Sunday, January 27, 2008
My problem with Peranakan food is that while I do love it and it evokes all sorts of fond childhood foodie memories, that’s precisely why almost every Peranakan restaurant I’ve been to has fallen short of my grandmother’s home cooking. Apart from Baba King, I’m hard pressed to find Buah Keluak chicken that comes anywhere close to the one that my grandmother makes.
It was no different at Peramakan, which used to be at Joo Chiat but has not so recently relocated to Keppel Club. The standard of food was high, but my rather unfair take on it is simply that it’s not my grandmother’s. The Bakwan Kepiting soup – meat balls with crab meat and bamboo shoot – was good but the stock wasn’t quite as full-bodied as I’d have liked, and the meat balls were slightly overworked and hence a bit dry.
The Ayam Klio – coconut chicken curry – was good, but I would have preferred it a little spicier, and the braised pork ribs tasted just like Babi Pongteh, which was surprising since there already is a Babi Pongteh on the menu.
The Cincalok Omelette was surprisingly a hit. The cincalok didn’t overwhelm the dish, and it paired very nicely with their in-house belacan. I quite liked their home-made seafood Otak as well, with some very fresh prawns and squid going into the mix.
Desserts were very interesting, and tipped us over the edge because of their richness. The Bubor Cha Cha was good but a tad sweet. We ordered some pandan pancake with kaya, and another pancake with a rich gula melaka and banana sauce – almost like a butterscotch. The banana one is apparently quite a rarity in Singapore these days, because most places don’t make it any more.
By the way, this place may be located at Keppel Club but it’s still open to the public. It’s situated where La Vela used to be.
Not bad, but I think I’d rather have a good nasi padang.
Level 3, Keppel Club
10 Bukit Chermin Road
Lunch: 11 am to 3 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 10 pm
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Another Makansutra Raw recommendation (who can forget the image of Seetoh crunching reverently into suckling pig crackling), this stall at Marina Food Loft unfortunately outshone the trolley noodles that we originally went there to try. The queue was quite intimidating though, but for once A wasn’t put off and we’re both grateful that he managed to hang in there. The food really was worth the wait.
The char siew rice that A ordered was very good. Well, it must have been, since he polished it all off and I only managed a measly mouthful… The char siew was generously sliced, and it was quite juicy and not too lean and dry. The rice was pretty good too (and no, not all rice is created equal. I’ve had badly cooked white rice before, and I don’t mean my own sushi rice) – quite fluffy, not too hard but definitely not soft and mushy.
Check out the suckling pig. Isn’t it a thing of beauty? That’s what I like about this place – most roasted meat stalls only sell siew yoke / shao rou, the roasted belly pork. Very few sell suckling pig unless you pre-order an entire pig, usually for weddings or special occasions. A small portion here is $10 – we ordered the medium for $15.
The suckling pig here is done the typical Chinese restaurant way, with the skin slightly bubbly and blistered, not the smooth crackling a la Fernando’s in Macau. Personally I still prefer the Fernando’s pig, because the skin is so light and crisp, and the meat is tender and juicy and practically falling off the bone. But beggars certainly can’t be choosers, and the suckling pig here is definitely way up there in my list of heavenly foods. Some parts of the meat were a bit on the tough side, but the crackling more than made up for it.
I’m definitely coming back for more of everything from this stall. They’ve got some gleaming soya chickens, rather impressive-looking roast ducks, and some tiny little birds that could be pigeons. They apparently have/had a branch at the Taman Serasi food court, but it doesn’t appear to be on their name card or website. Maybe they’ve closed down, sigh. Can anyone shed any light? This branch would be way convenient for us.
One of the few places where the food is really worth lining up for. I’m really psyched to try a char siu/shao rou fan next.
Jia Le Roasted Food
Marina Food Loft, Stall 6
#04-101/102 Marina Square
Sun to Thurs: 10.30 am - 8.30 pm
Fri and Sat: 10.30 am - 9.30 pm
We came to Marina Food Loft, the (fairly) new food court on the 4th floor of Marina Square, primarily to try the Trolley Noodles at this stall – Old Hong Kong. I’d read about it in an Asiaone/Sunday Times review, and with words like “braised chicken wing”, “offal” and “small intestine” in the article, I was sold.
