Lunch @ Sushi Masaaki

January 12, 2022 in Japanese

Before returning from my overseas work stint (in July 2021), I had heard from my foodie friends of how hard it was to make reservation at some sushi-ya. But if you know me… As long as the restaurants are not exclusive, I always believed everything is possible. Just need lots of planning, perseverance and luck!

So yes, Sushi Masaaki was one of them.

And taken from their website, reservation for lunch and dinner opens at noon daily, 91 days ahead. Don’t ask me why 91 days. Probably cause 30 plus 31 plus 30? Although it could have been 92; 31 plus 30 plus 31. But I digress. Keke.

I definitely lucked out with my reservation. It was a random day in July. I was serving my hotel quarantine when I decided to check out Sushi Masaaki’s reservation page. And there it was… A slot for weekend lunch in October. Though actually, it’s my friend who lucked out. The dine-in restriction tightened just before my meal; From 5 people to 2. It must have affected another group booking because when Sushi Masaaki dropped me a text to re-confirm my booking, they mentioned I could bring a friend if I wanted to!

I am usually one who prefers taking my trains and buses. But I’ve since caved in to the convenience of Grab and GoJek. Haha. Sushi Masaaki is located at South Beach. The development complex is big, so do direct the driver to the correct drop-off point (South Beach Hotel’s). Though it’s still a 5 minutes walk to the restaurant.

My friend and I entered the restaurant punctually for our 12.30pm appointment. Other customers were already seated and had started their meals. And from the menu, we ordered Sakae, $250 which comprised:-


  

1) Dish #1 (above) – Lightly-boiled (shabu) adult yellowtail (buri) with seasonal mushroom in ponzu sauce.

  

2) Dish #2 (above) – Steamed egg (chawanmushi) with salmon roe (ikura) and bean curd skin.


  

3) Dish #3 (above) – Japanese spotted prawn (botan ebi), medium fatty tuna (chutoro) and grilled bonito (katsuo) with snow salt.


4) Dish #4 (above) – Pike eel tempura with matsutake mushroom.

  
  
  
  

5) Dish #5 (above) – Sushi assortment of flounder and flounder fin, barracuda, marinated tuna (zuke akami), big eye snapper (kinmedai) with citrus pepper, horse mackerel (aji), surf clam, premium fatty tuna (otoro) and monkfish liver (ankimo) with pickled watermelon. I liked that the barracuda was served warm to better appreciate the oily fish. Though my least favourite was the otoro as it was a bit stringy.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Japanese spotted prawn (botan ebi) miso soup.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Rice bowl with sea urchin (uni) and salmon roe.

  

8) Dish #8 (above) – Hand roll of minced tuna.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Warabimochi.

10) Dish #10 (above) – Roasted tea.

11) Dish #11 (above) – Hokkaido milk ice cream.

Lunch was over in a flash. I guess that isn’t surprising when one is enjoying the meal tremendously. Every dish was great. Well… All except for the otoro sushi. And chef-owner Masaaki’s sushi rice (shari) was served warm and was on the fluffy side, which worked out fine for me.

And thanks to chef-owner Masaaki who had a good sense of humour, my friend and I had lots to laugh about. It was a fun meal! Some may find him familiar too. And that’s because he was previously the head chef of ISHI. Or going even further back, he was at Hashida Sushi. Compared to his ISHI days, chef Masaaki san definitely looked more carefree and happy in my opinion.

Would I recommend Sushi Masaaki? I would! But the thing too was… After my friend and I left the restaurant and our post-meal excitement subsided, we wondered if there should be 1 or 2 more sushi. We felt chef Masaaki san tried to make up for the fewer sushi by serving customers 2 desserts. Cause if I could choose, I would rather give up the second dessert for (more) sushi. Keke. And while this is trivial, but it’s nice that Sushi Masaaki didn’t charge us for the iced green tea.

