Monday, 20 June 2016

A Culinary Adventure At Epicurious

We see restaurants come and go every time.  Fast-moving trends, fastidious customers, unsustainable quality or service and annoyingly greedy landlords could, among other reasons, be key to the fickle nature of the food and beverage industry in Singapore.  I applaud the tenacity of restaurants that have survived the onslaught of changes through the years.  One of these is Epicurious at Robertson Quay.


My family had seen Epicurious develop from a little restaurant offering a limited menu 14 years ago, to the restaurant it is today, experimenting with different ingredients and cuisines to create dishes that are unique.


I remembered accidentally stumbling into Epicurious when I was buying some gourmet bread from Simply Bread which was located just a few doors away.  That was how I met Helena, the owner of Epicurious.  She also procured her bread from Simply Bread and that was how it became one of our favorite restaurants for a simple wine and cheese dinner.  That was 14 years ago.  My son Joel was still little then and often bounced into the restaurant calling out at the top of his voice, “Aunty Helena!”  14 years after, Epicurious is still there, and still getting its bread from Simply Bread which has since shifted and Joel still bounces into the restaurant, calling out “Aunty Helena!” at the top of his voice even at 23 years old.  Also, the restaurant built its success over the years on great service that was personal and familial, as well as its stupendous brunch fare with Helena’s signature touch of Epicurean fun which can be found in dishes like Fried Poached Egg and Rainbow Cheese Toast.  I wrote a little about the dishes she served at brunch that were quite different in a previous blog post:


Helena’s sense of fun did not stop at brunch fare.  I often stalked her instagram feed to see what her wonderfully crazy mind concocted that would be on her “blackboard” specials.  I would swoon over her Ribeye Salad with Crispy Kale, Soy-roasted Pumpkin and Sunflower seeds, all held together with a spicy Thai-style vinaigrette.  Even better, was that a dish like that for me, was personal trainer-approved.   My friends who are rake-thin would have the advantage of tucking into one of Helena’s more yummy but sinful creations prepared in February this year, in conjunction with the Chinese New Year.  This was the  Creamy Salted Egg Yolk Spaghetti  with Prawns, Baby Scallops, Crab and Asparagus.  There were days I thought Helena had lost her mind when she had decided to go “all the way” with her sense of adventure and came up with a Croquette Salad which consisted of mesclun greens, pineapple and cucumber salad tossed with a sweet and sour dressing made up of mango, chilli and lime juice, then topped up with  a couple of crispy Corned Beef Croquettes.  I classified this as experimental “loopiness” but my friends labelled it  as ingenious. Helena called it, “Hel’s Kitchen”.


Intrigued, I pulled my friend Shaun along with me for dinner at “Hel’s Kitchen” last week.  I understood that Helena’s ingenuity had led to her putting together an amazing new menu of Peranakan-inspired dishes that, as usual, came with Helena’s experimental flare. 


I first teased Shaun with one of her instagram post which showed an extremely pretty picture of Helena’s version of  a chicken dish called Ayam Sioh. He was sold immediately.   It was based on a 150 year-old Peranakan recipe taught to her by her friend.  While she changed the technique of preparing the dish, the taste, she claimed, remained true to the original recipe.  Helena’s version was made up of Sakura chicken breasts which is antibiotic and hormone-free, cooked with spices made from tamarind, coriander seed, and shallot.  And because we all try to go low-carb at dinner (Helena included), she topped the chicken breasts with carrot “noodles” stir-fried with Thai basil and laksa leaf and garnished with egg floss. That dish looked so enticing in her Instagram post.  So I was gamed to try the rest.


We ordered the Banana Leaf Barramundi.  That was Shaun’s favourite dish hands down that night.  The fish was lightly spiced with a sweet and sour chilli paste, baked in banana leaf and served with char-grilled okra and cherry tomatoes.  Shaun thought it was quite a stunning work of art really.  I ordered the Bibik Bouillabaisse  which was a light seafood bouillabaisse prepared with traditional Peranakan spices that enhanced and did not overwhelm the seafood at all.  We also tried the Spicy Winged Bean Salad which was tasty, addictive and not overpoweringly spicy.  As it was our “diet cheat day”,  we decided to get bolder with our orders.  We had the Popcorn Chicken with Salted Egg Yolk Sauce (don’t tell my personal trainer) and the Vietnamese Street Wings that paired very well with our bottle of white wine.


We were so stuffed at the end of our dinner and had no room for her equally unique Peranakan-inspired desserts like her Coconut, Kaya and Gula Melaka French Toasts with caramelized banana. 


Our dinner however, blew our mind about the culinary ingenuity one could come up with, when one had an opened mind, a spirit of adventure, and a voracious appetite for food and life.  That was uniquely Helena, wasn’t it? 
Epicurious might have been in existence at the same spot at Robertson Quay for the past 14 years, but might not be there for long as the restaurant's lease comes up in August.  So if you haven't tried it yet, it's really quite something to have dinner at Hel's Kitchen.



Banana Leaf Barramundi



Bibik Bouillabaisse



Spicy Winged Bean Salad



Popcorn Chicken With Salted Egg Yolk Sauce



Vietnamese Street Wings









About The Writer:

This blog post was co-written by my brother Jerome and I. Although we are siblings who grew up 11 years apart, shaped by differing experiences to see the world from different perspectives, we do share a common obsession – FOOD.  We celebrate our passion for life with food.  However, our attitudes to food are quite different and the way we celebrate our love for food are also quite different.  Jerome lives to eat and hoovers everything edible that crosses his path.  As he shovels food into his mouth with that fork in his right hand, he takes photographs of what he eats, and posts pictures and notes up on Facebook with his left.  Often, his beautifully written prose about what he had eaten would be 7 paragraphs in length and would not have any punctuations in between because he had been too busy multi-tasking. 

I, on the other hand, eat to live. It is not just about my attempts to eat healthily. As I am a “cam-whore” and “social media hussy”, I spend about half an hour styling my food, taking photographs, writing notes and posting them across my social media platforms before eating them, right after the hubby has paid for the bill and is about to head out of the restaurant.  I enjoy reading all my posts about what I had eaten because I know that I had lived fully in spite of watching what I eat.  Welcome to the foodie world of the quirky Ong siblings.


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