Saturday, March 10, 2012


C says:

For some reason, despite having a very satisfying wedding lunch here a few years ago, Novus has never been on our radar for repeat visits. After the lunch we had today though, I think it certainly ought to be.

For some reason I'm on their mailing list, and recently received an email about their winter set lunch promotion. Almost all the options looked enticing, and after establishing that their set lunch was also available on Saturday (they're closed on Sunday), we promptly made a reservation.

The set lunch is amazingly good value - $32 for 2 courses and $40 for 3. There are about 5 options for each course, with a handful incurring some additional supplements. If you're so inclined, the 3 courses can comprise 2 starters and a main as well.

Being partial to savoury courses, I went with that option because I simply couldn't decide which starter to have. In the end I had the burrata, and the Vitello Tonnato Reinvented. A, who had a more conventional 3 course, started with the burrata too. 

The burrata is served with heirloom tomatoes and a hearty dollop of pesto. Personally I don't like my burrata seasoned with anything other than a good amount of salt, pepper and olive oil. Anything less doesn't bring out the flavour of the cheese; anything more simply overwhelms it.

Having said that, I must admit that this was really good. The burrata was creamy, and the pesto brought everything together well, albeit a tad too dominantly. 

The slight reinvention of the Vitello Tonnato here was the addition of a quenelle of tuna tartare, rather than the traditional incorporation of tuna into the sauce. The tuna was a bit bland on its own, but went well with the tomato marmalade, and I liked the slightly lighter sauce with the veal slices. I wasn't too keen on their use of micro coriander though. I'm trying to train my palate not to dislike coriander, but I need to take baby steps. The one here was too strong and too prevalent for me. 

That seemed to be a recurring theme, because it was scattered all over my lobster risotto as well. This had the makings of a really good risotto. They use carnaroli rice, the grains have an al dente bite, and most importantly, it still oozes on the plate - the mark of a proper risotto. What was a bit disconcerting though, was a distinct alcoholic edge to the sauce. It tasted as though they hadn't properly allowed the alcohol to cook off when incorporating the wine. 

A had a gnocchi itch that just had to be scratched, so he ordered the wild mushroom gnocchi. This was good, if slightly predictable. Portions are surprisingly substantial for a set lunch - 2 carb-heavy choices probably weren't the best idea. 

My 3 courses were done, and on hindsight 2 starters before a heavy main probably wasn't a good idea. A's dessert was the Apple and Calvados Souffle with chocolate ice cream. The souffle was perfect - light, airy and not overly sweet.

Service was always polite, attentive and earnest, but some servers were new and a bit forgetful. Still, I liked their little touches, like giving little place cards describing each dish, and presenting each of us with a cupcake as we left. 

Their winter menu is available till 17 March. I'm actually tempted to go one more time, perhaps next Saturday.

A says:

Excellent. The setting’s a bit imposing and poncy but the service is unbelievably friendly and helpful. While the food may not be the best I’ve had in Singapore, it’s still very, very good, and unlike most finer dining places, the portions are pretty big.

National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road
Tel: 6336-8770
Mon – Sat: 11.30 am to 2.30 pm; 6.30 pm to 10.30 pm

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Our trip to Hokkaido – Haneda Airport

C says:

Tokyo’s Haneda airport officially rocks! Not only do they have Tokyo souvenirs like Tokyo Banana, they have all the famous Hokkaido snacks like Shiroi Koibito and even the elusive Potato Farm. You almost don’t need to go to Sapporo any more…

There’s also a mini food street, where we chanced upon Setagaya Ramen, apparently pretty well known in Tokyo but offering a limited menu here. I had a normal soup ramen, and A had the tsukumen.

The tsukumen was without question the better of the two. The dipping broth was really complex, and you could taste both meaty and seafood/fish notes to it. What elevated the broth even further was a subtle charred flavour, as though some grilled meat had been incorporated into the broth. It added depth, flavour and almost didn’t need the soba-yu for it to be drinkable.

One aspect of the regular ramen was superior though – the char siew. There were slices of chargrilled pork neck that were amazingly flavourful and tender, compared to the braised pork in the tsukumen.

Given the choice, I think we’ll definitely try to fly via Haneda where possible. The sheer range of souvenir goodies that are available, and some duty free to boot, will certainly make it worthwhile.

