Thursday, May 31, 2012

Senso Ristorante and Bar

C says:

Senso is another place that's taken us way too long to finally visit. Part of the problem is that they're always full on a Friday night when we make a last minute decision to try it. We decided to come on Thursday, rightfully expecting it to be a bit less crowded.

For those who like al fresco dining, there's a lovely courtyard that takes centrestage, but we still can't bear the heat so we opted for one of the indoor tables surrounding the courtyard.

There's a white asparagus promotion on at the moment, so I had the green and white asparagus salad with pork rillette and crispy skin. I must confess that I don't quite understand the appeal of white asparagus, but the pork rillette was really good. The crispy pork skin could unfortunately have keen crispier. The surface was crisp but the insides were a bit chewy.

A ordered a classic - the parma ham-wrapped mozzarella. This was really good, as expected, though you can't really go wrong with this combination.

A's main was the lobster taglierini, a thin hand-made pasta, in a light tomato sauce. The lobster was tender and perfectly cooked; overall this was a very good plate of pasta.

Unfortunately it totally paled in comparison to my Duo of Risotto. This was one of the best risottos I've had, period. The white is a reduction of white wine, and the black is squid ink, topped with grilled squid. Flavours were awesome, the squid was tender, and the risotto had the perfect consistency, bite and ooziness. Note to self: forget everywhere else, and just come here whenever I have a risotto craving.

A's dessert was a winner - the tiramisu revisito, which I assume is a reinterpretation of tiramisu. There's a Baileys milk shake, a ladyfinger biscuit with mascarpone cream, and coffee mousse. Everything was great, in particular the mousse, which was as light as air.

My dessert was a sampler of black truffle ice cream, chocolate mousse, brioche and a macaron. The truffle ice cream pretty much overpowered everything else, and not really in a good way either. It was a bit too pungent for dessert, and I found the slightly grainy texture a bit disconcerting.

Still, it was an awesome meal. Their set lunches look pretty good too, as does their Sunday Prosecco brunch, both of which we want to try at some point.

Service is a bit erratic, with either very good senior waiters or very blur junior ones. Do take note that there's a 15% discount with Standard Chartered Bank credit cards (on a la carte orders). Ask for it because they may not necessarily remember otherwise.

A says:

Awesome. I always avoided this place because I thought it was a bit fancy schmancy, plus the clientele is largely ang moh. But once you get in, the atmosphere is fairly relaxed (note that I say relaxed and not casual, i.e. don’t dress too sloppily). A few waiters may be a bit blur, but the maitre d’ treats you very well.

Best of all, this is one place where the desserts are as good as the mains. Although really, I don’t think I could order anything besides the tiramisu revisito. Awesome.

Senso Ristorante and Bar
21 Club Street
Tel: 6224-3534

Fika Swedish Café and Bistro

C says:

Fika started out as a fairly simple dining concept - halal Swedish fare, a well received option in the Haji Lane area surrounding the mosque. They've since gotten so popular that a second outlet has opened at Millenia Walk.

We went for lunch on Thursday and it was surprisingly crowded. They have a pretty good set lunch for $19.90, but A was fixated on having his smoked salmon crepe.

In the end he ordered the Skagen crepe, which combines smoked salmon, prawn and fish roe. This was simple and unfussy but very tasty. Next time we'll try the plain smoked salmon one to see if it's any different/better.

There were a few classic Swedish options for me to choose from, including an Ikea-esque meatball dish. I decided on the Swedish hash, with potatoes, pan fried beef, a sunny side up egg and beetroot.

This was a lot more substantial than I expected, and better shared than as a main meal for one person. It's very well seasoned but the copious amounts of potato make it quite heavy and stodgy after a while.

A also had the Swedish pancakes for dessert, with ice cream, chocolate sauce and lingonberry jam. Again, uncomplicated but well executed.

Food is good but the service leaves a lot to be desired. When you get their attention, the waiters are quite helpful, but trying to get their attention is the challenge. They're either standing around talking to each other, or gazing at the cake display rather than looking at the dining room to see if anyone needs assistance.

