Friday, November 30, 2012

Ryoshi Sushi Ikeikemaru

C says:

This new conveyor belt sushi place that opened in the basement of Liang Court is quite a find. In fact, we liked it so much that we went there on two consecutive Fridays. They don't take reservations, and while we managed to get seats without waiting on both occasions, there were snaking queues when we passed by on a Saturday evening.

Prices are similar to Itacho Sushi or Sushi Tei, with plates priced according to colour and ranging from $1.80 to $6.80. So far their servings are very decent, with a very generous fish-to-rice ratio.

Some of our favourites are the salmon nigiris. The basic salmon is delicious and, in my opinion, better than the slightly pricier fatty salmon. Another must-order for us is the aburi salmon, which comes topped with grated daikon soaked in ponzu sauce.

The botan ebi here is fabulous too. The prawn is super fresh and very creamy, and the best part is that the head is absolutely packed with head juice. Slurp it up neat, or squeeze some of it directly onto the sushi - whatever you do with it, do NOT waste it.

They have a crab miso gunkan-style sushi, which comes with one half crab meat, and the other half a mixture of crab brains. I have mixed feelings about this one - the crab miso is delicious and really flavourful, but it's let down by the rather insipid, watery crab.

Fate resulted in us ordering the wagyu beef sushi. We actually ordered the maguro avocado sushi but the waitress mistakenly heard wagyu instead. Since they'd prepared it we decided to try it anyway, and I'm glad we did. The beef was lightly seared and very tasty, and again there was a lot of meat compared to the rice.

The aburi otoro nigiri was delicious too, but at $6.80 each, perhaps not something that we'll order all the time. They have some pretty decent aburi mackerel sushi too, for a much more palatable $2.80 for 2 pieces.

Service is excellent, and the best thing is that they (almost always) get your orders correct, and everything arrives really quickly. A marked contrast to Itacho, which we used to like but lately their slow service has been a major factor in our deciding not to dine there.

It also helps that Ikeikemaru is located in Liang Court, just adjacent to Meidi-Ya, which is possibly our favourite supermarket in Singapore. Hard-to-find Japanese snacks, Hokkaido soft ice cream and even imported groceries like Kelloggs Krave cereal and Concord grape jelly. Plus, you gotta love a mall that uses a family of onigiri as their official mascot.

A says:

The sushi here is fantastic for a conveyor belt place. The cooked food, not so much. Service here however is very good and the prices aren't insane. Probably my favourite low-mid range sushi place now.

Plus there's the soft serve ice cream right outside. Win!

Ryoshi Sushi Ikeikemaru
177 River Valley Road
Tel: 6337-1022
Opening hours: 11 am - 9.50 pm

Thursday, November 22, 2012


C says:

Ember celebrates their 10th anniversary as we celebrate our 9th. In honour of their achievement (which is no mean feat given how competitive the F&B scene is in Singapore), they've put together a 4-course set dinner menu for $85, featuring some of their classic dishes as well as a few new ones. If, like us, you have certain dishes that you have to order, you can also opt for the more flexible, and very good value, $95 set dinner that lets you pick any 2 appetisers, 1 main and 1 dessert.

While the $85 menu looked pretty enticing, our favourite angel hair pasta with abalone and konbu, and more importantly the Chilean seabass with bacon and mushroom, weren't featured so we both went with the $95 one.

We both started with the pasta since I wasn't about to share mine with A. I really do love how they do this dish here. Something about the konbu and abalone just give it so much flavour.

For the second appetizer, I had the pan-seared foie gras with poached egg and maitake mushrooms. Unfussy and just really tasty and well-executed.

A's second appetizer was one of their specials - maine lobster soup with crispy langoustine. The langoustine was wrapped in a thin layer of filo pastry, but what stood out was the lobster soup. It had ridiculous amounts of lobster flavour.

A had the spiced lamb rack with a ginger and lemongrass reduction. The lamb was served perfectly pink, and neither the spice crust nor the sauce were too overwhelming.

Of course, our anniversary dinner is never complete without the Chilean seabass. We've raved about this so much each year that there really isn't much left to say. It was excellent as always - perfectly cooked fish and an amazingly flavourful sauce.

If you order the apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream, both diners need to order it, I guess because the portion is rather large. This was a nice, comforting way to end the evening, though I may go with something else next time for a change.

The place was packed on a Thursday evening, and food took slightly longer than usual. Still, I'm really happy that they're doing so well. Unpretentious and ungimmicky food at reasonable prices is hard to come by these days, and Ember ticks all those boxes.

