Thursday, August 31, 2006

Xin Chai Chou Tofu, Geylang, Singapore

I developed a love for smelly beancurd years ago when I was in Taiwan. It's one of those dishes that you normally smell before you even see it and I must admit that the first time I smelled it, a spew of expletives involuntarily escaped from my mouth. I'm glad I managed to find a place in Singapore that does it at Xin Chai Chou Tofu, 795 Geylang Road, just before Lorong 41. Although it's not the best I've tasted (actually the best I've tasted was in Shanghai, I hear it originated from Shaoxing?) it does do the trick when I get those smelly beancurd cravings.

This place does it the more conventional deep-fried method (I had some really tasty grilled smelly beancurd in Taiwan). It comes with the standard chilli sauce and pickle on the side. As they are fried to order, they turn up piping hot, the chilli could have been spicier though.

Another dish I had to order when I saw it on the menu were deep fried large pig intestines. This is very rare in Singapore now and this place does it pretty well. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside I enjoyed this a little more than the smelly beancurd although it was a little pricey at SGD3.50 for this little teaser plate whilst the more decent serve of smelly beancurd cost about SGD3.


The Tea Party, Sixth Ave Centre, Singapore

Sometimes it's nice to find a place to chill without alcohol. I don't really drink coffee regularly so The Tea Party is just my cup of tea (please forgive me, I couldn't resist it haha).

Despite coming to this place quite often I only just took notice of this sign (maybe it wasn't here before?) on the front door. It's a nice little ego boost because the little wheels starting turning, then you start to think to yourself, "Busy professionals actually dine here? Hmm.. I dine here... wait a minute.. I could be a busy professional.... I AM a busy professional" I like it how they put the "actually" in italics as well, seems as though someone was trying to dispute that fact haha. Ok, I digress for far too long, let's move on to the food stuff.

This place has about fifty different varieties of tea. They used to have about a hundred varieties before but streamlined their menu about two months ago. Then again, fifty is still a huge selection and would satisfy most tea connoisseurs. They provide sugar and milk but I normally drink my tea straight. Having a hot cup of tea whilst lounging back on their comfortable suede sofas is a great way to chill into the night or early morning (they open till 2am on weekends).

I normally come to this place for a post-dinner chill out so although they serve some savories on the menu like pizzas and pastas, I just go for some of the sweets. This slice of blueberry cheesecake was rather unremarkable. It did not taste creamy enough, in fact it tasted almost gelatinous in texture. It was a huge slice though, so whatever quality which was lacking was made up with quantity (still rather unforgiveable in my opinion). I reckon they need to source for a better supplier of cheesecakes since they do not make theirs on the premise.

On the other hand, Tea Party redeems herself by serving some of the best scones I've had in Singapore, in fact there were on par with the ones I had at Flutes. Slightly crisp on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside, accompanied with the whipped creamcheese (you can opt for butter instead if you so please) it's just a little chunk of heaven. It's only flavored by the fruit that's in it such as raisins or cranberries so it won't be too sweet and overpower your cup of tea. I'm sort of confused if they make these on the premises because I asked them if they did about half a year ago and they said "no" and this time they said "yes". Doesn't really matter though, they still taste good.

Due to it's rather secluded location which is rather inconvenient if you don't drive and slightly above average prices (a pot of tea costs about SGD7.00), this place doesn't see your typical crowd of kids like the larger chains such as Starbucks, Coffeebean etc... which can be good or bad depending on what sort of crowd you prefer, but I like to end my weekends on a quiet note, listening to soft chillout music, sipping a cup of tea, nibbling a scone and not overhearing any adolsecents whine about how "sucky" their lives are.

