TAKE THE EDGE OFF WITH FROSE
What was I doing last year during the hot months, when people in the United States were cooling off with glasses of Frose or frozen rose?
Yes, I remember now. I was wilting in swamp-like conditions here.
I am not waiting for the hot months to go to Crackerjack in Tanjong Pagar for its version, called Fro-zay ($19), which is frozen rose with strawberry bianco vermouth. Oh, it's a bit frou frou to be sure, but the alcoholic slushie takes the edge off a hard day at the office.
The all-day drinking and dining venue, by the people behind 28 HongKong Street bar and Proof & Company Spirits, is a good hangout place. Its bar is run by Peter Chua and Zachary de Git, both award-winning bartenders; the coffee programme by champion barista Bronwen Serna; and kitchen by Alysia Chan, formerly of Cocotte, Wolf and Meat Smith.
Chef Chan has put together a menu of good, uncomplicated food, backed by solid cooking.
The dish that haunts me is Bourbon Mashbill Grits ($8 a la carte). Mash bill is the mix of grains used to make bourbon and, at Crackerjack, stone ground cornmeal, rye and barley are cooked until creamy. Smoked cheddar and a generous sprinkling of crisp chicken skin make it sublime. At breakfast, it is served with an oozy egg, for $14.
While I like the springy Pork Collar Chop ($22), served with bourbon apples, there needs to be more booze in the sauce or the apples, or both.
Whole Roasted Chicken ($58), brined so that it cooks up juicy, comes with a choice of three sides from the Vegetables and Grains & Taters parts of the menu.
Apart from the grits, order the creamy-crunchy Zucchini Farro Salad ($8 a la carte) and zingy Jicama ($8 a la carte), a slaw with shredded bang kwang, red cabbage, grapefruit and spiced pumpkin seeds.
For dessert, I swoon for Peanut Butter Chocolate Tart ($12, photo), with a lightly salty pretzel crust and a rich, dark chocolate and peanut butter filling.
Now, Frose might have been all the rage last year, but Prose (frozen prosecco) is jostling for attention this year. Will Crackerjack serve it too? I hope so.
But first, one small - tiny really - request. Ditch the dainty glasses for the Fro-zay. Goblets please. Or vats.
It gets mighty hot in Singapore.
WHERE: Crackerjack, 43 Tanjong Pagar Road MRT: Tanjong Pagar TEL: 8121-1462 OPEN: 8am to midnight (Mondays to Saturdays), 10am to 10pm (Sunday) INFO: http://crackerjack.sg
MEAT SMITH POP-UP AT COCOTTE
Cocotte, the restaurant in Wanderlust Hotel serving rustic French food, now has a completely different menu. It has been taken over by Meat Smith, the smokehouse in Telok Ayer Road, for a pop-up until April 30.
On the menu is spiced-up Southern American barbecue, inspired by Cocotte's location in Little India. So think Butter Chicken Wings ($10), Housemade Curry Sausage ($8) and herb-topped Na'an & Bombay Butter ($4).
Of the dishes I try, Kingfish Collar, Coconut Sambal & Eggplant ($18, photo) impresses the most. The oily, silky-textured fish has a smoky flavour and is topped with an addictive sambal that reminds me of serunding or spiced grated coconut. Both go together beautifully, but I would like the spicing to be more punchy.
In fact, all the dishes I try would benefit from more assertive spicing.
Take Tandoori Chicken & Cauliflower Pilaf ($24) - a little more heat in the chicken would be welcome. Still, it is cooked perfectly and even the breast is juicy. I would order the raisin and almond-studded pilaf on its own if I could, so light and flavourful it is.
Crab & Uni Biryani ($25) is like no biryani I've ever had. Puffed rice, chunks of crab and sweet uni make it a cool way to start the meal.
End it with Mango Sorbet, Tikha Gathiya ($7), which is a genius cheat dessert. Rather generic sorbet is rolled around in the spicy, crunchy snack, which resembles muruku. The heat from the tikha gathiya complements the mango beautifully, giving it character and crunch.
