City Guides: Japan and Italy
Bryan and Petrina the chefs and co-owners of Morsels, a restaurant in Singapore's Little India that serves a refreshing and innovative Western menu with an Asian twist. They grow many of their own ingredients and make almost everything from scratch. Bryan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and Petrina, of Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. Follow this pedigreed culinary couple, as they take us on a journey of their personal gastronomic delights.
Describe the kind of traveler you are
B: Laidback - I like to go to places where I know people, it gives me the chance hang out with a buddy whom I haven’t seen in years. But more importantly, learn about a new place through the eyes of a local and gather an understanding of their culture, language, and most importantly their food!!
P: Curious, detailed, schedule-packed, mostly, unless its a beach vacation. In recent years, my trips have been very food-centric. Otherwise, landscape driven. I’m pretty adventurous and love to travel alone. I love vacations with a purpose - 4 years ago I went to Mongolia to visit my sponsored child and it was an amazing experience with beautiful people. The food, I must say, was ahem quite different!
What is your favourite type of holiday?
B: Road tripping, mainly hugging coastlines for surf spots, and generally being around nature and its glory!
P: Nature exploration, road trips and self-planned holidays. I like to pick and choose a vacation apartment or home and read up about the owner. I love places with character and interesting people, Places with vast open spaces, the ocean, lighthouses, forests and rolling hills.
What’s the next place you want to visit? And where would you go and eat there?
B: Japan’s countryside – I'll devour everything related to food in my path.
Mexico – endless surf days with my buddies, eating everything with my hands and of course mucho mucho tequila!
Bangladesh - because our restaurant is in Little India, we get to try some Bangladeshi cuisine and the curry is quite similar to my grandmother’s curry.
P: I have a super long list but since Morsels opened, it has been quite hard to travel as much as I would like to.
I still want to go to The Maldives, as I always love a beach vacation.
Japan - I only started to go to Japan 2 years ago, although I'm a huge fan of Japanese food. I’ve only ever been to Tokyo and Niseko.
In Tokyo, I want to go back to Mikawa Zezankyo. This tempura restaurant is amazing. It was my first tempura degustation but I didn't even feel that the meal was greasy at all. The chef is a real master of his craft and he's the only one that does the frying. He is a reticent man, but thankfully, his Chinese sous chef spoke to us in Mandarin. This really enhanced the whole experience because he would tell us where the fish came from, or about oil mixture that was being used. The menu is always hand-drawn by the chef, and depicts each fish or vegetable dish that is served.
Recently, we went to Niseko and ate up a storm there too. Rakuichi was amazing, another master of his craft of soba. The cold, handmade duck soba, with a delicious duck broth, was the best I had ever had. Portions are small and everything is made to order. One tip - order more at the beginning, if you don't want to wait, as he only kneads the dough and cuts the soba when you arrive. It was amazing, and I will be back for more.
On my bucket list is definitely Kenya and Tanzania. I would love to go shoot some amazing photos and sunsets. I’m not too sure about the food, but would definitely love to try. I haven't had the chance to work on photography as much since I started cooking professionally, but at some point, I would like to take some time off to do that. I used to sell my prints at my website - Petrina Loh.
Do you plan trips around food?
B: We've driven through Tuscany and Piedmont with the purpose of eating and drinking the entire way. We road-tripped from vineyard to vineyard, boozing and eating at small artisan restaurants that make everything by hand. There is a great understanding of the terroir of the wine country and the viticulture, and we were lucky to have locals tell us where to eat.
We also chanced upon, what I felt was the best restaurant in the world - Peruca in San Gimignano. We still keep in contact with the family-run restaurant.
P: I did a solo road trip 4 years back. I was away for a month, traveling from Zurich to Paris, and I planned my trip such that it revolved around museums, food, wine and nature.
My recommendations at each stop:
Cafe le paul bert, where you get to choose any four courses (three savoury and one dessert) for €38.
