Seafood high tea at The Westin Singapore

My mum was the one who suggested this high tea at the lobby lounge of the Westin hotel in Singapore’s financial district. I hadn’t even known that the Westin had a new hotel and that it was located in the CBD! There was quite a bit of construction around the hotel and to be honest walking around the financial district is always confusing for me – the tall buildings all kind of look the same and the GPS doesn’t work accurately because of said tall buildings.

But I finally found it.

The lobby lounge is on the 32nd floor and has a view of the port and part of Sentosa.

This is the first course. Each person gets a plate of assorted seafood bites including mussels, prawns, seared tuna and more. I quite liked the lobster and mushroom torchon, the addition of the chili on the seared tuna, and that poached prawn open-faced sandwich. The mussels, with the fruity dressing, was a bit sweet for me.

The top tier held crab sandwiches on pumpernickel bread – we got two each.

A closer look at the plate.

I loved how the soy sauce was in a pipette

Second course was lobster thermidor and an oyster each. The oysters came with three dressings – champagne, lychee bourbon and lime, shallot vinaigrette. To be honest, I prefer eating my oysters as is, with just a squeeze of lemon, but I tasted each dressing and though that the lychee one was quite fun.

And finally dessert.

There was pistachio and cherry cheesecake (I’m not a fan of cheesecake and this one didn’t change my mind about that).

There was a yummy mango and lime tart

From a different angle. The whipped cream was meant to be eaten with the chocolate chip cookies and I must say that those cookies were divine!

The little cups hold tiramisu which were really delicious and full of coffee flavour.

I’m not usually a fan of chocolate-dipped strawberries (or white chocolate) but I must say that these strawberries dipped in white chocolate and lemon were quite refreshing because of that very zesty lemon dip!

For all three of us, we barely touched the Truffle Cupcake. It was a very strange taste. Every part of the cupcake, from white chocolate shard, to the frosting, to the cupcake batter itself was infused with truffle. I believe this is the first time I’ve had a truffle-flavored dessert. I’ve had truffles on pasta, truffle fries etc, but definitely nothing sweet. And truffle is such an overpowering taste that even the fork I used had a faint truffle-y taste afterwards. Maybe if they had just put truffle in the frosting, it would have been better? I don’t know. I’m not quite sure I would eat a truffle dessert ever again.

Truffle cupcakes aside, this was a lovely high tea at The Westin Singapore. Attentive and pleasant service, a very nice and quiet lobby lounge (sometimes lobby lounges can be very noisy but this whole hotel was quite pleasant and calm), some very delicious savoury moments and nice sweet flavours, this seafood high tea gets the thumbs up from me.

 

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A Phuket getaway

Ah can life get any better than this?

We arrived in Phuket in the middle of a storm (the kind that even the taxi driver had to slow down so he could see the road better) so we weren’t able to fully appreciate the beauty of SALA Phuket hotel until the next morning.

Pouring rain as we sipped our welcome drink and checked in

Lemongrass welcome drink

An outdoor bathroom, the rain shower is behind me

I love how the front desk staff walked us into the villa, showed us around, and sat down with us to present us with samples of soaps, body lotions and even pillows to choose from. And I must say I had an easy decision as I loved all their lemongrass-scented lotions and soaps which were the standard. They also had some cinnamon, herbal scents that were nice too.

We lounged around in the room until dinner time and walked out in the rain (with the hotel-provided umbrellas) to the open-air restaurant. The winds were so strong I thought my umbrella would blow away several times. August is the start of rainy season in Phuket and it’s the low season.

The hotel restaurant is surprisingly good. Its menu boasts a mixture of international dishes but we went for local food with a papaya salad, a pork, basil and green bean dish, and a beef curry. Note to self, when in Thailand, “medium spicy” equals “really quite spicy” for me.

It was also Martini Monday with Martinis at just 180THB or US$5.40 (usual price 290THB or US$8.70)

Our first proper day in Phuket and we finally had sunshine!

It was nice to wander around the hotel sans umbrellas and get to see the place. It’s very beautiful with lots of trees everywhere. And so quiet.

I like how they’ve got a library full of books. Most of them aren’t in English!

We also got to enjoy our first breakfast at the hotel, which was included with our room rate. I love that they have a buffet as well as an a la carte selection. I enjoyed the yoghurts and fruits and pastries while waiting for my eggs shashuka to arrive. The husband’s choice was the waffles.

We finally got to use the pool too.

We wandered out to the beach to catch the sunset.