Still, there are enough items on the menu that interest us enough for at least one more return visit, but it's not at the top of the revisit list.

A says:

I really like most Scandinavian food so this is right up my alley. And this branch with convenient parking at Millenia makes it easy to visit.

C pretty much said what I was going to say about the service. But if you don’t read her usual long and detailed and long and long part of the blog, I’ve cut and pasted it below. heh heh

“… the service leaves a lot to be desired. When you get their attention, the waiters are quite helpful, but trying to get their attention is the challenge. They're either standing around talking to each other, or gazing at the cake display rather than looking at the dining room to see if anyone needs assistance.”

Fika Swedish Café and Bistro
9 Raffles Boulevard
#01-20 Millenia Walk
Tel: 6336-7234

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Kazu Sumiyaki Restaurant

C says:

We finally made our way to Kazu again today. We opted for their earlier sitting of 6 pm, hoping to avoid the chaos that usually is associated with the later sitting. Things went well on the whole, but the waitress who took our order still somehow managed to miss out some of our orders, leaving us waiting almost 20 minutes mid-meal before checking with them on the progress and finding out that the outstanding items weren't even on our order.

The angler fish liver that we tried last time wasn't in season, but they had a shirako (cod sperm) with ponzu so we tried that. It was surprisingly done agadashi style, which disguised the subtlety of the shirako somewhat, and not in a good way. The trademark flavour and texture were almost all lost, and it seemed almost like a creamy tofu.

Another seasonal item was the lightly charred sweetcorn. Sweet is right; this was served practically raw, with a bit of salt to enhance the flavour of the corn. I don't even think it needed the salt. The corn was ridiculously sweet, a classic example of the produce speaking for itself.

The lamb chops were superb, and I would recommend asking for medium rare, because it does continue cooking slightly while you wait for it too cool down enough to pick it up and bite into it. The lamb had just the right amount of fat, was super tender and flavourful, and cooked perfectly.

Other standouts were the mini burger, in the top right of the photo, and the pork jaw with apple skewer. The burger was actually just the patty, and was remarkably light inside while still having a lovely crust outside. 

The pork and apple skewer was amazing. The pork jaw had a very interesting texture - it seemed quite firm but the fat kicks in when you bite into it, so you get texture and lots of flavour, but without being excessively greasy. Slices of apple were interspersed between the meat, and it was also slathered with apple sauce. 

The pork belly skewers were good too but not as good as the pork and apple ones. The chicken hearts were fantastic, but the liver was a bit overdone and dry. We also tried 3 different types of tsukune - chicken, garlic pork and wagyu beef. I think I liked the pork one best; it had the most distinctive flavour.

Desserts were wonderful. I had my burnt caramel ice cream which was awesome, and A tried their Yaki Crepe, which was a grilled crepe with banana ice cream. The crepe had been torched and the resulting flavour was almost slightly savoury, and paired very well with the banana ice cream.

We've satisfied our Kazu yearning for a while. Eating here, whilst always satisfying, doesn't come cheap, and coupled with the slight palaver of parking in this part of town and the somewhat inconsistent service, we'll be back but perhaps not for some time.

A says:

Great, but not exactly cheap. The desserts were a surprising discovery though. Definitely a place for revisits.

Kazu Sumiyaki Restaurant
5 Koek Road
#04-05 Cuppage Plaza
Tel: 6734-2492

Friday, May 18, 2012

Teppei Japanese Restaurant

C says:

Teppei is a tiny little restaurant in Orchid Hotel at Tanjong Pagar, specialising in tempura and kushiage. However, they also serve possibly the cheapest omakase sets in town - $40, $50 and $60. Reservations are recommended, because the restaurant only seats about 18 around the counter.

At those prices, we went with suitably low expectations. We decided to go the whole hog with the $60 set, and were really very impressed with the standard and the variety of the offerings.

We started out with a cold tofu skin appetiser, which was really smooth, light and refreshing. That was followed by a mix of ikura and tobiko, that was pretty good too.

