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Coffeehops

Ham and Brie sandwich from The Provision Shop

Ham and Brie sandwich from The Provision Shop

Inspired by this drool-inducing video kindly (or perhaps insidiously) shared by some precious friends, I have set off on a pilgrimage of sandwiches. Midweek, I have munched on three sandwiches that had some sort of cheese in them. It started with one of Ham and Brie at The Provision Shop, because I was at Everton Park for a bag of beans from Gitesi, Rwanda, after giving away the last of my Kochore beans. There was berry compote in it, which wasn’t a bad idea because its sweetness aptly lifted a potentially heavy meal. What wasn’t welcomed was the half-hearted service. That let the food down, but anyone could tell the front-of-house was crestfallen. Could be a broken heart, or a tough day at work – I’m sure we all have days like that.

I had my second sandwich from Breadyard – a frequent haunt, in part due to proximity, in another, acquaintanceship with the owner. I had the Ham and Cheese sandwich, an alternative from my usual Duck and Orange because of this pilgrimage. Ivan, the owner, was there himself on Tuesday to put apple slices in the sandwich. Another splendid idea which does justice to his dedication to baking wholesome bread.

Tomato and Mozzarella sandwich from Necessary Provisions

Tomato and Mozzarella sandwich from Necessary Provisions

The third was Tomato and Mozzarella, at Necessary Provisions where I have opted to get some revision done, but ended up writing this post. Fresh tomatoes espoused to the supple cheese, with a side of well-dressed greens, could hardly go wrong. Then there were the cinnamon rolls which I couldn’t resist.

These sandwiches made satisfying meals, but they aren’t ‘grilled cheese sandwiches’ per se. It is hard to find something so simple in the fancy cafés these days; I’ll have to make do. Eons ago I had an actual one from Simply Bread, which was decent, but lacked the oomph. Perhaps it’s time to head to the fromagerie and spend some time in the kitchen.

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N.A.O and Café Dumo

N.A.O and Café Dumo

If I had some sort of talent in putting paint on canvas or gyrating my lanky figure to music, I would have gone to the School Of The Arts, SOTA in short. Because it has such a beautiful campus. Fortunately, I had no such gifts, nor was SOTA opened when I left Primary school. Back in the days, choosing which school to go to was a much simpler feat. I had gotten very interested in some kind of chess called Go (or Weiqi), from reading this Japanese manga – Hikaru no Go. So I’d set my mind on this particular school which was famous for their Go club. My exam score barely gave me a place in this school, just as I made it into the club by pure chance. Funny how things have worked out.

Nevertheless, the establishment of SOTA was a commendable feat to encourage our people to be more accepting of ‘alternative pathways’. It is not the most ideal; students have to take the International Baccalaureate at the end, so they have to split themselves between passion and obligation. Yet it is a compromise, given the state of our culture – in which qualifications mean a great deal. I would love to witness the day when we can tell our children to be who they want to be and be honestly proud of it, although that is quite unlikely by current projections.

I had a discussion some weeks ago with a botanist mentor/friend over dinner, about how in cities we cannot expect the obsession with money and mentality of hoarding to simply go away. Not even with any form of government intervention (in a free/sort-of-free society that is). Imagine how different the conditions are in a smaller town. It isn’t difficult to find one’s purpose in being a painter, a farmer, a postman, or a baker. For instance, through his humble hands, the baker kneads bread out of flour, water and yeast for his neighbours who lie in their soft beds while he works the dough. In a city, all notions of such romance are dispelled as bakers scramble over meagre profit margins, which probably wouldn’t suffice to raise their families. Material wealth takes centre-stage; aspirations limit themselves to enterprises and financial institutions. It’s all about capital, resources, and efficiency. In the most efficient economy, the only conceivable bakeries are the factories.

Ironically, our consolation lies in our inefficiency. We can’t work like robots (at least, not yet). We fall in love, and we fall out of love; we are seduced by utterly inefficient notions such as spending an afternoon with ume-scented green tea and lovely cakes in the company of friends. (You saw that coming, didn’t you?) We need only to head over to nowhere but SOTA to be seduced by my favourite patisserie in this condemning city – Kki Sweets.

