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vtv singapore 70

Day 1

Up early, slept really well, the bed was very comfortable felt really rested? It was probably the best night sleep of the trip so far. Mind you. It did thunder a few times in the night.

I wander downstairs and into the breakfast room. I’m greeted warmly by all the staff, and they show me to my table. I order off the local dish menu and have Nasi Lemak. It’s a dish of rice, a small wing of fried chicken and cucumber. Alongside is a dish of dried fried anchovies, peanuts and sambal, fiery hot and sweet. On top of the rice is a fried egg. I add a little too much sambal in my haste, wow…but once mixed in with the rice, and it’s all very nice. After a couple of cappuccinos, I sit back and start to think about the day.

The crew arrive and have breakfast, and we get all the plans in place. But, first, we are to reshoot the arriving shot in the Daimler. It takes a few goes as it’s raining still, but all in all, it’s fine. The head porter looks splendid in his Gieves & Hawkes uniform.

Next, we film taking tea in the main foyer of the hotel, it looks great, and I’m then introduced to the Executive head chef by Andrea. She apologies that he’s French, and we laugh. We meet our Singapore fixer and head straight off in the minibus to our first filming location. It’s the Paradise Seafood Bar right on the harbourside with a magnificent view of the harbour. Here we were going to film the classic local dish Singapore Crab. As we wait for the owner, we wonder about this cavernous restaurant, and I get few shots of the wall of fish tanks that hold huge crabs, oysters and a plethora of fish I have never seen before. Eldwin, the owner, arrives and seems like he really can’t be bothered. It could be the fact that I thought he was the chef; he quickly corrects me. I go into the large kitchen with Will to see the layout. It’s a hive of activity, lots of chefs of preparing, chopping, cooking and organizing. I get a few nice pics of ingredients. Eldwin reappears and is much more friendly (Nigel had told him I was a chef), and we run through the ingredients and the cooking sequence.

The chef gets to work by searing oil and a little onion in a huge wok. Quickly he adds the tomato sauce and sambal; it boils within seconds. Next, he adds the prepared crab that moments earlier I had photographed in the restaurant tanks. He swirls the crab chunks around in the deep red sauce, then adds crab stock, places a lid on top, and leaves to cook for 2-3 minutes. Off comes the lid, and he stirs again, next adding a little starch to thicken plus some chopped parsley. He adjusts the flavour of the sauce using ingredients from a large tray and stirs again, and the sauce is now nicely thickened. Finally, he throws in a large ladle of beaten egg, stirs twice, turns the heat off, and brings the wok to the table. The semi-cooked egg finishes thickening the sauce perfectly. Deftly his assistant places the crab in place on a large plate, using big tweezers and finished by spooning over the hot sauce. It’s served with fried rice flour buns to mop up the sauce. It smells and looks fabulous. I hold up to the camera. The chef then demonstrates a second dish, black pepper crab. This was even simpler, black pepper is seared in hot oil, and then the portioned cleaned crab is added along with a little water and cooked for 2-3 minutes. Onion, green pepper, fried garlic are added, along with dark soy sauce and a little starch. Again within minutes, the crab is cooked and presented beautifully.

Chef produces a beef dish finished with a tiny amount of foie gras butter, spring onion and garlic. It’s so simple but is delicious.

Eldwin asks us to go into the restaurant where we taste the three dishes we have seen cooked. He’s a charming man and explains how he started out in the restaurant business. He started out in an industrial part of town cooking hawker food, basically street food for a small unit. Then he progressed onto a small café and expanded. Now he has 50 restaurants, 30 in Singapore and 20 around the world. All this at the tender age of 36!

The kitchen produces more food. We feast on coffee, pork ribs, a sort of sweet and sour version in a glazed sauce. The coffee adding a nice and distinct twist along with the fresh oyster sauce. Bacon and cheese rolls are coated in black sesame seeds and are delicious. Deep-fried prawns with wasabi/mayo glaze are stunning, as is the dough fritters with peanuts and dipping sauce. Finally and thankfully (I was stuffed by now) a Chinese curry, light and fragrant with okra, aniseed, tofu and curry leaf served with rice. I have never tasted curry like it, very interesting indeed.