L’atelier joel robuchon offers a unique experience for customers where they can observe the preparation of the dishes they've ordered.
Helene Darroze, a Michelin star restaurant in Paris.
Chez Guy, a local restaurant which sells braised ox cheeks simmered in wine.
Le p’tite paradis is a small and cozy restaurant that serves french cuisine.
La Station Des Sens, which is now known as Ze Fork, offers an amazing view of the lake while you dine in at their restaurant.
Restaurant zum see - its ski in, ski out. It is highly acclaimed as the best mountain restaurant by many of its patrons.
Do you guys take inspiration for your cooking and menu-planning from your travels?
B&P: Most definitely! All our travels these days revolve around food and wine.
B: We were in Bangkok prior to setting up our restaurant, purveying items. We ate battered flowers. We don't do it in the restaurant yet, but they actually battered bougainvillaea flowers and ixora! Amazing!
P: I eat out a lot, and through that, I have been exposed to a lot of different foods. We have this gorgonzola panna cotta with zucchini pancakes on our menu at Morsels - this was inspired by Peruca in San Gimignano. We emailed the chef to ask him about the panna cotta. We don't do it in exactly the same way, but we loved the idea of the gorgonzola panna cotta, and thought it would be very wine-friendly.
As a restaurant owner, what do you look for when you visit other restaurants?
B: Primarily, the food! Secondarily, the integrity of the staff both back of house and front of house. How much love is put in by both the one who cooks the food and the one who serves it. Basically, seeing if they love their job and love being where they are at. The culture of the staff makes a big difference for me.
P: Food. Service is very key as well. Although, I think it has become an occupational hazard. It is hard to enjoy a date with Bryan when we end up eating at a restaurant because we observe too much!
For me, it boils down to how the food is cooked, where the produce is from, how tasty or tasteless it is, how the oil hasn't been changed, how good the wine is and that we have to find the supplier, and list goes on. Oh, and most common of all, MSG! Bryan totally abhors MSG...
Pretend that you've rented an amazing vacation home - where would it be, what would it be like?
B: It would be a beach front private surf spot which I have to myself! I would have a vegetable patch, which I could harvest and cook from, a chicken coup which I could have fresh eggs all day, an awesome farmer’s market nearby. At the back country would be a vineyard region, blue skies, golden sun, and breeze for days. Boy, I’m asking for a lot here hahaha. But as soon as I find this, I WILL make that a home after I find this haven of a vacation spot.
P: This sounds like my vacation home too, minus the personal surf spot. A barn would be so ideal! Beach front, mountain back, valley with farming space. How ideal! Rear some pigs that I will not eat and I have to constantly protect them from Bryan who will be trying to slaughter them to make some salami!
Now, if you had to cook a private meal in this vacation home for a small group of guests, what would you cook?
B: I’d make a lovely garden salad from the vegetable patch in my vacation home, olive oil and vinegar from the neighbouring vineyard. Fish that was just caught this morning, prepared three ways – sashimi, cured and grilled.
The meat would come from the heritage-bred pig, ideally the Mangalica, or perhaps, venison from a deer that I shot, butchered, and hung, along with mushrooms which I just foraged for, and root vegetables from the garden.
Dessert would be made from the creamery a mile down the road and eggs from the coup. I would also get cheese from that same creamery. And copious amounts of wine and brandy as a night cap.
Amen! I’m in heaven.
P: I will assist Bryan in that menu! I’ll look for some seaweed to pickle! gather some vegetables to ferment! Infuse some liquor!
What are 3 restaurants that are on your bucket list?
B: I don’t have any in particular, the best restaurants are the ones you just chanced upon, especially found with my nose.
P: Jiro in Tokyo, of Jiro dreams of Sushi fame. We've been to went to Mizutani (who worked with Jiro for more than 20 years), Le Bernardin in New York - intrigued by Eric Ripert (I have all his cookbooks!) and Alinea in Chicago.
Still hungry? Check out Petrina and Bryan's recommendations for restaurants in San Francisco.
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