Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009

C says:

2009 has been quite an eventful year for atetoomuch. To commemorate it, and to start a new tradition, we’re going to list our Best of 2009 – a summary of the most outstanding places that we’ve discovered this year, or old faithfuls that never fail to satisfy.

The criteria are simple – no minimum or maximum budget, no limit on cuisine type, just places or dishes that made us sit up, take notice, and vow to be back. The only restriction is that it has to be places in Singapore.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s my Top 9 for 2009:

1) Sage The Restaurant

Better late than never. We avoided this place on the assumption that it looked too chi-chi and intimidating, only to discover that it was anything but. Our first visit there in November was one of our best meals of 2009.

2) Morton’s Bar

The fillet mignon sandwiches are good, but the burger here is out of this world. Best burger in Singapore, period.

3) Canton-i

ION Orchard is officially our favourite mall, due in no small part to the great food discoveries we’ve made there. The char siew at Canton-i, with its succulent layers of fat sweetened and charred to perfection, has spoilt me for all char siews in future. No other char siew even comes close. Ok, so Wong Ah Yoke recently dissed the char siew for being inconsistent, but we still beg to differ. We’ve had it 3 times and it has never failed to impress. Maybe we got lucky. Or maybe we just have lower expectations.

4) Kith Cafe

Good food, unpretentious owners and waitstaff (though the same can’t be said for some of the clientele…), and the best damn flat white I’ve had in Singapore.

5) Hiang Ji at Toa Payoh

This is an unexpected but definitely deserved entry. The noodles/hor fun, flavoured with the unmistakeable fragrance of lard, are simply heaven.

6) Arinco King

Yes, at $18 per roll you could say this is overpriced. And perhaps the salt caramel isn’t quite as perfected as Canele’s. But I still think this is worth every penny. That wonderful combination of light sponge cake, burnt caramel whipped cream and salt caramel glaze puts a smile on my face every time.

7) Modern Peking Duck

Thanks to Modern Peking Duck at the ION basement food street for bringing peking duck crepes to the masses. My only grouse is that they’ve stopped serving the Big Pig, and in its place they offer suckling pig crepes. These aren’t as good as the peking duck ones.

8) Shin Yeh

I can’t stop thinking about the oyster omelette here, which I guess is the hallmark of a good restaurant. For this reason, and because less than a day after our first visit I’m already plotting a return trip, Shin Yeh has made it to our Top 9.

9) Ember

Our year will not be complete without Ember. Our anniversary dinner there this year reminded us just how understatedly fabulous the food is.

Well, there you have it. I wonder what 2010 will bring, and I can’t wait to find out. Happy New Year, everyone!

A says:

I agree with C’s except for one of them (Arinco King). My top 9 for 09 are:

1) Sage – expensive but worth it

2) Canton-i – Crystal Jade prices but way better food

3) Modern Peking Duck – I was addicted to these for awhile. Eat them on the spot. I’ve learnt they don’t keep well at all.

4) Morton’s Bar – Probably the best burger in Singapore. And even though it’s $25 (after 8pm), it’s still not the most expensive. Shocking.

5) Hiang Ji at Toa Payoh – We can’t be accused of being too atas with this on the list. Big ups to YCC for the recommendation. I take full credit for asking for hor fun instead of mee kia though.

6) Kith Cafe – Love this place. If only it were a bit bigger. Too bad we don’t live in the area anymore.

7) Shin Yeh – One of my new preferred Chinese restaurants.

8) Ember – Always good.

9) Saizeriya – Unbeatable value for money. Just steer clear of the steaks.

Other notables (but not necessarily must-try material): Hand Burger, Melt buffet at Mandarin Oriental, Smoke Shack (which we’ve tried separately but haven’t gone together so no review yet).

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Shin Yeh

C says:

Again, like Sage, this is proof that we should be open to new dining experiences. We always assumed this place was too Asian for us, but after numerous recommendations from A’s gang of friends, we decided to meet up for dinner here. Shin Yeh is a Taiwanese high-end chain restaurant, and was imported to Singapore by Tung Lok, so some of the dishes have been reinterpreted.

We took P’s cue and ordered most of the dishes that she suggested. The specialty here is mullet roe, which surprisingly comes sliced or in cubes, rather than in caviar form like most other fish roes. We ordered just the slices of roe, sandwiched between sliced tomato, daikon and leek. At $36 for 8 pieces, this isn’t cheap, but it gives you an unadulterated taste of the roe, and I must say it was way better than I expected. It didn’t taste fishy at all; in fact, it had an almost subtle cheese taste. Very interesting and very good.