We finish finally at 12:45, but full of lunch already, we waddle off to film some street food and market locations. It’s getting sweltering and humid now. I’m really sweating. After an hour, we are back at Raffles to filmmaking the famous Singapore Sling in the Long Bar. It’s such a relief to be in air conditioning, and my clothes dry quickly.

The room is very dark, and it’s huge, with rows of odd moving fake fans in the ceiling, keeping the chilled air circulating. Vicky arrives, and we run through making the cocktail. He’s swift and makes it look easy; we film it a couple of times. The tradition here is to eat monkey nuts (nuts in the long shells we had as kids) then throw the shells on the floor. I feel a little awkward as the place is spotless, but Annie assures me it’s okay. Next, we film me making a cocktail. It’s quite good fun; here’s the recipe:-

vtv singapore 70To make a Singapore Sling, you will need:-

30ml Gin
15ml Cherry liqueur
120ml Pineapple juice
15ml Cointreau
15ml Lime juice
7.5ml Benedictine
10ml Grenadine syrup
dash of Bitters
Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry plenty of ice

We film a couple of times, and even the spent peanut shells landing on the camera lens. After tea, we have a quick cup of tea, and Annie gives us some pineapple cake from one of the Raffles shops in the arcade. It’s dense, moist and really very nice.

We film a piece to camera outside the Long Bar, and a couple of Australian’s recognize me. I didn’t realise they had This Morning in Australia!!

From Raffles, we set off again to meet and film with KF Seeto, the main man when it comes to street food or Hawker food as it’s known here in Singapore. He has set up an organized area where excellent Hawker food can be purchased and eaten right by the harbourside. It’s a very distinct type of cooking and food. The population heavily influences the flavours that Singapore has attracted over the centuries. It’s quite difficult to describe as I have not really seen anything like it before. I suppose it’s a heavy mix of Malay and Chinese with a dash of India and even Japan. Yes, it sounds very complex, and I suppose it is, but on the other hand, it’s very simple and straightforward. Seeto tells me that Singapore’s national hawker dish is a simple partnership of poached chicken, Jasmine rice cooked in the poaching liquor and sliced served with cucumber, a little fresh coriander and a spicy dipping/sambal sauce. We try, and he’s correct; it’s so simple it’s delicious. We even have to salute it, haha. We also try a fermented pork and soya fritter that tastes like blue cheese but is delicious. Quickly followed by stuffed spring rolls and fried baby squid in a sweet and sour sauce. Fish and shellfish are big also on the menu; live bluey-green crabs are for Singapore crab. Finally, we sip fresh sugar cane juice and a sweet dish of thick sweetened coconut custard that resembles condensed milk.

He is clearly very passionate about the street food scene and has his own TV show here; he’s a big star. So many people stop and want photos of him; I even become the cameraman, haha.

He’s also irritated about the rise of celebrity chefs and pulls no punches in ripping them apart. He explains that Singapore is a very different place to try and set up a food business and reels off a few who have failed and predicts a few more who will go under soon. However, there are a couple of chefs he admires. Eldwin, who we cooked with earlier, is very respectful of, plus Anthony Bourdain of USA Kitchen Confidential fame, a guest speaker at his street food conference later in the year.

We end up at the end stall, where the owner will let us film his version of Singapore crab. He starts by killing and cleaning the fresh crab. Next, he places a large wok on the stove and its thunders into life. The power and heat it produces makes you stand back.

He cleans really well with a bamboo brush and adds clean water. Within seconds it’s at a raging boil. The crab is dumped straight in. He then cooks it to the halfway point then lifts it out, and discards the water. Back on the heat in seconds, he’s adding a rich masala tomato sauce that has a little starch added. Next, a little extra sambal, then some other bits and pieces; I miss them as he’s so quick. The crab is back in, and he’s swirling and coating the crab all the time. Finally, the egg, for 1-2 seconds and is out on the plate. The egg was still slightly undercooked but thickened the sauce nicely with the starch.

