Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh

C says:

We came to PSA Building at Tanjong Pagar intending to try the Amoy Street Boon Kee prawn noodles, after hearing Y rave about them. Unfortunately the stall was closed, despite reading online reviews that only close on Sundays. We wandered round and chanced upon the branch of Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh, the famous one at Outram/Havelock. At least our trip here wasn’t in vain then.

In order to make it as fair a comparison to Founder as possible, we tried to order similar items – the long pork ribs (which cost more), salted vegetables, you tiao and steamed rice. Taking each item in turn:

Pork ribs: These were remarkably tender. We thought Founder’s were tender but here the meat simply fell off the bone with absolutely no effort. Unfortunately, as you can see from the photo, they were also remarkably tiny and certainly not worth $7 a bowl. At least half the size of the Founder ones. So, a tie here.

Soup: The soup at Founder packs more of a punch. It’s more peppery, but it goes beyond just the amount of pepper. The soup at Ya Hua somehow lacked a richness and depth of flavour that Founder’s has. Winner: Founder

Chilli Padi: Available at both joints. Another tie.

Salted vegetables: I don’t know what Founder puts in their giam chye, but there’s absolutely no comparison here. Founder’s isn’t salty so much as slightly garlicky and very savoury. The one at Ya Hua was more like the very one-dimensional giam chye that you get at porridge stalls – just plain salty, and cooked until almost mushy. Clear winner: Founder.

Service: Yes, at Founder you have to queue to get a table, but once you’re seated they’re very efficient and your food arrives really quickly. At Ya Hua, they’re very keen to seat you but after that, it takes ages for them to (a) notice you, (b) come to take your order, and (c) actually serve your food. We overheard a table complaining that they’d been waiting for their food for over half an hour. I prefer the Founder system because it’s more transparent, so for me, winner: Founder.

Basically, the only thing going for Ya Hua is the tenderness of the pork ribs, but it’s not enough to switch my allegiances from Founder. It was worth a try just to see what the fuss is all about, but whenever I have a bak kut teh craving, there’s no question where I’ll head to.

A says:

I’d rather go to Founder.

Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh
7 Keppel Road
#01-05/07 PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex
Tel: 6222-9610
7 am to 3 pm
593 Havelock Road
#01-01/02 Isetan Office Building
Tel: 6235-7716
6 pm to 2 am

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tian Mi Mi

C says:

S’s husband KH has opened a dessert cafe recently, and since we were in the East on Sunday we popped by to check it out. It’s called Tian Mi Mi, and it’s modelled after an old-fashioned cafe, from the marble-topped round tables and wooden stools to the traditional desserts that mother/grandmother used to make. Indeed, the recipes for the desserts were all tested and perfected by none other than KH’s mom herself.

We’d already had lunch when we went there, so we could only manage to try 2 desserts – the mango pomelo sago, and on S’s recommendation, the baked baby coconut with ice cream. They certainly didn’t stint on the mango for the mango pomelo dessert. There was fresh mango puree as well as cubes of mango, along with very fresh segments of pomelo. I like that there wasn’t too much shaved ice too – I hate massive amounts of ice because I have to wait till it melts or risk getting brain freeze.

I really like the baked baby coconut, but I’m not sure if it was too subtle for A. It came with a glass and I was wondering why they gave A ice water but not me. Then we realised that it was coconut water! It was coconut ice cream, some kind of coconut jelly-like threads which tasted like nonya kueh, all within the coconut shell. The thin coconut flesh is still intact so you can also scrape that up and eat it too.

Besides the 2 that we tried, there are lots of other enticing desserts like tang yuan in ginger soup, milk custards, orh nee and white fungus soup. They also have a few porridges – chicken, century egg and pork, so next time we’ll come for a porridge and try a couple more desserts. I definitely want to try the tang yuan next and I think A is eyeing the milk custard.

The shop is open till midnight from Sunday to Thursday, and on Friday and Saturday it stays open till 2 am. The best part is while the shop is along bustling East Coast Road, there’s also indoor seating in airconditioned comfort.

A says:

Parking in the east is horrible. Grrrrr...

Anyway, the coconut ice cream is pretty interesting so I’d recommend giving it a try. The ice cream flavour is a bit subtle for my tastes though. I think I’ll try the ah balling or milk custard next time.

