Sunday, March 30, 2008

Another Year, Another List

Here we go again.

  • The Orphanage **** (Unbelievably scary and creepy, ugh, but ultimately sad and satisfying.)
  • No Country for Old Men **** (Taut and tight, surprisingly unleavened by the Coen Brothers' usual black humour. To the idiot who sat beside us, next time just leave halfway ok? Instead of humouring your boyfriend and sitting there, fidgeting and complaining...)
  • La Vie En Rose **** (The film itself wasn't such a big deal but this was an actor's showcase par none and Marion Cotillard sure as hell delivered.)
  • Juno **** (Witty indie-style movie with excellent acting by Ellen Page. Not quite as clever as Saved! but funny as hell.)
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly **** (A gently humorous story of the trials and tribulations of being trapped in one's body.)
  • Sweeney Todd **** (One of the better examples of stage to screen transition. Tim Burton does a good job here, but Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter aren't the best of singers, although they do approach Sondheim's music with not a little panache.)
  • This Film Is Not Yet Rated *** (In the vein of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. Funny in parts but a tad same old same old by now.)
  • Away from Her **** (Touching, without being cloying. Should Julie Christie win for Best Actress? Probably not...)
  • Across the Universe ***1/2 (Surprisingly watchable. Interesting interpretation with some good takes on the Beatles' standards.)
  • My Blueberry Nights *** (Ok lah, some nice touches, some nice acting, but not one of Mr Wong's best movies)


Sunday, December 30, 2007

How will 2007 shape up?

The Year 2007 at the cinema:

  • Vexille ***1/2 (Utterly predictable storyline - Japan gets annihilated yet again in animeland - but a story well told with spectacular visuals and at a rolllicking pace. Cool!)
  • Citizen Dog **** (Whimsical, hilarious and very Thai, this film captured the essence of Bangkok oh so well - buildings, dogs and plastic bottles! Although it was a smidgen saggy in the middle...)
  • Elizabeth I: The Golden Age ***1/2 (Strong acting, beautiful costumes and luscious visuals but, really, way too OTT. A caricature of history really, albeit an entertaining one.)
  • Moebius Redux: A Life in Pictures *** (An engaging and informative look at the life of comic illustrator, an insider's doco for comic buffs.)
  • 5 Cm Per Second *** (Beautifully drawn and put together, but perhaps a leetle too much teen angst.)
  • Tekkonkinkreet ***1/2 (A visual extravanganza with pretty good characterisation for an anime feature. Not sure if the storyline really worked though...)
  • Lust, Caution ***1/2 (If only the narrative structure had been tighter and more focused. Tang Wei and Joan Chen were wonderful to watch.)
  • Lars and the Real Girl **** (Thoughtful and touching, with a quiet gentle humour. Ryan Gosling does an excellent job here.)
  • The Triplets of Belleview ***1/2 (Great music, whimsical characterisation, but stylistically best appreciated by film buffs)
  • Sicko *** (Michael Moore back to his entertaining self, after the angst of Iraq, but the novelty has worn off)
  • Ratatouille**** (Funny, entertaining, heartwarming without being maudlin. Definitely one of Pixar's better offerings.)
  • Jesus Camp **** (A chilling look at religious extremism - disturbing to say the least)
  • Hairspray **** (Good stuff - great energy, fun choreography, spot-on casting. Kudos to John Travolta for a lovely performance.)
  • Brave Story ** (Patchy at best - it made me feel like yelling "Keep It Simple, Stupid!")
  • 881 ***1/2 (not the slickest or tightest of productions but loud, campy, funny and touching at the same time. oh, and great music too...)
  • Black Sheep ** (what a waste - this could have been so much baaaaaaa-der)
  • The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros *** (would have benefited from tighter story-telling and better editing but an engaging film nonetheless)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ***1/2 (saved by the rollercoaster ride pace, brand-new special effects and some brilliant casting)
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time ***1/2 (high school love story but one made palatable by good visuals and a sense of humour)
  • Shrek 3 *1/2 (a handful of clever jokes - we love Gingy's flashback scene - but it's time to retire the franchise)
  • I Don't Want to Sleep Alone **** (typically Tsai Ming Liang but possibly more accessible than most of his recent work. Malaysia should lighten up - this is really NOT about it at all.)
  • Volver ****1/2 (trust Pedro Aldomovar to take a soap opera plot and turn it into pure gold. Brilliant!)
  • Notes of a Scandal *** (stereotypical characters saved by superb acting)
  • Little Children *** (surprisingly decent but let down by an ending way too pat)
  • Requiem ***1/2 (Intelligent thought-provoking movie that Hollywood-style horror junkies should stay clear)
  • The King *** (Gripping but ultimately flawed.)
  • The Queen **** (give Helen Mirren the Oscar for Best Actress already)
  • Pan's Labyrinth ****1/2 (yes it was that good.)
  • Curse of the Golden Flower **** (***** for superlative visuals, * for plot, a jing1 ma3 jiang3 for Gong Li as Best Actress, and one for her heaving bosom as Best Supporting Actress, haha)
  • Borat ***1/2 (**** to Sacha Baron Cohen for impeccable improvisation skills)


