Sunday, March 28, 2010

Restaurant Week – The Nautilus Project

C says:

This seafood restaurant on the 4th floor of ION Orchard is part of the group that includes The Prime Society. Ironically, we actually tried desperately to get a Restaurant Week table at Prime Society cos the menu looked awesome and very reasonable (Hokkaido scallops, gunpowder wagyu, all for $35), but I guess everyone had the same idea because it was booked solid. We decided on The Nautilus Project when A saw gnocchi featured on the menu.

Starters were a choice of Tuna Nicoise salad, or Crab and Corn Chowder. The salad was alright – they were pretty generous with the slices of seared tuna, and the poached egg on top was a nice touch, but overall I found it slightly underseasoned. The chowder fared much better – very flavourful and chockfull of crab meat and corn kernels.

A naturally ordered the home-made gnocchi with braised oxtail, lemon, rosemary, mint and peas. I didn’t taste much of the lemon or mint, but the sauce was good and the meat was very tender. The gnocchi had a good texture too – not too heavy and floury.

I had the Nautilus Soup Kettle – a spicy Thai coconut broth with mussels, clams, prawns and fish served with steamed rice. It was a bit too creamy, even for me, and I would have appreciated slightly more pronounced Thai flavours, but overall not bad.

Dessert was warm chocolate fondant with pistachio brittle and white espresso ice cream. This was really good, particularly the ice cream. It looked like vanilla but had a really strong espresso flavour. What was slightly disconcerting was the popping candy that was sprinkled on the plate. I initially thought they were chocolate rice krispie bits, so imagine my surprise when they started exploding in my mouth. Interesting touch.

Unlike Julien Bompard, this meal does inspire me to return to try out the other offerings on their regular menu. Service was polite, food was fast, and the only criticism is the fact that the windows form the facade of ION, so the everchanging lights can be a bit overwhelming.

A says:

Good service, and while the view is great, the changing colours of Ion’s external lighting really throw you off.

The food here’s not bad and since I doubt it’s ever crowded, it’s probably a new option for us when we come to Ion.

The Nautilus Project
2 Orchard Turn
#04-09, ION Orchard
Tel: 6509-1033
Mon – Fri: 11 am to 10.30 pm
Sat – Sun: 10.30 am to 10.30 pm

Friday, March 26, 2010

Restaurant Week – Julien Bompard

C says:

For 7 days, from March 22nd to 28th, Singapore hosted Restaurant Week. This concept has been around for a number of years – I’ve seen programmes on AFC where they featured Restaurant Week in Toronto – but this is the first time it’s come to Singapore. During Restaurant Week, participating restaurants offered set lunches for $25, and dinners for $35 (premium restaurants charged a further supplement of $15 for lunch and $20 for dinner).

Atetoomuch’s MO for Restaurant Week was simple – try to get a table at a restaurant that we can’t otherwise afford on normal days. Case in point – FiftyThree. Unfortunately, online reservations for Restaurant Week started while we were in Japan, so we didn’t have the luxury of being at the computer all day, clicking furiously for reservations. FiftyThree was predictably all booked up, but we managed to score a Friday night dinner reservation at Julien Bompard (thanks to cousin L, who helped us while we were away).

When we arrived, we were ushered into a separate room – presumably for the cheapo Restaurant Week “riff raff”, heh. The set menu consisted of:

Starter: Slow cooked egg with wild mushrooms
Main: Choice of snapper fillet or braised lamb rump
Dessert: Chilled apple tart with caramelised almond coulis

The egg was apparently slow cooked at a very low temperature for 3 hours, so the yolk was nice and runny without the whites being undercooked. This was a pleasant starter but not particularly mind blowing.

Being atetoomuch, we decided to try a few other Restaurant Week a la carte specials, namely the escargot with red wine sauce, and the lobster bisque. They served these in between the starters and the mains. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the escargots, but the lobster bisque was really good. It wasn’t a rich orange as you’d expect, but what it lacked in colour, it certainly made up for in flavour.