On a final note, please do not fall victim to the stupid concept of creamcheese rationing. I love the creamcheese so much that I always only put tiny amounts on my scone and at the end, I'm left looking silly with a crumb of a scone and huge dallop of creamcheese. I don't know about you but I seem to constantly fall victim to the ~insert any delicious condiment here~ rationing scam.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Chew Kee Eating House, Upper Cross St, Singapore

If there are any eateries in Singapore that are worthy to be defined as an institution and has stood the test of time, Chew Kee Eating House would probably be one of them. This place has been around for a long time (it was here even before i was a little kid!) and I'm so glad it's still here after I've been away for awhile. Although this place calls themselves an "Eating House", there's only one thing worth coming here for - the soy sauce braised chicken.

Located at 8 Upper Cross St, it's often rare to find this place without a constant streaming crowd and someone chopping away at a chicken. You know their chicken is popular because they're cooked by the bucketloads. I mean look at that chicken chopper dude, I couldn't even get a clear shot because he was always on the go.

Ok, enough of the tease, let's bring on the star of the show. There are only two factors in making excellent braised chicken, one - the sauce, two - the texture of the chicken. Chew Kee has mastered both. The sauce is very fragrant and rich without being salty (a result of using good quality soy sauce) and the chicken is just so tender. The chicken breast is as tender as the thigh and the thigh is as tender as ... well .. er.. the thigh (haha what were you expecting?).

You can choose to have your chook with either chicken rice, egg noodles or flat rice noodles. I often opt for the egg noodles because it's more of a Hong Kong style way of dining. Their chicken rice is not bad either although some of my friends prefer it more oily. A good dash of the soy sauce from the chicken and their garlic chilli on either noodle or rice elevates this dish just that little higher for overall enhanced gustatory pleasure. They have pretty decent water dumplings as well but unfortunately were sold out today. On a final plus point, this place happily feeds a person for under SGD10.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Kuriya Dining, Great World City, Singapore

It's hard to find a Japanese restaurant in Singapore that does seasonal kaiseki, let alone one that does it well. Kuriya Dining is located at unit #02-42 in Great World City along Kim Seng Road. It's tucked away in a little corner on its own and you almost forget that you're in a bustling mall the moment you enter.

I always call in advanced to find out what the seasonal menu is(they change it every month) so I would not be in for any surprises. I remembered once how they had seven courses based on white radish - it was too healthy for my liking. The August menu focused mainly on seafood and knowing that Kuriya airflies most of their seafood from Hokkaido, it was a pretty safe choice.

An appetizer platter of jellied fish roe, sweet-simmered river shrimp, pumpkin tofu, grilled eggplant and cream cheese with prosciutto. Of all these five appetizers I really only enjoyed the grilled eggplant (love the bonito flakes on top), the shrimp (marvellously sweet) and the cream cheese with prosciutto (funny how they didn't mention the huge wedge of advocado that came with it). The pumpkin tofu tasted both savory and sweet which didn't agree with me really well and the jellied fish roe just tasted weird.

Sashimi platter, I'm not a big fan of raw fish but I was informed by my dining companion that it was extremely fresh and tasty, so I'll have to take her word for it. I have to admit it did not have any stale fishy smells that you often get from sashimi that isn't particularly fresh.

Grilled seabass with sea urchin sauce. I don't know why, I have tried many times to like sea urchin and its roe but never really succeeded because I find the fishiness in it just too strong. So I thought to myself, sea urchin sauce, now surely the fishiness can't be that strong. Well, apparently sea urchin has the ability to transcend most mediums and even as a sauce it was slightly too strong for my liking. I would have preferred it if the seabass was just grilled with some teriyaki sauce instead.

This was exactly what I needed to get rid of that fishy flavor from the sea urchin sauce. Marinated surf shell and broccoli with cucumber-vinegar sauce. The puddle of sweet rice vinegar which everything sat on blended in nicely with the crunchiness of the broccoli and the freshness of the surf shell.

This dish of deep-fried minced crab and fish meat tasted more Chinese than Japanese but that didn't matter because it was still very tasty. The minced seafood was wrapped in a springroll skin before being deepfried and dunked in a consomme of mushrooms and dried scallops.

The last savory course was a pretty fun DIY dish where you get to pour piping hot soup from the teapot into your rice bowl and mix it with the rest of the condiments.