Next up was grilled edamame, followed by a simple salad with a few chunks of prawns. The prawns were fresh and crunchy, but otherwise the dish was quite ordinary. The edamame was an interesting way to prepare the now ubiquitous starter; the grilling added a nice smoky flavour profile.

A selection of sashimi was next, with salmon, tuna, octopus, scallop and uni. The octopus was a bit tasteless and chewy, but everything else wasn't too bad, particularly the scallop, which was meaty and sweet.

The next dish was possibly the best of the night - a simple soup with clams and spring onions, brightened by a squeeze of lemon. The soup was light but incredibly flavourful, and the clams were quite fresh and surprisingly quite sizeable and fleshy.

I liked the next dish but it didn't do anything for A - braised ginger and soy chicken wings. The meat completely fell off the bone, and while a little on the salty side, was packed with flavour.

A tempura-ed anago (sea eel) was next. The tempura batter was quite light, and not at all greasy. The anago itself was also very fresh and meaty.

We each then got 3 small slices of wagyu beef, but at $60 you can't really complain. This was delicious, particularly the fattier slices.

Another soup followed, this time with chunks of yellowtail. These were bone-in chunks but the meat quite easily came off the bones so even A didn't have much trouble.

The kushiage came in the form of a slice of pumpkin. This was very crispy, but I also found the batter a little on the thick side. They also gave us a little grilled shisamo each.

At the end we were asked if we wanted rice or noodles, and we went with one each. The rice turned out to be a sampler of mini rice bowls with assorted raw fish on top. The noodle was a hot soba with fish cake. 

Unexpectedly, the noodle was much better. The rice was a bit predictable and a little on the mushy side. On the other hand the soba was really tasty, with a good dashi broth and well cooked noodles. They gave us some chilli flakes which really packed a serious punch. We could handle it but the Japanese guy next to us, who sampled some out of curiosity, gasped for water, much to the amusement of the chefs.

This is totally our kind of place - laid back and chill, no fine tableware or fawning wait staff, probably not the finest of ingredients but still very tasty food in a friendly environment.

A says:

Are you going have comfortable seats? No. Is it the best omakase around? Again no. But the dishes are tasty, the chef and staff are friendly, and at $60, it’s fantastic value. So will we be back, definitely.

Teppei Japanese Restaurant
1 Tras Link
#01-18 Orchid Hotel
Tel: 6222-7363
Open daily: 12 noon – 2.30 pm; 6.30 pm – 10.30 pm

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Selfish Gene Cafe

C says:

A's been bugging me to try Selfish Gene ever since he got a takeout sandwich for lunch one day a few weeks ago. We went for brunch on Sunday and considering it's located in Chinatown (Craig Road), it was a lot more crowded than I expected.

The slightly odd name comes from the fact that the owner Gene is selfish because he will not serve food that he himself wouldn't eat. A tad corny, but I decided to suspend my cynicism.

A's beef sandwich is their house special, and is right up his alley. Rare roast beef with caramelised onions, arugula, tomatoes, dijon mustard and mayo, served on a sundried tomato foccacia, this was very good but the onions made it a bit too sweet for my liking.

I got the pork sandwich, with sliced pork loin, green apples, wholegrain mustard, pork jus and mayo on a ciabatta. I preferred mine, because the tartness from the green apple made it more interesting and less one dimensional.

We shared a banana cake with caramelised banana, crumble and peanut butter glaze. The cake was unexpectedly light and fluffy, almost like a chiffon. The peanut butter glaze was almost too overwhelming since the cake was so light and delicate, but overall this was a seriously good dessert.

The wait for the food is pretty long, so if you work around the area and have a tight lunch hour, don't expect to pop in and out in a hurry. Otherwise, if you're in the mood for some really good sandwiches and cakes, give Selfish Gene a try.

A says:

My favourite place to get a sandwich. A bit slow, but worth the wait. Don’t expect too much from the coffee though. It’s average.

Selfish Gene Café
40 Craig Road
Tel: 6423-1324
Open 10 am to 6 pm
Closed Tuesdays

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Canton Paradise

C says:

We're big Paradise Group fans, though not all their offerings are stellar. Granted, their higher end Paradise Pavilion has some misses as well as hits, but their more casual outlets - Paradise Inn and Paradise Dynasty - always satisfy.

