Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sunday Lunch 6: L'entrecote - a birthday steak

So you remember my birthday? The one in July that 99% of you forgot/ could not be bothered to wish me for. (I'm having a snarky day - live with it). (Thank you to the 5 people who did wish me)

I had wanted a quiet day of some contemplation about various things going on in life at that point. The honeymoon period in Singapore was over. I hadn't quite found my footing as surely as I expected. And various things were bugging me immensely. I was not in a good place and rather than have a massive celebration I wanted to be allowed to sit and stew in my own steam. 

Of course none of that happened. I turned 38 and spent the morning running errands. Then I got invited to lunch with my sis-in-law, parents in law, nephew. Then we rushed off to collect Kid and proceeded to have a noisy old afternoon at their house. Helped set up my own afternoon celebratory tea and get kids involved in it. It was lovely and thoughtful but I was shattered. By the Kids bedtime I was ready to go to bed myself. And so came to pass a day where the focus was on such busy-ness that I had no time to sit and stew. 

V kept promising me a birthday lunch and of course even though we proceeded to eat many a lunch since none of them really qualified as my birthday lunch. 

Life in Singapore settled down and all the angst and trepidation that followed the lovely 6 month honeymoon soon dissipated. I find over the last few months that my footing is more sure and I'm once again enjoying the many many comforts and interesting things this city has to offer. The 3 awful months in between deserve their own post. I promise.

This Sunday we booked a last minute table at L'Entrecote. And because Steak is one of my top favourite meals V declared that this was my birthday lunch. It's pretty amazing that in over 14 months here I have not had a steak. My last great steak was in London - and just where we lived we were spoilt for choice with 3 steak places. So I've missed a good steak, to say the very least.

Duxton Hill is in the Central Business district. A narrow walking only path, this small leafy lane could easily be mistaken for being located in a suburb and not bustling WorkTown. I suspect it bustles a bit more on weekdays. This Sunday we got there just as rain clouds were gathering overhead. 

L'entrecote is a few doors up the path. Set in an old shop house this is a fairly narrow and dark restaurant. They have a big skylight which really only brings light to one side of the restaurant. The other lighting was not helpful. While they have tried to recreate some of the ambiance I thought they left something to be desired. The numbered bench along one wall was beautifully done but they had stuffed so many tables in front of it that it looked like one table for a group of 50 rather than individually inviting tables. The dresser (on which the second half of the Steak rests) looks worn rather than shabby chic (which is what they usually tend to veer towards). Workable but not a pleasing ambiance.

It began to pour with rain as we squeezed ourselves into our table in the completely empty restaurant. The menu is much the same as London although I think they had more by way of appetizers here. We ordered a pork pate and snails as a starter. Both came quickly and beautifully presented. The pate was delicious and the Polaine bread with it a treat. The snails were hot and bubbling in their little baking dish. They were a bit overpowered by the sauce but tasted fine.

Then arrived the lovely fresh salad and the Steak. It looked exactly as it should - half a steak sliced and covered with the signature sauce and accompanied by a pile of thin fries. We tucked in. The steak was cooked perfectly as we asked (medium rare) and the fries were thin, hot and salted just right. The sauce however, which is what makes the meal, was disappointing. 

How do I explain it? The sauce in all the places we have eaten before has been buttery artery choking goodness. This was not smooth and looked a bit curdled, as if it had been cooked with a bit of yogurt. It looked wrong and tasted average. It made the steak good not great. Nonetheless I ploughed through my first steak in 14 months with speed. No sauce was going to stand in the way of my birthday lunch thank you very much. 

Kid had eaten lunch so chose a scoop of vanilla ice cream to ignore while he played with the trains and wrote numbers all over the paper tablecloth. We finished up and wandered through the (now) drizzle to get a taxi. It was a good meal, a fitting birthday lunch. It was symbolic in many ways of my life in Singapore - pretty perfect with a dash of the odd oddity to keep things interesting. I'm not complaining. Just saying. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A creative bone

I was creative as a child but somehow growing up I shed off a lot of that instinct. Or maybe I blocked it out in the face of needing to be practical. I don't know. Either way I've never thought of myself as very creative. Sure I'll do the odd creative thing but I usually attribute that to a spark or an idea borrowed from a blog/ Pinterest. 

I think though that a lot of my one latent creative gene has found its way back lately. I'm convinced that this is because I have learnt to let go of a lot of things and process things I don't like with speed, both of which are freeing up my mind space to do other things. Also being the mom for a small and inquisitive child helps. It starts with hand impressions and gets more complicated as they grow older. And I don't want to struggle to keep him occupied all afternoon and resort to an electronic babysitter. So I improvise. 

