Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thai Express

C says:

Will wonders never cease – A actually chose to come here on his own accord! No arm-twisting from me or anything. He came here with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and realised that besides pad thai and pineapple rice, there’s actually other Thai food that he can eat, and the standard here isn’t too bad either.

For a start, we had the stuffed chicken wings, which were decent but not as good as some of the others that I’ve tried. The stuffing was less pork/prawn, and more like fishcake which wasn’t quite as flavourful.

A came here specifically to have the soft shell crab curry, and I must say it was very interesting and pretty tasty. The menu stated that this dish was created to celebrate the wedding of a Thai chef and a Japanese chef. Aww… The curry tasted like a mix of Japanese curry and local chilli crab, and with deep fried soft shell crab with no messy shells to worry about, what’s there not to like?

I was deciding between a number of tung hoon (glass noodles) dishes. I ended up having the tung hoon soup with egg and chicken balls. This was ok but I definitely needed the chilli padi. Next time I’m either trying the tom yam tung hoon, or the stir fried tung hoon with prawns that the other table were having.

We shared a red ruby, which surprisingly came with coconut ice cream rather than coconut milk. The rubies lacked the more intense rose flavour of those at A-Roy Thai, but all in all, the ice cream gave it a nice twist.

One caveat is that while the food was much better than expected for a chain restaurant, don’t come here expecting the same standard as A-Roy Thai. To me, that’s the real deal, whereas Thai Express is still a local version of Thai cuisine. As long as you bear that in mind and keep your expectations in check, you’ll probably be as pleasantly surprised as we were.

A says:

Props to my friend S for suggesting this place. The staff at this branch try hard but can be a bit blur. Food-wise, the standard is not bad but it can be hit or miss. I’d recommend the main dishes but not the starters or desserts.

Thai Express
The Heeren Shops
260 Orchard Road, #05-10
Tel: 6734-0877
Mon – Thurs: 11.30 am to 10.30 pm
Fri – Sun: 11.30 am to 11 pm

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Waroeng Penyet Corner

C says:

Ayam penyet is an Indonesian dish where the chicken (or whatever meat you choose) is smashed flat, although I’m not quite sure why, and usually served with a spicy sambal. I’ve been bemoaning of late that local hawker food has been dumbed down in recent years in terms of spiciness. I’m not sure if my tastebuds have been dulled from years of chilli padi consumption, but even supposedly spicier foods like laksa are pretty bland until you add extra chilli or sambal.

That’s why this really appealed to me. When I first tried this a couple of months ago at the food court opposite A’s parents’ place, I got quite a high from the spicy sambal. (You can opt for the non-spicy version as well)

I was quite looking forward to having it again but somehow the sambal fell a bit flat today. I’m not sure if I’m already used to the kick of the sambal, or perhaps it’s because it’s still Ramadan, and the chefs are fasting and therefore have to rely on memory rather than actually tasting their food.

I’ll probably give this another try, cos there’s nothing else at that food court that I’d like (since we’re boycotting the Astons there). But the chicken has a tendency to be a bit dry, so do request for the chicken thigh, otherwise by default you’ll end up with the breast meat portion.

A says:

I don’t really understand what the initial hype over Ayam Penyet was. I used to have lots of it when I was working around Beach Road. It’s not bad, but given the choice, I’d rather have a Gado Gado.

Waroeng Penyet Corner
Jurong Café Foodcourt
Block 134m #01-309
Jurong East St 13
Tel: 9679-4623

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jane’s Cake Station

C says:

One good thing about A being a TEMPORARY (caps, bold, etc) mai tai is that he’s free during the day to run all sorts of errands. Including moseying up to Jalan Kayu on a Friday afternoon to pick up a cake from Jane’s Cake Station.

We discovered Jane’s years ago, when we fell in love with the cake that an aunt gave us. We went a few times but ultimately it’s so far away (and the opening hours are pretty inconvenient for working folk) that we stopped making the hike for quite a number of years.

Recently, seeing it featured on Makansutra Raw renewed my interest in it, so when A mentioned he was meeting a friend at Jalan Kayu, I immediately thought “Jane’s!!!”, and promptly called to order a cake.

