Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Zi Chas

We happened to have two midweek meals with friends, at two of the Village's zi cha stalls.

Kelong BBQ

While this place is more noted for its barbecue seafood, it didn't do too badly at all with these more homey dishes. (Sorry, none of us felt like fullfledged zi cha food that night.)

omelette with bitter gourd

stirfried kang kong with fu yu ("bean cheese" or fermented bean paste)

si chup (bean paste) fish head

chef's special tofu

We liked the omelette and the kang kong well enough. Too bad the fish head was a little overcooked. The tofu was a hit though. No doubt there was more to it than just tofu...

Shen Ji

Of the two places, this is the more well-known, plugged as it is by Moses Lim. (Check out the newspaper cuttings and photos plastered on the walls.) For those who like zi cha, this is the place to come to, in Holland Village. It's the only one with the REAL wok hei (wok energy?), especially if Mr Too-Big-For-His-Boots XO Fish Head Beehoon is discounted.

deepfried tofu with water chestnut

stirfried tou miao

pai kuat wong (sweet and sour pork ribs)

sam lao (stirfried rice noodles with sliced fish and beansprouts)

The overall standard of the food was good. The tofu here was well done too.

For those who prefer a more restaurant quality to their zi cha, Shen Ji would be the better bet. We liked Kelong Barbecue too for its homecooked fare.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Restaurant, Not the Airline

Except for the tres hip decor, Garuda, run by the Tung Lok group, is a traditional nasi padang restaurant. One can order from a menu, but the restaurant has opted to let customers continue to pick and choose what they want from the traditional array of dishes.

gado gado (tofu and vegetables with peanut sauce)

anti-clockwise from down centre: bergedil daging (potato cutlet with minced beef), crispy salty fish, omelette and paru goreng (deepfried beef lung)

ayam kampung goreng bumbu (fried chicken with spices) and sayur lodeh (vegetables cooked in coconut milk)

tapioca leaves with salted fish

ikan gulai (fish curry)

es teler (avocado, jackfruit, red beans, jelly and coconut milk, topped with a ice kachang style chocolate syrup) on the left, chendol (red beans, jelly and coconut milk, topped with palm sugar) on the right

Despite the ultra-modern look and feel to the place, the food tasted authentically delicious (or deliciously authentic...) The fried chicken was a hit all round. HM and I both liked the tapioca leaves with salted fish, and HM dug the crispiness of the paru. The peanut sauce accompanying the gado gado may have been sweeter than the local usual, but ES and HM really enjoyed it.

Having said that, nothing was to die for. Therein lies the rub. At S$30 a head (for that meal at least), people are wont to expect more. Still, I'd sooner eat at the restaurant than fly the airline *shudder*


Photography Practice


and what's that?

a green pigeon, a pink necked one perhaps?

peekaboo - a blacknaped oriole, I believe


Friday, September 21, 2007

Shang3 Yue4 (Bing3) Or Appreciating the Moon(cake)

HM surprised me with a box of mooncakes from Home's Favourite. We had been wanting to try their mooncakes ever since we walked past their Joo Chiat Road shop a month ago. The fragrance of the durian was mouthwatering. Chancing on their stall at Bugis Junction's mooncake stall, HM wasted no time in grabbing a box of their best. Now, these weren't ordinary durian mooncakes....

lookit these!

a peek inside

Coated with a special ingredient that rendered the mooncake skin black, the taste was more complex than usual. The mystery ingredient which tastes slightly bitter offset the richness of the durian and therefore heightened the durian-ness of it at the same time. Excellent stuff! Well done, HM! *clap clap clap*

To find out what the secret ingredient is, google "Home's Favourite Black Durian Mooncake". There are two versions of this - the ones we bought were the less fancy ones, without the truffles etc.


Bad Breath...