As a mum I'm constantly trying to drum up interest in things other than trains. Things that I can develop a smidge of interest in - lying on the floor and playing hours of pretend trains gets old to say the least. So again I borrow ideas from other blogs and come up with games from very day things like cardboard boxes and toys he already has but steadily ignores. 

This week I pulled out a book he got from a friend in London for his 3rd birthday. It's called 'A Walk in London' and it's geared for an older child I think but the illustrations are lovely and I've read a simplified interpretation of it to Kid. He seems interested even though all his memories of his time there are now slowly but surely disappearing. 

Today I had an hour to kill while waiting for someone to show up (story of my life it would seem. 'There stands 30in2005, waiting.'). And I was suddenly inspired to turn over the top of his train table and recreate a mini map of London with blocks and cars and buses and some felt cutouts. Here it is:

A quick description:
Felt Thames River. Wood boats. Many a tower. Traffic lights. Black masking tape roads (multi purposed for plane runway and train line). London taxis, both black and Olympic-ed up. Double decker red bus. Our local park with a pond and ducks. The tube station with a train sitting in the turntable. A plane for Heathrow. And Monument. 

So far I have had an hour and a bit of pretend play while I have sat here and written and edited the pictures. Maybe he does remember something of our life before this. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunday lunch - 5: Omakase - burgers yum yum

Not this Sunday (because I threw another meal, lunch this time, for 8+6) but the Sunday before was a lunch worth talking about. 

I had arranged a trial swim class at a pool in Turf City in the hope that my son would finally find his inner fish. He's Cancerian and I believe in that sun sign crap. Also he like baths and isn't the pool just a giant tub?! Anyway, after a week of tears and many promised 'incentives' linked to TV watching he agreed to go to this class and try it 'only one time'. So off we went on Sunday at 11.30 to have a look and try. I won't bore you tears except to say it was an unmitigated disaster and by the middle of the class we had to dry off many a tear and a small boy and leave. V and I walked in sullen silence to The Grandstand, a small fight simmering on how these tears and fears were dealt with. 

Anyway, the pool was quickly forgotten by the time we reached The Grandstand. We had planned on eating lunch and getting our groceries there. We chose Omakase burgers, a place we've heard tons about but never ventured to this far. 

It was on a busy strip of the mall surrounded by restaurants and swarming with people. We chose seats on the fake grass outdoor area (picket fence, white tables and chairs, all indoors but outside the main resto). We ordered classic cheeseburgers for V and I and the kids version for Kid. I ordered a Mexican Coca Cola at some exhorbitant price because the sign at the counter extolled the virtues of this cult drink. The boys went for juice. 

The burgers were delicious, better than any I have had in Singapore but the portion sizes very small. Exhibit a and b below are one of our burgers and the kids one - the size difference was minimal. The sweet potato chips were a bit thicker and a few more but the actual burgers were dismally small for the price.

The size thing really bothered me with the juice where they got good sized glasses but not fully filled. They could have just halved the size of the glass and then they would have felt filled. This just made us feel shortchanged. 

It was a good meal alright and after a year of pursuing a good burger this was just what we needed. Not the best but far far away from the other sad samples that pass for burgers. The other big bug bear is that there is no vegetarian or fish version. And while this may not be a large  market surely a chunk of the huge Indian / expat population is looking for choice. I never quite get why more places don't address this. How hard is it to make a good vegetarian patty - all the other fillers / bun would be the same. Anyway. 

The cola was nothing but Thumbs Up masquerading in a lovely glass bottle, calling itself Coca Cola. Yum. So in short a good meal at Omakase and one I would revisit if I'm in the neighbourhood or craving a burger, whichever comes first.

P.S. Yes you read that right. Two home cooked meals for Guests in as many weeks. My Singapore domestic diva is waving shyly from behind the fridge.

P.S. Just to clarify, Kid loves the pool and is happy to get in and never get out (especially on holidays). His fear is the idea of a Class and removing his armbands so he can properly learn. New strategy has been employed. I'll post when I know whether that will work. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013


Hosting a proper dinner party for the first time since we got here. Sure we've had the odd couple or two over but those meals have been thrown together rather than really planned. 