They only do two flavours here – chocolate fudge, and durian cream. No prizes for guessing which one we’re obsessed with. The chocolate fudge cake here is the old school kind, and blows both Lana and Awfully Chocolate right out the window. The cake is incredibly light and moist, the chocolate fudge is sufficiently chocolatey without being too rich, and overall it’s not too sweet.

Instead of selling cakes by weight, here they go by sizes – Small, Medium, and she could have revised it since then, but years ago she had Big, Large and Extra-large, which I thought was hilarious. The small is 8 inches in diameter and costs $30. I’m not sure if she bakes any for over-the counter sales, but with the store being so far away, I wouldn’t take any chances and would recommend that you place an order at least a day in advance. As it is, when I called on Thursday for collection on Friday, the only size they could make in time was the small.

A and I have been chowing down on the cake since we got it, pretty much wrecking our diet and gym-going in the process. Oh well, if there’s anything that’s worth the calories, it’s this.

A says:

Just so no one gets confused, I’m a mai tai as in male tai tai, and not a tropical cocktail.

And I’m still looking for work so if anyone needs a copywriter, let me know.

Back to the review, C told me that people have posted on other local blogs that they find the cake too airy/not sweet enough/etc… My response to that is: “Wah lau eh! That’s what makes it good what!”

Oh, and prepare yourself for a culture shock if you go into the shop. I won’t spoil the surprise but it’s not exactly like any cake shop I’ve ever been into.

Jane’s Cake Station
265 Jalan Kayu
Mon to Sat (closed Wed): 12 noon to 6.30 pm
Sun: 12 noon to 4 pm

Friday, September 19, 2008

Valentino’s again

C says:

Alas, no burrata cheese at Valentino tonight. We were there for the 8.30 pm sitting and they were sold out by then. At least it gave us a good reason to finally try the gnocchi here. I’ve never had gnocchi (a traditional Italian potato dumpling) before, and I’ve so far refrained from ordering it from just any old Italian joint, in case they do a sucky job and I’m turned off it forever. So what better place to have my first gnocchi than at tried and tested Valentino.

It was a good thing we shared the gnocchi as a starter, because it’s way too gelak for one person to have this all on their own as a main course. We had the gnocchi with cheese sauce, and be warned that it only comes with cheese sauce, no other ingredients. The cheese sauce packed quite a punch (there was definitely some gorgonzola/blue cheese in it, which is fine by me). As for the gnocchi itself, well I definitely found it interesting, but I think I’m still more of a pasta fan. It had more bite and starchiness than pasta, which on the plus side adds texture, but on the down side can be a bit filling and heavy.

A had the veal with parma ham and sage – the veal was very tender for such a lean meat, and the new potatoes were tossed in a very sinful rosemary-flavoured melted butter. I decided to try the pork ravioli (which was a special) today. It was served with a tomato-based sauce with a slightly spicy and tart/sour edge, and for the entire period that I took to finish the dish, I was trying to figure out what that elusive flavour was. I got it in the nick of time, in the second last bite – it was chorizo sausage!

Perla has a new version of the white chocolate chantilly cake. It’s a coffee chantilly, but I still prefer the original version. The coffee taste isn’t very strong, and the coffee cream inside and on top is similar to the coffee glaze on éclairs – a bit sweet and tends to weigh down the cake. The appeal of the white chocolate chantilly is its lightness, and the coffee cream detracts from that a bit.

Still, very satisfying, but I hope there’s burrata to be had again next time.

A says:

Most of my meal was spent trying to figure out what the gnocchi tasted like. And finally I got it: Mac & Cheese! I hope purists don’t find it insulting – I’d rank it as the best Mac & Cheese I’ve ever had. Which is strange since it is potato.

Anyway, service and food are excellent as always. Recently, C told me that people have posted on other local blogs that they find the food too buttery/creamy/etc… My response to that is: “Wah lau eh! That’s what makes it good what!”

Ristorante da Valentino
11 Jalan Bingka (off Rifle Range Road)
Tel: 6462-0555
Tuesday to Sunday: 12 pm to 2.30 pm, 6 pm to 10.30 pm

Friday, September 12, 2008


C says:

Cicada was one of the first establishments (besides old-timers Colbar) to set up shop Portsdown Road. In recent months, the area has been renamed Wessex Estate and several other restaurants and cafes have moved in, like Pietrasanta and Laurent’s Chocolate Bar. I do want to try them all at some point, but tonight we decided to go with the original one first.

