Monday, 24 June 2013

Classy Old Vietnam Dining @ Highway 4 Restaurant & Bar, Hanoi

At the northeast of the Hoan Kiem Lake, just minutes away from the popular Thang Long Puppet theater, lies a stylish restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese cuisine from the northern mountains, as well as brewing many unique Vietnamese liqueurs.  That is also how Highway 4 Restaurant & Bar @ Old Quarters, Hanoi got its name, based on one of Vietnam's most important network of routes linking the major urban centers throughout the northern mountainous regions - Highway #4.

Although popular among locals and foreigners for its Vietnamese alcoholic experience, we came to Highway 4 Restaurant for another different highlight.  A contemporary take on a classic Vietnamese street snack - spring rolls.

One of their signature dish, Nem Cha Xa Lo4, which translates to Highway 4's catfish spring roll.  The deep-fried catfish and herbs are topped with mayonnaise before being wrapped in soaked rice paper and served with wasabi soy dipping sauce.  The catfish was deliciously fresh and sweet, with the herbs giving a nice hint of fresh aromatic flavour.  Unfortunately, there was not a lot of vegetables to go with it and hence, we find it slightly oily.  Nevertheless, it was a great appetizer.

The sauce, which looked like a lot like the sweet soy sauce you have alongside dim sum, is indeed packed with a lot of wasabi.  Please be mindful of the first dip or else you will be stunned for a moment.  I actually knew about the existence of the wasabi from my research on the internet, but no one highlighted that it was actually camouflaged inside the dipping sauce.  Well, now we know.

Next are our mains.

The first was the Com Rang Xa Lo4, i.e. Highway 4's Special Fried Rice.  Despite the name, it was an ordinary plate of fried rice that is flavourful but just lacking some saltiness (wouldn't it be great if there was nuoc cham to go with it).  But, even when cold (we packed it back to hotel to finish), it was still fragrant.  Overall, not the best, but decent.

The next, which was KS's choice, was the Mien Xao Heo, i.e. Glass Noodles sauteed with Pork (You can go with beef too, but we just had too much beef already).  Vietnamese are really good with fried glass noodles and so, for this plate of noodles, it was very fragrant and delicious.  Packed with a lot of black pepper, it was spicy.  Unfortunately, it was also very oily.

Highway 4 is a good place for hotpot and drinking.  With a well-designed interior that highlights a modern interpretation of the old Vietnamese design with a touch of classy ambiance, it was a beautiful place to rest your tired feet.  For a moment, it felt as though we entered into another world where working Hanoi adults gather for a happy hour session, filled with laughter and chattering.  Love it!

Definitely not the place for some complete privacy as you dine because you'll be sitting in traditional Vietnamese seating with long communal tables.  But, hey, it is very comfortable and at the same time, indirectly joining into your neighbour's fun party.  Also, despite the hot, humid weather outside, it was very well-ventilated inside and hence, it was cooling.

The staff here generally can speak moderate level of English, so there is really not much of an issue in terms of communication.  Service was very good and polite.

Highly recommended for a place to chill although slightly on the expensive side if compared to the outside street-food choices.  But, for us, it was an experience well-spent.

Highway 4 Restaurant & Bar
5 Hang Tre Street
Old Quarters, Hanoi

Time-out Session @ Coffee Famille, Kota Damansara

Once again, we are back to Coffee Famille @ Kota Damansara, this time to meet up with a close friend of KS.  We had been telling him how good this place is and it got him very interested, so much so that he kept insisting that we gather here for a drink.  Well, finally after all the pestering,  we are at Coffee Famille.

As it was a very hot afternoon, especially right after attending an outdoor wedding lunch at a park, I just have to order a cold drink to cool down - Ice Drip Coffee (RM 18).  Firstly, it looks so adorable that it was served in a cocktail-like glass on top of a pot full of iced water.  As for the coffee, it was medium-bodied, with a very light texture as well as having a nice chocolate aftertaste (milk chocolate, to be specific).  The bitterness is pretty mild even when chilled.  I think I just found a coffee that I will keep coming back for.

