Babette Cooks: Simple Rillettes

Rillettes Dear Babette Recipe

As we all know, if we’ve been paying attention in science class, it was Louis Pasteur who proved that food spoils due to bacteria from outside (rather than spontaneously sprouting bacteria). And he proved it so elegantly – a sterilised flask of broth, isolated from the outside by a swan-necked tube. Bacteria can’t get in – therefore the broth stays fresh.

It’s a very fitting experiment for a Frenchman, too, because French cuisine has been utilising this technique of preservation for centuries. Their tradition of meat-based wizardry, as practiced in the charcuterie, relies on this method for some of France’s most famous dishes, submerging meat in fat that then forms a solid seal against bacteria. Confit de canard is one such dish, and so are rillettes.

Rillettes Dear Babette Newly Done

They’re basically the French cousins of pulled pork – the same dry-heat low-and-slow process, teasing pork into flavourful fibres, but with an added dose of smoothness in the use of lard. And it’s easy to make too.

To make this recipe I’ve used an oven, but you can probably do it over low heat on a stove as well – experiment and tell me how it goes!

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‘Almost Benthic’: Rice and Fries, Kembangan

Restaurant and Bar in Kembangan, Singapore

This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts.

I’ve been hearing enough things about Kembangan to make me wonder – is it that Kembangan is actually becoming more happening, or is it just me being very late to the party? For while new joints have been popping up, Rice and Fries – which has been around here for some three years – is evidence of the latter.

Rice and Fries Kembangan Somersby

And with (relative) maturity comes a certain, characteristic charm. They maintain the aesthetic of an earlier cohort of cafe, the lighting bright and welcoming and the decor slightly quirky – before concrete and sexy dim filament bulbs and Crate and Barrel became the industry standard. It so happens I like the old style a little better, if only because I can clearly see what I’m eating. But they also know how to put on a good welcome – a big glass of crushed ice, with a bottle of Somersby stuck upside down in it, is immediately enticing. 

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‘Andante’: Verre, Rodyk Street

Pic 7

It is an easy trap, in my opinion, to anticipate something too much and be set up for disappointment. The first I knew of Verre was blatantly one such trap. It was a beautiful looking seafood papillote, parchment unfurled like rose petals, prawns and scallops and juices inside making a whole range of autumnal hues.

And because it looked so very lovely in the photo, I decided not to have it when I finally dropped by Verre with a friend. My expectations were high enough as is. And I was, to be honest, bracing myself already even before the pal arrived. While the restaurant occupies an absolutely lovely niche facing the quiet upper reaches of the former Singapore River, the atmosphere inside somehow felt… odd. Something was off – something felt off. But I couldn’t put my finger on it. 

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Review: db Bistro & Oyster Bar, Marina Bay

Pic 1

Note: This is an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to Derrick for extending the invitation to me, and to fellow bloggers, the hosts, and most of all M. Boulud and his team, for the dinner.

I am suspicious of restaurants bearing names, and have always been. It is possible that the namesake has really put work and thought into a new province of their empire, appointing skilled proteges to be his proconsuls. But even then there’s no guarantee of quality, and especially not given the distance between the European or American home bases of many of the name-bearers in the Sands, and the Singaporean outposts. If the Great Sweary One can mess up in his Midlands endeavours, what can he do from half the world away?

On the other hand, if and when the chef is actually here, the calculus changes. So when Derrick told me that Daniel Boulud is coming out to Singapore, for the fifth anniversary of db Bistro Moderne and the Singapore International Film Festival, and that he was having a little do for the bloggers, I leapt at the opportunity. Right move, as it turns out – for what we get is a lengthy and warm reception from M. Boulud and his team. 

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Review: Sprigs, Purvis Street

Sprigs Purvis Street Interior

This was an invited tasting. Thanks to the hosts and fellow bloggers.

I arrive in Sprigs for the tasting about half an hour earlier than the appointed time, and am taken to the appointed table in an empty restaurant. So far, so normal. But then I start listening to the background music, which I don’t recognise until the main theme is reprised. It’s Bésame Mucho – no, actually, it’s jazz variations on the theme of Bésame Mucho. The music swirls out, trails an arc, and then comes right back to the old theme again.

In retrospect, maybe this was a sort of signal they were sending, consciously or not. The stuff we eat at Sprigs, which is pushing out its new menu, is a little like that music – each dish a different tune, but with similar motifs popping up here and there. The new menu itself was created by Shubri, the chef de cuisine (who’s been with them since the start, and with Gunther’s down the street before), with Titus, the co-founder who is in attendance at the tasting.

The other impression I get before anything hits the table is of the PR, which is pretty competent and thorough. They do part of my work for me, which I always welcome. I do like the 1.8m (metres, not millions) paintings of everyday objects. The high, black benches at some of the tables must be great for dates. 