Tian Mi Mi Desserts
376 East Coast Road
Tel: 6346-0046
Sunday – Thursday: 11 am to midnight
Friday – Saturday: 11 am to 2 am

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chinese Box

C says:

Black Angus at One Fullerton has moved to a quaint colonial bungalow building within the NUS Law campus along Bukit Timah Road. It occupies the second floor of the building, and on the ground floor is Chinese Box. The owner of both also used to run Superbowl congee at Bowl Quay, so you can expect a wide variety of congees at Chinese Box too. Unfortunately, their noodles and congees are only available at lunchtime; at dinner time the menu offerings are more standard Chinese restaurant fare.

We came here for lunch on Saturday; unfortunately one of their starters (the signature roast pork square) wasn’t available, so we ended ordering 2 noodles and a congee to share. We had a honey glazed char siew noodle, beef brisket noodle and congee with 3 eggs and pork.

The noodles themselves are really good – thin, springy and no overwhelming taste of alkali. Between the 2 noodles, the char siew was much better, mainly because of the really good honey sauce which was drizzled over the char siew. The char siew was tender and the noodles had a really good bite to them – very Hong Kong-style. Instead of being drenched in the usual thick gravy, the beef brisket noodles here were just served with a very light, subtly-flavoured sauce. On the one hand it allowed you to really taste the flavour of the noodles, but it was a tad too plain for me. The dominant taste ended up being the chilli oil that I kept adding to the noodles. The beef brisket itself was really good, though. Very soft, tender and flavourful.

The congee that we ordered consisted of minced pork, pork slices, century egg, salted egg and a raw egg cracked on top. I’m used to century egg in Cantonese congee but it was quite interesting to add salted egg to the mix as well. This was very enjoyable and the congee was typical Hong Kong/Cantonese style – very fine and smooth with almost no discernible rice grains.

As far as the noodles and congee go, the standard here is way better than Crystal Jade, for similar prices. I just wish they had the noodle and congee offerings at dinner time as well, then this could really be a regular haunt whenever we visit my folks.

A says:

The service is excellent. The food’s good but not exactly spectacular.

Chinese Box
NUS Law Faculty
House 4, 1D Cluny Road (opp. Eu Tong Sen Building)
Tel: 6219-7877
Lunch: 11.30 am to 3 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 11 pm

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Classic Cakes

C says:

Classic Cakes at Clementi Arcade (couple of doors down from Daily Scoop) is best known for their sweet offerings, like the Mille Crepes, which now comes in a variety of flavours including apple and chocolate chip. Little did I know that they make a mean savoury Chinese-style yam cake too. I tried this at a party, was completely hooked and ordered it tonight to share with my family.

The version we had was Pumpkin and Yam – soft steamed yam cake with lupcheong (chinese sausage), dried shrimp and generously dotted with pumpkin, and sprinkled with fried shallots, spring onion and cut chillies on top. The cake itself is very light and be warned, it's addictive. The pumpkin adds a nice sweetness and prevents it from becoming too stodgy. Best of all, it comes with an absolutely kick-ass chilli sauce which accentuates yet doesn't overwhelm it.

They do a plain yam cake as well, without pumpkin, and a plain radish cake which I may try next. A 9-inch square cake costs $28 – advance orders are recommended if you want to order the entire cake, but they also sell ¼ portions of the cake over the counter for $7.

A says:

It’s not bad considering I don’t like this kind of cake.

Classic Cakes
41 Sunset Way
#01-06 Clementi Arcade
Tel: 6762-8019
Tue & Sun: 2pm - 9pm
Wed-Sat: 11am - 9pm(Closed on Mondays)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Fishmonger – Part 2

C says:

We had an impromptu dinner at home tonight, and decided to try one of the two fishes, the Orange Roughy fillets, from The Fishmonger. The fillets were delivered fresh last Wednesday, and we promptly froze them. After thawing them in the fridge for about 12 hours, I’m happy to say that I don't think they suffered from being frozen rather than eaten fresh upon delivery. They still tasted superbly fresh, with a firm yet slightly flaky white flesh that didn't have a hint of fishiness whatsoever.