SUSHI MASAAKI
26 Beach Road, South Beach Avenue, B1-17, Singapore
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sun : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 8
Tues – Sun : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon

Dinner @ La Bottega Enoteca

November 21, 2021 in Italian

Before Italian restaurant La Bottega Enoteca was born (in Joo Chiat), chef-owner Antonio Miscellaneo started off with his private dining outfit Casa Nostra (in his home at Katong). Oh yes… I had been following his pizza creations since early 2017 when my Instagram feed was taken over by pictures of his paper thin stretched pizza dough. Some even used the word ‘silk’ to describe its beauty. I mean, just check out Casa Nostra geotag on Instagram. It’s truly amazing.

But the thing about private home dining… Securing a reservation is a real challenge. There weren’t many slots to start with at Casa Nostra; Offered only twice a week. And even if one managed to secure a slot, the bookings were for big groups. I gave up the idea of being able to dine at Casa Nostra before leaving for my overseas work stint (in July 2017) because of the difficulty in so many forms.

But luck had it that chef Antonio planned to open a restaurant. It got even better when it’s learnt that his restaurant La Bottega Enoceta would open in August 2021. Such great timing cause it’s the month after I returned from my overseas work stint. Perfecto!!!

But it wasn’t until early November that I finally dined at La Bottega Enoceta. A friend, out of nowhere, mentioned his craving for good pizza. I suggested 3 places, and we eventually decided on La Bottega Enoceta. That’s also when we started stalking their website daily because there wasn’t much information of their reservation system. It was pure luck that one night, my friend visited their website shortly after seats were released for the following week. Yeah! And between the 3 seating options (alfresco, counter and dining room), we booked ourselves for the dining room and first seating at 5.45pm. And when we were making our reservation, it’s mentioned the table was to be returned after 2 hours 15 minutes.

With our dinner happening on a Friday night, I thought I would be winding down from work by 4pm. But it wasn’t so that Friday. Work dragged. I ended up bringing my work laptop from home, onto the taxi, and to the restaurant to continue a work discussion. Well… To be exact, I stood outside the restaurant and trusted my friend to make good food choices for our dinner! And I’m intentionally mentioning my pre-dinner hiccup because that made me better appreciate restaurants that spared no effort in decorating their spaces to create authentic ambience. No thanks to work, it’s no surprise that my mind was ‘everywhere but ready to feast’. But the physical act of stepping into La Bottega Enoceta which exuded rustic Italian street vibes, I left my work worries at the door. My mind switched from ‘work mode’ to ‘holiday mode’ as I felt I was teleported to Italy. And yes, we were told chef Antonio imported most of the furniture and decor pieces from Italy. Impressive.

While there’s 2 menus (fixed & a-la carte), everyone had to order the fixed menu. So we commenced our dinner (fixed menu), $139 with:-

(A) Dish #1 – L’Antipasto (above) – 3 options to choose from, we were to select 1 for the entire table. Among beef bresaola, pan fried cheese and porchetta, my friend and I went with the ‘Dolomitic pan fried cheese’.

  

(B) Dish #2 – SuperCrunch (above) – And for this, we could choose one flavour per diner from the 4 flavours. We went with ‘mortadella, ricotta, parmigiano reggiano’ (left) and ‘homemade anchovy, smoked burrata, tomato, aromatic herbs’ (right). But do read the menu properly as it would indicate if one’s given a slice or a bite for the respective flavour. And with my first bite, what struck me immediately was the crust. It was nothing like what I had before. Though I too admit my knowledge of pizza is (very) limited. Quoting what’s shared on Casa Notre website… “SuperCrunch is a one of a kind crust that delivers a unique lightness and crunch. The secret lies in the use of ancient grains such as “Grano del Miracolo”, high hydration, and a fermentation of over 48 hours, including pre-fermentation.” Indeed, the crust was light and crunchy.


  

(C) Dish #3 – Newpolitan Pizza (above) – Similarly, there were options for us. And for the half-half pizza, we went with ‘sardine & shallots / pachino tomato & parmigiano reggiano’. And the crust of Newoplitan was distinctly different from SuperCrunch’s. I really enjoyed this!!! Still light, this was chewier and less oily. Less oil also meant it wasn’t meant to be crunchy like SuperCrunch. And again quoting what’s shared on Casa Notre website… “My signature crust inspired by the Neapolitan tradition, but with my own techniques applied to it, for a completely different feel of airiness and lightness. The secret lies in “Tipo 0/1″ flours sourced from artisan mills, and my very own fermentation technique spanning across 72 hours end to end.”

