Archive for January, 2012

Kooka Cafe

There is a new cafe on the block, this time at Purvis Street! Opened just after Christmas! Chanced upon it when I went to the famous Chin Chin coffeeshop for Hainanese food. It’s right next door to Chin Chin and just 2 doors away from YY Kafeidian, which serves one of the best kopi in Singapore.

Can’t ever resist when I see a new cafe, especially one with a Christmas tree in it (even though it was already more than 12 days past Christmas), so I had a cuppa there and a bite to eat. The place is started by an Australian Lauren Chambers and her Chinese partner. Lauren also has another establishment called Chalk Restaurant at Old School along Mount Sophia.

You won’t miss the dessert showcase when you walk in. A lot of the stuff is very Australian themed, naturally. They have things like Yo-Yos, which is a shortbread cookie with cream cheese filling. I’ve never heard of them and neither has the Partner, who is from NZ. Anyway you all should go check it out, cuz Kooka is having a little promotion right now. You can choose a coffee and a cake for only $7.50. It’s a good deal coz the cakes/desserts cost about $5-6 each on their own already.

Kooka Cafe - Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream

Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream $5.90 – I wasn’t that keen on dessert actually because of a heavy lunch at Chin Chin next door, but the Partner wanted something so he chose this. Turned out to be a very good choice. The apple crumble was very tasty. The crumble is made with lots of nuts and isn’t overly sweet or buttery. There are some out there that is mostly pastry and no nuts at all. This was a much healthier version and equally tasty. The vanilla ice cream was creamy and paired very well with the hot apple crumble. Between the 2 of us, we polished off the whole thing.

Kooka Cafe - Cafe Latte

Cafe Latte – Forgot the price but I recalled it to be pretty affordable for a town area cafe. Coffee was strong and smooth. No complaints.

Kooka Cafe (3)

Apple tart, Citrus Cheesecake, Chocolate Apricot Tart, Carrot cake, Chocolate Brownie etc are amongst some of the desserts offered at Kooka Cafe. The cafe also has some hot food, but doesn’t seem to be a lot at this point in time.

Kooka Cafe (4)

Kooka Cafe (2)

Read about other eateries along Purvis Street

Kooka Cafe

18 Purvis Street, Singapore, Singapore 188597

Tel : 64670288

Kooka Cafe Facebook

Cake Baking at Baking Industry Training Centre

Being an ardent fan of the cafe culture, I am often smitten by the pretty and delicious cakes and pastries on display at the various cafes in Singapore. When I see those mouth watering creations, not only do I want to eat them, I want to replicate them myself! Watching Nigella, Hugh Fearnley and Anna Olsen churning out sweet treat after sweet treat on the Food Network makes my heart pound with envy. Their cakes look so decadent yet my creations look fit for the dustbin.

They say baking is like Chemistry lessons. Follow the recipe accurately and you won’t go wrong. The problem is, the recipes often aren’t very clear. I mean like what the hell is cream until light and fluffy? How should I know exactly how light and exactly how fluffy? Would that be 5 minutes of creaming, or is it 8? One issue I used to have is that my cakes invariably turn out rather dense. Was it because I reduced the sugar and the butter, which resulted in the flour ratio being higher? Or was it due to the under-creaming? Or was it due to the curdled mess that I get every time I add eggs to the batter? No idea.

Push came to shove, I finally signed up for baking lessons this year. Which is the best place to learn baking in Singapore? After scouring the net for reputable baking classes to attend, I discovered the names of a few big players

  1. At Sunrice GlobalChef Academy
  2. Creative Culinaire
  3. Baking Industry Training Centre

There are others but they mostly focus on short courses. These 3 baking schools above provide in-depth basic to advanced levels of baking knowledge, ranging from cake making, to bread making to pastry making. And each of these 3 schools have their advantages and disadvantages.

At Sunrice is good because it is tied up with WDA and you can get up to 90% subsidy if you take the diploma classes. Of course, you must want to do a full fledged diploma in order to enjoy that huge discount.

Creative Culinaire is expensive, but I hear lessons are mostly taught by the owner of the school Judy Koh. I have also taken one of her baking workshops and I found her to be very good and detailed. She holds several diplomas, one of which is from the Culinary Institute of America.

Baking Industry Training Centre or BITC is the cheapest of the lot so guess what? I signed up with BITC. Okay another huge reason was because I wanted to get started ASAP, ride on the momentum you know, and they had something starting in January 2012, so I hopped on board.

