Saturday, April 26, 2008
I’ve come to realise that even amongst mid-range Japanese restaurant chains, there are some good ones, and some really not so good ones. Akashi at VivoCity was a pleasant surprise, but Aji Tei at the basement of Takashimaya was a downright disappointment. We were there on Saturday, and were deliberating between trying Al Forno’s makeshift stall that was set up there for a 2-week Italian Fair, and the Aji Tei restaurant nearby. Had I known that it was part of the Ajisen Ramen chain, I might have had second thoughts, but based on the photos in the menu, we decided to go with Aji Tei.
Deceived! The food was nothing like how it was represented in the photos. Almost everything was disappointing; the best dish for me was the chicken wings with a sesame and barbeque sauce. The scallop sushi, which was supposed to be part of the Hokkaido promotion, was tasteless and the scallop was watery, a sure sign that it had been frozen and thawed.
The black pepper grilled pork was by far the most misrepresented. The photo made it look succulent and luscious; in stark contrast, the pathetically few slices were tough and tasted like poorly-cooked poolside BBQ. The mini salmon don was just that – mini, with some of the thinnest slivers of salmon I’ve ever seen. The salmon sushi sampler that A ordered was just ordinary.
As you can see, I’m in a grilled fish head mood, after my experience with the yellowtail collar at Akashi. Unfortunately, the salmon head here fell far, far short. The salmon was under-salted and didn’t really have any flavour at all, and the bowl of rice that I ordered was nothing like the one at Akashi either – it was soft, slightly mushy, and tasteless.
Give this place a very wide berth, given all the other dining options in the vicinity. And don’t be conned by the photos in the menu, either.
Except for my salmon which was passable, everything else was disappointing. Don't be fooled by the low prices; portions are incredibly small.
Takashimaya Department Store
Friday, April 25, 2008
I didn’t realise that Aston’s has slowly but surely been expanding its reach beyond just the East. They’ve opened up a few Aston’s Express outlets in heartland coffeeshops – similar to the Botak Jones concept. There’s one in Serangoon Gardens, Bedok, Prince George’s Park and the latest one which only opened on 20th April – at Jurong East Central, right across the road from A’s parents place, woo hoo!
We had dinner there on Friday night and, expecting some teething problems, were very pleasantly surprised. We ordered a Porterhouse steak to share, as well as a spaghetti bolognese because strangely enough we both had a craving for it.
At $25.90, the steak isn’t cheap for neighbourhood coffeeshop standards, but then again the quality is also clearly in a different league. It was cooked medium-rare, as requested, and both the sirloin and tenderloin sides of the T-bone were equally sweet and tender. I dare say that this was actually better than the T-bone we had at Pasta Brava. Each main comes with 2 side dishes – we had the corn on the cob and onion rings. I would highly recommend the corn. It was wonderfully juicy and oh-so-sinfully buttery.
The Spaghetti Bolognese was an incredible deal. It was only $5.90 AND it comes with a soup of the day! The soup was a pretty tasty clam chowder, and the pasta was objectively very good. The spaghetti was al dente, and the Bolognese sauce was very hearty and chunky, with a good balance of sweet and sour.
The only downside to opening outlets in heartland food courts is the clientele that you sometimes attract. I don’t mean to sound atas, but while we were in the queue to place our order, we were standing behind the most annoying girl who kept going on at length about whether, if she ordered her ribeye medium-well, it would be too tough. I felt like telling her "er, wanna know how to avoid having a tough steak? DON’T order it medium-well!" Yeesh…
Exceeded all my expectations. Highly recommended if you don’t mind eating at a neighborhood kopitiam.
Update: Click here to read about our subsequent less positive experience.
Block 134 Jurong East Central
Saturday, April 19, 2008
I made these for little A’s birthday party. Being a Sesame Street theme party, I decided to decorate the chocolate cupcakes with Elmo faces. I thought hard about how to do this with the least amount of fuss (read: no buttercream, which (a) takes ages to make and (b) SOME people think it’s neighbourhood bakery-esque).
I ended up using stabilised whipped cream, which is simply whipped cream stabilised with some gelatine so that the cream doesn’t bleed (or leak and get all watery) after a while. Pretty simple to make. I then used chocolate buttons for the eyes, and a flash of inspiration coupled with an inability to find orange jellybeans led me to use cashew nuts for the nose.
