The early bird catches the worm. Or in our case, the takoyaki and Arinco King salt caramel roll. We got to ION at 11 am, and the basement food stalls had only just begun their business. We decided to take advantage of our early start, and try all the stalls that normally have snaking queues when the crowds build up.
For me, that meant making a beeline for the renowned takoyaki stall. Ever since it opened, it’s had a Donut Factory effect – scores of people would queue for the fried balls of batter, cabbage and octopus.
When we got there, we were so early that a queue hadn’t even formed yet, and they were just about getting the first batch of balls nicely browned. We placed our order, and were told to return in 5 minutes to pick it up.
Well, I still wouldn’t queue for too long for these, but I must say they’re a whole lot better than Takopachi, the other takoyaki brand that’s available in many supermarket food courts. Takopachi offers a number of fillings (octopus, bacon and cheese and prawn) whereas Gindaco only has octopus, but Gindaco certainly focuses on executing that one variety well. The outside is browned and crisp, and when you cut into it – I would advise not biting into a freshly cooked one cos it’s steaming hot – the batter is remarkably light. Quite a contrast with Takopachi’s dense and soggy interiors.
I’ll definitely have these again. But only when there’s no/not much of a queue.
In contrast, this was such a disappointment. Having read good reviews and seen the long queue when we were last here, we headed for the stall while it was still quiet, and ordered the R Burger – a beef patty with shiso leaf, pickled daikon in a steamed mantou bun.
I really didn’t like the flavour combination – essentially the shiso leaf overwhelmed all the other flavours, with the daikon second and the beef patty a distant last place. I didn’t care much for the mantou bun either. I know it’s meant to be a light and fluffy alternative to a regular burger bun, but I found it a bit sticky and unpleasant – kinda like pau that’s gotten a bit wet whilst steaming.
You can’t miss this stall, with its larger than life salt caramel roll, a hint that this is clearly their specialty. Snagging one of these is apparently almost an art form. More often than not, when you go at peak hours it’s sold out, and when you try to go early like we did, the rolls aren’t ready yet. So we placed an order at 11.30 am, went shopping and picked it up at around 1 pm.
Each portion is $18 for a roll that’s approximately 6 inches long, and about 3 inches in diameter. Soft vanilla sponge is rolled with Chantilly cream and scorched caramel, and drizzled with salty caramel.
I have a salt caramel obsession, so this was close to heaven for me. I’m quite picky about my salt caramels. I think so far, Canele’s salt caramel macarons and Cafe Caramel cake have the best salt caramel blend. They’re daring enough to push the boundaries of the saltiness level of the caramel.
I must say this gives Canele a run for their money. The flavours in the roll are surprisingly complex. The salt caramel topping is pretty close to Canele’s, and the caramel within the roll is slightly burnt so it’s nutty and a little bitter, but not past the point where it’s downright burnt.
The roll is quite big, so if you’re counting your calories (and who isn’t, these days), don't worry, you can spread them out, because this keeps in the fridge for about a week.
Gindaco Takoyaki – the staff at the takoyaki were really efficient and friendly, but I really didn’t find the balls that great. Worth a try, but only if there’s no queue.
R burger – yuck.
Arinco King – very good. Whether it’s worth the $15+ price tag is questionable though.