Kki Sweets started out on Ann Siang Hill, and after an 8-month-long hiatus, it re-opened in SOTA. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. At its new home, full-length glass windows and simple, wooden furnishing exudes a comfortable openness. The owner only made the welcome warmer, as before, treating everyone like neighbours. And the influence of Japanese patisseries extends beyond its hospitality; the cakes are concise and light, focussing on getting the simple things right. Some of my favourite cakes are still there, notably the onigiri, although it wasn’t available on this visit. But luck has it that I could have my fork on the N.A.O, a dainty strawberry and pistachio mousse cake, and Café Dumo, a balanced coffee entremet, for I have missed out on these two back then.

There are new offerings, but I couldn’t really be sure.  The incumbents are great, but like all food places, innovation and improvement are necessary. Prices are steep, relatively, but not unjustified, for both the chefs’ dedication to their craft and the impossible rent prices. Its tea selection is limited, but sufficient and apt for its sweets. Better coffee would retain more customers, because their palates are getting pickier with the saturation of cafés. Understandably, a standard espresso machine is a heavy investment, for cost is always an issue in a bustling city like Singapore.

On our part as consumers, we can be more discerning. If we want places like this to stay, because it is not just a business, then we have to acknowledge that our support makes a difference. Everyone will have their own favourites, and it’s always sad to see them go. Yet I hope that Kki Sweets is here to stay, for its simplicity, its charm, and its warmth is the kind of love we would want to fall into.

Kki Sweets
1 Zubir Said Drive
SOTA #02-01

https://www.facebook.com/kki.sweets

Koffee and Kashi

Unearthed diamonds lie in their slumber, unfazed by the relentless passage of time. They wait patiently in the darkest depths, and in their first light, they blinds us to the blood and sweat that taint them so. Yet we are not drawn most to their shine; we are not magpies. It is their elusiveness that lay their unyielding grip on our hearts and minds.

Being elusive is what makes this coffee shop charming, like a diamond on a ring. Tucked in a residential street, Omotesando Koffee stays hidden from plain view. You will walk past it twice, only to uncover its camouflage on the third try. Step into its entrance, and the surreal greenery isolates you from the outside world, while the furnishing transports you into a timeless dimension. Designed like a traditional Japanese tea-house, its modern coffee bar stands out-of-place within its wooden interior, like a passing dream.

OMO

Style without substance also makes a passing dream, but the place has survived the test of time with great coffee and even greater dedication. The sweltering sun was the only thing that didn’t go well with the hot drink. If I did away with my persistence for hot coffee, and opted for an iced latte instead, it would have been perfect. Fortunately, the shade and the kashi – a kind of coffee custard pastry, saved the day. A few sips of my Dad’s iced coffee helped too.

It’s difficult to conclude that the coffee is ‘to-die-for’, because it is frivolous to die for any kind of coffee. Nevertheless, Omotesando Koffee is a diamond, and it will always warrant a visit, whenever I get the chance to return to Tokyo. Perhaps, in cooler seasons, this place would make a perfect sanctuary, from the blood and sweat of reality.

Sanctuary

A plateful of greens and reds

Beetroot Salad

I wouldn’t usually drive into the Central Business District. Traffic is impossible, and parallel parking frightens me.  But McCallum Street sounded like the quieter side of Tanjong Pagar. With some courage, and lack of wisdom, I went behind the wheels to brave the lunch crowd. The parking lots were accommodating; the traffic behind me were less so. After considerable effort, I could finally switch off the engine and set forth to the destination on my reliable legs. The hot weather didn’t offer much relief, nor did forgetting to put parking coupons. So when I had finally arrived at this café just opposite Amoy Street Food Centre, I got myself an iced white.

I’m ambivalent about having my coffee cold. My favorite espresso drink is the piccolo latte, or ‘short white’, or ‘magic’, or Gibraltar. Purists will condemn me for putting these in the same band, but I’m not that particular. With well-textured milk and decent espresso shots, a concise hot coffee drink works for me. On the other hand, cold brews are intriguing, and tropical heat necessitates cold refreshment.

The café’s non-existent AC didn’t help. We relocated to an alfresco table, which was much better with the occasional breeze. I opted for the beetroot salad, after a heavy breakfast. With rocket, sliced almonds and feta, it was aptly dressed. Given its size, it could use a little more acidity. Maybe a dash of lemon juice or some fresh citrus segments? On the positive end, the sourdough that came with the salad was sufficiently tangy, which I’ve taken a liking to during my stay in Paris. However, more gluten development would make a better crumb, and the crust could be more pronounced. Nevertheless, it made a good meal!