KS, who was on a slightly more adventurous mode, ordered the Sumatra Mandeling (RM 16).  It sort of didn't turned as he expected and joked that it tasted like Nescafe, which has a very earthy and raw taste similar to dirt.

In my opinion, it has an aftertaste similar to guava - a very mild fruity sweetness right at the very end.  And , it was not too acidic.  Flavour-wise, it was pretty flat throughout the journey and didn't have the roller-coaster effect according to KS.  Think he is already accustomed to the complex flavours of the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.  Well, not really the kind of taste that we prefer but taste is a very subjective thing.

For desserts, there was no tiramisu for this week unfortunately.  Instead, we chose the warm, classic chocolate cake (RM 12).  The moist, dense cake has quite a rich chocolate flavour but I find the icing on the top was just slightly on the sweeter side, especially right after sipping strong, bitter coffee.  The tiramisu is still the best.  Cheesecake the next time, maybe?

Oh, can't wait to be back again for another caffeine adventure ;-)

Coffee Famille
6-G, Garden Wing
Sunsuria Avenue
Persiaran Mahogani
PJU5 Kota Damansara
47810 Petaling Jaya

GPS:  3.154654,101.58997

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Brunch @ Crave Cafe, Ara Damansara

Initially, we wanted to have brunch at Mr & Ms Cafe, but unfortunately, because it was closed for a private function to celebrate their official opening, we headed to their neighbour instead - Crave Cafe @ Ara Damansara, a cosy Australian-style cafe.  This alternative was not too bad.

They do serve a few breakfast sets (RM 10) that comes with a complimentary glass of juice.  But if u want some caffeine to lift your mood for the day, you can always go for an upgrade to some selected espresso beverages for just an additional RM 5.

I had the Egg and Bacon on Toast with guava juice.  It is a pretty standard breakfast set with two sunny-side up eggs and two strips of beef bacon with toasted wholemeal bread and butter.  I find the set slightly dry but generally, it is okay and not oily.  The egg was cooked very nicely with runny yolks.

The guava juice, the kind you usually find in supermarkets, was a bit too diluted, unfortunately.

KS ordered the Breakfast BLT Sandwiches and opted to upgrade the drink to a cup of cappuccino.  His wholemeal sandwich, with beef bacon, lettuce and tomato topped with mayonnaise, was quite delicious and moist.  Definitely more appealing than my choice.  Plus, there was a big dose of fresh salad on the side to satisfy your daily intake of greens.

The cappuccino was not an exceptionally memorable cup of coffee but still considered reasonable in terms of aroma, although I find the flavour a tad too mild.  The foam that defines the cappuccino was kinda missing and the consistency is slightly on the thin side.  Maybe the quality was a bit off for that morning.

If you're expecting some really good coffee, then this may not be the place you would want to consider highly of (except if you're eyeing on the coffee beans from Toby's Estate of Australia, which Crave Cafe serves).

But, if you're looking for somewhere to chill and fill your stomach with decent, reasonable food and drinks, then Crave Cafe would be a very good choice.  It has a very simple but super cosy setting with comfortable sofas and fantastic air-circulation.  Not to forget, fast and good WiFi connection.

Crave Cafe
BG-03, Oasis Square
Ara Damansara
47301 Petaling Jaya

Saturday, 15 June 2013

An Italian Experience @ Nerovivo, Changkat Bukit Bintang

A few days ago, it was KS's birthday and I decided to bring him to Nerovivo @ Changkat Bukit Bintang after work for a special dining experience.

Serving authentic Italian cuisine, Nerovivo sits in a chic and trendy inner-city bungalow, decorated with bold, sexy artworks and extensive displays of wines.  Outside, there is the open-air wood-fire pizza ovens where pizzas are made and baked.  Seats inside the restaurant is pretty limited, but luckily, as I have made reservations, we get to sit inside instead of the al-fresco setting.

While we were examining the menu, we were presented with a complimentary basket of freshly-baked pizza bread and balsamic vinegar dip.  Oh my, they are so deliciously addictive - full of herbs and garlic flavours with a nice smoky fragrance.