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Salad Boy

a lettuce kun

Ever a willing victim of merchandising, HM could not resist picking one of these from the Mosburger near her workplace. Of course I had to be roped in to help dispose of the requisite food order, urp...


Bubbletea Ice-Cream?


HM insisted on trying one of these. It was milk tea ice cream with, get this, seaweed pearls. It was, shall we say, interesting...


Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?

Sadly, this entry's alternative title is "A Return Visit to Ema's Diner Gone Horribly Wrong". We had returned, newly armed with the restaurant's privilege card and a "welcome" discount voucher, eager to sample more of the lovely food we had had on our first visit. We decided not to order any of the items flagged as chef's recommendations. We had in fact tried most of them on our first visit and enjoyed them tremendously. How wrong could we go with the rest of the menu... Perhaps that was our mistake but first, we struck out from the word 'go'. Roast chicken? Not available. Great. So we opted for...

baked mussels


house salad that came with the lasagna

seafood spaghetti

grilled salmon

ginger milk pudding

The lasagna, seafood spaghetti and ginger milk pudding were alright, and the mash was still great, but the baked mussels were unevenly heated. The plate was oven hot but a few mussels were still refrigerator-cold. The grilled salmon was not even cooked through.

milo dinosaur

But what took the cake was how we ended up with a milo dinosaur (which incidentally KKN complained was too thin, although I didn't mind it). Our discount voucher offered a list of freebies from which we could choose one item. There were four items on the list - chilli fries, cappucino, milo dinosaur and something else which we weren't interested in and I can't even remember now. First we asked for the chilli fries but we were told that it was not available. We looked down the regular menu and asked for an item of similar value ($4.90, I think it was) but were told that we could have regular fries but not that item. When we pointed out that regular fries were cheaper, no explanation was given why we couldn't have a similar priced item. Disgruntled but not up to making a fuss, we asked for the cappucino instead. Get this - their coffee machine was not working. With the prospect of us returning to this place looking less and less likely, we decided to cut our losses and trade in our discount voucher for a milo dinosaur.

We were left wondering what happened. Did the regular staff all up and quit? Was the place staffed by temp staff that night? God knows...


A Chez Chat Special

Not to be outdone by a chi chi restaurant, HM whipped up her version of a mushroom risotto, to be precise, a healthier version of it, brown rice and all...


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Not Quite Spa-ctacular

There has been a proliferation of chic eating places in Singapore, particularly at Dempsey where there is now a whole slew of designed-to-the-hilt chi chi eateries. My fear is that it will all add up to naught, more eye candy than real food. Ideally, of course, the competition will weed out those that merely look good. Nonetheless, I worry about my fellow Singaporeans and their appetite for hype. Having said that, it was the Barracks at House's publicity hook that caught our attention. It offers what it calls spa cuisine, presumably as a complement to sister business, House the Spa. Spa cuisine sounded intriguing, so after HM had checked out the spa one Sunday morning, we adjourned to the Barracks for brunch.

The first thing that struck me was the design of the House complex. A mixture of exposed concrete, camouflage and glass, it was part army barracks (a nod to its past), part spa chic, but mostly post-modern pastiche. The effect was interesting, possibly eye-catching, but not necessarily effective. The army motif carried into the details.

napkins and cutlery in a mess tin

Curiously, the interior of Barracks featured yet another layer of the palimpsest. This time, it was the inspiration of Alice, as evidenced by the 3 m high table that sat in one end of the room, over one of the regular-sized dining tables. Was this another nod, one to Alice's Tea Cup, the New York tea room inspired by Alice in Wonderland?


