Subrosa: a furtive location where freshness is foremost!

At a particular shophouse along Jalan Besar is a signboard that simply says ‘Subrosa Private Dining’. Subdued next to a louder sign shouting ‘PONGGOL NASI LEMAK’, it barely catches the attention of most passers-by. But the venue embodies the name; ‘sub rosa’ is a Latin figure of speech that literally translates to ‘under the rose’, a phrase that holds the meaning of discretion and secrecy.

Underneath the windows painted a dark rose red, my photographer and I walk in through the unlabelled stained glass door to find ourselves in a cosy space that probably seats only around 20 people on the ground floor. A red serviette in the shape of a rose is accentuated by the immaculate white tablecloth it rests upon. We are introduced to the two brilliant chefs reimagining the best food they can prepare with the freshest ingredients to be found in Singapore, Chefs Steven and Francis.

They honed their culinary arts at different parts of the globe; Chef Steven brings a wealth of experience from his time working in Michelin-starred restaurants in London, while Chef Francis has been quietly working in Singapore for the bourgeoise as a private chef. Together, they bring two worlds of cooking into one fine restaurant.

After meeting the chefs, we sit down and await our first course with anticipation. A basket of Artisan Bread is served warm, just minutes out of the oven, barely cool enough to touch. Both brown and white buns with different toppings — with oats, sesame, or a light white dusting — can be eaten with a bit of truffle butter, which is made inhouse. In fact, one of the things that was stressed on while I was at Subrosa was how everything, from the butter to the other preparations, are all made from scratch in the kitchen.

Freshness is emphasized most nakedly in the salad named Fresh is Best. Small sliced and diced root vegetables have been fermented for at least a month to bring out the best flavours. Each piece is sweet, crunchy, and popping. As you eat the vegetables on top to the salty roe and scallops below, it’s as though your taste buds are travelling from land to sea.

The harvest from the sea continues with the next two dishes. The Cocktail is named after its inspiration, the shrimp cocktail, but in appearance it is anything but. The shrimp has been profoundly transformed into an airy orange foam layered over a shrimp-flavoured crumble. Underneath at the very bottom is a creamy foundation of sweet, hand-peeled, shredded crab meat. The whole cup is an explosion of sea salt and umami, but with a lovely variance of textures, especially if you manage to capture all three layers in one bite with your spoon. Fermented, skinless cherry tomatoes at the side provide a strong sour kick to cleanse the palate between the intensely savoury morsels.

The oddly named Quaking Cod That is essentially Chef Steven’s recreation of the steamed fish he had once in a Chinese restaurant. The cod is sous vide with a strip of seaweed replacing the fish skin to impart a bit of that sea saltiness. The result is soft and tender flesh that breaks easily when grasped with chopsticks. The cod acts as a smooth tabula rasa for stronger flavours to be added to; in this case, a a bit of ginger gel and a reduced duck consomme that is thick, earthy, and salty, a level of complexity above the simple soy sauce that usually marinates steamed fish. Shimeji mushrooms shyly peeking from underneath the fish is sharp with balsamic vinegar and mildly pungent with truffle oil.

With a menu of strong flavours already tasted, a palate cleanser shaved iced flavoured with mojito lime and mandarin orange is necessary to fully enjoy the courses to come.

Remember Mee is an unforgettably great plate of hokkien mee. Besides the addition of some grilled lobster acquired from a farm in Changi, this is the humble hokkien mee we know and love, but prepared to utmost perfection by Chef Francis. He told us about how he used to cook in the tough conditions of a hawker stall, where he honed his craft on this dish.

We move on to typical fine dining fare: Who Niu, ****another playful name for a dish with prime cuts of wagyu beef and foie gras. The beef is has undergone four hours in sous vide before a light torch. Chef Stevens opted for a slightly less fatty cut than usual to give us a chunkier piece of meat, cooked till medium and hinting of chocolate. The foie gras is fresh and buttery smooth, with a thin crisp crust. For sauce, salty gravy has been carefully poured into tiny cups of caramelized onions, and light brown shallot puree circles the plate.