The tea-based soup was actually very mild in flavor so it did not overpower the beef and and the overall taste was still subtle enough to accompany the stronger flavored picked items.

The seven course kaiseki ended with Kuriya's predictable dessert. Predictably good that is. Today's dessert consisted of seasonal fruits, strawberry icecream and mango custard.

All in all, with kaiseki it's abit of hit and miss sometimes but despite some bummer dishes it was overall an enjoyable experience. Great thing about kaiseki lies in the fact that it's Japanese food in courses, you get the opportunity to have some proper conversation with the people you're dining with and you're never rushed at any point in Kuriya.


p.s: In case anyone was wondering, the glass of beer right at the top is Kirin. They serve Kirin and Asahi here, but from the bottle. It's a pity the only beer they have from the tap is Tiger.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Chinese Mutton Soup, Crispy Dumplings, Bukit Merah View Hawker Centre, Singapore

Bukit Merah View Hawker Centre is actually located at 115 Bukit Merah View. Duh, the reason why I had to clarify this is that I've always called this place Henderson Hawker Centre instead because it's off Henderson Rd, the road I always use to get there.

Today I had a craving for Chinese mutton soup. This stuff is actually rarer than the Indian/Malay ones (sup kambing). Mutton like lamb, is pretty much a love-hate-relationship, you either love the stuff or don't. I've yet to come across more than 10 people so far who are indifferent to mutton. Funny thing though is people love or hate it for the same reason - its smell (or aroma as I affectionately I call it).

As far as I know, Cai Chuan Tou is the only Chinese mutton soup store in this hawker centre and they do it quite well. I think it's a lot better than the overrated one on Kitchener Rd. They mainly use ribs here but you can request for more exotic stuff like brain and stomach. I normally just go for the ribs. The meat is tender, succulent and slides off the rib smoothly. The soup is also quite tasty with some herbal undertones.

As the soup itself was only semi-filling, I decided to order a side from this store that is relatively new in this hawker centre. It claims to do Shanghainese dishes but don't expect any authenticity here, their "pulled" noodles (la mien) is not pulled but pushed! Pushed through a pasta machine that is haha. Well, some credit needs to go to them for making their own noodle dough at least.

I don't think this dish is really Shanghainese because I don't recall seeing it in Shanghai but it was crispy, greasy and meaty. The filler provided quite a hearty bite and there didn't seem to be much flour in it. I do wish they would pour the sauce on a separate sauce dish though, then I wouldn't have to sacrifice one dumpling to go soggy by creating this little dumpling-sauce-dam-like-structure as shown above.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Owen Seafood, Turf Club City, Singapore

Having seen the advertising for Unique Seafood flogging a 50% off on weekdays and a 30% off on weekends a few times. We finally gave in to curiosity and drove to Turf Club City. Despite their constant advertising, we were never really quite keen on checking out the place because it seemed like another rip-off, phony seafood house. Nevertheless we decided to go there with an open mind and see what came out of it. Our expectations sort of dipped a little lower when we were greeted by this cheesy-looking, pseudo, football-club-looking crest. I mean, seriously; an inverted Olympics logo with a cap-wearing crab? What were they smoking when they thought of this?

As advertised, most of their seafood are live in tanks which made it seem rather similar to Long Beach at East Coast, but I have to admit their selection was pretty impressive. We were indeed spoilt for choice.

Another plus point about Owen Seafood is that they do not charge any corkage (but don't expect Champagne flutes) and as we were sort of celebrating a belated occasion, I decided to bring along a bottle of Moet and Chandon, Reserve Imperiale, it was an excuse to order more oysters you see haha.

We started off with a steaming hot plate of bamboo clams. Not too bad I must say, although I still think the ones at Tian Tian are a notch higher because the garlic is fried a little longer to extract their fragrance.

Then came the steamed oysters with black bean paste. This was just a little too salty, it would have been better if they used whole black beans instead because the saltiness practically drowned out any natural sweetness and flavor of the oysters.

