Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Our trip to Bangkok

C says:

Two holidays in a span of less than 2 months is quite out of character for us; indeed, we used to be strictly ‘ just one big holiday a year’ people, but lately we’ve been thinking that short trips are quite effortless (depending on where you go), and lessen the tedium of waiting a whole year for the next holiday.

Despite some of our friends raving about it and making annual pilgrimages, Bangkok was always anathema to A, because he’s had digestive mishaps on both his previous visits. I’ve only been to Bangkok once, more than 15 years ago, so it pretty much counts as a first visit for me. A couple of things swayed A to relent from his position and give Bangkok a go – that we would eat primarily non-Thai food, and more importantly, that we’d go with my friend S (or Sexy S, as she wants to be known), whose husband KH lives in Bangkok and we’d therefore be in good hands.

Despite A having a few mini meltdowns, both literally in the heat of Chatuchak and figuratively when trying to explain one of our destinations to a cab driver whilst simultaneously trying to ensure that we weren’t being cheated, we had a really good time. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and while it certainly isn’t A’s top pick for our next vacation destination, the fact that he didn’t try to kill/divorce me after Chatuchak is certainly saying something.

We sampled quite an array of food, some stellar and some a bit more ordinary. Much as I would’ve liked to, we steered clear of the street vendors despite tantalising smells of various grilled thingys and wok-fried rice/noodles, because we simply couldn’t risk being ill on holiday. We did the touristy next-best alternative though – we had our fill of ‘street food’ in the Siam Paragon food hall. In addition to typical food court offerings, they have an entire section devoted to reproducing street snacks, so even though it may not be as good as the real (dirty) thing, at least you can indulge without fear.

Amongst the things I sampled, the grilled pork neck slices really stood out, as did the grilled shoyu corn and the crisp wafer-like snacks filled with ribbons of sweet egg (although for this snack, the one at the top floor of MBK was better).

Our one experience with Thai food was at Tongue Thai, near the Oriental. It came recommended by guidebooks as well as friends of friends, but it was quite disappointing – I preferred A-Roy Thai back home! Maybe it’s because we were there late-ish (after 1 pm), but quite a number of items that we wanted to order were sold out. And what we did have wasn’t bad, just a bit lacklustre. The most memorable dish was actually dessert – the giant banana fritter drizzled with honey.

Our seafood experience came in the form of Je-Ngor Seafood Restaurant. This was S’s recommendation, and the style was actually Chinese-Thai. I especially liked how they did the kangkong – they only served the stems, not the leaves, and these were shredded into ribbons and stir-fried with garlic. The grilled seabass with rocksalt was also a winner, as was the crab fried with garlic and black pepper.

Unsurprisingly, our non-Asian meals were the more memorable ones. Le Bouchon was memorable for reasons other than the food… I was really looking forward to dinner here, having read rave reviews about both the food and the ambience. The ambience is certainly quaint – the restaurant seats no more than twenty, it’s incredibly dim inside and the menu is written on two chalkboards which they take off the wall and place on your table when you’re ready to order.

I don’t even have a problem with the restaurant being situated in the heart of Patpong, Bangkok’s red-light district, because I think it adds character. What I do have a problem with, is finding the damn street to begin with, and noticing the tiny “Le Bouchon” signboard tucked away behind an exotic lingerie stall. S and KH – our hearty apologies for dragging you both into town on a Friday night, braving traffic, rain and non-existent street signs.

Food-wise, Le Bouchon is rustic French, and quite the polar opposite of Nicolas. These are really old-school dishes, and while some were tasty, they lacked a certain finesee and refinement. The escargots were good, but when KH’s frog’s legs arrived, they were essentially prepared the same way and tasted almost identical. Some dishes were alright, like the foie gras ravioli and the chicken liver and mushroom salad, but weren’t outstanding, and some were just downright bad, like A’s scallop ravioli and S’s scallop gratin.

Thankfully, towards the end of the trip we had better luck. We found ourselves at Tapas Café in Sukhumvit, where we had an absolutely wonderful late lunch. Maybe there’s just something about having tapas on vacation. We ordered about 8 tapas between the 3 of us, and almost all of them were delicious. We had a whole array, ranging from fried eggplant with iberico ham, scallops, octopus, grilled prawns, and toasts with iberico and tomato pate with honey, all of which were good but the simplest one – grilled pork loins – turned out to be the best.