And on Tuesday night there’s a singer-guitarist who has a fun repertoire including Coldplay, Oasis, Ed Sheeren

We kicked our dinner off with 1-for-1 Tiki drinks. He got a Mai Thai and I got an Oriental Mule. I love lemongrass drinks and this was splendid and refreshing.

I ordered the duck leg and it was crispy on the outside and so tender inside. It was served with kale.

We finally had room for dessert and went with the lava cake served with vanilla ice cream and a raspberry compote.

On Wednesday we went out to Phuket Town. Salad resort is a little bit secluded with just a few other resorts along Mai Khao beach on the north-west side of Phuket, about 20 minutes from the airport. The more popular area, Patong Beach is about an hour away. And our trip to Phuket Town also took about an hour as traffic was heavy at times. Phuket Town looks quite a bit like some parts of Singapore with its old shophouses. And one guy I spoke to whose home has become a shop/museum said his ancestors came to Phuket from Malacca, which sort of explains why there was so much Peranakan/Nonya heritage around. The hotel shuttle also took us to the main shopping mall where we bought some things for the kids, lots of dried mango and the best coconut ice cream ever. It sat on a bed of sticky rice and was topped with fresh young coconut and peanuts. It was unctuous and creamy yet not too sweet. It was an absolute delight to eat and I wish I could have had another!

It’s a good thing that the hotel restaurant has such a wide variety and high standards as we ate all our dinners there. On our last night we went for Thai choices. Fish cake, tempura soft shell crab with green mango salad, and a massamun curry. The portions are always sizeable so sharing two starters and a main was plenty for us.

I finally remembered to take some photos of the buffet breakfast. There was also some homemade yoghurt pots with fruit at the bottom, lots of cake and pastries and fruits. I loved the lady finger bananas that I ate every morning – they’re about the size of my index finger! And I enjoyed the congee with its toppings of pickled radish, coriander and ginger as well as the usual Thai condiments of chili slices in vinegar, fish sauce and chili powder.

It was such an unforgettable stay in Phuket both in terms of the accommodation as well as the food at Sala Phuket. It was a peaceful quiet place with such wonderful and friendly staff. I highly recommend Sala if you’re ever planning to visit Phuket. And it looks like they’ve got several other hotels throughout Thailand too.

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#WeekendCooking: Blueberry-blackberry sorbet

The husband returned from the organic berries stall at the farmers market with our usual buy of half a box of strawberries and also a load of blackberries. I love blackberries but I’m the only one in the house who eats them. And I’m sure you know that they don’t keep very well.

So what to do with them?

It felt too hot to make a crumble or pie.

Muffins?

Not really. I would end up having to eat them all.

So somehow my thoughts turned to sorbet. I don’t own an ice cream maker but I remember seeing somewhere that sorbet could be done without a machine. Something to do with a sheet pan and some scraping.

I finally settled on this recipe from King Arthur Flour. It’s a recipe for strawberry sorbet though so I had to do some adapting.

I had about 3 cups of fresh blackberries but felt that with the sieving of the seeds it needed more berries so I also added about 1 cup of blueberries.

I kept the simple syrup ratio of water to sugar at about 1 cup water to just under 1 cup sugar.

And also the 1/3 lemon juice – I also added the zest of half the lemon to the berries before I whizzed them with the immersion blender.

Then followed the recipe instructions of freezing and letting it sit for two hours or so and stirring it around every hour or so. And about 4-5 hours later it was nicely set.

I put the sorbet in a Tupperware box and we are still eating it a few days later!

It’s really refreshing on a hot day.

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Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

This wasn’t a definite 🤘for me. We didn’t exactly start out as best friends, this book and I. I was wanting more for our relationship, expecting book here to leave me salivating and craving Chinese food (yes, even Chinese-American food) so I was a bit disappointed. But our friendship grew as I realized this was a book about the drama of ordinary families, amid the struggles of a second generation running a restaurant.

And like a Chinese eatery, it is loud and chaotic and sometimes the service can be brusque but in the end you leave satiated.

Weekend Cooking: A very light banana cake

I always have bananas in my freezer as I buy bananas from Costco which come in a big bunch of at least 7-8 large bananas, and too often they seem to ripen at about the same time. They seem to go from green to almost yellow-green to yellow with brown spots all too soon. And I am no fan of ripe bananas. So into the freezer they go.

