Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Kirin J Callinan & DJ Twinhed

Got dragged out to Kirin J Callinan's gig at Blu Jaz Cafe. The friends were really enthusiastic. "Let's go dancing!" Errrm, okay. . I was clearly skeptical. Have you heard his latest 'Embracism'? Sounds more like DJ remixes than the usual melodious singer-songwriter stuff. Good on the artist, but I don't get those doof-doof beats. Sorry.

You know what, I got 'em doof-doof poof-poof beats alright. Triple dosage. Kirin J Callinan used those pedals for a bit, noise and loop, then abandoned them for stint at the Macbook. He clearly loved dancing. There was even a GoT theme song remix. Win lor. Very bizzare, but rather entertaining. Everyone busted out disco moves. I was rather amused. I wasn't sure if I paid to hear him sing or watch him dance. I think I'm too old for this sort of gig-not-gig type of shows that turn into a dance party. My fellow audience kinda whooshed out of the room when it went into a Macbook-show and disco, leaving like five people behind to entertain the artist who was still on the dance floor. LOL.

Bumped into a whole bunch of other friends who went for DJ Twinhed downstairs. So we zipped in to catch the last few tunes of hip hop and drum&bass. A different kind of dancing went on. Haven't heard these rhythms for a while. I don't fancy listening to hip hop or drum&bass. But dancing to it is a different matter. You can't not dance to it. The whole meaning of the genre is in the movements.

Drank water! Loved it that Blu Jaz Cafe put out jugs of iced water with a slice of orange at the bar counter for all patrons. If you tell me 'dancing', then I can't do alcohol well. It's gotta be ice-cold water. Lots. The non-dancers could drink our share of alcohol or we could drink after. You need to be kind of sober so as not to stomp on other people's feet, or slap people when you flail around. We gave this dude a wide berth because he seemed more like drunkenly bashing around than showing off strange moves.

We hadn't gone clubbing for ages. Is 'clubbing' even the right term?!? Sounds more dated than hip. What do they call it now? What a hilarious night out. Hahaha. Full from dinner, there was no customary supper when we split at 1.30am. Cannot lah, we can't do wrap up nights at 4am anymore. My eyes literally burn. Of late, I wilt by midnight. Pun fully intended.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Eats at Ki-sho

It was very sweet of the man to insist on a date to take me out to dinner. He noticed that I haven't been really thinking about sitting down to meals, preferring to work through meal-times, or simply grabbing a sandwich at some point. Well. The pace of work is fast, and when I work, I don't think about food. I usually take two meals a day anyway, even with the quick laps in the pool or sessions of pilates. Caffeine, on the other hand, is a necessity. The man works equally hard, if not more. This quarter runs at full speed. Luckily for us, we enjoy our work and the various projects we've committed to.

We went out to Ki-sho. The man has taken a shine to this restaurant. The man and I have different preferences when it comes to Japanese restaurants. We would go to all, but it's like, I'm more fond of Tatsuya and Sushi Hashida, whereas he's more keen on Shinji (Raffles Hotel), Aoki and Ki-sho. Whatever. We could hop in whenever, and also separately with our respective friends, depending on the offerings on the menu or the produce in season. It was nice to have a lovely meal with the man before he flew out on yet another work trip. Too bad I couldn't tag along. It would be nice to catch up with those friends in another city again. But I have work to do. Plenty of work. Kinda fun projects too. So that's priority. There would be time to play later.

Chef Kazuhiro Hamamoto took care of us. He considered our requests and proceeded to slice our preferred fish for the night. Didn't bother with cooked food. Decided to go with raw stuff. What a lovely meal, as usual. I don't deviate very much from my usual preferences of sashimi or nigiri sushi. Could almost feel my neighbors raise eyebrows when I requested for no chutoro, otoro or wagyu, or foie gras. Hehehehe. We were also not in the mood for sake. Opted for beer. There would be more whisky later with the friends. Saved our livers for that.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Garden of Evening Mists

Years ago, I read Tan Twan Eng's first book 'The Gift of Rain', which was excellent. I procrastinated and last year, finally read his well written and evenly paced 'The Garden of Evening Mists', but somehow forgot to blog about it. It's a beautiful story, heartrending and painful. Unfortunately, it isn't my kind of book. It's a good story, leaving loads to reflect upon if you choose to think about it. (Reviews here, here, here and here.)

