Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nasi Goreng: quintessential dish to eat when in Jakarta

Nasi goreng, or fried rice is an ubiquitious meal when in Indonesia. Not only is it easy to order for a foreigner, but it seems that this is a very popular dish amongst locals as well.

In my recent visit to Jakarta coutesy of Jakarta Tourism Board as invited by Russell Cheong of Winsemius, I did indeed taste many nasi goreng...often with the moniker istimewa (special) tagged to it. Truth be told, all were excellent. But the following were rather outstanding for one reason or other.

Reputed to be one of the more famous stalls in Jakarta, with branches in Kemang and the city, this fried rice is special for the use of crab pincers. The crab must be pretty small, as the pincers themselves are very small, but the stall is generous, each plate having perhaps 8 to 10 pincers. They were fresh, sweet, and added a wonderful crustacean aroma to the fried rice. The rice itself was very nicely fried, with a good wok hei, and plenty of ingredients. Very nice. The stall is also famous for their kway teow, spelt kweitiau in Indonesia.

Fried the same way, with crab pincers, prawns, roasted pork, egg and some vegetables. Very nice.

Other notable ones is the Nasi Goreng Istimewa at Cafe Batavia in the old city.

Comes with two sticks of chicken satay, fried chicken and condiments. Also beautifully fried, and magnificently presented.

I also need to mention the nasi goreng served by a small restaurant attached to the Bersih and Sehat spa. Done with petai.

Absolutely wonderful. Simply fried, with excellent wok hei. The Indonesia petai is a bit less pungent and fragrant (some say smelly, but I love the bean, so I prefer fragrant) than the Malaysia cultivar. Slightly sweet, with a light tinge of bitterness on the after taste. The rice has great wok hei. Absolutely marvellous with the very spicy sambal.

So when in Jakarta, and wondering what to eat, nasi goreng is a safe bet, and a must eat when in Indonesia.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Steak and Fries: Great ones at Suntec City

Steak and fries. A pretty standard meal in Paris. A simple meal, one might say, but to do a simple meal right, takes courage, and a great chef.

I waxed lyrical about La Bourse au la vie in Paris a while ago. A revisit earlier this year was not so exciting. But from the first visit, the imprint of the magnificent hot fries, crisp on the outside, creamy and smooth on the inside is permanently stored in my mind. Where else can I find such marvellous fries?

Situated in a rather large, cheerfully decorated restaurant just by the giant fountain at Suntec, the restaurant is rather unpretentious. It serves a nice set lunch, of either $19.90++ for salad, steak and fries and a glass of soft drink or $29.90 for the same but slightly larger steak and either a glass of kir or soft drink. Unlimited servings of the marvellous fries.

The steak is sliced, and smothered with a "secret" pepper sauce. The meat is reasonably good. Not the most tender like the US styled dry aged beef, but rather similar to what one gets in Continental Europe. A rather leaner, tougher, more sinewy cut. But nonetheless still quite tender and juicy. The sauce, and a bit of French Dijon mustard is quite delicious.

But as I mentioned in the begining of the review, it is the fries which is outstanding. Crispy golden fries. Really, really good. And they cheerfully give you refills. One one lunch, we went several times before writing this review, we had 4 servings of the fries. Each time, made to order, served piping hot and crisp. Magnificent.

Not the best steak in town, but certainly quite acceptable in taste and portion. But definitely one of the best fries in the city. I highly recommend this restaurant. They have other outlets in Duxton Hill and Pacific Plaza (where they share the premises with &Made).

Photonote: Experimental photography on iPhone 5s. Full sized jpeg exported, tweaked on Photoshop CS4. I must say, quite pleasing. But due to the small sensor size, no selective focussing is possible, and as a result, no bokeh.

Suntec City
6690 7569
Reservations available for large groups only.
Daily 11.30AM to 9.30PM

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kopi Luwak: the myth, the reality and the tasting.

Kopi Luwak conjures up images of disgust as well as extremely good coffee...often at the same time. Why? Read on.

The ground beans from Liberica coffee, eaten, digested, cleaned, processed, roasted, being brewed using the Siphon method for a clean cup.

I had the opportunity to visit My Liberica coffee, an almost fully and vertically integrated coffee joint, just across the border in Johor.
Owned and operated by a passionate coffee lover, Jason.

