January 4, 2018

I thought about this long and hard. Resorting to scrolling through the throngs and throngs of food photos that have filled the memory of my SD cards, making lists and ranking them based on the emotional responses evoked from just a mere glance of its silhouette.

And here we have it: a tribute to the meals that have left a mark; the dishes whose flavours have stayed with me even after I guzzled down a couple of cocktails and the rest of the night fades into a blur.

I’m sure my nearest and dearest would have heard incessant preaching about most of these dishes, but to the rest of you, here are the highlights of my gastronomical journey in 2017.


The Pelican Burger from The Pelican

One of the best burgers I’ve had this year belongs to The Pelican located on the convivial One Fullerton stretch—chopped steak patty, smoked ketchup and bacon—a devilicious combination that warranted those silent moments of utter reverence.

The right balance of sweetness and smokiness from the sauce meets salty bacon strips and patty, seasoned with so much finesse that it does a curtsy in your mouth. The buns, should not be dismissed as calefare, providing just enough resistance to the juiced up amalgamation. I especially adore the addition of seeds and toasted rim which contributed to the textbook of textures in this epic package.

If you think The Pelican is only known for their seafood… think twice.

Steamed Venus Clams from Morsels

At Morsels, there is an absence of parroting of modish ingredients. No kale, no kombu, nothing burnt nor aerated. Anticipation runs high as the soulful concept of Chef Petrina Loh’s obsessive cooking falls into place. It’s not what we normally coin as fusion food, instead, she delves a lot deeper into origins, breaking down cultural culinary boundaries to produce the most addictive liaisons between her own Asian heritage and full on ‘wild child’ antics of a global restaurateur mindset.

You must try the Steamed Venus Clams here. Delicate clams in a pool of pickled wake and homemade kimchi laced fig (or mo fa ko) broth. The utterance of the last ingredient resonated deeply with me seeing that I used to nibble at the blue tub of preserved fruits like a ravenous mouse when I was younger in a bid to soothe the ailments of my childhood asthma. Needless to say, this “Classic” favourite was a dream, the rich saltiness of the broth mingling beautifully with the seafood. Toss me the bread basket and I’ll deal with my infatuation in a passive manner.


Crispy Pig’s Head from Dehesa

My carnivorous thirsts have propelled me to hunt down a few establishments around town that know their way around satisfying those hankerings. And Dehesa on North Canal Road is one of them—the only reason why I would entrust them with my birthday meal and boy was it a hole in one.

Chef Jean-Philippe’s Crispy Pig’s Head is a stunning dish. Nose-to-tail dining comes to life here and with this, he challenges the social stigma that offal is a poor man’s food. It’s not. The change of economy in the 80s just meant that these off-cuts fell out of fashion and people were more willing to spend their bottom dollar on luxurious cuts. Despite the trend making a comeback, that and our fervent love for the local dish kway chap, it hard to see this style of rustic cooking being bested around here. One can only try so hard. I am a huge fan of the sexy flavours and textures combined under one convenient culinary roof—braised till agonisingly tender, the off-cut sings a harmonious tune with chorizo, capers and lashings of soft yolk. You can barely sit through the entire introduction before repeated spoonfuls make a beeline for your mouth.

Slow Braised Short Rib from Atlas

For drink chasers who value food just as much as alcohol, there’s a gleaming gem in the Gotham building that has garnered a stupendous response. We usually don’t hold high hopes for bar food. However, in this case, we’ll make an exception. For realms of gustatory pleasures that extend beyond the regular truffle fries, look to Atlas Bar.

The Slow Braised Short Rib has been the hallmark success of Chef Daniele’s prowess since day one. Just watch as your knife slips thru that cut, like a warm blade through butter. To compliment that, the carrot puree is spiced with ginger, cardamon and a myriad of other middle eastern spices, almost similar to Gajar Halwa. This delicious combination will have you guessing till the last bite.


Iberian Presa Charcoal Fried from La Ventana

If you think Spanish food is all about ’em seafood, you’re deeply mistaken.

At La Ventana, Chef Roberto Terradillo’s wizardry extends to the land varietal. The Iberian Presa Charcoal Fried served with carrot puree and toasted coffee is as much an art piece on the plate, as it is when it dissolves with ease on the tongue.

The Iberian pig, the product of reckless liberation at its final stages of breeding, feeds off grass and aromatic herbs such as thyme and rosemary resulting in a truly unique flavour. Here it is coated in a squid ink crust alongside a buttery mound of unbelievably sweet carrot puree, grounded by a shower of toasted coffee powder. The juxtaposition of bitterness against the sweet carrots and intensely unctuous meat so deliberately wilful that it left me blushing.