My company had the pork sandwich. The thing I have against tall sandwiches is that if you can’t pick it up and take a bite without dislocating your jaw, it can be quite a hassle. Especially when you just want to kick off your shoes and bask in the ambience. That’s why I prefer tartines – open-faced sandwiches, which makes more sense. They are usually flatter so you can take it by the bite, or you can easily cut it on the plate. But really, this is a matter of preference, so anything goes.

Overall, it was a decent meal. The brunch menu seemed interesting, and I’ll be sure to drop in for that the next time round, as well as the short white I missed. The café has character, and that gives it the potential to stand out amongst the many office lunch options around the area. A more welcoming service would also do no harm. After all, building rapport with customers keeps them coming back for respite from a hectic week. With so many new places opening up here, exceptional service could well be the make-or-break deal in keeping a café going.

GÆST
21 McCallum Street #01-01 The Clift
Singapore 069047
T: 6634 0922

http://gaest.com.sg/

Coffee Brew

Onions. Mille-feuilles. Winter clothes. These are the things that come in many layers. People are much simpler things. There are our inner thoughts, and then our external representations. What’s on the outside could well be very different from what goes in our minds, but it’s the differences that make up our personalities. By saying this I don’t mean it as an absolute truth. We’ve all lived long enough to know nothing could be 100 percent. It’s just a comforting perspective.

Our external representations differ when we’re with different people. Across time, space as well, and I couldn’t sound more redundant. But sometimes it’s necessary to state what’s obvious. Like telling your loved one how you feel. Because it’s necessary. In any case the differences can be upsetting, when we couldn’t be sure who we really are, who we could be, and who we should be. In the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert L. Stevenson wrote, ‘man is not truly one, but truly two.’  I think it’s a gross understatement. Man is truly… many?

It’s also a strange case how we can be obsessed with one and many at the same time. The Grand Unified Theory, the Ego, and the One. We like these singly, and we find comfort in their coherence. On the other hand, when it comes to money, time, or attention, we want many, or should I say much. It’s also strange how ‘money’ and ‘time’ are uncountable nouns, although when we count we are mostly counting time or money. To quote a bryologist I once met, ‘Man has very strange taste.’

Speaking of taste, it has been an exciting week. Blue cheese macaron, tamarind sorbet, passionfruit-thyme bonbons. Ma Sœur brought back a couple of chocolate tablets from Paris. Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin and Un dimanche à Paris. I would have been over the moon if she had one from Alain Ducasse’s La Manufacture du Chocolat, but I couldn’t be more grateful already. That said, I had to get another one of Mast Brothers’ from a local distributor. C’est américain, oui, mais c’est chocolat. Blame those eye-catchy wrappers.

And, obviously, I have completed my coffee brewing set with a Porlex hand grinder. Time to put my age-old Frenchpress to use. I got a bag of beans from Nylon Coffee Roasters to celebrate the occasion. This bag of goodness from Baroida has a wonderful layered profile. A remarkable lingering finish with molasses! It takes a deal of effort to brew coffee yourself, but nothing beats having a cup of goodness in the comforts of your home. Here’s to good coffee, good chocolate, forget the could bes and couldn’t bes, the should bes and shouldn’t bes L’chaim!

Nylon Coffee Roasters
4 Everton Park #01-40
Singapore 080004
T: 6220 2330

http://www.nyloncoffee.sg/

Blackburn Tanzania V60

Blackburn Tanzania V60

I seem to have so much to write, but no stories to tell. That’s part of the reason for my hiatus, along with many other mundane reasons like getting caught up in school. Today, I’m not going to any particular point, or bother much about coherence. I’m just going to, let it go. Apologies for the pun. It makes a nice song anyway.

The past few weeks have been hectic in school, oh what’s new? Exams are around the corner, but the most burdensome projects and papers are over. Except for tying up a few loose ends, my momentum has been slowing down for the past few days, perhaps dangerously so. I’m sitting in my ‘home-ground’ café, not because I work there or live near, but because it makes a comfortable ambience. At this very moment, I’m staring out of its windows, in envy of the potted plants along the road. Basking in the sun, they dance with the butterflies in the wind.