A says:

Surprise! One of the best ramens we had, and maybe even one of the best meals of the trip. I’m definitely eating the tsukumen here every time I pass through Haneda.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Our trip to Hokkaido – Otaru

C says:

The last time we were in Otaru, we didn't have enough time to visit all the stores and restaurants that we wanted before they closed/sold out. We learned our lesson this time, and planned our itinerary to make sure that we had plenty of time to hit all the pastry shops, sometimes more than once.


Kitakaro eluded us on our first visit. It wasn't really on our radar because they’re most known for their baumkuchen, which we’re not really keen on, but tucked away at the back of the store are some of the most amazing cream/custard puffs. They’d sold out by the time we discovered them the last time, so this time it was at the top of our list.

They have 3 kinds of cream puffs – one with a hard shell and a custard filling, the middle one has a softer choux pastry and a mixture of custard and fresh cream, and the bottom one is meant to be ripped and dipped.

The middle one is by far the best. The pastry is really soft so it’s easy to bite into without the cream squirting out the sides, and the filling is the best of both worlds – a tasty custard lightened with freshly whipped cream.


We missed Masazushi the last time because we simply couldn't find it. It was our first trip to Japan, and we didn't realise that we needed to be able to recognise the Japanese characters of restaurants because more often than not, their English transliterations are not on their signage. Our friend M led us to Masazushi this time, and they’ve definitely redone their exterior because it now clearly says “Masazushi Otaru”.

Their signature dish is ribbons of raw squid, meant to be dunked in a sauce of ponzu, a raw egg yolk and uni. So simple, yet an amazing use of all the ingredients. Their sushi platters were also outstanding, though I’m hard pressed to decide which was better – Masazushi, or Kikuzushi in Sapporo.

Yabuhan soba

Yabuhan soba is a little out of the way, closer to the JR train station than the main food streets in Otaru. You can choose between soba made from two types of buckwheat flour – one sourced entirely from Niseko, and another mixed with imported buckwheat from China and Mongol. The one made from pure Niseko flour is more expensive, but not by much, so we all chose the pure one.

Because we were deprived of our cold soba at Rakuichi, we made a beeline for the cold soba. It was amazing, and when we added the soba-yu to the remaining dipping sauce to turn it into a broth, we all thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

Sushi Gen

We were thrilled to see that the hole-in-the-wall sushi joint along the Sushiyadori that we mistook for Masazushi on our last trip was still there. Thanks to our friend W once again, this time we managed to find out that it’s called Sushi Gen.

There may be a bit more rice in the guy’s nigiri sushi compared to, say, Kikuzushi, but it’s still really good and I have a soft spot for independent one-man shows like this. Not flashy or over-commercialised, just honest about serving good food.

A says:

I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad meal in Otaru (except for the hotel breakfast the last time we were here). Some things may be over-rated, like the LeTao café which is good but not worth queuing up for, but even the giant tourist trappy restaurant along the Sakaimachi was great.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Our trip to Hokkaido – Sapporo

C says:

We were in Sapporo and Otaru with W and M, and thanks to W’s superior research skills and M’s talents as a human GPS, we managed to find and try quite a number of places that eluded us on our previous trip here.

Aji No Karyu

We managed to find Ramen Alley in Susukino this time, and the Anthony Bourdain trail continues. Aji No Karyu is at one end of Ramen Alley, and we managed to recognize it from the Chinese characters as well as the chef behind the counter.

We had the kaisen (seafood) ramen – they sauté the crab leg and scallop with the miso broth, and it’s still topped with a slice of tender char siew and some sweet corn.

The fact that the seafood is cooked in the soup, rather than being cooked separately and just placed in the bowl before serving, really makes the difference. The broth takes on all the flavours of the seafood, transforming it from a normal miso to something quite complex and, quite simply, outstanding.


Just round the corner from Ramen Alley was Kikuzushi, an amazing sushi restaurant that W led us to.

We ordered one mixed sashimi plate, and one sushi plate. Everything was outstanding – I had some of the best sashimi that I’ve ever had. The scallop, uni and chutoro were amazing, and the sushi was very refined, with a good rice-to-fish ratio.

