Monday, October 30, 2006

Noodles in Hell

The ever-increasing reports to do and the impending exams that loom in two weeks, are enough to spook me this Halloween. I think vampires, ghosts and witches would be better off seeking re-employment as cooks, in this time of intense concentration and bitter fight to the end, of exams, that is.

And so happened that I would walk into a quirky restaurant ordering what the menu hails as 'Cooking Pot Hell'. I have always thought of Beppu Menkan as a Chinese-Japanese kind of place serving confusing food based on both cuisines but was surprised when I found out that it is actually Japanese. And that was because of the Japanese offerings on the menu.

Kamado Jigoku ($9.30) is ramen with sliced beef, corn, seaweed and bamboo shoots in Kyushu soup. This 'Cooking Pot Hell' lets you choose your preferred level of spiciness from mild 1, 2 and fiery 4. Although the menu includes levels 6 and 8, the waitress informed me that 4 is already too hot for most to handle and so would not recommend levels 6 and 8. I decided on level 4 and kept my fingers crossed. I have this thing for spicy soup and noodles that restaurants deem 'hot' and which they denote with a string of chilies printed next to the dish in the menu. Many would also come with descriptions such as 'volcano', 'fire', 'hell'... You get the picture. It's not that I am a chilli-padi-munching, Tabasco-swigging Hellboy but more because I am intrigued by their definition of spicy. Call it culinary curiosity.

Kamado Jigoku was really relatively hot, quite numbing such that the heat sensation hit the back of my throat and the upper palate with the first sip. I use the term 'relatively' as I could still stomach it without jugs of ice water but could not avoid breaking into a sweat. I would say that this level of spiciness is acceptable for those with a spicy tongue. Those with less tolerance would be prudent to stick to levels 1 or 2. And those devils with fortified tongues that have somewhat lost their heat perceptions should by all means ask for level 8, at their own risk. The thin slices of beef seemed to lack that wonderful beefy flavour, or perhaps I had momentarily lost my tongue.

Sane people who like to keep their tongues will be glad that Kyushu ramen ($7.30) is also available. This friendly but boring version is not at all spicy and contains almost the same ingredients except for sliced char siew instead of beef and the addition of half a boiled egg. Be warned that the char siew is not the strip of dyed-red roasted pork that most would expect. Instead it is a rolled-up piece of fatty pork that made no sense to me. No hint of it being roasted nor barbecued, I was not convinced of this version. The soup also had a rather powerful porky taste to it. Too porky in fact. The boiled egg was rubbery and would be more aptly called aged egg. Good thing the noodles were more decent with a springy bite without being soggy.

Maybe I should try their paper steamboat the next time.

Beppu Menkan Japanese Noodle Restaurant
Suntec City Mall
Tel: 62386789
(Other local branches at Far East Square and Tiong Bahru Plaza, and two branches in Indonesia and nine in Hong Kong.)

Chew on This: Diners are issued with a $2 voucher for their next visit. Not a big amount by itself but quite decent considering the fact that their dishes do not come at high prices.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Just Another One of Them

I would have tried this place earlier if not for the many unfavourable comments from many people that have somehow reached my ears. Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe seems to be one of the many Hong Kong-styled cafes that have mushroomed all over our island in recent years. And it is pretty confident and brave to occupy two units on the ground floor of Marina Square Shopping Centre. I overcame negative reviews and decided to meet up with the League to have dinner at the chic, Romance-of-the-Three-Kingdoms-designed eatery.

The first page of the menu featured desserts while the rest of the food were what I had expected - dim sum, instant noodles with ham, fried rice, baked pasta etc, and unexpected - milo dinosaur?! I love the food in Hong Kong, be it at street stalls or restaurants. The standard is impeccable and the passion and pride that the people behind the food put into what they whip up is inspiring. However, the food I had tried here was somewhat disappointing for a place with the 'Hong Kong' branding and yet somewhat unsuprising when compared to the Hong Kong cafes here.

The Pork Chop with Fried Egg & Rice ($7.90) came with a scoop of plain rice, a fried egg, a serving of pork chop and a pathetic stalk of bai cai. The pork chop was tough from being over-cooked and was drenched in a brown sauce which tasted part barbeque sauce and part oyster sauce. The best part of the dish was the fried egg which gave me comforting eggy goodness. The standard of this dish is not exactly what I'll expect from a restaurant or cafe, for that matter.