We were pretty psyched to hear that 2 more Paradise concepts were opening at JCube, the new Jurong East entertainment complex across the street from where A's parents live. Kungfu Paradise is a casual cha chan teng, and Canton Paradise is a dim sum, noodle and congee house.

We tried Canton Paradise with A's family tonight, and got a bunch of dim sums as well as some noodle dishes. It's worth mentioning that we were there at about 8 pm and a number of the dishes that we wanted to order were already sold out.

We won't write about everything that we had, just some of the dishes worth mentioning. They have a section of innovative dim sums, from which we ordered the HK honey bbq pork bun and the bacon cheese rolls. Both were very good. The bacon rolls had bacon and cheese wrapped round shrimp then deep fried. The bbq pork bun was a combination of a HK polo bun and a char siew bao. They have this at Paradise Pavilion  too, and it was just as good here.

The belly pork char siew was super fatty, even for me. I would've preferred it with a bit more lean meat for contrast, because right now it was about 80% fat. 

The Canton steamed chicken was a bit disappointing. It was ordinary chicken rice chicken that lacked oomph. It came with a dipping sauce that I thought was some kind of ginger oil, but turned out to be a rather bland chicken jus. 

I had the shrimp wonton noodle soup, and A had the roast pork dry noodle. The roast pork on his was good, but I found everything else - the wonton and the noodles themselves - to be a bit disappointing. 

At least the liu sha bao here was good, with a very good oozy centre and light soft bun.

All things considered, with the exception of some of the dim sum dishes, I think the standard at Canton-i  is much higher for the same kind of food. And you don't have to wait an hour for a table.

A says:

Nice, but when it’s crowded, I don’t think it’s worth queuing up for.

Canton Paradise
2 Jurong East Central 1
#02-09 JCube
Tel: 6684-5080
Mon to Fri: 11 am – 9.30 pm
Sat, Sun & PH: 10.30 am – 9.30 pm

Friday, May 11, 2012

West Coast Satay

C says:

Our old faithful West Coast satay uncle is still around, despite a recent renovation of the West Coast market and food centre. 

By day it's an innocuous ban mian stall, but from around 4 pm Mr Lim takes over and serves up some really good Chinese satay.

I love his pork satay, for the little nuggets of fat that are sandwiched between the meat. The chicken is good too, and while a tad inconsistent, when the lamb isn't overdone it's excellent as well.

He does orders for barbeques too; you can ask him for totally raw satay, or half cooked and you just finish it off on the bbq grill to save you some cooking time.

It's comforting to know that some good things still don't change.

A says:

Best in the west!

Market and Food Centre
Blk 726 Clementi West St 2
(Opposite West Coast Plaza)

Maison Ikkoku

C says:

Haji Lane and its surrounding streets are slowly but surely being gentrified. Amidst nasi padang restaurants and old school shops selling kitshcy tourist mementoes, are chi chi hipster cafes like Maison Ikkoku on nearby Kandahar Street.

The decor is minimalist, with bare wooden tables and padded benches. The weekday menu features gourmet sandwiches and salads, but we were, or rather I was, there for their house special snacks - Spam musubi, and kong bak pau. 

The musubi features a slice of Spam on top of seasoned Japanese sticky rice. This wasn't as good as I expected - it didn't have as much Spam kick as I would've liked, but it did give me some inspiration to recreate this at home with my preferred Spam to rice ratios.

The kong bak pau was predictable, but still a very good version of this classic. The bun was light and fluffy, and the pork was fatty but still had enough lean to give it some bite.

The banana cake with white chocolate shavings seemed dense at first, but somehow got lighter the more you ate. It had an intense banana flavour, and wasn't overly sweet.

Their artisanal coffees are also their specialties. A had a cold pressed coffee, which tasted almost wine-like, and I had their house special latte. It was a damn good cup of coffee - mellow and nutty, and the latte art is pretty cool too. What do you reckon the design? I say a swan; A thought it was a desert island.