A says:

Always awesome. Still one of my favourite restaurants in town. Which is why we keep coming back.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


C says:

New restaurant Catalunya certainly has a lot going for it – a great location within the Fullerton Pavilion floating dome with a view of the Marina Bay area, and bragging rights that their founders used to be El Bulli alumni. The ex-El Bulli team at Catalunya includes a former chef and a restaurant manager, both of whom worked at El Bulli for at least a decade.

That sort of pedigree definitely brings with it some major expectations; indeed, it seems to be on everyone’s radar because weekend dinner reservations are pretty hard to come by. Good thing we went with reservation guru W, who snagged us a table at 6.45 pm on a Saturday. In retrospect, eating early was a good thing – we got to appreciate the view before it got dark.

Catalunya also boasts an award-winning mixologist, and I would recommend ordering something from their very comprehensive drinks list just to sample one of his creations. His combinations are far from ordinary, including one containing cheese and rosemary that I ordered, but somehow everything comes together quite well. Also, the drinks may seem innocuous but they’re not watered down at all. The seemingly flighty drink that A ordered packed quite a punch about halfway through.

Their food menu is a bit easier to navigate than their drinks menu. They have different sections - hot tapas, cold tapas, main courses, side dishes and desserts, with no more than 8 to 10 dishes in each section. Between the four of us we shared 2 cold tapas – a stack of grilled vegetables with smoked eel and foie gras, and a bacalao ceviche of sorts, and 4 hot tapas – boneless chicken wings, a cannelloni stuffed with roasted meat and topped with cheese and basil oil, eggs with Iberico ham, and a ham, cheese and truffle “Bikini” (a colloquial term for a ham and cheese sandwich in Spain).

I found the hot tapas more memorable than the cold ones. In particular, I liked the chicken wings (no surprises there) and the cannelloni, which was rich but really tasty.

A and I decided to order their specialty – the traditional suckling pig Segovian style, since we figured we had W and M to share it with. Alas, both W and M barely took any and we were struggling to finish most of the half suckling pig on our own. I highly recommend this if you have enough people to share it with. They cut the pig up tableside with a plate just to show how tender it is.

This really was one of the best suckling pigs I’ve ever had. The skin was thin and crisp all over, and the meat extraordinarily tender. The meat around the leg and shoulder was actually better than the more predictable belly/rib section, probably because those areas have more muscle and are generally more flavourful. At $125 for half a pig, this is much better value for money, not to mention just plain tastier, than the one from Osvaldo’s OLA.

M ordered the fish stew which was good, and W had the lobster rice which was excellent. Next time if it’s just the two of us, we’ll share the lobster rice and order a bunch of tapas. It’s worth noting that if you don’t have enough people in your party to tackle the pig, you can still sample it in the form of a hot tapas, where it’s served with lemon puree.

We tried the fried milk bread with smoked milk ice cream, and a chocolate dessert with passionfruit (M had most of the latter). The smoked milk ice cream was quite strong on its own, but paired really well with the donut-like fried bread.

Granted, our meal here didn’t come cheap, but that was mainly due to the pig, and a bottle of wine that we shared. I reckon if you order some tapas and maybe share a main course, you can probably have a pretty good dinner for around $75 a head. We certainly plan on doing that some time soon.

A says:

Starters/tapas are excellent. Service is excellent. Cocktails are excellent. Everything is pretty much excellent. Plus if you don't order the mains or alcohol, it's not that expensive. Recommended.

82 Collyer Quay
The Fullerton Pavilion
Tel: 6534-0886
Opening hours: 12 noon to 2 am

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shake a Treat!

C says:

While most of Star Vista's dining outlets are branches of established joints like Itacho Sushi, Canton Paradise and Menya Musashi, there are a few independent one-off vendors that decided to set up shop here. One of them is Shake-A-Treat.

They serve custom-blended milkshakes, where you can select the ingredients, or go with some of their suggested concoctions.

This was all A, since I don't like milkshakes enough to waste my calories on them. He went with a peanut butter and chocolate blend, and was fairly impressed, but not blown away.

I can't comment on the milkshake but I do have a couple of general issues. Firstly, they have a durian shake on the menu, and when I asked if they had a separate blender for that, they said no, they just wash it after each use. It's still early days but I wonder if there'll be a durian taint after they've been operating for a while.

Also, their price includes one ingredient (e.g. Oreo cookies or graham crackers) and one topping (like Nutella). Each additional one incurs an extra charge. What I don't like is their inflexibility. If you wanted to pass on an ingredient and get 2 toppings instead, you still have to pay for that additional topping.

When we went they'd only just opened and I think we were the only customers. That was a few weeks ago, and I wonder if they've gotten busier since then.

A says:

Very good. Would be better if they let you swap between ingredients and toppings because I'd much rather have 2 toppings and no ingredients. Now if only I could have both a milkshake and a Sogurt without becoming insanely fat.

