Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Best of 2011

C’s Best of 2011

We’re having increasing difficulty coming up with our annual “Best Of” lists. Quite often, new places that we try don’t blow us away quite as much as we’d expect, while old favourites still continue to impress. Plus foreign establishments don’t count, so some of the awesome places in Spain won’t make the cut.

On that basis, we’ve decided to cop out, and just pick some noteworthy places, both old and new, that made us smile.

Ju Shin Jung Korean Charcoal BBQ
Whether you come here for the exquisite Korean BBQ, or just a simple meal of some soup, rice and their delicious side dishes, this place never disappoints. Except when you can’t get a table on a particularly bustling weekend evening.

The fact that it’s a stone’s throw from our place is just the cherry on top.

Yes, the place can be a bit of a madhouse, and the fact that they don’t take reservations may put off some people who don’t like to wait indefinitely, but on the flip side, if you do manage to get there before 7.30 pm you’re more or less guaranteed a table without any wait.

It’s not fine dining, the tables are an inch apart so romantic it definitely isn’t, and their sole main course is a fairly basic cut of meat that may make steak snobs shudder. But I still think that’s all part of its charm, and their pate, truffle brie and salted caramel waffles make this a winner in my book.

Read about L’Entrecote here.

The only things preventing me from being a regular fixture at Bruno’s are the location, the fact that even though you have a reservation it’s still chaos when you arrive, and the sometimes erratic service times.

The food itself is excellent; prices even more so. The king prawn linguine alone is worth a visit.

Chinois by Susur Lee
Granted, we’ve only been to Chinois once, and haven’t yet made good on our intention to try their dim sum menu. But the one meal that we did have there was unexpectedly good.

Jiro-style ramen – Bario and Riki
Being a fervent tonkotsu ramen fan all these years, Ramen Champion (and Lucky Peach) opened my eyes to the lesser known varieties of tsukumen and Jiro ramen. Bario at Iluma and Riki at Terminal 3 get my vote for best ramen of the year.

What’s our Best Of list without Ember? It may be a cop-out, but we always leave Ember happy, and to me that’s one of the best indicators of how good a place is.

Jewel Coffee
Given that we usually go to Jewel Coffee for dinner, we unfortunately don’t get to sample as many of their caffeinated beverages as we’d like. They’re on my Best Of list for the food, and in particular their awesome chicken wings which, depending on the mood I’m in, could dethrone Ikea’s as my all-time favourite chicken wings.

What do I like about them? They only use the mid-joint, which to me is the best part of the wing. It’s only very lightly floured because I hate heavy batter coatings. It’s seasoned with a very interesting Asian-esque marinade, served with an amazing kicap manis dip. It’s so tender and juicy that the meat just glides off the bone. Enough said. I’m salivating just writing this.

We also haven’t been back to Kazu yet, but the meal we had, ending with the burnt caramel ice cream, was truly outstanding.
A’s Best of 2011

Best ramen: Taishoken at Ramen Champion Iluma
I’ve recently gotten into the dipping style ramen and Taishoken’s is the best. From the latest standings, it seems Singaporeans prefer the conventional Sapporo style ramens so I doubt it’ll win the Ramen Championship. Hurry to Iluma before June to try it before it’s gone. Sigh.

Best $100 restaurant: Ember
Great service. Great food. And you can get a weekday booking just a week in advance. Still a favourite.

Best burger: Morton’s Bar
Expensive. But still the best burger in Singapore.

Best food at a coffee joint: Jewel Coffee
Okay. This one’s subjective. I wouldn’t say the coffee’s the greatest, but the combination of friendly staff and good food make this a fav of mine.

Best chicken rice: Wee Nam Kee at Marina Square
The food’s as good as the one at Novena plus it’s air-conditioned and you don’t get the crowds.

Best desserts: L’Entrecote

Best food blog: atetoomuch

Friday, January 13, 2012


C says:

Ichiban Boshi on the 2nd floor of Esplanade has been taken over by Loola's, another bistro/casual dining eatery from the Awfully Chocolate group. Loola's serves dinner till midnight, making it a very convenient option for those of us who can't quite manage to grab dinner before a 7.30 or 8 pm show. We did that on Friday - we had a quick snack before the show, then came here at 10.30 for a late dinner.

It was a bit too late to eat as much as we normally do; we ended up sharing a starter, a main and a dessert. The starter was my choice - a very interestingly described salted vegetable soup with duck confit and egg emulsion (S$9). A twist on kiam chye arh!

The presentation was anything but, but one mouthful of the soup and you can't mistake it for anything else. It was the essence of kiam chye arh, just in a different texture. Very cool. The quenelle of duck confit added a nice layer of texture and flavour too.