(D) Dish #4 – Piatto Principale (above) – And among options of pork ragu pappardelle, sardines linguine and pork ribs, we went with ‘linguine “Pastificio Graziani”, wild fennel, sardines’. It was a clear choice for us to skip the pork ribs because we were ordering another meat dish from the a-la carte menu. Would have loved to try the pappardelle but I tend to steer away from ragu. Just a personal choice.

(E) Dish #5 – Il Dolce with options of:

i) Tiramisu (above) – Be careful with this! I scooped a really big piece with my spoon and ended up inhaling a large amount of the cocoa powder as I attempted to consume it. I ended up coughing. But luckily I had the sense to suppress it by coughing with my mouth closed. Else it would have been disastrous… That said, I had better tiramisu elsewhere.

ii) Pistachio semifreddo (above)

It’s unfortunate one could only order items from the a-la carte menu in addition to the fixed menu. That wouldn’t have been a problem if we didn’t have the COVID restriction of maximum 2 diners. There were a handful of dishes I would loved to try, but my friend and I had to practise much restraint as we were also pre-warned by friends that it would be a very filling meal. “Carbs overload”, they said. And from the a-la carte menu, we (only) ordered:


1) La Focaccia di Recco, $48 (above) – Stracchino cheese, olio extra vergine “stoica”. I really enjoyed how we were exposed to so many different types of pizza in 1 meal. And the taste of this somewhat reminded me of prata cause of its savoury (and oily) pastry.

2) Pluma e Capperi, $42 (above) – Iberico pork loin end grilled on the charcoal and served with Sicilian capers. They were certainly too generous with the capers. Judging by the amount given, I thought each slice of pork was to be paired with 4 to 5 capers. But that made everything too salty. Stick to 1, or maximum 2 capers. That would allow a beautiful burst of flavours in the mouth.


3) Il Tartufo della Bottega, $12 (above) – 2x chocolate truffles with Casa Gheller prosecco.

My friend and I left the restaurant very happy. It’s no surprise we were blown away by the food. Particularly the pizzas. And the service? It was top notch! We had so much fun. Thank you Summer!!! Summer certainly made our dining experience memorable; She brought to the table her high level of bubbliness and her undeniably joy and passion for La Bottega Enoteca’s food and beverages (Ask her for wines recommendation)!

So while the move from private home dining to restaurant meant more people had access to chef Antonio’s food, it also meant one could no longer experience the ‘personal touch’ that only a private home dining would bring. Although my friend and I were seated at the dining area, our table was just beside the counter. So we had full sight of the open kitchen. We noticed chef Antonio was running around the restaurant. That made us wonder if any of the pizzas we had were personally made by him especially since we specially came to try his creations. But! To give benefit of doubt, since my friend and I don’t have our eyes on the open kitchen all the time, chef Antonio might have been stretching his dough when we were busy eating. I guess to have a definite answer to that, booking counter seats for our next visit is a must!

And yes, I recommend La Bottega Enoteca. I got to admit my eyes popped when I received the bill as it was on the high side. But I say it’s worth it. How should I put this….. One could find a good pizzeria in Singapore. But to find one that offered so many types of crusts to enjoy in 1 sitting, that’s hard to come by. My friend and I were also lucky to have great staff attending to us which made our entire dining experience so enjoyable! Chef Antonio also came by our table towards the end of our meal, and that’s when my friend and him got into a very technical discussion. Yes, about pizza dough! They lost me with the ‘pizza language’ but it was definitely nice to witness chef Antonio’s passion. I only managed to catch some pizzas were baked at really high temperature. As high as 550 degrees!

Also heard La Bottega Enoteca will be changing their menu soon. Am definitely keen to know what’s in store! And a little more information of their reservation system… Please sign up for their newsletter. The staff shared it’s through the newsletter that they announce when they’ll be accepting reservation for the following week, with at least 1 day’s notice given.

