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...).