I quite like how the cake and the decoration turned out, visually. Unfortunately, with the sheer amount of food colouring that was required to tint the cream to the lurid shade of vermillion that is Elmo, the icing ended up tasting rather synthetic, with a decidedly icky aftertaste. Oh well, this IS for a kiddie party, and hopefully under-6 year olds are less than discerning foodies.
Children are evil little creatures sent to ruin your lives.
Unless they enrol in A’s Playstation Academy (must be toilet-trained).
Friday, April 18, 2008
My goodness, Raffles City is an absolute madhouse on a Friday night. There were queues everywhere, starting from the car park, to almost every single eating establishment. The line for the fairly new Marche-esque Japanese food court was at least 30-people strong, as was the queue for the new donut place – J.Co. In contrast, there was barely a line at Donut Factory, which just proves that Singaporeans have short attention spans, and are ever-ready to blindly follow the next big food trend.
We decided to go for something quite light, at the place with the shortest queue. This turned out to be Aerin’s, a little restaurant café tucked away in the basement adjacent to the fountain. I think this place is the less upmarket sibling of Whitebait and Kale over at Camden Medical Centre.
A ordered the Aerin’s tagliatelle, with cream sauce, smoked salmon and mushrooms. I thought this tasted ok – pretty much like how you would expect it to taste, given the ingredients, but A found it a bit too ordinary. He thought the pasta was too hard but I found it actually perfectly cooked.
I ordered the cod with pasta in a light Japanese soy broth with pea shoots. Unfortunately, two things marred my dining experience. (1) The waiter brought the food and, in his blurness, sloshed the sauce all over my lap. Lucky for him that my bag was on my lap, AND that I don’t carry posh bags. (2) While the cod was alright, the capellini was horribly overcooked – there wasn’t even any bite or texture to it.
We ordered their signature dessert to share – the baked apple and rhubarb pie. I had it once before, ages ago, and had forgotten quite how large the portion was. I must say it was pretty good, but while the top layers of puff pastry were lovely and crispy, the layers underneath were underbaked.
Well, I can’t say that I won’t ever come back here, because if we’re at Raffles City again and everywhere else is packed, we may find ourselves here again. It just won’t exactly be our first choice.
It was very ordinary. I guess I expected more.
Raffles City Shopping Centre
Open daily: 11.30 am to 10 pm
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Funny Lasagna is Chef Peter Bontoi’s latest venture. Previously from Il Piccolo, he opened Pizza Pazza at Anchorpoint food court, sold that off to his partner, started a brief chef for hire business, and now has positioned himself squarely in the heartlands – in a quiet little coffeeshop within Alexandra Village.
His pizzas and pastas from his Pizza Pazza days are still on the menu, but given the shop’s name, we couldn’t not order lasagnas on our first visit. Given that there are about 15 different lasagnas on the menu, it certainly took us some time to decide on two.
I ordered the Lasagna Buongustaio, a cream sauce with chicken, mushrooms and onion. This tasted pretty much like how you’d expect – quite rich and creamy, but pretty good all the same, if a little gelak.
A ordered the Pesto-Salmone Lasagna, which was definitely more original. Although slightly lacking in salmon, the pesto sauce gave a very different spin to the usual expectation of lasagne, and all in all it was very good.
Next time I think I’ll try the squid ink lasagna, or maybe try something slightly tomato-based, like his seafood lasagna or the vegetarian house special with porcini mushrooms.
Block 127, Bukit Merah Lane 1
01-230, Alexandra Village
Open: 11am to 10pm daily
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
This place probably wins for the sheer number of times that they’ve had to move. Previously at the old S-11 coffee shop at the National Museum, they had to relocate when the Museum was torn down, and settled at the now defunct Food Opera food court at Far East Square, managed by Makansutra. They were then at Market Street car park for a brief period, before landlord problems forced them to move to their current location – also at Far East Square, along the same row as Ya Kun, Puay Heng and the Hock Lam Street beef kuay teow.
We came here for dinner on Wednesday night – A ordered the venison hor fun, and I had the wonton mee. Previously, their hor fun was always better than their wonton mee, but tonight it was quite the opposite. The hor fun looked promising but ended up tasting flat – the sauce was starchy and just didn’t have any taste.