LA BOTTEGA ENOTECA
346 Joo Chiat Road, Singapore
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sat : 18:00 – 22:30
Ambience: 8
Sun : 11:30 – 15:00
Value: 7
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon

Dinner @ NAE:UM

November 12, 2021 in Korean

What do one do with a super long list of restaurants to try? I wconquer it by prioritising my visits according to friends’ recommendations and… The ease of securing a booking. Keke. And it was a foodie friend’s Instagram posting that made me quickly push forth with my booking at NAE:UM. Oddly though, my (not too foodie) friends weren’t keen. Ain’t sure why the idea of fine dining contemporary Korean isn’t as attractive as getting oneself smelly in front of the barbecue grill. But thankfully, NAE:UM accepts solo diner.

And even though I was booking for just myself, the earliest I could secure in mid August was for early November. Almost 2.5 months advanced booking!

  

Arrived at NAE:UM on a Tuesday for my 7.30pm dinner, and was led to the counter. Counter seats at NAE:UM weren’t the typical sit-facing-the-open-kitchen type of counter seats. They were instead bar counter seats with limited view of the kitchen. While I loved what they did with the space, I felt the layout wasn’t fully optimised. But it must had been a challenge because of the long narrow layout; To get to the toilet, one would need to pass through the open kitchen from the main dining area. Yes, one’s literally walking through the kitchen to get to the toilet.


Interior (Picture Credit: Link)

Upon seated, the staff explained the menu to me and informed there’s 2 supplement dishes which I could choose to add on. And of course, I did. Haha! I continued to ‘study’ the menu after the staff left with my order, and that’s when I realised NAE:UM had just launched their menu (Episode 2) with the theme ‘Mountain Lodge’ in November 2021.

And with that, I commenced my dinner tasting menu, $168 with:-


  

1) Appetiser #1 & #2 (above) – Kkotge (left) and nurungji (right). Was told to start with the rice puff with minced shiitake and shaved yolk first. But between the two, I preferred the other; Shredded flower crab served on a shiso leaf tempura and dusted with kimchi powder. I was initially pinching at the flower crab ‘tart’, trying to taste the various components individually. And the kimchi powder was as spicy as warned by the staff. But when I eventually got down to putting everything into my mouth, it was a beautiful burst of flavours.

2) Appetiser #3 (above) – Duckgalbi. Served warm, the meat patty was made with duck leg and had a rice cake stuffed in it. I liked the surprise of chewing into a chunk of (chewy) rice cake.

3) Domi (above) – Sea bream, acorn, citrus soy. And when this was first served, I thought the cucumber foam was burrata cheese because it looked so similar. Haha. And I learnt from the staff that the foam was made with snow from Korea. Interesting! Served with acorn jelly cubes (hidden out of sight in photograph), ice plant, romanesco broccoli, edible flowers and herbs, the staff further shared the sea bream (which was in season) was treated by dousing hot water over the skin to melt the underlying layer of fat and thus releasing its natural umaminess. However, I wasn’t impressed with the fish. Maybe it was sliced too thinly? It was gone with just 3 chews. Too quick for me to get a proper taste of it.

4) Somyeon, + $38 (above) – Buckwheat, kimchi, kristal caviar. Was told this was inspired by chef-owner Louis Han’s childhood memories where his mother would use his grandmother’s handmade white kimchi to prepare cold kimchi noodle for the family on Sundays. And this was so good! Served with thinly sliced Korean pear, chopped white kimchi and chives, and tossed in truffle oil… This reminded me much of Gunther’s angel hair pasta dish. I kid not. NAE:UM’s buckwheat noodle dish was of that calibre! The noodles were so good that I didn’t even think it needed the sea urchin or caviar. I definitely recommend having this when one is at NAE:UM. And to be honest, I even contemplated ordering seconds as takeaway to share it with my family. Decided against it only because I rationalised it’s better to bring them down to the restaurant instead!

