Monday, January 30

First Thai Food

23 Purvis Street T.6339 3123

The First Thai concept is appealing to those who shun the stuffy restaurant scene but want more than a scanty roadside stall. The food is good, portions decent, and the ambience simple, functional, yet quirky and original. Under every table is a stack of recent magazines alongside the necessary cutlery. On the walls, nothing more than a random assembly of traditional Chinese paintings atop the blue-green mosaic tiling of old. I wouldn't exactly call this place unpretentious, because enough consideration has gone into the little details to make it different and appealing, but definitely well considered and bold.

But to the food. On this occasion, we had all the staples: olive rice, the ubiquitous seafood tom yum soup, stir-fried kangkong (morning glory leaves) and minced chicken with basil leaves. And honestly, when its the simple stuff that wows you, you know you've hit upon the jackpot. This stuff tastes real, as if grandma made it specially for me alone. But that's not the best of it--dessert's great too! We had the steamed tapioca with coconut milk, silky smooth and luxuriant. The perfect indulgence to seal a good meal. Total bill, plus drinks: $46 (US$28). Not too bad, huh.

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Monday, January 23

Kazu Sumiyaki Restaurant

5 Koek Rd Cuppage Plaza, #04-05 T. 6734-2492

Given the glowing reviews I'd heard of this place, it was the ultimate test of discipline to sit there and wait for my dining companion to arrive while slightly sweet fumes tauntingly wafted through the restaurant from the open grill, and as all around me I heard the umms and ahhs of enraptured patrons. It took all my forbearance to keep my head down and focus on the menu, which thankfully was suitably extensive to keep me busy. And with such a buildup, it was only after we'd been through a number of skewers that I found myself able to stop and finally contribute to the conversation.

So its evident then that sumiyaki (Japanese bbq) has found a fan in me. Kazu's portions are small enough that you could probably sample a large variety, but with prices ranging from $1.70 -$4.00 a stick (US$1.00-$2.50), you're likely not going to be trying everything on the menu. To ensure you don't get overwhelmed by the selection available, here are my recommendations to start the ball rolling: i) chicken wings, crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside, ii) enoki mushrooms wrapped in ham, crunchy and succulent even, iii) foie gras, iv) gingko nuts, and v) sweet potato and butter (you'd be a fool to miss this out.)

Hard as it is for me to say this, I wouldn't have dessert here though. It just doesn't match the quality of the main offering, and I have had better elsewhere. The dessert platter of the day is beautiful though. (Actually, try it. Our misgivings with this could have been precipitated by our arrogant suggestion to the chef of what ice-cream we preferred. Oh, the folly of questioning the artisan!)

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Sunday, January 22

Dino Cake House and Café

257 Upper Thomson Road T. 6552 5088

I love finding old style cake shops and cafes, and this is one of my favourites. I don’t come by here often enough, and when I do its usually to pick up one of their house specials, the royal chocolate cake – a rich chocolate sponge that is generously covered by even more chocolate layers, but not cream. So it’s like having your chocolate and then some more, and not having to feel guilty about it. I have tried some of their other cakes too – sponge cup cake, peanut roll – and they are all winnersl.

Besides cakes, this cake shop also has a café that serves a variety of home cooked dishes: fried rice, mee siam (a spicy noodle), laska (Singapore version of the curry noodles), fried noodles, etc – all with that special home-cooked touch.

Seng Kee - Roast Meats

86 Zion Road Food Centre

There are few places left in Singapore where the hawker stall food does not smack of the “franchised” taste and look. This place is one such rare find. Its specialty is in roast meats: duck, chicken, siew yoke (roast fatty pork), and char siew (roast pork). The meats come with the edges slightly charred with just the right amount of smokiness, and the fats, yes, fats, though not pleasing to the eye and diet, have a melt in your mouth quality. You can have this either with rice or noodles (which was nice and springy), with a generous serving of a brown sauce that enhanced the smokiness in the meats.