As the signboard says, these trolley noodles are apparently the Hong Kong street food from days of yore. Here at the Marina outlet, for $4 you can pick your choice of noodles (bee hoon, yellow noodles, la mian, kuay teow or instant noodles), vegetables (chinese cabbage - wong pok, kang kong or boy choy) and five other items out of quite a plentiful array. Besides the ones I picked – chicken liver in mild curry sauce, braised small intestine, braised chicken wing, belly pork and stewed daikon radish – there are other items like stewed egg, fish cake, taukwa, beef brisket, and fish balls.
While no individual item really blew me away, the combination of instant noodles and all my favourite ingredients was pure comfort food. Surprisingly, I would vote the daikon radish as the ingredient of the day. It was braised till it was soft and tender but not yet mushy, and had absorbed all the flavours of the cooking stock.
It’s a bit of a shame that A’s meal from Jia Le Roasted Food kinda detracted from the otherwise very interesting and tasty trolley noodles here. It’s also a pity because with the roasted meats just round the corner, it’ll be quite a hard fight in future (for me, anyway) deciding which one to have.
They do a pretty good yin yang (combination of coffee and tea) here as well, by the way.
Nothing fantastic except for the yin yang. We had 1 in a metal cup and one in a paper take-out cup, and I must say, drinking from the metal cup somehow made the yin yang taste much better. Also, in English, the yin yang there is called the Perfect Combination, and I have to agree with the name.
Old Hong Kong Tea House
Marina Food Loft
#04-101/102 Marina Square
Open: 10am to 10pm daily
We’ve been back here a few times since we last wrote about it, but while the English Breakfast is always available, the main course Tandoori Chicken has always eluded us. It’s always been temporarily off the menu for various reasons, mainly to make way for limited dishes like Oktoberfest specials. On each of our attempts we’ve had to order the tandoori chicken bites or lamb chops with minted gravy instead, from the Bar Bites menu.
It was therefore quite a stroke of luck that when we went for lunch on Saturday, it was back on the Asian section of the menu. It was as good as ever, with very fragrant and tender chicken thigh pieces and butter rice. I’m just rather amused that one of the best tandoori chickens I’ve had is from an English pub rather than a traditional North Indian restaurant like Rang Mahal or Shahi Maharani.
The English Breakfast was good as usual, but it is me or has the portion shrunk somewhat? It didn't seem to overwhelm the plate the way it used to, and the pitiful amount of mushrooms and rather measly slice of bacon was quite laughable. Still yummy though, and I guess less of a cholesterol bomb, given that there’s simply less of it.
Word of warning though – there’s really no sense of urgency here at lunchtime. The servers and the kitchen really do take their time. We waited quite a long time for our food, as well as for the bill, which is rather inexcusable given that the restaurant was practically empty and we were one of only four tables having proper food. Come here expecting a long, lazy brunch, bring some reading material, and you won’t be disappointed.
Good food. Slow service.
The Penny Black
26/27 Boat Quay
Mon to Thurs 11.30 am – 2 pm
Fri to Sun 11.30 am to 2.30 pm
Evening Bar Food:
Sun to Thurs: 3 pm – 10.30 pm
Fri & Sat: 3 pm – 11 pm
Monday, January 21, 2008
This place, located on the ground floor of OUB Centre, is absolutely packed at lunchtime, even bordering on the chaotic on rainy days. If you can get off work in time for last orders at 7.30 pm though, it’s a pretty good find for a quick post-work dinner. As the name suggests, their speciality is baos (duh). Besides the usual char siew bao, they have a pretty interesting black sesame bao, that tastes just like an ah balling, and apparently they do funky baos like deer meat and sesame chicken too. I didn’t see them on the menu though, so I’m not sure if those are only available at their takeout outlets (like Food Republic at VivoCity).
