the hinata diaries

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Azhang and My Mum's Place

I am really excited about moving to the East!!! Had dinner with Tam, Aaron and Sokmin last night, all Easterners. Sokmin and my original plan to check out Hong Kong Cafe was waylaid by Tam and Aaron's unfortunate experience there, so we decided to check out Azhang on Joo Chiat Road instead.

Even though we'd passed Azhang several times in our various jaunts around the neighbourhood, I've always hesitated trying it after reading Geoffrey Eu's Business Times review of the restaurant, which painted it to be idiosyncratic and intimidating. And indeed, our first impression when we walked into the empty shophouse restaurant at 8.30pm was that maybe they had done too good a job of scaring customers away!

At first glance, the menu looked somewhat unexciting - assorted kebabs, pilaf rice, salad, baked salmon and so on. Ironically though, it only fueled my curiousity even more, so we took a seat and ordered: pumpkin soup and lamb kebabs for Tam, beef curry for Aaron, beef kebabs for Sokmin and lamb loin chops for me. Most dishes come with pilaf rice, salsa and salad, although Aaron had the option of adding these or homemade foccacia to his meal.

When the pumpkin soup arrived, it became evident that we weren't in for a Swensen's meal. The soup was thin but heavily spiced with cumin, giving it a North African twist. Likewise, the meat dishes that followed were laden with various spices and exotic flavours. I spent quite a while trying to place the familiar but elusive taste behind my ribeye loin chops, which were sweet to the point of being almost candied. The mystery was solved when chef and owner Patrick Zhang came round to say hi. He enthusiastically explained that the loin chops had been layered with dijon mustard (that was it!!!) and brown sugar, then baked in the oven. The sugar and mustard then gradually seep into and permeate the meat. The dish is actually a popular Catalonian tapa, just served as a main. Our other dishes had equally interesting stories - the beef curry was prepared according to a traditional recipe from Madras, and the meat was exceptionally tender because it came from the shin. Aaron had two large pieces, which Patrick proudly declared required half a cow to produce. Here are some pics:

Lamb kebab (yes, still working on the flash)



Madras beef curry

Lamb loin chops (with the flash on! muahahaha)


Fortunately by this time we had finished eating most of our meat, and we decided to postpone finishing our pilaf and salad in favour of prodding Patrick for more stories. Here's some of what we discovered:

- Azhang's food style can best be described as 'anything and everything'. While on most days the menu is primarily Mediterranean, this actually does very little to limit the kitchen's creativity, as dishes can range from Portugese to Spanish, Greek and North African ("eat your way around Europe!" exclaimed Patrick). The restaurant will gladly also prepared meals according to regulars' advance requests.

- The restaurant is very much 'by the neighbourhood, for the neighbourhood' (although regulars come from as far as Jurong). It organizes monthly social dinners where friends aren't brought along but rather made at the restaurant.

- Other events organized in the past include a 9 course, 8 hour New Year's eve dinner that lasted till 3am. At $100 a head, it included a free flow of Veuve Clicquot, which really makes you wonder if the restaurant even cares about making a profit! An upcoming Christmas in April dinner is also in the works, with plans to serve turkey and other festive fare.

- Patrick laughed when I asked about Geoffrey Eu's article, and nonchalantly mentioned that Geoffrey and his family now come regularly. He did, however, stand by his house rule that dinner is served promptly on special dinner nights, which seems fair considering he appears to be a one-man cooking team ("you don't see anyone else in the kitchen, do you?").

Some other topics that came up include the joys of ribeye and the use of red meat vs. seafood and beef vs. lamb in various parts of Europe. Suffice to say, Patrick is a warm and passionate host and a veritable treasure trove of dining experiences and opinions.

After dinner, we were invited to take a tour of the upstairs. The private dining room on the second floor was a world apart from the cafe style seating downstairs. A couple of large round tables seemed perfect for Chinese-style communal dining, while a teak living room set gave the area a laidback, homey feel. We were informed by our other gracious host (I believe her name is Evelyn) that the room can accommodate 20 or more diners, although a group of 8-9 is sufficient to book the place for private events. A small door at the back of the room led to one final surprise - a lush balcony garden where the restaurants grows fresh herbs to use in its cooking.

All in all, Azhang was a happy discovery that I'm looking forward to frequenting regularly. The food we had that night, while not mindblowing, was good (and reasonably priced at $15-$20 a head) but my appetite has been whetted to try the myriad dishes that come through the rotation. As a future Eastie, it also seems like the perfect neighbourhood joint to make your second home and catch up with fellow residents.

That wasn't the end of our meal though! Although the chocolate pudding did sound extremely tempting, the fact that we were metres away from the amazing orh nee at My Mum's Place was impossible to ignore, so after bidding a fond farewell to the nice folks at Azhang, we made our way across the street. Parting shot of the restaurant (yes, dark and blurry, but had to rush this shot as the rain was coming down... fyi the awning says Azhang, dining at home):


This is my second time at My Mum's Place, having chanced upon it one night while looking for late night dining. The restaurant serves casual and unpretentious Chinese home cooking in an equally casual and unpretentious setting. Most of the personality is supplied by Mrs Sharon Lee, whose caricature adorns the restaurant's signboard, menu and namecards:


The feisty grandma makes dining here really seem like you're in some favourite aunty's kitchen. In fact, the first time we came, it was with baby Gabriel in tow. After seeing two grown men and one clueless me struggle with a baby while trying to eat, Mrs Lee immediately declared "what are grandmas for?" and whisked Gabriel away for a tour of the restaurant. Each time she came back round to check on us, it was to tell us more about her cooking techniques or ingredient choices or family stories (must be a Joo Chiat thing, all these chatty chef-owners!). If we thought we were reluctant to leave after partaking of great kung pao chicken, Gabriel was even more heartbroken to leave his newfound grandma.

While My Mum's Place is open (I believe) every day and into the fairly wee hours of the morning, her orh nee can be fairly elusive, as she makes it only in small quantities and it sells out very quickly. We were lucky enough to get the three last bowls of the night. (Side note: she also makes the most incredible pineapple tarts.)

As you can see, the orh nee comes smothered in a thick, creamy layer of pumpkin puree and generously studded with gingko nuts. It's amazingly smooth, despite the fact that the layer of oil that typically covers most orh nee is noticeably missing. Good good good good good stuff.


And that wrapped up a very satisfying Joo Chiat dinner. Two more weeks till we move, hooray!

******************************

Azhang

  • 323 Joo Chiat Road
  • 6440 0323

My Mum's Place

  • 328 Joo Chiat Road
  • 6344 3343

2 Comments:

  • madam, you need to check the link to the 'unfortunate experience' - the link leads to two http://http:// meaning no link to page.

    +)

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