Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wrap & Roll Review: Authentic, Delightful, and Affordable Vietnamese Cuisine

I've always walked right past Wrap & Roll in favor of my favorite sushi haunt Itacho Sushi. Yep, absolutely guilty of being a creature of comfort, and Japanese is my go-to cuisine most days. However, after the food tasting I attended--again with a couple of other ION Insiders--I realized I've been missing out on some seriously good Vietnamese food! Thanks to Jacinta's (Wrap & Roll's young, capable manager) invitation, I now have a satisfying option whenever I'm craving Vietnamese in town. 

Hailing from Ho Chi Minh, Wrap & Roll brings signature cuisine from the three different parts of Vietnam; Ho Chi Minh, Hue, and Hanoi to Singapore. Established in 2006, the contemporary Vietnamese casual dining concept has garnered numerous awards such as, "Top 100 Vietnamese Restaurant 2012" by Delicious Magazine and "Best Vietnamese Restaurant Chain 2010" by the Vietnam Tourism Board. 

I love Chrysanthemum tea, so naturally I ordered the Vietnamese Chrysanthemum tea. Don't be fooled by its plain appearance, it packs a punch! You'll first recognize the familiar taste of Chrysanthemum tea, which slowly gives way to a sour plum like after taste. Very invigorating. I highly recommend.

  • Gỏi ngo sen (Lotus Shoot Salad)
  • Bánh ướt cuốn thịt nướng (Grilled Pork in Steamed Rice Paper Rolls)
  • Bánh cuốn nhân thịt (Minced Pork & Mushrooms Steamed Rice Crepe Rolls)
  • Bánh Xèo (Crispy Crepe with Prawns, Pork, Beansprouts & Mushrooms)

Rice & Noodles
  • Phở bò (Pho Beef Noodle Soup)
  • Bún thịt nướng chả giò (Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork & Deep Fried Spring Rolls)
  • Bún cá (Vietnamese Fish Noodle Soup)
  • Phở xào hải sản (Stir-fried Pho Noodles with Seafood)

  • Bánh fl an (Egg & Milk Flan Pudding with Vietnamese Coffee)
  • Rau câu dừa (Freshly-made Vietnamese Coconut Jelly)
  • Cà phê đá (Vietnamese drip coffee)

Let me be honest, I love Vietnamese food, especially Pho (a must order for me at every Vietnamese restaurant I visit!). However I've never really taken a liking to rice crepe rolls till I tried those available at Wrap & Roll. I guess it so happens that I've not tried a rice crepe roll that's worth space in my belly. So for me to say I really enjoyed every single dish during the tasting--especially the rice crepe rolls--is no small matter!

My personal favorites from Wrap & Roll:

Gỏi ngo sen (Lotus Shoot Salad)
To whet our appetite, we started with this yummy salad. The salad is dressed in fish sauce with generously sprinkled chopped peanuts and served on a piece of keropok. The lotus shoots, cucumber and carrots retain a good crunch, with the laksa leaves gives it a slightly tangy aftertaste! I really liked that the prawns tasted fresh and were de-veined. I could probably finish this light dish on my own, perfect for those who are health conscious. 

Bánh ướt cuốn thịt nướng (Grilled Pork in Steamed Rice Paper Rolls)
If I could describe this dish in one sentence, it'd be pork satay wrapped in chee cheong fun. The grilled pork is charred to perfection, and the mint and basil leaves really bring out it's full flavor! You'll probably want to order a second serving, because after tasting this, just four rolls aren't going to be enough.

Bánh cuốn nhân thịt (Minced Pork & Mushrooms Steamed Rice Crepe Rolls)
The soft, translucent texture of the rice crepe served as a sneak peek to the delicious goodies awaiting our tastebuds. A mixture of minced pork and fragrant black and white fungus is sealed within the rice crepe roll, with pork floss and shallots on top. Dipped in fish sauce, these rolls were really delectable! I wouldn't mind having this for breakfast every day. 