The main courses were good but my, were the portions tiny. The lamb course had 4 thin slices of lamb, but it was very tender and didn’t have too overpowering a flavour. One of the best dishes of the night was the snapper fillet – the skin was crisp and the fish delectably fresh and perfectly cooked. Pity it was just about the size of my palm and only about a centimetre thick.

Dessert was rather uninspired, but it was admittedly a very good idea on their part for something like Restaurant Week. I don’t think any part of the dessert was prepared a la minute – every component looked like it had been prepared and/or assembled beforehand. All they had to do was scoop out a quenelle of olive oil ice cream, drizzle on some chocolate sauce, and serve it.

All in all, the food was alright, but I don’t feel like the meal represented what the restaurant is all about. I know it’s a promotion, but I felt that the heart and soul of the restaurant could have been better portrayed, even at a ‘budget’. It certainly didn’t impress me enough to want to go back, throw caution (and my wallet) to the wind and experience a proper meal there.

A says:

The senior service staff are excellent. And the seafood dishes tasted amazing.

Even more amazing were the tiny portion sizes for everything. After sharing two extra appetisers, we still weren’t full.

I wonder how indicative the Restaurant Week portions are of their real menu.

We’ll probably see when we come back when we feel like splurging on high end seafood.

Julien Bompard
Ascott Raffles Place 2 Finlayson GreenTel: 6509-0908
Mondays to Fridays:
Breakfast: 6.30 am to 10 am
Lunch: 11.30 am to 2 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 9.30 pm
Sat, Sun & PH:
Breakfast: 7 am to 11 am
Lunch: 12 noon to 2 pm
Dinner: 6 pm to 9.30 pm

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ootoya, Orchard Central

C says:

Our vow not to have Japanese food for at least a month after our trip was unfortunately broken sooner than expected. A’s friends are currently really into Ootoya, the Japanese casual dining restaurant at Orchard Central, so when everyone decided to celebrate a birthday there, we just went along with the group vote.

Ootoya is apparently a well established chain in Japan (we saw one in the distance), and this is their first branch in Singapore. They serve simple, no-frills Japanese home-cooking, almost comfort food. So don’t expect fine dining, or even typical Japanese restaurant offerings like sushi, sashimi or ramen. The closest thing to ‘standard’ fare would be cold soba, udon and tuna don.

Most of the items can be ordered alone, or as a set for a few dollars more. The set consists of a miso soup, rice and some pickled vegetables. A distinctive aspect of this place is that it states the calorie count of everything on the menu, both with and without the set. Depending on how you see it, this can be a good or a bad thing. I must say that subconsciously, I did veer away from the super calorific items out of sheer guilt. Hard to justify a 1000+ calorie item, when there’s something almost as enticing for ‘only’ 600+ calories…

I ended up ordering an oyster rice steamed in a bamboo pot, which came with a stew of fried chicken and vegetables (daikon, eggplant and lotus root). Flavours were simple and clean; nothing fancy but tasty all the same.

A went for a Hamburger steak. I only had a bite of it but the patty tasted quite good – roughly chopped meat and not too tightly formed, so it wasn’t dry.

Their desserts are pretty good – we tried a soy milk with brown sugar, and an egg custard with burnt soya sauce and red beans. Sounds exotic, but really it was creme caramel with a slightly salty edge. Some of the others had green tea puddings and banana parfaits, which looked pretty interesting too.

For all the variety here, my single favourite item is actually the humble potato croquette. The version here is excellent. The outside is breaded with panko and delightfully crispy and not oily. Inside, the mashed potato is light and creamy, with little bits of possibly bacon. My advice? Don’t share this. It may be 300+ calories but worth every bite.

The problem with Ootoya is that they don’t take reservations, and at peak hours the queue can be pretty insane since the restaurant is quite small. We had a large group of 12, so we ended up waiting about an hour. Yes, the food is good, but even with the yummy potato croquette, it certainly isn’t worth an hour-long wait.

A says:

Very, very good service and food (for the price). The potato croquette RAWKS! Unfortunately, they don’t take reservations, and as good as the place, it’s not worth the wait. Especially if you go in a big group of 12 like we did.

