Friday, December 30, 2016

Imperial Treasures Shanghai Cuisine - Singapore

When wandering thru the Takashimaya Shopping Centre looking to find Kinokuniya, which I have written about in a previous post, HRH the Queen of Kutch spotted with her little eye -Imperial Treasures Shanghai Cuisine - a swish restaurant on the top floor of the Ngee Ann Building. We walked up and had a look at the menu. Boy oh boy, this was something else. We made a reservation for the night and continued our merry way.

The table was for 8.30. It was booked for a later time to allow HRH the Queen of Kutch and myself to have a drink at Clarke Quay and make our way back to the restaurant.

A plate of Chicken Wings at Harry's at Clarke Quay

This is a handsome restaurant, large and upscale. Lots of rooms for private dining which Asians just love. Once again we were seated at a large well lit table. The tables were placed far apart from each other giving you a sense of space. The staff was charming and smiling. We were all relaxed and drinks were promptly ordered. I have been drinking Asahi Beer here. I find that Tiger, Tsing Tao and Carlsberg are just too sweet. Asahi tastes like Kingfisher Ultra. I am not a snob. I can’t be bothered with the fancy Corona with the damn Lime in the neck and all the malarkey that goes with a slice of Orange in a Hoegaarden. Just give me a simple bog standard bottled beer – cold.

The consensus was to order three starters. Let me tell you that each and every one of them was a knockout. All three were cold. The 1000 Layer Pig Ear was delicious. Pigs Ear had been cooked and pressed together. Then the compressed Ears were sliced on the other axis. To understand what I mean, think of a Bebinca except instead of having Bebinca sliced in inch wide slices, to slice the Bebinca in ¼ centimetre wide slices. This is exactly what the 1000 Layer Pigs Year was. This came dressed with Chilli Oil Sesame Oil and a dash of Chinkiang Vinegar which is Chinese Black Vinegar. Superb dish.

Not to be outdone, the next starter was a study in contrasts. It was Cucumber Skin, pickled,  served cold. This was dressed with a pickling liquid of Sugar and white Vinegar. The Cucumber was crisp and refreshing. It was also wholly vegetarian. Unfortunately the photograph is a bit blurred.

The more intelligent among you must realise that both these starters were simply free money for the restaurant. Why? Because they were made with waste. Pigs Ear and Cucumber Skin!! I mean come on. See how clever the Chinese are. It is said of the Chinese [more accurately the Cantoneese] that they eat everything with legs and wings, except tables, chairs and aeroplanes.

The last starter was Black Fungus simply marinated. The marinade was a combination of Sesame Oil and Vinegar and some toasted Sesame was sprinkled on top. This was very good too. All three starters, as I have said, were winners. Unusually, all were cold, and we did not miss something hot.

This was good food. We were sure that the hot kitchen would perform as well. We were not wrong.

One more superlative dish was ordered. Shrimps, Honey Peas [basically baby Green Peas] and Truffle – yes the Black Truffle from Europe [Tuber Melanosporum] and not Chocolate. Was this dish Chinese or was this dish French? I do not know, but this was probably the best dish I have eaten in a Chinese restaurant ever. The aroma from the Truffle was superb.

Best ever - Honey Peas, Shrimp & Truffle

Yet another luxury ingredient was ordered, thankfully in a single serving. Thankfully because, if it was ordered for three we would have had no money left for our subsequent meals. This was a slice of Abalone with a mushroom sauce. The dish was brought out under a Cloche and when the Cloche was lifted the smells were heavenly. I carefully portioned the Abalone and we had this with Chinese Bao. Stunning. The sauce was as rich and as deep tasting as any French sauce made with reduced Veal Stock. Abalone is a marine snail that grows in Australia. The Asians go mad for it. You could say it is their equivalent of a Truffle.

The waitress had recommended the Stewed Pork with Brown Sauce which was served with steamed Chinese Bao. When the dish was brought out it was displayed. There was a square of Pork Belly bound with string. The waitress took it away and carefully cut the strings and removed them. What was served was 4 even squares of the most tender and melting Pork Belly I have eaten in a long time. This was cooked really well. A long slow braise with plenty of skimming of the fats and residue. This dish was the clichéd “melt in the mouth”. The Steamed Bao was great to sop up the sauce.

We had two final dishes coming. A simple Fried Rice and Claypot Braised Bean curd & Mushrooms in Oyster Sauce. As you know we like Claypots. This was a simple tasty dish with silken Tofu. You simply do not get this quality of Tofu in Mumbai. This was a treat. Please look at the photo – there is very little sauce, no “daal”.

This was an exceptional meal - memorable. The service was good and smiling, the food superlative the ambience great. Not one thing to complain or moan about. It will be one of life’s mysteries to me as to why this restaurant does not have 1 star in Michelin while several others do.