Thursday, January 19

Akashi

Basement, Tanglin Shopping Centre

It may be run by Chinese chefs but it serves great tasting Japanese bento sets at superb value. What I really like about the place is its tasty food and generous portions. There are just too many Japanese restaurants that stinge on the servings. Not this place. Its rather innovative too – one of my must-haves at Akashi is the reverse roll. A version of the California roll, but done inside out: with the seaweed on the inside, a sesame coating and loads of roe toppings. The ebi misoyaki is also good here – king prawns slathered in a rich miso sauce and grilled. Delicious. When you are feeling a tad more adventurous, have them cook up the daily specials. This is usually outside of the menu and features some of the freshest ingredients.

Kok Seng Restaurant (Zhe Char)


Coffeeshop at the junction of Keong Siak Road and Teck Lim Road

I have always heard good things about the zhe char (they cook up Chinese dishes to order) here and finally got to sample it today. We were feeling rather hungry and proceeded to order up a storm in no time: sizzling claypot liver – this actually tastes quite fabulous, with the liver cooked just right, still slightly pink in the middle, with spring onions and a soy sauce marinade; a claypot chicken – I cant quite figure what went into it, but the chicken was fried first before hitting the pot, it was delicious nevertheless; tapioca leaves in sambal (a chilli paste); the soup of the day was average; and a fish head smothered in a slightly spicy red bean sauce. It was a mighty good meal. Total bill for the three of us: S$36 (US$21).

So we were very stuffed and very happy. We were also told that the French toast here was to die for. It was a no-brainer as we proceeded to order a serving of it. The French toast was grilled, not fried, hence the lovely chargrilled flavour, and served with a side of kaya (coconut jam) obviously home made, just like how my mother would make it. We could not find any more room but heard that this coffeeshop serves a mean coffee and tea too. Till the next visit...

Tuesday, January 17

Whampoa Food Street Fish Head Steamboat

556 Balestier Road T. 9769 4451

Tis the weather for steamboats (or hotpots) and so I headed out, and embraced it whenever I could. This evening’s explorations led me to this little restaurant aka high-end coffeeshop with ac and all that serves the traditional fishhead steamboat. Essentially, its parts of the fish (not necessarily the head), served in a steaming charcoal fuelled steamboat, filled with a rich and creamy (looks not taste) fish broth and a variety of vegetables – tang oh, cabbage, seaweed and even yam (taro). It was delicious. I felt that it could do with a tad more smokiness though, the kind that you would normally find in the most traditional of charcoal steamboat places – the one on Moonstone Lane being one such place (which reminds me, I have not made my way there in ages). Oh, and the place also serves a very potent chilli dip. I would go easy on this if I were you. Prices are gentle on the pocket. Our bill for a steamboat for two came up to S$25 (US$14.70).

Sunday, January 15

Lai Heng Mushroom Minced Pork Noodle

CK Food Court, Blk 85C Lorong 2 Toa Payoh #01-368

I have a range of bcm (ba chor mee) places that I like to go to depending on the time of day and also the taste that I am after. This morning, I was looking for a change and I headed for the one place that is distinct for its spicy shrimp based chilli paste. The spicy paste that is used here for the “dry” noodles is quite potent and fragranced with a generous amount of dried shrimp, hence the shrimp flavoured sauce that is so lovely for stirring into the noodles. The soup that accompanies the noodles is also quite flavoursome, which is why many of the folks who visit this store opt for the soup version of the noodles.

Mei Heong Yuen Dessert

67 Temple Street (Chinatown)

When I crave for traditional Chinese desserts, it usually takes a visit to Hong Kong to hit the spot. Its not until I chanced upon this traditional dessert shop in Chinatown a few years ago that I realised that I no longer have to travel the distance to satiate this craving. This is one of the very rare places in Singapore that serves traditional Cantonese desserts well - almond cream, walnut cream, peanut cream, sesame cream, tan dan (steamed egg), kwai ling kou (a bitter dessert made from some part of the turtle, and served with a syrup to counter the bitterness). My pick (its more of a personal preference, since they are all so fabulous) is the almond cream. You can almost taste the effort of the person who ground it by hand. Creamy yet light, tasty and not too sweet.

My other favourite and a new addition to the menu is the mango pomelo dessert. Unlike the others which are served hot, this comes with ice chips, chunks of mango and pomelo bits, drowned in loads of rich mango sauce. This is simply delicious and lovely for those oh so hot days. It’s obvious that there are many others, other than myself who have caught onto the shop. At my last visit, I found that it has expanded into the shop next door. And go early, I dont recall the place being open past 6pm. Most desserts average S$3 (US$1.80).

