Monday 31 March 2014

Baan Rim Pa, Phuket

Having brunched to our hearts' content in downtown Singapore, it was time to take advantage of one of the City's greatest assets: its proximity to so many other equally wonderful places.  For us, it was a weekend away in the Thai island of Phuket.

After an exhausting day sunning ourselves by the pool, sundowners on the beach were called for.  Mojitos and sunsets are natural best friends.  Even if the drink itself could hardly be less local, they were good and hit the spot nicely. 

For dinner we headed to Baan Rim Pa, a picturesque spot perched on the cliffs that surround the shoreline and one of Patong's smartest restaurants.  It has a real old-school charm, almost colonial with its wooden sculpted bar, deep rattan chairs and billowing fans.

But the real star of the show is the food – which is a good thing, given that it's what we'd ventured out for. 

We kicked off proceedings with a couple of starters.  Po pia sod, fresh spring rolls, which turn out to be simply spring rolls as you and I know them but not deep fried (which was something of a relief – it's hardly a healthy cuisine generally).  The somewhat softer shells were a relief, actually.  I love a good Thai spring roll as much as the next man, but these were somehow lighter, easier eating than the average roll, which suited the hot and humid environment well.

We also ate latieng, a mixture of minced prawns and nuts, wrapped up in a spider's web of eggs.  Heaven knows how they make those things, but thank goodness they do – they were yummy. 

For mains, Astrid ordered pla nueng kratiam - a whole steamed fish marinated in garlic and soy.

I had panaeng ped, a duck curry with lychees.  Again, beautifully done – soft, tender duck with a tasty sauce (although my one criticism might be that there wasn't enough sauce – I want it swimming, like a good old red curry). 

Pudding was lemongrass sorbet.  Megayums.

There's no getting away from it: Baan Rim Paa is expensive.  You're paying London prices for the food and drink, which is fine, except that you're in Thailand.  We had eaten the night before at Kampong Kata Hill which is not quite as good but a fraction of the price.  Baan Rim Pa is excellent, and beautiful, but the bill seems out of kilter with the rest of the island.

 - GrubsterBoy -

Monday 24 March 2014

Level 33, Singapore

First, many apologies for my absence of late.  I have been enjoying my first proper holiday abroad (and first full week off) since June last year, so have been somewhat incommunicado. 
A great friend of mine, with whom I trained professionally, moved out to Singapore about six months ago.  Never one to miss the opportunity of a free sofa-crash, I headed out to see what the buzz was all about just as soon as I could.
Like all good Singapore tourists, we elected to abandon the city and head out to the Thai island of Phuket for the first weekend.  Singapore is wonderfully positioned in that there is masses to do around it – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand all within a few hours plane ride... and even further afield, if you like. 
But before we jetted off it was essential that we indulge in Singapore's favourite way of starting the weekend: Brunch.  The venue of choice: Level 33, the highest brewery in the world.
You read that right, and it's an odd concept, I won’t deny it.  Basically, someone has built a microbrewery into an skyscraper.  The upside of this (and there appears to be no downside, although how you get the malted barley up there is a mystery to me) is the absolutely stunning views.
Now, I'm not sure, if I'm honest, that I have a great amount of faith in the brews.  Beer is pretty easy to make, it turns out, so there was little risk that they'd be bad – I just didn’t think that they'd be great.  After all, this is a brewery in an office block in the business district of a city not famous for its beer.  It's a marketing gimmick, surely?
No, not at all.  Quite the contrary in fact.  The beer making process is one that is clearly taken pretty damned seriously.  Having brought a master brewer over from Germany, the results were impressive.

To enjoy the early morning views I kicked off proceedings with a glass of their porter, a slightly lighter version of the Irish stout they produce, and a very refreshing, if hearty, drink. 
We headed inside and sat down at our tables, preparing for a robust breakfast.  We were not disappointed.  My friend had the scrambled eggs and gravadlax.  Beautifully done, and well presented, with cured, seared salmon so tender it melts in your mouth.
Being a stout Englishman, I went for the full English breakfast.  Because there's nothing like fried bacon and eggs to keep you from missing home.  What came was beautiful – as aesthetically pleasing as it was tasty.  Homemade beans, bloody mary ketchup, real bacon and sausage (rarities outside the UK) and a perfectly done egg in its own wee frying pan.  A real win. 

And to wash it all down?  Beer, of course – that's the beauty of brunch: drinking with breakfast is totally OK.  The beer I went for was Level 33's weissbier, a wheat beer.  And damned good it was too.
If you're hanging about in Singapore, looking for a decent breakfast with fantastic views, you can do a whole lot worse than Level 33. 
 - GrubsterBoy -

Tuesday 11 March 2014

British Pie Week at the White Swan

Last week was British Pie Week. 

It's true, it actually was.  Sadly, this is one of those festivals that is not nearly well celebrated enough.  In fact, for most average punters, I rather imagine that British Pie Week went by unnoticed.  Fortunately, one of the people to notice it was owners of the White Swan.

It is not without a hint of irony that I note that British Pie Week has come around just as the British weather has started to (finally!) improve.  I have written before about how I believe that pies are best eaten when the weather is cold and miserable (with the exception of cold meat pies, like a pork pie or a game pie, which wants to be eaten and a hot, sunny picnic).  Nevertheless, this Grubster (together with a couple of work mates) steeled itself to venture out during the day to sample the crusts.

And thank heavens we did. 

We were offered a trio of carb-crusted meats to sample: cottage pie, steak, ale and oyster or pigs' cheek pudding.  Josh and I opted, rather unimaginatively, for the steak, ale and oyster.

Now, I'm not especially good with oysters, I won’t lie.  And by 'not especially good' I mean that they make me wretch.  So I was nervous to say the least.  I am very glad I let the joy of the beef win out over the fear of the mollusc, because this was quite simply one of the very best pies I have ever had in my life.  Ever. 

The gravy was rich, silky, smooth.  The oysters, far from the fear I had, added a distinct, saltine, almost maritime, bite to the dish.  It was a thing of absolute beauty – from the presentation through the textures to the taste.  I could not have asked for better.  It even came with a little, garlic crumb-crusted oyster on the side.  It was only because I was in polite company that restrained myself from licking the bowl.

Toby had the pigs' cheek pudding.  Proper suet puddings are few and far between – probably with good reason, given the health consideration – which is a sad thing.  Because they a beautiful beasts.  A dainty wee pudding like this, complete with curly kale and chopped, sautéed kidneys, was more than enough for a casual lunch – and, I gather, very tasty.

My only regret of pie week is this: now that it’s over, the pies are off the menu.  This is truly a tragedy, as with pie-making skill like that, the Swan should be dishing them out every damn day.

The White Swan itself is a great venue – a top-notch City boozer just off Fleet Street. 

I've eaten there a few times before and always enjoyed the food – whether it's been a lobster salad or fish and chips.  The chef clearly isn't afraid of cooking the unpopular (yet increasingly fashionable) bits we don’t like to think about – I remember that, for a long time, the bar snacks menu proudly displayed an offering of ducks hearts and livers on toast – now sadly off the menu.  The standard burger is, I am happy to say, one of the best pub burgers out there.

So if you're in the neighbourhood, pop in.  even if you can’t get a pie.

- GrubsterBoy -