181 Orchard Road
#08-12 Orchard Central
Tel: 6884-8901
Daily: 12 noon to 9.30 pm

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chef Icon Nature Bakery

C says:

We discovered this place on our first trip to Highlander Coffee, but decided to come back to sample more of their goods before posting about it proper.

Not the best name for a shop, granted, but their philosophy is to only use the finest ingredients in each stage of their baking process, and they only use natural ingredients, so no preservatives, artificial colourings or flavourings.

They’re known for their Chocolate Travona cake (a bit like a chocolate mousse cake) and their New York cheesecake, but what really impressed us, and will keep us returning for more, are their Japanese wholemeal and snow breads.

We tried two different types of Hokkaido snow breads – chocolate chip, and cheese with raisin. The bread was so light it was almost unreal. The chocolate chip was filled with a mixture of melted chocolate and a light, almost mascarpone-like cream, whereas the filling for the cheese and raisin one was more unevenly dispersed, with some bites having a subtle cheese edge and others with full on cream cheese.

The Japanese sakura wholemeal roll with chocolate and banana was also surprisingly good; maybe I expect anything with the word “wholemeal” in it to be heavy and dry, but this was just as light as the snow breads.

We tried their coffee and liquor-less tiramisu and their cookies and cream cheesecake, but both were nowhere near as good as the breads. I must admit that it’s a long way to travel for bread, and we certainly won’t be here very regularly because of the inconvenience, but it’s worth the trip once in a while.

A says:

Awesome snow breads. The rest was so-so. And the tiramisu was strange. I’ll just stick to the snow breads.

Chef Icon Nature Bakery
5 Kampong Bahru Road
Tel: 9337-3900
Mon to Sat: 8.30 am to 8.30 pm

Friday, March 19, 2010

Our trip to Japan Part 1 - Hokkaido

C says:

We spent two weeks in Hokkaido and Tokyo, and it was an amazing and much needed break from the ups and downs of the past year. I’m quite in love with Japan as a whole – for one, thanks to the infamous toilet seats, my ass has never been as clean as it was during those two weeks...

Anyway, on to the food in Japan. Wow, where to start? We (perhaps unfairly) expected to be blown away with every meal, but while that didn’t happen, we certainly did have some very memorable meals, and came away with some interesting observations about our own gastronomic preferences.


Hokkaido is supposed to be famous for their donburi – raw seafood on rice, particularly at the Hakodate morning market. Maybe we went to the wrong stall, but we were quite underwhelmed with the dons that we had. Trust me when I say that they look better than they tasted. The rice was pretty mushy, and the uni on mine was nothing like the uni I subsequently had at other sushi joints. We’ve generally concluded that we much preferred the sushi that we had compared to the donburi.


Surprisingly, although we tried Fujizushi and Sushi Zen, which had been recommended to us, the best sushi we had in Hokkaido was actually in a random, no-brand one man show that, ironically, we popped into thinking it was another recommended place (Masazushi). We ordered by pointing at sketches of sushi sets on the menu, but what ensued was some of the freshest and most delicious sushi we had on the entire trip. Just goes to show that sometimes, the best meals are the most unplanned ones.


We saved our ramen feasting for Sapporo, where they have both a Ramen Alley and a Ramen Republic, located at the 10th floor of The Stellar shopping centre. Ramen Alley is in a slightly seedier part of town, and we were advised that the standard at Ramen Republic is so good that for sheer convenience, we needn’t venture to Ramen Alley.

We ate at Ramen Republic twice (in 2 days, which made us quite ramen-ed out for a few days after). The first stall was, in my opinion, the better of the two, and it was only after we sat down and ordered did we realise that ironically, they have a branch in Singapore! It’s Baikohken, at North Canal Road. Looks like a visit to the Singapore outlet is on the cards.

I ordered the miso ramen with corn and butter, since both corn and butter are speciality products of Hokkaido. Wow. This got jelak pretty quickly, but that first mouthful, with the richness of the butter dissolved into the miso soup, was sheer heaven. A had something with roasted sesame but it was nowhere as delicious (and artery-clogging) as mine.


