Business Times - 23 May 2009
Foodies who want a break from molecular gastronomy will be more than happy to check out the menus of these restaurants which serve up well-executed, time-honoured classics
Tung Lok Classics
#03-00 Chinese Swimming Club
21 Amber Road
IN ITS heyday, the Chinese Swimming Club was the go-to place for grooming future swimming champions a la Ang Peng Siong and Pat Chan. It was also the precursor of country club-style exclusiveness - a hangout for well-to-do Chinese families to network and monitor their children's free-style prowess.
The club celebrates its centennial this year with a brand new Arrival Pavilion at its Amber Road premises, at the same time resuscitating an old dining memory that was formerly known as the Grand Pavilion restaurant. The Tung Lok stalwart fed clubmembers from 1988 to 2002 and has now been reborn as, appropriately, Tung Lok Classics.
'The Chinese Swimming Club has a long history with the Chinese community,' says Tung Lok chief Andrew Tjioe. 'To celebrate tradition and the club's 100-year history we wanted to offer time-honoured dishes most representative of China's culinary excellence through the centuries.'
Despite its traditional leanings, the restaurant itself is not - its sleek brown-and-white decor is unfussy and modern, overlooking the club's monster swimming pool on the ground level.
The menu is designed to incorporate the traditional dishes from various regions in China, although there remains a large proportion of familiar favourites like dim sum and home-style cooking. While the kitchen is helmed by senior Tung Lok hands, a Shanghainese chef has been brought in to raise the level of authenticity.
The recipes have no doubt been gentrified to meet the restaurant's criteria in terms of presentation and local tastes, so there is no excess of oil, heavy sauces or chilli-laden garnishes. But that means you get the best of both worlds - regional cooking that retains enough authenticity while not abusing your palate.
The familiar Buddha-Jumps-Over-The-Wall luxury gets a different spin here with Tung Lok Classics' Beijing influenced version. Instead of being served in a familiar brown claypot, this mild-mannered version features braised fresh shark's fin with sea cucumber, abalone, fish maw and deer tendon in a lightly thickened brown sauce. The delicious collagen-infused tendon gives it that pleasing lip-smacking gumminess and the absence of heavy herbs makes it less rich and cloying than most other variations.
For a taste of old-new Shanghai, the Shanghainese chef acquits himself with specialties like Yan Du Xian - a rich stock served with chunks of pork belly, beancurd strips tied into knots and bamboo shoots. Beancurd sheets also figure in another Shanghainese dish - this time, a tangle of shredded strips sit in a tasty broth flavoured with dried flattened shrimp and crunchy glassy prawns in a fuss-free combination.
Some heat is generated with the braised fish head or pomfret with pickled lantern chillies - which are really skinless red peppers braised to tender perfection while adding striking colour to a palate-tingling fish broth flavoured with pickled chillies that give it a special piquant touch.
A Shanghai-style braised mee sua in a milky broth offset with intriguing fish puffs that look just like tofu puffs but are made from beating fish meat into a fluffy consistency is another comforting winner.
With sweetmeats like deliciously chewy red dates stuffed with glutinous rice, you want to take the restaurant's word that these are truly traditional dishes plucked from the old cookbooks from the motherland. But even if not, there's nothing like creating a few new traditions of its own.
27 Tanjong Pagar Road
MASSIMO Aquaro and Roberto Gagliardi, the owners of a new Italian restaurant in Tanjong Pagar called Capricci, have aligned it to the modern casual dining category, although their version of casual still involves an element of fine-dining - with starched white tablecloths, well-dressed waiters and an unmistakably elegant dining environment, including the obligatory Italian opera music.
Capricci is distinct from, say, family-style establishments that specialise in grandma's recipes while dishing out a taste of the home country, but it does make a conscious effort to tone down - in these downbeat times - on the five-star excess. The result is cuisine that falls somewhere between two extremes - a moderated, modulated approach to Italian cooking.
Gagliardi hails from a fine-dining background, having worked with the well-respected Bice chain in the US. He also spent some time in Miami - which might explain his permanent tan - working in restaurants owned by the likes of Robert de Niro and Madonna, before making his way to Singapore, where he was a consultant for the slick Supperclub at Odeon Towers.