A refreshing tropical fruit dessert concludes the marvellous food we’ve had today. Tropical Passion has a set coconut mousse, sweet and soft mango slices, a passionfruit sorbet, and a little dollop of lime, with a few coarse chocolate flakes ground to look like tree bark. It’s a refreshing end to a rich meal.

After our lunch, I had a brief chat with Chef Steven, who showed me around the kitchen. This is one of the privileges of private dining; you get to interact with the people who make your food. I could feel Chef Steven’s passion and excitement for Subrosa’s potential as he discussed their efforts to procure the best ingredients and prepare everything fresh, and their plans to make the restaurant even better. His enthusiasm bodes well for the future of this new restaurant. Its impressiveness might not be apparent on its unremarkable shophouse exterior, but perhaps that is what Subrosa’s name encapsulates: a place with wondrous secrets beyond the first glance.

No walk ins; reservations have to be made at least 48 hours in advance online at https://www.subrosa.com.sg/#reservation. Food photography by James Hii. Thank you Subrosa for the invitation.

Subrosa Private Dining
369 Jalan Besar
Singapore 208997
Website

Authentic Tastes of Spain at Tapas Club!

Cerveza!’ I say as I attempt to practise my pronunciation for Tania, our Spanish host.

‘No!’ she laughs. ‘It’s ceerrth-veza!’

Certh-th-veza!’

‘No!’ she laughs again.

Beer from Spain: Estrella Galicia ($9.50 a pint).

Behind me, some musicians are playing a live flamenco version of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’. In front of me is a spread of tapas that our table of eight have been sharing. I have been happily gobbling up the final piece on every plate that people always seem reluctant to grab. I am learning about the tastes of Spain with every bite I take between sips of Red Wine Sangria ($12 a glass).

I am at Tapas Club’s newest outlet at VivoCity, which has been open for a couple of months. Helmed by executive chefs Jose Alonso and Manuel Berganza (who received a Michelin star at previous restaurant Andanada in New York City and was recently seen competing on the Netflix cooking competition The Final Table), Tapas Club has provided yet another venue where you can bring your friends and family to enjoy hallmarks of Spanish cuisine.

Croquetas de Jamón

Our dinner opens with an inviting starter plate of Croquetas: small crispy nuggets filled with a soft creamy bechamel sauce. I’m told that Spaniards believe that the best version of croquetas is always their own madre’s. Tapas Club offers two variants: with squid ink ($9.90), or with ham ($11.90). I attempt to cut it to create a tantalising photo, but the fritter collapses without protest under the gentle skewering of my fork. It’s just better to eat this whole so that all the creamy filling only bursts out in your mouth.

Bocata de Calamares

A dish that will be comfortably delicious for Singaporean palates would be the Bocata de Calamares ($10.90). Baby squid with some chili sauce and garlic aioli is sandwiched between two halves of a brioche bun. The whole mini-burger is easily consumed in one bite, and is reminiscent of chili crab and mantou.

Piquillos Rellenos

The Piquillos Rellenos ($12.90) combine the sweet softness of roasted peppers with the minced beef stuffed inside. Although deep-fried, the outer batter has already softened from the gravy poured over it. With the same bechamel sauce found in the croquetas mixed together with the minced beef stuffing, this tapas is juicy, sweet, and savoury.

Cojonudos

A popular staple on food crawls to bars in Spain is the Cojonudos ($13.90), a new dish to the Tapas Club menu. It is the essential pintxo: a cute sunny-side up quail egg (with finely cut scallions) on top of a small cut of salty chorizo, resting on equally-sized toast. Providing a quick dose of delicious saltiness, this is understandably a popular pairing with beer. The Berenjena con miel ($9.90) is another pleasing bar-type snack: thin slices of eggplant fried crisp and drizzled liberally with honey for added sweetness.

