Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Hand Burger

What does the title make you think of? A burger with a hand in it?! A burger made of hand?? Certainly not a nommy image.. No no, THIS is The Hand Burger:

Just stopped by at The Hand Burger at 313 on Orchard before heading to watch The Lovely Bones at nearby Cineleisure. We were attracted by the cute graphics on the logo, as well as this:

Yes, that's right. Us Asians are suckers for a bargain.

This diner-style menu on the wall outside the restaurant was also a huge enticement, with burgers like tea-smoked duck, salmon confit, and sirloin tataki. Who could resist? Not me, that's for sure.

Great, clear signage, a recognisable brand-name and a well-lit interior full of happy patrons and bustling servers - this is what makes a restaurant's success snowball! Take note budding restauranteurs! Really, the seats inside were packed. Low, communal-style long tables created a crowded but cheerful atmosphere - clearly people were enjoying themselves in here!

The tiered menu and mini-meal menu. Each page of the menu has a beautiful description and picture of the burger. All of the beef burgers are made using 100% New Zealand beef!! NZ pride!!! Overall, the ingredients seem to be really high quality - hand-cut fries, fresh dory in the fish burger, jumbo-sized fresh prawns. Delish!

As well as interior design and exterior branding, service and place-setting also play a big part in immediate consumer perceptions of the brand or organisation. The large wooden platters and silver cutlery made a good impression on me - this type of high-cost inventory really shows a company's dedication to quality and the customer experience. These custom platters were really neat, and detailed right down to grooves for the cutlery to sit in when not in use.

We ordered some onion rings to start with - my favourite! These were great - hot and crispy, with a light batter and a ring of soft onion inside. The batter could have been seasoned a little more - it had the appearance of being well-seasoned, with flecks of pepper and chili visible to the naked eye, but they weren't quite salty enough for my taste. The dips more than made up for it though - a great thick aioli and a sweet tangy barbecue - this one in particular tasted housemade (and in fact is), with notes of worcestershire and chutney running through it, a really deep complex flavour.

Here's a close-up of those crunchy golden rings of pleasure - halo-effect applied!

Jonathan and I ordered drinks to accompany our meals.

This is Jonathan's Lemon-Lime Slushy. It had a great sweet-sour taste and was flecked with mint to become almost like a virgin mohito.

And this is my (decadent and waist-expanding) Peanut Butter and Banana Thickshake. It was a huge surprise when I took the first gulp - it tasted exactly as it was named - peanut butter, banana and vanilla icecream combining for a luscious sweet-but-slightly-salty mouthful. It was thick but not thick in the way that some thickshakes can be from too much icecream - the ratios in here were pretty much perfect. Sue-Anne commented that it could be served just a tiny bit colder, which is true, but still, it was pretty much sex in a beverage. Check out that beauty of a toasted marshmellow on top too!

Sue-Anne's first choice of the Portabello Mushroom Burger was already sold out for the night (at 8:30pm, it must be good!) so she ordered the Gumbo Prawn instead.

The burger was certainly pretty - presented open-lidded with a great range of colours. The prawns (6 of them to be precise) were fried and coated with a rich and tangy gumbo sauce, and were topped with a mild red-onion salsa. Nestled in amongst the salsa we even found some ikura (salmon roe). I doubt these would have made much contribution to the taste, but it was certainly impressive from an expensive-ingredient-wow-factor standpoint! Overall a very attractive burger with a delicious flavour to back that up.

Yes, this is the famous Hand Burger stuffed tomato! Again, presentation was excellent! Dripping with sauce and studded with sesame seeds, the tomato slices open to reveal a colourful mayo-less coleslaw! Sadly, I found the tomato somewhat lacking in flavour. It may be just because my tastebuds are more attuned to the sun-ripened vine tomatoes we have in New Zealand, but this one was slightly watery and, because it had been skinned, lacked that punchy texture tomatoes should have. The unidentifiable sauce was mild and did not contribute to the taste. The coleslaw saved the dish, however. It was crunchy and tasty - and it felt good to be getting some vegetables back in my system!

Here's a gratuitous photo of me about to tuck into some monstrous tower of taste.

Yes, my friends, this is The Works Burger. What you are here witnessing is as much a feat of structural engineering as it is of gastronomy. Stacked up on a toasted and buttered homemade burger bun are: fresh lettuce and tomato, a 180g New Zealand ribeye beef patty, sunny side up fried egg, onion rings, sauteed garlic mushrooms, housemade relish, housemade aioli and crispy bacon.

