Saturday, February 28, 2009

Verre by Gordon Ramsay

Golden Treasures

I've come to the Middle East with one goal in mind. Oil? Nah. Gordon Ramsay's Verre? Ooh Yah. Missing out on the opportunity when I was in London made me determined to right the wrong, and I made sure to rsvp way in advance to avoid disappointment.

The restaurant was near empty when I arrived, by no fault of the chef; it was the month of Ramadan, which explained the quieter then usual atmosphere of the entire city. The crowd and energy of the place would pick up as the night went on.

Canape Tray

The Canape Tray, complimentary of Verre, is served as you settle in and ponder over the simple yet exceedingly tempting dinner menu. It was a brilliant ensemble of Croutons, Bread Sticks and & Shoo Buns with Truffle Oil & Cream, served with Goat's Cheese & Rosemary, & Harrissa Pepper Dip.

The light crisp croutons slathered with the goat's cheese was simple yet flavorful. The bread sticks, covered in fragrantly toasted sesame seeds were good on their own. The shoo (mushroom) buns were daintily sized but packed a punch, and the truffle oil and cream accentuated the earthy richness of the mushrooms. Last but not least, 2 thumb sized choux pastries, pipped with more goats cheese, which I gleefully popped in.

Asparagus Cappuccino with Trumpet Mushroom

While I was still lost for choice with the menu, the maitre'd served me another house speciality, Gordon Ramsay's famous soup cappuccino, a poshed up version of soup in a cup. This creamy white concoction of asparagus with trumpet mushrooms sitting at the bottom was another rich combination of flavors made very light by frothing the soup and serving it in an espresso cup, good for one sip and to whet your appetite with.

Ravioli of Scottish Lobster & Salmon

Delighted with the soup, I decided to go with more signature dishes I have read about and seen GR cook on tv. 2 entrees was the way to go, the maitre'd recommended. The ravioli, cooked on his programs and recreated again in Kitchen Nightmares was one I had to go for.

One ravioli goes a long way. The gently cooked salmon chucks held their shape and there was no skimping on the sweet lobster either. Resting on a bed of butter glazed lettuce, surrounded by crunchy baby asparagus, and ginger veloute served table side, poured into the waiting plate, it brought all the different flavors together beautifully.

Calves Sweetbread

Sweetbread, which I have not heard of before GR, let alone taste, was my next obvious choice. Cooked much like foie gras, seared quickly to caramelize without overcooking or drying out this delicate gland, it was neither unpalatable nor strong tasting as I had expected: It had the texture of foie gras and tasted mildly like kidneys.

Served with equally exotic cep mushrooms and Jerusalem artichoke veloute, this was a crowd pleaser. And the voloute was good on its own. I finished it to the last drop, long after the sweetbread were gone.

Complementary Chocolate Tray

Done with my meal, content and satisfied, out came another sweet surprise. Chocolates and meringues, oh how could I refuse (or resist)?

A Little Memento

I am no fan of high end dining, and this may be the first in memory of my stepping into such a fancy establishment, but I have to say, unabashedly, it may also be one of the best meals of my life. From the discrete attention paid by the staff to the keen attention paid to every plate presented, this meal has been an absolute and priceless delight.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Bit Of Singapore in Dubai Raffles

White Orchids in Azur

We had team building events lined up for the week, the highlight of my trip here. Imagine my surprise to learn they would be held at the Singapore flagship, Raffles Dubai Hotel.

The hotel has been built to resemble a 19 storey pyramid, complete with enormous Egyptian columns lining its spacious lobby and pair of stately looking Sphinxes guarding its grand entrance. Fodors dub it "The crowning glory of Wafi City's ancient Egyptian design theme, this majestic glass pyramid". I call it hilariously tacky and over the top cheesy. To each his own.

Breakfast in Raffles Dubai

Thank goodness we would be spending the week inside the hotel, away from the desert heat and the ridiculous eyesore of a structure. Enough bashing for now, we move on.

Still, it is quite a pride evoking sight, seeing the home flag from the conference room windows.

Appetizers & Naans cooked in a Wood Fire Oven

As far as team building activities go, nothing serves to bond fellow men as swiftly and strongly as a good meal shared over beer. Unfortunately no alcohol was served at this luncheon of esteemed colleagues, but to that end we had a leisurely afternoon spread in the international Azur restaurant.

Your typical international cuisine presents itself, from western salads, roasts and cheese to local specialties such as kebabs, olives and flat breads.

Lunch Spread in Azur

In true 5 star style the restaurants does not disappoint. The variety is plentiful enough to satisfy our contingent of 20 strong and diverse tastes, all prepared with exceptional quality and classically laid out in the same clean manner as the restaurant decor.

Dainty Desserts

I would have liked for more local desserts in the spread, although they did have some Middle Eastern pastries such as baklava and their amazing version of bread and butter pudding, Om Ali.

Hi Tea

So all you do is eat? I hear you cry. Well we were hard at work, I'll have you know, building team spirit and boosting company morale, all with chest thumping gusto, but I will not bore you with the details. You want to read about the food.

Well, the food was good, but not particularly outstanding for a Singapore girl visiting a land exotic by her accounts. I hope to fare better by you, when I go exploring in the days to come.

Not me. The cake.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dubai Advantures...Day 2

Foul Name, Fine Flavors

I start my Middle East adventures with a local breakfast stew Foul Modammes. Be put off by the name and you'll be missing out on a good thing: A slow cooked mix of fava beans, olive oil, lemon and various spices, finished with whimsical swirls of yogurt, and a hearty stew is born.