Cicada was worryingly quiet for a Friday night, with most of the hip crowd over at Pietrasantra instead. Still, that left the ambience very relaxed and not kissy-kissy, which suited us fine. Service was good, albeit slightly slow in bringing us menus and refilling my warm water.

Food was good, particularly the crab Caesar salad. I think it was because there was loads of dressing, plenty of crispy bacon, a generous helping of crab meat and topped with a poached egg.

The pizzas here come in either 8 inch or 12 inch sizes. The 8 inch is a perfect size to share as a starter. We were deliberating between the seared tuna pizza and the scallop with asparagus. We ended up ordering the tuna, but it paled in comparison to the much more strongly flavoured Caesar. The pizza had a good thin crispy crust, but the olives and onions overpowered the tuna, which you couldn’t really tasted unless you plucked it off the pizza and had it on its own.

The burger here is called The Infamous Cicada Burger, and I must say it was good, but in a posh burger way, rather than a good meaty way. I think it was a wagyu patty, topped with Gorgonzola and Gruyere cheese and shimeji mushrooms, but while it was flavourful and done very well, somehow it don’t think it will immediately spring to mind when I have a craving for an old-fashioned burger. Still, this is one of the best posh burgers I’ve had in a while.

We also ordered the Slipper Lobster Cappellini, which comes in a tomato cream sauce with ricotta cheese and topped with tobiko roe. The pasta, being angel hair, was cooked a tad too long; I think this dish would work better with a thicker pasta. The taste of the sauce was good, though.

Unfortunately, we didn’t end our meal on a high. We ordered the profiteroles to share, and were really disappointed. The cream inside was a bit solid, like it had been frozen, and the choux pastry was thick, dry and hard. Next time I think we’ll pass on dessert.

We’ll try the other joints at Portsdown at some point, particularly Pietrasanta which looked good but a bit poseur, so you’ll read about it when we do.

A says:

I think the service here is actually very good. The setting is also very cool – laid back without being too posery. Given the small car park, finding a space probably will be a problem if you go later though.

Food-wise, the crab salad and burger are fantastic. You can taste the quality of the $29 burger. My only issue is that it kind of tastes more like a steak sandwich than a burger.

Overall, I’d recommend this place.

7 Portsdown Road
Tel: 6472-2100
Lunch: 12noon - 3.00pm
Dinner: 6.00pm - 10.30pm(Closed on Mondays)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Yidu Ramen – an update

C says:

An update for readers who are keen to try the Yidu Ramen that we wrote about last month – you can now order the noodles from YumTrade, an online grocery. Unfortunately, the store’s minimum order is $60, which is a LOT of ramen. Maybe you can get some friends together and combine orders.

A says:

I bet Naruto could eat $60 worth of ramen.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Shokudo Japanese Food Bazaar

C says:

Don’t even think of coming here on a Friday night – the queues just to get in are insane. This place is essentially a Japanese version of Marche, with a similar concept of getting a dining card which you get stamped at each stall.

There’s an incredible variety of stalls inside – almost every type of Japanese fare is represented, from yakitori and sashimi and sushi, to ramen, hotpots, tonkatsu and donburi. They even have Japanese pastas and, strangely enough and maybe a nod to the Marche concept, potato rosti.

A had the mentaiko carbonara, which at $10.90 for a fairly small portion was quite expensive. Still, it was quite well executed, with the pasta al dente and a very generous dollop of mentaiko. It was quite rich, so perhaps it was a good thing that the portion wasn’t too big anyway.

I had the sakura ebi fried rice ($5.80), which was slightly underseasoned in my opinion. A bit more salt would’ve been perfect. Next time I think I’ll stick to the unagi fried rice from the same stall, which A’s tried before and said was better, or maybe the garlic fried rice. I tried the okonomiyaki from the same stall, which was quite ordinary and a bit too doughy and greasy.