BITC also has its pros and cons. As I mentioned, without a subsidy, BITC is the cheapest. However, BITC is also very “no-frills”, to the extent whereby you have to bring your own spoons, spatulas and knives. You will have those handy because you will be required to pay for a toolbox costing $150. BITC also happens to be a place where lots of people come here to learn how to become a baker. So classes are catered to teaching students how to operate in commercial kitchens and not the home kitchen. The pace is also pretty slow so as to cater to all skill levels. If you want a job as a baker, a BITC cert will allow you to do so.

Have you ever heard of sponge gel and emulsifiers? These are ingredients that will be used at BITC. These ingredients go into the cheap cakes you buy from the cheap bakeries as putting those ingredients into the cake actually makes the cake soft, fluffy and idiot proof to make. If you’re concerned about putting margarine or palm oil in your cake as compared to pure butter, it will be a shock to the system when you see yourself using them anyway because you obviously can’t just sit there and twiddle your thumbs. Oh and lastly, you can only bring home half of whatever you make.

Despite all my misgivings about BITC, I think I still had fun learning all about cake baking. I have never made so many cakes in my life in such a short span of time. And the best part is, everyone loves my cakes! Sure there are areas to improve on, but it has been such a vast improvement from what I used to churn out that I’m already very satisfied with the results. Hey my grandmother asks for my cakes everyday. That’s proof of the pudding isn’t it?

Baking Industry Training Centre Cake Baking Class (7)

Where else can you find a 365days2play brownie?

Baking Industry Training Centre Cake Baking Class (12)

These are the cakes we made for our mid term exams. Mine is the second column from the left, with the exception of the chiffon cake. I baked the chiffon on the right, but I unmoulded someone else’s cake by mistake. Darn, and the unmoulding was quite good if I say so myself. Look at the wreck on the right!

Baking Industry Training Centre Cake Baking Class (10)

My masterpieces…

Baking Industry Training Centre Cake Baking Class (18)

Pandan Chiffon on the left. Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting and marzipan carrots.

Baking Industry Training Centre Cake Baking Class (19)

Tiger skin. I have never heard of tiger skin before until the class, and whaddya know, I saw it at the shops a few days later.

Baking Industry Training Centre Cake Baking Class (8)

Gugelhoph. The best tasting cake I’ve made to date. Love the nutty flavours!

Baking Industry Training Centre Cake Baking Class (17)

There you go, the infamous sponge gel. Just the sight of that neon orange colour puts me off. Plus it’s so sticky and oily! Urgh! I don’t know who on earth invented this, but the bakers love it as it makes their job easy. You can buy sponge gel from Phoon Huat. Why you’d want to, I don’t know.

Baking Industry Training Centre Pte Ltd (BITC)
201 Keppel Road, Level 11 Annexe Block
Singapore 099419

Telephone:+65 6276 6337

Fax:+65 6276 6608

Operation Hours

Monday – Friday 8:30am – 5:30pm

Saturday 8:30am – 12:30pm

Closed on Sunday and Public Holidays

Azur Restaurant Buffet Spread

Here are some of the pictures I took of the buffet spread at Azur Restaurant at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport. Azur serves the best of Eastern and Western cuisine, with items such as Boston Lobster, Fresh Ocean Oysters, Sashimi Selection, Roasted Leg of Lamb, Thyme rubbed Wagyu of Beef, Cantonese Style Stewed Pork Knuckle and Roasted Meats.  We had a special festive Chinese New Year tasting prepared for us so we didn’t get to sample the other items on the buffet. But the desserts looked so good I just had to snap a few pics.

If you want to know what Azur will be offering for Chinese New Year, you can read all about it here.

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Dessert Section

The Marketing Manager of Azur told us that while most of the restaurant diners are office workers from around the area such as the Changi Airport Group and the people working at the Changi Business Park, a number of diners are also those whose flights have been delayed. They come to the restaurant in a bad mood, but the minute they spot the dessert line, all is forgotten immediately. I can imagine why.

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Dessert Section (2)

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Dessert Section (3)

 

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Dessert Section (4)

Two Haagen Dazs ice cream flavours!

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Dessert Line

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Do it yourself steamboat

Do it yourself steamboat. The 2 pots on the side are for you to cook the raw food. There have been instances of tourists who are unaccustomed to the steamboat concept scooping the steamboat broth thinking that this was the soup counter.