Jason is in the process of converting his family palm oil plantation to a superior Liberica coffee plantation. And passionate enough to want to control every step of the process...from growing the beans, to processing (within the next 6 months, as he is currently building a processig facility), roasting, cupping, and final delivery to his own coffee shop. Very interesting.

The road leading into the plantation is only accessable by 4 wheel was quite a ride to where the coffee plants are.

While most high end coffee is Arabica, Jason chose to grow Liberica because it thrives well in the slightly acidic soil in his farm, and it is a lowland coffee varietal, similar but perhaps a bit more robust than Robusta. Arabica cannot be grown in lowlands, require a high altitude and cooler temperatures.Interestingly, Liberica plants are actually trees, if left without pruning and good husbandry, will grow to some 30m tall, while Arabica when left to its own vices will only reach about 4m or so, and thus typically known as a shrub.

The coffee cherries, ripe for the picking.

A husky shell covers the berry within, which is basically a bean with a thin fleshy layer, with a mildly sweet taste.

Typically two beans are found within each berry. But occassionally, a genetic anomaly causes one of the beans to be vestigal, allowing the berry's goodness to be focussed on the single good bean, resulting in a peaberry:

In the normal plantation process, the ripe berries are hand picked and sent to the processing plant for the husk and fleshy part to be removed, then the beans extracted, dried, washed, and cleaned. But nature has its own way...civet cats, in this case, wild ones pick the best and sweetest berries, and eat them. The cat breaks open the husk and eats the beans with the fleshy bits whole.

As shown above, this is the berry opened and eaten by the cat, and discarded. The beans pass through the cat's digestive system, and the bio process adds dimension and character to the beans, which are passed out of the system.

These are picked up by workers, and sent to the plant for processing. As this is a rather random process, the amount of kopi luwak produced thus is very small, thus making it a very expensive bean. In many other countries, like Indonesia and Vietnam, the civet cats are kept in captvity in cages, and fed the berries. While at My Liberica, the cats are wild, and being omnivorous, eat other small animals, insects, fruits. Providing a more interesting and complex layering of flavours in the animal's digestive track.

The picked beans are washed of defecate matter, and cleaned throughly. The beans are then roasted, to just the start of the second crack, as Jason wants to preserve the character of the beans. And used exclusively at his elegant cafe in a high end part of Johor Bahru.

The cafe has divers of coffee apparatus for all the different methods of brewing coffee. From a La Marzocco GS5 taking pride of place serving out espresso styled drinks, to filter coffee and Jason's preferred method to brew the kopi siphon.

And the result, a bright, clean coffee, presented in a beautiful, porcelean cup, with gold edgings.

Before serving us the kopi luwak (RM50+tax per cup), Jason dished up the same Liberica beans, but not bio processed rather regular coffee processing, and roasted to rolling second crack...a la French Roast. The coffee was robust, heavy bodied, but rather one dimensional. In comparison, the same beans, but bio processed by the civet cat, and roasted a bit less dark, shows the same body, but with layers of flavours. Much more complex structure, with hints of berries, caramel, chocholate being obvious. A sweetish after taste is also noted. This is the first time I have been impressed with Kopi Luwak, given my adventures with them...Vietnam Weasel coffee which I roasted and pulled as a single origin espresso to the ibrik style kopi luwak I had in Jakarta recently.

Bravo Jason for your passion and dedication. It shows in the products you have selected to present to your customers, and it shows your respect and good taste in coffee. Highly recommended to try this cafe in Taman Molek. Their espresso is also superb, as is the cold drip ice coffee.

Read also, Tony's account of the same visit at Johor Kaki blog.

My Liberica
73 Jalan Molek 3/10, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
+60 10-760 7792

Monday, November 18, 2013

Boston Lobster and Sushi with Sashimi

Oceans of Seafood is one of the interesting new seafood restaurants which has appeared recently in the Singapore scene. Full of the freshest seafood, laid out like a market. One selects the seafood, and the chefs prepare and serve it at the table.

From live Boston Lobsters to Canadian and French oysters, to the freshest sushi and sashimi airflown from Tsukiji Market daily.

We decided to try the lobster...