We ordered the char siew bao, black sesame bao, scallop chee cheong fun and a char siew ‘bolo’ bun. They were all fairly decent, with the black sesame coming out tops purely for its originality. The ‘bolo’ bun, which was a char siew bao with a sweet crust, was also quite good and surprisingly better than the one we tried in Hong Kong.
We also tried their signature claypot rice – this was far from authentic, with the rice already pre-cooked and mixed, and probably just dumped into the pots and given a perfunctory heating on the stove. A far cry from those in Hong Kong, but A actually preferred this because it was more like regular roast pork rice, just served in a different receptacle.
If you dine-in after 5 pm (or is it 3 pm…), you even get a 30% discount, which makes for a very reasonable meal. Only problem with going at dinner time is that some items, like the egg tarts, are no longer available. Still, this is a pretty good option if we’re in the vicinity at that time.
I like it. Too bad the one at OUB closes so early. Think we’ll try the other branches and see how those go.
1 Raffles Place
#01-09A OUB Centre
Mon-Sat: 7am - 8pm (Closed on Sundays & PH)
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Does she ever tire of her blowtorch, you may ask? I tried making sushi from scratch today, with fish from Isetan supermarket. I got salmon belly, regular salmon and some tuna.
Alas, my sushi rice was a bit of disaster. I think I used too much water, so the rice was already quite soft, and I manhandled it a bit too much trying to shape it into little ovals. The result was rather soft and mushy sushi rice. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.
One consolation was that the aburi-ed fish rocked, though. Particularly the salmon belly, with its high fat content. It’s amazing how much oil was rendered out of it during the torching process.
This was far from a cheap meal. Even disregarding the sushi rice and vinegar, which will last us quite a long time, the fish alone came up to around $50. Eep. You pay for quality, I guess. Pity I wrecked it with the sushi rice.
C’s rice not nice.
(Stop beating me! Stop beating me!)
I’m sure next time should be better.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
It’s all my dad’s fault for making me crave pho. My parents went to Vietnam a couple of weeks ago for a very short trip, and my dad came back raving about the pho that he had one morning for breakfast – quite an achievement given that my dad (a) doesn’t like travelling and (b) isn’t a foodie.
We didn’t have any dinner plans tonight, so I decided to head over to Pho Hoa at Holland Village. Yes, I know that Pho Hoa is probably as close to authentic pho as, well, Singapore is to Vietnam, but it was nearby and convenient.
Given that I haven’t really had authentic Vietnamese food in Singapore, I don’t really have much basis for comparison, so this pho was pretty decent. A ordered the bog-standard steak pho, and I had mine with steak and flank (slightly fattier). I’ve had way better pho in Sydney though, in an authentic Vietnamese-run joint called Pasteur in Sydney. Does anyone have any recommendations for non-chain restaurant, authentic pho and other Vietnamese dishes in Singapore? Do tell!
Unless I’m mistaken, pho is pronounced like “fur”.
Anyway, the stock here is pretty good and I’m not very picky as long as there’s the sweet sauce.
Anyway, this place is okay for a quick meal. There tend to always be a few flies around though.
18 Lorong Mambong
Open daily: 11.00am - 10.00pm
You can imagine our surprise when, barely a month after our first visit to the Espirito Santo cafe, our second visit presented a completely different facade and dining concept. Previously, a couple of long wooden tables and benches were laid out within the floor area of the butchery, and menus were laminated A4-sized cards; now, a gauze curtain separates “Fabianne’s Bistro” from the rest of the store, individual tables are set with table linen and proper cutlery, and the menu is also a posher black leather (or PVC) bound affair featuring all of the items on the previous menu and then some, like foie gras, pastas and a whole selection of Brazilian specialities.
Luckily (or unluckily) for us, they had just completed their conversion and today (Saturday 19th January) was their launch of the new bistro. Luckily because we came here wanting to try it again; unluckily because, as with all new establishments, teething problems abounded.