WHERE: Meat Smith @ Cocotte, Wanderlust Hotel, 2 Dickson Road MRT: Jalan Besar TEL: 6298-1188 OPEN: 7am to 10.30am, 11.30am to 2pm, 5.45 to 11pm daily INFO: http://meatsmith.com.sg/meatsmith-cocotte/
DELICIOUS MORSELS OF GOODNESS
Among restaurant after restaurant serving food on handmade plates that boast uneven edges and interesting glazes, plating that starts to look the same after a while, and cuts of meat that show up on menu after menu, how does one stand out?
If you are chef Petrina Loh of Morsels, which relocated from Little India to Dempsey Road recently, you do it with delicious fermented and pickled condiments that are on almost every plate.
The strawberry kosho that comes with Morsels' Oden ($12) mashes the fruitiness of the berry with chilli and the combination is as alluring as yuzu kosho. A dab of it is very good with the konnyaku and daikon in the oden, better than the usual Japanese mustard accompaniment for the dish.
Tangy celtuce relish, crunchy deep-fried capers and a coffee balsamic vinaigrette all sound like strange bedfellows, but they add interesting accents to the Snake River Farms American Wagyu Flat Iron Steak ($48).
Chef Loh's knack for using familiar, local ingredients in a new way has become bolder and more spot on.
A little pile of pickled Chinese chives adds interest to Grilled Iberico Pork Jowl ($32). Along with the pork, there are blue mussels that have a creamy texture, and taro puree, an unusual and delicious carb I have not seen on any menu recently.
Fish A La Plancha ($30) on the night I dine there is Hapuku from New Zealand. The fish is not nearly as interesting as the mui choy olive tapenade and the charred mustard greens on the plate.
Also on the menu is a list of favourites from Morsels in Little India, which chef Loh used to run with chef Bryan Chia. The Firecracker Duroc Pulled Pork pasta ($24, left), with the laser-sharp heat from habanero pesto, is still very good. So is Charred House-Poached Octopus ($26), sitting on pearl rice risotto that is black as night from squid ink, and drizzled with that incomparable salted egg sauce.
There are three desserts available and one of them, Matcha White Chocolate Truffle ($14), should really be split into two. I would happily eat many of the truffles, with bitter powdered green tea acting as a counterpoint to the sweetish chocolate. The quenelle of spiced bubur terigu served alongside can stand on its own, with a large dollop of the housemade coconut yogurt from Jackfruit 3 Ways ($14). I try a bit of the bubur with the yogurt and what a fine morsel it is.
WHERE: Morsels, 01-04, 25 Dempsey Road MRT: Queenstown TEL: 6266-3822 OPEN: Noon to 3pm, 6 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), noon to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm (Fridays), brunch: noon to 3pm, dinner: 6 to 10.30pm (Saturdays), brunch: noon to 3pm (Sundays), closed Mondays INFO: www.morsels.com.sg
HOW ABOUT SOME TAU YEW IN YOUR ICE CREAM?
The idea of eating ice cream with tau yew or dark soya sauce may make you queasy, but the Japanese have done it for some time now. Some soya sauce producers there sell thick, slightly sweet versions meant to be drizzled on ice cream.
Ice cream chain Creamier and chef Willin Low of Wild Rocket restaurant have clearly cottoned on to this. Their collaboration has yielded a new ice-cream flavour, Chocolate Tau Yew Tempeh Crunch ($4.50 a scoop, photo, and $16 for 473ml).
The ice cream will be served at Creamier in Toa Payoh and Gillman Barracks until Feb 28. From next month, it will be served at Wild Rocket.
Although the tempeh provides a textural contrast to the ice cream, its flavour is lost in the chocolate and aged dark soya sauce from home-grown sauce maker Kwong Woh Hing.
What intrigues is how the sauce adds an umami dimension to ice cream, not something you'd expect. But it makes perfect sense once you taste it.
WHERE: Creamier, Block 128 Toa Payoh Lorong 1, 01-835, and 5A Lock Road MRT: Braddell/ Labrador Park TEL: 6250-1476/ 6262-1087 OPEN: Noon to 10pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays, and Sundays), noon to 11pm (Fridays and Saturdays), closed on Mondays INFO: http://creamier.com.sg/