Finally done with gawking at the space, we got round to ordering. The menu was all freerange this, organic that, and herbs everywhere - very Californian.

skinny capuccino

HM's mwah mwah tea

my mango power

The mwah mwah tea - white tea, raspberry and chocolate - was a good start for HM. I wasn't sure the mango power - a mango banana smoothie - while refreshing, was worth $10. (To be fair, it didn't come in a tall glass full of ice.)

ahi taki salad aka yellowfin tuna salad

The ahi taki salad was another curious affair. An upmarket tuna salad essentially, the greens - heirloom tomatoes on homegrown greens - were good, but the decision to saute the ahi was debatable. Stirfrying it made the tuna much more savoury. I normally like savoury but in this case I felt it made the dish that much more pedestrian and in any case was a waste of good tuna.

mushroom risotto

The mushroom risotto - cheese, fava beans and shortgrain rice in a forest mushroom sauce - was delicious but not extraordinary. Still, I liked it, although HM found it much too cheesy.

7-layer pancake

Of the three dishes, this was the best, and we were unanimous on that one. In between the layers of pancake were pistachios, almonds and nutella, and the whole thing was drenched in maple syrup.

So what did we think of Barrack's take on spa cuisine? We expected it to be healthy hence it seemed odd that the food would be so rich. Perhaps the intention was to prove that healthy doesn't have to be bland. I thought it was a waste of all that organic produce. Better to let the ingredients speak for themselves.


A Fish in Bill Is...

...worth two in the water?

A quick stroll through the Gardens today led to a second encounter with one of its better known denizens, the resident storkbilled kingfisher living around Symphony Lake, and lots of sunshine meant a much clearer picture of the brightly coloured critter.


Nothing Like An Old-fashioned Cuppa

One thing we do appreciate about the Village is the Ya Kun Kaya Toast place. After many a dinner, we look forward to a hot cuppa. Like a traditional coffee shop, the water they use for making tea and coffee has been on the boil the whole day. That means the hot drinks stay hot. There's nothing worse than tepid tea or coffee.

teh and kopi

Less successful was the Singapore-style churros we tried the other day, which Ya Kun is now hocking under the name, "toast dipz". HM liked it well enough but I think I'll stick to kaya with my toast.

toast dipz with chocolate


An Unexpected Find

When in doubt, we pick eateries that are obviously well patronised. That's not to say that we are suckers for hype, but it makes sense to me that people go to where the food is good. This is even more so when these are hawker stalls, which in general are less prone to the kind of hype that afflicts the restaurant industry. We look at how many people patronise a particular stall. Long queues may mean hype (or not), but definitely indicate must tries. Some business may mean not everyone's cup of tea, but worth trying if the opportunity arises. No business at all? Hmmm...

That's why it took us 11 months to get round to Tan's Beef Noodles, located just downstairs at the Buona Vista Hawker Centre. In a hawker centre that is bustling at lunch time, few patronised the stall, a bad sign if ever there was one. Still, it's one of the few stalls open in the evening, so one evening when HM was late back, I gave it a shot. The noodles were dense, like la mian should be, and the stock was sufficiently beefy. I thought it good enough to recommend to HM.

a $4.50 bowl

HM liked it too, so now we have an alternative to ban mian for those evening meals downstairs. As for the lack of business, the owner himself says that people either love it or hate it...


Japanese Food on the Cheap

We went on a five hour urban trek the other day, ending up in the Club Street area.
HM couldn't make up her mind on what she wanted for dinner, till we wandered into China Square. Tomikawa is a favourite with one of our friends, YT, who swears by it for her cheap Japanese food fix.

my tempura udon

HM's saba shio (grilled mackerel) set

The udon was decent - soup was not bad - but I didn't like the tempura. The batter and the vegetables were somewhat hard, and the prawns were overwhelmed by batter. HM's saba shio set was good though. The fish was fresh and nicely grilled. HM also liked the chawan mushi (steamed egg) that came with the set. I guess for $11.50 in total I shouldn't complain too much!


So What If It's Not a Silver Spoon?

HM and I ran away from work the other day, to have lunch at Blue Spoon, the snack bar (that's what they call it) that also supplies precooked meals in frozen packages. Tucked away in Ghim Moh, below a block of HDB flats, the place was no frills indeed but it attracted a steady stream of customers.

Between the two of us, we had:

shepherd's pie

ayam buah keluak

mushroom soup

guinness steak and mushroom pie

chocolate cherry trifle

The mushroom soup and the steak and mushroom pie were quite forgettable. The soup tasted somewhat floury, as if a thickener like starch had been added. (Unfortunately, we had had an excellent mushroom soup from Saybons the night before, so this one really paled in comparison.) The pie pastry was alright but the meat was too dry. The Guinness was not evident either.

Compared to these, the chocolate cherry trifle was at least fun. A chocolate pudding with dark cherries embedded and handwhipped cream topping it, it wasn't gourmet but we enjoyed it.

