The cakes from Chalk Farm, one of my favourite places for sweet treats, always manage to be both homey and sophisticated. It is a delicate balancing act and Bryan Koh, a wunderkind when it comes to cakes, always nails it.
He and his sister Dawn have opened an offshoot - Milk Moons at Takashimaya Food Hall - and I am happy to report that they have nailed this one too.
The name refers to the full moon in May, which represents renewal and abundance. For the most part, the offerings feature popular Asian ingredients. So Chalk Farm's wonderful kueh salat and kueh lapis are available here. So, too, is sublime kueh kosui. Pick the regular one over the pandan version.
Do not, however, pass up on Milk Moons' other pandan creations. The aromatic leaf is celebrated in wonderful ways. Who, I wonder, is tasked to squeeze all the pandan juice for these cakes? It must drive the person nuts, but it makes all the difference.
I cannot decide if I prefer Pandan Inti ($8.40 a slice, $84 for a whole cake), or Pandan Berry Lime ($7 a slice, $70 for a whole cake).
Pandan Inti is stuffed with shredded caramelised coconut. That, and the heady flavour of pandan, is a slice of heaven. The other is zingy with lime zest, which makes me want to keep digging deeper into my slice.
Both cakes have a nubbly crumb, which spells comfort and familiarity to me.
Pandan Durian ($8.80 a slice, $88 for a whole cake) features the same cake, but Mr Koh is working to make the filling more intense.
Another excellent pandan creation is Pandan Adzuki Cheesecake ($6.50 a slice, $65 for a whole cake), which is just rich enough. Why has it taken so long for someone to add pandan juice to cream cheese?
Two other cakes stand out for me.
Mandarin Whiskey ($8.80 a slice, $88 for a whole cake) is perky with citrus and punchy with booze. Since too much booze is never enough, I would prefer it with more.
Another winner is the Hummingbird ($6.40 a slice, $64 for a whole cake). It looks like a carrot cake, but is far more interesting. Caramelised pineapple, bananas and coconut create a tropical vibe, and that is accentuated with the sweet scent of cloves.
I've saved the best for last.
Milk Moons' sole savoury offering is Pulut Serunding ($5 a box). Two pillow-soft steamed balls of glutinous rice come showered with gutsy, spicy shredded coconut and chicken. The chilli and spices are right at the forefront and I find myself saving whatever is left of the coconut and just picking at it when I have devoured the rice balls.
Yes, I must go back and get more. Soon.
WHERE: Milk Moons, B208-5 Takashimaya Food Hall, Ngee Ann City, 391 Orchard Road MRT: Orchard OPEN: 10am to 9.30pm daily INFO: www.milkmoons.com
AUTUMNAL JAPANESE DELIGHT
One of the pleasures of eating Japanese is that the cuisine respects the seasons. And one of the best places to eat seasonally is Ki-sho, tucked away in a grand old house in Scotts Road.
It is one of the most under-rated Japanese restaurants in Singapore. I have had some memorable meals there, including once, when my friends and I tore into a hunk of grilled kama toro, a meaty cut from the jaw.
Chef Kazuhiro Hamamoto, 37, is not much of a talker, preferring to concentrate on the food. That is absolutely fine by me.
I tried out the Autumn menu ($450++) recently and it did not disappoint. At that price, it jolly well better not.
Highlights for me included a kinki, turnip and seasonal matsutake mushroom hotpot (above), which tasted light, sweet and pure.
Another was a keiji and shirako course, also seasonal. It might be a little jarring to see the chef slicing salmon, since it is not a fish high-end Japanese restaurants serve. But keiji, or smolt, is young salmon that has a higher fat content and a much more delicate flavour than the mature fish. It was a lovely contrast to the creamy cod milt.
The chef sources his keiji from Hokkaido and it is available only in autumn.
Among the sushi, kinmedai smoked with rice straw really hit the spot. So did rolls of tuna wrapped around rice, then torched the old-fashioned way, with a grate of hot coals held over the fish. The popping of tuna fat is one of the best sounds in the world.
There is still time to savour the menu before the restaurant transitions to the winter menu in the middle of the month.
What delights await, I wonder?
