Saturday, April 28, 2012

Not Esquina again?!

C says:

Esquina seems to be our new go-to place on a Saturday when we have no other plans and can afford to eat really early. At 5.50 pm we got the last indoor seats and couldn’t even sit at the counter this time; we were at a little bar table in the corner.

Finally, we managed to try the tuna tartare, and it didn’t disappoint. It came with an avocado puree, and was seasoned slightly Asian style with a hint of sesame oil. It was refreshing and flavours were very balanced.

The sea bass with black olive puree and a salt cod soup was very good. Unfortunately the soup came served on the side, and the waiter didn’t pour it in for us. We didn’t know if we were meant to pour it or eat it separately, so we opted for the latter. Halfway through the dish, our regular waiter saw us and told us we were meant to pour the soup in. Both elements were good on their own, but really complemented each other when eaten together.

There was an off menu special of baked scallop with chorizo and pork belly, topped with a piece of fried pork skin dusted with paprika. The scallop and chorizo combi was very good, as was the pork skin. The braised pork belly was a little too sweet for my liking.

We tried the saffron paella too, with red peppers, prawns, fish and baby squid. I’m a rice whore so I really liked this. The stock used to cook the rice was the very essence of seafood.

We were pleasantly surprised with mini cones of sangria ice cream before dessert was served. They even gave us an extra one in between our desserts because they had one to spare.

We had room for dessert this time, so I ordered the pistachio cake recommended by our waiter, and A had the chocolate mousse. The mousse was quite dense and rich, but at least the chocolate crumbs added a textural crunch. The pistachio cake was amazing. It looked ordinary but it was warm, moist and fluffy. It was served with vanilla ice cream and a sangria jam, though it really didn’t need any accompaniments.

I think we’ve finally gone though all the dishes that we’ve wanted to try, although given how frequently chef changes the menu, and the variety of the specials, I won’t be surprised if we make our way here again sooner than we expect.

A says:           

Except for the other poser patrons, I love this place.

16 Jiak Chuan Street
Tel: 6222-1616
Mon to Fri: 12 noon to 3 pm; 6 pm to 11 pm
Sat: 6 pm to 11 pm
Closed Sunday

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cine Cafe

C says:

Our favourite Canteen at Shaw Centre is closing very soon, but on our last visit they assured us that most of their menu would remain available at Cine Cafe, on the cinema level.

Not everything from the old menu is here. One notable omission which I’m very distressed about is their pan fried carrot cake. Still, our usual suspects are still on the menu – the XO lo shi fun, soupy mee tai mak and A’s waffles.

In fact, now his waffle order actually comes with bananas; previously the default was strawberries, and we’d ask them to swap the strawberries for sliced bananas, which would confuse some of the newer servers. Maybe after our constant orders, they realised that waffles with bananas was a more enticing option.

I had the fish bee hoon soup. At Canteen, you could opt for either poach or fried fish slices, and I would opt for poached to be a bit healthier. Here it’s only fried, but I’m impressed that the fish is served separately so it doesn’t get soggy in the soup. The fish slices were surprisingly very well fried – really light batter and not oily.

I expected service to be quite bad since it’s almost a glorified fast food joint, but I was pleasantly surprised. They were polite, efficient and very professional.

I’m not sure exactly when Canteen is closing its doors for good, but I feel better knowing that Cine Cafe is a good replacement.

A says:           

Nice. Good service. Decent food at decent prices.

Cine Cafe
350 Orchard Road
#05-21 Shaw House
Tel: 6735-8858

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Luke’s Oyster Bar and Chop House

C says:

This is by no means a new restaurant. Owned by chef Travis Masiero, who first opened Spruce, it was his intention to channel the vibe of a classic American oyster bar. To be honest, although we’d read rave reviews and heard very good things about the place and the food, the prices put us off. I was hesitant to pay $80 for a steak or $75 for a veal or lamb chop, at what I assumed was a fairly casual, almost diner-style place.

They have some slightly more affordable offerings at lunch time though, so we decided to check them out. The ambience completely threw me off. I expected simple wooden tables and jovial staff, but instead the waiters were formally dressed in bowties and waistcoats, and the tables were covered with starched linens.

To start with, we were given mini corn bread muffins with paprika-spiked butter. These were pretty yummy, but crumbled so easily that the wooden paddle that they provided was of no use at all. I ended up just using my regular knife, but I’m just wondering – if that paddle doesn’t really work, why give it to us?