We opted to have a set of large Canadian oysters baked with cheese. Although this may sound weird, the cheesebake was actually less salty than the steamed little ones with black bean paste. The cheese could have been creamier though, it seemed as though they bulked it up with some flour and cream but overall this was still pretty decent.

Stir-fried big head clams in local chilli (sambal) were next in line. I remembered eating this yoinks ago in a hawker setting but although this was rather tasty, it seemed like a watered down version of the hardcore hawker one i had. The smoky aroma just wasn't present and it somehow lacked "kick". Maybe they needed a larger flame under their wok. Anyone knows what is the standard power rating for gas wok burners in Singapore? Is it 120megajoules at least?

Steamed tiger prawns in garlic. These prawns were prepared in exactly the same manner as the bamboo clams we had earlier on but the sweetness of the fresh tiger prawns helped overcome any gustatory monotony.

More clams, mango-clams or so they're called stir-fried with spring onions and ginger. I prefered this alot more to the sambal big head ones because it had a more delicate touch to its tastiness and the ginger helped reduce any "fishy odor" from the clams. I tasted some Chinese wine in the sauce as well which really aided in improving overall scent and flavor.

When I heard they could cook our white prawns wong kum style(fried with salted egg yolk), I knew I had to see if the localised version could stand up to what I've been used to. This version is a lot wetter, heavier and uses chillies and curry leaves as well, but the fragrance and saltiness of the salted egg yolk still permeated through thus maintaining its identity. I would have prefered it if it was slightly drier but that being said, I still think it was a good effort.

More oysters yet again. We still had some more champagne left so why not? We chose a straight batter and deep-fry method to compare it with Tian Tian's, Owen's version came a close second. The batter was just a tad bit too thick and heavy but we have to be fair to Owen and put things in perspective here. This restaurant is huge and gets the crowds so the cooking is almost on par with mass-cooking. For mass-cooking, this was actually pretty damn good.

The last dish on our seafood barrage were steamed large Canadian scallops with XO sauce (a spicy sauce using dried scallops of Hong Kong origin). These scallops are huge, I mean they had to be sliced across a few times to ensure it would be cooked consistently. The meat wasn't as tender as some other scallops I've had, but none of them were this huge. I was rather impressed that the XO sauce actually contained real dried scallops instead of the popular cheaper dried shrimp to pass off as poor scallop imitations. We just thought it would fun to have a dish that used the very same ingredient to flavor it (a scallop-based sauce with fresh scallops haha) and it actually turned out quite well.

In addition to all the seafood, we also ordered an unremarkable fried rice and coffee pork-ribs. I'll just stick to the seafood when I'm here the next time. If it's not live and moving in a tank, I'm not ordering it. The service here was pretty good as well and your plates were changed the moment they were half-full with some shells, I didn't bother to count but I think my plate was changed at least 20 times in this sitting. The meal also didn't cost as much as we thought because the 30% discount did buffer it (I'll probably come here on a weekday the next time to enjoy the greater 50% discount). I sort of liked how they printed your non-discounted price on the bill as well which gives you a cheap psychological thrill because you get to see how much you have "saved" haha.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tempeh Chips

Tempeh is a very versatile dish and is also relatively cost-efficient (you can get a small slab for as little as SGD40c). Made from fermented beans, it has a unique flavor by itself and requires little seasoning. This is an interesting snack I concocted quite recently which turned out really well. It's not only great for your vegan (apparently some people do not eat meat!) friends but is also a protein-enhanced alternative to your regular potato crisps.

Warning: This is VERY easy to make.

