Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Clarence, London

Even before I arrived in London, I was craving for a good Sunday roast. As we walked down from Trafalgar Square heading towards Big Ben, we spotted a few potential pubs.

Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square

The effects of global warming
The half melted ice bear

Big Ben

Some funny shirts we came across

After some deliberation, we settled for The Clarence, a contemporary looking pub just 100 yards away from Trafalgar Square, boasting views of London Eye and Big Ben.

London Eye

Having undergone a makeover recently, The Clarence sports a fresh and contemporary outlook. However, it still felt very warm and cosy in here.

The specials on the board reveals that 'Roast Rib Eye Steak' with all the trimmings was available here today. Exactly what I wanted!

What I wanted..

So, when the waiter arrived to take our order, I ordered 2 'Roast Rib Eye Steaks' and I found it strange when he asked me how I wanted my rib eye steak cooked. However, I never gave it a second thought until our food arrived. A medium-cooked rib-eye steak, with tomato, mushroom, handcut chips and peppercorn sauce (£14.95) . And I still didn't notice the order blunder until Hubby asked 'where's the Yorkshire pudding?' (I must have been having a blonde moment)

The truth was, when the steak arrived, I was very happy with what I saw and even happier when I took my first bite! The steak was beautifully cooked, no signs of overcooked meat here for sure! I have yet to find steaks like this in Malaysia. :-(

The crispy chips dunked in the peppercorn sauce were delightful to eat

When I looked back at the menu, I realised that the waiter must have only heard me saying 'Rib Eye Steak' and missed out the word 'Roast'. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed the steak. No complains!

For dessert, we shared a warm Chocolate Brownie with Vanilla Ice-Cream (£5.00) and it was sinfully good.

Verdict: Apart from the 'order' blunder, it was a very good "pub" experience in the heart of London. Lovely food, atmosphere and attentive service.

Location: The Clarence, 53 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2HP

Tel: 020 7930 4808

Nearest tube: Westminster / Charing Cross

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wagamama, London

After our meal in Maze, we wandered the streets of London to kill some time before our Mamma Mia show. I have been wanting to watch Mamma Mia like forever, so I was really looking forward to it!

Christmas was all around us; Christmas themed lights lit up the streets.
Shop fronts decorated with all things Christmas. It is always interesting to look into the shop fronts and see what the designers have cooked up. Selfridges had a variety of fairytale characters, Snow White & The 7 Dwarfs, Cinderella and Captain Hook.

It was freezing by 6pm so we welcomed the idea of escaping into a warm restaurant. We wanted something quick, light and reasonably priced, so Wagamama it was.

Wagamama is a restaurant chain serving Asian food with a Japanese Ramen bar concept. The feeling I get in here is like being in a high school canteen, sitting on long benches with friends having a laksa or mee goreng.

Wagamama is the brainchild of Alan Yau, who is also responsible for creating Michelin restaurant, Hakkasan and Yauatcha. Opened in April 1992, Wagamama's philosophy is ‘to combine fresh and nutritious food in an elegant yet simple setting with helpful, friendly service and value for money’.

I used to frequent Wagamama back in the days when I was still living in UK, especially when I was missing Asian food (well, it's not really that Asian but its the closest thing I could get where I was living). Being back here brings back good memories.

The waiters take your order on a PDA, which is transmitted to the kitchen. It is always very busy in here but service is prompt. Fresh juices here are pretty good, the raw juice, a combination of carrot, cucumber, tomato, orange and apple, is refreshing. Complimentary green tea is available with every order of main course.

To start, we shared the gyoza (£4.80), steamed/grilled chicken and vegetable dumplings, served with a vinegar/soy dipping sauce.
I had the Wagamama Ramen (£7.80), egg noodles in a vegetable soup topped with grilled chicken, smooth dory, prawn, kamaboko, fried tofu, mushrooms, wakame and spring onions. Perfect for a cold winter day!
Hubby had the Yaki Soba (£6.95), teppanfried soba noodles with chicken, shrimps, egg, beansprouts, peppers, white and spring onions, garnished with fried shallots, pickled ginger and sesame seeds. The noodles were too dry and lacking slightly in flavour, so we had to add more soy sauce.