Kumamoto Wagyu A4 from Me@OUE

You’d think going out for a little ‘fusion’ meal with city skyline views would be a little cliché, and its true where many other joints hugging the bay are concerned.  But Me@OUE is not one of them—the initial stride into the restaurant feeds into the illusion of wealth. If your wallet allows, go forth and get acquainted with the superior produce at the restaurant.

One highlight is the Kumamoto Wagyu A4, which isn’t much of an off-script move, but results in a chimera of narratives—that actually happened in cosmic silence, with only audible sighs at the table, as I polished off the charcoal grilled striploin nestled cosily in pumpkin puree. That’s a romantic tale I would vouch for again.


Seasonal Green Pea ‘Piselli’ soup from Zaffareno

Despite the business lunchtime crowds that patronise the restaurant, the compelling service of the knowledgeable staff provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of street life.

There are definitely no airs here. The wallet-friendly lunchtime set menu focuses on the spirit of Italian culinary artistry and quality despite the usual time constrictions imposed.

During my recent visit, who knew that a bowl of Seasonal Green Pea soup could be so delectable? Call me crazy but I’m willing to swap my tajima wagyu steak lunch for this bowl of Seasonal Green Pea ‘Piselli’ Soup with Stracciatella and Trout Roe, anytime.

Just make sure not to cause unnecessary ripples on the surface as you’ll want to squeeze in that slight savoury cheese with the spring vegetal vibes of the green pea.

Prawn Ravioli from Urchin (Bali)

Looking past the ill-fated predicament of empty dining rooms during the off-peak season in Seminyak, Bali. One would start to appreciate the undivided attention showered by the wait staff as they prance around your table in choreographed movements, synced with the progression of each course.

By the time the mains arrived, you’re stuffed, but the Prawn Ravioli still conjures up excitement. A satisfyingly rich shellfish emulsion, bursting at the seams with roasted shellfish flavour compels one to consider ordering an extra slice of sourdough to mop it up with. Shellfish roasted low and slow before emulsifying with rich stock results in some outrageously intense sea-worthy flavours restrained ever so slightly by the tart kick of tomato fondue. The fresh prawn stuffed ravioli is outstanding and aptly showcases the chef’s finesse.


Poached Cod Fillet from NoStress Bistro (Croatia)

2017 has been a year of free-spirited travelling. My recent trip through the Balkan states proving to be quite a dream for the gourmand in me. From grilled meat platters fit for a king to sugar syrup fattened deep fried dough (tulumba) and traditional meat-filled dumplings drenched in tangy yogurt sauce, I’ve been well-fed, educated and for the most part of it, sated by the holistic travel experience.

When it came to Croatia and traversing the coastal cities, seafood is a must.

Upon reaching the touristy town of Split in Dalmatia County, Croatia; I shied away from the many International establishments dotting the picturesque Riva stretch in favour of a no-frills family diner touting seasonal menu items—NoStress Family Bistro.

Nothing prepared me for the gastronomical experience I was about to embark on with the humble Poached Cod Fillet I picked off the specials menu. Sans the use of a sous vide machine, a gorgeous chunk of oily cod bathed in sweet raisin and vermouth sauce was lowered genially into a pool of silky parsnip puree. You would expect the raisin and fish combination to fight for your palate’s attention, however, the glorious match is riveting. Rich, sticky, light caramel coloured sauce punctuated by the sweet onion brings to mind the endearing images of harvesting season. The fish while perfectly executed, benefitted from a gentle dredge through the luscious puree.

Churros from AYA Street (Bali)

Who would have thought that I would get schooled on the principles of Peruvian cuisine when in Bali?

AYA street, the newest Peruvian restaurant in Petitenget in Bali focuses on the classics, yet at the same time draws inspiration from the streets—pairing the much-needed visual stimulation required to captivate the Bali audience, with Peruvian-Asian gastronomy. Start off the meal with a cocktail from the South American inspired drinks menu touting tipples rich in mezcal and tequila. My pick would have to be the cheery and cheap D’face, it’s lethal combination of sugarcane liquor and sumbawa black honey set ablaze for extra theatrics.

The churros take centre stage. It sticks to the traditional script, conjuring wild dreams of rich hot chocolate sans the detrimental effects in the stifling heat. Portions are calculative—thank God—deep fried sticks enriched with crunchy sugar, best enjoyed drenched in a thick spiced chocolate sauce with a flicker of tanginess from marmalade. Yes, it’s so good, it forces you to congratulate the chef.