1. Tempeh
2. Batter
3. Oil for deep-frying

1. Mix some batter, I normally make an eyeball 50/50 mix of corn and rice flour mixed in cold water
2. Slice your tempeh into really thin slices, approximately 2-3mm in width
3. Dip your tempeh into the batter and let any excess run off
4. Deep-fry them till golden crisp
5. Let the chips drain on the side before serving hot


Hai Kee Teochew Cha Kua Teow, Margaret Drive, Singapore

You know that a place is pretty decent when you rock up half an hour before they're opened and you're still not the first one in queue. This place was Hai Kee Teochew Cha Kua Teow at unit1-550 in the Commonwealth Avenue Cooked Food Center. I have been asked repeatedly by a colleague to check out this joint and finally found the time to do so. I'm damn glad I did.

If a hawker's only decor is a solitary lightbulb under his sign, it can only mean that he channels the rest of his efforts into honing his art. Then again, maybe the lightbulb is a visual representation of an idea, an idea to create one badass Cha Kua Teow.

This guy is almost a purist when it comes to his version of cha kua teow. The only ingredients used are blood cockles (extremely fresh here), chinese sausage, eggs and beansprouts (hence making it healthy and balanced). His generous use of pork lard in conjuring up this dish is most appreciated. I bit into a crunchy piece of lard that I reckon was as huge as a fifty-cent coin. I ordered the upsized version at SGD3.50 and it was sufficient for two to share. He doesn't mind custom-orders as well, so don't be afraid to ask for less or more chilli, garlic, sweet sauce, oil (don't kid yourself) etc. Lastly, for the health freaks, he does have a "B" score for his store, so this is healthy eating. Then again, I'll still join the queue even if he's got a "F".


Friday, August 25, 2006

Nasser Elmassry Restaurant & Shishah, Bangkok

Due to popular demand, some of my Thai friends have asked me to post something based on my travels in Bangkok. A little forward before we begin; I love Bangkok's food scene. They have a lot of varieties of food done to very good standards. In fact, Bangkok has the largest population of Japanese living outside Japan and as such many top notched Japanese restaurants are available here, from the mass produced sushi outlets to fine dining on wagyu, Bangkok has it all. So what is more befitting then to do a post on (you guessed it) - Eygptian food haha.

Nasser Elmassry Restaurant & Shishah on 4/6 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1 in Nana serves mainly Egyptian fare with some Indian influences, which explains this refreshingly cool glass of mint lassi - just the thing for a hot Bangkok arvo. Unlike most versions you get in Singapore, this one wasn't too sweet which I enjoyed alot.

Nasser does one of the best pita breads I've tasted across the world. Baked to order, you have the option of having it straight, with garlic or butter. Eaten with the sides of stuffed vegetables, humus, pickles and lamb shank stew this is ideal for a light snack or afternoon tea.

A special mention needs to be said about their hummus. The adding of olive oil and tangy chopped cherry tomato salsa on the top was excellent. Their hummus was also served lightly chilled which is the way I normally prefer especially on a warm day.

The obligatory vegetable dish for this meal was the tomato-based vegetable stew. The stock tasted as rich as some tomato soups I've had in fine dining and the vegetables were stewed just right. Not too soft to be mushy with still a lingering hint of crunchiness and bite.

On to my favorite part of the meal - the meats. This is pita bread stuffed with minced lamb. Mind-blowing, that's all I can say about this dish, the spices and hints of chilli in the bread and minced lamb was just so good. The minced lamb was still extremely juicy and tender and any excess juice was soaked up by the bread.

Damn..... just look at those grilled meats. We ordered a combination platter of grilled chicken, beef and shishkebab (grilled minced lamb). The winner on this plate was clearly the shishkebab, which was bursting with flavor and juiciness with every bite. The chicken was a tad bit too dry and lean and the beef was slightly lacking in flavor. The marinades penetrate mince alot easier hence contributing to that kickass burst of flavor everytime I sink my teeth into a chunk of shishkebab.

The only dessert this place had that interested me was the crème caramel which is French in origin (also known as "flan" in Spain). I don't know why but this is not the first time I've seen Eygptian or Middle-Eastern joints serving crème caramel. I know the French established colonies in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon so maybe this was just a dessert diffusion of sorts. I was so hoping to get some baklava but none of the Middle-Eastern restaurants in Nana seemed to serve it. I mean they knew what I was talking about because they kept saying "Baklava" and nodding their heads with huge grins in return when I queried about it, they just didn't serve it.