Phở bò (Pho Beef Noodle Soup)
As I mentioned above, I really love Beef Pho. So it was with extremely high expectations that I tasted this dish. Wrap & Roll traditionally did not have Beef Pho on it's menu, but with many Singaporean customers requesting the dish, they've decided to add it to their menu earlier this year in May. And I'm so glad they did! The soup was just so tasty (thanks to star anise and cinnamon) without being overly salty, and the noodles which are imported from Vietnam are the smoothest I've tried. The slices of beef are insanely tender which I approve of, you don't want to be chewing away like a cow on cud on date night do you? To increase your enjoyment of this savory bowl of Pho, don't forget to squeeze in a few drops of lime, then add in the pickled black bean sauce and/or Sriracha sauce served alongside. 

Rau câu dừa (Freshly-made Vietnamese Coconut Jelly)
I got really excited when I saw this dessert on the menu even before I found out we would be tasting this for the night. I love anything coconut, so I was definitely looking forward to digging into this cup of freshly-made Vietnamese Coconut Jelly. A thin layer of sweet young coconut flesh covers the naturally saccharine coconut jelly. So damn good. If you're sharing the dessert, don't forget to fight for the golden raisins buried right at the bottom!

Cà phê đá (Vietnamese drip coffee)
I don't typically take coffee because it makes my heart race, and I get super hyper and jumpy. But I made an exception to try the coffee since anyone would need a little help staying awake after a super heavy meal like the one we just consumed... Only kidding! Since I was in an adventurous mood, and everything I've tried so far was good, the coffee had to be too right? Once the coffee drip was done doing its thing, the dark brew together with a thick layer of condensed milk into a tall glass with ice, it was time to taste. Let me just say, for someone who isn't used to taking coffee, this went like an adrenaline shot straight to my head! Even though it was probably way too strong for me, it tasted exceedingly smooth, and not as bitter/acidic as typical coffee. I'm sure coffee connoisseurs would enjoy this thoroughly. 

The above dishes spoke to me the most, but that's not to say the other dishes weren't any good. Want a Seafood Hor Fun equivalent? Consider the Phở xào hải sản (Stir-fried Pho Noodles with Seafood), nearly as good or even better than what you'll get from a zi char store. Ask for fresh Vietnamese chili (the fluorescent looking chili shown above) if you're like me, and you can't live without your spice. I believe the 'Roll-It-Yourself' dish, Bánh Xèo (Crispy Crepe with Prawns, Pork, Beansprouts & Mushrooms) also deserves a mention. Reminiscent of Indian Thosai, the crepe is actually made from turmeric powder and flour, not egg as we all first assumed. Inside the crispy yellow shell, a sautéed mixture of bean sprouts, mung beans, onions, mushrooms, prawns, and pork hide. Place a little of everything on a piece of mustard lettuce, add mint, basil, perilla, then roll. A quick bath in the dipping sauce, and pop it in your mouth.

All dishes are hand-made using imported Vietnamese ingredients (more than 50 percent), and in order to maintain the consistency and quality of the franchise recipe in Vietnam, local chefs are flown there for training. Aside from the outlet at ION Orchard, Wrap & Roll is also available at The Star Vista or One@KentRidge. Another outlet is due to open at Changi City Point come January 2015.

Have you dined at Wrap & Roll before? I'd love to know your thoughts and what your favorite dishes are!

Wrap & Roll is located at:

2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard, #B3-19
Singapore 238801
Tel: (65) 6509 1555
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Charm Cooks: Herbed Tomatoes

I'm always looking for new ways to experiment with different ingredients to spice up different dishes. Today's recipe will cover the humble cherry tomato, a staple in most salads or sandwiches. I've gotten quite a few requests how to recreate my herbed tomatoes, so why not share it with everybody? The process is so effortless I'm not even sure if it can be construed as 'cooking'. Trust me kitchen newbies, when I say this is simple.