I think Tapas Café rivals Biscotti as our best meal of the trip. Biscotti is located in the Four Seasons, so you can expect that it’s one of Bangkok’s higher-end Italian restaurants. We therefore decided to go at lunchtime so that we wouldn’t have to dress up or feel too out of place. Service was wonderful and made us feel right at home, and the food was to die for.

The menu here is both interesting and accessible – the ingredient pairings are innovative, yet it doesn’t feel as though they’re trying too hard, or trying to use different ingredients just to make a statement. Even the complimentary bread had a twist, served with half a head of roasted garlic that you can use as a spread. We passed on the Express Lunch (their version of a weekday lunch set) and instead ordered all the items that had the chef’s hat (Biscotti favourites) next to them.

The Roasted Scallop and Porcini Salad was very simple but well-executed. I like that they didn’t try to overwhelm the flavours of the ingredients with any fancy or overpowering dressings. The foccacia is their house specialty – Foccacia with Mascarpone Cheese and Truffle Oil. I expected this to be very heavy but to our pleasant surprise, it was light and crisp and almost like a crepe. This tasted as good as you can imagine.

Pastas here come in two sizes – small and regular. We decided to try as many things as possible, so we had 3 small pastas. First was a home-made Fettucine with Parma Ham, Mushrooms, Truffle Essence and Parmesan. The pasta was silky-smooth but maybe a bit overcooked. A liked this dish but I found it a tad too reminiscent of pesto sauce.

It’s a hard fight which of the next two pastas was my favourite. The Squid Ink Angel Hair with Scallops, Shrimps, Sprouts and Garlic Cream was again very simply prepared but all the individual ingredients just complemented one another really well. The sauce had subtle hints of both seafood and garlic, without either being too overwhelming.

I tend not to order risottos because they can be a bit jelak, but because this was a small portion I decided to try the Risotto with Saffron and Asparagus with Pan-Seared Duck Liver. I’m glad I did cos this was really good. The asparagus added crunch so it wasn’t too monotonous, and even A, a non foie gras connoisseur, had to admit that the duck liver here was really good – crisp outside and almost melting inside.

Dessert was a chocolate parfait, which was almost like a mousse, and those scallop-like things are actually slices of caramelised banana.

Well, there you have it. We’re definitely coming back to Bangkok but probably not in the immediate future, since A would rather go to Hong Kong again or Bali for our next short trip. But on our return visit, Tapas Café and Biscotti are definitely on our list, and maybe we’ll give W’s other Italian recommendations a try.

PS: Again, give us a shout if you want the contact details of any of these joints.

A says:

I went to Bangkok when I was 10 and got severe food poisoning.

I went to Bangkok when I was 20 and got severe food poisoning.

I went to Bangkok this time and only got a bit of indigestion.

Our best meals were at Tapas Café and Biscotti. I’d definitely return to those. I also wouldn’t mind eating at any of the high end food halls.

Je-Ngor Seafood Restaurant is interesting and not bad. It’s just not my thing.

We were well serviced by the thai girls at Le Bouchon (heh heh). But seriously, the service is very surprisingly good. Too bad the food can be hit or miss. Half our dishes were great, the other half very so-so.

So my verdict for Bangkok - I’m willing to return, but no more markets for me for awhile. I’ll stick to Siam Paragon, Central World and Emporium.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


C says:

We’re off to Bangkok for a short break tonight, so we decided to start our holiday early by having lunch at Nicolas, after hearing good things about it from W, S and Y. Nicolas is just down the road from Ember along Keong Saik Road, and serves traditionally French food – of the finer dining persuasion though, not the rustic and heavily-sauced variety.

Just like almost every chi-chi restaurant these days, Nicolas has a weekday lunch set that’s very good value - $38 (this seems to be the magic number for executive lunches) for an amuse bouche, starter, main, dessert and coffee/petit fours. You have about 4 items to choose from for each course. The interesting thing about this place is that they don’t have an a la carte menu, not even at dinner time. In the evening, they have a 6-course Tasting Menu at $98 (or $175 with wine pairing), or if you want the chef to ‘surprise you’, you can opt for the $125 8-course Surprise Menu which subjects you to the chef’s whims of the day. Kinda like a French omakase.