I was stunned when it first landed on the table. My first thoughts went to how to dismantle the beast. I ended up figuring that the best way was to unstack and lay out all the ingredients on my plate and then form each bite from these parts as I came to it. Oh, all excepting the bacon. That part went straight down my gullet :D

The autopsy shot. Let's get down to the nitty gritty. That hand-formed patty there was both a stand-out and a slight let-down. The beef had a great medium coarse grind and was not too densely-packed, allowing for a meaty mouth-feel without tasting too mealy. The flavour was EXCELLENT. Really really superb. I could almost taste the green grasses and fresh air of my homeland as the cow would have. The beefy flavour was meaty and complex as only grass-fed beef can be, and seasoned perfectly. My complaint would have to be that the patty was cooked to well-done. I know many people prefer their beef to be well-cooked, especially if it has just flown 6000 miles, but it was just slightly dried out from the extended cooking time. Maybe next time I'll try ordering it medium-rare and see what kind of face the waitress gives me.

The cheddar cheese was melted to a great gooey consistency into the top of the patty and added some good richness. The egg also provided a bit of fatty luxury, though was very thin.

The other flavours combined well with this beef-cheese-egg base. The onion rings provided crunch, and the garlic mushrooms were divine, coated in lots of crushed garlic. Add the same creamy aioli as before and some tangy, caramelised onion relish, and you've got a party in your mouth. A party full of people who get along really well together.

There is nothing left. And there oughtn't be! That's the smile of a guy who is immensely satisfied (and stuffed full!!!)

On our way out we spied these cupcakes on the counter. Don't know exactly what this one is made out of, but its so cute! We'll save it for another time!

And there definitely will be another time. As a burger-aficionado, the top quality ingredients and thoughtful, creative burger options here really impressed me. Even a burger with such standard composition as The Works Burger was pulled off with flair and obvious thought in the execution. I look forward to trying the Duck Confit Burger - A whole boneless confit duck leg IN A BURGER! You know you want it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Source.

Singapore has great food. There's really no two ways about it. It's tasty, it's cheap. Everywhere you look is serving authentic ethnic cuisine. Such variety and quality at such a price is hard to come by in the rest of the world!

I decided to take a look, then, at the source of consumer raw ingredients - the local supermarket! There are so many interesting sights and smells to be taken in, most of which you won't find anywhere else in the world. Really, the supermarket is as indicative of a country's cuisine as the street stall is!

Here's my photo journey of some of the flavours on offer:

As y'all may or may not know, one of my favourite EVER ingredients to cook with is garlic. Each time I prepare dinner for friends, the first two things that are ESSENTIAL are: take the butter out of the fridge to soften, and peel and crush the garlic! Every good recipe has butter and garlic in it, right?? mmm.. look at all this pre-peeled garlicky goodness. And in a fresh vacuum-sealed pack even! That's pretty much all the work taken out of cooking! And so cheap too - only $3.50 for this entire 2kg bag! Insane in the membrane!!!

They even have the garlic prepared and chopped. I <3. $2.00 for this 1kg bag - you must be joking!!

To go with the garlic (in a shallow frypan with two tablespoons olive oil and one tablespoon butter, of course) are these beautiful shallots. Again, already cut and peeled! Why is everything so much easier here?!

But wait, there's more! (Or so they say..) These huge tubers are swedes of some sort.Just had to take a picture - some of them are as big as my head! (See hand for comparison. Terms and conditions apply. See in store for details.)

HUGE sweet potatoes (kumara for all you Kiwis). How many families could you feed off one of these?! Yeesh!

Roast duck in a bag at $22.80 a piece? I really hate to sound like an infomercial, but this is as close to heaven as you'll get. Really.

Rows of fresh vegetables. There must be about 20 types of Asian greens alone here, most with names that I can't pronounce.

Unidentified pickles / fresh chili paste. 

Loads of fresh pineapples and bananas. Singapore being located primely in the tropics means not only damn hot and humid weather all year round (yay) but super fresh and sweet tropical fruits! I love how the bananas are just, y'know, hangin' around.

Oranges, pears, mangoes and more!

Sugarcane. Now this is something you definitely won't find in a Western supermarket. Sugarcane can be eaten straight up (peel and chew on the fibres) or juiced through a big pressurized rolling machine.

You won't find starfruit (sometimes called jackfruit) or dragonfruit much outside of Asia either. Starfruit has a deliciously tart taste and is very refreshing when served from the fridge. Dragonfruit, for its enticing and colourful skin, has a soft and mild-flavoured white flesh,  studded with tiny black seeds.