  • Fresh herbs (I like Cilantro, Basil, Thyme. If you've got no fresh herbs consider MasterFood's Mixed Herbs and Coriander Leaves)
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar (Balsamic, red wine, regular white vinegar will do in a pinch)
  • Sugar
  • Salt 
  • Pepper

  1. Wash and cut the cherry tomatoes, then place in a large bowl.
  2. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the cherry tomatoes
  3. Add in the herbs.
  4. Add sugar/salt/pepper to taste.
  5. Mix everything up!
  6. Cover with cling wrap, and give it a couple shakes for good measure.
  7. Chuck it in the fridge to chill.

I know most recipes out there tell you to serve it immediately--but my secret is leaving my cherry tomatoes in the fridge overnight to marinate in the mixture of olive oil and herbs--it tastes so much better that way! If you happen to have left over pasta and don't know what to do with it, why not toss it in together with the cherry tomatoes? It'll make a great cold salad, perfect to take with you to work for lunch. 

This recipe is probably one of my favorite things to do because it is so fuss-free (5 minutes tops!) and you probably have everything you need in your kitchen. Do try it out, and let me know if you like it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Marmalade Pantry Review: Provocative Food

I apologize in advance if you're reading this in the middle of the night, while tossing and turning in bed and unable to sleep because you're hungry. Last Saturday, I was invited for a food tasting at The Marmalade Pantry with a bunch of my fellow ION Insiders. While I'm not one of those 'early-bird-catches-the-worm' morning types, there's nothing like the allure of good food to get me out of bed at 10 on a Saturday morning. 

We ordered eight dishes to split between the five of us. Well technically it was seven dishes, but because of the promotion (more on that below!) The Marmalade Pantry's got going on we ended up with eight! What we ordered:

Brunch Menu
  • Bananas and Berries Hotcakes (with honeycomb, butter, and maple syrup)
  • French Toast (with caramelized pear and vanilla bean ice cream)
  • Chorizo Frittata (with wood roasted red piquillo pepper and baby potatoes)
  • Eggs Benedict

À la carte
  • The Marmalade Caprese (with buffalo milk mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil marmalade)
  • The Marmalade Mac and Cheese (served on a skillet with mozzarella, parmesan, emmental and gruyere)
  • Truffled Field Mushroom Risotto (with herb oil)
  • Oriental Grilled Salmon (with soba)

I don't usually take breakfast (I'm not a morning person remember?), but my stomach was raring to go when all the dishes presented to us, and after all the necessary photo-taking was completed. Speaking of photo-taking, we found it pretty worrisome the French Toast with the vanilla ice cream arrived first. Why, you ask? As bloggers, taking multiple photos of the food when it arrives is de rigueur. And with four of us crowding around a plate and snapping away for a good five minutes or so, it's a miracle the ice cream didn't melt into a sad little puddle. I swear there must be a magical ingredient or something...

My absolute favorite dishes were:

French Toast
Sporting the perfect brown tan, the french toast was thick and spongy, and went so well with the vanilla bean ice cream (nothing like ice cream first thing in the morning, amiright?). I loved how real vanilla beans were used instead of artificial flavoring. Definitely brings out the flavor so much more! I thought the pears could've been caramelized longer though, they were still a tad crunchy. But that's just my personal preference.   

The Marmalade Mac and Cheese
Everybody's favorite childhood snack but elevated with three different types of cheese. Super cheesy, salty, gooey, you won't be able to get enough even though you're really full. That's how good it is. 

Truffled Field Mushroom Risotto
An avid watcher of Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen and MasterChef, I've learnt risotto is a deceivingly simple dish to cook, but can easily go wrong. Clearly evident in the number of saucepans of lobster risotto he's thrown into the trash. I was really pleasantly surprised by how well the rice was done, very glossy, creamy, and oozy. There was just the slightest hint of truffle oil, complemented by the taste of wild mushrooms (truffle oil and mushrooms are always a winner in my book!). 