We tried their Caesar Salad, which costs $24 without fried oysters and $27 with 3 deep fried oysters. Quite a no brainer then. I liked the Caesar dressing, and the oysters were very fresh despite being deep fried, but I didn’t like the very hard croutons.

There was an item called MFK Fisher’s Oyster Pan Roast, with sea urchin toast, smoked paprika and bottarga. That description alone was enough to make me order it. The waitress told me it was an oyster stew, but I was still surprised to find that it was actually more like a thin soup, not even the consistency of chowder. It had an intense briny flavor, and the oysters in there were very fresh, but I was very disappointed with the toast. All I tasted was bread and paprika, with no hint of either sea urchin or bottarga. At least they were nice enough to split it into 2 mini Staub cocottes for us.

The lobster roll is only available at lunch time, which was one of the reasons we decided to try this place for lunch. Again they split it for us, which made it much easier to share. I’m not sure if they gave us more salad and fries because they split it, but there was an inordinately large amount of both. The lobster roll was good – the lobster was nicely cooked and the roll was really soft and buttery, but was it worth $45? I have my doubts.

I thought portion sizes would’ve been bigger, so we ended up ordering a half dozen oysters to round off our meal. These are definitely their forte. The oysters were extremely fresh and very well shucked – one slurp and you got a mouthful of oyster, vinaigrette and all of the wonderful oyster liquor.

It’s probably unfair that we came here the day after a fabulous meal at Esquina. Comparisons are inevitable, and there’s no question that I’d rather go to Esquina. The prices at Luke’s are simply too prohibitive for me to really enjoy myself. $150 can get us a very satisfying meal at Esquina, whereas it only barely scratches the surface at Luke’s. I think to get a proper experience at Luke’s, you need to be prepared to spend a whole lot more than that.

A says:

Great food. Great service. But is it enough for me to spend so much? Probably not. Recommended only if you print money.

20 Gemmil Lane
Tel: 6221-4468
Mon to Sat: 12 noon till late
Closed Sunday

Monday, April 16, 2012

Esquina. Again.

C says:

Oh wow. Our second visit to Esquina for lunch today was even better than our first, if that's possible. I had the day off today, so we came sharp at 12 when they opened. We waited outside for about 5 minutes while they sorted themselves out, and were then ushered in.

 They changed the menu slightly since we were last here. Apparently the chef likes to change things up every few months. To my dismay, this meant that the ox cheek oloroso with bone marrow crumbs was no longer available. The dish in its place was named “Braised ox, tongue-in-cheek, cumin mash”. The braised ox cheek, with a carrot and cumin mash, was topped with a slice of ox tongue, hence the name. This got a bit heavy towards the end but the flavours were good; the cumin mash was more subtle than I expected. The ox tongue was a mouthful of pure joy though.

I finally got to have the salt and pepper squid, after watching the chef assemble plate after plate of them last time. They were worth the wait - using baby squid rather than calamari slices or rings makes the pieces so much lighter and crispier.

It’s a hard fight between the slow cooked egg bravas dish from our last visit, and the egg dish we ordered today –baked egg with anchovy, capers, onions and lemon. The bravas egg has a more liquid and gooey centre, but I think flavour-wise, this baked egg dish was a winning combination.

We tried an off-menu special – lamb chops with mint yogurt and curried olive couscous. Hands down the best dish of the day. The lamb chops were perfectly cooked, about medium, and really tender and juicy. Even the couscous, which I’m not usually a big fan of, was done very well. Light and fluffy, and again all the flavours worked very well together, complementing the lamb but not weighing it down.

The baked bone marrow with snails, parsley and horseradish pesto was also amazing. Unlike most bone marrow dishes, which can be quite heavy and one dimensional, the marrow here is mixed with chopped escargots and lightened with herbs, so the whole thing is more reminiscent of a rillette instead of eating straight up bone marrow.

Even the humble sangria is not spared the Esquina touch. Their version is more like sangria two ways – a fruity red wine below, and topped with a sangria foam. Delicious.

I think you need at least 2 visits to get the best of Esquina, although given how frequently the chef likes to shake the menu up, I don’t think things will get boring any time soon.

A says:

This is probably my favourite place to eat in Singapore now. Nuff said.

