Story and photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet TM
All food photos are real with NO photoshop
The inscrutable and implacable Travelling Gourmet TM goes undercover on…
MARVELLOUS Orchard Road, the Bond Street of Singapore…to Jamies’s Italian just next to the Hilton.
2B or not 2B, that is the question…Hamlet, Prince of Denmark asks in William Shakespeare’s immortal play…
The Travelling Gourmet TM asks politely and respectfully:
To taste or not to taste, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Hunger, or to take knife and fork against a sea of mediocre food, and by opposing…end them.
Too be brutally frank, which is not my ususal style. I am not a fan of Jamie Oliver. JO, the scruffy, somewhat dirty, unkempt, unshaven, perpetual “bad hair day”, and with what looks like unwashed examples of sartorial incompetence (badly dressed) is a Pub (Public House/Bar Lounge in the UK) cook who speaks with a lisp…is a JOke to many of my pals who are 3 Michelin Star Chefs. “…but, mon ami, he is rich and successful, n’est pas…” They chuckle to me. D’accord (Yes), that he seems to be at the present time due to some twist of fate and a lot of luck and connections…Watch his cooking show through the eyes of a trained professional Chef and you will see poor knife handling, poor cutting skills, poor mise en place, careless work, and worst of all poor kitchen hygiene…need I say more…. When I had the honour of cooking in the kitchen of Le Cinq in the Four Seasons George V in Paris with my tres cher mon bon ami pal, Master Chef Philippe Legendre, in the days when Le Cinq had 3 Michelin Stars (it has regained its 3 Michelin Star status now! Yay!), the kitchen was SPOTLESS and SCRUPULOUSLY CLEAN, almost like a hospital Operating Theatre. When preparing certain foods, a pair of gloves was used only ONCE per item prepared!
Well, as The Travelling Gourmet TM I try to be objective. I do not succeed all the time I am the first to admit, but I do try!
So I found myself seated at table 40 in the far corner with my back to the wall, except there was a glass window behind me that was not bullet resistant, that looked out on bustling Orchard Road. I like a table with a wall, preferably solid brick, behind me. I can see every thing and no one can creep up behind me…One never knows if a deranged Chef who one has given a horrific review in the past may suddenly attack with a big butcher knife…I jest…
Dave the Captain/Supervisor showed me to my table. “Mr. Lee, this way…” I had made the reservation under the nom de plume “Lee K Y” which is a giveaway. Lee K Y is Lee Kwan Yew, wahahahah! They did not catch on! In fact, a few days before the day, when I made the reservation by telephone, the argumentative and arrogant marami tanga Filipino man named Steven, refused to tell me which country he was from (Steven is a very poor communicator) and I got a bit edgy, and had to speak to the Manager called DiDi to make my wishes clear, and make him an offer he could not refuse, that is, I wanted a table in the corner with no one behind me. DiDI was good at customer handling…very smooth and soothing. That is why he is the Manager…
I waited for some time. The restaurant was filled with 90% Caucasians, Europeans, Americans and Koreans. Clearly they were short stay tourists in Singapore…There was a dearth of locals and natives. I was about the only local there. Fascinating…as Spock in Star Trek always says. I wonder why…A noisy and raucous atmosphere filled with people enjoying themselves which is good. You cannot hear the background music for the noise…
The Filipina waitress called Hazel appeared after I waited for…2 minutes 29.42 seconds. Then she disappeared…to REAPPEAR after almost 3o seconds.
I timed it with my Breitling Titanium Chronometer.
“Still or sparkling water?” Aha! The immortal question…tourists invariably go for EXPENSIVE Still or Sparkling bottled water, because they do not realise that the tap water in Singapore is very clean and will not give you “Bombay Belly”. A plus point is that I was served complimentary “regular” water. That is the code word for tap water aka Singapore Gin!
Parla piu piano..
The Travelling Gourmet TM is known to some as Il Padrino della Gastronomico (The Godfather of Gastronomy). The Godfather played by Marlon Brando is always a picture of sartorial elegance…
Mojito, Mojito, Mojito…
Hazel tried to suggest (“push”) their Mojito Cocktail at S$18 = 10% Service Charge and 7% Goods and Services Tax. I say “push” because she “recommended” their Mojito Cocktail three times. Clearly, Hazel has not mastered the art of the “soft sell”…Live and learn. The Bellini here is $18++. I have enjoyed das Original Bellini in the Hotel Cipriani in Venezia, Italia.
The water tumbler had two cracks inside due to careless and rough handling and stacking the glasses one inside the other. I pointed this out to Hazel who dismissed it with, “…it is just where the other glass goes in…” Obviously she needs training in Food Hygiene. Cracks like that trap bacteria and bits of food and can cause food poisoning. Instead of just removing the glass and getting me a new glass with NO chips or cracks, Hazel argued with me and tried to convince me that she was right. Nothing makes me edgy more than people trying to convince of something I KNOW to be UNTRUE. I had to tell her softly but firmly, “IF I were to report this to the National Environment Agency, your restaurant would be in trouble…” I saw fear in her eyes and she disappeared. She is good at disappearing…Thare are ways…to handle this kind of situation. I have been a waiter and bartender in some of the roughest bars in the very bad parts of town and small bistros in Europe and elsewhere, in my mysterious past…and it is very simple. Just say, “Sorry ,Sir/Madam/Ms, I will get you a NEW glass!” and SMILE all friendly-like. Bat your eyelashes if you are a good looking lady…Problem solved.