Amuse bouche was a soft-boiled egg served with parma ham and a dollop of balsamic reduction. This was pretty good, and set the tone for the rest of the meal. My starter was superb – Tagliolini Pasta with slow roasted quail and morel mushroom emulsion. This was quite a substantial portion compared to A’s), and everything was perfect, from the tender quail down to the heady aroma of the truffle oil that was drizzled on the pasta.

A’s starter of Grilled Scallop with a tomato espuma (foam that’s been slightly gelatinized, I think) was really good, except that there was so little of it. Just one scallop! But it was a damn good scallop – firm, meaty and juicy. The espuma essentially tasted like gazpacho, just with a different texture.

I went for the organic pork tenderloin, and initially I was a bit concerned to see the pink and almost rare center, but remembered that organic pork is not meant to be cooked to death. In fact, because of how the pigs are reared, they can apparently be cooked like lamb or beef. This was definitely one of the most tender pieces of pork I’ve ever had, given that it didn’t even have any fat to help it along its flavourful way.

Unfortunately mine completely paled in comparison with A’s. He ordered the slow-roasted rack of lamb (there’s an additional $8 for this), and again we were apprehensive when they recommended medium rare because we’re used to pink but certainly not rare lamb. And again our fears were unfounded. The meat was of really good quality, and really sweet and flavourful without being lamby.

There are only 2 desserts to choose from, so we ordered one of each – the Orange Panna Cotta with an almond tuile, and the Chocolate Fondant with mango espuma. The chocolate fondant was alright, but tasted like something you could whip up at home. I much preferred the orange panna cotta, particularly how the fresh orange flavour made an otherwise rich dessert a lot lighter and more refreshing.

I’m very impressed with Nicolas, and while it’s a fairly chi-chi place, I didn’t find it overbearingly stuffy. I’m now quite keen to come at dinner time for the full tasting menu, but $98 is still a bit steep so it’s going to have to wait for a special occasion.

A says:

Excellent food and service. It’s not cheap but it’s pretty worth it, especially for the lunch set. The only problem here is the parking. Finding a place along the road is nearly impossible. C and I went early and found one but ended up getting a ticket for “Parking in the wrong direction.” Who the hell ever heard of that rule?

35 Keong Saik Road
Tel: 6224-2404
Lunch: Mon to Fri 12 noon to 2 pm
Dinner: Mon to Sat 6.30 pm to 10 pm

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Canteen

C says:

This is turning out to be quite the Les Amis weekend. Casa Verde yesterday, and The Canteen at Shaw Centre today. Ever since the Posh Nosh chick wrote about the XO sauce Lo Shi Fun (mee tai mak) here, I’ve been wanting to give it a try, but A was loath to pay jacked-up prices for what is essentially hawker fare.

I understand not wanting to pay $16 for a laksa with udon, but if you can get over the mental block of eating designer hawker food, some of the dishes are actually given a sufficiently upmarket twist that you don’t really feel that you’re being ripped off.

We started with the duck spring rolls, served with a chilli mayonnaise. This was quite reasonable - $6 for four spring rolls, which were generously filled with something resembling shredded duck confit. I was very pleasantly surprised with this.

My Lo Shi Fun was everything I expected it to be – fragrant from the XO sauce, slightly spicy, and comfort food at its best. They’re very generous with the minced pork and diced century egg, and they even added some chopped long beans to give some crunch. A generous squeeze of the lime also helped it from becoming a bit too jelak.

A picked the one thing that he wouldn’t compare to a hawker dish – the Hanbaagu, which is a Japanese hamburger steak. It came topped with an egg, and surprisingly served with a bowl of rice. This was fairly ordinary; I much preferred mine.