The timeline moved between the present-1980s and the past of the Japanese Occupation in the 1940s and post-war 1950s. Survivor's guilt and trauma. Yun Ling had lost two fingers and survived one of the most obscure POW camps in the Malayan jungles during the Japanese Occupation 1942-1945. Her beloved older-by-three-years sister Yun Hong perished. Post-war during the Emergency and Communist insurgency, she fled to Cameron Highlands for a time-out and wanted to commission Japanese gardener Nakamura Aritomo to build a memorial garden for her sister, but he turned her down. Aritomo was reticent, unapologetic and taciturn, quietly going about creating Yugiri, a Japanese garden in post-war Malaysia and making his art of wood-block prints.

Yugiri, we are told, "lay seven miles west of Tanah Rata, the second of the three main villages on the road going up to Cameron Highlands." In the end, Yun Ling became Aritomo's apprentice in order to build it herself. She had to deal with her love for Aritomo and the atrocities of the Japanese versus the calm zen of the gardens. That specific garden for Yun Hong was never built, or perhaps it was Yugiri all along...  One day, Aritomo was lost in the jungle and was never found. Yun Ling left Yugiri, never returning till she was an old woman, a good thirty-six years later.

Cultural complexities abound in the storyline. Of relatives, family, political and social circumstances of those turbulent times. War stories, lost kin and friends, and places where painful memories resides. The accents that came through in the words and phrases of different languages, the thinking of the people, et cetera. So familiar, and in some scenes, I might well be reading about my own extended family, and hearing words tumble out of my grandaunts as they recalled their flight (via ship actually) from war-time Malaya to India then England.

I'm curious about the horimono on Yun Ling's back. Trying very hard to envision it. And failing. The tattoo was etched on her whole back, a design inspired by wood-block prints, something for the commoners in the Edo period, but very popular nowadays as an intricate piece of ukiyo-e body art. But it certainly wouldn't have been welcomed in the early post-war years on a Chinese woman in Southeast Asia had more people known about it. Yun Ling kept her horimono hidden. Hers wasn't framed. It was a fade-away, a 'daybreak'. She would later discover that her horimono corresponded to the layout of Yugiri. With the exception of the intentional missing rectangle on the body canvas that was filled in the actual Garden.

'The sketch of the kore-sansui garden you saw in Tominaga Noburu's hut,' said Aritomo. 'What did it look like?'
I thought for a moment. 'Three stones in one corner, and two low, flat grey rocks diagonally opposite them, and behind them a miniature pine tree shaped like a dented temple bell.'
'The dry mountain-water garden at his grandfather's summer home at Lake Biwa,' said Aritomo. 'Three centuries old and famous all over Japan.' He paused. 'Tominaga-San was a knowledgable man where the Art of Setting Stones is concerned.'
'But he is not as skilled as you.'
'He considered himself to be. Tominaga-san was a cousin of the Empress,' he continued, so softly that I thought he was talking to himself. 'We have known each other since we were boys of five or six.'
'It was him you quarreled with over the garden designs.' I should have realised it sooner. 'Tominaga was the reason the Emperor had to sack you.' When Aritomo did not reply, I said, 'It was absurd to fight over a garden.'
'It was not merely about a garden. It was about what each one of us believed. He was always unyielding in his views, his principles. I once told him he would make a good soldier.'
'He couldn't have been that rigid,' I said. 'He disobeyed his orders. He helped me escape.'
'Now that was uncharacteristic of him. He was always our government's strongest supporter, always loyal to the Emperor, to our leaders.'
'He never said anything bad about you. In fact he often praised the gardens you had designed.'
Aritomo's face seemed to age. 'But what he did to the prisoners...what we did to all of you...' He became quiet, then said, 'You have never told this to anyone?'