I would be a fraud to not admit that productivity arouses me – in an asexual, intellectual way. Who am I kidding when I say that I want to do nothing? Some part of myself enjoy having books read rather than reading itself. The knowledge gained over the process of learning. The distance swam instead of the joy of swimming. The only process which I could prefer over the result would possibly be being in the kitchen and putting ingredients together. At least that’s what I can conceive over half a cup of latte. Piccolo, to be exact.

These strange things that matter to me – I would think them absurd in my days of spirited youth. The days when I aspired to be a doctor, a bioengineer, or an evolution biologist. Have I mentioned that as a child I wanted to be an astronomer? Not an astronaut, because I hadn’t known what exactly they had to do besides floating in space.

I’m wondering how that would actually feel like. Being so alone in pure nothingness, seeing Earth from above in its entirety, but yet strife and suffering remains invisible. It’s just us to be so – so conscious of what matters to us, so ignorant of what really matters. After all, what really matters might actually just be what matters to us. That is a dangerous proposition, for then what really matters right now, is a good cup of coffee, and chocolate maybe.

This also goes to show why I usually tend to write with a point in mind. Let me indulge in not making a lot sense, but don’t be mistaken – reason is my reliable friend. It shouldn’t, however, be your only friend because you’re end up a lonely person with forty cats. Another friend you must make, is chocolate. Last Wednesday, I had the wondrous opportunity to attend Cacao Barry’s launch of its range of purity from nature chocolates – Alunga, Ocoa, and Inaya. Being the fanboy I rarely am, I was more impressed at meeting the pastry chef and the chocolatier than tasting the chocolates themselves. I did had a lapsang souchong bonbon which intriguingly matched that characteristic smoky fragrance to the new chocolate. But the most important thing I went away with was a renewed inspiration to pursue what really matters most, at least to me.

Alright, I shall spend the last half of my second cup, a pourover from Blackburn Tanzania, doing nothing. It’s sweet, with bright berry notes with a lasting finish.

Necessary Provisions
21 Eng Kong Terrace
Singapore 598993
T: 9231 7920

http://necessaryprovisions.com/

This week went by in a flutter. Literally. Incessant fluttering of my stomach after catching a gastrointestinal virus. I’ll skip the sordid details, but in five days I ate just over five meals, and visits to the toilet number many more counts than that. I was tracing back to what I have eaten, but that’s a lot of food to trace (what’s new…), so in a case where there’s an overwhelming number of suspects, taking the blue pill seemed the wiser choice.

I was watching The Matrix the other day, and I couldn’t help but noticed that I took the movie more seriously. It wasn’t just about bullet-dodging scenes and cool shades; I understood as a direct representation of Plato’s allegory of the cave. Taking philosophy in school is akin to taking the red pill, or getting out of the cave. I’m not assuming that philosophy itself is closer to truth, but it forces you to consider what exactly is closer to truth. Huh? I know I’ve lost many of you by now, and I’m not going to explain myself because that would amount to forcing people to their red pills. Morpheus gave Neo a choice (although I would admit that Neo’s choice was non-existent). I would maintain that in some cases, ignorance is bliss.

Pear Tarte Tatin by The Tippling Club

Pear Tarte Tatin by The Tippling Club

But it comes with a hefty price, just like what I had to pay for a ticket to Savour 2014. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a positive and inspiring experience. We tasted a wide array of food prepared in temporary kitchens by a variety of chefs from everywhere, although the variety was not as wide as we wanted it to be because some restaurants weren’t available on the day we went to the event. Some delicious oysters made up for that. . The food from Mikuni was great too – miso braised beef and truffle kampachi. Yet for me, the highlight was the demonstration by Chef Ryan Clift from the Tippling Club, during which he made an ingenious faux pear with beurre noisette sorbet. The sorbet had the rich flavour of brown butter, yet it was refreshing to the palate. More restaurants to add to the hit list, at the same time less money for our wallets…

That was last weekend. This weekend, after a week of battling the virus and catching up with work, I decided to “let the wind take me” and enjoy a day without having to think about time, schoolwork, or utopia.  The wind brought me to Nylon Coffee Roasters, opened by a couple with tenacity and passion towards which my admiration grows. The place and their coffee deserves a post of their own, so I’ll write more about it another day. In short, Sunday morning entailed great coffee with a lovely ambience. It seemed to me like some, if not all, worries were momentarily washed away by the much-awaited rain (finally huh). Here’s to a good week ahead!

http://www.savour.sg/