5) Naengchae (above) – French chicken, abalone, soybean. And for the dish introduction, the staff decided to jazz things up by saying puffed millet was used because the chicken ate puffed millet. Haha. It was lame but that cracked me up. Though the staff went to clarify puffed millet was really used because of its texture. And 2 cuts of the chicken were used; Breast and thigh.

6) Samchi (above) – Winter mushrooms, daikon, onion. Slow cooked radish and Japanese mackerel cooked in brine first before it’s smoked in hay. Served in a spicy mushroom broth infused with soybean paste (doenjang) and red chili paste (gochujang). This was a very comforting dish to have on a cold wet night.


7) Iberico tenderloin (above) – Burdock, potato, galbi.


  

8) Sanchae sotbap (above) – X.O makjang, duck, namul. And because of my dietary restriction, what’s supposed to be beef was replaced with duck. I was told to mix the red sauce (made with Chinese XO sauce and Korean fermented soybean paste) into the rice. It was only after mixing that it dawned on me that this was head chef Louis’s rendition of the Korean dish bibimbap (mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables). What’s usually served with bibimbap is a fried egg. And at NAE:UM, the yolk was presented in the form of small orange balls. Amazing. I enjoyed the dish very much, except that I couldn’t quite taste the duck. Either the duck could have been served in bigger chunks, or I should have gone easy with the sauce. Haha. I added a lot of it. The staff asked if I wanted more, but I had to say no as I was feeling pretty full by then.

9) Mandarin (above) – Vanilla yoghurt, honeycomb, ginger snow. Another dish inspired by head chef Louis’s childhood where he would sit in front of the television during school holidays and eat mandarins. Served with bits of mandarin and grapefruit, I liked how the honeycomb was made of dalgona (a Korean sugar sweet).


10) Charcoal jujube, + $12 (above) – Multigrain, jujube ice cream. After sharing jujubes (Korean red dates) were eaten in Korea for good luck, the staff went on to say “Here’s wishing you all the good luck.” Awww… Thank you! I gladly accepted it, of course. Haha. Although immediately after that, the staff said “Could I clear this (empty wine glass)?” So for the more superstitious people, one may think the good luck was taken back immediately after it was given out. Me? I refused to think that way and took all my good luck by wolfing down my dessert. Keke. And I really enjoyed this. The use of meringue isn’t a novel idea, but the ones at NA:EUM was really good. It was of the perfect thickness where it was light and crunchy all at the same time.

11) Dessert (above) – Fermented rice cake and yakgwa. The last dessert was served personally by head chef Louis. The madeleine-shaped rice cake, fermented with makgeolli (Korean rice liquor) and lemon juice, was soft and sticky. The kind of stickiness where it stuck to the top of my mouth and teeth. And I liked how the top was caramelised such that I could also taste a bit of sugar bits. And I enjoyed the traditional Korean deep-fried biscuit very much too. In fact, I was left reminiscing it and could only satisfy my craving by settling for a somewhat equivalent Asian snack ‘mahua’ (fried twisted ribbon biscuit). Ha!

And with my meal at NAE:UM, I understand why it’s so hard to get bookings. I enjoyed every single dishes. Well… Okie. Maybe except for the salad dish with sea bream. But it was truly an enjoyable dining experience. Beautiful space, great service, and delectable food. And to top it off, it wasn’t crazily expensive too! Highlights of my meal had to be the buckwheat noodles and charcoal-jujube dessert. Though it’s ironic both were supplement dishes.

But having said that, there was just 1 pretty odd incident. When I was having my rice dish, I accidentally dropped a blob of the red sauce onto the cream-coloured table surface. But when my cutlery were cleared, the staff didn’t clean the evident mess that I created. It was only 2 dishes later when head chef Louis personally brought the last dish that he saw it and got his staff to clean it up.

Would I recommend NAE:UM? A big fat yes! I am definitely keen to return and try their next menu (Episode 3). And NAE:UM accepts reservations up to 90 days in advance. So with some advanced planning including setting alarms for midnight, one should be able to secure a booking. :)

NAE:UM RESTAURANT
161 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore
+65 8830 5016, Website
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sat : 18:00 – 22:30
Ambience: 8
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon & Sun