This Australian prime rib chain landed on our sunny shores sometime last year, but there was a distinct lack of customers that was not inspiring. There is a upstairs seating area that could have been full, for all we knew, but this chain has 68 outlets Down Under, according to the Australian website. Surely there should be crowds beating down their doors? The restaurant gave out flyers, advertised huge discounts on their billboards, even put some poor sod into a, what else, pig suit and made him walk around the village, but apparently to no avail. We only noticed a crowd developing on weekends after the restaurant revamped the downstairs area and turned it into a bar. Not the best advertisement for its food, I must say, but hey, at least then we saw people!

Needless to say, we held off checking the place out till, craving some grilled chicken last Friday night, we decided to give it a chance, especially since the billboard outside advertised a 30% discount off mains for UOB cardholders. That night, we were asked if we had a reservation. No, we didn't. Then we were seated downstairs in full view of passers-by, because, according to the waitstaff, the upstairs area was full. Ok, good to know that the restaurant was doing some businesss. (Now that I think back on it, it might have been empty upstairs. We could have been strategically placed to demonstrate that the restaurant was drawing customers!)

diet coke

HM wasn't feeling that hungry so we decided to limit ourselves to a main course each, although as usual, I couldn't resist trying a mug of soup, just to get some insight into the rest of the menu.

cream of mushroom soup

The soup indeed came in a mug. Other than the novelty value of the presentation, there was little to recommend it. The soup was thin and characterless, reminiscent of Cup O' Soup. I think I've had better soup at Han's...

chargrilled chicken with fries and salad

prime rib half slab

The mains were better, but only slightly. The prime rib, the restaurant's signature dish, was tender and falling off the bone, although a leetle bit dry. However, the sauce was tasty but not so you couldn't get it out of a bottle, albeit a pricier bottle, off a supermarket shelf. Still, at least we finished the ribs. The chicken fared worse. I'm not saying the restaurant uses frozen meat, but it certainly tasted that way. HM pushed it around her plate and, even with my help, could not finish the thing.

To sum it up, much of what we tried that night looked, tasted and/or felt as if lots of shortcuts had been taken in terms of food prep. Either that or that a lot of mass production was involved. The mashed potatoes could have come out of a packet ("add water and stir"), the fries from a freezer pack. The plates came wet, as if the food had been microwaved before serving. I don't know whether the kitchen indeed resorted to such techniques, but it certainly tasted that way to me. The only saving grace that night was that we didn't have to pay full price for the meal. The bill came up to $64 before discount, $51 after. At $25 per head, the quality of food at places such as Aston's and Ema's Diner beats this hands down. And if we had wanted something less, we may as well have gone to our friendly neighbourhood western food stall which at least serves a mean pork chop rice and battered cod fish.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Back to Basics

The word, "diner", usually brings to mind a greasy spoon that serves good solid food. The decor at Ema's Diner is more salubrious than that, but the approach to food is still no-fuss.

A casual eatery may seem a little out of place on Greenwood Avenue's fine dining stretch. However, judging from the casually dressed but still obviously affluent clientele, there is demand for a family restaurant amongst the Oshkosh B'gosh-clad set. It was the perfect place for a midweek break anyway. None of us were in any condition to dress up. The place was cosy and comfortable, and great effort had obviously been made to make the restaurant kid-friendly. Seated amongst guests were giant Spongebob Squarepants and Patrick Starfish, and burger-shaped plush toys of various sizes were scattered on tables. We abducted one of these burgers and played with it until we remembered belatedly that kids mean germs. Yuck.

One glance at the menu and it was clear that it was ES' kind of thing - no raw fish, no organ meats, and, best of all, many a gussied up version of processed food. (Oddly enough, ES who disdains quite a range of ordinary ingredients, like tomatoes and mushrooms, will eat the damn things if they're processed beyond the point of recognition. I think it's odd, but HM says it makes perfect sense.)

cream of chicken soup

cream of mushroom soup

fried calamari

The soups were better than what we expected. We expected Campbell's soup in disguise but got reasonably full-bodied affairs with the ingredients still intact, not pureed out of existence, and not overly laden with cream, something less reputable eateries are wont to do to hide a possible lack of stock. The squid was even better. It was light and crispy - yummy!