Butteryfly

Most hawker centres

Its name, literally translates to butterfly fry. And not surprising, it looks just like a pudgy butterfly when it comes out of the deep fryer, nice and brown and speckled with sesame seeds. The places that do it right will produce them light and airy and crunchy on the outside. It’s the perfect accompaniment with the traditional coffeeshop style tea or coffee. The price - S$0.50 (US$0.30). It’s usually found at the stores that also sells you tiaos (dough fritters).

Friday, January 13

Ah Chiang’s Porridge

Blk 65 Tiong Poh Road (Tiong Bahru)


I can eat this for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. Unfortunately for me, this place usually shuts by lunch time. And that is if you are lucky, since it tends to run out by late morning on weekends in particular. This is a no-frills coffeeshop that serves porridge with an assortment of stuff – your pick: pork slices, fish, innards, egg. You can have them individually or all together. My preference, plain porridge that is nice and thick, with an egg and eaten with plates of yu sheng (raw fish). The raw fish is quite an acquired taste – I recall younger days when I felt sick at the first bite. Today, just slap on the cut chilles, a dash of pepper, a dash of soy and the dish is oh so divine. I usually add to this, pieces of you tiao (dough fritters) as well. The crunchy you tiao in the porridge lends the porridge yet another taste dimension. Divine.

Thursday, January 12

Khansama Tandoori Restaurant

166 Serangoon Road (At the junction of Norris Road) T. 6299 0300
www.khansama.com

I am convinced this place serves the best tandoori chicken in the whole of Singapore. It’s well marinated, has the slightest hint of yoghurt, moist and appropriately charred in all the right places. I have also tried the Haryali chicken that is marinated in spinach and mint, and cooked tandoor style – it looks like green chicken but tastes just as heavenly. As is its accompanying salad, a simple mix of fresh sliced onions with a mint yoghurt dressing, the paneer (cottage cheese) cooked masala style, butter chicken, saag paneer (cottage cheese in spinach), keema naan (bread with minced lamb)… divine.
One dish I was not so keen on was the pani poori, a hollow crunchy shell that is filled with other crunchy bits and dressed in a soury assam juice. I was so looking forward to reliving the amazing flavours of the pani poori that I tried in Mumbai, but when I took a bite into the Khansama version, I felt seriously let down. It does look pretty though, unlike those that were handed to me, one at a time by the street side vendor in India. Pity.

P&P Thai Food

Blk 638 Veerasamy Road #01-01 T. 8157 1245

We were told it would be a 45-minute wait even before we had a time to get a table at this nondescript coffeeshop in Little India. But the place looks real, the food authentic, and we decided we would wait it out, albeit with a snack to tide us over.

Thankfully, the wait was not in vain. What we had seafood tomyum, beef with kalian (Chinese broccoli), Northern Thai style stir-fry pork, and pad thai (stir fried rice noodles) – were ordinary, run of the mill Thai dishes (with the exception of the pork). But the deft touch of the Thai chef gave these dishes a very unique and extremely delicious taste, an x-factor that is hard to come by even in the best Thai restaurants. I put this down to authenticity. We cleaned out the plates in no time. So who cares about the ambience, or the wait, I am sure to be back to try the other items on the menu soon.

Wednesday, January 11

Project Shop Café

#03-41/44 Paragon Shopping Centre T. 6735 6765


I like coming to the Project Shop Café for its coffee and cakes and interesting dishes like laksa pesto pasta (linguini with a thick spicy curry sauce) and banana and mango crumble. However with the recent departure of its Australian chef, these just don’t quite taste half as good. At one visit, we found the laksa pesto rather watered down and the crumble, more chunks than crumble.

I was however determined to find something else good on the menu, which was why when we dropped by the café this week, we opted for the eggplant stack and the roast beef sandwich. The eggplant stack turned out to be a good choice with layers of rocket, peppers in olive oil, feta and pesto nicely balanced on top of a mound of risotto. Sure, the risotto tasted more like glutinous rice, but the different textures and flavours came together marvellously. The roast beef slices were equally yummy especially with a dash of mustard. They were served on two thick slices of bread and a side of potato salad, which oddly, had a slight metallic taste.