The yakitori stall is well worth a mention. There are loads of varieties, and while prices initially seem quite expensive, it’s actually not too bad when you consider that each stick is piled quite substantially. A stick of 3 chicken wings, and one with 4 pieces of asparagus wrapped with bacon, cost $2.50 per stick, and the plate of squid tentacles – which were grilled perfectly and not overdone and chewy – was only $3. Next time I’m coming back to have the garlic fried rice and a host of skewers.

Prices here aren’t cheap, and if you come hungry and order without restraint then you may end up racking up quite a bill without realising it. But the quality is definitely good – you’re pretty much getting restaurant-quality food at slightly lower than restaurant prices. A pet peeve I have, though, is that they add 10% service charge. Hello?! What service is there?! I’m waiting in line for my food, I have to keep walking to the stall to check that it’s ready, and carry it back to my table. And yet I STILL have to pay service charge?! Whoever came up with this business plan is a genius.

A says:

Good food. My only complaint is the same as C’s. You’re paying near restaurant prices and service charge while having to run around collecting your food. Other than that, it’s pretty good.

Oh, I have one more complaint. The dessert stall has durian ice cream that taints the flavours of the other ice creams. At least it helps my diet by preventing me from having dessert there.

Shokudo Japanese Food Bazaar
Raffles City Shopping Centre
Open daily: 11.30 am to 10 pm

Streets – an update

C says:

Our favourite cha chan teng, Streets, has finally opened a more convenient branch than the one at IMM. They’re amongst the new eateries at the basement of Raffles City.

Unfortunately, I think the standard at the IMM one is better, but this is just so much more accessible for us, so unless we’re really in the Jurong vicinity, we’ll be patronising this one from now on.

A says:

IMM one seems so much better that this was a disappointment. Maybe it was because we were the first customers of the day and the kitchen hadn’t warmed up yet. I’ll give this place one more chance before making a final call as to whether it’s worth it.

Streets Café
Raffles City Shopping Centre
Tel: 6338-7445
Open daily: 11 am to 9.30 pm

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Our trip to England and Scotland

C says:

Hello all, sorry for the long silence; we’re back from our 2-week holiday to the UK – specifically Edinburgh, Inverness and London. We had an absolutely fabulous time, thanks in no small part to the great food to be had. In Scotland, we dined mainly at bistros whereas in London, as befitting such a cosmopolitan city, we ended up having all sorts of ethnic foods. Again, as with our previous trips we won’t go into as much detail as we normally do; we’ll just give you the highs (and some lows) of our trip.


Taking advantage of Scotland’s access to a wealth of bountiful produce, we ate at local casual-chic bistros, similar I would say to Ember here, that took really good local produce and turned it into simple yet stunning dishes that showcased rather than overwhelmed the natural produce.

Props to my cousin L (of Eve boutique – click here to check it out!) for recommending the hole-in-the-wall Dubh Prais (pronounced doo-prash). This tiny little basement eatery seats no more than 25, and isn’t visible from street level. We had to wait about 15 minutes for a table, but it was well worth it. Serving traditional Scottish food, Dubh Prais blows all preconceptions of stodgy Scottish food, including haggis, right out the window.

The haggis I had here was pan fried and served with a creamy whisky sauce, and it was a far cry from the deep fried nightmare I tried ten years ago from a local chip shop. The haggis was admittedly quite rich, but tasted wonderfully moreish and had no nasty trace of its offal origins, and the venison fillet was wonderfully cooked for meat so lean. This place was way better than the much overrated Wee Windaes, which also serves Scottish food but had absolutely no heart or finesse to the cooking.

We stumbled upon another awesome Edinburgh restaurant, Iris, purely by chance by picking up a brochure at Edinburgh Castle. This place was slightly more upmarket than Dubh Prais, and the dishes were accordingly slightly more modern and innovative. A definitely picked the better choices here – his seared scallops with Iberico ham and supreme of chicken stuffed with langoustine were both excellent. Slightly less mind blowing but still good were my baked lamb loin starter and main of monkfish tail.

Fans of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares may remember this place as La Riviera – a fine dining restaurant where the French chef tried to serve overly-complicated French fare to simple Scots folk. It’s since been renamed Abstract, and the owner opened a casual brasserie next door called Contrast. Being the big TV fans that we are, and since fine dining ain’t our thing, we headed for Contrast, and had another unexpectedly good meal.