We originally wanted to order one of their souffle preparations - either the crab souffle or the souffle omelette, but were told that both would take about 20 minutes. We decided to save that for another time, and ordered the Lobster and Sheets instead, which was butter poached lobster with pasta sheets and a lobster bisque sauce.

When it arrived I thought we'd been served a crepe instead, but on closer inspection it was indeed a disc of fresh pasta. This was better than expected - they were very generous with the lobster (at $42 they ought to be!), the pasta was silky smooth and the bisque sauce was divine. My only criticism would be that the lobster was slightly overcooked and was a bit rubbery.

Because I picked and pretty much ate all of the starter, the dessert was all A. He ordered the chocolate mille crepe (S$11) - layers of chocolate crepes sandwiched with chocolate cream. Comparisons to Classic Cakes' version are inevitable, and I think the original is still better. It's lighter and each crepe is thinner. Loola's tastes good but it's a lot denser and heavier.

Despite a sudden post-show rush, service was good and we got our food very promptly. I've read some negative comments about the other Awfully Chocolate food joints in the East, so I was actually more than impressed with Loola's. Definitely warrants a return visit, perhaps at a normal, non-post show time.

A says:

While the menu was very interesting, I didn’t have high hopes. I was pleasantly surprised that the hostess provided excellent service and the food turned out decent. The lobster was far from perfect considering the $42 price tag, but other than that, every was reasonable. This will probably be our default post-show place from now on.

8 Raffles Avenue
#02-14, Esplanade
Tel: 6336-9563

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Ramen Champion at Iluma – an update

C says:

Just a quick update on Ramen Champion at Iluma:

- Yes, they’re still open and fully functioning. The rest of Iluma is quite a mess now, as it’s going through what looks to be massive renovations, but Ramen Champion on the 4th floor is unaffected and still very much in business.

- Based on 2011 Q4 results, Ikkousha is still in the top spot, but Bario is only lagging by 2%!! Plus, the cashiers told me that lots of people actually do order Bario, they just don’t vote for some reason. So Bario fans unite! Apparently you can vote multiple times using the cards at the entrance, so every vote counts if we want to overthrow Ikkousha! Go go go! Heh.

- A went for his Taishoken again. Given it’s in 5th place, he’s going to need to get his fix in the next 6 months cos no way is it going to win. He ordered the large this time – big mistake. For $3 more, you get a way disproportionately HUGE portion of noodles, leading – predictably – to diminishing returns. One tip that we learned from Lucky Peach is that you can ask them for soba-yu to dilute the dipping broth so that it’s drinkable as a soup. We tried that tonight and wow. It resulted in an amazing broth that was the essence of umami, with all the flavours of the more potent dipping broth but subtler and pared down. Awesome.

- Btw, when we mentioned earlier that both tsukemen and Jiro-style ramen were available at Menya Shinchan, I should add that we tried going there on New Year’s Eve, and unfortunately there was a sign on the door, saying that as of early November the landlord had repossessed the premises. So, there goes that option. Sigh.

A says:

Taishoken! Taishoken! Taishoken! Be sure to ask for the soba-yu after finishing to turn the dipping sauce into an AWESOME soup.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Rio Tapas

C says:

Rio Tapas, tucked away in a corner of Marina Bay Sands Shoppes, is actually a creation of Carnivore. Located adjacent to the Carnivore at MBS, Rio offers a lighter all-day dining concept, morphing from muffins at breakfast to cocktails and tapas at dinner time. It’s a pretty small set-up, with only 5 tables, but I think you can order the Rio menu while sitting at the Carnivore tables as well.

Their idea of tapas is actually just small plates, so don't expect authentic Spanish tapas offerings like grilled octopus or jamon. Rather, there is a small but rather enticing-sounding selection of small bites, including mini burgers and seared tuna salad.

We went for 4 dishes, and by far the best (and also best value at $16 for a decent portion size) was the squid ink pasta with grilled squid. The squid ink is part of the pasta, and the dish is prepared aglio olio style with cherry tomatoes and a hint of chilli. The pasta was seasoned well and cooked just right, and the squid was pretty nicely charred as well.

Another pretty good dish (though this was way more up my alley than A’s) was their oxtail soba. This was a small bowl of a rather rich and very flavourful beefy broth with pieces of tender oxtail. The soba noodles were rather overcooked though; I would have liked them to have some bite. The dish was supposed to have been drizzled with truffle oil but I didn’t get any hint of it. Despite these few flaws, I did enjoy it and at $9, again pretty decently priced.