If you are in Singapore be sure to eat here. This was fabulous.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Restaurant Jiang Nan Chung - Singapore

Following the Singapore Airlines flight we landed in Singapore late. The storm I had written about, coupled with the baggage delays, and the slow moving traffic affected by the rains and the Christmas traffic meant we reached out hotel at about 6 pm. We had made a reservation for dinner at the Chinese Restaurant Jiang Nan Chung in our Hotel, the Four Seasons. On checking in to our room HRH the Queen of Kutch made a call from the room to the restaurant. On answering the phone the receptionist said “Good evening Mrs Stonethrower, yes we have your reservation for 8 pm.” Yes I know that hotel phone software flashes your name on the receiver’s handset – much like caller ID. But to put that name to the name in the reservation book in an instant without prompting was something extraordinary. We were suitably impressed.

Before dinner we wet our whistles at the Hotel Bar. Mind you eating and drinking in a 5 star hotel is not normally our modus operandi. However, we had a long flight in, it was late and with Senior Mrs Stonethrower in tow it was not fair to start traipsing around town to drink and eat. Also, we had been told by people in the know that the Jiang Nan Chung had been recently renovated and the food was good.

We were welcomed into the restaurant and given a large circular table brightly lit. Great for photos I thought. As we sat HRH the Queen of Kutch looked to place her cavernous hand bag on the floor. In an instant a waitress brought along a stool and placed it next to HRH the Queen of Kutch. A place to keep the purse. How very Three Star in Michelin I thought. This was getting better.

This was Christmas Eve. Soon after we were seated, a few children, part of some local choir came and sang Christmas Carols at the entrance to the restaurant. Indeed it was a season to merry and jolly. All this added to the atmosphere and good cheer.

An amuse bouche was placed before us. Pickled Yam and Plum. This was cold and refreshing, the sweetness tasting typically Oriental, with what I think are almost saccharine like bitter undertones.

Drinks ordered, it was time for the food.

All of us like Soft Shelled Crab. This is an interesting protein to eat. Soft-shell crab is a culinary term for crabs which have recently moulted their old exoskeleton and are still soft. The crabs are removed from the water as soon as they molt to prevent any hardening of their shell. This means that almost the entire crab can be eaten, rather than having to shell the crab to reach the meat. Of course the mouthparts, the gills and the abdomen, like in all other crabs are discarded. The remaining, edible part of the crab is typically deep fried or sautéed. We have eaten several renditions – at David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok and the now shuttered Brassiere Chavot – which remain etched in memory. This one was excellent too. The Soft Shelled Crab was deep fried, Wasabi Mayonnaise added along with Roe. A beautiful start.

We also ordered a plate of mixed starters. Marinated Jelly Fish and Drunken Chicken which were cold and Barbequed Char Sui Style Iberico Pork which was warm. All were very good.   

Then it was time for our main courses. The Claypot with Chinese Sausage, Aubergine and Minced Pork looked very enticing. We do like Claypots, the food is served hot and the combinations seemed very unusual.

HRH the Queen of Kutch and I like the Century Egg or Thousand Year Egg. This was something we have eaten very often at the legendary Yung Kee in Hong Kong. Like in Yung Kee the Century Egg was served with Gari, the Japanese Pickled Ginger. Here there was also some excellent Silken Tofu and a sauce to accompany the Century Egg. This was served cold. This was a very good dish. The Century Egg and the Gari are a beautiful combination and the Silken Tofu sort of made the dish all the more balanced.

We had to have our green vegetables – so Kailan with Garlic was ordered along with two small bowls of plain steamed rice. It is difficult to get Kailan in Mumbai, sometimes Lalu Brothers at Pali Market has it in stock. This is very similar to the British Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Eat a few stalks and you feel really healthy.

In my mind I was comparing the food we got to what we eat when in London. This was a shade better. I must say that the Chinese food in London comes quite close to this. I did find that thankfully, unlike in India, there is very little “sauce” or “gravy” in the dishes. The quantity of sauce is much like in French food, just to moisten the food and round off the dish. It is not like `daal’ to put onto the rice. Have a look at the photos and you will see what I mean. The photo of the Kailan has no "daal".

This was a good start to what did unfold to a wonderful gastronomic adventure as you shall read in subsequent posts.

We all had a very restful night’s sleep after that meal.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


It was HRH the Queen of Kutch’s 50th birthday. A Bacchanalian celebration was held in Mumbai, where 70 of her nearest and dearest Courtiers were invited. The celebrations then continued with an early morning flight the next day, thankfully, to Singapore.


We are here for a short 5 night break.