Berenjena con miel

Pulpo a la Brasa

The Pulpo a la Brasa ($24) is a speciality hailing from Northwest Spain. The boiled-then-grilled octopus is lightly seasoned with red pimenton powder served alongside their homemade garlic aioli and a long and chunky piece of asparagus. Made in this way, each piece of octopus embodies a range of textures: slight resistance on the initial bite, but as you keep chewing, the meat easily softens and spreads around a mild piquancy.

Cerdo Iberico

One cannot visit a Spanish tapas place without ordering their iberico pork. The famed variant of Spanish origin is popular among meat connoisseurs, for good reason: it’s highly fatty, promising a melt-in-your-mouth goodness. At Tapas Club, their Cerdo Iberico ($24) is given a light touch of heat under the grill to just brown the surface while the meat is still rare and tender. If you prefer your pork less pinkish, the kitchen can easily cook it longer on your request.

Arroz Negro

The star of every communal Spanish fiesta has to be the paella. Tapas Club offers a few versions, but our host, Tania, wanted us to try their Arroz Negro ($26). Literally meaning ‘black rice’, it’s a paella that has been stained as dark as the paella pan it was cooked on by squid ink. The ink has also given the rice the rich umami flavour that squid ink always does. A few dollops of the signature garlic aioli and green streaks of chickpea puree add more colour and cream to the rice. Juicy clams still in their shells are also added on top, for our enjoyment. Cooking on a paella pan has resulted in each grain has acquiring a charred taste on the edges, while the body remains creamy and smooth. I desperately wanted to polish off the pan, but I was very satiated at this point. And there was still dessert!

Mousse de queso con frutos rojos

A dessert unique to Tapas Club is the Mousse de queso con frutos rojos ($10), which, to put it simply, is a deconstructed cheesecake. The expected elements of cheesecake — the cheese mousse, biscuit crust, with some added flair of caramel sauce and strawberry jam — are disassembled and rearranged on your plate in the artistic manner that Michelin-starred chefs are wont to do.

Torrija

You can also try something very cultural: the Torrija ($10), a Spanish-style French toast (hmm, shouldn’t it then be called Spanish toast?) that is especially popular in Spain during Holy Week. The bread is freshly toasted, but is soaked and doused in milk and topped with vanilla ice-cream just before serving. It’s just like a sweet, fluffy soufflé. Enjoy it quickly! l It’s at its most beautiful state in the first few minutes before it cools down into sogginess.

Churros

Or you could go for something familiar and reliable, like Churros ($9), served with chocolate sauce. As we joked at the table, this is the youtiao of Spain: crispy, oily dough fritters you can dip in anything. If you want your churros with something other than chocolate, you could check out the churro café next door, Chulove, which shares owners with Tapas Club.

For someone like me who has never been to Europe, I am thankful that Tapas Club has brought the joy of convivial Spanish dining right to our doorstep. And with this new Tapas Club outlet at VivoCity, authentic and well-priced Spanish cuisine is now more available than ever.

Thank you Tapas Club for the invitation. Food photography by James Hii.

Tapas Club Orchard Central
181 Orchard Road
#02-13
Orchard Central
Singapore 238896

Tapas Club Vivocity
1 Harbourfront Walk

#01-98
Vivocity
Singapore 098585

Reservations

Relax and Unwind with Afternoon Tea at the Chihuly Lounge, Ritz Carlton Singapore!

Some days just call for high tea. Usually, they’re Fridays for me: you’re exhausted by the week, and you really just do want to sit down somewhere, with a lovely platter of little nibbles, and a good drink. And it won’t do either, to head somewhere noisy and crowded: you are seeking respite, after all.

May I suggest the Chihuly Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, with their 8-course afternoon tea? I know what you’re thinking: 8 courses for tea?! TEA?! But oh, definitely worth it. Here’s how my experience with Stellar Dining Series 8-course afternoon tea goes (Note: now they are serving up the festive afternoon tea promotion).

A little early for alcohol perhaps, but never too soon for a tea cocktail.

Begin with the Tea Cocktail: a light concoction of fruit and tea, bright enough to perk up tired faces from the week. It’s accompanied by some light crackers and sambal: perfect start to the tea already.