Usually I’m quite happy to make banana bread but somehow during the last round of banana bread I got tired of eating it really quickly. It just felt so heavy and stodgy. I wanted something that was a lot lighter, more of a cake than a bread. And somehow online I came across this cake recipe that read almost like it was heading a little towards a chiffon cake, something that would be light and different, with whipped egg whites and gula melaka (palm sugar). I reckon that if you can’t find palm sugar (usually at Asian supermarkets) you could use brown sugar, maybe with a bit of molasses to add a depth of flavour. I’ve adapted this recipe to include a step I learnt from Cook’s Illustrated’s Best Banana Bread Recipe, adding a sort of banana essence, made from the reduced liquid from thawed bananas. If you are not using frozen bananas, you can microwave your fresh bananas for a few minutes until soft and some liquid is released. It may be an extra step but it really adds such extra banana flavour to your cake!

Light banana cake

150g cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 large bananas – about 250g

(I use frozen bananas. Thaw them, sieve the liquid that inevitably remains, and heat the liquid on the stove, reduce it down to at least half and you get the most banana-y liquid ever. Almost like an essence)

100ml gula melaka syrup

100g vegetable or coconut oil

5 yolks

1/2 salt

5 whites

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

75g caster sugar

Line a 7″ square pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

Mash banana and add oil, egg yolks, salt, gula melaka syrup, mix the ingredients.

Add the baking powder and baking soda to the flour and sift this into the banana mixture and mix until well combined. Do not over-mix. Set aside.

Using a mixer, beat the egg white until foamy. Add in the cream of tartar. Continue beating on medium speed while gradually adding the caster sugar. Beat until you get firm peaks.

Gently fold the meringue into the flour mixture in 2 to 3 portions.

Pour into the baking tin. Drop the pan on the counter to get rid of big bubbles.

Place in a water bath and bake for 80 minutes at 350. Cover the top with foil if it is browning too fast.

Cool on a wire rack

Adapted from https://jeannietay.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/banana-gula-melaka-sponge-cake/

#WeekendCooking Eating Singapore: Whitegrass at Chijmes

This is the beautifully preserved Chijmes in Singapore. It was formerly the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) and used as a Catholic convent and convent quarters for 132 years and later a school for girls. Today it holds many restaurants, cafes and bars, and Whitegrass is one of them.

Whitegrass is a modern Australian restaurant that received its first Michelin Star in 2017. It is chef-owner Sam Aisbett’s first venture. Aisbett formerly worked for

We were seated in this lovely round room, most of the other tables were two-tops, and there was a bigger round table that had five diners.

We began with some light snacks. The little crab was crunchy and so good. A pea tart was refreshing. And those little crackers were topped with this amazingly light shavings of cheese.

Interestingly, it was Chef Aisbett who brought out the dish and explained it to us. He would do that for the first few courses of our meal.

The bread was presented with some lardo (melts in your mouth), unsalted butter and some sea salt flakes

A very tomato-y dish! The teapot is filled with some ‘tomato tea’ which you get to pour over.

And we begin with the first course. And it is such a gorgeous one. The flower on top is made of alternating circles of roasted white beetroot (which are soft) and pickled white beetroot (which are a little crunchy), then in the middle, slices of hamachi. There is more hamachi at the bottom. It was beautiful and bursting with flavour and texture.

Another one not on the menu was this “egg fried rice”. It was the most luxurious ‘fried rice’ ever with such beautiful flavours and that fun texture from the egg white “bubbles” on top.

 

 

I could never imagine that octopus would be like this. I’ve had grilled octopus as well as sashimi octopus and the texture of those tend to be a bit chewy. Here the octopus was poached and it was so soft and gentle. The milk-soaked almonds on top added that much needed crunch as did the few suckers (is that what they’re called?) that seem to have been grilled. A delicate and yet crunchy dish that was really surprising.

My main course was described as Japanese sweetfish. There were three pieces of the fish itself. Very tender but with a great char on the skin. And a whole baby fish deep fried on top. Lovely fresh peas and pea shoots and a gorgeous umami-filled broth. Couldn’t get enough of it!

The husband’s steak came with a chocolate and buah keluak puree. Buah keluak is a strange fruit found in Southeast Asia and found mostly in Peranakan-style cooking. The fruit and seeds itself are poisonous unless prepared properly – it has to be boiled and fermented in ash, usually for more than a month!

There was a choice of two desserts, so naturally we got one each. I volunteered to take the jackfruit and coconut one, although I have never liked jackfruit – the other choice was a chocolate one and I’ve learnt that during a fine dining meal like this one, the chocolate choice tends to be the less exciting one. So this chocoholic a little reluctantly gave up the chocolate choice!