The menu had rather surprisingly Asian hints, like the tiger prawn tempura and crab meat spring roll with sesame oil that we ordered. While this wasn’t quite A’s cup of tea, his ensuing main course certainly was. Oven roasted scallops that were fat, juicy and perfectly cooked, this really was a far cry from the miserly portions you get whenever you order seared scallops here in Singapore. With Inverness being so close to the sea, I also decided to have seafood and had the seabass, which rather paled in comparison to the scallops.

The chocolate tart with caramelised banana and walnut ice cream was one of the better desserts we had in Scotland. Each item on its own was above average, but a combination of all three was perfect.


In sharp contrast, our meals really spanned the globe in London. One of our first meals there, and in A’s opinion one of the best of the entire trip, was at Kensington Creperie, where you can find a dizzying array of both savoury and sweet crepes that are unlike any crepes that are available here. The crepes are paper thin and crispy, and generously filled with the freshest ingredients – the cheese is even grated directly onto the crepe as it’s cooked, rather than pre-grated and stored in a Tupperware.

A’s smoked salmon and spinach crepe was, in his opinion, the perfect crepe/meal. His subsequent order a few days later of a chicken and mushroom one left him slightly disappointed. I initially ordered the Tartiflette, with bacon, potatoes, cheese and cream, but the second time my New York Special, with crispy bacon, cheese and soft egg, was better. The sweet crepes were hit and miss – the maple syrup and almond one was so-so, but the banana with dark Belgian chocolate was a winner.

Props to my friend and colleague G for recommending the tapas at Tendido Cero. This was one of my favourite meals of the trip, mainly because the flavours were simply unlike anything I’ve tried before.

On our friend S’s recommendation, we ordered the premium Iberico ham, which is cut from the hind leg. As you can see, the ham was a deep red, and unlike parma ham, it wasn’t overly salty or sometimes chewy. It had a more mellow flavour, which I really liked but A, the parma ham fan, found it a little too bland.

The seafood tapas here are generally better than the meats. The pork fillet with blue cheese sauce was alright, but the octopus and squid ones were outstanding. The cross section slices of octopus tentacle were the most tender that I’ve ever had, bar none, and were simply tossed with a paprika vinaigrette. The squid with risotto in its own ink was rich and intense, and again I dare say the best squid ink dish I’ve ever tasted.

One very interesting dish we had was ‘false’ baby eels with olive oil and garlic. We saw that on the menu and were really puzzled. Turns out they use pasta to mimic both the appearance and taste of baby eels. I don’t know how they did it but this rocked as well, simply because it tasted so simple yet so good.

Since London arguably has the best Indian food outside India, we also went to Khan’s at Bayswater, where we had a pretty good meal. What really stood out were the lamb vindaloo, which I liked cos it was really spicy, and the butter chicken. This is the first butter chicken I’ve had where in addition to flavours from the creamy curry gravy, the chicken itself also had a wonderfully smoky, chargrilled flavour.

Our friends S and G brought us to Kura, a little Japanese restaurant serving authentic home-style cooking. Some of the highlights were an absolutely addictive dish of deep fried whitebait-like fish and prawns with slivers of fried garlic, eggplant baked with miso and a grilled saba, and for comfort food it doesn’t get much better than the udon served with slices of pork in a rich pork broth.

We had a few meals of Chinese food – one was at Royal China, where we had the old faithful roast duck and lobster noodles. While this place may not have the best roast duck in London (most people say that’s to be had at either Four Seasons or Gold Mine, where the Four Seasons chef moved to), it has a much less frenzied atmosphere. Plus it has the famous lobster noodle, which was indeed delicious, with the noodles soaking up all sorts of yummy lobster stock.

Our worst meal in London was the result of a misrepresentation. After catching a show at Leicester Square, we decided to have a late dinner in Chinatown. In the dark recesses of my memory from 10 years ago, I hazily remembered that Young Cheng, which has amazing soya sauce chicken, was on Lisle Street so navigating purely on instinct I found Lisle Street with Young Cheng still there. Unfortunately the food sucked, with my soya chicken rice slathered with an inexplicable sweet and sour sauce with bits of ginger. I was quite flummoxed at the vast disparity from the Young Cheng of old. It was only much later on, when I saw my receipt and the name card, that I realised that a new restaurant had taken over the premises – New Diamond – and simply couldn’t be bothered (or maybe it was intentional?) to change the sign. We then realised that the real Young Cheng has moved to Shaftesbury Avenue. Deceived!

I know it’s become rather unchic to proclaim oneself a fan of Jamie Oliver, because in the past five years or so he’s taken the world by storm, and with all his product endorsements we’re really in Jamie Oliver overload. But I can’t discount the fact that watching his old series Oliver’s Twist was one of the first things to get me interested in cooking. So, as a sort of homage, we made a trip to Fifteen London, and ate at the casual trattoria rather than the restaurant proper.

Service was rather slow, and the food wasn’t great but I have to give them credit for using good ingredients. Everything in the antipasti platter was delicious, and the linguine carbonara, instead of just tasting like egg and cream, had lovely flavours from the rendered pancetta. The mains were a bit heavy though, and I guess it didn’t help that I ordered the pan fried calves’ liver. Still, I’m glad we came, if only just to say “We’ve been there!” while watching anything to do with Fifteen…

Last but certainly not least, no essay on the food in London will be complete without a tribute to Borough Market. This place is a foodie’s paradise, and it’s quite amazing that a market like this exists, with all its wonderful fresh produce, in the heart of the city. There are so many things available at Borough Market that it’ll take days or even weeks to get through all of them – what I would give to live in London just for this alone.

One of the much lauded stalls here is Brindisa, which sells all sorts of Spanish charcuterie including chorizo sausage. They also have a stand selling their much-lauded chorizo bap – chorizo sausage, roasted red peppers and arugula in a bun. We had high hopes for this, because I’d read such good reviews and both my cousin L and my friend S also said it was a must-try, but while it made a very good sandwich, it didn’t really blow my mind.

I would even go so far as to say that I preferred the pork pie at Mrs King’s Melton Mowbray Pies. Unlike steak pies or chicken and mushroom pies that are covered in puff pastry and served hot, these pies are meant to be eaten cold/at room temperature because in between the tightly packed meat and the shortcrust pastry is a layer of aspic – gelatinous meat juices that may sound a bit ick, but trust me, this cholesterol-laden creation is well worth the indulgence. It tastes a bit like really good luncheon meat, and honestly how can that go wrong?

We’ve saved the best for last. Tucked away in a corner of Borough Market is The Parma Ham Company, selling unpasteurized buffalo mozzarella from the village of Capaccio in Naples, and parma ham. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but the buffalo mozzarella here was extraordinary. It had a wonderful texture – creamy and oozy, and a delicately savoury flavour. This was perfectly paired with the vine-ripened mini cherry tomatoes that we got from another stall that burst with sweetness.

The place also does picnic lunches, and on our second visit A got one with cherry tomatoes, slices of mozzarella, arugula, rock melon and slices of parma ham. I wish I’d gotten one for myself – this was superb. This was a combination of the 5 ingredients that are perfect for one another.

Well, there you have it. Needless to say, we’re now on a diet…

PS: We’re not going to list them, but if anyone wants contact details of any of these places, do let us know.

A says:

Surprisingly, the meals we had in the UK weren’t hideously expensive (of course we can’t afford the Michelin-starred restaurants).

The scallops at Contrast in Inverness and buffalo mozzarella from Borough RAWKED but my best meal was definitely the smoked salmon crepe.

I’d recommend the Kensington Creperie, Tendido Cero, and at least 2 trips to Borough Market for any trip to London.

In Edinburgh, I’d recommend Iris, in Inverness, both Contrast and Mustard Seed – a place C didn’t mention but one of the town’s top restaurants (and it has an affordable lunch menu).

And in Scotland, I also discovered that Haggis is really not bad.

I wasn’t impressed with any of the Asian food we tried, but then, besides Japanese, I don’t like most Asian food. My one regret is that we only got to have fish & chips once.

PS: I managed to have Pret A Manger twice and it is sooooo much better there. Totally puts to shame the crappy franchises opened in Singapore or Hong Kong.