First on the menu is the starter.  We ordered the Zuppa di Zucca e Porri (RM 24), a pumpkin leek soup with roasted onions and sea salt.  The soup has a very light, uncomplicated flavour, with a hint of pumpkin sweetness.  It is quite thin in consistency and hence, it didn't give that feeling of fullness too early in the meal.

One thing that impressed me very much at this point was their service.  During the order, our waiter noticed that we only ordered one soup and kindly asked if we intended to share the soup, of which he then, to my surprise, offered to split the soup into two bowls for convenience.  How thoughtful!  This is the kind of service that warmth the heart of the diners.

The birthday boy ordered the Pollo Alla Diavola (RM 55) as his main dish.  This Devil's Chicken served with rosemary roasted potatoes and seasonal garden salad accompanied by black pepper sauce is one that brings a big smile to my birthday boy.  The forequarter chicken was very juicy and tender, and with each bite, you can feel the juice bursting out in your mouth.  We're very impressed with how well the chicken was cooked.

The flavours are quite gentle but wholesome.  Even without the black pepper sauce, the well-seasoned chicken is good enough on its own.  The roasted potatoes are also very nice and soft.

As for me, who love all things pizza, ordered the Pizza Contadina (RM 40) which has mozzarella, Italian chicken sausage, eggplants, ricotta cheese with tomato sauce.

Voted as the Best Pizza in the Time Out KL Food Awards 2009, Nerovivo delivered quite an impressive pizza (in my opinion).  The thin pizza crust was well-baked without having a burnt presentation.  There was a good balance of the ingredients and the cheese was so gentle-flavoured.  Although the eggplant was quite little (KS joked about not able to find the eggplant), I quite enjoy my pizza.  It didn't have the oiliness feel and was moist.

Finally come the desserts, which are beautifully plated and decorated with strawberry and gooseberry.  Both are also decorated with a piece of chocolate almond brownie-like biscuit, which I find very tasty.

Coming to an Italian restaurant, I cannot missed ordering the Tiramisu (RM 28).  When it first arrived, I thought it was ice-cream as it really looked like one.  Served in a crispy, sweet waffle-like tuille, the lady finger biscuits are arranged at the bottom and topped with scoops of mascarpone cheese mixture.  Generally, the flavours are light with a mild espresso flavour and very smooth texture.  The mascarpone cheese mixture has a nice  balance of sweetness and quite gentle on the taste-buds.  However, both of us preferred a more solid texture from the soaked biscuits as it was kinda too mushy for our liking.  But still, a good piece of dessert.

The other dessert which we ordered is the Dark and White Chocolate Mousse (RM 28).  The mousse is quite firm but velvety, and resembles very muck like a cake.  Surprisingly, this dessert was not overly sweet despite having so much chocolate in it.  However, I find the white chocolate portion being a little less captivating as it didn't have a strong milky, vanilla flavour but the dark chocolate portion was really good.

Overall, the food served in Nerovivo is very good.  Their flavours are generally lighter and focus more to the natural flavours of the ingredients.  I quite love how the flavours blend in perfectly without overpowering other flavours.  Thumbs up!

I love the cosy ambiance in Nerovivo with its soft lightings.  For a moment, it actually felt like I was on a holiday.  It is so comfortable that you feel all the day's stress has been lifted from your shoulders.  Not to mention the good food to heal your inner self and a good companion to share your thoughts.

Well, most importantly, my birthday boy is happy with the experience :)

3A, Jalan Ceylon
50250 Kuala Lumpur
Tel:  03-2070 3120
GPS:  3.148411,101.706018

Saturday, 8 June 2013

DIY: Spicy Chickpea Dip

Hummus, a popular Middle Eastern chickpea dip, was always served in my university dormitory alongside the guacamole and I usually use it to replace butter and mayonnaise for my sandwiches.  This low-fat dips were so good and delicious that I even used it as dressings for salad to give that extra edge.  After so many years, I missed having hummus as part of my meals and just wanted to re-live that moment.

Initially, I wanted to make hummus but I soon realized that I actually don't have one of the key ingredient - the tahini or ground sesame paste.  So, what I did instead was to slightly improvise the hummus recipe to come out with my own version of the chickpea dip with some hotness.

So, here it goes.