We were flying Singapore Airlines after a fairly long time. Most of our trips are in the other direction, i.e. West by the wonderful Emirates and the beloved by Indians, Jet Airways. Everyone sings praises about Singapore Airlines. We were looking forward to the flight. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200 a relatively old plane. I must confess that I was sorely disappointed. The in-flight service was good, but, unfortunately an old airplane is really tiresome. The entertainment system was patchy, the choice small, and the quality of the equipment poor. Mind you, I compare this to a similar service that we use on the Bombay Dubai flights on Emirates. This was a poor second. I believe that the flight from Singapore will be on an Airbus A 380. Let us see how that leg will be. I must say the landing was exciting. A huge tropical storm in Singapore. We made two approaches, both of which were aborted at the last minute - “go around” is the technical term. Finally we landed on the third attempt. Then bags were delayed as they claimed that lightening was all around. Finally we were in our hotel. On asking around I was told that Singaporeans are deadly scared about lightning strikes. Hence they go ape shit and hide.

Many people, especially the intellectuals, regard Dubai as `fake’ an `adult’s fantasy’ or an `adults playground’. I do not. I quite like Dubai. It is man made; it has loads of glitz, expensive cars, dodgy women and men, malls to indulge in vacuous shopping, theme parks of all kinds drawing masses of tourists to a place with an inhospitable climate. Everything is new and shiny and is supposed to be over the top. A place to indulge in every aspect of hedonism while neighbouring countries are restrictive and puritanical, and, gasp, Muslim.

And Singapore? Does not every one of these adjectives or criteria not apply to Singapore? Want to go point by point? Robertson, Clarke and Boat Quay, the Sentosa Island Resort, Jurong Bird Park, Gardens by the Bay, the Formula 1 extravaganza running thru the city streets? Inhospitable climate – check. What about the man-made Universal Studios, S.E.A. Aquarium, KidZania Singapore, MOSH!, iFly and Mega Adventure Park – whatever they are? Everything over the top with football field sized shopping malls along Orchard Road. How about the puritanical neighbours – Indonesia and Malaysia which are Islamic? Both Dubai and Singapore, are City States, with autocratic, though, benevolent rulers. Both places are built on trading, commerce and finance – the Arabs and the Chinese being legendary traders. Now what do you have to say?

I like Singapore. I just don’t like the unfortunate painting of Dubai by a brush that you do not want to use for Singapore. Paint them both fuchsia for all I care, but be sure to paint them with the same brush.

We reached Singapore on Christmas Eve so the next two days were holidays – Christmas and Boxing Day. As you may know Orchard Road is the main shopping street in Singapore. Mornings were quiet, but by afternoon and in the evenings the shops, malls footpaths, underpasses were chock a block with people. This was as crowded as Oxford Street in London or Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. There were people like ants.

Shopping in the traditional sense is not something either HRH the Queen of Kutch or I indulge in. Yes we do shop. We are obsessed by food, so it’s food markets. Supermarkets, gourmet stores, the food and drink sections in book stores and, of course, the kitchen or cook shop sections in department stores. I can spend hours in them and can spend thousands of Rupees in them. So in Singapore we visited the rather good Japanese stores both supermarkets and cook shops. Chinatown, although very sterile in Singapore is great fun too. Went to a huge Chinese Supermarket and a Kitchen store on Temple Street. All time well spent.

You must know by now that my centre of the Universe is London. Jokes are made of how I have to travel via London to get to anywhere. One aspect about something as mundane as escalators that struck me was, I thought they moved faster here in Singapore than in London. Also, in Singapore you stood on the left of the escalator leaving the right open for the people in a rush to bound down or up. In London it is the other way around. You stand on the right, bounding on the left.

Singapore is really very clean. I do mean really clean. And yes, you cannot buy chewing gum. I looked in several of the stores we visited, no chewing gum, only mints. It rains virtually every day, the result is that the trees and vegetation is clean and green, washed of all the dust. The heavy vegetation, clean streets, modern high rises juxtaposed with colonial bungalows makes a very attractive combination. There is a lot of greenery.

Another strange phenomenon in Singapore is the presence of Kinokuniya, an anachronism. This is a huge, absolutely massive bookshop Japanese owned slap bang in the middle of Orchard Road in the Ngee Ann building. This bookshop dwarfs all bookshops you have in the UK. This one is massive. In today’s day and age finding such a store is a real delight. We spent a couple of hours looking for books. I must say with all honesty that my actions after that were wholly inappropriate. I took down the names of the books on my mobile and got back to the hotel and ordered each one of them online from Amazon India. They will be delivered home in the next few days. HRH the Queen of Kutch has ordered what she wanted on Kindle. This is the best way to kill the shop. The books I ordered turned out to be on an average 30% cheaper that in the shop. The only explanation I can offer is that private equity or venture capital funding of Amazon is able to subsidise the cost of the books I buy. Something is seriously wrong. Frankly, if the physical book shop disappears. I will simply have a far smaller universe to buy my books from. Out of the 5 books I bought, I saw 4 in the store. There was no way I would have known about these books had I not gone to the store. Point is how do you search for something you do not know exists? If you do not know a book or its author exist how the heck do you search for it? I hope Kinokuniya survives, intact. If it does go the Rhythm House way, I know I am to blame.