Another must-try is their version of an oyster omelette. This is delicious, and I dare say even better than some of the best hawker –style “orh luaks”. Here it’s done with a soft interior and crispy exterior, not starchy or oily, and the oysters are fresh and not overly cloying. I would recommend ordering 2 portions if you have a group larger than 4.

They do a good pan-seared pig’s liver here, but this has to be eaten piping hot. The first few slices were fabulous – perfectly cooked with the liver still slightly runny inside. We got distracted as the other dishes arrived, and by the time we got back to the liver it was a bit cold and slightly overcooked.

We also tried the beef fillet with XO sauce. The beef was nice and rare, but I think their appetizers are probably better than ‘main’ dishes like the beef.

Besides the mullet roe, most of their appetizers are in the range of $12 to $18. Portions aren’t huge so this isn’t the cheapest of places, but I was very impressed with the food, particularly the oyster omelette. Also, their practice is to give free mochi when you ask for the bill, so don’t forget to ask for it. They didn’t offer it to us so we had to specifically ask them. It’s worth the slight embarrassment, cos the mochi rocks too.

A says:

I usually hate oyster omelette but this one rocks. No icky taste at all. The mullet roe is awesome too, but probably not worth the price. And the stuff here generally falls a bit on the pricy side.

I fully recommend this place and look forward to coming back. And for me to say that about a Chinese restaurant says a lot.

177 River Valley Road
#02-19, Liang Court Shopping Centre
Tel: 6338-7337
Lunch: 11.30 am to 2.30 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 10.30 pm

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It’s Christmas time again!

C says:

It’s that time of the year again, when I rack my brains thinking of Christmas presents, and end up deciding to just bake stuff for uncles and aunts. What with the various house moves this year, I haven’t had the time to experiment with new recipes, so I decided to take the easy way out and (a) bake something tried and tested, and (b) make only one item, not a selection like last year.

I went with the blueberry crumble cake again, because it has the fewest ingredients and requires fairly little effort to assemble. I tested it a few weeks ago with A, as well as Y’s family, and got pretty good feedback, so I figured I was good to go.

I had to bake 4 cakes on a rather packed Saturday, so I was a mad baking machine. Started just before 8 am, and was done by 12.30 pm. I used the baking time of each cake to mix up the next one, and after a while it all became rote. The only problem was having to clean the mixing bowl, beater and cake pans in between each cake – that was a bitch.

A printed some BakeTooMuch labels for me again, and I tied them up with some chartreuse grosgrain ribbon that I snagged from a shop in Arab Street. I think I’m happier with my boxes than the actual cakes.

Well, Merry Christmas, one and all! Here’s to a season of feasting, family and friendship!

A says:

Surprisingly good.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Skinny Pizza

C says:

Skinny Pizza by House has opened a new outlet at Wheelock Place – perfect for us since I’m there quite frequently. In addition to their skinny pizzas, they also have some House specials (pun intended, har har), like the Sliders and the metre-long sausage.

Although the Sliders were calling to me, we decided to try 2 pizzas – the English Breakfast, and the Braised Veal. When the first one arrived I panicked, cos it was huge, but actually there’s so little crust that it’s not filling at all, and we easily polished off 2 pizzas as well as a dessert.

Surprisingly, I ended up liking the Veal one more than the English Breakfast. The veal was braised till amazingly tender, with a rich sauce and there was a hint of truffle oil. There was also mashed potato and softened onions, and topped with arugula.

On paper, the English Breakfast sounded like a sure-win – sunny side up egg, sautéed mushrooms, bacon, cheese and grilled tomato. Which is why, when it arrived and we took our first bite, we were puzzled that we weren’t enjoying it as much as we expected. Somehow, the Napoli tomato sauce that was spread on the crust didn’t quite complement the other fry-up ingredients.

Their dessert menu is in the form of a food magazine – very cool and certainly very enticing. We shared the warm banana cake with salted caramel and coffee popcorn. This wasn’t quite what I expected. The cake was nice and moist but the salted caramel didn’t come through. We tasted either caramel, or just plain salt…

I’m glad we now have a place to have some of the better offerings from House, in a much friendlier, less chi-chi setting. We’ll be back to try more pizzas and of course, the Sliders and truffle fries.