Must-have:  2 cups of cooked chickpeas, 4 cloves of garlic-chopped, 1 lemon - juiced, sesame oil- as much as you wish
To adjust:  Water
May omit:  Minced ginger, Chilli flakes
To taste:  Black pepper, Salt

To make this chickpea dip, it is very easy.  All you need is a decent-working food processor to do the job.

Just start by processing the cooked chickpeas, lemon juice and sesame oil until smooth.  With the food processor still running, add in the garlic, ginger and chilli flakes, as well as pepper/salt to taste.

The only troublesome part is to continuously observe the texture of the processed chickpea mixture because chickpeas tend to absorb a lot of water, and sometimes, it is difficult to prescribe the amount of water needed to get that right consistency.  So, just follow your intuition.  From time to time, slowly add in water until you get the right consistency.

Once done, transfer to a clean bowl/container, cover and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes, just to let the flavors settle and blend in.

Yummy!  A healthier but tasty snack, packed with protein and dietary fibre - perfect if you're planning for a weight management program.

For the chickpeas, if you're feeling lazy, there are always canned chickpeas readily available in the supermarkets.  However, as with any processed food, these are usually less healthy due to the high salt contents.  Not to forget, a higher price tag too.

The alternative, like what I did, is to get dry chickpeas instead.  Trust me, it was at least 1/5 of the price of the canned chickpeas.

Preparing the chickpeas at home is not as tedious as they seem.  This was my second time cooking dry chickpeas and they are super easy.  Of course, just time consuming.
  1. First, give the dry chickpeas a quick wash and discard any dark-coloured or dull chickpeas.
  2. Then, soak the dry chickpeas with a lot of water because these cute little chickpeas will absorb a lot of water in order to expand to twice its size.  Just leave them sitting in the fridge, covered, for around 8 hours or overnight.  If possible, try changing the waters a few times as the chickpeas releases some gas/sugar.
  3. Before starting to cook, discard the water and rinse the chickpeas with fresh water.
  4. Fill the pot with a lot of water and throw in the chickpeas.
  5. Boil it for 10-15 mins.  During the process, there will be white foam appearing on the surface.  Don't worry, they are nothing but substances produced from the chickpeas (apparently, some complex sugar or protein).  Just scoop the foam out.
  6. Finally, transfer the chickpeas and the hot liquid into the thermal cooker and let the chickpeas slowly cook.  I prepared it before leaving for work and by the time I'm home, the chickpeas are nicely cooked and soft.  Another alternative is to put into a slow cooker.
  7. Strain the water away and they are ready to be used for any recipes.

It does take up a lot of time, but definitely worth the trouble as home-cooked chickpeas have a nuttier flavour and you can manage the level of crunchiness by adjusting the cooking time.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Wedding Banquet @ Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur

One of my close university friend was finally getting married in May and had her wedding reception at a 5-star Starwood hotel, Sheraton Imperial Hotel Kuala Lumpur.  After a long, tiring morning as one of her ji mui, I finally can sit back and enjoy the night as a guest.

Coming to a wedding banquet, one will never fail to scan through the menu for the night despite being very aware that Chinese wedding banquets are always very predictable.  But for this wedding, it was slightly out-of-the-box.  The menu was quite unique as it has a combination of Chinese, Western and Local flavours.

Before we start on the food, I must comment how superb the service was at Sheraton.  Everything was served into individual plates by the waiters and so, we are pretty much spoilt for the night.  The good thing is, it gave us quality time to mingle with our friends and catch up with the good old times (as well as taking loads of pictures).

Now, comes the food.

The first to arrive was none other than the Four Hot Precious Combinations.  I usually deem the first dish of a  9-course banquet the best and usually made it a point to satisfy my appetite first by eating more of it.  This is, of course, not an exception.