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Review: Birdie Num Num Gastrobar, Kembangan

Birdie Num Num Kembangan Miso Cod

Birdie Num Num Kembangan Exterior

Even though you’re wearing them citified high heels,

I can tell from your giant step you been walking through cotton fields…

— Rolling Stones, ‘Down Home Girl’

This is a dilemma. See, I’m not a particularly social person. I don’t like crowds, and I don’t like busy restaurants. And after my first visit to Birdie Num Num, after chatting with the chef and his mother and girlfriend who together make up the core of the operation, my ideal is I will tell no one about this place at all. Yes, this is it! My personal hidey-hole out in Kembangan, mine and mine alone, where I can spend the afternoon lull hours chatting away over a good beer and pub grub of real quality.

But of course I can’t do that. Firstly, if no one knew about these guys, they’d be out of business soon, which would be unfortunate. And secondly, dear readers, you really should know about this place for your own good. It’s one thing to have a meal that makes you go ‘mm, quite, yes’. It’s quite another to step out of a joint with a pint sloshing around in the brainpan and a stupidly happy grin on your face. For me Birdie Num Num is firmly in the second category. It’s not just a matter of getting the food right, though.

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Review: The Betterfield, Waterloo Street

The Betterfield Waterloo St Steak Closeup

The Betterfield Waterloo St Interior

How did we ever use to cope before food hunting apps became a thing? I for one would never have found The Betterfield without guidance, or even suspected that Waterloo Centre would have such a shop. To get to it from Waterloo Street you pass through spare parts shops black with motor oil, heavy with the reek of rubber, and printing shops with tinted glass doors to reach the building’s flank where the bistro sits facing a wall.

It’s almost the textbook definition of an unpromising location for a bistro and cafe. And that is precisely why Betterfield excites me. So well hidden in meatspace, the seven-month-old joint has nonetheless garnered hundreds of recommendations on the app I use. The widespread use of such crowdsourced platforms, where intrepid people can delve into nooks and crannies for the rest to follow, will be – maybe already is – the key to viability in a food scene still so heavily dependent on location. And when it turns up something like the Betterfield, all the, well, better. 

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Review: Sunrise Bistro and Bar, East Coast Park

Note: This meal was a media tasting. Much gratitude to the hosts and fellow diners.

No, no, no. This is too much, even for me. See, I’ve never been one to mind going to a park out of season, or when the weather isn’t miles of blue sky and scorching sun. Going to East Coast Park when rain has driven the rollerbladers, barbecuers and pretty young things all away is a surreal sort of pleasure – you buy a drink, preferably mildly alcoholic, and sit in one of the pavilions staring out at the iron-grey sea under clouds like mille-feuille or great banks of cotton candy. Or maybe take a book along with you. Everyone should try this at least once, it’s brilliant.

But even this sort of beach holiday has its limits. It’s certainly not recommended for the day I was invited to Sunrise Bistro and Bar, situated in what used to be Big Splash amusement park; between the drizzle and the haze, I cannot see the sea that is at most 200 metres away. You can imagine my relief, therefore, when I ducked out of the smog and into the restaurant – a deep, almost cavernous place that leans into the coastal vibe with its woven chairs and blue-lit marine fish tank. Its decor is relatively simple; they know they’ve got space working for them and don’t try to pack it too tightly, which adds to its relaxing feel.

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Review: Angelina, Capitol Galleria

Angelina Capitol Galleria Chocolate
Those lamps!  And those chairs too.
Those lamps! And those chairs too.

‘Complexe, mais pas compliqué’ was his motto…

— Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958), speaking of Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)

One of my dearest friends – half-Swiss, half-British, all brilliance – once told me a story from her days in a law firm in Paris, when a one of her colleagues, a callow fellow, ordered hot chocolate to finish a meal he was having with a partner and several senior lawyers. The waitress – she reports that she was ravishing, which only makes the following worse – returned with the chocolate and served it to him while announcing it to the whole restaurant: ‘and here’s the hot chocolate for the little boy!’

The lesson, if there is one, is presumably that one messes with French postprandial etiquette at their own peril. This probably holds true even if hot chocolate is a key attraction, as it has been for a long time in Angelina, but thankfully the staff in the Singaporean outpost have not brought this particular attitude from the Métropole. Given Singapore’s penchant for the wholesale importation of famous food brands from overseas, it was perhaps inevitable that this particular denizen of the rue de Rivoli would eventually pop up on our isle. I mean, what’s next? Brunch from New York City? Oh wait… 

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Review: Saveur Art, ION Orchard

Welcome to my parlour, said... (Source)
Welcome to my parlour, said… (Source)

Well, you have to give credit to them – the meal that I had at Saveur Art really made me think. And not just me – all three of us think about the meal, really hard, while strolling from ION to a nearby fast food joint for some soft serve ice cream to cleanse the palate. We mull in long silences. We posit and postulate and reminisce. Were we still as well-versed in econometrics as we were in university, we’d be drawing graphs on paper napkins.

But let’s backtrack a little, to clarify the first premises of our discussion. We were not, like some underfed, cranky jury, debating fiercely among ourselves about the merits of the meal; the point of contention was never its quality, or its lack thereof. Rather, like investigators at a gruesome crime scene, the entire debate revolved around the causes. How? Why? Where did it all go so spectacularly pear-shaped? Had there been earlier signs?

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