A says:

Excellent service. Pretty good food but it’s not a traditional pizza by any stretch. As long as you go in with that in mind, you’ll be fine. I think next time, we’ll share a pizza and the sliders.

Also, you can ask for an iced version of any of the coffees on the menu. The iced latte I had was pretty decent (cause I like my iced coffee sweet and milky).

Skinny Pizza
501 Orchard Road
#03-04 Wheelock Place
Tel: 6235-7823
Open daily: 10 am to 10 pm

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Buko Nero

C says:

When cousin L asked if we wanted to have dinner with her and M at Buko Nero, we leapt at the chance, since our last trip was way back on 13th February. After a number of failed attempts (they were away, then closed for a private function), L managed to snag a choice reservation for 19th December – 7.30 pm on a Saturday night.

This is where it gets freaky… I went back to our previous Buko Nero posts to see what we had, since it’s been so long. And in 2008, we also went just twice, on… 13th February and 19th December! What are the odds?!

Anyway, we all had the set and swapped the main for either the specials, or interesting new dishes on the menu.

Amuse bouche: Crostini with flaked cod in a wholegrain mustard dressing
Starter: Korean pear salad with grilled saba in a ponzu and pink peppercorn sauce
Soup: Chickpea with basil and crabmeat
Sherbet: Sour plum
A’s main: Twice-cooked duck breast with anchovies sauce
C’s main: Risotto with fontina cheese and speck
M’s main: Crusted cod with bell pepper coulis
L’s main: Beef tenderloin wrapped with pancetta, in a blueberry and red wine sauce
Dessert: Chocolate cake with caramel and home-made macha gelato

The crostini and soup were both very good. The salad was alright but I wasn’t particularly keen on the texture of the Korean pear.

A and I ordered mains off the a la carte menu, and L and M ordered the specials. The duck was quite a generous serving – ten sizeable slices on a bed of pureed potato. Flavours were good, but the duck was a bit overdone for my liking.

My risotto was sheer decadent heaven. The flavours were really intense, from the cheese, to the slices of speck (a kind of parma ham) on top, to the amazing sauce that was drizzled on the circumference of the mound of risotto. Rich, creamy and oozy – three of the best words to describe a risotto and the one tonight scored on all fronts.

We didn't try L and M’s mains so both of you – do share (your views, clearly, not the food).

The dessert wasn’t one of Chef Oscar’s best, but I surprisingly liked his home-made macha gelato. Instead of the lurid green that is the Haagen-Daaz green tea ice cream, with an equally in-your-face flavour, here it was very subtle and restrained. A nice complement to the cake.

My risotto was the best dish of the night, but to be honest, I found the duck rather disappointing. Still, a satisfying and pretty reasonable meal.

A says:

Risotto rawked.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

4 Fingers Bonchon Crispy Chicken

C says:

Across from Freddie’s Burger is 4 Fingers Bonchon Crispy Chicken. This has a somewhat strange pedigree – it’s a US chain, but opened by a Korean. It specialises in fried chicken wings, and what I like about it is that you can order different parts of the wing – either the drumlets or the actual wing portion. They come in 2 flavours – spicy, and soy garlic. I ordered a 6-piece of just the wings, and combined the flavours.

They packed it in the same box, so the soy garlic ended up tasting a bit spicy from the spicy glaze of the others. Otherwise, the soy garlic is really quite bland and lacks any distinct character. The spicy, on the other hand, packs a surprising punch. Looks fairly nondescript but there’s some residual heat on your tongue. The wings are really crispy and the meat is pretty tender too.

This makes for a nice snack, but I waited for quite a considerable time for just one portion of wings. Definitely not something you can grab and go.

A says:

Spicier than I expected. The chicken is good, but the question really is whether it’s worth the wait.

Four Fingers Bonchon Crispy Chicken
2 Orchard Turn
#B4-06A ION Orchard
Open daily: 11 am to 10 pm

Freddie’s Burger

C says:

When I found out this place was called “Freddie’s Burgers (By Renaldo)”, and they that served Australian-style burgers, I got quite excited, wondering if our old favourite Renaldo’s from Crown Centre had finally found a new home for their burgers.

Alas, even if it is somehow connected to the old Renaldo’s, the burgers were nowhere near as good as the Crown Centre ones used to be. They were decent and quite reasonably priced ($7 for a combo meal that includes curly fries and a drink), but nothing that will blow you away, taste-wise. Their menu isn’t the most helpful either – they have names like The Victorian, or Tasmanian, with photos, but no actual description of what each burger contains.