We taste again it’s delicious, slightly sweeter than Eldwin’s version but still with fabulous colour and richness. I love it, and I also make lots of notes as I’m going to cook my own version tomorrow, right on the quay. So we all taste a few more dishes and wash them down with Chinese tea. Seeto and I chat for another 20 minutes then he is off. I really warmed to him, he was funny, engaging and really knew his stuff, and I can completely see why the telly people love him. But underneath his jokey local cult status, he really believes passionately in keeping Singapore food true to itself. Woe betides any chefs who think that Singapore is an easy touch. This man knows exactly what he’s talking about.

The sun is beating down, and the place is starting to fill up. By 7 it will be standing room only. We climb back into the bus, now completely stuffed.

Once back at Raffles, Nigel and I take a leisurely swim, a couple of drinks and bed. Will is propositioned outside the hotel by a prostitute and politely declines. She then swears at him, charming.

Day 2

I get up early and meet Sam for breakfast. Next, the crew arrive, and we discuss the days’ plans. First of all, we need to film more Hawker markets to get a real feel of how it all works. Then, Lynsey needs some more packing shots of food and the hustle and bustle.

So with no further delays, we head off with Ronnie out new guide to a larger Hawker market. And as I study my notes, again and again, I cannot see the name of it anywhere. Suffice to say, it was very similar to the one I had met Seeto in, but this was a covered indoor market. Again, the range of food was excellent, with fresh sugar cane juice to Malay curry and a packed stall the poached chicken and Jasmine rice stall. I try Seeto’s national dish again, and it’s terrific. I like its simplicity.

Back in the van, we set off to film my cookery slot. It was to be Singapore Crab, but I had made watching Seeto’s man and Eldwin’s chefs using all the notes. Plus a little bit of research I had gleaned from a book I had bought in 1983 (I knew it would come in handy at some point), we managed to get permission to film right on then harbourfront just where we had met Seeto the previous day. The plan was to get the stunning Singapore harbour backdrop.

I set up the cookery station and duly cooked the crab dish; it was so hot I was sweating before I had even started. We only did it once, thank god, and in the end, it didn’t even make the final cut of the film; the boss says we had already seen two versions. Nevertheless, the recipe is attached so you can see what I did.

I take a few photos of the finished dish with the famous Sands Sky Park in the background, and we quickly pack up and get back into the air-conditioned bus; what a relief…

Downtown we head off for a spot of lunch and have a Wagyu beef burger, thankfully not the price of the steak at Raffles, but very nice indeed. The next stop to film the last piece to the Singapore film at Altitude Bar, the highest bar in the world. After showing the tourist board’s letter, we are finally let in, only to be told that due to thunder and lightning we are not allowed outside at the top, we have to wait in the bar.

We wait for 20 odd minutes and then are allowed onto the top deck. It’s high, very high and makes me feel uneasy, especially with the glass walls. The sunsets to the far side of Singapore, and we get the last piece to camera in the bag, and those happy but also sad words ‘it’s a wrap’ meaning it is all done and dusted.

We pile back to the hotel, all knackered but happy as it all seems to have gone to plan.

I go to the pool, and the crew join, and we have a quick beer and calm down. That night we went to the Sands Sky Park for a fabulous dinner overlooking Singapore. The food was truly delicious, and here the Wagyu steak was 200 quid. I ask the waitress, do you really sell that many. She assured me that they do and had sold out tonight. Oh well, it’s the old saying ‘what recession???’ I suppose.

It’s been a long trip, and I had seen and eaten many things. Tomorrow I was off to spend my birthday with my brother in Phnom Penh, another fantastic trip. Yes, I did take a few notes and pictures more soon.
Lynsey was off on holiday with her sister in Thailand, and the boys were taking the kit back to London; what a job I have!!!

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