Oriental Grilled Salmon
I am a sucker for the double S's; Salmon and Soba. My eyes were immediately drawn to this while I was browsing the very extensive menu, and I was so glad I picked this because everyone loved it! The salmon wasn't overcooked (a huge pet peeve of mine!), and was seasoned to perfection. On the other hand, the soba wasn't really anything to shout about. It wasn't bad--it was just really all about the salmon. This will be a repeat order when I do visit again. Highly recommend!

While there wasn't exactly a badly executed dish in my opinion, there were a couple minor things I felt needed improvement. The Banana and Berries Hotcakes were saturated in maple syrup so they were slightly soggy by the time I tried them, I would've much preferred the syrup to be served on the side. I thought the Eggs Benedict could've been presented more appealingly, that's not to say it didn't taste good. The muffins were toasted well and weren't soggy, which I can't say the same for other times I've ordered the dish elsewhere.

I also got to take home some cupcakes to sample. I chose Red Velvet (red velvet cake topped with coconut cream cheese frosting and coconut shavings) and Hazel (chocolate cake topped with hazelnut frosting). I don't have a sweet tooth, and the red velvet was by far too sweet for me. I really did enjoy the hazelnut one though!

Here's one of us with Shena, from Refinery Concepts. Thank you again for the invite, and spending half your Saturday to host us. I definitely enjoyed myself, and I believe Eric, Dennis, and Thiang did too! 

If you've been holding off a visit to The Marmalade Pantry, hesitate no more. From the 6th September to 26th October, they're holding a Rise & Shine promotion and serving all-day weekend brunch at the ION Orchard outlet. If you need further motivation to wake up early (service starts at 9 am on weekends), grab some friends and order at least three items from the brunch menu to receive a fourth dish for free! My advice? Please go early because there was a snaking queue waiting to be seated when we left slightly past noon. 

The Marmalade Pantry is located at:

2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard, #03-22
Singapore 238801
Tel: (65) 6734 2700

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Charm Covets: Bowled over by RabLabs

I can be a pretty messy person. I like to call my dresser top an organized mess. So long as I'm able to find whatever I need, whenever I need it, that's all that matters. I believe there's always sense in chaos. However, after I shifted to a significantly smaller apartment (398 square feet, if you must know), I recognized the need for my orphaned things to also have a place to call home. Clutter tends to make a small space look even smaller. That's when I received a very special surprise from the best bubs ever! This beautiful Clarus Brass Display Box from Crate&Barrel that I've been lusting for ever since I laid eyes on it. I love the idea of storage doubling up as display, and this clear glass framed in brass with a mirrored bottom is no exception. My pretty little trinkets are no longer hidden from view, and I now have no excuse not to accessorize since I can see everything I have at a quick glance. I'm also more motivated to keep everything organized and spick and span. 

I've since been on the hunt for unusual display pieces to inject as much of my personality as possible into my home. Even though it's rented, it doesn't have to remain boring and beige. I was also really inspired by a Charles M. Schulz quote I read recently at Habitat Cafe:

"Decorate your home. It gives the illusion that your life is more interesting than it really is." 

Perhaps you think that comes off as slightly pretentious. However, I feel coming back to a beautiful home I can be proud of definitely brightens up my mood after a long day. Which is why I'm really glad I came across RabLabs! Created by Anna Rabinowicz in 2002--the entire collection is handcrafted and are inspired by nature--fusing ancient, precious materials with cutting-edge designs. I really love the luxurious touch her designs add to a home, they're practically a work of art on their own. I want everything on the site! I'm currently obsessed with the Kiva Platters (great for serving fruit/dessert), the beautiful Tigela Bowls, and the Cielo Amethyst Lamp. If you're heading for a housewarming party, I'm pretty sure any of the above would make wonderful gifts.

Which one's your pick?