Squid is apparently another speciality of Hokkaido, and man did we take that to heart. We ordered grilled squid at almost every meal there, and none of them disappointed. From the teriyaki glazed one at Hakodate Beer Hall, to the salt-grilled simplicity of the one at Raku Izakaya at Hirafu (the ski resort town), the squid was consistently one of the best parts of every meal – huge, fat and succulent, and cooked to perfection so it was still tender, without a hint of chewiness.


Our yakitori meal at Hirafu qualifies as one of the best meals of the trip. There are 2 sister yakitori restaurants – Izakaya Bang Bang, and the newly opened Bang2. Both menus looked similar but because Bang2 seemed to have a wider selection of skewers, we went with Bang2.

There was maybe one miss – the octopus skewer that was a tad tough. Everything else was fabulous. Worth mentioning are the 3 items that we ordered off the Specials board – the venison skewer (full of flavour and not at all gamey), the grilled fatty smoked salmon rib/belly (which had chargrilled flavour coupled with the smokey flavour of smoked salmon), and the grilled Caciocavallo, an Italian cheese, which was served with honey.

Genghis Khan

Another specialty of Hokkaido (by way of Mongolia, I suppose) is Genghis Khan, so named because the hot plate on which it’s served resembles Genghis Khan’s helmet. Our first meal of this was in a random little food court stall in Otaru, into which we had ducked to take refuge from the cold, but we had a far superior one at Daruma in Sapporo.

It was quite a challenge trying to find it, since most restaurants and buildings don’t have English signs, and I’d forgotten to take down the Japanese characters for the name. After asking multiple people, who gave us general directions amounting to “it’s down that road” in Japanese, we met a nice old man who asked us to follow him, and led us right to Daruma.

The drama didn’t end there; it was a Saturday night, and evidently Daruma is popular with the locals too, cos we had to wait outside for about 15 to 20 minutes before we could go in. Indoors is a no-frills U-shaped counter that seats no more than 15, surrounding the 3 very capable lady bosses who run a very efficient show.

First, the dome-shaped charcoal-fired hot plate is greased with a hunk of lamb fat. They’re certainly not shy with the fat here – they changed our fat a total of three times over the course of the meal, long before each chunk had time to render down. Next, vegetables ranging from onions and leeks to bean sprouts are piled into the base of the plate. A plate of various cuts of lamb is placed in front of you together with a bowl of dipping sauce, and away you go. Rice is optional but in my opinion, it serves as a great complement to the oily meat.

What distinguished Daruma from the other random generic Genghis Khan we had was the freshness and tenderness of their lamb, but more importantly, their dipping sauce. I have no idea what went into it but it added a perfect balance of tart sweetness to the savoury grilled meat. Our clothes reeked of grilled lamb for days after, but I think it was worth it.


The Japanese seem to have an obsession with all things French, and the best evidence of this is in their pastries and desserts. They’ve somehow succeeded in taking classic sweets like cream puffs, éclairs, fruit tarts and cheesecakes, and adding a typically Japanese delicate touch. The result, at the risk of being lynched by the French, is much lighter, easier-to-eat pastries that don’t weigh a ton in the stomach.

The one thing that Hakodate had going for it was pastry shop Snaffles, which is famous for their light cheese cakes that almost seem to be a cross between cheese cake and souffle. We tried both the cheese cake and the cream puff – both were absolutely divine.

Otaru is another good place if you have a sweet tooth. It’s home to LeTao, a local chocolate and dessert institution, as well as other pastry shops like Kitakaro and Rokkatei, each specialising in different types of pastries. One day definitely wasn’t enough time for us to sample everything.
Department store food halls, usually located in the basement shouldn’t be ignored either, as they’re home to fabulous stalls, each specialising in a different type of dessert. A had one of the best éclairs he’s had in years – chocolate coated choux pastry filled with fresh Chantilly cream – from a stall called Umeya in the Esta department store food hall.


For Japanese snack junkies like me, almost every convenience store or souvenir shop in Hokkaido was like being a kid in a candy store. Imagine Meidi-Ya or Isetan, many times over. The Japanese are very proud of their local ingredients, so in each region, there are abundant versions of snacks showcasing that region’s speciality produce. From corn and melon Kitkats, to Camembert cheese Collon, to uni-flavoured crackers, I really didn’t know where to start.