On the other hand, my wonton mee, though it looked really insipid, actually ended up tasting half decent. Although there wasn’t any sauce and the noodles looked a bit dry, they were actually quite flavourful; they must’ve been tossed in some kind of flavoured oil.
All things considered though, they’ve definitely deteriorated, and the lackluster food, coupled with having to sit on the roadside at wobbly tables, means that I probably won’t be back, especially since there’s beef noodles or Puay Heng right next door.
Good noodle. Small portions makes it perfect for when you just want something light.
Monday, April 14, 2008
We ended up at the VivoCity branch of Akashi on a Monday night, after a fruitless attempt to find Sakae Teppanyaki at Harbourfront. Apparently it used to be there but they’ve since closed down. Anyway, because we were fairly psyched for Jap, we headed to the basement of Vivo to check this place out.
This place definitely has some high end items, like otoro sushi for $28, or uni temaki for $20 each. But they also have decent sets at both lunch and dinner, which are a lot more doable if you’re not in the mood for a splurge.
A had something that was akin to a chirashi sushi – raw seafood on vinegared rice, a bit like a deconstructed sushi, really. The portion was smaller than expected, but the vinegared rice was fabulous. The rice was very well seasoned and was perfectly cooked, with each grain separate and distinct yet still fluffy and not underdone.
I ordered the Akashi special yakisoba, which arrived as a tiny little appetiser portion with 2 plump juicy prawns. It had a nice savoury umami-ness to it, but it wasn’t so spectacular that I’d order it again.
What I definitely would order again, and in fact am already craving, is the yellowtail cheek/collar grilled with salt (hamachi kama shioyaki). I first tried this somewhere else and was less than blown away, but the one here was really good. The fish wasn’t overcooked, and was grilled with a perfect scattering of salt. It was obviously good quality fish, because (a) the texture was creamy and slightly oily and almost melted in the mouth, and (b) it didn’t have a fixed price on the menu. Instead, you have to ask the servers for availability and price. The portion I had cost $27.
The dish was just begging for some carbs to accompany it, and I had long finished the yaki soba in the 15 minutes that it took for the fish to grill, so I ordered a portion of rice, which was again perfectly cooked, and when eaten with the ponzu/vinegar sauce that accompanied the fish, was absolute heaven. Thoroughly enjoyable.
This is clearly my new favourite dish at Japanese restaurants. I wouldn’t order it at a chain restaurant cos I have my doubts on the quality of their fish, but certainly in a more authentic joint like Tampopo or Sakuraya, I’ll definitely give this a try.
Random: VivoCity is great on a Monday night. Ample parking as compared to a Friday night when we couldn’t even get into the car park because it was full.
This place does good rice.
Though small portions for the price.
It was very nice.
Akashi Japanese Restaurant
1 Harbourfront Walk
11.30 am to 10 pm
Sunday, April 13, 2008
It’s hard to find a really good yu pian mi fen (sliced fish bee hoon) these days. Lots of stalls sell it, but more often than not it’s the clear soup rather than the milky broth that I like, or it’s bland or tasteless, or the fish is tough and overcooked.
Well, I’m happy to say that the one at Maxwell Road scores on all counts. They use sang yu (snake head fish) which is incredibly fresh and they’re also very generous with their portions. The soup is milky (though possibly assisted by some evaporated milk), and very rich and tasty thanks to a good fish stock and the addition of pounded dried flat fish.
As with all good stalls at Maxwell, there’s a queue here but it’s nowhere close to the Tian Tian chicken rice queue. I think I waited about 8 minutes at lunchtime on a Sunday which was pretty decent, all things considered.
I’m craving it again, but with parking at Maxwell an absolute nightmare and the perennial queues, I’m not sure how soon we'll be coming back. At least A has his Scissor curry rice to entice him here as well – he had it today and I must say it was delicious too.
Maxwell definitely has my vote as being one of the best hawker centres in Singapore. It’s no wonder that it seems to be Anthony Bourdain’s favourite hawker haunt. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to think so too, as evidenced by the snaking queues. This is definitely a destination hawker centre – come here prepared to wait for good food, so you don't get impatient.