Belacan (shrimp paste), Ikan Bilis (fried anchovies) and Nasi Goreng (fried rice) mixture available for all the budding hawker stall owners out there. And at $0.25 a pop, why wouldn't you?

Another typical sight in any country with Chinese - dried stuff. Yeah, stuff. Only the lord knows what's in these packets. I'm sure they specify something innocuous like "beans" or "barley" but really.. might as well be moon rocks. This dried stuff is sold stand-alone or in pre-mixed packages for boiling into delicious healthy soups.

Oh Haagen Dazs. Why must you tempt me so? 2 pints for $23.85 is hardly a bargain, but I can't get this in Auckland no matter how hard I try! Maybe I should try smuggle some in through customs..

Does this remind you of a certain movie? It doesn't for me. Asian semi-celebs are often found championing certain brands or products. It's the Asian way. I don't know who Jeanette Aw is, or what she does, but if she says its Deliciously Convenient, I'm gonna buy it!

Mmmm.. popcorn chicken.. 'nuff said.

A big shelf of wannabe dairy products. Mostly UHT or even double-pasteurised. Some are probably even reconstituted! I really can't trust milk if its not New Zealand milk! I miss my Anchor!

I miss lots of things about New Zealand food, for all I love the food here. I miss my daily glass of milk. Double-buttered (or even triple-buttered) toast in the morning (credits: J Cho). I miss a good cafe latte, barbecuing sausages and lamb, pasta bakes on lazy summer nights, and icecream and fish and chips on every street corner. I'll be back soon. Don't miss me!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Belachan Mountain!

If there's one thing Singaporeans love, its chili. This innocuous spice is just EVERYWHERE. In fact, You'd be pretty hard pressed to find a dish without chili in it or served on the side. Every soup or bowl of noodles comes with a little dish of chili in vinegar or soya sauce. Mashed chili and garlic is served with chicken rice, duck rice, in fact pretty much anything with rice. It's tossed into stir-fries, preserved in oil, made into sauces and pastes. Everything you can think of! I'm fearing going back to New Zealand and looking for the chili and not having it at hand at all times!!

This restaurant tonight, Old Lai Huat Seafood Restaurant, has received rave reviews from newspapers and magazines all over the island.

It's set out in traditional street style, with wonky tables and plastic chairs. You can just make out the owner's wife sitting at the plastic-covered table in the middle preparing dishes for the night.

Old Lai Huat!

The menu features mostly seafood (duh) with a few standard fare Chinese style dishes thrown in for good measure. Fried rice and noodles, as well as meat and vegetable dishes are available here.

Our first dish out - Sambal Kang Kong. Kang Kong is a crunchy, leafy vegetable similar to spinach. Here it is often stir-fried with sambal paste, as above. This one rated well on Mel's "crunchiness scale" and had that delicious sweet-spicy taste of sambal.

Spicy fried chicken wings. Mmm fried goodness!

This homemade fried tofu dish was very queer indeed. The tofu, cut into sticks and deep fried as usual was actually mashed up inside. Some of the others at the table identified TWO different types of tofu mashed up together inside these crunchy morsels. The texture was very strange indeed.

Black pepper mini-lobsters! While there was not so much meat in these (really, just a small version of the normal lobster!), the meat was sweet and the black pepper really set the flavours off. The shell was also coated in the sticky black pepper sauce - perfect for licking!

The autopsy shot. :D

The star of the night: Belachan Fish! So what is Belachan Fish? Actually, what is Belachan? I had to wikipedia this to be honest. Belachan is shrimp paste, made by grinding fermented dried fish. Here on the fish, we see it combined with plenty of dried chili and fried before being loaded onto a deep fried pomfret.

The overall effect was amazing! The pomfret, a bottom-dweller with very soft white meat, was deep fried til super crispy and the fried belachan chili mix coated the entire thing. The fish was still soft and tender underneath the crispy skin. The flavour of the belachan was very intense. Not fishy, not shrimpy, slightly sweet and spicy at the same time, it has a very unique flavour. After being fried, it was also very crunchy and crumbly and paired beautifully with the crunchy/soft fish.

There was so much of it, we combined with rice to make a crunchy, delicious concoction!

Here's the aftermath:

Not a scrap left - the bones were so crunchy that even the head and tail were taken care of in due course! True Asians not wasting anything :D

Looking forward to the next eating adventure with Eileen's friends and their wide palates and deep stomachs! Hint: dish at the next outing is coated in (one of) my favourite ingredients ever! Stay tuned!!