Hazel had told the lady Manager Sze prounced “Zee” which reminded me of the former GM of Morton’s in Singapore, Zyron, who I did not particularly care for. Clad in faded light blue jeans and with a neat short hairstyle, she said in a slightly agitated state, “My waitress told me you want to complain to the NEA…”
Like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca 1942, I explained calmly, “You are misinformed…I merely said, IF I were to feedback, not complain…to the NEA about this breach of Food Hygiene…”
Chips but NOT Fish & Chips…
I also pointed out the big chips in the porcelain plates on the bottom…another NO-NO! Almost every plate had about 5cm in diameter chips broken off…The plates were artisanal with no maker’s name on the bottom. They really need a good dishwashing system and less rough handling by the busboys. Perhaps I should highlight this to my old buddy Ettore Palazzi who is in the business. My photographer remarked, “Too many chipped and cracked plates…all on the bottom.”
Sze is nice and quite professional and said she would check and try to make things better. She knew that under NEA Food Safety Guidelines, these are all NO-NOs. They are classified as Food Safety Hazards. Sze changed my water tumbler for a glass with no cracks and also changed my table napkin which was dirty with black spots. Good customer handling by Sze, quite smooth.
Well, as they say in the world of Spooks, my cover was “blown”. Sze knew I was no ordinary diner just there to have dinner…SOP is Neither confirm nor deny.
The Antipasto came. after 11 minutes and 32.4 seconds. I had ordered at 19:45. I love my trusty Breitling Titanium Chronometer…ever accurate. That is quite acceptable considering the restaurant was quite busy. A Plus point! 8 to 10 minutes would be better but…
The NEW Antipasto of Herbed Mushrooms was nice. Having watched Jeremy “Scruffy cook” Oliver on TV as rarely as possible, I was pleasantly surprised! Nice crunch and they were not overcooked. Core temperature 75.6C. Only one feedback for improvement…it needed MORE herbs for more oomph! It is constructive feedback NOT a criticism.I would suggest Rosemarino (Rosemary). Well, it was cooked after all by Executive Chef Kwek who is a Chinese Singaporean…I did not see JO anywhere…:-) A Plus point. In fact J Oliver hardly ever comes to Singapore, unlike my friend 3 Michelin Star Chef Joeel Robouchon (extra “e” is the Umlaut over his first name) who comes 2 to 3 times a year to check that everything is strac. Clearly, I might be wrong…this restaurant is a franchise operation…
The set dinner is not too bad. I ordered it too. At S$39.90 ++ it was a tat expensive but affordable to most, especially foreign tourists in the Orchard Road vicinity. A Plus point.
The soup was nice in texture and flavor as was the Herbed Chicken which was lean and tasted yummie. I tested the internal temperature with my CIA thermometer and it was 73.4C which is good.
The signature Linguine was good with an “al dente” resistance to the bite…but NOT as “al dente” as in sunny Italy. Asian and non-Italian Caucasian customers who do not understand Italian cuisine would surely complain…”The pasta is not cooked!” There were a good number of medium sized shelled prawns. Velvety sauce was tasty!
Dessert of Molten Lava Cake with Ice Cream was nice too, with gooey chocolate sauce flowing out in a sensuous and sexy manner..Yum! Yum! I liked it a lot. Unfortunately, the bottom of the plates were badly chipped and broken…
Food here is not bad…not Michelin Star standard BUT nice, well cooked comfort food. A Plus point.
Beverley & her Grand daughter…
I interviewed a nice Australian family of four tourists at the next table. The Grandma named Beverley, was very friendly and approachable and told me her Granddaughter liked the lamb chops. If you are reading this, Beverley…my very best regards and “Keep calm and carry on Eating!” Wahahahaha! 🙂
The restaurant is full of tourists…you are welcome! Singapore needs you!
One reason for JO’s success to date is that “El Scruffo” made cooking low brow and less stuck up and aksi keropok (arrogant and show off). Also when he was younger, his chubby boyish looks appealed to the old Grandmas and “desperate housewives” who looked on him like a favourite grandson/nephew/son/’toy boy’, and found him “cute”. However, that does not make him a great Chef . You do not have to look cute to be a great Chef. You do not need purple and/or green or blue hair, numerous tattoos and weird rings in your nose and eyebrows. All these stooopid gimmicks are the foolish attempts by people with no talent and no creativity to try to cover up their inadequacies with weird stuff. Pathetic! He is also not Italian born, and after doing a crash course in Italian cuisine with famous Italian Chef Gennaro Contaldo, JO set himself up as some great Italian cuisine expert. It smacks of Charlatanism, respectfully and inoffensively to his fans. So ist das Leben, und so ist die Welt…He is no 3 Michelin Star Heinz Beck, a true Master Chef I am honoured to call mio buon amico. C’est la vie…
One of the World’s GREATEST Master Chefs I am honoured to call mio buon amico…Heinz Beck!
As my good friend Martin Yan says, “If Yan can cook, so can you!” YES, anyone can cook…but NOT everyone should cook…capisch 🙂
The Travelling Gourmet TM Ratings
The TOP rating is ***** (five stars)
next to the Hilton
Ambience ** and a half *
Food Hygiene and Food Safety * (chipped plates and cracked water tumblers) This needs urgent rectification