And, btw, Mamma Mia was a fantastic show!

Verdict: Filled our stomachs but this outlet didn't really deliver on flavour.

Location: Wagamama, 14 Irving Street, London, WC2H 7AF

Nearest tube: Leicester Square


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Keong Kee Wantan Mee, Seremban

One of the things I have enjoyed since childhood is wantan mee. Wantan mee is a Cantonese noodle dish, served either in soup or dry, and garnished with vegetable (choy sum), roast pork (char siew), and wantan. Wantan is a type of dumpling, usually with minced pork fillings.

I was delighted when recently, I discovered a stall in Seremban serving the most delicious wantan mee! The egg noodles were springy, coated with a sticky sweet sauce and were totally awesome. Even when we tapao (take away) the noodles home to eat, the noodles retain its texture. The wantans are served in a separate bowl with soup. The noodles are best eaten with the sour green chillies.

At other places, my limit is usually 1 portion of noodle but here, I can eat as much as 1 1/2 which equates to a medium portion.

The great thing about the noodles here is that it is homemade by the owner of the stall himself, so no preservative is used. The business is now in its 3rd generation. Both the owner and his son are very friendly folk.

The Unc being adventerous and all, decided to try the curry wantan mee one day. The curry broth was thick and flavoursome, however The Unc still prefers the dry version. The wantan mee is topped with lean chicken breast and tofu puffs.

Another fantastic dish they serve here is the chicken feet in herbal soup. The chicken feet have been deep fried first to make them puffy before being braised in the herbal soup. I like the herbal soup very much, it is warming and very delicious.

Closed on Wednesdays
Opening hours: 11am - noodles sold off

Price: Wantan mee - small (RM3.00), medium (RM3.50), large (RM4.00). Chicken feet herbal soup - RM3.80 for 4 pc.

Location: Keong Kee Wan Tan Mee, 152 Jalan Veloo, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan.

GPS Coordinates: 2.731481, 101.933534

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sage Restaurant, The Gardens (Visit #3)

The Unc is back in Malaysia for a short break! Having read so much about my favorite restaurant in KL, Sage, it was only a matter of time before I took him there.

The restaurant was relatively quiet in comparison to my previous few visits here. We were led to our table by the window where we made our menu choices and received our complimentary free drink. I have heard that Chef Daniel has taken over from Chef Takeshi at Sage and was looking forward to trying out his menu creations.

For starter, we both had the Panache of seafood with capers, olive and wasabi. I could definitely feel the Japanese influence in this beautiful starter which included a variety of seafood such as tuna, prawn, hamachi, mackarel and squid. I relished every bite of sashimi, dipped in a subtle wasabi sauce and accompanied by the slightly salty capers and olives. A very simple dish but cleverly put together to create a wonderful tasting and looking dish.

I knew I made an excellent choice as soon as my main course arrived, Grilled Tai Fish with Scallop and Mentaiko Roe. The sight of 3 juicy scallops was already enough to make this dish a winner. Biting into the juicy scallop, it confirmed my earlier thoughts; the scallops have been lightly seared so it was still juicy to the bite and really sweet. Tai, also known as sea bream, is considered a good luck fish in Japan as it rhymes with the word 'medetai' (auspicious). Mentaiko roe on the other hand is marinated roe of pollock. The fish, flaky and sweet, goes amazingly well with the spicy, flavourful mentaiko. Even the vegetables (sugar snap peas, kailan and green beans) were cooked beautifully, retaining its crunchiness and sweetness. Possibly the best main course I've had at Sage! It was so good I soaked up all the mentaiko sauce with bread.. yummmm.

Naturally the star dish gets to be in the spotlight twice!

The Unc had the Pate en croute of Quail with Foie Gras and Natural Jus. The quail has been made into a pate and baked in a crust. The foie gras is encased within the centre of the quail pate. As he cut though the light and flaky crust, he was rewarded with smooth, flavoursome pate of quail. The foie gras was the highlight of the dish, creamy and silky. Although he enjoyed his main very much, he admitted that mine was by far more superior after I kindly offered him some scallops!