The corn Kitkat came in white chocolate, and the melon in milk chocolate. Both were good but I prefer the corn. It’s much more distinctive, and tastes a little like the sweetcorn ice cream from old school ice cream carts.

Another Hokkaido staple is the Shiri Koiboito chocolates – wafer-thin langue de chat (cat’s tongue) cookies, with either white or milk chocolate sandwiched in between. Made with Hokkaido fresh milk that’s so rich and sweet, the chocolate is sweet but not cloying. No one leaves Hokkaido without boxes of these as souvenirs.

One of my favourite snacks from the trip is Jaga Pokkuru, from the brand Potato Farm. Made with Hokkaido premium potatoes, which again are a local speciality of which they’re immensely proud, these are like a cross between potato chips and French fries. Perfectly seasoned with roasted salt from the Okhotsk region, these rely on nothing but the flavour of the potatoes and that’s what makes it so utterly addictive. They’re so popular that there was a shortage in Hakodate, and at the New Chitose airport in Sapporo, travellers are limited to 3 boxes per person.

Ice cream

Soft-serve ice cream (made with, of course, Hokkaido fresh milk) is everywhere, and not all of them are fantastic. More often than not, though, they’re pretty good and the best one we had was at the 2nd floor cafe of Rokkatei pastry shop in Otaru. The ice cream was creamy, really fine, and was served with 2 delicious dark chocolate cookies.

What can I say? It seems like we’ve only just scratched the surface with food in Hokkaido. The eastern part of the island, like Furano and Asahikawa, are apparently gourmet towns during the spring/summer. I think it just means we have to make another trip here in future.

A says:

Hakodate – Dons at the morning market were very disappointing. The must-try in this city is the chain of Snaffles cafes for fantastic desserts.

Niseko/Hirafu – Bang2 provided the best meal of the trip, highlighted by an amazing deep fried cheese. Skip the semi-swanky sushi restaurant at the base of the hill (Fujizushi). All I tasted was wasabi.

Otaru – Amazing place for sushi and desserts. Visit the sushi street if you can find it, and the dessert joints in the touristy colonial stretch (a few blocks west of the canals).

Sapporo – Best éclair I’ve ever had in my life was from the basement department store in Esta. In fact, Esta had one of the best department store basements of our entire trip.

Our trip to Japan Part 2 – Tokyo

C says:


I can’t go to Japan and not visit the famed Tsukiji market, having seen it featured on multiple foodie features. Unfortunately the early morning tuna auction is allegedly no longer open to tourists, so we didn’t have to get there at an ungodly hour of 5 am. Instead, we got there at around 8 am, in time to walk through the market and watch the spoils of the tuna auction being broken down for sale.

The TV programmes are correct when they say that the seafood here is so fresh that it doesn’t smell at all fishy – just a general fresh smell of the sea. After gazing in awe at the huge array of seafood on offer, we made our way to the Tsukiji Outer Market to wander the many sushi restaurants offering some of the freshest sushi around. We had such an awesome first meal that we came back twice more – once that same afternoon, and again the day before we left.

Naturally, we took the opportunity to order various cuts of tuna, especially the otoro (fatty tuna), which I simply can’t bring myself to order in Singapore cos of the prohibitive prices for the measly portions. Here, a piece of otoro nigiri sushi is approximately S$7, but you get a huge piece of fish that spills over a small mouthful of perfectly cooked sushi rice.

You can totally taste the difference in the various grades of tuna – the normal bluefin, the medium fatty tuna and the fatty tuna. The fatty tuna is luxuriously rich and just melts in your mouth.

At Sushi Sen at Tsukiji, we had an aburi sushi platter that arguably was one of the best meals of the trip. Salmon, albacore tuna, medium fatty tuna, horse meat and scallop were sprinked with salt and aburi-ed with a blowtorch. The horse meat tasted just like lean beef, only a tad chewier, but the rest of the sushi was awesome.


