piping hot orange sugee cake came with a scoop of spiced ice-cream that’s made in-house with cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. I doubt there could be a more perfect ending to this amazing meal.

H O S T E D
I’m not kidding when I say my friend Dex and I were blown away by the Superior Prawn Mee Pok ($19++) here. It is a mouthwatering creation that is unlike any other prawn noodles I’ve had. The thin strands of silky “mee pok” are cooked al dente in a lusciously rich gravy-broth made from prawn heads. There is a whole bunch of ingredients in it: tiger prawns, pork, half an egg and sakura ebi. What I love most though is the small chewy pieces of “lap cheong” or preserved Chinese sausage. They use the type that’s imported from Hongkong, so the Chinese wine-fragrant meat adds a delicate sweetness that is intoxicatingly good with the savoury profile of the dish.

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We were told by our server that the new “Seabass Pasta” happens to be very popular, especially with the kids. It’s apparent why this is so once we started eating it.
The dish featured a large piece of the fish which was very fresh, alongside a decent serving of tagliatelle cooked in a really tasty nori cream sauce. Somehow the umami-ness of the seaweed balanced out the cream so it never veered into “jelak-dom”. The topping of crunchy tobikko and the crisp acidity of pickled radish also helped.

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H O S T E D
If you’ve dined at Ken Loon‘s passion project @magicsquare.sg before, you may find the curry leaf cream sauce accompanying the pan-roasted Kuhlbarra Barramundi ($24.90) familiar. Yup, it is one and the same and is still as dizzyingly aromatic and mouthwateringly good as
when Chef Desmond Shen (@dzzfizz) served it back then. Here, you get to enjoy a generous serving of it with a nice large piece of crispy-skinned fish.

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Woke up with an insatiable need for my favourite prawn noodles. So off I went to Da Dong and chose the dry version with prawns and liver ($8) and because of my foodie friend Caecilia’s recommendation, I indulged to the max with an additional order of their big prawn soup ($15) too. The prawns were extremely fresh, meaty and sweet, and the broth was opaque with an almost creamy umami-ness.
My cholesterol level may have gone through the roof but my face beamed with joy.

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Good things must share!
From 22nd April to 4th May, you can enjoy this 1-for-1 deal with #BurppleBeyond at “Meatsmith Little India”.
How awesome is this - a mouthwatering combo of crackling-skinned suckling pig and aromatic nasi biryani. The usual price of this main course is $48++ so that’s pretty amazing value right there.
Being brined and smoked on site before it goes on the tandoor grill has the meat of the suckling pig superbly juicy and tender. It pairs really deliciously with the fluffy, flavourful rice.
This promotion presents the perfect opportunity to gather a few good friends for some serious feasting, don’t you agree? Do note you’ll need to hustle though because this #BurppleBeyond 1-for-1 deal is only available for 2 weeks.

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Can't cook to save my life but boy, can I eat! 😄 (I pay for all my meals unless otherwise stated)

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