Saturday, July 28, 2007

Frutti De Mare, Chiunque?

We fought off a case of the blues with a good dose of Italian, courtesy of Menotti's. It was HM's idea really, one night when neither of us had an appetite (gasp!) and Menotti's was within stumbling distance. Nothing like a little tomato-based sauce to perk up the tastebuds...

olive bruschetta with anchovy pate

seafood and tomato soup

lobster linguini


Friday, July 27, 2007


My family used to go to Peranakan restaurant, Guan Hoe Soon, once in a while, but at some point, our visits tapered off. I now live in the west and hadn't been there for at least ten years, till the other night. ES and HM decided we needed a mid-week treat, and since KKN, she who is useless with spicy food, was not in town, we took advantage of her absence and decided on Peranakan food. Now, there had been a write-up on Guan Hoe Soon in a recent edition of the Sunday Times, so we thought we'd take a drive out yonder and continue our exploration of Joo Chiat.

HM had in fact pestered me to make a reservation but I refused. You wait till we get there, I told her, and you'll see why I would feel silly making a reservation. True enough, when we got there, it was just as I had expected it to be. The decor was still refreshingly old school i.e. no decor to speak of. The place was at most one-third filled, with tables of uncles and aunties (a sign of good food!) The only thing out of the ordinary was a table occupied by a ang mo family. Even so, these days, with 'pats movin' into the 'burbs, it was at best a minor anomaly. A reservation? Pshaw. Little did I know that, in a while, I would have to eat my words.

We sat down and browsed through the menu. Since we don't often do Peranakan, we opted for the classics. As we settled down to wait for our food, customers started streaming in. And then the trickle turned into a torrent, and lo and behold, the place was packed. I guess we were just lucky that we strolled in early enough, if 7.30 p.m. can be considered early (I guess Katongites eat late). Fortunately we didn't have long to wait. The food arrived soon enough.

achar (spicy pickled cucumber)

nonya chap chye (sauteed mixed vegetables)

otah otah (fish cake)

bakwan kerpiting (pork and crabmeat patty) soup

ayam buah keluak (chicken with... aye, what do you call those things?!)

babi pongteh (pork stew)

The food was delicious and comfortingly homecooked, although it was a tad milder than we had expected. (It was so not spicy even KKN could have eaten there...) Of course we couldn't eat at a Peranakan restaurant without checking out the desserts.

my pulot hitam (glutinous rice porridge)

HM's sago gula melaka (sago with palm sugar)

ES' chendol (green jelly with red beans and coconut milk)

The desserts were satisfying but not spectacular. For example, the shaved ice could have been finer.

Still, at $53 for the whole meal, we were left lamenting the apparent dirth of such small but good eateries in the western half of the island where we live.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Porco L'amour (Porcine Love)

why is pork romantic?!

What can I say? Despite "grazing" earlier in the day, we needed more food. (This substantiates my theory that, the more food one eats, the more one's stomach capacity expands.) So there we were at Takashimaya Food Hall, probably pms-sing. The call of deepfried pork proved too much to resist...

the regular version

At $12, the set comes with rice, pickles and miso soup. The pork was reasonably juicy and tender. The crust was light enough and crunchy. It wasn't the best katsu don we've ever eaten, not something that, say, we would go out of our way to eat, but it was genuinely good enough for a quick meal option. As HM would say, at least it wasn't a waste of calories which is more than can be said of some of the cafes in Ngee Ann City.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

We Grazed Again

I was supposed to go for a 5-hour nature ramble through the Central Nature Reserve, but, hey, it wasn't my fault that the weather showed signs of being inclement! As a form of consolation, heh, I joined HM and her friends for brunch at Graze.

HM and I were considerably more at ease on this visit. The waitpeople were less smarmy, the music was more appropriate, and the food was just as good as we remembered it to be.

my mocktail - lychee with mint

my eggs benedict with smoked salmon and spinach

HM's eggs on request - in this case, scrambled - on multigrain toast with bratwurst

It was the first visit for SSB and YT, and they seemed suitably impressed.