The sample we selected was agressive, alive...and weighed 1.1kg

Boiled, and served with two garlic and another like a Japanese teriyaki type.

The meat was very thick at the body. Interestingly at the claws, the meat seemed to have retreated somewhat within the shell...the meat, removed, looked a bit rather smaller than the claw shell.

The meat was also rather sweet, but a bit too firm...perhaps a tad overcooked? The lobster was female with a small bit of roe which was rich and marvellous.

Then we had half a dozen Canadian oysters

Very nice. A bit mild flavour, but very fresh and very creamy. Very enjoyable.

One can also order sashimi and sushi...we had a serving of mekajiki

Magnificent. Beautiful, fresh, creamy. If I had to nitpick...just a tad too cold. But still very very good.

As was the sushi plate...11 different kinds. For $35, thick cuts and very fresh, not a bad price.

Overall, quite nice, though, if truth be told, we found the raw dishes better than the sole cooked lobster, which was half the cost of the lunch. I would return for the chirashi sushi and more of the mekajiki.

Oceans of Seafood
PasarBella @ The Grandstand Bukit Timah Singapore
200 Turf Club Road #02-06 (#02-K2 to #02-K11)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Coffee in Jakarta: From espressos to Kopi Luwak and Medan kopi

Indonesia is often synonymous with coffee. Java, an island where the capital Jakarta is on, is also used in reference to coffee. So when I was in Jakarta on invitation of the Jakarta Tourism Board, I decided to have a sample of the coffee scene in the vibrant city.

I was quite pleased when I was told that what was the third wave in Singapore coffee has already hit Jakarta. This third wave of coffee establishments is noted by the presence of a roaster in the premises, or nearby. Espresso styled drinks are served with coffee made with siphon, plunger and other methods. One such place which I visited is Anomali Coffee.

Interesting establishment. Huge roaster takes place of pride. And a Nouvo Simoneli 3 group E61 machine takes center stage. Shown above ia a double expresso made with their house blend. And I also had a taste of their ristretto

Both were slightly over volume, methinks. But the coffee had a great crema, and a lovely body. Quite nice.

Another espresso joint not far from Anomali, is One Fifteenth Coffee. An establishment where the roastery is a few blocks away, and run by a friend of mine, Andrew Tang. Andrew learnt his craft in Australia, and as expected the espressos and ristrettos were similar in ilk to those I found and love in Sydney.

Highly viscous coffee. Beautiful moltted crema, thick, wonderful mouthfeel. Very nice. Volume wise, just about right for a double ristretto. Very very good ristretto.

In my chat with Andrew later, he said that most of the locals are in the espresso joints for the ambience rather than to enjoy the best coffees...unlike many espresso joints in Australia where the ambience is secondary to the coffee. I remarked that I found that interesting, as in the two espresso places I visited - Anomali and One Fifteenth, both served respectable espressos, in more correct volumes, dosage and pull time than many other espresso joints in Singapore. Maybe our Singaporean baristas need to learn to be more purists in their approach to coffee.

I also had to try the famous Kopi Luwak, said to be organically processed by civet cats. The best berries are eaten by the cats, and the beans pass through the cat's digestive system. The beans are then processed and used for Kopi Luwak.

I had the Kopi Luwak pictured above at Cafe of the oldest cafes in the old Jakarta town, formerly known by the Dutch colonials as Batavia. The cafe is a beautiful structure, and an amazing interior.

Back to the Kopi Luwak. First, it seemed like the coffee had been made in an ibrik, so the finely ground beans were boiled over a fire in an ibrik, and the whole lot, including powdery beans were poured and served in a cup. As with Turkish coffee, allowing the kopi to settle for a few minutes will allow the coffee to be drunk without the powder interfering. First taste, was it is very bitter. Flavour wise, it was not very strong, but a bit flat. The coffee had an unusual body, which unlike espresso which is expressed in the viscousity and mouthfeel, in the Kopi Luwak was expressed as a kind of heaviness, lacking in dryness. I was a bit underwhelmed, given the great reputation of this cuppa.

I also tried a real local a little coffee shop called Kedai Kak Ani in Kemang

Coffee is made the traditional way here, by adding coffee powder which came in portioned in small plastic bags into boiling water. No grind by the cup here.

The coffee is left to boil for a few minutes, and strained using a metal strainer.