The food is good though not necessarily cheap. You could get a bowl of Laksa in a Hawker stall for SGD 6 that is INR 300. A Fish Ball Noodle Soup would be about the same. Remember that both these have very little protein, and what they have is shredded or mashed, thus bulking it up. A bowl of Pho the Vietnamese Noodle Soup with a bit of sliced beef and a beef ball would be SGD 11 which is INR 550. Remember this is in a mall, so, fairly basic. Of course you have all sorts of dining options and all sorts of price points. But, we eat a Spartan lunch, so this was what we had and loved. The quality of food is by and large much better that what we would get back in India. There are lots and lots of bars all over. In fact the purpose built Robertson, Clarke and Boat Quays are where the young and happening chill out after a day’s work. There are lots of microbreweries and beer is good. A pint of beer would be anywhere between 15 to 20 SGD which is INR 750 to 1000 which is pretty stiff. But you can be sure it’s cold and refreshing. 

I must tell you that public transport in Singapore by the trains is good, efficient and cheap. We used taxis. These are slightly more problematic. The first point is that you cannot hail them. You have to be at a taxi stand. When it rains in Singapore and yu are without an umbrella taking shelter from the storm, getting a taxi is an impossibility. The second aspect is the fare. There is a basic fare which is displayed on a screen, and it steadily rachets up, along with your blood pressure. When you complete your ride an electronic voice will tell you a fare that is several dollars higher that what was displayed. Then magically just as the electronic voice complete the sentence the fare will change on the screen to the announced fare. None of this is cheating or rigging of the meter. It is simply that all sorts of surcharges are added to the basic fare - peak hour, additional passengers, tolls, and CBD charges. If you ask for a reciept you will get a line by line itemised bill. However this charging is arcane. 

I am not a child neither is HRH the Queen of Kutch or Senior Mrs Stonethrower who is accompanying on this visit. So all the attractions I have listed in the earlier paragraphs hold no charms for us. But, if you are an adult, and like nature and like seeing how man made stuff can enhance the enjoyment of nature, I seriously recommend that you visit the Gardens by the Bay. This is a new area of Singapore, purpose built, in and around the beautiful Marina Bay complex where you have the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This is a large 250 acre area that opened in 2012. The primary attractions are 3. The first is what they call the Supertree Grove. Supertrees are tree-like structures that dominate the Gardens' landscape with heights that range between 25 metres and 50 metres. They are vertical gardens that perform a multitude of functions, which include planting, shading and working as environmental engines for the gardens.

Then you have basically, two huge cooled, temperature and humidity controlled conservatories or greenhouses.

Flower Dome is the lower but larger of the two, at 3 acres. Yes 3 acres! It replicates a mild, dry climate and features plants found in the Mediterranean and other semi-arid tropical regions The Flower Dome is 38 metres high and maintains a temperature between 23 °C and 25 °C. The Flower Dome features seven different "gardens" as well as an olive grove with a bistro and a central changing display field has also been incorporated to enable flower shows and displays to be held within the conservatory.

The Cloud Forest is higher but slightly smaller at 2.0 acres. Yes dear readers, a 2 acre greenhouse. It replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions It has a 42-metre "Cloud Mountain", accessible by an elevator, and you will be able to descend the mountain via a circular path where a 35-metre waterfall provides visitors with refreshing cool air.

I must tell you it was quite chilly walking thru the two conservatories. I have some very beautiful photographs of the flowers inside. The Gardens By The Bay were truly exciting. The sheer pain, money, design, Governmental vision on creating this is something to admire. On your next visit to Singapore do visit this. Truly impressive.

So folks, all in all, Singapore is a nice place to go to. As an Indian you do not feel out of place. Things are not alien, there is no language barrier, transport is easy, and food is good. The Gardens By The Bay are worth it. You do not need special clothes, just our usual Bombay clothes and if your wife does wear a sari or a salwar khameez neither she nor you will stick out.

Go to Singapore. Fun for all and far better than the utterly boring Kuala Lumpur, the seedy slutty Bangkok and the overridden by Chinese, Hong Kong.

Tequila Sunrise - The Agave plant from which you get Tequila