Because the fish has quite a delicate flavour and texture, recommended cooking methods are simple pan frying or baking, with accompanying sauces that don’t overwhelm the subtle flavour of the fish. I soaked them in milk for a short while, then dusted them with some flour to try to create a bit of a crust. After seasoning with just salt and pepper, I pan fried them in butter and olive oil for just 2 minutes per side, and they were done. The fish is certainly very delicate – the larger of the two fillets broke in half as I was transferring it from pan to plate. Also I think I should have used more flour and a slightly hotter pan initially to get a thicker, more golden crust.

I made some pasta to go along with it, the sauce for which was garlic sautéed in the butter from frying the fillets, some white wine, lemon juice and milk (no cream on hand at home). Note to self: next time, a little lemon juice goes a long way. I added a perfunctory piece of grilled (or rather, steamed then blow-torched) corn on the cob to make it a balanced meal.

I’m very impressed with the fish, possibly even more so than with the mussels. Even with my amateur cooking attempts and slightly botched preparation, the quality of the fish was still evident. The main flat fish that I’m used to is the John Dory, and I’ve never been a fan of it because it tends to be fishy and the flesh a bit stringy (though that could be the fault of the produce rather than the inherent nature of the fish itself). These Orange Roughy fillets were moist, subtly flavoured and absolutely delicious. Plus they were completely boneless – a definite plus when cooking for A.

Each fillet is about 200g, which is a perfect portion size for one person. They seem to be quite popular too, because they’re sold out on The Fishmonger’s online store. After we finish the Lingfish fillets, I’m definitely getting more of these. If I can bring myself to use more olive oil and less butter, then this is a pretty healthy meal option and if I can convince A to have it with rice rather than pasta, it'll be simpler for me too. Pity the washing up is always such a pain.

A says:

The fish was great. And C’s turned out to be a good cook. But I’m going to talk about one of the issues I have with cooking at home.

Those chefs on TV who say it’s easy and quick to cook at home never factor in the time spent washing up. We probably spend about half an hour cleaning all the utensils.

I guess you get economies of scale when you’re cooking for large families, but for the two of us, it’s not very time-efficient to do on a regular basis.

It’s worth the hassle for special occasions though. And cooking seems to keep C happy and off my back.

The Fishmonger
Tel: 6851-6158

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Big D’s Grill

C says:

Big D, aka Chef Damian D’Silva, drew considerable flak when, after cooking in many a fine dining restaurant (his most recent venture was Soul Kitchen in Purvis Street), he decided to run a hawker stall, instead of moving on to yet another fine dining establishment, after Soul Kitchen was forced to close.

He moved to Bedok South to start Big D’s Grill, operating out of a coffee shop and serving both quality Western food as well as his signature Eurasian-Peranakan dishes. Well, West-siders rejoice, because as of a few weeks ago Big D’s Grill has moved to Holland Village – specifically the same coffee shop as the famous XO fish bee hoon. W’s friends L and B told us about this on Saturday, and we promptly headed there for dinner on Sunday.

The coffee shop is filled with XO fish bee hoon regulars, but dishes were being regularly churned out at Big D’s while we were there so while they’re not packed at the moment, they seem to be doing fairly steady business. I guess it’s only a matter of time before his regulars find their way here, and he gains new regulars in the West.

The menu is quite streamlined; there are 4 pastas, a selection of steaks (including Angus beef and Wagyu), Kurobuta pork and a few Peranakan dishes. We ordered the crab meat linguine ($10.90) and the anchovy pasta ($17.90).

The crab linguine is a very good deal. They’re very generous with the crab meat, the pasta is done just so, and the sauce is very well balanced. I daresay it’s comparable to the crab meat tagliatelle from Da Paolo.

Objectively, the anchovy pasta tastes really good, albeit quite salty (or maybe because of it?). Basically it’s a very good version of an aglio olio. My only problem with it is that I can’t quite justify why it’s $7 more than the crab meat pasta. Maybe they use fresh imported anchovies or something, but while it was tasty, I don’t think the end product really justified the price.

Next time I think I’ll try either one of the steaks (the fries looked really good – the big fat kind), or one of his Peranakan specialties. Apparently he does takeaway as well – just call with your order about 15 minutes before pick-up.

Update: I've since tried the Sambal Buah Keluak here. It's not what I expected - it's not the typical buah keluak with gravy, chicken or pork pieces. Instead it's very finely minced pork mixed with neat buah keluak flesh. Literally like a sambal which is served with plain white rice and some pickled tomato and shallot.