As the name suggests, there are four different items served:
  • Stir Fried Fresh Top Shell with Capsicums:  Cooked in kung po style, the flavour was quite mild but the top shell was fantastically thick and fresh.  And no, it was not spicy.
  • Deep Fried Almond Coated Ball:  Despite its fancy name, it was just fish paste coated in a slightly crispy almond flakes.  Tasted average.
  • Steamed Prawn Dumpling with Supreme Sauce:  Looked like sui gao but tasted like har gow.  Flavourful and juicy, with the sweetness of the prawn meat but would have preferred that the prawn tail to be removed.
  • Vietnamese Yam Roll:  This was my favourite of the four!  Gooey, sweet purple yam wrapped in rice paper and deep-fried.  Something you would normally find as a dessert, but having it presented here acts like a palate cleanser to neutralise the heavy, complicated flavours of the other food.

I was very glad that her wedding did not involve any shark fins.  In fact, if I ever have mine, I will also not serve shark fins – not only do they actually not add much flavour to the soup, they are extremely bad to the environment.

Instead of the usual Chinese double-boiled soups, we had the individually-served Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Seafood.  I must say, this is a very good bowl of pumpkin soup.  It has a nice, thick consistency and is super flavourful & sweet.  However, the seafood, which is mainly shelled prawns, was barely a part of the soup.  While the seafood was fresh, you can’t taste the seafood infused into the soup.  It felt like the seafood was added into the pumpkin soup just for the sake of being there instead of actually contributing to the overall flavour.

The next dish to arrive was the Oven Roasted Pei Pa Chicken with Sesame Paste and Bean Paste.  I was hoping for some crispy and air-dried skin, but the sauce has wet the skin too much.  For me, the meat has quite a mushy not-so-fresh texture, although KS didn't really find it an issue.  Although the chicken tasted good (mainly due to the sauce), the texture was too unbearable for me to continue.  For me, this was a big no-no.

Luckily, the next dish, the Steamed Omega Barramundi with Japanese Soy Sauce, made up for its disappointing chicken  dish.  The meaty fish was very fresh and sweet.  The fish skin, soaked with the gentle sweet soy sauce, was delicious with its fatty and slightly chewy texture.

You know it is almost towards the end when you start seeing the Braised Japanese Mushroom with Vegetable being served.  The Japanese mushrooms were huge and meaty but unfortunately, there was just not enough flavours that managed to be absorbed into the mushrooms itself.  The sauce that braised the mushrooms was just so-so - mainly just starch.  But the broccoli was crisp and sweet.

The next dish to come is the Baked Tiger Prawn with Cheese and Garlic.  Okay, I do admit I am not a fan of prawns (due to allergy) and usually opt to leave it out.  But, it just so happened that this dish came out right when everyone from our table decided to go out of the hall for a re-union picture taking.  In fact, when the waiter took finally took it away, the dish was not really touched at all.  Quite a waste, actually.

We came back just in time for the final dish, which most of us were really looking forward to because it is rarely (almost never) to find an Indian cuisine in a Chinese wedding banquet.  Yes, Nasi Minyak with Diced Chicken and Anchovies on Banana Leaf.

It definitely looked and smelled good but a little disappointing in the end.  The rice is very dry own its own and hence, adding the curry is a must.  However, the mixed vegetable curry is heavily concentrated with spices without much balance in the flavours – hardly any sweetness or acidity to tone down the spices.  Despite that, the rice (minus the curry, obviously) is quite flavourful especially with the salty but fragrant fried anchovies mixed into the rice.  Just a little more moisture would go a long way to make this dish more memorable.

Last but not least was the Western Desserts.  Depending on your “luck”, the dessert options are alternated.  Since KS and I attended, I can try two different types of dessert.

The one I had, which is the tastier dessert, is the Chocolate Parfait with Passion-fruit Coulis.  The chocolate parfait was very creamy and silky.  Chocolate lovers would love this rich chocolate dessert.  The blueberries gave quite an acidic punch to the dessert although I felt they have overdone the acidity by combining the passion-fruit coulis with the blueberries.

KS had the Cheese Cake with Berries Compote instead.  The flavours are quite mild and not too cheesy, which is suitable for those who are not a big fan of cheesecakes.  The berries compote was quite sour, which unfortunately is annoying as it keeps masking the flavours of the cheesecake.

For both desserts, they are laid on top of a sweet, crispy mixed sesame tuiles.   KS liked it very much as it was very fragrant.  I don’t fancy it much as it is very difficult to break it into reasonably sized pieces without making a mess to the dessert or almost “breaking” the plate.  Tried to be lady-like and refrain from using my fingers, but obviously, failed.