At cousin C’s recommendation, we went to Ten-Ichi – the main branch at Ginza where the shifu is stationed. This was definitely our fine dining experience for the trip. From the moment we walked in where the maitre d’ took our coats, to the geisha waitresses who provide impeccable service without being too obtrusive, Ten-Ichi definitely exuded a quiet sophistication. The food is straightforward – simply the freshest possible seafood and vegetables coated in a whisper of batter that enhances rather than overwhelms the ingredient itself. The result was the lightest and best tempura I’ve ever had.

I ordered one of the set lunches, which came with prawns, squid, white fish, asparagus, lotus root and a seafood kakkiage. A, not being the world’s biggest fan of tempura, went for a few a la carte items like shitake mushroom, eggplant and scallop.

Unlike normal tempura where a huge coating of oily batter covers thin slivers of ingredients, here you can really taste the quality of the produce, and because the batter is so light and flash fried so quickly, there’s hardly any oil. I didn’t try A’s scallop but he said it was really fresh and almost meaty. My absolute favourite were the tempura prawns, because they came with the heads/feelers. Those mouthfuls of the prawn heads, with the sweet richness and crisp texture, were some of the best bites of the trip.

Ten-Ichi is quite a bona fide celebrity restaurant, and has even been featured in the book “Everybody Eats There”, which showcases 100 of the world’s most legendary celebrity restaurants. Our trip to Ten-Ichi brings the grand total of the number of featured restaurants that we’ve visited to... one.


Because of my aversion to cigarette smoke, unfortunately we couldn’t partake of the authentic yakitori joints in what’s loosely known as Yakitori Alley in Shinjuku. I would have loved to, since the smells wafting out were so enticing, but indoors was too heady a mix of chargilled smoke (thumbs up) and cigarette smoke from the many salarymen relaxing after work (big thumbs down).

We did manage to get in a yakitori fix in Tokyo though, at a random joint we chanced upon in Shibuya called Nanbantei. We still don’t know if it’s related in any way to the institution at Far East Plaza, but it had a wide range of very good skewers – from regular bacon-wrapped asparagus and cherry tomato to lamb chops and a delicious steak skewer with the most luscious sizzling fat. I’m also pleased to report that I think this trip has converted A to the wonders of chicken heart skewers!

Another example of chance finds sometimes being better than hunting down subjective recommendations from guidebooks etc is Negishi. Also in Shibuya, A saw this on our first night in Tokyo and, tired and hungry, we went in expecting just to fill our bellies.

We were very pleasantly surprised to find very good value sets with grilled meats, barley rice and optional grated yam. We tried beef tongue, beef karubi and pork collar, all of which were good but the karubi fell just short of the other two. I found the grated yam, which is supposed to be eaten with the barley rice to aid digestion, too slimey for me to appreciate, but surprisingly A dug it.


After Sapporo we were quite ramen-ed out, but we couldn’t not have at least one ramen meal in Tokyo. We hunted for Kyushu Jangara, which was recommended by several blogs as well as A’s colleagues. Unfortunately we didn’t have an address, just general directions of its location near the subway exits. We traipsed around Omotesando and almost gave up, when we decided to just venture one more block down, and saw it right in front of us.

Their specialty is Kyushu ramen with a healthy dollop of mentaiko – spicy cod roe. A bit like the one they serve at Tampopo in Singapore, only way more potent on all counts, from the intensely rich pork bone broth with an added fishy kick from the mentaiko, to the combination of both tender char siew and fatty braised pork belly. They also had condiments at the table for you to add to your liking. The soup didn’t need any additions, but I found that a tiny dollop of grated garlic and a drop of vinegar really accentuated the richness of the pork belly.

The texture of the noodles was also really good – perfectly springy and al dente. Interestingly, they use different noodles for different types of ramen. My Kyushu ramen had quite thick noodles, whereas A’s bowl which had a clearer but fishier broth had much thinner noodles.


After Hokkaido, we found the snacks in Tokyo to be slightly less inspiring. We did however come across some bizarrely flavoured Kitkats – wasabi, soy sauce and kinako.

These actually weren’t as bad as we feared. The soy sauce, coupled with white chocolate, tasted faintly like teriyaki but in a pleasant way. The kinako was like a black sesame mochi. Only the wasabi was a bit iffy, only because I don’t really associate the heat or flavour of wasabi with sweetness.