I would be hard pressed not to order the Lo Shi Fun again, but they’ve also got a soft shell crab mee pok that’s calling to me for our next visit. The place was surprisingly quite empty on a Sunday afternoon, but it started filling up after about 1.30 as we were leaving. They don’t take reservations though, so you just have to try your luck. They open till late on weekends (1 am), and their entire menu is available all day, with the exception of their high-tea set. This consists of various types of thick toasts, I think, and it’s only served in the afternoons.

The place is a lot more casual and less chi-chi than I expected. All in all, not a bad alternative if you’re in the vicinity.

A says:

Food and service are excellent. Location is too if you don’t mind eating in such an open corridor space. Other than the price being on the high side, this place gets top marks for me.

The Canteen
1 Scotts Road
#01-01B Shaw Centre
Tel: 6738-2276
Sun – Thurs: 11.30 am to 11 pm
Fri and Sat: 11.30 am to 1 am

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Casa Verde

C says:

Café Les Amis at the Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre underwent a renovation a couple of months ago, and earlier this month it re-opened as Casa Verde, a collaboration between the Les Amis Group and Chef Oscar Pasinato of Buko Nero.

Do note that the collaboration is probably only apparent at dinner time; at breakfast and all the way until 6.30 pm, it’s still a very casual joint selling pizzas, pastas and some local dishes like fried rice and fried hokkien mee. And I do mean casual – you queue up at a counter to place your order before taking your order number and find a seat. Much like Mosburger, really.

Given that you have to stand in line to order, AND schelp your tray of drinks while hunting down an empty table, prices are therefore a bit of a rip-off. I had the home-made Tagliatelle Bolognese, and A had the All-Day Gourmet Breakfast.

I must say the pasta wasn’t too bad – the noodles looked and tasted authentically home-made, but the sauce was a tad too tart for my liking. And I’m quite sure it wasn’t minced beef. Might have been Italian sausage or *gasp* minced chicken. This was a fairly decent helping for $15.

Alas, I can’t say the same about the breakfast – at $14, this was a rather pathetic portion of eggs, a Cumberland sausage, bacon, grilled tomato, a few mushrooms and a hash brown. 2 slices of toasted Gardenia-type bread with a pack of butter and strawberry jam (very B&B) were served separately. The only thing that stood out was the hash brown, which was crisp on the outside, fluffy inside and didn’t taste oily.

To be fair, we should try the dinner menu before passing any judgment on this place, because it’s quite clear that Chef Oscar only makes his mark on the evening menu. For the rest of the day, it doesn’t pretend to be anything but a simple casual eatery within the Gardens.

We plan to try the dinner menu soon, so watch this space.

A says:

It’s hot, and not in a good way. With the exception of Sunset Bar & Grill, I really don’t like al fresco dining. I was covered in sweat by the end of the meal. And because the place was crowded with park visitors and tourists, the atmosphere’s also quite chaotic.

Food-wise, I think the Italian fare is pretty good. Everything else is plain underwhelming.

I’m definitely keen to come back for the dinner set. The combination options are perfect for me. It’s a bit hard to explain how the combinations work unless you see the menu. We’ll probably try to explain when we cover that next time.

Casa Verde
1 Cluny Road
Singapore Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre
Tel: 6467-7326

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Could It Be…?

C says:

Did the good people at Asian Food Channel actually heed my plea to bring back Iron Chef?

I saw a trailer last night with Chairman Kaga’s signature capsicum-chomp, and the words to the effect of ‘The Challenge Begins November 2008… Iron Chef on the Asian Food Channel’.

I don’t want to get my hopes up, in case it’s actually the William Shatner US version, or a teaser for a completely different show. But if they really are going to air the classic Iron Chef, then if you guys at AFC are reading this – you rock!! Now all that’s left is to sit tight and wait till November. Allez cuisine!

A says:

I’m not sure how Iron Chef will hold up after all this time. Still, it promises to be a treat for first time viewers.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hokkaido Sandwich and Sashimi Deli

C says:

L brought me to a new Japanese deli for lunch yesterday. It’s right opposite our office, within the new Sail @ Marina Bay. They sell sushi, sashimi and chirashi sushi, and some sandwiches like tonkatsu and Hokkaido crab. It seems to be slanted towards a lunchtime take-out business, but there are a few small tables and bar counters where you can dine in, and because it closes at 8 pm you can swing by for a quick dinner too.