16 Jiak Chuan Street
Tel: 6222-1616
Mon to Fri: 12 noon – 3 pm; 6 pm – 11 pm
Sat: 6 pm – 11 pm
Closed Sunday

Sunday, April 15, 2012


C says:

Why on earth did it take us this long to try Gyu Kaku?! We've walked past the outlet at UE Square for years, but maybe the posters advertising wagyu beef promotions costing $200 gave us the impression that it was beyond our budget.

Yes, they do offer some pretty lavish wagyu beef items, and they certainly don't come cheap, but if you bypass those and just order the regular meats, prices aren't all that astronomical.

We actually tried the Anchorpoint branch, which took over the building that used to house Zhou's Kitchen. We had a really good waiter who helpfully recommended portion sizes and marinades, and I was very impressed that he didn't pressure us to over-order. I actually wanted to order a kimchee soup, but he suggested that since it wasn’t that crowded, we wait and see after the rest of the food arrived, and if we were still hungry we could order the soup. He was right – we just full enough and the soup would’ve pushed us over the edge.

We decided to do a taste test - wagyu beef karubi and regular karubi. I'm ashamed to admit that our peasant palates actually preferred the regular beef. Granted, the wagyu karubi had slightly more pronounced beefy flavour, but it was also slightly tough. In comparison, the regular karubi was only slightly less flavourful but much more tender.

The beef tongue was good too. It was sliced very thinly, and came with sliced scallions and lemon juice. I liked the tongue but I think I prefer the karubi.

We tried a couple of other meats too - the kurobuta pork collar, and a lamb neck fillet. The pork was quite good, but it was the lamb, in a basil marinade, that stole the show. The meat was tender, really flavourful, and went perfectly with the slightly herby basil marinade.

I left feeling very happy and very satisfied. Our bill was around $110, but I can imagine that if we were really in our element, we could rack up a heftier sum. Food was really good though, as was the service, and we're definitely coming back to try more meats, as well as some of the seafood and vegetable items.

A says:

Great beef. What really impressed me was our waiter. Very helpful without hovering too much. Highly recommended.

It’s not cheap for the area so it wasn’t too crowded. I hope they don’t close. I’ll definitely be back.

368 Alexandra Road
Tel: 6479-4001
Open daily: 11.30 am – 2.30 pm; 5.30 pm – 10.30 pm

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Plain Vanilla Bakery

C says:

I'm usually not a big fan of cupcakes, mainly because more often than not, they're more about aesthetics than flavour. The cake base - usually a dry vanilla or chocolate cake - is an afterthought and simply a carrier for elaborate frostings and toppings, showcasing the baker's artistic abilities at the expense of fundamental baking skills.

That's why I like Plain Vanilla Bakery so much. Each of their cupcake flavours utilises a different cake base, so the fact that they're cute little cupcakes is secondary; at the heart of it, they're still really yummy cakes. As it should be.

Cousin L introduced them to me at a family tea, so I promptly placed an order for W's belated bday dinner. I was really impressed that everything was packed and ready for me when I popped by to collect them, and they even remembered my request for a little candle.

We haven't tried all the flavours yet, but so far my favourite is (surprise surprise) the Salted Caramel, which actually isn't on the mainstay menu. It's a special that will only be available till the end of the month. The cake has swirls of caramel, and I like that the caramel is quite boldly salted.

The Dark Chocolate Ganache is good for those who don't like things too sweet, nor too much frosting. It's coated with a thin layer of ganache, then topped with crushed cocoa nibs. What was most surprising was the cake - I expected it to be quite dense and heavy, but it was anything but. It was really light and fluffy, with a very fine crumb yet still very chocolatey.

A found the Chocolate Banana a tad too sweet, but really liked the Chocolate Chip because the cake base, a vanilla studded with chocolate chips, was less sweet and therefore complemented the sweeter frosting.

I won't lie; the fact that they're in Holland Village is definitely a plus for us. But that aside, what'll keep me going back is just really good cake. Now, if only they'll put the Salted Caramel on their main menu.

A says:

The texture and fluffiness of the cupcake is the best I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, most of the icing/frosting/topping mixes are really way too sweet. I’m talking “omg I need a triple shot of espresso just to cancel the sweetness” kind of sweet. The only ones that didn’t put me in immediate risk of diabetes were the Dark Chocolate and surprisingly, the Chocolate Chip. I’ll be back for those and maybe ask if we can get some special orders that are a bit less sweet.