Again, while there’s a dizzying array of pastries and desserts at all the department store food halls, some of them look better than they taste, and I think the ones we had in Hokkaido were slightly better. Having said that, we had two standouts in Tokyo.

Firstly, we popped into La Boutique de Joel Robuchon in Roppongi Hills (couldn’t afford to actually dine there, heh), and had a custard brioche, a cream puff and a foccacia with blue cheese and honey. Man, that was one of the best foccacias I’ve ever had. The bread was soft, and as we all know, the combination of blue cheese and honey is classic. Definitely the best bread we had on the trip.

While Hokkaido had better desserts as a whole, we did have 2 fabulous fruit tarts at the Comme Ca Cafe in Shinjuku. A had the banana caramel tart, and I had the strawberry mascarpone one. Mine was amazing – the tart base wasn’t hard at all, and the mascarpone cream was whipped till it was light as air.

Final observations

I must say that while the food was generally very good, with the exception of a few meals/bites, it was generally less wow-inducing than our trip last year to Vancouver. I guess it’s partly because that trip opened our culinary eyes more. Also, maybe our palates aren’t honed enough to fully appreciate the subtleties of really fresh, raw seafood. Still, having said that, this trip was a blast, both gastronomically and otherwise.

A says:

Top picks – Sushi Sen in Tsukiji. Kyushu Jangara in Harajuku.

Random finds – Nanbantei and Negishi in Shibuya.

Overall, the lack of street names makes it almost impossible to find small joints. My recommendation is to just wander around and go to any place that catches your eye.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


C says:

Sorry for the silence. Atetoomuch has been away in Japan for the past few weeks and didn’t get a chance to update everyone beforehand. We’re still working on our travel post but that could take a while, so in the meantime we’ll continue with our regular posts till we get our act together.

The day after we returned, we finally made it to Spruce for lunch. We’ve heard good things about them, but they’re always fully booked when we try to make a last minute reservation on weekends. We were here on a Monday afternoon so plenty of tables available.

When I saw the menu online, the one thing I wanted to try was their burrata cheese starter, served with momotoro tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil. We even confirmed when we called for a reservation that the dish was available at lunchtime. It’s quite a large portion so we ordered that to share, as well as a Spruce burger and a side of mashed potatoes.

Overall the burrata dish was very good – the combination of creamy cheese, well-seasoned tomatoes, basil and olive oil is a classic, but if I were to nitpick, I’d say that the burrata cheese itself didn’t have as much flavour as the one at Valentino. Still, this definitely satisfied my long suppressed burrata craving.

We ordered the original Spruce burger to share, which comes with Havarti cheese and a pickle relish. We had it medium rare (of course) and added the bacon option, which resulted in an absolutely fabulous burger. A close second to the one at Morton’s, and much cheaper at $17 ($19 with the bacon). The patty was roughly chopped and loosely formed, so still juicy and had some texture, but what really (and surprisingly) made it all come together was the pickle relish. Rather than being overwhelming, it actually enhanced the flavour of the burger by adding a hint of acidity to cut through the richness. Next time we’re having one each – this is too good to share!

They serve a “Robuchon-style” mashed potato. We ordered it as a side to share, and only after it arrived did I remember reading about the hallmark of Joel Robuchon’s pomme puree – a ratio of equal parts of potato and butter... Eep! And this is after our holiday pigout to boot! Never mind... the gymming starts now.

These were buttery but not super smooth; obviously I haven’t tried Robuchon’s so I don’t know what the benchmark is. They were alright, but I don’t think these were worth the calories.

All in all, a very enjoyable first experience at Spruce, and one that definitely left us wanting more.

A says:

I can’t believe it took us so long to come here. Awesome burger. Much better than Relish and Handburger. Service is great too. Top marks and a definite contender for best finds of 2010.

320 Tanglin Road
Phoenix Park
Tel: 6836-5528
Lunch: Mon to Fri, 10.30 am to 2.30 pm
Dinner: Daily, 5.30 pm to 10.30 pm
Brunch: Sat & Sun, 8.30 am to 2.30 pm