Yaki hotate at Odori Park

Besides spectacular snow and ice sculptures, part of the appeal of the Sapporo Snow Festival are the various food stalls all over Odori Park, offering everything from grilled corn, roasted chestnuts and even ramen and Brazilian churrascaria.

There was a guy grilling fat, juicy scallops on the shell, with butter and a sweet soy sauce. We made a beeline for it, and suffice to say that it was one of the best mouthfuls of the trip. The juices from the scallop mixed with the butter and soy sauce, creating an amazingly sweet liquor, and the scallops were just barely cooked so they weren’t at all rubbery. Just sweet, tender and perfect.

Sapporo Beer Garden

No trip to Hokkaido is complete without a meal of Genghis Khan – slices of mutton grilled on top of a dome-shaped hot plate greased with lamb fat, and a hearty serving of beansprouts to add some much-needed crunch and freshness.

Last time we went to a hole-in-the-wall joint called Daruma. This time, we made a trip to the Sapporo Beer Garden and had their Genghis Khan buffet – unlimited helpings of fresh and frozen lamb, and if you’re so inclined, you can add an all-you-can-drink aspect too.

The smell of the restaurant was something else. They considerately gave us plastic bags to keep our coats and bags so at least we managed to spare them from smelling like lamb for the next few days. This was delicious, but like all good things, after a while it got a bit too much for us. We’ll probably stick to Daruma next time, and bring our own plastic bags to store our coats and bags. 

Kani Honke

Sapporo’s known for its crab. The cream of the crop is apparently king crab, prized for its sweet yet firm meat. Snow crab, being smaller, is less meaty but still tasty. 

This was my first time trying crab sashimi. It was definitely interesting – it was very fresh so no fishy or pungent aroma at all. What was a bit challenging for me was the texture. It was a bit slimy, and after trying a few pieces as sashimi, when the server wasn’t looking we lightly blanched the rest in the nabe broth…

Taking centrestage was in fact the kani nabe – crab hotpot. Needless to say, the dashi stock was intensely flavoured with essence of crab by the time we were done. Big faux pas – we greedily slurped up almost all of the soup, and when the server came in she looked horrified and said “No! Porridge!”.

Apparently you’re not actually supposed to drink the broth. Towards the end of the meal they come in with rice, eggs, and whip up a crab porridge that’s to die for. We had to compromise a bit with some regular dashi instead, which was still delicious but would’ve been mind blowing if we’d used the crab stock. 

The crab “steak”, which was a massive crab leg cooked with butter on a hot plate, was also amazingly meaty and sweet, and the crab “miso” deserves a special mention as well. They told us to use the crab miso as a dip for the shabu shabu. I think it’s made with the essence of crab brains – that amazingly flavourful substance that’s tucked away in the crab heads. I ended up just eating it neat because anything else would’ve diluted the flavour.

Soup curry

Oh soup curry, where have you been all my life…

I’m generally not a fan of Japanese curry. I prefer my curries savoury and spicy, i.e. everything that a thick, sweet Japanese curry isn’t.

That’s why, whenever I read about Sapporo soup curry I just assumed it would be similar to Japanese curry, and dismissed it without a second thought. It was only on this trip, thanks to some egging on by W, that I tried soup curry and was forever changed…

As the name suggests, it’s actually a very thin soup, and ingredients vary. The most common and traditional would be chicken, vegetables like eggplant and okra, and some root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes or lotus root. The flavours are surprisingly un-Japanese, with a flavour and aroma distinctly reminiscent of Indian curries. The chilli levels are customizable, which is right up my alley. Most places offer a basic scale of levels 1 to 50, and anything above that incurs a surcharge.

Most of the really famous soup curry joints in Sapporo are near the university area, and a bit out of the way for us, so we went to one at Stellar department store – Soup Curry Lavi. I went with level 30, which had heat but comfortably so. Note to self: I think I can manage 40+ next time.

That’s it for Sapporo. We took an overnight side trip to Otaru, where we had such amazing food that it warrants its own entry.

A says:

Sapporo is great, but Otaru is better. Although the Marion Crepe (along the covered shopping street just south of the radio tower) and Queen’s Ice Cream café in the ESTA Mall (outside Ramen Republic) were awesome. 3 rounds of ice cream in one sitting. RAWK!