See this as the Egyptian version of baked beans, with added heat from the cayenne and chili powder, and a deeper, more earthy flavor from cumin and cinnamon, this fortifying dish will set you up for the day far longer than beans on toast can.

Monster Muffins

First day of work concluded with bowling night, which meant dinner had to be sorted at the lanes as well. Granted, the bowling alley is not a place you would expect to find decent food at, but I was surprised to learn that the in-house cafe was run by a reputed restaurant chain, whose name I do not recall, but the logo in the above picture should set the detectives in you in the right direction. On with the food, shall we?

The picture may not tell the big picture, pun intended, but take my word for it, these muffins are monstrous, each the size of my open palm. I was tempted to challenge myself, but as Mama would say, never eat anything bigger than your face, and being in the company of colleagues you're meeting for the first time lends weight to her words, so I begrudgingly left these muffins alone.

Mile High Blackforest

I turn away from the super up-sized muffins only to walk into a counter of super-upper up-sized cakes on display, well you can't blame a girl for trying.

Here in Dubai, the land of towering skyscrapers and soon to be world's tallest building the Burj Dubai, the national obsession with height seems to have now spread to their cakes. You've seen 3 tier cakes before, well take 2 said cakes, stake them one atop the other, and to ensure your neighbour doesn't outdo you in the same manner, you crown the tower with tall pipings of cream, then top that with a coffee bean each, and you have a sure winner.

In the same spirit of Mama's good advice to never eat anything taller than you, I left these chocolate structure alone as well. Oh what fun we would have had.

Pub Grub at the Lanes

Cue to my dinner, a more manageable portion of grilled catfish and a side of salad. For a desert land Dubai brings in some of the best and freshest catch money can buy, and here in a bowling alley no less, my catfish was flaky fresh, lightly grilled, seasoned simply and finished with a squeeze of lemon. This is not your sub standard bowling alley grub, this was good.

Service Apartment

Welcome to my humble abode, my own little service apartment! It may be no 2 storey presidential suite, but it has a great kitchen unit at the back with a built in oven, and on the bar counter a Nespresso coffee machine (very sexy). All the appliances a girl could ask for.

Arabian Sheets

Nights, folks, until the morrow.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Off To Dubai! & Introducing...

Sneak Preview

Dear folks, I have been sent on a journey into the oasis of the dessert, the exotic and enigmatic Middle East, Dubai. I will not be traveling alone, I've brought a tiny friend with me this time. Squeezed into the tight corner of space my luggage could provide, smuggled into the country to keep me company, I introduce to you, Tea Leaf Picking Boy!

This little fella actually belongs to my Sis, let's call her Piggy. She just returned from a holiday in Taiwan and brought him home with her. Why the long name? It was on the label, and it stuck.

Take a deep breathe and wave goodbye, Tea Leaf Picking Boy. We'll see you when we land.

Blue Cheese Ravioli with Parmesan & Garden Peas

Traveling on business means one thing, you fly Business. And to that the airline provides a preview of the comforts to come, in the form of the airline lounge, for you to relax and recharge for the long haul flight ahead.

Not that I really care for free wifi, shower rooms with luxury toiletries or free booze. I was there to check out the grub, coz regardless of whether you're flying high or riding low, it's the food that matters.

Usual selection of sandwiches, soups, and of coz, the cheese selection aside, the ravioli caught my eye. An inch wide and cooked dry with a sprinkling of baby garden peas and grated sharp parmigiano reggiano, it was a light and pleasantly good dish, simple and not too filling. Not bad for lounge food, I have to admit.

Scallop & Mango Salad

The only time I've been served scallops on Economy was when I flew with Emirates to Europe. Singapore Airlines, sadly, does not serve scallops when you fly cattle class, ever. Not even when you pre order seafood meals on their website. I find that quite unsporting of SQ, especially given the premium you pay to fly with them, even on cattle class. But I digress.

Onto the scallops they do serve in Business, huge, lovingly pink in the middle, and well matched with slices of sweet mangoes on the side.

Lobster Thermidor

Here's a tip before you fly, folks. You can, and for the most part should, take a look at the special menus many airlines provide on their website. For those with allergies, special dietary or religious requirements, this is a convenient way to get suitable food on flight, and break away from the otherwise predictable and boring chicken-or-fish choices come feeding time.

But I do it for 2 very different reasons: You can get a choice of the more expensive meats or seafood selections (unless you're flying Economy with SQ, see grouse above) and you get your food way before the others do, up to 30 minutes earlier sometimes!

So being a creature of good food habits, the moment I learnt about my trip to Dubai, I went online, scanned the specials on demand, and chose the dish I last had more than a decade ago. Lobster Thermidor. Oh ya.

If the tail in the picture above looks huge, it was. Cooked just enough to stay tender and sweet, not tough or chewy, and coated in creamy hollandaise sauce that was rich but not too heavy, it was a well executed dish.

Roast Chicken & Mandarin Wrap

This was a red eye flight, which meant yours truly had dozed off with a smile on my face to dream of more lobster tails swimming in a sea of hollandaise, to wake up to the smell of coffee brewing in the gallary (now this is the closest you can get to coffee heaven on Earth, short of setting up camp in a Starbucks store).

Breakfast was a huge chicken and mango wrap, though a tad too big for breakfast, and slightly on the dry side. Maybe substituting lobster for chicken and adding some hollandaise would help...I'm just saying.

Across the Seas, Into the Night

The view from the plane as we cross the timezones never ceases to amaze me. Seeing the colors change so rapidly before your eyes, from the elevation you are at, is the reason I hardly sleep on flights. It is a priviledged view, don't you think?

Wow, all this excitement, and I'm not even arrived in Dubai yet! Just a few more hours to go!