At this point, conversation’s still light, and you’re drinking in the lovely surroundings of the Chihuly Lounge. And then the Coquelet Stew in Pie comes out.

Oooh, coquelet stew in pie!

It resembles a Yorkshire pudding with meat more than your classic image of a pie, but make no mistake, it’s pretty tasty too. With a truffle mash on the side, it really whet the appetite properly: I was all ready for the tea stand!

I like my tea stands big. And bigger.

Tea stands are really a thing of beauty: the bigger they are, the more imposing the look, and the greater the number of treats they contain! I will admit I used to be less enthusiastic, but after studying in the UK, where afternoon tea is serious business, I repented of my ways. Look at that beauty!

This is how a good Friday afternoon looks like.

Right in that wonderful stand were two types of scones on the top tier: the traditional scone, and the citrus scone. And then the savoury bites tier (middle) had dill cream egg salad, marinated salmon belly, iberico ham brioche, and a king crab and tuna mayonnaise roll of sorts that I quite enjoyed!

Scones are serious business.

Finishing off the bottom tier were the sweets: these were quite the treat, though I admit I was getting a little stuffed by the time we headed here. Chef Richard Long’s creations of hazelnut lemon, apple caramel, star anise raspberry, and ivory vanilla with fruit were one bite wonders. I enjoyed the mix of flavours, though I think I should have had a bit more tea to balance the sweetness of the tarts.

The Chihuly Vacherin: I have never had a dessert that looked like the environment it was served in!

Rounding off the meal after the tea stands were dealt with, was the Chihuly Vacherin. A mix of pandan ice cream and mango sorbet, there was also tangy lime jelly and a meringue shaped like the iconic sculpture in the Chihuly Lounge! Regrettably, I didn’t quite enjoy the coconut flake texture, but I’m not a huge fan of coconut flakes mostly. This was served alongside a chocolate and cookies trolley, but in all honesty, I was too stuffed by this point!

So, was my Friday afternoon good? You bet it was. I might just come back soon for some much needed slow de-stressing, along with the scrumptious food. You deserve it too.

Thank you Ritz Carlton Singapore for the invitation.

Chihuly Lounge
Ritz Carlton Singapore
7 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039799

Website

8-Course Festive Afternoon Tea
26 November 2018 to 4 January 2019
12pm to 5pm
Mondays to Fridays
From $52++ per person
Menu

Weekend Festive Afternoon Tea Buffet
24 November 2018 to 30 December 2018
2.30pm to 5pm
Saturdays and Sundays
From $65++ per person
Menu

Sushi Chiharu – Unexpected Find, Unfamiliar Tastes, Memorable Experience!

I scratched my head real hard when I was told that there is a new Japanese eatery at Cuppage Terrace. I cannot fathom the thought of dining in a zen-like fashion amidst the hustle and bantering from the pubs that we normally associate this part of town with. I find myself staring at my Google Maps aimlessly and pondering outside a restaurant right at the edge of the road, until a waitress saw my confusion, and saved me by ushering me inside.

True enough, a sushi bar materialized once the shoji was slid opened. Soft warm light ensued, and to be honest, I find myself slightly out of place as I take a seat in at the counter. I’ve always been interested in how a chef prepares his food, often peering into open kitchens if there’s a chance, but I have never had someone doing it within my arms’ length before,

Sushi Chiharu is an offshoot from its famous, well-adorned parent restaurant (which incidentally goes by the same name) in Osaka, Japan. It specializes in Edomae-style sushi, and as it name implies, food from the Edo period (1603 to 1868). We normally think of sushi (or Japanese food in general) as a cuisine that celebrates the freshness and seasonality of the ingredient, of its true taste without it being masked by unnecessary condiments or fanciful techniques. Yet, in an era where the term “refrigeration” is as alien as the word “paleo” is to me, chefs and cooks employ marination, boiling and curing techniques to preserve the catch as long as possible. What results is an interesting spin on the taste, and a fascinating twist in the texture of the food.