I was quite impressed with the freshness of the fish, so this evening I got a couple of bowls of chirashi sushi to take-away for our dinner, so that A could try it. There’s not a huge selection at dinner time, I have to say. I took the last 2 bowls, but I’m not sure if they could have made up more for me.

The bowls looked almost identical, but one was $12 and one was $13. I guess it depends on what fish is used. All the fish is really fresh, and none of the pieces had any tough sinewy bits at all. The rice was also appropriately seasoned. Portions look small but are actually perfect for a light meal.

There’s a 20% discount for all orders after 7 pm, so all in all, a very convenient and fairly healthy dinner option for us, assuming they don’t run out of food by then.

A says:

Okay for a quick bite. It’s not too expensive but it’s not really cheap either.

Hokkaido Sandwich & Sashimi Deli
4 Marina Boulevard
#01-33 The Sail@Marina Bay
Tel: 6509-0685
Opening hours: 8.30 am to 8 pm

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Simply Bread

C says:

Simply Bread’s latest outlet at Cluny Court is located right round the corner from Relish, which could be a good or a bad thing. Because diners are pretty much on the second floor just for Relish, they may have tunnel vision and not notice Simply Bread – I certainly didn’t until P pointed it out to me the other night. On the other hand, they may benefit on days where Relish is too packed and diners just want a simple place to have a quick meal.

The way the store is designed also has its pros and cons. The partitions at the entrance ensure that diners are somewhat hidden away from curious passers-by, so you can eat in relative peace without worrying that the people standing in line at Relish will be staring at you. Again this is a downside for them because at first glance the restaurant looks empty.

The menu is a bit skimpy – about 8 sandwiches and 4 salads for lunch, another 5 separate dinner sandwiches, and a selection of breakfast items like French toast, omelettes and eggs and bacon/sausage. I think they could do with adding a couple of hot soups so that we have the option of a soup and salad instead of a sandwich. Although they ARE called Simply Bread, after all…

I went with the salt-beef sandwich, but this turned out to be a bit boring. It was literally just slices of beef brisket on soft bread – they don't offer a toasted sandwich option for this, which is strange. After a while it got quite monotonous because there simply was no variation in tastes or textures with each bite. Watch the mustard though – it packs a serious punch!

A had the Everything sandwich, which was essentially a club sandwich without the centre slice of bread – BLT plus chicken and egg. This was better than mine; at least it was toasted and was a lot more interesting.

They have a tiny take-out section downstairs as well, right next to the Da Paolo Gastronomia, selling pre-packed sandwiches and salads. I would only come back here if I wanted a light meal and didn't feel like anything else in the area, and I think I’ll try something from their breakfast menu next time.

A says:

Unlike the Simply Bread(s) in town, this has a more laid back feel and is a simply good place to have a simple sandwich. Service is simply good. My only peeve is that the coffees are really simply small.

Simply Bread
2nd floor, Cluny Court
Tel: 6763-2628

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


C says:

Yes, 2 big meals in one day is a lot, even for atetoomuch. It certainly wasn’t ideal, but A’s friends wanted to meet up so we found ourselves at Relish. I was still insanely full from lunch, so quite contrary to my beliefs, I only had a salad. At Relish! Me! Imagine that!

It was a good salad though – slices of seared tuna, baby spinach and a ginger/garlic dressing that was reminiscent of the chicken rice ginger sauce.

A had the Ram-lee burger, which to me is officially the best burger at Relish (though maybe I need to try the Bacon Cheeseburger again as well). The patty is now medium rare, and the combination of omelette, sweet chilli and mayonnaise is a winner.

R had the bolognaise pasta, which also looks like a good option for those who aren’t in the mood for a burger. Portion isn’t overwhelming, and they use capellini rather than spaghetti. Strangely enough, there’s only one pasta on the menu and that’s the pasta of the day. Tonight it was Szechuan prawn, but when asked if they could do the bolognaise anyway, they said yes. So why not just add it to the menu?

A says:

This place has always suffered from blur staff but while service has mostly improved, one of the waiters we had was the most blur we’ve ever had.