Shake a Treat!
#B1-39 The Star Vista
Tel: 6694-2161

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


C says:

Thanks to the tips from some of our readers, we found out that sushi nazi Chef Peter had resurfaced at his new restaurant in Central - Mitsuba by Yurine Japanese Restaurant.

When we were there for lunch on a Sunday, the place was worringly deserted, with only a couple of small tables occupied. Having said that, that seemed to be the case for the whole of the mall as well, so I guess it's not really a weekend day-time destination.

Needless to say, we made a beeline for the chirashi sushi, which interestingly came deconstructed - the fish served in one container, and the rice separately in a cute tiered container. Also, there are now 3 versions of the chirashi available, ranging between $28, $48 and $68 depending on the type/quality of the fish.

We decided to try one each of the Haru ($28) and the Nasu ($48), though the only difference seemed to be the inclusion of a few slices of chutoro in the Nasu.

Comparing this to the chirashi we recently had at Chikuwa-Tei after Chef Peter left, the fish here is generally better. I'm not sure if it's the supplier or the way he cuts the fish, or perhaps both, but the fish seems tastier and more flavourful here. At the other side, the fish seemed rather tasteless.

Chikuwa-Tei scores more points for the rice though. We always felt that Chef Peter's rice didn't live up to his fish, and that the rice at the new Chikuwa-Tei was actually better. This was confirmed when we once again had the slightly lacklustre rice at Mitsuba.

The chawanmushi is also better here. Again, the egg had lots more flavour, probably from dashi stock, and it was much more generous with the ingredients inside.

Well, they both have their pros and cons then. If only they'd join forces and combine their fish and rice skills. Now that would be a force to be reckoned with.

A says:

The selection of seafood in the chirashi is better here, but the rice isn't as nice and vinegary. So it all depends on how important the taste of the rice is to you. This place does seem less crowded though, I guess it's a definite option when you can't get a table at Chikuwa-Tei.

Mitsuba by Yurine Japanese Restaurant
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-88 The Central
Tel: 6227-0388

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Senor Taco

C says:

I'm really not a huge fan of Mexican food, though to be fair, in Singapore most of the Mexican food you get is largely Tex-Mex. There are only so many dishes with tortillas, guacamole, sour cream and refried beans I can handle.

Senor Taco at Chijmes seems to have quite a loyal following, so when they opened at our new favourite mall, Star Vista, I decided to put aside my prejudices and headed there for dinner one evening.

They have a pretty large menu, and the dishes all seem quite authentic. My one criticism is that the waitstaff, whilst very polite and perhaps a bit too eager and enthusiastic, really had no idea what they were serving. Almost every question that I asked resulted in "er, I'm sorry, let me check". Worse still, their reply was less than helpful or, indeed, accurate.

Case in point - I asked them what the chicharron was. In the time that they took to ask around, I managed to find the answer using my phone - a dish made with pork rinds and other, whilst delicious, rather unhealthy pig products. However, the answer that the waitress came back with was simply "it's pork". I find that slightly irresponsible. Someone who doesn't like fatty meat could have relied on her answer and ordered it, only to be presented with a dish that they couldn't consume.

Anyway, enough about the service. The food itself was actually pretty good. I ended up ordering the carnitas - pulled pork served with soft tortillas and a pico de gallo sauce, that you roll up yourself. The pork was quite tender and I like the selection of hot sauces that they provided as accompaniments, but as a single main course it gets a tad monotonous after a while. Definitely better to share.

A ordered a pork taco dish, which unlike mine already came assembled. The pork had a bit more flavour and overall it was less heavy than my dish, but really, once you roll everything up and add the hot sauces, they really do end up tasting quite similar. Hence my inherent issue with Mexican food.

Still, as far as Mexican food goes, this wasn't too bad and definitely a lot better than generic Tex-Mex fare that you get at chain restaurants like Chilli's. Which, come to think of it, really shouldn't be used as a benchmark anyway.

A says:

Decent I guess. But while the servers do try very hard, they aren't the most knowledgeable when it comes to describing the ingredients. Don't think we'll be back anytime soon though.

Senor Taco
1 Vista Exchange Green
#02-22 Star Vista
Tel: 6694-2320
Opening hours: Open at noon. Closing times vary from 11 pm to 2 am - too confusing to list

Thursday, November 08, 2012


C says:

Our visit to Esquina was the day after we went to Lolla, and reinforced our view that even with all the new tapas-esque places popping up of late, Esquina still remains a firm favourite. I like the fact that the menu keeps changing – in all our visits, we’ve never had the exact same menu twice. The chef has always made a few subtle changes to certain dishes, ensuring that we get a surprise each time.