I started the 18-course Omakase with two appetisers – Ankimo, a sliver of monkfish liver marinated in a bright and briny manner, and tasted like a sprightly piece of cheese from the sea, and Mozuku-su, which are tiny stands of seaweed suspended in an acidic concoction. It became apparent to me that this constant play on acid and savoury notes will be a recurrent theme throughout this dinner.

My suspicion was spot on with the next dish, Shime Saba, a slice of pickled mackerel, shimeji and fish roe. The marination sort of removed the fishiness of the mackerel, and imbued it with a unique texture instead.

A duo of sashimis was served next. We had the Kinmedai, or red snapper, and the Hirame, a type of flounder with large red googly eyes. Both were firm tasting fish, though the Hirame had a slightly sweeter taste to it, and was definitely boosted by the gratings of lime zest over it.

The highlight of the day to me was the Ayu. Think of this as a shisamo on steroids; it was literally filled with miniscule eggs that were smaller than the usual roe which lends a creamy and mealy texture to the eggs. This coupled with the slightly bitter and metallic tasting guts of the fish makes this fish one of the most complex one that I’ve ever tasted. And to top it all, you even get substantial chunks of white flesh, and the contrast in taste and texture with the eggs was just mind-blowing.

We had a series of Negiris after the Ayu. The brown colouration of the rice was intriguing right from the start, and the grains were definitely longer than the ones we normally see. The chef explained thereafter that the rice was cooked with kombu, which lends the rust colour, and a special kind of vinegar was used to season the rice. I often have a fear of overly acidic rice in my sushi which sort of ruins the taste of the other ingredients. Indeed, I find the rice here less sharp than usual.

The more memorable ones were Hotate, perfectly fat and substantial scallops that tasted like candies from the ocean and accentuated by the deft grating of citrus zest, Konoshiro, a Japanese gizzard shad cured in vinegar (see the trend here?) flourished with yuzu zest, though the highlight was the funkiness in texture – a cross between a firm fleshed fish and a delectably chewy mochi.

The Anago, a seawater eel was also slightly from the other eels or unagis that I have eaten thus far; the former had a nice bite to it without the flakiness of the latter. What was interesting is that all the seafood is imported fresh from the different fish markets in Japan, and there was a heavy emphasis on seasonality. This, together with the masterful curing techniques, produced a unique blend of freshness and cure, and an unfamiliar take on Japanese cuisine.

The Negitoro Handroll next was one of the best dishes of the night. Chunks of marinated tuna were wrapped in a perfectly crisp nori – somewhat like a Japanese take on salsa, and the contrast in textures as you place it in your mouth was exceptional. The variations in the cut of tuna being used made perfect sense as the leaner cuts took on the flavor of the shoyu perfectly, but the fatter parts imparted a slick mouthfeel. The end result? An intensely savoury take on a handroll, and a lingering aftertaste of the ocean thanks to the microglobules of tuna fat still coating the back of your throat.

We ended the meal with Kerayaki, a tamago, egg-like dish perfectly soufflé-ed  that will put all chiffon cakes to shame, Miso soup with Aosa, a kind of sea lettuce, and Nashi, seasonal pears with a light and crisp bite.

Overall, the dishes pay great homage to both the quality of the seafood, as well as the well-preserved curing techniques that Sushi Chiharu has honed over the years. It certainly has been an eye-opening experience and has changed my perception to Japanese cuisine, and perhaps serves as a reminder that there are many facets of a cuisine out there for us to explore.

Thank you Sushi Chiharu for the invitation!

Sushi Chiharu Singapore by Tamaya Dining
45A Cuppage Terrace
Singapore 229464

Website

Reservations: 6835 3839

Opening Hours:
Mon to Sat 6pm to 11.30pm
Sun and Public Holiday 6pm to 10.30pm

  • Special Chef Course $200++
  • Omakase Course $140++ (3 appetiser, 2 sashimi, 1 seasonal dish, 10pcs Nigiri sushi, soup, dessert)
  • Nigiri Course $90++
  • A La Carte options available