We tried their duo of mini burgers – one with cheddar cheese and one with blue cheese. When they say mini, they aren’t kidding. The burger bun was about 7 cm in diameter, and the patty itself can’t have been more than 4 cm. In addition, we were a bit apprehensive when they told us that the burgers were cooked well done. They were ok – they were more meatballs that actual patties, and after being smothered with cheese, actually not bad.

The cubed beef tenderloin was an epic disappointment though. They asked for preferred doneness so we said medium rare, but the irregular morsels that arrived were more medium to medium-well done. The beef didn't have much flavour at all, and really needed the ponzu dipping sauce that accompanied it. Their fries aren’t half bad, and at least they serve a good ketchup.

Despite A’s inability to drink alcohol, he couldn't resist ordering the Alco-Horlicks – a spiked milkshake with chocolate sauce and Horlicks. It seemed innocuous but left a lingering boozy heat at the back of your throat. The churros were a pleasant surprise – they were a lot lighter and fluffier than expected. They came with 3 dips – chocolate, spiced vanilla and raspberry coulis. The chocolate was obviously the best, but the other two didn’t suck either.

Whenever we walk by, Carnivore/Rio are seldom full, so this could be a good last minute option at MBS, given that it’s well nigh impossible to get a table at Mozza at short notice.

A says:

A surprisingly good meal. Despite my reservations, everything turned out to be decent (except for the very blah and over-priced beef cubes). I’d definitely have the squid ink pasta next time. And my milkshake. Heh.

Rio Tapas
#01-77/80, The Shoppes Marina Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue
Tel: 6688-7429
Opens 9 am – 12 midnight weekdays; 9 am – 2 am weekends

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Jimmy Monkey

C says:

Jimmy Monkey has a slightly expanded menu now. We stopped by for brunch on New Year’s Day, and I finally managed to try their Vegemite and Cheese Turkish Toast dippers with soft boiled egg (they were out when we popped by one random day). A had the Hemingway, which is their version of smoked salmon eggs benedict.

I absolutely loved the vegemite and cheese soldiers; then again, I’m quite partial to Marmite and Vegemite anyway (I lean slightly towards Marmite, personally). I-S Magazine has voted this dish one of 2011’s 50 things to eat in Singapore before you die, and with good reason. These are really addictive – the toast is light and fluffy and toasted just right, and there’s just the right Vegemite to cheese ratio. A single soft boiled egg doesn’t go very far in proportion to the amount of toast, but they’re good enough on their own and don’t really need the egg.

The eggs Hemingway was good, but perhaps a little on the tart side – not sure if it was from the hollandaise or the poached eggs.

Coffee was great as always, but I’m making a beeline for the Vegemite soldiers whenever I’m here.

A says:

Decent food. Great service. Nice.

Jimmy Monkey Cafe & Bar
9 one-north gateway
#01-51 one-north residences
Tel: 6777-8470
Sun to Thurs: 8.30 am to 8.30 pm
Fri & Sat: 8.30 am to late
Closed Mondays 

Monday, January 02, 2012

Wild Honey at Scotts Square

C says:

Just an update on Wild Honey:

1)      They’ve opened a second outlet at the newly opened Scotts Square

2)      This outlet actually accepts reservations

3)      They have a few dishes that are only available at Scotts and not at Mandarin Gallery

Well, the point about accepting reservations is a bit suspect, because they only let you have your table when your entire party is physically present and accounted for. When we tried to tell them that A was just parking the car, and we knew what we wanted to order, they fobbed us off with a “yes yes, we’re just setting the table now”, but coincidentally the table was ready just when A arrived. We overheard some other people, who had also made reservations but were still left standing around outside, getting quite frustrated as well.

The 2 dishes that are only available here are the Aussie (a rib-eye steak sandwich) and the Norwegian. We were here with W and M – M ordered the Aussie and I had the Norwegian, while A had the European (eggs benedict) and W had the full English brekkie.

The Norwegian is an eggs ben with smoked salmon, avocado and grilled asparagus. The brioche on which it rests is also grilled, adding a nice smokiness that distinguishes it from the regular European eggs ben. I actually prefer this to the European, because of the addition of the crisp asparagus.

They opened at Scotts fairly recently, so I hope the madness with the reservations was only a temporary hiccup, plus the fact that it was a Boxing Day public holiday. I hope things calm down somewhat, because while you’re made to feel like they’re doing you a favour by allowing you to dine there, you can’t deny that they serve some pretty good brunch offerings.

A says:

Great food. Great coffee. Great service once you get in. Unfortunately, getting in is the big problem. And honestly, it’s really not worth waiting an hour for.

Wild Honey at Scotts Square
3rd floor, Scotts Square
6 Scotts Road
Tel: 6636-1816
Open daily: 9 am to 10 pm