I ordered the Espirito Santo Jumbo Burger; what arrived was the sandwich in the picture above. I was rather puzzled, so I asked the server if this was the burger and she said yes. Fine, so I assumed that this was their bistro interpretation of the humble burger. The meat was alright, medium rare and pretty sweet, but the bread was cold, hard and dry. When I was almost done with the burger, along came a server bearing a proper Jumbo Burger, asking who’d ordered it. Great, so what I’d just wasted my stomach on was their flank steak sandwich, not the jumbo burger. I was too full to accept the burger, but informed them of their mistake anyway, to profuse apologies. On hindsight, I should’ve just accepted the burger, had a perfunctory bite, then doggy bagged the rest of it. Drat. As it is, I paid for, and ate, something that I didn't order and didn't want. Hmph.
A’s roast pork sandwich fared much better. Slices of moist, juicy pork belly were sandwiched with cheese and pickles in a soft olive foccacia (Or ciabatta? Panini? One of them, anyway). After trying this and the pork belly the last time, compared to the rather lackluster flank steak in my ‘burger’, I think their forte here is pork (the meat of kings).
A Japanese couple behind us had loads of problems just getting their bill/credit card chit, and another guy next to us was served something that he didn't order. I wonder how much wastage they had to face that day due to staff incompetencies. Well, thanks to their much expanded menu, I’d like to go back and try even more things, like their seared cod fillet with fettucine, and some of the Brazilian dishes like feijoada and moqueca. Need to give them a while to get their act together though. I don't want to order a moqueca and end up with risotto instead.
The service staff were ultra-polite, but also ultra-incompetent. Hopefully, they’ll get better with practice. It’s a shame really, because the food is pretty good.
80 Marine Parade Road
#B1-83B, Parkway Parade
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 10am to 9pm
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I’m finally the proud owner of a blowtorch. Why did I buy one, you may ask? Actually I’m not too sure myself. Mainly to sear tuna or aburi sushi, possibly to make creme brulee, but also to delude myself into thinking I’m actually a proper cook.
I broke it out for the first time proper to aburi some sushi that we bought from Ichiban Boshi. We ordered some standard salmon, tuna, yellowtail and scallop sushis, and torched them for dinner the following night.
Bearing in mind that the sushi wasn’t same-day fresh, it still tasted pretty good aburi-ed. Nice and smoky, with the fish still rare inside. Pity that the rice was a bit hard from being kept overnight, and there generally was just too much rice. I’m inspired now to make my own sushi from scratch and aburi up a storm. Next time I won’t be so timid with the torch – the sushi could’ve done with a bit more searing.
Anyway, I think everything tastes better aburi-ed. I experimented by steaming some vegetables (baby corn, cauliflower and broccoli), then gave them a good blast. Voila! Vegetables with all the charred, smoky taste of the grill, but without any oil, or having to clean up the grill pan. (Ok, there may be carcinogens, but let’s not dwell on small details.) The broccoli benefited the most from the torching – the little fronds provided lots of surface area for the flame to hit, giving it loads of smoky flavour.
Any suggestions on what else I can aburi?
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Despite this place opening over 3 years ago, and being literally 10 steps away from Snails at Wheelock Place, somehow we’ve never tried it, favouring NYDC or Big O downstairs instead. After a pedicure on Sunday, for some reason we were in the mood for Jap, so we finally gave it a go.
The menu differs slightly for lunch and dinner. At lunchtime, you can order standard bento boxes at fairly decent prices (around $10 to $15), but at dinner time these aren’t available. I’m not sure how much of the dinner menu is available at lunch time, but there are loads of interesting appetiser offerings, and we were hard pressed to narrow down our choices – in the end we over-ordered, as usual.
The deep fried mushrooms and potato wedges in a parmesan cheese bowl ended up being a bit disappointing. With a description like that, I expected the cheese bowl to be like an oversized parmesan tuile, but instead the parmesan was in the batter coating the wedges and mushrooms, and the bowl just seemed to be deep fried spring roll skin.