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Azur Restaurant at Crowne Plaza Changi Airport

*Media Invite*

It’s going to be Chinese New Year again and apart from Christmas, Chinese New Year is something I really look forward to each year. Unlike many people I know, I actually love visiting relatives, having relatives over to my place, all the CNY goodies and also the Ang Pow! This is possibly my last year to receive Ang Pows for CNY so I must celebrate doubly hard!

Last Tuesday, I was invited to partake in a Chinese New Year feast at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport. This Chinese New Year, Crowne Plaza Changi Airport’s award winning restaurant Azur is presenting special lunch and dinner festive menus from January 22, 2012 to February 6, 2012. Diners can indulge in culinary treasures from the festive menu with an array of gourmet dishes from its international buffet. Along with the festive menu, guests will enjoy complimentary Prosperity “Lo Hei” Yu Sheng prepared fresh at a live station.

So before anyone else has done so, I’ve already done my Lo-Hei. In fact, my first Lo-Hei for 2012 was all the way back in October 2011 at Thai Village (can you beat that!). The dishes we had at the tasting session were a sampling of the best dishes available for the festive buffet.

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Yu Sheng 2

Everyone likes to do the Lo-Hei (Yu Sheng) as it’s quite fun to toss the ingredients as high as possible. It can be quite a rowdy affair with accidental splatters. I think I found some shreds of vegetable in my hair one year! Definitely don’t wear your best shirt on that day. But while people like tossing the Yu Sheng, most don’t enjoy eating the dish all that much. I personally take a few mouthfuls worth and then I start fishing for the salmon and the crunchy golden nuggets.

The Crispy Salmon Skin and Abalone Yu Sheng at Azur Restaurant is quite different from the norm. For the 1st time ever, nobody was interested in the golden nuggets. Instead, everyone was fishing for the crispy salmon skin, which I can tell you is really delicious and far more interesting that plain old crackers now.

**For the festive buffet, diners will enjoy complimentary Prosperity “Lo Hei” Yu Sheng prepared fresh at a live station (only Salmon slices and no Abalone or Crispy Salmon Skin). Whether it’s Yu Sheng for 2 people or Yu Sheng for 20 people, the chef will still prepare it for you! So couples, you will still be able to partake in the good fortune! The Yu Sheng with the Abalone and Crispy Salmon Skin is for takeaway only.

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Salmon and Abalone Yu Sheng in Chef’s special dressing “Ginger Shoyu” (2) Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Crispy Salmon Skin and Abalone for the Lo Hei

The Salmon and Abalone Yu Sheng in Chef’s special dressing “Ginger Shoyu” was nicely laid out. See the huge bowl of crispy salmon skin? Yummmm. The abalone was nice too but mostly lost in the huge pile of salad. The Ginger Shoyu sauce was very nice as compared to the cheap sweet sauce used in most other places. Scroll to the end to see pictures of the tossing!

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Treasures from the sea (Fish Maw, Sea Cucumber, Crabmeat, Dried Scallop) (2)

Next up was Treasures from the sea (Fish Maw, Sea Cucumber, Crabmeat, Dried Scallop). This is the type of soup that would be featured in most wedding banquets if the wedding couple chooses not to go for sharks fin. But at Azur, they have jazzed up the soup with lots more ingredients. I found the soup to be flavoured very well with the ingredients used. It was hearty and there was a lot of bite. As you can see from the pictures, it really is chock full of ingredients. The soup was a tad too starchy though and I had to stop at half a bowl in case I couldn’t eat the rest of the lunch.

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Treasures from the sea (Fish Maw, Sea Cucumber, Crabmeat, Dried Scallop) Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Steamed Garoupa in Pickle Chilli and Crispy Pork Lard (1)Crowne Plaza Changi Airport Azur Restaurant - Steamed Garoupa in Pickle Chilli and Crispy Pork Lard

Steamed Garoupa in Pickle Chilli and Crispy Pork Lard – Now fans of pork lard, you surely have to try out this fish as it’s practically swimming in it. Those crispy brown things are the pork lard! I had a tiny nibble of it, don’t want to be at odds with my doctor, and it was sooo good. The fish itself was tender and fresh tasting. Surprisingly, the pork lard didn’t make the fish taste oily and for me, there wasn’t a noticeable pork flavour in the fish as well, which is a good thing. Instead, what I detected was a hint of sweetness in the soya sauce due to the pickle chilli. For ease of serving, garoupa fillets will be served at the buffet instead of whole fish.