This one is ten people - the exact number that will fit around our door -turned - table. And I've thought through a dinner menu that doesn't require me to slave away in the kitchen all day. With a bit of planning it's taken me 2 hours to create: 
1. Chicken in lime and chilli marinade - took 6 minutes to marinate. I'll pop it into oven at 7 and it'll be ready for the table at 8.10.
2. Garlic ciabattas x 6. Made the butter last night. Slathered it on this morning and wrapped each of the six loaves individually to be popped in a hot oven 20 minutes before we eat.
3. Giant salad - radish, cucumber, cherry tomatos, lettuce and brocoli and alfalfa sprouts. Took about 8 minutes to wash, cut, assemble. Will dress and serve. 
4. Baby new potatoes, scrubbed, tossed in olive oil, sliced garlic and sliced lemon. Roasted them this afternoon and chopped up the dill. I'll toss this in after it's warmed and just before serving.
5. Spinach lasagna - this was the most time consuming. Popped on a pot of tomato sauce before I began on the salad and marinating. Got the ricotta - spinach - nutmeg - herb mix and grated cheese ready. Then used the ready sheets of lasagna to layer up everything. I  didn't use a white sauce, instead using the 'one cup of water around the edges' method - covering with parchment and then sealing with foil and baking for just over an hour. Moist and smelling heavenly, it's sat on my kitchen counter waiting to be lightly grilled for 5 minutes just before we eat. 
6. This final one is for my friend Broom, whom I miss dearly and think of every time I attempt a new vegetarian recipe. I made quinoa cauliflower cakes/ patties adapting a recipe from a blog. I added in a bunch of spices, fresh chillies and corriander and have just fried 30 of these babies in record time. It took about 40 minutes (without the time it needed to rest in the fridge) but so worth it! They smell and taste amazing! She is one of the few people that makes me miss my London life. 

I'm wierdly excited about this dinner, even though the friends are not really mine. It might have to do with a bunch of good things finally coming to fruition after a year and a bit of waiting watching fretting stressing. 

Anyway, tidying to do and a little person to feed and put through his evening routine before our guests arrive. I leave you with the table which has inadvertently turned into a white, green and yellow fest. Bon appetit! 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Happy Diwali

We are in Calcutta for a quick weekend celebration with V's folks. So far it's been an eat-and-meet fest dominated by the most amazing Chitteranjan Rosogulla's. I have a misery making cold and hacking cough combo being alleviated only by the cheer and merriment of little dressed up excited kids and regular Rosogulla fixes.

We discovered Flury's delicious masala bread (reminiscent of a version from my childhood memories of Hot Breads in Chennai) and toasted slabs of this, with lashings of butter, make for decadent breakfasts. This is Diwali day brekka.

Happy Diwali, everyone. May your year be filled with food, friendship, family and fun. Harold and Stephen (Kids Diwali present from us) would send you their festive wishes too I expect, if only they could stop looking at my breakfast. 

Friday, November 01, 2013

So Halloween

In my London longer-than-a-decade I never really engaged with Guy Fawkes Day. And by that I mean I knew when it was, I went (grudgingly, I might add) for One bonfire night with some colleagues and knew the historical significance of the day. But it was just one of those things that flew under the radar in my daily life. The 5th of November came and went like any other day.

Similarly I was never called upon to celebrate Halloween, no one came a knocking for treats. Sure they had the small spooky installation replete with scary masks and pumpkins in my local High Street but it wasn't a full on assault of all things black, orange and spooky. I marvelled at my pals in America and the detail they went to in this celebration. The decorated houses and yards. The elaborate costumes. The carved pumpkins. Nothing like quiet London. 

Singapore is a whole other kettle of fish. Or shall we say basket of pumpkins. The American expat community is big and there are parades and serious trick or treaters. Last year Kid started school two days before Halloween and all his pictures of the day show a very upset little boy trying to hold back his tears and uncurl his lower lip. I could barely convince him to wear a Mickey Mouse tshirt as a costume.

What a difference a year makes! Kid loves school and has been talking about his Halloween party for weeks now. I went for a cobbled together Superman costume - tshirt, red shorts, red cape and green mask (from his cousins birthday), superman croc shoes (my sis in laws find). So all in all the credit for this goes to my sis in law - her birthday party stuff and shoe find made this costume. 

No red tights with blue undies on top for this Superman. Singers is too hot and so we had a very happy shorts-wala Superman who wore red socks instead. 

He came home from school with a loot bag of stuff that he will not eat and a bunch of entirely breakable plastic toys. But oh so happy! 

I'm guessing that Halloween is catching on in London too because friends have been posting pictures of mini ghosts and pirates trick or treating in the cold last night. Or maybe it's always been big and I never noticed because I didn't have a participating child. 

I miss the Guy Fawkes I never really celebrated. Or maybe just that very English way of celebrating - quiet and earnest. I haven't heard anyone mention it and I can't see that the 5th of November will be big. A smidge of London missing-ness happening. 

This year was fun. Halloween, something I knew little about, was an excellent little diversion from the everyday. An aspect of the expat Singaporean life I didn't know much about but I'm now fully on board with. At the bus stop we met a few batmans, an Olympic swimmer, a ghost pirate (?), a peanut, a fair few pumpkins. So many ideas for next year. Maybe I will be less lazy.