The unagi crepes were interesting – think Peking duck or suckling pig in Chinese restaurants, but with eel instead. The egg crepe with cucumber, sweet sauce and eel was actually quite a tasty pairing, although I don’t know what it is about unagi in Japanese restaurants these days. Is it me, or has the standard/quality deteriorated in recent years? Previously, an unagi fillet would be soft, flaky and boneless (or with almost undetectable bones), but these days unless you order what’s labelled as “premium” unagi, the regular kind tends to be hard, chewy and more often than not, full of bones. I guess just like everything else, you have to pay for quality.
As you can see, we’re addicted to aburi sushi, so when we saw this on the menu, we had to have it. Compared to the Sushi Tei aburi sushi, I must say this fell somewhat short. It wasn’t bad, but it lacked a distinct charred flavour, and the $25 5-piece sampler platter was almost twice the price of Sushi Tei’s 6-piece platter, and had slightly less high end offerings to boot. The tuna was only regular, not tuna belly. I guess for the two uber posh varieties – the otoro and the foie gras – you either have to order it ala carte, or get the much more expensive 7 item sampler at $38.
We ordered a baked scallop that was quite unremarkable. Then the two carb dishes arrived and both were huge, so we ended up being way fuller than intended. First, the cha soba – though not as good as the Shimbashi Soba one, this was pretty decent, and definitely kudos on the presentation.
Their speciality here is kamameshi – a Japanese version of claypot rice. I ordered the teriyaki beef with raw egg version, but there are quite a number of other varieties that I’d like to try next time. This came in a cute little pot, with an hour glass that’s flipped as the dish is placed in front of you. Quite a gimmicky way to say “wait one minute for the rice to steam and flavours to infuse”, but it was cute nonetheless. Being a fan of claypot rice anyway, there wasn’t anything not to like about this dish. Again, comfort food at its best, with soft yet distinct grains of rice flavoured with teriyaki sauce, slightly gooey and rich from the egg yolk, and thin slices of beef. What was surprising, though, was that A, consummate NON-claypot rice fan, actually didn’t mind this. Hmph… just because it was posh and Japanese.
This place isn’t cheap though, and the little items do eventually add up. I would pass on the aburi sushi next time, but the cha soba ($7.80) and kamameshi are very good value, and I definitely want to try a couple more kamameshi varieties.
We’ve never tried this place because, despite the giant pictures of menu items vinyl-stickered on the wall, it looks poncy and expensive.
While that’s true to a certain extent, you do get good-sized portions for the price you pay (except for the sushi of course). Plus, they let me in even though I was dressed even more shabbily than normal. And the service was very good.
Anyway, this place makes for a nice change but I wouldn’t recommend it for a regular meal. It’s good, but from what I sampled, there are no “must-try” items that warrant a revisit anytime soon.
And I still haven’t found a good cha soba joint in Singapore. Closest is the Soba So Good place (aka Shimbashi Soba) at Paragon.
Sun with Moon Japanese Dining
#03-15 Wheelock Place
501 Orchard Road
Lunch: 11.30am - 2.30 pm
Cafe: 2.30pm - 6.30pm
6.30pm - 11 pm (Thurs, Sun, Public Holiday)
6.30pm - 12am (Fri, Sat, Eve of PH)
Monday, January 07, 2008
We used to come here quite frequently a year or so ago, since it was just a couple of minutes’ walk away from the track where we used to go running. We eventually wised up when we realized that prata after a run is more than counterproductive.
When it first opened as Prata Cafe, it was a welcome addition to the area since the only other good prata joints nearby are at Cheong Chin Nam road. It was definitely well received by those who were too lazy to drive to Jalan Kayu or Thomson, but still wanted to satisfy late night prata cravings.
Standard was very high when it first opened. Pratas were good and not too oily, and they did a mean Maggi mee goreng – the proper kind where they use the Maggi curry seasoning, rather than simply frying the typical red tomato-based Indian mee goreng using instant noodles. Outside KL (back in pre-A days when I used to go to Malaysia…), this place had the most authentic Maggi mee goreng I’ve had in a long time.
Then they closed for a couple of weeks, re-opened as Mr Prata (which is a chain run by the same owner), and all the waiters from the previous Prata Cafe were gone. We went a few times, but standard started to drop, and after a particularly insipid and tasteless Maggi mee goreng, we stopped going.