Yes it was unexpected but after getting over the initial surprise, this really grew on me. The sambal is very moreish, as you would expect from buah keluak, but also had hints of sweetness and coconut, which is I guess Big D's Eurasian spin on this classic Peranakan dish. A says: Wow, this buah keluak I can actually eat.

A says:

The portion sizes aren’t gigantic for the price and I really don’t think the anchovy pasta is worth the price. But I’ll definitely be back for the crabmeat linguine. I can’t see myself ordering anything else though.

Big D’s Grill
Block 46 Holland Drive
Tel: 8120-0244

Friday, February 13, 2009

Buko Nero

C says:

We managed to get a booking at Buko Nero for dinner tonight, so for the second year running we had our pre-Valentine’s Day dinner here. I know all of you must be sick and tired of reading about our Buko Nero exploits so I do apologise, but these are really for our own record so that we remember what we had, what was noteworthy and what should be avoided in future. I promise to keep it short.

Amuse bouche: Frittata square with truffle and mayonnaise
Starter: Roma tomato with citrus dressing, olive tapenade and pecorino cheese
Soup: Green pea and Hokkaido sea scallop
Additional starter: Foie gras ravioli
Sorbet: Mandarin and lime
A’s main: Twice-cooked pork rack with honey and rosemary glaze
C’s main: Beef tenderloin wrapped with eggplant in red white reduction
Dessert: Milk chocolate cake with coconut and Gula Melaka coulis

The foie gras ravioli was one of the specials and despite it being a bit indulgent, we had it as an additional starter to share. I’m really glad we did cos it was the highlight of the meal. Even A, a consummate foie gras non-fan, was blown away by this. The filling was a bit like a foie gras mousse/pate, so it wasn't too rich. As with most of Buko Nero’s raviolis, it was made with wonton skin wrappers rather than traditional pasta sheets. As a result, the raviolis were very delicate and you could really taste the foie gras filling without it being overwhelmed by pasta. They were drizzled with truffle oil and served in a really flavourful jus/gravy.

The rest of the meal paled in comparison – particularly the soup, which is surprising because the soups here are usually quite good. Today it was a bit too powdery for me and the green pea didn’t really go with the scallop.

They’re closed to attend an Expo in Italy from 28 March to 14 April, then we’re away, so I anticipate it’ll be quite a number of months before our next visit.

A says:

This is one of the best meals I’ve had in Buko Nero in awhile. The ravioli especially rocked.

Buko Nero
126 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6324-6225
Dinner: 6.30pm to 9.30pm (Tuesday to Saturday)
Lunch: Noon to 2pm (Friday and Saturday)
Closed Sunday and Monday

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Fishmonger – Part 1

C says:

Valentine’s Day comes early for atetoomuch. J and P, of The Butcher, have started a sister business purveying seafood called (d-uh) The Fishmonger. There currently isn’t much of a physical storefront at the moment, though I understand that plans are underway to set aside a portion of the display at The Butcher’s Chip Bee Gardens store for The Fishmonger’s seafood. Because of the more perishable nature of seafood relative to meat, the current plan is to have The Fishmonger as a primarily online business. The idea is that you submit your orders from 9 am on Friday till 5 pm Tuesday, and your order is then delivered from 2 pm on Wednesday onwards. It doesn’t get much fresher than that! This ensures that the seafood is only ordered according to demand, so that it’s delivered to you the minute it arrives and there’s no wastage

On Wednesday J dropped off a dozen oysters, a bag of Tasmanian blue mussels, and Orange Roughy and Ling fillets (thanks so much, J!). Because the fish could be frozen, we decided to have the oysters and mussels on Wednesday night itself to enjoy them at their freshest, so we had an impromptu V-day dinner of freshly shucked oysters and mussels steamed with garlic, white wine, lemon and butter.