Generally, it was a very good and memorable experience.  After all, it was not the food that actually makes a wedding successful but the joy and sweetness of the couple and their guests celebrating through the night.

My dear friend, hope you will have a everlasting, happy and sweet marriage!

Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur Hotel
Jalan Sultan Ismail
50250 Kuala Lumpur

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Unwind with Coffee @ LewisGene Cafe, Solaris Mont Kiara

Out of the blue, I was craving for some caffeine to boost my energy so that I can last through the night to finish reviewing an urgent report which is overly outstanding.  So, on the way home, as well as to beat the crawling highway traffic, I detoured into Solaris Mont Kiara for a caffeine "spa" at LewisGene Cafe.

Not wanting to spoil my sleep later, I ordered something slightly less concentrated (or at least I thought it would be).  The Cafe Mocha (RM  10.90) has a mild espresso flavour but the cocoa was very strong.  It was a thick concoction which would be a perfect warm treat on a cold, rainy day.  Did I mention it was drizzling outside then?

Since I was also hungry, I thought I might as well have dinner there.  They don't have much choices of hot meals but a Ciabatta Sandwich with Turkey Ham (RM 15.90) was enough to do the job.  The highlight was the spicy potato chips that came with it.  The spiced chips has quite some thickness and hence, gave a real addictive crunchy texture, not to mention the seasonings on it too.

The slightly toasted ciabatta bread has a chewy texture on the outside, but inside it is soft and spongy.  Quite generous with the turkey ham and reasonably topped with lots of greens and mayonnaise.  Simple but tasty and wholesome gourmet sandwich.

LewisGene Cafe is a very cosy, laid-back cafe.  With its soft cushions and dim lighting, it was very difficult to remind myself that I have work waiting for me at home.  It's as though time has stopped moving.  Totally love the ambiance.

Carpark was, as expected, an issue - had to park in the office building and walked.  But it was worth the trouble.  Service was generally good and friendly.

LewisGene Cafe
2-1, Jalan Solaris 3
Solaris Mont Kiara
50480 Kuala Lumpur
GPS:  3.174874,101.659822

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Burger and Sandwich @ Meatworks, Citta Mall, Ara Damansara

We had a heavy lunch at MeatWorks @ Citta Mall before heading down to KL for some last-minute shopping for a bridesmaid dress and a late-night movie.

As there were too many to choose from (and maybe, our brains were still loaded with exam materials), we just flipped through the menu and choose based on the pictures instead.  Yes, it was a very lame method but a reasonable one since most people tend to present their best visually.

KS was attracted to the Gemas Gold Classic Burger (RM 28.00), a 200g grilled beef patty topped with melted aged Cheddar, tomato ketchup, American mustard and pickles.  Boy, did it look huge and obviously unhealthy given all those sauce toppings on the burger.  Generally, it tasted good but, both of us felt that my choice was the better tasting dish instead.  I felt the patty was a quite dry and somehow, slightly bland (maybe not seasoned enough?).

For me, it was the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich (RM 24.00), which is pieces of thinly sliced sirloin steak topped with melted cheese and caramelized onions, wrapped in a soft, but buttery toasted bun.  Like the burger KS had, the sandwich was loaded with mustard, mayonnaise and barbecue sauce, giving a nice rich flavour.  The toasted bread was crispy while the meat was tender and not too chewy.  What I liked the most are those sweet caramelized onions which gave the sandwich a different dimension.  Overall, it tasted very good but very bad on my waistline, unfortunately.

Another thing which we enjoyed very much was the thick-cut fries they served together as sides.  Crispy and golden-browned on the outside but soft and tasty potato in the inside.  Plus, they are salted and peppered nicely. Totally delicious.

Luckily we ordered a hot cup of English Breakfast Tea (RM 6.80) to wash down some of the fats and help with the digestion.

Meatworks Restaurant
Lot 26-27, Ground Floor
Citta Mall @ Ara Damansara
Jalan PJU 1A/48
47301 Petaling Jaya

Tel:  03-7832 0871