'Restaurant people can run clubs but club people can't run restaurants,' says Gagliardi. He met Aquaro, then a brand manager at Thumper, and the pair decided to team up to create Capricci, where 'we are hoping to achieve impeccable service and decent food,' he says.
Aquaro ran a popular bakery in Rome for 10 years before selling out and moving to Singapore, where his brother has a store selling European antique furniture. 'In Italy, bread is like a religion,' he says. 'But it was also hard work - compared to that, running this restaurant is like a vacation.'
The menu at Capricci is a blend of the modern with the conventional. Some dishes, such as capellini with fresh sardines ($20), are typical of southern Italy while others, such as a seafood salad with tropical fruits ($22), are possibly more recent creations.
The menu promises 'guaranteed freshness and excellence in taste' and although it doesn't quite deliver fully, there is enough evidence to warrant a repeat visit. For example, a first attempt at ficattole - Italian-style fried dough fritters served with parma ham and mozzarella di buffalo ($20) - were declared by Aquaro to be slightly undercooked, and he returned with a more suitable example later on. However, the pastas, including the aforementioned capellini with sardines and tagliatelle with a spicy octopus ragout ($18), were tasty and perfectly cooked.
The house specialty is seafood, says Aquaro, and there are ample dishes on the menu to sample, including a salmon and snapper carpaccio ($20), seafood spaghetti ($18) and sauteed king prawns ($36). Carnivores can select from dishes such as tagliata di manzo (grilled tenderloin - $38).
Desserts ($10) included a stodgy custard-and-pumpkin concoction and a fruit-based tiramisu that looked and tasted like English trifle in disguise. 'Some dishes are modified, and some are very traditional,' says Aquaro. It's a combination that makes Capricci a useful addition to Singapore's Italian food scene.
3E River Valley Road
#01-02 Clarke Quay
AN ENTREPOT, according to Wikipedia, is a port where duty-free trade takes place. And certainly, L'Entrepot is where Sufian Zain has traded his old position as head chef of fine-dining institution Iggy's for a similar post at the more casual French bistro owned by the Esmirada group, which opened earlier this month.
The chef, who was known for his modern European style of cooking at Iggy's, says he moved because the opportunity offered him fresh challenges. 'I look forward to exploring different styles of presenting French cuisine,' he adds.
What that means is that Zain has swapped the likes of tomato jellies and truffle sabayons for a more earthy, classic repertoire at L'Entrepot, which serves everything a French country bistro would, and then some. There are escargots, French onion soup, pig trotters, bouillabaisse and the like, along with a couple of pastas and lighter dishes such as cod baked in parchment paper, and pan-fried Norwegian salmon in a balsamic dressing.
The food is decently executed and authentic for the most part, although to cater to local palates the kitchen holds back a bit on the butter and cream (if not the salt). What's particularly good are a sensitively cooked poached egg on a slippery-chewy medley of cep, shimeiji and shiitake mushrooms ($12) dressed in olive oil and chicken jus, and a crispy-on-the-outside, creamy inside pan-fried foie gras in port wine reduction ($22), served with a thickly-sliced ring of caramelised apple.
The robust lobster bisque ($15), imbibed with brandy and baked in the oven under a golden beret of puff pastry, is also pretty yummy, as is the tender beef bourguignon ($28) braised in Bordeaux wine.
Of course, a French meal is incomplete without any tipple, and L'Entrepot has a 90-strong list of wines with which you can wash down your grub. About half of the labels are from France. There's also a fairly comprehensive range of alcoholic beverages because the bistro plans to catch the drinking crowds by opening until the wee hours of the morning from Wednesday through to the weekend.
In truth, it's quite a nice place to have a glass or six and pretend you're in Paris - if the weather's not too muggy, that is. L'Entrepot has a very well air-conditioned indoor dining area, but quite naturally for a modern-day establishment halfway across the world, its interiors struggle to present a picture of rustic France - even if it is fitted out with vintage-style posters, quaint glass lamps and twirly-legged tables. So the better spot for a game of pretend is on its al fresco terrace, which fronts the Singapore River and has more seats (52) than the indoor area (40).
If you're keen for a taste of Zain's new - or old, more accurately - France, go in the evenings because the bistro is only open for dinner for now. Lunch service begins on June 1.