To finish, we both had the White Chocolate Ice Souffle with Berries and Almond Tuile. I misread the menu initially, thinking I was ordering a souffle, then as I read the menu again, I realised it was ice souffle. However, we were not disappointed, as a gorgeous looking dessert appeared before us. The ice souffle was divine; extremely creamy and smooth in texture, resembling rich vanilla ice-cream. The almond tuile, light and crunchy was yummy with the ice souffle.

Verdict: Chef Daniel is one smart chef. His menu is cleverly conceived, simplistic yet delivering in flavour and aesthetically pleasing. A very worthy replacement for Chef Takeshi. He's also so friendly/polite, I don't know him personally, but everytime I looked in his direction and smiled, he would bow back in acknowledgment.

The Unc enjoyed his first experience in Sage tremendously! Now I need to convince Hubby to take me here for the degustation menu..

Service: Immaculate.

Price: RM100 for lunch menu. I was a little disappointed that I only get 10% discount now with my Gardens Club card :-(

Location: Sage Restaurant & Wine Bar, The Gardens Residences, Level 6, The Gardens, Mid Valley City, Lingkaran Syed Putra, 59200 Kuala Lumpur. (Tel:03-22681328)

Opening hours: Lunch:Monday to Friday 12.00pm to 2.00pm; Dinner:Monday to Saturday 6.00pm to 10.30pm. Closed on Sunday.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Seremban siew pow

The food most synonymous with Seremban is possibly the Seremban siew pow. There are so many places selling what they claim to be the famed siew pow, but which is actually the genuine one?

The original and genuine siew pow can be found in Empayar Seremban Siew Pow located in Pasar Besar Negeri Sembilan, just off the Labu/Seremban toll (1st Seremban toll if you're travelling from KL). Turn right at the traffic lights, then make a U-turn before the next traffic light. Take the first left turning and then turn right and you will see Empayar Seremban Siew Pow on your left. Don't be put off by the location in a "market", as it is in a completely separate building altogether.

They also have several franchises around Seremban town, but I feel this branch sells the best-tasting and consistently good siew pows.

Siew pow is a baked pastry bun with flavoursome and moist meat fillings, either pork, chicken, curry chicken or vegetarian. It is best eaten piping hot, so you can enjoy the crunchy, light and flaky pastry to its maximum potential.

They also make a Crispy Siew Pow version, where no oil is coated on the siew pow outer skin. This makes the siew pow look lacklustre in appearance, however many claim that this version is much tastier with a buttery texture. I sampled this today, and found that if the the siew pow is eaten with a drink, then the pastry melts in your mouth and you can taste the rich buttery pastry.

The famed siew pow is so popular that many Seremban folk buy them to give away to relatives and friends. We have friends asking us to buy some and bring it all the way to Malacca/KL for them. Most weekends, this place is heaving with tourists (you can see a few tour buses lined outside) and the siew pows sell like hot cakes!

The crispy kaya puff here is also excellent, the pastry is really flaky with thick delicious kaya filling. Kaya is a type of thick coconut jam.

I also like the pineapple tarts here, the pineapple filling is very moist and not overly sweet.

They also do egg tarts here, but I feel that the pastry is rather dry and has deteriorated over the years. The durian tart pastry looks like it would have a nicer texture to it, but I avoid it due to the durian filling.

Price: Siew pow & crispy siew pow (RM1.20), Pineapple tart (RM1.00), kaya puff (RM1.30)

Location: Empayar Seremban Siew Pow, LG1-57, Tingkat Bawah Tanah, Pasar Besar Negeri Sembilan, Jalan Besar TBK 4, Taman Bukit Kepayang, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Maze, London

"How would you fancy a trip to London next week?"
Christmas has come early for me! Hubby invited me to join him in London for a week. I was excited by the prospect of being in London again, doing the touristy things, watching musicals and of course, eating! I was looking forward to eating some good food while i was there.

As soon as I stepped out of Terminal 4 Heathrow Airport, I was greeted by the cold breeze. How I have missed the cold weather here! It was refreshing and I was already looking forward to my trip here.