The highlights were the shepherd's pie and the ayam buah keluak (chicken stewed with the kluwek nut). This version of the pie used minced chicken; we were late and they had run out of the beef alternative. Although we would have preferred beef, the pie was still delicious, moist and buttery. The Peranakan stalwart, ayam buah keluak, was also well executed, particularly with the rice and achar (pickled vegetables nonya style) served.

Together with two lattes, the bill came up to $28.70. The ayam buah keluak was $5.90, the shepherd's pie $5.50, not expensive for the quality and quantity. While not everything was equally good, it was nice to find homecooked style food. We'll be back to explore the rest of the menu (Eurasian Chicken Curry Debal, Chinese Beef Stew, Roast Chicken...).


Monday, October 29, 2007

Vegetarian Food Boring? Not!

Not when it's Indian vegetarian food. Despite having stuffed our faces at the French Stall earlier, we couldn't pass up the chance to have a smackeroo at Ananda Bhavan, the vegetarian restaurant chain with a branch on every corner of Little India.

evangelical zeal (photo courtesy of KKN)

the gods must approve
We ordered a couple of snacks...

pani puri

One of HM's favourites, pani puri are fried pastry shells, filled with odds and ends such as beans, potato and raw onions, that are dipped into a tamarind sauce. They're light and easy to pop into the mouth.

they look alike on the outside

peek inside and discover it's a kheema thosai!

We ordered two thosai, those Indian pancakes filled with all kinds of yummy things. We had a masala thosai, stuffed with potatoes, and a vegetarian kheema thosai, stuffed with spicy soy bean mince. The latter was something a little different. I liked the mix of spices and it was spicy alright.

Our bill came up to $17 for 3 masala tehs, 1 mango lassi, 2 thosai and 1 pani puri, not too bad for a Deepavali "feast". Too bad we couldn't do the full thing, not when the fairly mild masala thosai sent KKN reaching for the water, spluttering...

sweets we didn't try (photo courtesy of KKN)


Lighten Up

Serangoon Road (photo courtesy of KKN)

We took KKN and ES on another one of our urban jaunts. Having survived the Hari Raya fair at Geylang Serai, the Deepavali light-up was next. Needless to say, there was lots of see.

singapore idols


The most interesting part of the evening was chancing upon a traditional craftsman making lac bangles on the spot.

the bangle maker

his wares

The bangles were $3 each; for a dollar more, you could custom make one on the spot. We stood there for half an hour and watched him make one for ES and one for HM.

adding detail

whipping it into shape

bangles to go

KKN found other ways of entertaining herself...


Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Real Bistro

Before Crazy Ang Mo and Botak Jones, there was the French Stall. Wikipedia defines a bistro as "a type of small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in an unpretentious setting, especially in Paris, France. A bistro may not offer professional service or printed menus, and it will usually specialize in simple classic dishes such as steak au poivre, French onion soup, and coq au vin." That sounds like The French Stall to me, coffee shop setting et al, though of course it offers both professional service and printed menus.

We used to frequent The French Stall a lot more frequently, back when we were watching our budgets more. The set meals were good value for money and, if I remember correctly, there was no service charge. A quick glance at our latest bill and clearly the latter is no longer true, but I am getting ahead of myself...

A visit to The French Stall was in order the other night, as part of our Deepavali pilgrimage to Little India. After all, we had to feed KKN, she who complains about black pepper in her food.

We were early, arriving there before 6.30 p.m., not a bad idea really since the place filled up relatively quickly. The place was pretty much as we remembered it, cheesy french decor and all, and they still have a no-reservations policy except, as Madame explained, for large groups who may otherwise not be able to get seated.

We ordered a number of our old favourites and something from the much expanded menu.

french onion soup


pork rillette with gherkins

mussels in white whine sauce

We dug into the appetisers with relish, polishing off an additional order of bread in the process. The mussels were as good as I remembered it to be, and HM enjoyed the pork rilette.

duck leg with panfried foie gras and lentils

duck breast with risotto

seafood sausage with spinach

Of the mains, I liked my duck leg best, especially the lentils. It was full of robust flavour. Of course, HM had to remind me that the lentils tasted that good because they had probably been stewed in duck fat. The seafood sausage wasn't my cup of tea, mostly because of the soft slightly mushy texture.

chocolate souffle

In the end, we had room for only one dessert and a smallish one at that. The chocolate souffle was nothing compared to the mondo one we had in Ho Chi Minh City but it was decent enough.

The bill came up to $144 for the three of us, and that included a total of four starters, three mains, one dessert, one beer, one big bottle of sparkling water and three coffees, not quite as cheap as I remembered it to be but certainly still holding its ground as the most reasonably priced French food in town.