I’m pretty surprised we managed to get a table for ten at the last minute but I guess most people aren’t willing to pay almost $20 for a burger. Still this does make a good last minute option.

501 Bukit Timah Road
#02-01 Cluny Court
Tel: 6763-1547
Mon - Fri: Noon to 3 pm, 6 pm to 11 pm
Sat and Sun: Noon to 11 pm


C says:

Located just down the road from Cicada, Pietrasanta was doing roaring business on the night we went to Cicada, and while it looked a bit poseur, I did want to check it out to see what the fuss was all about. We decided to try it at lunch today, figuring that it may be less chi-chi during the day. That may be the case, but it was no less packed and we had to settle for a table outdoors. (Hot! Flies!)

This place is opened by the same couple that brought you La Pizzaiola. They’ve since closed that down, to concentrate on Pietrasanta. Pietrasanta is actually the name of the town in Tuscany where owner/chef Loris Massimini is from, so naturally the food here is decidedly Tuscan. Because of that, some of the menu items, particularly the pastas, aren’t the usual predictable ones that you’d see in most Italian restaurants.

Similar to Valentino and Pasta Brava, the food here is rustic rather than fancily-plated, which suits us just fine. While we tried to review this place on its own merits, it was inevitable that we made some comparisons to both.

Like Valentino, this place does specials too, so remember to ask about them. We overheard the waitress telling another table the list of specials, but when she came to take our order she didn't offer the information to us. Maybe she forgot, maybe she thought we wouldn't know any better/weren’t worthy… Anyway, after being asked she gave us the whole list, not leaving anything out (I was listening hard to make sure), so I won't dwell on this.

One of the specials was a Tomino cheese wrapped with parma ham, just like they do at Valentino. I can’t conclude which tastes better, although I will say that the Valentino one is more refined – the cheese here is a lot more oozy, making for slightly shoddier presentation, and the parma ham was a lot more salty. Overall this wasn’t disappointing.

We also shared an antipasto platter. The grilled vegetables were pretty good, particularly the zucchini. The cold cuts, even the parma ham, were uneventful, as was the bread topped with liver pate. But one thing worth mentioning is that they had slices of lardo! I’ve only ever seen this on TV – slices of pure fat. Even for a fat lover like me, this was quite intense.

The pizzas here are fairly standard, and nothing in the main menu jumped out at me either; they seemed a bit heavy for lunch. The pastas seem to reflect the restaurant’s Tuscan roots the best. I had the penne with pork ribs, which at $16.90 was very reasonable for a huge portion and very meaty pork ribs. I enjoyed this – the meat was tender, and the pasta sauce was just tomato-ey enough, with lots of fresh herbs tossed in.

A had something similar to stracci – home-made spinach pasta sheets with a white wine meat sauce. This must be Tuscan, cos I’ve never seen a pairing like this before. I know it doesn't look the most appetising, but it actually tasted pretty good. The meat was like corned beef, and overall it was still quite light and not stodgy. I can’t help but feel that the stracci at Pasta Brava was silkier and had better texture, though.

We wanted to see what they could do with desserts, so we shared the shortcrust tart with custard cream and rice – another Tuscan specialty, apparently. I think this pushed me over the edge; I was so full after this it’s not funny. At first I didn't take to this because I couldn't quite figure out what it was supposed to taste like. But after I tried it on its own, without the chocolate sauce, I liked it a whole lot better. It’s quite interesting – the rice is mixed into the custard but rather than feeling like you’re eating rice, it just adds some texture and bite to the custard. Eating it without the chocolate sauce also ensures that the clean taste of the vanilla custard really comes through.

I won’t say I was completely blown away, but I wasn’t disappointed with anything. Service was a bit frazzled but very polite, and food arrived quite promptly too. I’ll definitely be back.

A says:

After hearing so many negative things about this place, I fully expected it to suck. Thankfully, the food and service both turned out to be pretty good. I still prefer Cicada but this place is an okay alternative.

Ristorante Pietrasanta
5B Portsdown Road
#01-03 Wessex Estate
Tel: 6479-9521
Lunch: 12noon - 2.30pm
Dinner: 6.00pm - 10.30pm
(Closed on Tue)