On thing that is consistent about the place though is its service: friendly but inattentive. That aside, it was a very pleasant afternoon indeed.

Tuesday, January 10

Ah Teng's Bakery

Ground Floor, Raffles Hotel

I'd say Ah Teng's serves good cake. Good mousse cake probably would be more exact. They aren't mind-blowingly creative concoctions, nor would they induce mid-day subconscious cravings. But they are light enough to satisfy the weight-conscious, rich enough to leave a lingering sweetness on the palate and discreet enough not to overpower the flavours of the meal before. So yes, this is solidly good cake, and my security blanket in the mousse cake world. Can't say the same for their other offerings though. The other day, I was most disappointed by the Chocolate Grotti (pictured above). It tasted OLD! I found that rather offensive actually, particularly coming from the Raffles Hotel. The liqueur in the cherries had all but evaporated, the pastry was crumbly and dry, and the chocolate, didn't even get a hint of that, really. Tsk. Not good. The lapis cake (Malay layer cake) was similarly tasteless.

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Monday, January 9

Shun Lu Minced Meat Noodles

Coffeeshop at the junction of Jln Datoh and Balestier Rd

I grew up eating this every other weekend. So explains my fondness for it and also my bias as to its place among all the bcms in Singapore. I think it is the best. Admittedly, after many years of the uncle’s re-invention, some may not consider this an “authentic” version of the bcm, with the addition of prawns and chaisim or kalian (depending on what is available). However, this “hybrid” retains the authenticity of flavour (and more!) by employing all the necessary time-honoured bcm ingredients. One other proof of the uncle’s innovation – instead of using the fried dried fish that is commonly used to provide fragrance, he sometimes uses fried dried cuttlefish, to amazing results! Obviously his customers appreciate this fresh interpretation. They also remember to be there before 1pm, after which there will be nothing left. The stall is open from 7am.

Wednesday, January 4

Duan Ji Fishball Noodle

Blk 1 Upper Aljunied Road, Café Food Centre


It appeared like a really short line for the noodles when we arrived just past midnight, and that was only the beginning. It took about 15 minutes to get to place your order then it’s another 45 minute wait for the noodles. This place is known for its – you guessed it – fishball noodles. More specifically, it is known for its fish dumplings: minced fish wrapped in a thick skin, also made from fish. The taste is different – flavoursome without being fishy, and juicy to the bite. We had it with kueh teow (flat rice noodles) “dry” which was served with a nice light chilli sauce and vinegar. Quite a nice compliment. Great stop for a late night bite (opens for dinner till early morning), if you don’t mind the queues.


Peach Garden

#01-88 Thomson Plaza, 301 Upper Thomson Road T. 6451 3233

My first encounter with Peach Garden was when it was at Upper Changi Road. Though the food was generally quite tasty – siew yoke (roast fatty pork), clear sharkfin’s soup double boiled in melon, sam wong yin cho (Chinese spinach cooked in a soup with egg, salted egg and century egg) – I found it laden with msg and reacted almost immediately to the meal.

I decided to give it another go, now that it has opened up at Thomson Plaza and found it to be no different. We had a selection of dim sum for starters and then proceeded to the roast meats which was crackling and good as ever; the vegetables - tasty but this was also when I started reacting to the msg; a steamed pating fish (a Malaysian freshwater catch); and then fried ee-fu noodles which was nothing out of the ordinary.

Tuesday, January 3

Tandoori Turkey

Tandoor, Basement, Holiday Inn Park View

This has become a family staple at New Year's. It's a lovely east-west blend that we reckon is quite reflective of our own mixed origins. But that's secondary. More important is of course that tandoori seems to suit this bird really well. Gone are the days of waiting with bated breath for some brave soul to taste the roast and declare that no, this one time the turkey wasn't dry. The meat is moist, and dare I say, juicy even, and though the spices aren't as rich and distinct as others I've tried, it still is good tandoori. This definitely comes with a "eat now or forever hold your peace" tag on our buffet line.

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