Mexican Cottage Pie: A British Standard, Spiced Up

I have been in love with pie for as long as I can remember — crisp crust, hot filling … what’s not to adore?

My love extends far beyond traditional American apple and pumpkin pies, however — spicy (or sweet) empanadas, pot pies, shepherd’s pies, British pork pies, Singaporean fried curry puffs (which are, essentially, hand-pies) … you name it, I’ll worship it.

So I was thrilled when Lucy over at A Cook and Her Books suggested pie for this month’s theme for our Let’s Lunch virtual lunch date, which is a special one as we have a bunch of fabulous new bloggers joining our little group this month: Betty Ann at Asian in America, Margaret at Tea and Scones, Too, Naomi at The Gastro Gnome, Sara at Three Clever Sisters and Tammi at Insatiable Munchies.

What to make for this month’s lunch? I decided it had to be something pretty special to toast our new Lunchers …

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Auntie Jane’s Potato Gratin: A Singaporean Christmas Casserole

Chinese new year may belong to my grandmother, she of the legendary pineapple tarts. And my Koh family aunties, a stalwart group of women who make mooncakes rather than buy them each year, may own the Mooncake Festival. But Christmas — that will always, always be my Auntie Jane’s holiday.

In Singapore, where Christmas is typically celebrated by people of all races and religions — largely as a secular festival, one squarely centered on getting together to eat and exchange gifts — my family, representing a jumble of religions in itself, would do the same. It didn’t matter whether you were Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic or Jewish — we were united on Christmas Day in our quest to eat well, share gifts and sing along to cheeseball Christmas carols.

The venue for these celebrations was usually my Auntie Jane’s — she always had a beautiful tree, a wonderfully decorated home complete with holiday cards she had received fashioned into a 2-D Christmas tree plastered onto a wall and a large buffet table topped with turkey and ham, fried rice and noodles.

The one dish we truly looked forward to, however, was a potato gratin she whipped together just once a year — filled with sliced chipolata, a skinny British sausage that’s packed with seasonings, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, this gratin was a meal in itself. (And it’s usually a hit with even the pickiest of child eaters.)

Despite my fondness for it, this gratin was yet another family dish that I’d taken for granted and never attempted to make. But when my Let’s Lunch group, a monthly Twitter-fueled virtual lunch-date, decided on sharing a holiday dish from your family or culture this month, I decided it was high time I gave my Auntie Jane’s recipe a shot…

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Cheese & Onion Sarnie: A Working Man’s High Tea

If you’ve never had high tea in Singapore, add it to your bucket list.

These feasts, often buffets,  typically unfold over a few hours in posh hotels — all the better if they’re of the colonial variety such as the country’s fabled Raffles — and feature heaping tables of sweets (scones, clotted cream, jam, tiny tarts) as well as hearty servings of local savory dishes such as curry, noodles, steamed Chinese buns and more.

I always look forward to the scones, cakes and tarts — what proper post-Colonial Anglophile wouldn’t? But it’s often the dainty finger sandwiches that I covet first. Cucumber, sweet curried chicken — I can never get enough.

So when my monthly virtual lunch-group, the Let’s Lunch bunch, decided on doing high tea for October,  little sandwiches immediately went on my docket …

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Jones Wood Foundry: Easy Peasy Comfort Food

It has been said that I am something of an Anglophile.

Which is probably unsurprising given that I grew up in Singapore, a former British colony that still prizes its high teas and bangers and mash despite having developed its own formidable — and unique — cuisine in the centuries since the Brits first landed.

So when I was dragged to the new Jones Wood Foundry on the Upper East Side recently — a little reluctantly, I have to admit, given its distance from where I live — things started looked better the moment menus appeared. Haddock and chips, hearty pork pie, steak and kidney pie and, of course, bangers and mash — this gastropub had it all.

A round of drinks was immediately ordered. Dinner was suddenly in the cards …

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The Fat Radish: Modern British (Sans Modern)


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Step into The Fat Radish, a new restaurant in New York's Chinatown, and you may feel as if you've left Manhattan firmly outside the door.

British accents envelop you the moment you enter the sliver of a bar area; the menu is packed with a tantalizing looking blue cheese pork pie and the burger comes with "chips" not fries — thank you very much.

Chef Ben Towill (of the Australian Kingswood in the West Village) describes his new endeavor as "modern British" and its studied shabby chic decor certainly telegraphs as much. The walls are exposed brick, coated with a thin veneer of white, a motley collection of stiff backless stools or benches are your chairs of the evening, homey pots of rosemary and thyme line a divider in this former Chinese sausage factory — which bears the Chinese graffiti marking it as such. (Although, it's unclear as to why workers in a sausage factory would have needed the Chinese characters branded on a wall to remind them of where they were.)

Even the name conjures up thoughts of a certain U.K. restaurant that continues to captivate: Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck.

It's lovely to see so much thought and care go into weaving the story, the ambience of a new restaurant. Now, if only this much attention had been paid to the food…

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The Breslin: Gastropub, Grown Up


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This is the sort of restaurant that The Breslin is: You will arrive on a Monday night to find the restaurant full and the bar jammed with the studiedly — and also studly — casual set. The wait, they will say, is 45 minutes to an hour.

You have a drink, some snacks and 45 minutes go by. An hour passes. There is still no word — even though a stroll through the dining room shows that there are not one, not two, but a few tables that have been sitting empty for a bit.

At almost 90 minutes, it’s getting a little tiresome. Nearby Koreatown is starting to look like a surer bet for dinner — but just as you start to gesture toward your bar waitress for the check, you spy her spotting you and then sprinting over to the hostess for a quick discussion. Faster than you can say “Check, please,” the hostess is by your side, telling you that now, there is a table open.

You consider leaving because, well, this is all a little bizarre. But you decide to stay — and it’s a good thing you do because what’s on the dinner menu, it turns out, is worth waiting for.

But you really wouldn’t expect anything less or different from owners of the Spotted Pig, the small West Village gastropub that quickly became the place for Leonardo DiCaprio spottings when it first opened in 2004. 

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