Plain Vanilla Bakery
34A Lorong Mambong
(2nd floor, above El Patio Restaurant)
Tel: 6465-5942
Tues to Sat: 12 noon to 8pm
Sun: 12 noon to 6pm
Closed on Mondays

Friday, April 06, 2012


C says:

A combination of A being saddled with reservist and a number of family obligations meant that we didn’t have much opportunity to eat out over the long weekend. A felt like Japanese, so we decided to try Rakuzen at Millenia Walk.

Our experience was probably marred somewhat by the fact that we were unfortunately seated next to a table containing (1) an annoying kid who insisted on playing his smartphone games at full volume, and (2) his grandmother who sounded like she had a cold and kept snorting throughout dinner.

We started with a salmon sashimi sampler containing 3 kinds of salmon – regular sashimi, salmon belly, and salmon roe. This was pretty good, with the salmon belly coming out tops – it was rich, creamy and definitely very fresh.

We shared a plate of 3 varieties of belly sushi, with salmon, tuna and swordfish, since this conveniently came with 2 pieces each. But it was every man for himself with the aburi sushi – we each had our own platter, which comprised salmon belly, tuna belly, scallop, squid, mackerel and swordfish. I like how they scored the fish, so that there was more surface area to aburi. They do their nigiri sushi pretty well – good rice-to-fish ratio, the rice was well cooked and the fish was very fresh. No surprises that the aburi salmon belly and tuna belly were the most outstanding of the lot.

The tuna and avocado tartare sounded very promising – I expected something akin to Spruce’s tuna tartare with avocado. Alas, this was extremely disappointing. The tuna was barely seasoned, the avocado wasn’t much better, and the sauce that was meant to flavor everything was almost like an Asian thick sweet sauce (like the popiah kind) and totally didn’t go with the tuna.

We also ordered a couple of their creative makis – one with salmon and the other with fried oyster. These were, as expected, quite average and a tad gimmicky, but I suppose they make fairly reasonable fillers compared to the pricier (but certainly much better) nigiri sushi.
Our bill was around $160, which I thought was a bit steep given the rather inconsistent standard. If we do come back in future, we may pass on everything else and just order various nigiri sushi platters, since that seems to be what they’re good at.

A says:

Good. A decent option if you’re in the area, but not really a destination joint.

9 Raffles Boulevard
#01-14/19 Millenia Walk
Tel: 6333-1171
Open daily: 11.30 am to 3 pm; 6 pm to 10.30 pm

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


C says:

Esquina, the new tapas bar opened by Loh Lik Peng and celebrity chef Jason Atherton, is one of the hottest (read: hard to get) sittings at the moment. It’s a tiny space that probably sits no more than 15 inside and they don’t take reservations, so you have to either go at (or before) opening time to ensure a place, or be prepared for a wait.

We decided on the former, and were there 5 minutes after opening on Saturday. At that time it was already almost full, and we took 2 of the last 4 seats available; by 6.15 it was full, and anyone arriving after that had to be on a waitlist till the first wave was done.

Most of the seats are at the counter facing the kitchen, and we were lucky enough to be seated right in front of chef Andrew Walsh, so we had a bird’s eye view of him running the show. I really respect how he manages his kitchen. He’s very hands-on without being a tyrant – he personally prepared/plated a good number of the dishes, and did a final check over the bulk of the dishes that were prepared by his sous chefs before the food was served.

Most of the dishes are designed to be shared by 2 to 3 people. We ordered 5 dishes plus a side, and were pleasantly full. Take note that you should order everything at the outset, including desserts. We thought of ordering a dessert after we’d finished the savouries, but were told that we would have to wait till they fired all the existing orders.

The side of baby romaine, manchego cheese, truffle honey and anchovy featured, surprisingly, lightly cooked lettuce rather than raw lettuce leaves. The anchovy was clearly the dominant flavor, but it didn't overwhelm and you could still taste the other components.

The slow cooked egg with potato, bravas sauce and crispy iberico was fantastic. This was somewhat of a modern invention of patatas bravas, with the potato being in the form of cubes as well as a light foam.