There was some jostling where the mains were concerned, made more complicated by the fact that KKN hadn't arrived yet and was incommunicado. There were four recommended items on the list of mains. ES first opted for the beef stew, but then HM who was feeling 'delicate' decided to have that as well. So which should we forgo, the nonya chicken rendang, the braised lamb shank or the burger? We had heard that the burger wasn't that good, but then ES decided to give it a shot. Following that, I suggested calling KKN to see if she'd order the lamb shank, so that I could order the nonya chicken rendang. God knows she wouldn't order the spicy stuff but she was not to be found. At this point, ES caved in and decided to switch her order to the nonya chicken rendang. We agreed that I would order the lamb shank, and that we would ensure that KKN ordered the burger by leaving the plush toy burger (the germ-infested one!) right in front of her so that she would be prompted to do so. Phew!

nonya chicken rendang with sayur lodeh and achar

beef stew

braised lamb shank

Ema's burger

Of the mains, the beef stew got the best ratings while KKN and I both thought the lamb was excellent (ES doesn't eat lamb and HM thought the lamb a little 'lamb-y'.) Both meats were tender without being mushy and the accompanying mash was lovely buttery stuff. ES thought her rendang and sayur lodeh wonderful, although HM and I were a little less impressed. The burger was the one boo-boo. While the texture of the patty was good, juicy yet firm, the taste was another story altogether. It was definitely overseasoned and quite unnecessarily so, in my opinion.

apple pie with deepfried ice cream

Sadly, the evening ended on a less than impressive note. We probably should have ordered their signature desserts but whatever the case, the apple pie with a twist is not something I'd recommend to others. The apple slices were dry and somewhat tasteless while the ice cream was just ice cream once the chewy batter had been discarded.

Still, Ema's Diner provides a satisfying experience. We enjoyed the relaxed setting and the heartwarming food. Better yet, it was pretty affordable. The bill came up to $25 per head, including a Tiger beer and two coffees.


Sunday, September 09, 2007


As I am writing this, I am thinking fondly of this meal we just had at Nanbantei. The yakitori (grilled food) joint at Far East Plaza is well-known for being on the expensive side. We had heard of people running up bills of $50 per head and KKN, being a kiam ka na (stingy poker), was initially a tad concerned. So were the prices charged worth it? Let's just say that once the food started flowing, we stopped thinking about it...

maguro (tuna), sake (salmon) and ika (squid) sashimi

lady's fingers, chicken balls, chicken, pork with asparagus

pork with asparagus


foie gras (duck liver)

pork and tomato

beef, pork with leek, chicken balls, chicken

prawn, gingko nuts and mushrooms

shishamo ("Big Mouth" or Japanese smelt)

beef, chicken liver, chicken balls, pork with leek, quail's eggs

oysters with pork

aji (horse mackeral) sashimi

kawa (chicken skin)

amaebi (sweet prawn) sashimi

dessert #1: red bean with glutinous rice

dessert #2 - matcha (green tea) ice cream

Everything was good, but the real standouts were:
  • pork with everything (asparagus, tomato, oyster) - it was all good.
  • grilled squid - grilled squid is a classic in any cuisine.
  • chicken liver - ok an acquired taste I know...
  • chicken skin - sinful, sinful, sinful but so good...
  • gingko nuts - who would have guessed that these nuts would grill so well?
  • shishamo - love the texture and fragrance of the delicate flesh contrasted against the roe
  • and the aji sashimi - KKN discovered, to her surprise, that salmon and tuna are not the only fish in the sea

In the end, the bill came up to, yes, $50 per head, inclusive of one can of Asahi beer and tea all round. It was well worth the price, in my opinion. Now the problem is, do we go back to Nanbantei or check out its competitor, Kazu, in Cuppage Plaza?