I was surprised by my dessert. It was a coconut meringue under those shards of jackfruit and sugar, and under the meringue was a jackfruit ice cream and a ginger cake. The jackfruit didn’t overwhelm the dish as I was expecting it to be. If all jackfruit were presented like this, I would eat far more of the fruit! Ultimately though, I felt that the dessert was a bit too sweet for me, especially with those sugar coated almonds on top.

 

This was the husband’s dessert, topped with a sherry ice-cream. It was a combination of chocolate, cherries, nougat and hazelnuts. Nice flavour but it felt, well, a safe choice.

 

 

And of course we weren’t done yet! There were still some petit fours. The chocolate-covered things were like Tunnock’s teacakes, except that there was a bit of raspberry inside. But I especially liked the soursop balls. I wasn’t quite sure what they were. They were so light and a little like sorbet, yet not icy at all.

 

 

A fun way to the end the meal. I loved that the fortune cookies were spiced.

What I loved most about this meal was both the very Asian influenced flavors as well as the way the chef was very careful about balancing textures throughout the meal. This was definitely one of the highlights of my visit back to Singapore – and I would have to say, perhaps the best meal I have ever eaten in Singapore. The chef and his team definitely deserved the one Michelin star. The service was excellent – friendly, not stuffy at all. The food was brilliant and so refreshing, and I really was very full at the end. A true delight.

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Strawberry Cake

My older boy turned six on Friday and he had asked for a chocolate strawberry cake.


And the number of recipes online I pored over, trying to find the right recipe. There was this one from Two Peas and their Pod that looked good but didn’t sound quite so right. It was more chocolate than strawberry, I thought. Nothing wrong there but I was looking for a cake with more strawberry frosting. Also the cake layers sounded a bit heavy. I was looking for something far lighter, kind of like a Japanese style or Asian bakery style cake, which usually has sponge-like cake layers.

After quite a few days lost in that Internet search blackhole, I had a sudden thought – last year I had made a pretty good Black Forest cake for the husband’s birthday and the cake layers were easy enough and also nice and light.

 

I returned to the original recipe which was from the blog Natasha’s Kitchen.

Chocolate cake

9 large eggs, room temp
1 cup granulated sugar (I used slightly less than a cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used cake flour, weighing out 120g which is what 1 cup of flour is equivalent to)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder)
4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used 1 tsp)

Preheat oven to 350F /180C

Beat the eggs with the whisk attachment for 1 min on high. With the mixer on, gradually add the sugar and continue beating on high speed for 8 min. It will be thick and fluffy.
Whisk together 1 cup flour and ½ cup cocoa powder and sift into batter, one-third at a time, folding with a spatula between each addition. Once all flour is in, continue to fold just until no streaks of flour remain, scraping the bottom of the bowl to get any pockets of flour; do not over-mix.
Gently fold in the vanilla essence and butter, folding as you add butter in a steady stream and scraping from the bottom. Fold just until incorporated.

Divide batter equally between two prepared 9 inch cake pans and bake in preheated 350F oven 20-25 minutes. It’s important to put it in the oven as soon as possible as the batter may deflate
Let cool in pans for 10 min then run a thin edged spatula around edges to loosen cake. Transfer to a wire rack and remove parchment backing.

When completely cooled, use a serrated knife to slice the cake into layers.

Strawberry frosting (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)


I loved this frosting – it uses freeze-dried strawberries (Trader Joe’s always has them, sometimes places like Sprouts do too) and so you don’t have to fuss with fresh strawberries. I had read some comments on other frosting that use fresh strawberries that it can be too watery. So this solves that problem by using freeze-dried strawberries. And yes, they still taste like strawberries. However, I found that the frosting was just too sweet (as a lot of things in the US are for me), so I may reduce the sugar more next time. 

1 cup (10-12g) freeze-dried strawberries

1 cup (235g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

4 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar (when making this again, I will cut down the sugar further. I had reduced it to 400g but I think I may try another 25g-50g less)

3 Tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream (I used about 4 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

salt, to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp salt but I would add more, about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp)

Using a blender or food processor, process the freeze-dried strawberries into a powdery crumb. You should have around 1/2 cup. Set aside. No blender or food processor? Then do what I did and place the strawberries in a ziplock and give them plenty of good whacks with a rolling pin. 

In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, strawberry powder, cream, and vanilla. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Taste. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. (I would recommend more than a pinch – consider at least 1 tsp of salt)

To decorate

This cake was to have four layers. And essentially it was a cake – frosting – sliced fresh strawberries (repeat) kind of cake. Ending with whole strawberries on the top of the cake!

The birthday boy had the biggest smile on his face when he saw the cake. And that made all the hard work worth it!

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs