Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shabu-shabu at En Japanese Dining Bar

C says:

For a limited period only (I think the promotion is on till end January 2009), En Japanese Dining Bar at Crown Centre is having a shabu-shabu a la carte buffet for S$42++. This is very good value, considering that in addition to unlimited servings of the beef shabu-shabu, you can also order unlimited helpings from quite a diverse list of the restaurant’s offerings. These include the garlic fried rice, wafu spaghetti, beef carpaccio (all of which are our favourites here), as well as sashimi, sushi, tempura and a number of grilled items.

They also don’t shortchange you just because it’s a buffet, unlike some places which serve tiny or scaled-down versions of their dishes. Each order is the full size that it would be if you had ordered a la carte. Because of this, I’d recommend going with at least 4 people so that you get to try as many dishes as possible without wasting food. We went with A’s parents on Sunday night to celebrate A's birthday.

The quality was really good, and because we’ve ordered some of the dishes a la carte on previous occasions, we know they didn't cut any corners for the buffet. The beef carpaccio was excellent, and a new dish we tried – the Wafu Steak with garlic slices – was amazing as well.

The beef for the shabu-shabu was really good quality – check out the deep red colour and the marbling. It was sliced paper thin, and a couple of swishes in the hot broth was all it took to cook it to a perfect pinkness. The meat was so sweet and tender that it barely needed any sauce at all, but for the record it comes with a sesame sauce for the meat, and a ponzu sauce for the vegetables. You also get unlimited servings of enoki and shitake mushrooms, wong bok (chinese/napa cabbage), leek and that nasty steamboat vegetable, tang-oh.

Service is also excellent. Again, some buffet places have horrendous service, deliberately taking ages to take your order or bring your food so that you just give up before eating your fill. Not here. They’re extremely attentive, didn't miss out a single item in our considerable order, and were perfectly happy to oblige with refills of the shabu beef.

Since the promo is on till end January, I’m definitely pushing to come here for CNY reunion dinner with A’s folks. Steamboat is quite traditional at CNY, and it sure beats ending up at the lacklustre teppanyaki buffet at River View Hotel, which seems to be our CNY default but has deteriorated somewhat in recent years.

A says:

Forget everything else and just go for all the beef dishes. BEEEEF!!! RAWK!!!

En Japanese Dining Bar
557 Bukit Timah Road
#01-14/16 Crown Centre
Tel: 6468-5710
Open 6 pm to midnight; and for lunch on weekends


C says:

Instead of brunch at Relish, we opted for something simpler and went to Colbar instead. Colbar (short for colonial bar) has such a devoted following that when they were evicted from their previous location just down the road due to construction of new roads, loyal customers (a large number of whom are expats) rallied round and raised funds to help them reconstruct the entire building about 200 metres down the road.

I must say the place is quite quaint and charming, and you don’t quite feel like you’re in Singapore. It serves very old-school Hainanese-style Asian and Western dishes, from chicken curry and fried mee hoon to mixed grills and all manner of combinations of sausages/bacon/eggs/chips/beans/mushrooms/peas.

A, expecting the sausages to be cheapo frankfurters, ordered the sausage, eggs, chips and mushrooms. Unfortunately they’re not as low-end as you think, because it turned out to be fat link sausages, the kind A doesn’t like. Having said that, their button mushrooms are of the *shudder* canned Narcissus variety.

I had the dry fried mamee, again expecting the noodles to be like instant noodles, but they turned out to be thick fat noodles instead. Still, their Asian food seems to be better than their Western. This was on the salty and oily side, but still much better than A’s fry up, where the standard was hawker centre Western food at best.

Frankly, apart from the old-fashioned charm, I think this place is way overrated. The novelty of the ambience wears off pretty quickly, especially when you’re sitting in the heat and having to swat away numerous flies. I guess price-wise it may initially seem a lot cheaper than going to a chi-chi brunch place, but bear in mind you have to factor in the quality of what you’re getting for the price as well.

A says:

I can see why expats (and some locals) might like the old school al fresco ambience, but really, it’s not for me. Plus these flies kept disturbing our meal.

Plus the food is really around hawker centre standard so I really can’t see myself paying the higher prices for it.

9A Whitchurch Road
Wessex Estate
Tel: 6779-4859
Tues – Sun: 11 am to 10 pm
Closed Monday

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New offerings from Relish

C says:

This is our first visit to Relish since they revamped their menu. Instead of risking losing their loyal burger fans, they’ve cleverly decided to add to their menu, rather than give it a complete overhaul and remove some old favourites. Apparently the reason behind the revamp is to attract more diners by giving them more variety, both in terms of menu choices and on the wallet.

Firstly, they’ve added a number of non-burger options, like 4 new pastas and a fish dish, with the reasoning that if just one diner out of a group of 8 didn’t want a burger, they may lose the entire group of 8 as potential customers. Secondly, for diners who are smaller eaters or who may be watching their spending in these leaner times, all their burgers now come in 2 sizes – the regular 180g patty for about $18, and a smaller 150g patty for about $15.

They’ve also included the parmesan wings with gorgonzola and sweet chilli dips, from their Wild Oats bar. I remember not being terribly impressed by these the last time, but I can’t NOT order something that has both “wings” and “gorgonzola”. Sure enough, these had a bit too much crust for me, but they were still pretty juicy and the gorgonzola dip rocks. They also gave us a bowl of onion rings on the house. I would’ve liked to think it’s because we’re atetoomuch (har har), but alas it came before I whipped out the camera, so most likely it’s because we were there with R and P, who are die-hard regulars there.

R had a 150g Ramlee, and A and I shared the 180g Ramlee. To be honest, it didn’t seem like a huge difference so it may be worthwhile ordering the smaller one. I had one of the pastas – the spicy conpoy and hae bee (dried prawn) spaghetti with baby scallops. The spaghetti was more like angel hair pasta, and this was very Asian indeed. Imagine a mixture of sambal hae bee and XO sauce. Very interesting and quite tasty, but because it’s so full of flavour, I’d recommend sharing this with someone, otherwise it could get a little overwhelming.

They’ve got a couple of new desserts too, which is a welcome breath of fresh air if you don't want to keep having either the pandan panna cotta or the strawberry cheesecake. They have an oreo cheesecake now, as well as the Popcorn Sundae which we tried. Unlike the panna cotta and the strawberry cheesecake which are pretty small portions, the popcorn sundae is huge. 3 scoops of sweet corn ice cream, blueberry sauce and topped with caramelised popcorn. Surprisingly this really works. The old-school sweet corn ice cream actually goes really well with blueberry; who would’ve thought.

I also had a look at Relish’s weekend brunch menu and there are loads of yummy offerings too. We figured it was a bit overkill to go again the next morning, but we’ll definitely try it out soon.

A says:

This place is pretty good when it isn’t packed. I think if we’re really hungry, we can share two 150g burgers and a pasta. And yes, I can’t really see a difference between the 150g and the 180g.

501 Bukit Timah Road
#02-01 Cluny Court
Tel: 6763-1547
Mon - Fri: Noon to 3 pm, 6 pm to 11 pm
Sat and Sun: Noon to 11 pm

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from atetoomuch!

C says:

Christmas is upon us again, and as per tradition, it’s when I channel my inner domestic goddess and whip up a bunch of baked goods as Christmas gifts. After last year’s Christmas cookies, I initially wanted to do a whole gingerbread Nativity scene, but just the thought of rolling out, baking and decorating three sets of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the wise men, sheep, cows, lambs etc got me exhausted. So instead, I took the easy way out and assembled a basket of baked goods. That way, I just had to prepare one of each item, divvy it up, and package it nicely.

Golden rule of baking – presentation is everything. What I lacked in the taste of the goodies, I made up for with the packaging, heh. A helped me design a name and logo – BakeTooMuch – and we printed out these cards with the names of the items and storage/reheating instructions. I also bought nifty little muffin and cake boxes, cos they just look so much prettier than disposable plastic takeout containers.

Sundried tomato and parma ham focaccia

Blueberry crumble cake

Banana and chocolate chunk muffins

I’m quite pleased that I managed to bake everything within a day – just over 4 hours, actually. I planned all my tasks to maximise my time, so I was baking the blueberry crumble cake whilst the focaccia was resting/proofing, chopping the chocolate and bananas while the cake was baking… you get the picture. Not to mention washing up everything in between. Of course I’d practised everything at least once beforehand, so it went fairly smoothly without major hiccups. And yippee, I finally managed to achieve a whopping muffin top on the muffins!

After a day to recover, it’s back to the kitchen on Christmas Eve, this time for the turkey. Again, I planned everything in 30 minute blocks, so from about 1 pm I was pretty much checking my list and functioning on autopilot – 1.30: prepare flavoured butter and truss turkey. 2.00: Put turkey in oven. 2.30: Baste. 3.00: Baste and tent with foil. Etc etc.

I also made the stuffing this year, because I don’t like the taste of pre-packaged stuffings. There’s always too much herbs or chestnuts or dried fruit for me. I got sausage meat from The Butcher (where I also got the turkey), and made a sausage, bacon and mushroom stuffing. I baked it in a loaf pan rather than stuffing the turkey with it, because I didn’t know how the stuffing would affect the cooking time of the turkey. The stuffing turned out ok, albeit a bit too crumbly. At least the taste was alright.

As for the turkey, I should have trusted my gut instinct, but my paranoia got the better of me as usual. Those additional 5+ minutes in the oven were its downfall, and as a result it wasn’t as moist and juicy as I would’ve liked. I keep telling myself this, but next time I swear I’ll do better.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

A says:

Bah, humbug!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


C says:

We’ve heard many mixed reviews about Picotin, a casual eatery/pizzeria under the Saint Pierre group – A’s friend says the place smells of horses, B hated it because of a bad experience with the service, and my colleague P absolutely loves the place.

Picotin is located near Turf City, and granted, while walking from your car to the restaurant you may get a whiff or two of horse, but once you get inside proper, I assure you there’s absolute no horsey pong whatsoever. Besides an indoor bar with only bar counter seating, all dining tables are al fresco, but there are quite a number of fans going so it’s not as hot as you’d imagine. Being outdoors, everything’s quite dimly lit so it’s hell for taking photos.

A and I shared the French Onion soup, clams a la Marinere (white wine and butter), and mussels a la Parisienne (garlic butter and cheese). The soup was unexceptional, but I really like the clams. The juices from the clams, white wine and butter was absolutely addictive and perfect for soaking up with bread.

We then shared a pizza, creating our own by pairing their 4-cheese Campolina and adding smoked bacon. The pizza was fantastic – I think it’s the first 4-cheese pizza I’ve seen that lists mascarpone as one of the cheeses. The 4 are gorgonzola, parmesan, mascarpone and mozzarella. The smoked bacon added a further savoury hit. Perfect combination, if you ask me. They should add this to the menu and call it the atetoomuch pizza, har har.

Desserts were ok but next time I won’t waste my calories. The profiteroles were a bit generic – the ice cream was good but I found the choux pastry a bit hard. The chestnut crème brulee was not what I expected. I thought the crème itself would be infused with chestnut flavour or something. Instead, the entire base of the ramekin was smeared with chestnut paste, then ordinary vanilla crème was poured on top. A bit of a cop out, plus the chestnut paste was really too sweet.

Anyway, that’s about the food. About the service, though I didn’t have half as bad an experience as B, I must admit that I was less than satisfied with the overall experience. Maybe they took one look at us and assumed we weren’t worthy, because we were seated at the less crowded wing of the restaurant, and all the way at the end to boot. Or to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe we had a largeish booking of 7.

As a result, it was quite hard to catch the waiters’ attention for anything. There’s a specials board, which I only noticed as we were about to place our order; if I hadn’t asked for it to brought to us, no one offered to do so. This is one of my pet peeves – if the restaurant has non-menu specials, make them available to everyone, and tell your guests as you give them the menu. Why make them go through the menu, decide what to order, then throw everyone off course by reciting specials just as they’re about to place their order?

Some of the waiters were quite polite, but one woman took the cake. Not a single smile on her face all night, and when P asked which of their desserts were specials and were recommended, the waitress simply said none. Good grief…

Will we come back? I’m not sure. The pizza was good, but there are other places I’d rather try first.

A says:

I didn’t want to get my hopes up after hearing some bad things about it. The food’s good but falls just short of great. The prices are also reasonable if you don’t order the mains which my friends said were very so-so only.

The setting itself is very nice and outdoorsy. They’ve got plenty of fans but if you sweat a lot like me, I’d recommend not going on a hot night.

The service is very iffy though. The first waiter we got was excellent, but everyone else seemed kinda blur.

Overall, I wouldn’t mind coming back every now and again. Just not very often.

100 Turf Club Road
Tel: 6877-1191
Open daily:
Breakfast 8 am to 11 am
Lunch to dinner 12 noon to 10 pm

Friday, December 19, 2008

Buko Nero

C says:

I know we said that leaving a few months in between Buko Nero visits makes each visit more memorable, but little did we realise that we’d take that a bit too seriously. Our last visit was in Feburary! This visit the special menu was:

Amuse bouche: Crostini with cheese and mango
Starter: Scallop carpaccio with miso dressing and watercress salad
Soup: Pumpkin, mint and crab meat
Sorbet: Sour plum
A’s main: Squid ink tagliolini with arrabiata sauce and squid
C’s main: Seared hamachi fillet
Dessert: Hazelnut and praline cake

Both the crostini and the soup reiterated my view that Casa Verde ain’t no Buko Nero. Particularly the soup – the soups here at Buko Nero are just so much more intense, and the flavours are so much more concentrated. The scallop carpaccio was quite good but I think the miso dressing was a bit too strong and overwhelmed the rather delicate scallop somewhat.

My main sounded better than it tasted though. I guess I expected the texture of a hamachi head/cheek, where the meat is quite fatty and even when grilled, is almost melt-in-the-mouth. In contrast, a hamachi fillet is leaner and meatier, so at certain points this was a bit dry. The skin was great though, incredibly crispy, and I don’t know where they source their green peas from, but for someone who normally abhors green peas, these actually tasted very fresh and were prepared till just tender, not mushy. The pasta was better, but not one of their best.

Cake was delicious – ground hazelnuts inside the cake batter so the whole cake was just perfumed with hazelnut, and topped with shaved chocolate and praline.

One of the highlights, for me, was the bread at the start. We used to have little bread rolls which were already quite yummy, but today it was an incredibly light focaccia with tomatoes, onions and olives. I dare say that I think I’ve grown to like olives (black ones, that is. Still can’t do the green ones).

Some dinners here may be more mind-blowing than others, but they’re always satisfying and very good value for money.

A says:

Tonight’s menu was a bit too experimental for my liking. I guess I’m beginning to prefer more traditional Italian cooking. Still, any visit to Buko Nero is great. Too bad it’s so hard to get a reservation.

Buko Nero
126 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6324-6225
Dinner: 6.30pm to 9.30pm (Tuesday to Saturday)
Lunch: Noon to 2pm (Friday and Saturday)
Closed Sunday and Monday

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


C says:

Next on our set lunch trail is Forlino, a much-lauded Italian restaurant that opened about 6 months ago at One Fullerton. I must admit that despite rave reviews in the press and other food blogs, I was quite hesitant to give this place a try because it was widely publicised as a joint venture between chef Osvaldo Forlino and Beppe de Vito, of Il Lido. When we heard that, our posh antennae pricked up and we decided that it was a bit too stiff and formal for us.

Still, aside from the Il Lido affiliation, I was quite drawn to the fact that it’s essentially a family-run restaurant. Just like Valentino, Forlino’s entire family has moved to Singapore and helps out in the restaurant in some way or another. On that basis, we decided to give it a trial run for lunch. It didn't bode well when we made our way to the restaurant – gilded moose heads and ornate cornices lined the long walkway to the restaurant. However when you finally get to the main dining room it looks quite different – it’s still quite luxe but very understatedly so. And unlike Prive, their full-length windows aren’t shrouded with drapes and you get a lovely view of the Esplanade.

The set lunch here is $45 for an amuse bouche, starter, main course and coffee with petit fours. You only get 2 options each for the starter and main course though, so you may be out of luck if you’re not too keen on both. The amuse bouche was a slice of chicken liver on a bed of polenta. I like my liver quite runny inside and this was a bit overcooked for me.

The slightly uninspired amuse bouche was more than made up for by the bread - personal portions of foccacia, about 5 inches in diameter, sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil. The chef’s mother apparently makes this fresh twice daily, and it's really good.

Obviously with just 2 choices per course, we had one each. A had the salmon carpaccio and I had the minestrone soup. The carpaccio was sliced quite thick – fine with us but I was quite surprised since thick slices aren’t very fine dining. The minestrone was actually more of a tomato cream soup drizzled with basil pesto. The large cheesy croutons saved this from being a rather ordinary dish.

When the main courses arrived, it confirmed that while everything else in this place gives off fine dining vibes, the food itself is decidedly not. The main course portions were huge, and plated very basically with no foam or glazes paintbrushed onto the plates. I had the seafood pasta and A had the pork chop.

The pasta was a little past al dente, but I liked the light broth and the super fresh prawns, clams and melt-in-the-mouth pieces of cod. The pork was well seasoned and quite juicy, but my one complaint is that if they aren’t going to ensure that the pork rind is crispy, they should just remove it. It was tough and chewy and not very edible.

The petit fours accompanying the coffee comprised a rich chocolate truffle, meringue kisses sandwiched with Chantilly cream, and generic shortcake. Surprisingly the meringue won us both over.

Well, lunch today has certainly changed my mind about Forlino. The food seems to be very honestly Italian, just a bit luxed up to fit the restaurant’s image. It’s a bit of a pity, because I think they’ll do better in the long run as a no-airs, family-run Italian restaurant serving simple yet well-executed Italian food.

A says:

I really like this place. The view is great. The service is excellent. And the food is pretty good. Even though it’s on the expensive side, the portions you get are very large portions. The set lunch especially is really good value for money despite the $45 price tag.

One Fullerton
Tel: 6887-6995
Lunch: 12 pm – 2 pm (Mon to Fri)
Dinner: 6.30 pm – 9.30 pm (Mon to Sat)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Prive Bakery & Cafe

C says:

The waterfront at the Keppel Marina is fast becoming our new favourite place. Less than a week after having coffee here with R and P, we met D, D and baby J there for tea, then stayed on for an early dinner after they left.

I wish we were hungrier so that we could try some of their more substantial offerings, but after the Casa Verde lunch we were just barely able to fit in a salad and pasta at about 6 pm. The salad comprised mesclun greens, smoked duck breast slices, fennel, figs and crispy shallots. This was interesting, but not something I’d order again. I must say the duck and the figs were well paired, though.

I was eyeing this since I perused the menu the last time we were here – organic mushroom linguine with white wine cream sauce, and an option to add parma ham with an additional $4. Besides the slightly miserly portion of parma ham for $4, this was much better than expected. The sauce wasn’t too rich and creamy, and they were very generous with the mushrooms. And not just button or shitake mushrooms either. There were enoki mushrooms, and big meaty chunks of oyster mushrooms.

Service here is a bit iffy though. They’re all very polite, but it’s quite a challenge making yourself understood to the non-English speaking waitstaff.

A says:

The food’s not bad but not great. I guess you’re really paying for the ambience. And aside from the occasional fishy smell coming in from the sea breeze, I really like the laid back feel of the place.

Prive Bakery & Café
2 Keppel Bay Vista
Marina at Keppel Bay
Tel: 6776-0777
Sun to Thurs: 9 am – 1 am (kitchen opens 10 am; last orders midnight)
Fri to Sat: 9 am – 2 am (kitchen opens 10 am; last orders 1 am)

Pizza at Casa Verde

C says:

We headed back to Casa Verde today for a stab at their pizza and, after reading rave reviews from both W and S, their mee goreng. Surprisingly, the mee goreng wowed us more than the pizza.

While I don’t regularly partake in Indian-style mee goreng, I do know a good one when I taste it, and this is one of the best ones I’ve had. It’s moist and full of flavour, yet doesn’t feel excessively oily or heavy. They’re quite generous with the ingredients too – lots of plump fresh prawns, squid rings and fish cake.

We ordered a very standard proscuitto e funghi (ham and mushroom) pizza, but were a little disappointed that it was actually shaved honey-baked ham rather than true proscuitto (parma ham). This was perfectly decent but it didn’t wow us. I felt that it was a bit too simple and clean-tasting, and could have benefited from a tad more tomato paste and/or cheese.

We sat at a table that was right next to the pizza oven, and had a bird’s eye view of Chef Lucio preparing the pizzas. The seafood one really caught our eye, as it was loaded with ingredients, and the four cheese, with its bubbling golden brown medley of cheeses, got me salivating. We definitely plan to try one or both of them some time soon.

Update: We have since ordered the seafood pizza for takeaway, and it was seriously very good. They’re really generous with the ingredients – chunks of salmon, squid rings and fresh prawns – and to compensate for the lack of cheese, there’s a slightly garlicky cream sauce that complements the seafood perfectly. Even my dad enjoyed this, and he doesn’t even like pizza.

A says:

The proscuitto e funghi wasn’t very impressive. Since trying the very excellent seafood one though, I’m eager to try the four cheese.

Casa Verde
1 Cluny Road
Singapore Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre
Tel: 6467-7326

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prive Restaurant

C says:

The lunch experiment continues. Today R and P joined us for lunch at the very chic Prive, out on Keppel Island. If you haven’t been to Keppel Island yet, I highly recommend your first trip being during the day. On a bright sunny day you can almost feel like you’re not in Singapore, first as you drive across the bridge to get to the island, then as you sit along the waterfront facing the Caribbean and the boats bobbing in the marina.

With such a stunning view, it’s a pity that Prive’s décor hasn’t taken advantage of it. Quite the opposite – the inside of the low-ceilinged restaurant is all bare wooden walls and floor to ceiling drapes. It feels more like a boardroom than a chic restaurant.

Set lunches here go for $32 for 2 courses, $38 for 3 courses, and $68 for a decadent 5-course lunch with premium ingredients. The 5-course lunch is a fixed menu with no options; the rest have about 4 choices per course.

To start with, I decided to be game and tried the bacon-wrapped frog’s legs. This was really good (then again, what isn’t good when wrapped with bacon) – the frog’s legs were incredibly tender and the meat just fell right off the bone.

A can’t see the word “gravlax” on a menu and not order it. The salmon was sliced incredibly thin, and was served with some edible flowers as well as a mixed salad. This was alright but I think mine packed more of a flavour punch.

Three of us ordered the same main course – the braised linguine with lobster jus, served with prawns and warm swordfish. P and I really enjoyed this. I loved the lobster jus, which was just sufficiently flavourful without being too in-your-face. A perfect subtle balance of flavours. The prawns were extremely fresh and springy, but what won us all over was the swordfish, which was just slightly cooked so it still maintained an incredible texture and creaminess. R’s fillet of ocean trout was a lot better than we expected, with the trout prepared almost rare, and I think A half wishes that he’d ordered this instead.

Dessert wasn’t as good as the previous courses, but nothing really to complain about. A had the ricotta cheese mousse with some kind of cream-topped kumquat, and I had the cherry and almond pie with sweet cardamom ice cream.

For the same price as La Strada’s set, this is definitely much better value, as the dishes are much more refined and better executed. So far the best value set lunch still has to be at Nicolas though. It’s still the same magic number of $38, but you get 4 courses (not including an amuse bouche) as opposed to everywhere else’s 3.

Besides the main restaurant, there’s also a more casual Prive Bakery & Café just next door. This is definitely more up our alley. For one thing, there’s both al fresco dining and indoor seating within a glass-walled restaurant, so you can enjoy the stunning views. The menu (and prices) are also definitely more our style. We had a coffee there after lunch, and after perusing the menu we all definitely want to make a repeat visit to the Café, perhaps to see what the night-time views are like.

A says:

I think the overall experience was good, but except for the frog’s legs, the food didn’t particularly wow me.

The outdoor ambience of the café is really cool though. I think all of us there today are pretty eager to go back to try a meal there. More on that when we do I guess.

2 Keppel Bay Vista
Marina at Keppel Bay
Tel: 6776-0777
Lunch: Mon to Fri, 11.30 am to 3 pm
Dinner: Mon to Sat, 6 pm to 11.30 pm
Closed Sunday

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

La Strada

C says:

A’s a mai tai again, and I’m on leave for a couple of days so we’re taking the rare opportunity to go for weekday lunch sets at restaurants that are otherwise a tad too posh for us to patronise.

Since we were in the vicinity, we decided to try the set lunch at La Strada today. Situated next to Les Amis in Shaw Centre, La Strada is a Les Amis Italian eatery that’s slightly more high-end than Casa Verde. The set lunch is $38 for 3 courses, and you get about 3 choices for each course.

I had the mushroom custard with truffle oil to start, and A had the cold fusilli. The fusilli was a bit plain, with just zucchini, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and red peppers; the mushroom custard was much better. The aroma of the truffle oil really added a good kick to the dish.

A’s main course was a baked seabass served with artichokes and olives in a light broth. This was very delicate and almost Asian-tasting; like Teochew steamed fish… (must be A’s Teochew roots) The meat option was actually a braised beef shin with carrots and potatoes, but I’d just had an oxtail stew for dinner the night before, and it sounded too similar so I changed it to a chargrilled sirloin with rocket salad. Note: the reason they changed it is because they only had one portion of the beef shin left. I don’t think they make it a habit to offer multiple other options.

I admit the sirloin looks boring and, being so thin, I was afraid it would be overcooked. Surprisingly they still managed to attain a fairly good medium rare, and was pretty well seasoned. Nothing tremendously interesting though.

For dessert, A had the tiramisu and I had the lemon tart. We were both very happy with our very different choices, which goes to show what disparate tastes we have in desserts.

I must say that while I have nothing negative to say about the food, it was just quite ordinary. Actually, the pastas here aren’t that expensive, averaging about $30+ for a pasta. It’s not too formal either, so maybe one day we can come back to try some of the interesting-sounding pastas on the a la carte menu.

A says:

Amazingly, the tiramisu here is probably as good as Perla’s (Valentino’s sister). Highly recommended.

The service is excellent and not overly poncy. And the set itself is a pretty good deal. The a la carte itself may be expensive for me but it probably still falls in the affordable range (for an occasional treat).

Overall, I’d definitely be willing to go back, but I’m not in any particular hurry.

La Strada
1 Scotts Road
#02-10 Shaw Centre
Tel: 6737-2622
Open daily
Lunch: 12 noon to 2.30 pm
Dinner: 6.30 pm to 9.30 pm

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Shashlik Restaurant

C says:

This is about as old school as it gets. Shashlik, inconspicuously tucked away on the 6th floor of Far East Shopping Centre, has been around forever and from the looks of it, so have their décor and their staff. And I don’t mean that in a bad way either. With ever more chi-chi restaurants popping up every other month, it’s comforting to know that a place with just good food and no other gimmicks can still survive for over 20 years.

Stepping into the restaurant feels almost like going back in time. The décor is largely unchanged, and harks back to the days of early 80s fine dining, with dim lighting and dark wood panelling. Even the waitstaff, in their burgundy vests and bow ties, are old school and, more often than not, just plain old. Don’t expect stellar service though; they’re efficient but generally quite stone-faced and brusque. In fact, they recently turned away a diner who only wanted to order the Baked Alaska dessert, insisting that he had to order a main course as well.

Still, notwithstanding the obvious faults, you can pretty much count on having a good meal here. There are lots of interesting old fashioned starters on the menu, like hard boiled eggs and caviar, baked oysters and blinis, but we almost always order the Borscht, which is a traditional Russian soup with beef, cabbage, beetroot (to give its distinctive red colour) and a dollop of sour cream. Portions are definitely inconsistent – your dining partner could have 6 chunks of beef to your 2, but at $7 it’s still a very good bowl of soup.

There’s quite an array of steaks here, being their specialty. There’s the Chateaubriand, which is a long fillet of beef meant to serve two, and individual portions of fillet steaks with different preparations. I had the Steak a la Russe, which is fillet steak with a mushroom sauce. I asked for the sauce on the side, as usual, which was a good thing because I preferred eating them separately. While both are meant to be the fillet cut, I found the Chateaubriand to be slightly sweeter and the meat more fine and tender. Prices are quite decent – where can you find beef fillet (tenderloin) for $25 these days (not counting places like Jack’s Place)? Even the Chateaubriand, at $50 for 2 portions, is still $25 per person.

The steaks are served on hot plates here, so if like me you’re a slow eater, you may want to order one level down from your usual to take into account the extra cooking time on the hot plate. My rare fillet seemed a bit underdone at first cut, but sure enough it cooked a little more on the plate and turned out perfect.

A had the garlic steak, which used to be my default choice here. Not any more though – tonight it was topped with a mountain of chopped garlic, which all but masked any flavour of the steak. I think the next time we come we’ll just order the Chateaubriand.

Gordon Ramsay, in his Kitchen Nightmares show, would have a field day critiquing everything that’s wrong with this place – the décor, the service, the menu and the serving styles that are stuck in the 80s. But the marked difference between the restaurants featured on the show and Shashlik is that against the odds, it’s still going strong, with new generations of loyal customers discovering the quaint appeal of this dining institution.

A says:

The borscht rocks. I’m not too hot on steaks on hot plates anymore though. And while my garlic steak sucked (way too many garlic chips), everyone else’s was excellent. This place has always been a favourite with my family so I’m sure we’ll keep coming back.

Shashlik Restaurant
545 Orchard Road
#06-19 Far East Shopping Centre
Tel: 6732-6401
Open daily: 12 noon to 3pm; 6.30pm to 10.30pm

Caffe Beviamo

C says:

We’ve passed by this nondescript café on the second floor of Tanglin Mall so many times, but always at night and it looked quite empty and forlorn. It was only after my friend D told me that this is her default brunch/tea place that we decided to give it a try. Sure enough, at lunch time on Sunday the place was absolutely packed with both locals and expats, babies and strollers in tow.

Understandably the presence of so many kids does tend to create quite a din, but the good thing about the place is that it’s situated in the open area of the Mall, not an actual closed-up restaurant, so even with the crowds and the noisy kids it doesn’t get too chaotic or overbearing.

They have a wide range of sandwiches, and slightly more limited selections of salads, pastas and pizzas. We tried 2 pastas – A had the ravioli with spinach, ricotta and gorgonzola served with broccolini, and I had the linguine with sausage, garlic, spinach and sesame seeds.

These turned out unintentionally similar – both were sautéed with garlic and olive oil; I actually expected the ravioli to be in some kind of cheese or cream sauce. I preferred the linguine, which was tasty without being overly garlicky or oily. The ravioli skin was just too thick, and I barely tasted any gorgonzola in the filling. The seasoning was good though, and the broccolini was cooked perfectly – tender and crisp, and not overdone.

The coffee/tea is good here. A had a latte and I had a chai. The chai was very thick and heavily spiced, and a tad too sweet for me, but the latte was perfect, and only $4.50. We spotted another restaurant nearby that’s also worth a try, so it’s good to know that Tanglin Mall finally has more culinary offerings than the rather sad Spageddies and Don.

A says:

Best coffee I’ve had in awhile. And it’s cheaper than any western chain coffee (definitely way more worth it than the $9 one at Cova. Twice as good and half the price, that makes it four times better.

The pastas are light but the portions are very small so I personally don’t find them very good value for money though. The salads and pizzas do look very interesting so I’m definitely going to try those the next time.

Caffe Beviamo
163 Tanglin Road
#02-K1 Tanglin Mall
Tel: 6738-7906
Open daily: 10am to 9pm

Friday, December 05, 2008

Caffe Cova

C says:

Cova Pasticceria Confetteria originated in Milan in the early 1800s, establishing quite a reputation as a venue of choice for ladies who lunch (or rather, tea). Caffe Cova opened in Singapore about 6 months ago in Paragon, and staying true to its heritage, is quite the tai-tai hangout.

Given the target clientele, it shouldn’t come as a shock that prices on the regular menu are on the steep side. Thank goodness, then, for my cousin L who clued me in on a really good Citibank credit card deal. Until the end of December, they have a one-for-one deal on their $69 4-course set menu. L and M joined us for dinner and all of us had the promotion.

The starter was meant to be a choice between the insalata caprese and a beef carpaccio, but I guess we were there pretty late (close to 9 pm) because they were out of the carpaccio. At least they offered us a decent alternative – seared scallop with arugula. A and I both had the scallop and it was a good start to the meal. The scallop was juicy and meaty, nicely seared and was served with quite a tasty pumpkin puree which worked well with the arugula.

The pasta course was next; there was no choice for this, just one option of squid ink tagliolini with scallops, prawns and cherry tomatoes in bisque sauce. This was good – they were quite generous with the seafood, which was very fresh, and the bisque sauce was very flavourful. I couldn’t really taste the squid ink in the pasta; it could’ve been any regular home-made pasta, but the lack of any squid ink flavour didn’t really affect the overall taste of the dish.

Next up came the mains. All of us except M had the rib eye; M had the atlantic cod with mashed potatoes and caramelised onions. This was where it started to head south a little. Portions were quite tiny; I’m not sure whether it’s because we had the one-for-one promotion, but I certainly hope not. I would expect these portion sizes for a 7 or 8 course tasting menu, not a 4 course meal where the other portions are equally small.

All of us ordered the beef medium rare, but while L’s turned out pretty well (hers is the one in the picture), mine was overdone to at least medium instead. Still, the meat was very flavourful and well seasoned, so my only grouse would be the rather inconsistent portion sizes and levels of doneness.

The final course is a choice between dessert and coffee/tea. The boys had the drink, and the girls ordered a cake each. Again, it was late so only limited cakes were still available. L had the Sacher torte, and I had a blueberry cheese cake.

Unfortunately this really ended the evening on a low point. I’m really surprised that for an establishment that’s meant to be primarily a tea-room, the desserts were by far the worst part of the meal. Expecting a typical baked cheesecake topped with blueberry, this turned out to be the refrigerator-type cheesecake that uses gelatine as the setting agent.

L’s Sacher torte was, to quote her, “very Prima Deli”. She already suspected that something was amiss when she saw chocolate rice on the outer circumference; who uses chocolate rice these days?! One bite confirmed that it was a very uninspired, lacklustre version of a Sacher torte.

Service was fairly ok, although I did sense a tiny hint of condescension from one of the waiters after we inquired about the one-for-one promo. Food also took quite a long time given that they were almost empty by the time we ordered.

I’m definitely steering way clear of the desserts here, which seem straight out of the 80s (Chocolate rice? Refrigerator cheesecake?), and I don’t think their latte is worth $9 either, but some of the pastas on the a la carte menu look interesting, and I wouldn’t mind going back to give them a try.

A says:

It’s lucky my latte was part of the set. There’s no way it’s worth the $9 price tag. And the desserts aren’t great either. Considering that these are supposed to be their specialties, they were very disappointing.

What really is good, surprisingly, is the quality of the food. I had the best ribeye I’ve had in awhile. We may have gotten small portions because it was part of the set dinner, but if the a la carte portions are full sized, then they are well worth the $30+ price.

And considering how snotty the place looks, the service was surprisingly friendly and good also. I’ll definitely want to try this place again for the ala carte before I make a final recommendation. For now, just make sure you don’t waste money on the coffee and desserts.

Caffe Cova
290 Orchard Road
#01-20A Paragon
Tel: 6733-0777
Open daily: 11 am to 10 pm