From the meat section of the menu, we had the aged rib-eye with chimichurri sauce, and the sweetbread and foie gras empanada with onion jam. The rib-eye was probably the most predictable dish of the evening, so by virtue of that it was slightly disappointing. The empanada was interesting but I found it a bit too sweet. A liked it precisely because of its sweetness, so to each his own.

From the seafoods, we tried the scallop ceviche, and the prawn sautéed with chilli and garlic served with orzo pasta. The scallop was ok, but I don’t think we’ll order it again. I fell in love with the prawn though. It was perfectly cooked so that the head juice was still really creamy, and it was served in a flavourful broth that was the very essence of prawn.

The food is very well paced. We weren’t overwhelmed with all 6 dishes on the table at once; most of them came out one at a time, and the lighter dishes were served first followed by the heavier meats.

There are at least another 6 dishes on the menu that we want to try next, so hopefully we’ll be back again soon. Eating here doesn't come cheap though. Our 6 dishes and a bottle of beer cost $140, but having said that, I think it’s worth it for the quality, and the care and effort that goes into each dish.

PS: There’s nowhere for you to stow your handbags or other personal effects, so I would recommend bringing as little as possible if you don't want to strap your handbag to your thigh, as A ingeniously did with mine.

A says:

Awesome. A tad expensive, but you get great quality for the price. Unfortunately, it gets crowded from about 6:05. So if you’re not there at opening, good luck to you. Plus only half the service staff is good. So hopefully, they’re the ones serving you.

16 Jiak Chuan Street
Tel: 6222-1616
Mon to Fri: 12 noon – 3 pm; 6 pm – 11 pm
Sat: 6 pm – 11 pm
Closed Sunday

Monday, April 02, 2012

Savour 2012

C says:

The inaugural Savour event took place from 30 March to 1 April. The F1 Pit Building was transformed into a Gourmet Village of sorts, with over 50 pop up stalls showcasing food from acclaimed international as well as local chefs, seminars, masterclasses and a Gourmet Market featuring various F&B purveyors.

The concept was interesting – you could either buy tickets for lunch or dinner (with dinner being more expensive). Your ticket would then entitle you to a certain number of Savour$ (less than the price of the ticket), which you could then use to purchase food or products at the event. Additional Savour$ could also be purchased at various booths throughout the Village.

Prices of dishes ranged from $6 to $21, and one of the major marketing angles was that this was an opportunity to sample Michelin-starred cuisine at fairly reasonable prices. Some of the guest international chefs included Alain Passard and Alvin Leung. On the local front, there were offerings from Gunther’s, St Pierre, Jaan, Sam Leong and a host of others.

Some items were indeed a steal, like St Pierre’s Menage a Trois, a salmon-based sampler that seemed to have at least 20 components, for only $15. In contrast, Alain Passard’s Chaud Froid Egg with maple syrup and xeres vinegar was, in my opinion, somewhat of a rip off at $18.

Consistency seemed to be a bit of an issue though. We thought the Cod 2.0 from chef Hans Valimaki from Chez Dominique in Finland was one of the best dishes we had, and friend Y, who was also there for the Saturday lunch session, was also quite impressed. However another friend S was there for dinner the night before, and found the fish rubbery.

Gunther’s cold angel hair pasta with Oscietra caviar was good, if a bit pricey at $21. A last minute decision to try Sam Leong’s pumpkin rice with XO sausage and seared foie gras paid off – the fragrant rice steamed within a mini pumpkin was one of the best dishes we had that day.

Other dishes sounded better than they tasted, like Alvin Leung’s egg waffle with vanilla condensed milk ice cream. The waffle smelled amazing, with bits of black truffle in the batter, but the ice cream was too rich, dense and heavy, and could have been a bit sweeter. His molecular xiao long bao and har mei lo mein were pretty good though.

I must say that for a first time event, Savour 2012 was very well organized. There were ample areas to either sit or stand while you grazed from stall to stall. And given the number of disposable plates that they no doubt went through, it was heartening to see that they used Cornware, the range of biodegradable disposable cutlery made from corn.

I think a few things could have been improved upon, like introducing a stored value card system (similar to Marche and Ramen Champion) rather than physical coupons representing Savour$ that you still had to count out. Overall though, kudos to the organizers on a job very well done, and I’m definitely there if they decide to do this again.

A says:

Not bad. Not cheap. And it could have benefited from a more advanced stored value payment system though. And of course, more sheltered seating. But overall, I would go again next year.