Contrast to local Nanyang Kopi in Singapore where the coffee beans are roasted with maize and sugar. The caramelization of the sugar provides a thick, viscous body, the Jakarta version seemed to be made from ground beans which are 100% coffee.

And while Nanyang Kopi is strained from a course grind over a sock, Medan kopi is strained from a somewhat finer grind with a metal strainer. The resultant coffee is one of thin body, slight bitter and a tinge of acidity.

This is a brief rundown of a few interesting coffee shops I tried in 3 days in Jakarta. In conclusion, I find the espresso coffee scene to be fairly mature, and the baristas served a purer version of espresso than many in Singapore. Very interesting.

Thanks to Russell Cheong of Winsemus Consulting for the invitation and to Jakarta Tourism for hosting.

Anomali Coffee
Jl. Kemang Raya No. 72 Unit G, Bangka, Mampang Prapatan, Jakarta, Indonesia.

One Fifteenth Coffee
Jl. Gandaria 1 No. 63, Jakarta 12130, Indonesia

Cafe Batavia
Jalan Pintu Kecil No.14 Jakarta Kota Jakarta Barat, DKI Jakarta 11230, Indonesia

Kedai Kak Ani
Jl. Kemang Selatan No. 125 A, Jakarta, Indonesia

Monday, November 11, 2013

Best Chirashi Sushi: The Sushi Bar at Far East Plaza

Chirashi sushi, a champion's meal, if ever there was one. Freshest sashimi, cut, placed on top of a bowl/box of rice. Just wonderful.

Not many great ones are found within reasonable prices in Singapore. The Sushi Bar, a small shop, tucked amongst the hair dressing salons in Far East Plaza. From other blog reports, service can be spotty, but the afternoon when we arrived, it was rather cheerful.

The regular Chirashi Sushi is $25, and huge chunks of shashimi, aburi salmon, salmon, tuna, mekajiki, salmon roe, roasted egg.

And the Premium Chirashi Sushi, at a seasonal price. That afternoon, it was $48.

In addition to the fish one gets in the regular but in larger quantities...for example, 3 pieces of thick cut mekajiki in the premium instead of 2 in the regular. There was the also the addition of premium ingredients, depending on what was available that morning was added. For that afternoon, uni, botan prawn, scallop.

Each, succulent, thick, very fresh, wonderful tasting. My only slight nagging nitpick was that they only used maguro, and not the best example I have eaten. No chu-toro or otoro, even in the premium version. I felt that if one is up to splurge, the premium version is well worth it. The fresh, creamy, fragrant uni and the botan prawn was alone worth the price differential.

I enjoyed the chirashi very much. The stall's speciality is their aburi salmon, which was superb in the chirashi sushi box, but also available a la carte. Highly recommended. But be prepared for the bare minimum ambience...looks and feels like a canteeen, and the spotty service. But also be prepared for excellent, fresh, value for money cuts of raw fish.

The Sushi Bar
#03-89, Far East Plaza, 14 Scotts Road
Mon - Sun: 11:30 - 21:30

Monday, November 4, 2013

Indonesia Ayam Bakar at Changi Village

Every once in a while, I encounter an excellent meal from an unexpected place. This came highly recommended by my friend Eddie, so we went to try it. I came out very impressive.

Quite superb. Chicken, done Java style. As a precursor to my upcoming trip to Jakarta with Jakarta Tourism Board tomorrow, I will be reporting the best of my meals there. But in the meantime, possibly the best Indonesian barbecued chicken in Singapore.

Called Ayam Bakar...the chicken is first cooked in a spiced chicken broth of tumeric and blue ginger. On order, the cooked chicken thigh is pan fried till crisp.

Cooked and served with love, as the shape of the rice tells the story. Served on a huge plate.

The chicken is beautifully done. Very tender, very savoury, very beautifully spiced. Served with the curiously named Diving sauce, which is pineapple, cucumber, kichap manis and chilli, the kichap manis is superb. The dish can also be ordered with Sambal Lado and Rendang, and a non spicy tomato sauce.

At $4 for a huge, satisfying plate...very good value. Be prepared for long queues during peak lunchtime hours. And highly recommended.

Indonesian Ayam Bakar
Stall 01-79 Changi Village Hawker Centre