Epicurean evenings versus local fare versus dining with friends : dissimilar, consummate and expansive dining experiences.
As in what ? As in beers and champagnes, wines (red, white, rosé, sauternes), spirits (absinth, aperitif, Armagnac, Brazilian cachaca pronounced ka-sha-sa), cognacs, digestives, gins, liqueurs, piscos, rums, tequilas, vodkas, whiskies, espressos and teas.
Why not ?
Drinks in Dempsey
The green and sprawling army barrack milieu of Dempsey is a perennial favorite. The Tippling Club offers artisanal tipples and part of our immoderate indulgence was people-watching by the bar as Mathew Bax worked his wizardry – drinks that promised to pack a punch, if their names were anything to go by: F*** the Subprime, Smoky Old B******, Death in the Afternoon, Agave Passionfruit Smash.
The fine print offered interesting reading: ice, hand-chipped from magnificent, mineral filtered blocks, hand-selected produce, hand-pressed juices (daily), seasonal menus, imported produce, the only bar in Asia and possibly the world reviving forgotten elixirs hand-made on site to traditional recipes of the 1800’s, premium blended glass mixers in all the highballs.
The minimalist ‘progressive’ nibbles by Ryan Clift were ingeniously paired with Bax’s tipples: +/- Foie Gras with Chapelle Brothers, 62C Egg with Kopi-O, Razor Clam with Blood and Sand, Surf Clam Dashi with Chamomile Chroming.
Tippling more than nibbling, that’s the way it went for a few hours.
Intense bursts of flavor, clouds of ice, lengthy explanations of each offering, shared platters of tapas.
And on the way out, we were presented the gift of morning-after expiation – restorative tea in faux prescription sachets; part of the wine-dine-recovery experience, (mine, a blend of chocolate chips, chamomile, lemongrass, rosemary, spearmint).
Hawker fare par excellence
Banana Leaves BBQ Seafood (Pasir Panjang Food Centre, Stall No. # 01 – 23 to 24 and you can call Alan Chong @ 9438 6623) is the ultimate hawker stall down-to-basics fine dining opportunity to gormandize, overindulge and pig out. Especially with friends – and perhaps must-only with friends – if you want to try a lot, taste a lot and eat your way through the variety and spread spiced with the piquant, tempestuous sambals which cousin Jennifer proudly pounds and grinds and mixes and creates from her private stash of recipes.
The Food Court is crowded, the buzz a subliminal undercurrent of sizzle and hiss, chatter and laughter, the click of chopsticks, the calling out of orders, kids running around. Neon lights flare in a multitude of colours, glasses of beer foam over and the ice cubes swirl in the green depths of the sugarcane juice (with or without lime, your choice). This is expansive, hearty, salt-of-the-earth dining at its best.
Packets of tissue are distributed, chopsticks and plastic spoons dealt out, and the food parade begins – hot, fresh, steaming and plenty – three kinds of sambal, grilled sting ray with calamansi halves and pink cincalok (pronounced chin-cha-lok, a tangy Peranakan accompaniment of pounded dried shrimp, chili, vinegar, shallots, salt and lime – the best cincalok, they say, comes from across the border, from Malacca and Penang), stir-fried kangkong (water spinach for health, and a nod to the ‘green’), smoky barbecued squid in chili sauce, bean sprouts crisp and light, venison with spinach, fried rice. Chunks of honeydew with sago to quench the fire and burn, a sweet aftertaste.
Summer Lunch in a Garden
Lunch with Anne and friends on a June afternoon is a celebration of friendship and fortitude, of affinity and affection. A dear, dear child has successfully completed five months post a bone marrow transplant with guts, determination and infinite spirit: there is reason for mothers to give thanks by the gazebo by the fountain and pond busy with fat Koi fish.
Lunch is a beautiful hostess with a swollen foot in hot pink and a hot pink bandana, serving a home-cooked repast – freshly baked Irish soda bread, pats of butter. Prawn salad with grapefruit, potato salad with French beans, ripe mango salad with shredded chicken, tomatoes and onions. Champagne. Fresh fruit and cream laced with a dash of sparkling rosé. Lime pie.
Lunch is garden fresh, a summer delight of light and taste and colour. The soothing, soporific hum of a fan stirs the water in jugs of azure blue and moisture beads and condenses into damp rings on the checked tablecloth. The tableware, pink and cobalt, alternate colours as do the turquoise and green cushions; beaded napkin rings snag an errant ray of sunlight.
Lunch is an afternoon of friendship and spunk and love and bonding, a celebration of day to day victories, of living in the now, recalling the best of the past, seeing the sparkle and glory in every experience, good, bad, tough, smooth … and the knowing that some friends don’t need to meet or talk or be in touch daily or weekly or even regularly because some people are absolutes in our lives and – thank God – can be taken for granted.
Photographs from the Tippling Club website, from http://www.mommiecooks.com/2011/03/14/irish-soda-bread/ for Irish Soda Bread, and hawker stall photographs by Anita Thomas.