I am not a fan of fish bee hoon so I wouldn’t queue for it. The Hainanese Pork Chop Rice is another matter altogether…
Jing Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon
Maxwell Road Food Centre
11am to 8.30pm
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Another trip to Howards Storage World, another opportunity to eat at the Espirito Santo bistro. After a rather disappointing experience when we went on the day it opened, we thought after 3 months we could see whether they improved.
In terms of service, there are obviously 2 or 3 very savvy and competent servers, but the rest are still really blur. A ordered a salami sandwich, and the waitress brought it saying “You ordered a burger?” At first we thought it was déjà vu, or perhaps the burger that we order the last time and never got… Turns out it was the correct salami sandwich after all, as one of the head waitresses rushed over to assure us.
The sandwich wasn’t bad – very clean tasting with just sliced salami, tomatoes, some chutney and lettuce. Definitely not something I’d order for myself, but it was really up A’s alley. Fries probably weren’t made in-house, but they were well fried and ended up pretty good.
I was quite undecided about what to order. I was toying between a porcini risotto, baked cod with fettuccine, and one of Fabianne’s Brazilian specialities. In the end I decided to try a Brazilian dish, and the question turned to: which one? It was a toss up between the moqueca, a fish stew with coconut milk and dende oil, and the classic feijoada, a stew with pork, salted beef, bacon and black beans. Since this is a butcher specialising in meat, I decided to go with the feijoada.
Alas, it was pretty much a non-event. The flavour of the stew was one-dimensional and not at all outstanding. I guess it’s not exactly fair to compare this to a properly-plated dish, because feijoada was never meant to be fine-dining. Like all traditional peasant food, it was created with scraps, leftover meat and bone pieces, bacon and chorizo for flavour, and black beans added to stretch the dish as far as it could go. The beauty of peasant food is creating something out of nothing and I appreciate that, but notwithstanding that awareness, this still didn’t have any rustic authenticity either.
I’m not sure if I’m going to give this place another chance. Their roast pork is definitely one of the better ones I’ve had; I guess we just have to go without lofty expectations, and not order anything too ambitious.
Sandwich was surprisingly good and affordable (compared to certain high end sandwich places). Bad latte though.
And, the wait staff seem consistently blur every time we come.
80 Marine Parade Road
#B1-83B, Parkway Parade
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 10am to 9pm
Thursday, April 03, 2008
There seems to be a dearth of eating places at the Esplanade where you can grab a quick bite (not counting Glutton’s Bay which yes, is a hawker centre but queues are long and the walk there and back alone will take about 15 minutes in all). We were here at about 7 pm on Thursday evening and needed some place to have dinner before watching an 8 pm show. Our initial plans to grab some quick conveyor belt sushi from Ichiban Boshi were shot down when the waiting time for a table was 15 to 20 minutes.
Everywhere else – Harry’s, Al Dente, Via Mar, My Humble House – all seemed to require quite a dining production, so in desperation after spending 5 minutes walking around we decided to try Simply Peranakan, opposite Ichiban Boshi.
As far as peranakan food goes, this is really quite ordinary. The only thing that was good was the poppadum that they served at the start, which tasted really good dipped into their sambal belacan. We ordered a nonya chap chye, an assam pork and a piece of otah.
The chap chye was more like the cabbage served at economy food stalls than anything particularly peranakan. My grandma’s chap chye is far superior, but then again, I think everyone’s favourite peranakan food is their mother’s/grandmother’s. The assam pork was also quite bland; it could’ve been spicier. But at least the meat was pretty tender. I quite liked the otah because there were discernable flakes of fish, rather than just a processed puree, but that quality was the precise reason why A didn’t like it.
Oh well, we came here with our eyes open, and if you need a quick place for dinner before a show at Esplanade, you can’t go too far wrong here. Food came very fast, but unfortunately they were let down by the payment system. I guess everyone else was also catching the 8 pm We Will Rock You, because we waited ages for the bill and for our credit card to be processed.
Considering the restaurant was a tad understaffed, I think they performed brilliantly. Food is merely passable though. The best dish was actually the achar amuse bouche.
Simply Peranakan Cuisine
#02-12 Esplanade Mall
Opening hours: 11 am – 3 pm; 5 – 10 pm