Turkish coffee was the best way to end this meal because the crème caramel was slightly too sweet for my liking. Turkish coffee is done slightly differently from conventional coffee because the ground coffee beans are not percolated but rather boiled together with the water making it alot stronger and bitter.

Bangkok is indeed a food haven and some good finds serve food very authentic to their origins and besides Bangkok is heaps closer than Egypt. On a last ending note, Nasser does have a smoking corner upstairs for your shishah and hookah cravings.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Botak Jones, Ang Mo Kio, Singapore

The quest for a good steak will bring you to many places. Today it brought me to Botak Jones at Block 608 Ang Mo Kio Ave 5. As I was rather famished, I decided to go for the 400g NZ Airflown ribeye steak which we'll talk about later because there's always room for starters no?

The chicken gumbo was quite a hearty feed. There were also a few token chunks of hotdog (sausage) in it which gave quite a nice salty bite. The serving for regular was rather small though, so maybe next time we'll order large instead.

Stuffed jalapenos came next. I quite enjoyed this not only because was the cheese within melted and hot (beware getting the pizza palate) but the jalapenos actually had a little kick in them which was a really good way to jumpstart the meal.

As you can see, the 400g ribeye was only slightly thinner than the 500g ribfillet I had in Margaret River. As you can further see, my medium was more like a medium-well. I really wanted to kick myself in the ass because I could have gotten something slightly more bloody (tender). I have to be more explicit in my instructions the next time. But it was a good cut and although it was slightly too cooked for my liking, it still had a nice beefy flavor and was reasonably tender.

Continuing the trend of going overboard, we simply could not order the standard botak burger. So we went for the double botak burger and the

"U-Crazy-What?" burger (I like food that questions my sanity). The patties were juicy and beefy. There were no evidence of excessive filler breadcrumbs in it either. The only beef (cringe at the pun haha!) I've got with it is firstly, the patties tend to make your bun soggy due to the residual juices in it and secondly, the cheese on the "U-Crazy-What?" tasted more like generic Kraft slices rather than the purported chedder.

White meat is supposedly good for you, so for safe measure we ordered the cajun chicken as well. Couldn't really go wrong with a tender and well-marinated chicken breast fillet topped with some cheese and chilli. The spices and chilli could have been more spicy (hot) though, but overall it was rather pleasant.

A nice touch to this place is that they provide mustard and HP steak sauce. I think they deserve some credit for going that extra mile. I remember drawing blank stares from Jack's Steakhouse once when I asked for steaksauce and I got it here at a coffeshop without even asking. For those with a local palate, despair not, for they do provide bottles of ketchup and chilli sauce so you can douse (read as "drown") your food in copious amounts of the stuff. I spied bottles of malt vinegar on other tables as well so I guess you can have that with your fish and chips.

To end the meal, we ordered the only dessert they had on their menu (seems they're not happy with the quality of the cheesecake from their previous supplier and are sourcing for a new one now). I'm not sure if this slice of cake fits into the "made-fresh-to-order" category in their little introduction on the front of the menu, I mean, surely they could not have baked it fresh as I waited? Well, the 15 minute wait made it seem as though it was. The cake on the other hand was nothing spectacular, tasting just slightly above average to your typical sponge cake. Maybe they need to start sourcing for a new chocolate cake supplier too.

To sum it up, this place actually serves pretty decent fare and whoops the pants off other mid-ranged steakhouses. Their sides of seasoned fries and coleslaw are worth a mention too. Just state your steak cooking instructions really explicitly and avoid the sweets until they have sorted out supplier issues.

Lastly, I do appreciate their use of casual swearing in their slogan "Damn Good Food at a Damn Good Price" and if this trend continues, I hope to taste some "F**king Good Food at a F**king Good Price" pretty soon.