YT's classic housemade waffles with strawberries and nutella ice cream

SSB's Graze baked omelette with smoked salmon and mushrooms amongst other things

YT remarked that she now knew where to go for waffles. She liked the ice cream and the fact that there was one chunk of strawberry for every square of waffle. SSB didn't say much but her plate was wiped clean. The most damning evidence? For two carb-conscious people, they initially steered clear of the bread "basket". Having watched HM and myself munch our way through our two slices of bread dipped in Graze's signature spiced-infused honey, they finally succumbed and demolished a slice each. I'd say Graze made a positive impression. Too bad we didn't have space for cake...


Sunday, July 15, 2007


a spotted dove at the Botanic Gardens


Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Pleasures of the Flesh

It all started because HM had a serious case of ennui. Go for a walk? No. Movie? No. Shopping? Maybe. Vivocity? No. Plaza Singapura? No. Ngee Ann City? Maybe. It only ended when HM herself came up with a game plan - go look for a Vietnamese stall in a Joo Chiat Road kopitiam, one that the travelling hungryboy (HM is an avid reader of his blog) had reviewed. According to him, it sold authentic Vietnamese hawker food. A food adventure! Perfect, as far as I was concerned, and anything to end the impasse.

Hence, after a long day of flopping around like a boneless chicken*, we were finally out the door and on a long bus ride to the east.

*HM, I mean. We vegetate quite differently. I am more like a jello, quite content to just sit there and wobble.

For those who think Joo Chiat is a merely a conglomerate of establishments in one guise or another dedicated to the world's oldest profession, think again. Not all is seedy and disreputable. Personally, I think the Joo Chiat "scene", and that of other red light districts, provide much needed and refreshing contrast to the staid, antiseptic parts of Singapore. Of course, the morally upright residents of Joo Chiat would probably disagree with me, but, hey, there is at least one fringe benefit of living right next door to temples of the flesh. Amidst all the bars and massage parlours, there is A LOT of food, and at all hours too. The traditional Peranakan restaurants have been joined by an exotic array of eateries selling everything from Beijing xiaochi (small eats) to Vietnamese zhicha, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of the neighbourhood, or, I dare say, of the aforementioned industry (wow, evidence of globalisation!).

We finally found our little stall in a kopitiam called Eastern Wind, practically at the end of Joo Chiat Road, near the Geyland Serai junction. It really was just a stall in a coffeeshop, one of these quiet little kopitiams where uncles can sit, alone or with a friend, nursing their beers without anyone hassling them. The stall had a sign that read "My Favourite Vietnamese" or "Favourite Vietnamese", I can't recall, and no menu. Hence, I had to rely on hand signals and what little (and I'm sure horribly mispronounced) Vietnamese vocabulary to place our order.

Sadly, there was no banh mi to be had. The travelling hungryboy had raved about this stall's version of the ubiquitous Vietnamese pate sandwich, but, after much uncovering of various food items and some (my) weak attempts to pronounce banh mi, the old Vietnamese uncle who ran the stall and I established that, indeed, he was not selling any that day.

Instead, we had:

goi cuon or fresh rolls

dipping sauce

pho bo or Vietnamese beef noodles

It was good simple food. For the Vietnamese hostesses who plied their trade two doors away at a lounge, it may not have been anything to write home about, but I'm guessing it was close enough to the real thing to keep the blues away. Certainly, Uncle got a steady flow of business from the ladies who would pop out of the lounge, order something and then disappear back inside. In response, he trotted to and fro with bowlfuls of pho. As for us, we enjoyed the meal which came up to $13 in total, inclusive of two bowls of pho.

Incidentally, the chilli packed a punch. HM had prudently parked the dollop that came on top of the pho aside, spooning it bit by bit back into the soup, to control the amount of heat. I had decided to brave it and stir it all in, since there didn't seem to be very much of it. At first, it was not as spicy as I thought it would be, but by the end of the meal, it was just a little too hot if shiok nonetheless.