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Steven Isserlis with Lan Shui and the SSO

While I am familiar with the compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich, I know nothing much about cellist Steven Isserlis. I saw him years ago in Singapore when John Nelson conducted the SSO. But E was the bigger fan and wanted to watch Steven Isserlis play Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto.

We were up to our neck in work that day, but emails could wait for 2.5 hours before we return to the business of annoying the associates. Even though tickets were bought, given my crazy schedule which involves loads of last-minute work stuff, I wasn't sure if I could make the date, but E was kind enough not to mind. She knows I never pass up the chance to spend an evening at the concert.

Lan Shui conducted the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) for Steven Isserlis through Shostakovich's 1959 Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107, then Tchaikovsky's sixth and final completed Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’.

Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107 began on a familiar upbeat four note-cello theme. The second movement was sparse in orchestration. Percussion, yes, but mostly cello. We were taught that the third and fourth movements were greatly satirical. I strained to hear that when I studied it, and I still strained to hear it that night. Steven Isserlis brought the concerto to a life of its own and lent it his strong command of phrasing and stops, exhibiting his much declared love of gut strings. With that artistic mop of hair, he still looked every inch the rock star and exuded all the charm to own the stage. I could easily imagine him blitzing a riff on a Strat. :P For the encore, he did a fun little 'March' from Prokofiev's 'Music for Children, Op.65'.

First performed nine days before Tchaikovsky's much debated mysterious death in November 1893, Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’ is the only symphony to begin and end in a minor key and one of the defining sounds of Romanticism. It's kinda bleak and doesn't provide an optimistic conclusion. Many critics read it as tragic pathos, although not as a tragedy. The adagio lamentoso is almost funereal. SSO played it well. I hadn't heard them for a while. The orchestra sounded even more cohesive.

Friday, May 01, 2015


Although Chef Johnston Teo's resume (Jaan and Tippling Club) isn't attractive to our tastebuds, the friends and I were curious to see what he would do when helming the kitchen at Sorrel, along with Chef Alex Phan. Sorrel doesn't offer an a la carte menu. That's ridiculously brave. With a set tasting menu of five courses at S$88++ and seven courses at S$118++ largely dependent on individual preferences, diners are definitely going to get hits and misses.

After three visits, it's safe to say that we like its approach towards sourcing its produce, appreciate its cooking methods and culinary directions. The food is all right. The young kitchen tried hard to modify and refine from feedback garnered during the early months of operation. It's decent but it's definitely got huge room for improvement. Dunno about its wine menu. I didn't ask the friends about it. There were only three beers- a Swan Lake lager and two others from Baird Suruga Bay. Get this- each 330ml bottle is S$25++ and S$28++. Like Bincho at Hua Bee. Typical of the Unlisted Collection. I wanted to keel over. NO. I refuse to pay those prices anywhere for beer. Alcohol from Unlisted Collection should only be had at its LongPlay.

I've been ignoring its S$118 menu and sticking to the S$88 because the former's choices of ikura, foie gras and chicken are just not tempting. Plus I don't care about desserts, not even savory madeleines. Vegetarian menus should ordered in advance instead of requesting items to be swopped out on the spot. The bread and butter had been very welcomed with our table. Instead of dense bread, Sorrel presented two soft fluffy white pillows with yummy salted butter. Courses were peppered with amuse-bouche and little palate cleansers, which I enjoyed- lotus root chip with a drop of curry emulsionbeetroot sorbet and vanilla jelly with hibiscus tea, and cucumber jelly with buttermilk snow.

A recent five-course dinner- monkfish liver, kohlrabi,
algae capellini, roasted pork, wild strawberries

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chirashizushi for All Seasons

As a child, the kaisen-don (海鮮丼) was a familiar sight. My grandmother used to make chirashizushi-don in different forms. Tasty. I wasn't fully allowed raw or marinated fish then, so there would be just one raw slice, and the rest would either be seared or thoroughly blanched. I loved sprinkling furikake over it. As I grew older, the restaurants began offering even more versions of this scattered sushi in a bowl. Like fried rice- a zillion versions out there. There's the Kanto-style where slices of not-so-great quality sashimi are laid atop the rice. There's a winter version known as mushi-zushi with loads of dashi and steamed fish, etc.