We have to have an egg dish whenever we come. This time we got the grilled asparagus with quail’s eggs and jamon Iberico. Good, but perhaps not their best ever dish.

It got steadily better though. The marinated beetroot salad with honeycomb burrata and pinenut crumble was awesome. The quenelles of burrata were rich and creamy, accentuated with a drizzle of honey, and the tartness of the beetroot kept everything in check.

On the specials board was a steak tartare with a confit egg. It was served with a couple of slices of toasted bread, pickled onions and a red pepper sauce, though it was really good enough to have on its own.

I was glad that the seabass with corn and bacon chowder, that I’d eyed on our last visit, was still on the menu. The fish itself was ok, but the foamy chowder really made the dish. It had so much flavour from the bacon that both of us took a spoonful and immediately went “wow”.

The roast lamb rump with black olive polenta and anchovy chimichurri was also amazing. The lamb was flash seared then roasted, and still nice and pink. The chimichurri that was smeared over the plate was insanely good. A far cry from the lamb dish at Lolla, I have to say.

The one thing that was a bit disappointing was the barbeque roasted corn, though I guess it’s because it was totally not what I expected. I thought it would be some sort of corn on the cob, but it turned out to be little bar snacks of super crispy corn kernels. I guess it also didn’t help that we ordered these towards the end of meal, when it should have been a pre-meal snack.

They’ve changed their chocolate mousse a little – it now comes with espresso syrup and olive oil jelly. Because the chocolate was so strong, I didn’t taste the olive oil jelly at all when we had it together. I could only barely discern the flavour when I tasted the jelly on its own. 

I won’t say that we’re regulars, but I guess we’ve been here often enough that a few of the regular waitstaff (well, one really) have begun to recognise us. The familiarity probably makes our experience even more positive, which I guess becomes a vicious cycle.

I’ve heard of people being less than impressed with Esquina, either because they went mid- service so the kitchen couldn’t give the food the exacting attention that they do during first service, or they perhaps had different expectations of the ambience, food and service. Either way, perhaps this place isn’t for everyone, but it most certainly is for us.   

A says:

Great. As always.

Monday, November 05, 2012


C says:

In the same vein as Esquina, Lolla is a tiny little tapas bar that seats about 13 at the counter, and a few more outdoors. They too don’t take reservations, and the first time we tried to go at about 8.30 pm on a Wednesday, we were told that it was a 45 minute wait. We returned at 6 pm on a Thursday, to an empty restaurant. It only started filling up after 7, and we were later told that there had been an event that Wednesday, hence the longer than usual wait on a weekday night.

An empty restaurant meant that the kitchen was still pretty relaxed, and we were able to chat to head chef Ming, who explained his dishes in a very professional yet friendly way.

One of their signature dishes is the urchin pudding – a squid ink custard topped with a generous helping of uni. This was very good, but also very intense. You have to really like the briny, almost funky flavours of both uni and squid ink to appreciate this dish, otherwise it could get a tad overwhelming.

The scrambled eggs with Bottarga di Muggine was divine – a classic pairing of creamy scrambled eggs with bottarga (mullet roe) shaved very liberally on top. Most places that feature bottarga on their pastas or other dishes use it so sparingly that the flavours of the roe are all but lost. Not here though – the flavour of the bottarga is definitely at the forefront and you can really appreciate it as a result.

Another winning dish was the beef tongue escalopes – thin slices of beef tongue served with a pickled red cabbage to cut through the richness. The tongue was beautifully seared so that the insides were still creamy but the outsides were nice and crisp.

We ordered a couple of dishes that were on the Specials board – razor clams with garlic and chorizo, and roasted Brittany baby artichokes. These were a bit less stellar compared to the other dishes, perhaps because their flavours were a bit predictable.

The lamb shortribs were a bit disappointing. It was seasoned quite liberally with a cumin-heavy marinade, probably to reduce the gamey flavour of the lamb ribs, but I found it a bit excessive. The ribs weren’t very meaty, and even though we were encouraged to use our fingers instead, it was still quite a challenge getting the rather chewy meat off the bones. Most certainly not date food.

We ended off with a fairly light dessert – doughnuts with lemon curd. They sound heavy, but the doughnuts were actually made of choux pastry so they were really light and fluffy. The lemon curd also helped to make it a lighter, more refreshing dessert.

If I were to be purely objective, the food was very good. Looking at it with a slightly more critical eye though, and a die-hard allegiance to Esquina, I would say that the food lacks an overall impact – one that leaves me craving for a return visit before I’ve even left the place.

A says:

Pretty good. Excellent service. Some standout dishes. But overall, for the same price, I’d much rather go to Esquina.

22 Ann Siang Road
Tel: 6423-1228
Mon to Sat: 5 pm – midnight
Closed Sun & PH