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The Halia Restaurant at the Botanic Gardens

*Media Invite*

I was seriously elated when I received an invitation to try out The Halia Restaurant, a beautiful restaurant nestled in the heart of the Botanic Gardens. There is something magical and mystical about dining amidst lush greenery.

Up until then, I’d never dined at Halia before, but for those of you who have, The Halia Restaurant has rejuvenated itself with a new look, menu and culinary team since October 2011. Chef Reynaldo Arriola helms the kitchen now. “Halia” is a Malay word for ginger and the restaurant is aptly named so because it is smack in the middle of the Ginger Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The restaurant now boasts a new show kitchen with counter seats, which I think is pretty rare for a Western restaurant.

It can be a tad inconvenient to get to The Halia Restaurant as it’s almost in the middle of the Botanic Gardens, but it helps that there is now a Botanic Gardens MRT station, which means it is only about a 10 – 15 minute walk after you get out of the station.

Ms Karen Wee of FoodNews hosted the dinner for 5 lucky diners, myself included.  Because there were so many of us, we were able to sample a great number of dishes. It’s almost incredible how we managed to finish all the food (there were hardly any leftovers!) and if you don’t believe me, you can count the number of dishes!! Between the 6 of us, we polished off 5 appetisers, 7 Mains and 3 desserts, with additional servings for some of the dishes too!

Most of the photos used are provided by The Halia Restaurant, as they have a professional photographer lah. My excuse is that it was dark when I took my pictures. 🙂

Halia - Ginger Jive - Ice blended fresh ginger, fruit punch, orange & honey

Ginger Jive – Ice blended fresh ginger, fruit punch, orange & honey @ $12++ – We started off the evening with a refreshing Ginger Jive drink. Refreshing it was indeed especially after an arduous day at work. Love it that it’s all healthy ingredients that is used! Preps you for any “unhealthy” things you might eat next… The ginger leaves a nice warm buzz in the chest too.

APPETISERS

Halia - Half dozen Sydney Rock Oysters (2)

Half dozen Sydney Rock Oysters @ $35++ – Oysters done in 3 different ways. I used to think that I only like my oysters fresh shucked and unadulterated, ie just with some lemon juice, and maybe some tabasco sauce if I’m in the mood. However, the tempura & ponzu oysters on the right were fantastic. The tempura was light and crispy, and the oyster just ever so lightly cooked such that it was still flavourful and succulent. The sauteed baby spinach with Pernod deglaze, nutmeg & parmesan gratin oysters on the left were also very good.

Halia Appetiser - Jamon Iberico Bellota, baked Yuzu walnut & olive oil

Next up Jamon Iberico Bellota, baked yuzu walnut and olive oil @ $30++. When this dish arrived, I tell you, there was an audible collective whoop of joy from all at the table. Just looking at the dish itself was a treat to the eyes. Jamón ibérico is a type of ham from Spain. It is very expensive, very delicious and not widely available outside of Spain. Each slice of this salty and fatty savoury goodness will send your tongue into the high heavens.

Halia Appetizer - Tian of vine ripened tomato, pine nut, guacamole & mango salsa

 Tian of vine ripened tomato, pine nut, guacamole, mango salsa, shiso and braised courgette @ $28++ – After the saltiness of the Jamón ibérico, it was nice to enjoy this vegetarian appetiser. Love the sweet mango salsa while the pine nuts gave the dish a good crunch.

Halia Appetizer - Foie Gras Salad

Salad leaves, ginger-infused foie gras, balsamic deglaze, green apple, fresh fig and piment flakes @ $29++ – The salad leaves were lost to me as my focus was only on the foie gras. The nicely seared outer skin gave way to a melt in the mouth fatty richness of foie. I don’t think I need to say much about foie gras, except to say that it was simply fantastic.

Halia - Tempura of white prawn, salad leaves with light lemon vinaigrette, baby shiso, beetroot and celeriac reduction

Tempura of white prawn, salad leaves with light lemon vinaigrette, baby shiso, beetroot and celeriac reduction @ $28++ – The 5th appetiser of the night, tempura of white prawn. The prawn was succulent and juicy under the tempura batter. Not that this wasn’t nice, but for just $2 extra, I’d highly recommend that you go for the Jamón ibérico.

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