First off, can I just say that I’m mighty pleased with myself that I managed to shuck the oysters on my very first try, with no severed fingers or other casualties. Armed with theory knowledge from googling “How to shuck oysters” and my trusty paring knife, I had some trouble with the first few but I got the hang of it after a while. So yay me ;)

These oysters are apparently farmed Sydney Rock oysters, and they’re not very big but that suits me perfectly, because I find really fat oysters a bit overwhelming. We had them the classic way – raw with just a squeeze of lemon and a few drops of Tabasco sauce. Apart from one which tasted faintly metallic, the rest were great. They were fresh, sweet and milky. Random aside: if you’re shucking your own oysters, please don’t pour away the oysters’ natural juices! They’re as much a part of the oyster experience as the oyster flesh itself. The reason I’m saying this is – one day at the Carousel buffet, I saw one of the waitstaff at the oyster section shuck oysters, then RINSE them in a pail of water! Horrors!!!

A helped me clean up the mussels before we cooked them, and only had to toss out a few that were already open. We slurped up the mussels and soaked up the gravy with toasted baguette. The mussels were fabulous – really fresh, and again though they weren’t huge, the flesh was very sweet and refined. When mussels are too big I usually have a threshold before I start to feel a bit ick, but A and I polished off the entire pot without any trouble at all. I can’t take any credit for the preparation either – I literally threw them into a pot with sautéed garlic, dumped in random amounts of white wine, lemon juice and some sea salt, and hoped for the best. Again, it goes to show that if the ingredients are good, you don’t have to do much with them at all. Next time though, I’ll probably take out the mussels after they’ve opened and are cooked, then continue to reduce the sauce for a few minutes so that the gravy thickens.

So far, a definite thumbs up for the quality of the shellfish. We’ll write back once we’ve had a chance to sample the fish fillets.

A says:

I haven’t been fond of oysters since a bad experience many years ago. It’s a long and disgusting story I won’t share TMI.

Surprisingly, these oysters didn’t have the usually overwhelming oyster flavour and they went down nice and smoothly.

I found the mussels surprisingly small. I’m used to the big meaty ones. I guess they condensed the taste since they were very tasty.

So far, it’s top marks for taste but the small sizes mean it’s not for those who want quantity over quality.

The Fishmonger
Tel: 6851-6158

Monday, February 02, 2009

Two Chefs Eating Place

C says:

Two Chefs is an unassuming little zi char eatery along Commonwealth Crescent, that despite its humble location has received quite a fair bit of good press for good, value-for-money zi char. When we finally tried it out on Monday it was absolutely packed, though I’m not sure how much was attributed to the fact that it was the 7th day of Chinese New Year that day, when families traditionally gather to celebrate the birth of mankind (or something).

Two Chefs was started by two friends from Malaysia who’d worked their way through many a restaurant kitchen for over ten years before finally striking out on their own. Their comprehensive menu reads more like a restaurant menu than a zi char one, yet prices are still within the zi char range (on the low side, at that). Service is also very efficient and, surprisingly for a busy zi char place, very friendly.

One of their signature dishes is the butter pork ribs (they’re called ribs but they’re largely boneless), prepared similar to butter/cereal prawns with a crumbly butter coating and curry leaves. This was very interesting – butter prawns are everywhere but I’ve never had butter pork before. I liked it, but I would’ve preferred the butter coating to be richer and more liquid, rather than a dry crumbly texture. It was also a bit sweeter than I would’ve liked. But top marks for the concept though.

We over-ordered as usual. We also ordered stir fried gai lan, tofu with either enoki mushroom or dried scallop (we ordered dried scallop but ours came with both scallop and mushrooms…), and hor fun with sliced fish and beansprouts. Total was just over $30, which I thought was really good value.

This is a good no-frills eating place serving almost restaurant-quality food at a fraction of the price. It’s also a good bet if you’re looking for dishes that are not bog-standard zi char offerings. My only complaint though, and it’s a big one for me, is that some of the older patrons don’t heed the no-smoking signs. There was a table of old fogies who were happily puffing away, oblivious to the no-smoking sign directly overhead. It didn’t help that the place was packed, and we couldn’t choose to sit far away from the smoking zone. Because I’m so sensitive to smoke, the residual smoke wafting over from the zone, coupled with the adjacent table of oldies, made for a rather unpleasant experience.

A says:

Good food. Good service. It’s not exactly cheap but the portions are generous. Once again we ordered and atetoomuch.

Two Chefs Eating Place
Blk 116, Commonwealth Crescent, #01-129
Tel: 6472 5361
Mon: 5pm - 11.30pm
Tue-Sun: 11.45am - 2.30pm, 5pm - 11.30pm
Closed every last Mon of the month)