As we headed back towards Katong, we came across a newly opened patisserie, Obolo, just before the junction with East Coast Road. We sat down and had:

golden maple-pecan baked cheesecake - infused with maple syrup and caramelised toasted crunchy pecans on a biscuit crust

noisette - dark chocolate mousse, caramelised toasted nazelnuts, crunchy praline feullitine & chocolate genoise enrobed in chocolate glacage

At $6.90 a slice, this was way more upmarket than the dinner we just had. I liked the cheesecake - the maple syrup was a nice touch. HM really enjoyed the noisette. Together with two cappucinos (which were really lattes, tsk), the bill came up to $20.50. The patiserrie was actually offering an opening promotion - three slices of cake for $15.90 - but we showed remarkable restraint in settling for just two. What HM couldn't resist though was going home with some of these:


At $8 for half a dozen, they were cheaper than Canele's. Ah, but were they as good as, or better than Canele's? HM will provide her answer in due course.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Aston Food

Everyone said to go to Aston's Specialties in Katong for good Western food - "quality and value for money" is their tagline. They even serve premium beef such as wagyu. HM who is constantly on the quest for the perfect burger had been keeping an eye out, and a ear cocked, for reviews of Aston's burgers. It was she who pronounced that we (we, meaning the two of us plus ES) would be checking Aston's out on Saturday night.

Now, this is the little eatery that has become so popular, it recently upgraded from a coffeeshop to a cafe style setting. Business is so good they no longer take reservations. When I arrived there at 6.40 p.m., about 15 minutes after HM and ES had started queuing for a table, I took a quick count: 30 people in all. We twiddled our thumbs as the queue inched forward. For a fleeting moment, we contemplated throwing in the towel and detouring to one of the nearby Peranakan restaurants. Just then, we were given menus. This kept us occupied and distracted for a while. Then, our orders were recorded on an order slip which was handed back to us for safekeeping. We felt like we had committed ourselves to stay. 10 people between us and the front door - a woman from the back of the queue trotted forward and plaintively asked how long her party would have to wait if they stayed in the queue. Two hours, she was told. HM decided to rush over to Katong Mall to check out the little girls' room there (she's funny that way). She was back before we were seated. Eventually, we would count ourselves lucky to have waited for only one hour, from the time we started queueing to the time we were served our food.

IBC rootbeer

earl grey tea

apple juice

While we waited, we made do with our drinks. The rootbeer was good, not too sweet at all. The tea came with warmed milk, a small touch that impressed HM to no end. (Oddly enough, Aston's considers earl grey tea "specialty" tea.)

my prime ribeye "Xtra cut"

HM forbade me to order any of the premium beef. Her rationale: this being our first time there, we should try their more down-to-earth menu items first, just to test the water. Fair enough. The steak was 250g of pretty decent ribeye, done to a medium rare, although I specified medium. That's not a sin in my book. If a restaurant has to make a mistake with a steak, I'd rather it err on the side of caution i.e. undercook it. At least that shows respect for the meat. I had no complaints about the beef and the rather tasty brown gravy. The two sides that came with the steak though could have been better. (There's a choice of sides.) The mash was so-so and I prefer the pasta in my pasta salad to be rather less limp and soggy.

ES' pepper chicken burger

The chicken burger was good. All three of us liked the pepper seasoning and the chicken was nicely grilled.

HM's ieat super burger

The super burger - 250g of sirloin, bacon, grilled onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato - was the best of the three dishes we had. As HM pointed out, the beef was much better than that used at Botak Jones; Botak Jones either uses too much filler or a poorer grade of beef (I'm not sure which) in its patties, although, admittedly, Botak Jones is cheaper. The bun could have been better though; white bread, even sesame buns, don't do it for us. We prefer something with more texture, more flavour, like the ones used by Carl's Junior. Still, the ieat super burger was definitely good.

All in all, I'd say Aston's tagline is pretty darn accurate. We're not talking gourmet here, but the chefs have got some good moves. The ingredients are indeed of better quality than we'd expect for the usual "western food" stall. And, most importantly for an eatery competing in the cheap but good category, prices were very reasonable. The chicken burger was $4.30, the super burger was $12.50, the prime ribeye was $12.90, and, get this, Aston's doesn't charge for service or taxes. In total, our bill came up to $35.20, for three people. Would we go back for more? I would, to indulge in some premium beef, although I would try different sides the next time. Oh, and we'd make it a weekday night the next time...