For some reason though, A had a prata craving on Monday night, so we decided to give it another chance. We ordered a Maggi mee goreng, a garlic prata and a mutton murtabak.
I’m very pleased to announce that the Maggi mee goreng is back to its original glory. It was very evenly and thoroughly fried, and the curry flavour was apparent in every mouthful. It was our first time trying the garlic prata, and man… word of warning – this is NOT a first date prata. Imagine the potent garlic puree that’s thinly spread onto popiahs; now imagine that same puree spread in a thick layer over the entire inside of the prata. It was hard-core even for garlic lovers like us.
The murtabak was HUGE, and at $6 I think it’s quite good value. They certainly didn't skimp on the meat – it was chockfull of minced meat, onions and egg. Delicious, but way too huge for one person. Come to think of it, A and I were struggling with it as it is.
Damn, now that the standard has improved again, I’ll definitely be tempted to come back, but it’ll have to be a day when I’m feeling virtuous, after a particularly punishing gym session or a meagre lunch, perhaps.
Good food. Good value. And for a prata place. Pretty good service. If only it wasn’t so bloody unhealthy.
26 Evans Road
Open 24 hours
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Our repeat trip to Barracks to try their other mini burger flavours came sooner than expected. We happened to be free at lunchtime on Saturday, so we headed over at around noon for lunch. After our disappointment the last time when only the cheddar cheese and bacon burgers were available at dinner time, we deliberately went at lunchtime today.
Imagine my initial horror when we were presented with their brunch menu instead of their regular one. I panicked when the American Sliders weren’t immediately apparent, but A was quick to point me to the rather large photo of them on the menu. *Phew* The flavours weren’t printed, so ever the pessimist I had a sinking feeling of deja vu, but luckily all 5 were available this time *Another phew* Unfortunately you can’t order 2 different flavours per pair, so we decided to pig out, and had a pair of the sautéed mushroom and onion ones, and a pair with blue cheese and bacon.
Thankfully our good experience the other night wasn’t a fluke. The burgers were just as good if not better, thanks to the more interesting toppings. Out of the 3 we’ve tried thus far, my personal favourite is the blue cheese and bacon, because it’s the most interesting flavour pairing. Unsurprisingly, A still prefers his good ol’ cheddar cheese and bacon. I’ll give the mushroom and onion a miss next time – with cheese and bacon on the menu, the mushrooms and onions, which were finely chopped then sautéed, simply couldn’t hold their own in terms of flavour.
Because we hadn’t had breakfast and were absolutely starving, and because we wanted to try as many things as we possibly could, we also ordered a Summer Stack, because A was quite entranced by the description on the menu. It was described as layers of mozzarella, proscuitto, pesto and tomatoes, so we expected some kind of carb-less lasagne. To our surprise and slight horror, it was a full-on sandwich – all that, and sandwiched between 2 slices of bread to boot. I must say though, that it was a really really good sandwich. Pretty greasy from the pesto and olive oil, but incredibly tasty.
The place has a very nice lazy vibe on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, there are some tables with overdressed hipsters and yummy mummies with princesses-in-training, but it still feels relaxed and laidback. I’m happy that I’ve satiated my truffle fries obsession (for now), and it looks like we’ve found a new default place for a weekend brunch.
Yummm. As good as the burgers are, I’m not sure if they make for a good breakfast meal. I think I’m actually more inclined towards my proscuitto sandwich or try more stuff from their brunch menu. Burgers would still be my top pick at dinner though.
Choupinette’s food may be better, but Barrack’s relaxed, spacious ambience and easy availability of parking make this one of my top breakfast choices. Portions are also pretty big.
Note to self: Iced coffee is good but iced latte is better.
Barracks at House
8D Dempsey Road
Mon – Fri: 12 noon to 11 pm
Sat – Sun: 11 am to 11 pm
Trunch: 2.30 pm to 6 pm (sandwiches and desserts only)
Brunch (Sat & Sun): 11 am to 4 pm