We chose Maze, one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants, located in Grosvenor Square and a short walk from Selfridges for our first Michelin meal. Maze is a 1 Michelin-star restaurant headed by Jason Atherton. Those of you who watch Great British Menu may know him from Season 2 , in which he won the honour to cook both the starter and main course for celebrities and top chefs at The Gherkin. Jason Atherton is also the first British chef to complete a stage at Spain’s famous El Bulli restaurant and has worked under Pierre Koffman, Nico Ladenis and Gordon Ramsay as Executive Chef at Verre in Dubai.

We arrived at the restaurant only to be told that the restaurant was fully booked (lots of people doing Christmas lunches and dinners). Luckily, they could seat us at the bar. We accepted and were led into the restaurant. The restaurant is bright and sleek, very contemporary with tasteful decor. Sitting at the bar wasn't too bad. We felt pretty relaxed since the restaurant has quite an informal feel to it.

The food here is described as "French cuisine adopting Asian influences" and "innovative". We both chose the 4-course "lunch bites" menu to enjoy Maze's signature dishes in tasting-sized portions. Take your pick out of a mixture of savoury or sweet dishes. We went for 3 savoury and 1 sweet dish each. Since it is winter now, most of the savoury dishes on the menu were soup/broth based.

Warm bread with luxurious butter was served as we waited for our first course to arrive.

First course

My first course was Cornish red mullet, tapenade, croutons, aioli, fish soup. The soup arrived on a separate dish and was poured in front of us. The red mullet was firm and the mild flavour of the fish was complimented well by the flavoursome fish soup. On top of the red mullet were 2 lightly toasted croutons spread with tapenade. The slight saltiness of the tapenade, a combination of puréed olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil was appetizing.

Hubby's first course was Onion squash soup, puffed wild rice, ewe’s curd, smoked bacon, braised chicken thighs,chestnut powder. The soup was bursting with flavour, and the braised chicken thighs soft and tasty.

Second course
I am liking the food presentation here! Next to arrive is the Citrus spiced oxtail, wild turnips, horseradish and sour apple risotto. My my my, the food here really delivers on flavour, the oxtail was tender and so flavoursome. The risotto was slightly sourish from the apples.

Before the waiter poured soup onto Hubby's next course, I whipped out my camera and took a shot of the 'Scotch broth’ roasted halibut, black pudding, Argyle ham, samphire, turnip purée. The fish was firm and fleshy and is so lovely to eat with the "scotch broth" sauce. The scotch broth in this dish was not a broth as such, but rather a flavoursome sauce made with carrots, turnips, swedes and bacon.

Just before the third course was served, Jason Atherton came out to the dining area to mingle with his patrons. I was delighted when he said 'Hello' to me as he walked past the bar. While others like to spot celebrities, I get the thrill out of chef-spotting.

Third course

We both ordered the Braised shoulder of aged lamb, faggot, parsnip purée, pear jam, ox-eye daisy, cob-nuts and pomme puree. OMG I so need to rave about the pomme puree here (mashed potatoes)! The creamiest, smoothest, loveliest mash ever! It really is VERY GOOD - so good it kind of stole the thunder from the lamb. Not that the lamb wasn't good, in fact it was delicious and tender.

Last course

Now for desserts, Hubby made the better choice. He had the Devon milk and yoghurt mousse, winter berry sorbet, dried winter fruits and oats, berry syrup. He chose this because we wanted to try different desserts and he let me choose first. It worked out well for him as the mousse with winter berry sorbet was light, sweet and delicious.

I had the Devonshire rice pudding, spiced blackberry jam, clotted cream and blackberry ripple ice cream. The rice pudding was rich and tangy, but was lacking presentation wise. But I guess there's only so much you can do to make rice pudding aesthetically pleasing.

To end, petit fours in the form of fudge, dark chocolate and sugar coated jellies.

Verdict: Although the menu stated that the dishes would be in tasting sizes, I felt that they were quite generous portions. The food was innovative and bursting with flavours. We left feeling very satisfied. This was definitely one of my favorite meals in London.

For a full list of 1 Michelin-star restaurants in London, click here.

Dress code: Casual

Service: Good.

Price: £28.50 for 4 dishes.

Location: Maze, 10-13 Grosvenor Square, London, W1K 6JP (adjacent to London Marriott)

Nearest tube: Bond Street
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