We sat next to a tourist couple, who got increasingly frustrated. We were trying to eavesdrop, but all I gathered was that the lady’s burger took ages to arrive, and when it did, she sent it back twice for various reasons.

With all the food available at ION, I don’t think we’ll be coming back here.

A says:

Very good service. Very ordinary burgers. It’s okay but there are much better places to eat in Ion. And it’s not a destination place for a burger.

Freddie’s Burger
2 Orchard Turn
#B4-86/87 ION Orchard
Tel: 6509-3947
Open daily: 10 am to 10 pm

Saturday, December 05, 2009

La Fromagerie

C says:

La Fromagerie is a cheese and gourmet store by Chef Julien Bompard and his wife Edith of Le Saint Julien restaurant. Located at Chip Bee Gardens in Holland Village, the store offers both retail and dine-in, the latter being a welcome option for people like us, who like to sample cheeses but feel too embarrassed to go to the cheese room at Jone’s The Grocer, for example, and just buy 25g of each variety.

Here, you can get a cheese platter at $14 per 100g, and an accompanying charcuterie platter for $26. We initially wanted 200g of cheese, but the waiter advised us that 100g was sufficient, and suggested we try the special of the day, the tartiflette.

They gave us 4 varieties of cheese, in increasing levels of strength. The 2 hard cheeses, one of which was a Beaufort and the other I can’t remember, were both quite ordinary and not something I’d order again. The 2 soft cheeses, on the other hand, were great. The camembert seemed mild at first but had quite a lingering moreish aftertaste. The blue cheese, which was a Bleu de Bonneval (or something), was fabulous – it had a good mix of flavour without being too aggressively stinky.

The charcuterie platter was divine, and pretty good value for $26. There were 4 slices each of parma ham, mortadella and honey baked ham, a few cubes of pate, and a quenelle of duck rillette. All of it was really good and unsurprisingly, in my opinion the rillette came out tops.

We ordered a bread basket to go along with our platters, and in addition to a few slices of baguette, there were also all sorts of thin, crisp crostinis that complemented the cheese and charcuterie perfectly.

The tartiflette though, turned out to be a bit of a mistake. It was essentially a gratin of potato chunks, ham and cheese in a white wine cream sauce. It definitely tasted good and the flavours were really pronounced, but this really weighed down our stomachs. Next time we’ll go with our initial instinct to get 200g of cheese and the charcuterie platter, and skip any mains.

A says:

Stick with the platters. The other stuff is very heavy.

La Fromagerie
Blk 43, Jalan Merah Saga (Chip Bee Gardens)
Tel: 6732-6269

Friday, December 04, 2009

Cafeteria Il Lido

C says:

I guess this is Il Lido’s attempt at tapping the mass market but besides the name, there’s not much of a connection between this place and the fine dining restaurant. The decor at the simple eatery located within the Fountain Terrace at Suntec City is quite bare and no-frills, and the food is no different. It was pretty empty on a Friday night, which didn't really reassure us when we walked in.

Do take note that prices have increased since the article/review in the Sunday Times a few months ago. In the article, it listed a pasta at $5.90, and mains like baked snapper at $9.90. However, over the course of a few months prices have increased quite significantly – I don't think any pasta was under $10, and the baked sea bream that I ordered was close to $15. At those prices, I expect fairly decent quality, since it’s on par or even more expensive than Saizeriya and the Market @ Central.

If the prices had been as per the Sunday Times article, I don’t think I would have any reason to be dissatisfied. But with the price hikes, my expectations are also raised and I don’t think the place fully delivered on that front. The four cheese pizza was pretty good, but then again, copious amounts of mascarpone cheese are usually enough to make me happy.

The pizza was a decent size, but the baked sea bream I ordered was considerably less generous. Just 2 thin fillets, a few squid rings and some very undernourished clams. The flavour was alright – the olives enhanced the tomato sauce, but I don't think this was worth the price.

We figured we could fit in a pasta to share, so we tried the Bolognese, since it was listed as a specialty. This was quite bland and uninspired, and not really worth the $10+ price tag. I know I sound fussy, but that's because there are other places that serve better pasta at lower prices.

Still, there was nothing tragically wrong with the food. If you’re wandering around the Fountain Terrace and feel like a rather generic pizza/pasta meal, this is certainly a viable option.

A says:

Average. I’d go for the pizza rather than the pasta.

Cafeteria Il Lido
3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-012 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6883-2341
Open daily: 11.30 am – 10 pm