Food Picks: CNY feast for one, snacks galore and a gin tree

The Lunar Prosperity Gourmand Feast from Esseplore. PHOTO: EXPLORE

CNY feast for one

Feasting in a group during Chinese New Year sounds like the most natural thing to do. But the pandemic has forced people to rethink the ways they celebrate anything festive.

Cue the single-serve Chinese New Year banquet. Esseplore, a digital platform that connects private chefs with potential customers, has come up with the six-course Lunar Prosperity Gourmand Feast ($73) for virtual parties.

Executive chef Yeo Kian Tiong, whose food I so enjoyed when he was at Xi Yan, has come up with a substantial feast for one. The centrepiece is a pretty yusheng with smoked salmon and a sweet-tart plum sauce dressing that really hits the spot.

I know, smoked salmon does not a yusheng make. You can replace that with sashimi-grade otoro at $20 for 30g.

Gently numbing Sichuan prawns, braised abalone and thick shiitake mushrooms, garlic scapes with smoked duck, and glutinous rice with scallops wrapped in a lotus leaf are the other components. They travel well and are packed in eco-friendly pine boxes and bamboo steamers.

My only complaint is that the pineapple tarts are packed together with savoury dishes, and garlic-scented pineapple tarts are a little off-putting. I hope they sort this out.

This meal is substantial, but it is hard to say no to the one-person pot of abalone chicken soup for $38. Most of the time, takeaway soup is overly salty, but this one is not.

So, yes, the pandemic has upended life as people know it. But chefs and restaurants have come up with innovative ways to celebrate Chinese New Year deliciously and with style. Huat more do we need?

Info: E-mail sales@esseplore.com to order, at least five days in advance. There is a minimum order of 10 sets. Available until Feb 15.


Power puffs

Sweet & Spicy Belinjau Keropok (left) and Golden Peanut Puffs. PHOTOS: AUNTY HONG

The packaging for Aunty Hong snacks looks so stylish and sophisticated that I am convinced a corporation is behind the brand and using the name to evoke cosiness and familiarity. There cannot possibly be a real Aunty Hong, can there?

But, yes, she is real. Ms Quah Poh Hong, 60, has been baking cookies since the early 1990s and used to sell them at pasar malam. When these night markets became extinct in the pandemic, she turned to selling her wares online.

All the slick packaging in the world means nothing if what is in it is not delicious. Fortunately, Aunty Hong delivers.

Her Golden Peanut Puffs ($18 a jar) taste so very fresh - the pastry is crisp and greaseless, the filling just sweet enough. Before I know it, I inhale three.

Even better are the Emping Belinjau Cookies ($24 a jar). These were inspired by a cookie she chanced upon on a trip to Indonesia, and are so very addictive. Bitter belinjo nuts go into a sweetish cookie, resulting in a morsel of bittersweet heaven.

She makes these cookies, plus Almond Butter and Cashew Butter ones, at home. Her other snack offerings are made at a factory to her specifications.

One standout is the Sweet & Spicy Belinjau Keropok ($17). The bitter crackers get a layer of mild sweetness and umami from a thin coating of prawn paste. It is not possible to stop at one. I know this from experience.

Her from-scratch Shrimp Fries ($17), essentially prawn keropok cut like fries, are better than commercial versions simply because it is almost half prawns.

Home-based food businesses like hers show no signs of slowing down and the competition is intense. We, the customers, are the real winners.

Info: To order, go to this website. Islandwide delivery costs $10 and is free for orders $80 and above.


Gin tree

The Gin Tree Experience at Brass Lion Distillery. PHOTO: BRASS LION DISTILLERY

Does gin grow on trees? On especially trying days, I wish it did.

Brass Lion Distillery, a home-grown maker of gin, has made my fantasy come true. It offers The Gin Tree Experience ($68) at its tasting room from Thursdays to Saturdays, 4 to 6pm, and it is perfect for cocktail hour.

The set, good for two, comes with two cocktails and four types of small bites - served on metal stands made for the brand by metalsmiths Bare Metal Co using upcycled materials.

Brass Lion plans to offer this through the year and will change the cocktails and bites periodically.

On the evening I am there, the cocktail is Santa Clausmopolitan, made with its Singapore Dry Gin, cranberry and lemon juices and soda and is scented with rosemary. It is not too fiercely alcoholic and a cool way to wind down on the unseasonably hot days at the moment.

Among the bites, Gin Cured Tuna Cone is the one I like best. The fish is mixed with the brand's Singapore Dry Gin vinaigrette and fresh aromatics - orange supremes, fennel and radish.

Its Pahit Gin goes into Foie Gras Lollipop. The sweet chocolate coating makes this a salty sweet snack and the popping candy is a lovely surprise on the tongue.

I wish the brand would bottle the Brass Lion Hot Sauce that comes with Kueh Pie Tee, filled with chicken, braised kale and turnip. It is a zingy sauce, so compelling even for a chilli coward like me.

The Pahit Tiramisu would benefit from more gin. Much more. Go big or go home, I say.

Where: Brass Lion Distillery, 40 Alexandra Terrace
Open: 4 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 1 to 10.30pm (Saturdays), 1 to 7pm (Sundays); closed on Mondays, and Feb 1 and 2
Info: To make reservations, go to this website

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