WHERE: Ki-sho, 29 Scotts Road MRT: Newton OPEN: Noon to 2pm (weekdays), 6.30 to 10.30pm (weekdays and Saturdays), closed on Sundays TEL: 6733-5251 INFO: www.ki-sho.com.sg
NASI LEMAK HITS THE SPOT
Much has been made about a restaurant in town that serves artisanal nasi lemak. The rice is cooked with milk from a special variety of coconut and foodies have waxed lyrical about every aspect of the dish.
Well, it left me completely cold. The rice was too rich, the sambal lacked character and the price gave me pause.
I've found something far better, but you'll have to go to an industrial complex in Lavender Street for it.
Jia Xiang Nasi Lemak is worth seeking out.
It's a humble little place and sometimes the smell of car exhaust fills the air. But for $2.50 to $5, you can breakfast or lunch like royalty.
Of course the rice, coloured blue with butterfly pea flowers, is made for Instagram. I am also not particularly moved by its supposed health properties. What I love about this nasi lemak, however, is that it is not too lemak. There is coconut milk in it, but not so much that it brings on a food coma. The rice is aromatic and appetising.
Jia Xiang was started by two brothers, Kenneth Lim, 31, and Shawn, 25. They are from Kedah, Malaysia, and the recipe is their 80-year-old grandmother's. She would cook nasi lemak often for the family at breakfast time, colouring the rice with butterfly pea flowers she grows in the garden.
The tangy achar recipe is hers, as is the one for the sambal. The brothers have had to tweak it numerous times, in response to customers who want it hotter or sweeter. It is on the sweet side, but I can live with it because of the definite chilli kick.
Nasi lemak sets start at $2.50 and that set comes with a fried egg, ikan bilis, peanuts and sambal. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, customers can order a $5 set (above) that comprises a fried egg, ikan bilis, peanuts, achar, sambal and a terrific chicken rendang. Otah costs an additional $1.20, but is forgettable.
Spicy, aromatic and perky from loads of kaffir lime leaves, that chicken is rib-sticking and satisfying. The recipe comes from Shawn, who used to work with a Chinese restaurant group.
He and Kenneth, formerly in information technology, gave up their jobs to start Jia Xiang.
Long may they prosper because their homespun nasi lemak is a real winner.
WHERE: Jia Xiang Nasi Lemak, 01-08 CT Hub 2, 114 Lavender Street MRT: Bendemeer TEL: 9889-3466 OPEN: 10am to 3pm (weekdays), 11am to 4pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays INFO: www.facebook.com/jiaxiangnasilemak
TRANSPORTED TO PERSIA
Speaking of under-rated restaurants, I wonder why more people are not beating down the doors of Shabestan, a Persian restaurant in Robertson Quay. The two times I was there, once at lunch and another at dinner, the restaurant had tables to spare.
It did not inspire confidence, but I had excellent meals both times.
A good way to start is with the Appetiser Platter ($35), a selection of five dips served with Iranian flatbread. All of them are delicious, but two stand out: Muhamara ($14 on its own), made with ground-up walnuts, pomegranate molasses, breadcrumbs, roasted bell peppers and spices; and Homemade Cheese ($14 on its own), a tangy, creamy concoction that I keep going back to with pieces of warm flatbread.
Of the main courses, order Gulf Kebab ($38), skewered chunks of white fish and large prawns interspersed with bell peppers. What impresses me is that neither the fish nor prawns are dried out. The pomegranate molasses on the kebabs lend a tang to the dish, which is served with saffron-tinged and dill-flecked basmati rice.
I love the Chicken Kubideh (above, $32), two long, juicy patties of minced chicken vibrant with saffron and herbs, served with an addictive rice combo I cannot stop eating.
Don't forget to order a stew, and a good one is Khoresh-E Gureh-O-Jujeh-O Bademjan ($30), a very complicated name for spring chicken and small, round eggplants stewed with grapes, tomatoes and a saffron sauce. The flavour is bright and complex and the gravy is perfect for spooning over saffron-tinged basmati rice. Together with the impossibly fluffy rice, we get two golden brown pieces of rice cakes, from the crispy bits at the bottom and sides of the pot.
WHERE: Shabestan, 01-13 The Pier @ Robertson, 80 Mohamed Sultan Road MRT: Clarke Quay TEL: 68361-270 OPEN: Noon to 11pm daily INFO: www.shabestan.sg/en
Book a meal at Ki-sho and Shabestan with Chope.