The only problem with these Haji Lane-esque joints is that they're achingly hip on weekends, and access is pretty inconvenient as well. I think we'll still stick to old faithful Jewel Coffee for our coffee fix, and only venture to Haji Lane on rare days off.

A says:

Great coffees with interesting specialty brews. But given the lack of parking, I’d only recommended it for the hipsters frequenting the area.

Maison Ikkoku
20 Kandahar Street
Tel: 6294-0078
Café opening hours:
Mon to Thurs: 9 am – 9 pm
Fri, Sat & PH Eve: 9 am – 11 pm
Sun & PH: 9 am – 7 pm

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Masa Steak & Hamburg

C says:

Major props to A’s friend KH for suggesting this place for dinner. The guy who owns Masa apparently also owns all the restaurants occupying that corner of Robertson Walk, next to Wine Connection – Masa, Tori-Tama, and Yakiniku Yazawa round the corner.

As the name suggests, Masa serves steak and hamburger steak, but don't expect a casual, Ma Maison type place. At Masa, they only serve wagyu beef, so their prices are unsurprisingly pretty high. Their cheapest steak is $68, going as high as $220 for a 180g Chateaubriand, a premium cut from the tenderloin.

However, if you go for their hamburger steak, prices are a lot less frightening - $28 for a 200g patty, and $38 for 300g. Their starters, all featuring the same wagyu beef, range from $20 to $28, so these are much more affordable alternatives to get your wagyu fix at Masa.

We tried the carpaccio, and the seared tataki. The carpaccio was fairly traditional Italian, with thinly sliced raw beef, arugula and shaved parmesan cheese. The beef texture and flavor were amazing – because it was raw, you could really taste the flavor and unctuous fattiness of the waygu beef.

The seared tataki, served Japanese style with onions in a ponzu sauce, was also good in a different way. The sear obviously gave it more flavor and bite, but you also appreciated the flavor of the wagyu a bit less. I honestly don’t know which I prefer, but I do know I now want to try their steak tartare as well.

When you order your hamburger steak, you have a choice of 3 sauces – original, demiglace and ponzu, and 3 toppings – fried egg, garlic chips and cheese. I had the demiglace sauce and a fried egg; A had the original sauce with garlic chips.

The garlic chips were a bit of a letdown. They were thin and delicate but didn’t have a lot of garlic flavor. The fried egg, on the other hand, was a great topping, since the runny yolk just added to the already rich flavor of the beef.

The hamburger steak itself was outstanding. Cooked medium (we weren’t given an option), the patty was fall apart tender – you could cut it with a fork or chopsticks, and full of flavour. I liked my demiglace sauce, as it tasted the most like a reduced Western-style sauce, but it does get quite rich after a while. The original had a tart edge which helped alleviate the richness, but it was also less flavourful. Again, if you’re going with a few people I’d recommend ordering both sauces to share, so that you get the best of both worlds.

Unless you’re very hungry, I’d recommend just getting the 200g patty, since it’s quite rich and it does get a bit monotonous after a while. Better to have more variety by ordering the smaller patty and having a couple of the awesome starters as well.

Ask them about their desserts, because the menu isn’t the most informative (only listing Ice Cream, Sherbet and Dessert of the Day). Tonight they had vanilla and caramel ice creams, peach sherbet, panna cotta and gateau chocolat. A had the panna cotta, which was pretty good, and my caramel ice cream rocked. It was a burnt caramel, much like the one at Kazu, so it wasn’t cloyingly sweet and was a perfect way to end the meal.

An amazing find. We’ll definitely be back.

A says:

I recommend the starters (under $30 each). The hamburg steak is good and still affordable. We’ll definitely be back for that combo.

For a casual dinner, the conventional steaks are just too rich (in price) for my blood though. With the chateaubriand costing over $200, they better be good too. Maybe for a very, very, very, vey special occasion. Like winning the lottery.

Masa Steak & Hamburg
11 Unity Street
#01-03 Robertson Walk
Tel: 6836-2529
Open daily: 6 pm – 11 pm