The wildly-popular Kansai bara-chirashi (ばらちらし) is different from most chirashi because its ingredients are mixed into the rice rather than placed atop. It's sometimes called gomuku (ばら寿司), indicating five ingredients within. But with modern presentation, chirashi has been conveniently lumped and presented as one category, especially in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

I'm quite a creature of habit. For a long time now, at Tatsuya, I'm inclined to order its tasty chirashizushi bowls. Tatsuya's versions aren't slathered with sauces. For some reason, I really dislike seeing strips of omelette or even a tamago in the bowl. As much as I love eggs, I don't want them in the chirashi. Tatsuya takes some effort with the rice, making it an appetizing bowl in the mixed style of Edomae. They still focus on the fish and don't compromise on that quality. If I'm hungry, additional plates of whatever else could be ordered. It's still a very convenient and comfortable meal venue between work meetings and appointments.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


There can never be gig-fatigue in Singapore. I'm not attending two-day outdoor festivals back-to-back. It's fantastic to catch sleepmakeswaves in Singapore. Before heading back to Sydney, this was the last stop of their 10-week tour. They hit UK and Europe, then stopped by every notable Chinese city for music, and Hong Kong, then flew into Singapore on a rainy afternoon.

If the band wasn't compelling, I wouldn't have bothered attending this gig because it was held at a really annoying venue. TAB. Their crew was helpful, but the acoustics and general decrepit look and sleaze were just strange. You would need your own sound team. Never mind the horrid stale beer and puke stench which greeted us upon entry and didn't go away. I have this huge issue with its S$13 Tiger beer in a tiny plastic cup. You could pay S$48 for a jug, at happy hour. It reminds you that it doesn't care and its main clients are cognac-chugging humans who would pay for those prices for beer because they were there for the strippers upstairs and weird dancing.

Luckily, sleepmakeswaves put on a great show. Every instrumental rock band is different. The only thing in common they share- no vocals. They don't even sound similar. sleepmakeswaves is so grunge, so fierce. Like what many said, the band hit us with a wall of sound and melted our faces. They must be utterly exhausted. Yet it didn't seem so that night. The boys gave it their all and burnt up the stage. The light show was awesome too. Took us right out of this world and into the next. Forgot to ask if those lights belonged to the venue or they rigged up additional lighting. Thanks for bringing them in Gsonique! I wanted to buy a tee. They sold out. Aiyah. Gotta get it online.

From left: After-the-show grins on smv drummer Tim, guitarist Otto,
making-a-funny-face Brett (sound and tour manager),
bassist Alex, Gsonique's Goose, and guitarist Kid.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Oven-Baked Salmon

I do like cooked salmon. But I often take it as sashimi since few restaurants in this part of the world seem to be able to grill it as nice as those in Washington state and Scandinavia, or offer different species of salmon for diners. Once in a while, I buy slabs of salmon from the supermarket and shove them into the oven or put it on the grill at home. That day at the supermarket, I was rather tempted by the whole salmon sitting on ice. There were five and they looked good. But I don't have a big enough grill. That can't fit into the oven either. Pffft. The smaller trays of Norwegian salmon called out. They looked all right. Three of those would do for dinner for three.

Okay, pasta and baked salmon with a side of blanched red spinach. Easiest combination ever. The salmon was almost too easy to prep. The juicy slabs went into a baking tray and marinated with pumpkin seed oil, onions, oregano, dill and all that. Twenty minutes in the oven was enough to nicely cook it. Blanched the spinach with garlic bits because I wanted greens with the meal.

I was too lazy to fry up the aglio olio. Prepped the ingredients and waited for the man to come home to do it; he could do the pasta way better than I could. With anchovies and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Carbs! Yummy. It was a crazy day at the office for him but he didn't mind tossing pasta in the pan to de-stress a little. Then we continued with work, clearing emails and taking calls late into the night.