What I find commendable is the Ying Yong ($2.90), a drink concocted by mixing milk tea and coffee. Served in a metal mug, the drink was a refreshing brew. Perfect for hot sunny afternoons. It was rich and milky, striking a good balance between tea and coffee with neither overpowering the other.

I certainly wouldn't mind returning for a drink and maybe a little nibble but for a full meal, I would probably look elsewhere. I can't totally judge the entire cafe as I've yet to try their other stuff but with what I've tried, the food has so far yet to prove its worth. As with all food trends in Singapore, the Hong Kong cafe bubble will face the test of time and of a fussy palate.

Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe
Marina Square Shopping Centre

Chew On This: Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe closes at 2am in the wee morning. Good comfortable place with air-con, for supper.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Waraku dinner

The first restaurant visit by NTU's Deli Aprecio Club (DAC) was to Waraku Japanese Restaurant at Marina Square. I'm glad the response was great because I certainly did enjoy the food and short introduction given by one of their Japanese waitress. Not to mention the fantastic price of only $12 for members and $15 for non-members.

My first visit to Waraku was at their East Coast branch. I was impressed by their authentic food, good service, comfortable restaurant setting and the freshness of the food. Most people would be cautious about good Japanese dining places for the bills there are known to induce almost instant heart attacks. No heart attacks here at Waraku. With affordable pricing that is not extravagant, you and your wallet can both breathe easy.

The Marina Square branch has not too long ago opened together with the revamped shopping centre itself. Waraku kindly arranged for us to sit in one of their tatami mat rooms. Shoes had to be removed before entering the room and instead of sitting crossed-legged, we sat comfortably on the tatami mat with our legs daggling, as you would on a normal chair. A clever twist that allows customers to get that Japanese hospitality dining feel without having to sit uncomfortably in cramp-inducing positions.

A Japanese waitress gave an introduction to Japanese eating culture and etiquette. I really learnt a lot from the points she raised. Before that, I didn't know that the Japanese are very particular about their chopsticks and thankful for their food source. After the informative briefing, food was served. Dinner that evening was a set specially put together by the DAC and Waraku. It consisted of Seafood Kaminabe, Tempura, rice and pickles.

Kaminabe (I assure you it's not a vulgarity) refers to Japanese paper steamboat. A special wax paper which is able to hold liquid and yet not get burnt is shaped into a bowl and placed above a flame. The soup can be miso or just dashi, a basic stock made with konbu(dried kelp), a widely-used seaweed in Japanese cooking. We had the dashi stock which tasted light and umami but grew more intense as the stock got flavoured with the wholesome ingredients. In the Seafood Kaminabe were two whole scallops, a medium-sized prawn, a thick slice of mackerel and veggies like golden mushroom and long cabbage. The only ingredient I found 'authentically out of placed' in the Kaminabe was Tang-o, a slightly bitter, strong-tasting green leafy vegetable that many Singaporeans like to have with steamboat.

The tempura plate came with a prawn, sweet potato and strangely, dried seaweed. Dried seaweed just don't go with tempura. I personally would have preferred lotus roots or mushrooms. The tempura batter was light making the fried items crisp. The oil used did not leave a rancid taste in the mouth, unlike some other sub-standard places.

The food served up that evening was fresh and did not disappoint. But it was too light for a hungry cow. I had to get supper that night. Still, I couldn't complain much for $12. If you are not a member yet, maybe it's time to reconsider eh?

Waraku Japanese Restaurant
# 01-213
6 Raffles Boulevard
Marina Square Shopping Centre

Chew On This: The Deli Aprecio Club is one of NTU's youngest clubs being only about three years old. But already it is one of the largest member clubs in the university. More restaurant collaborations and food trips are also being planned. Contact me if you would like to enquire more about the DAC, join us (Sorry, only open to all in NTU) or if your restaurant/cafe would like to collaborate. Thanks!

Friday, October 20, 2006

My Happy Meal

Where to wile away the sunny afternoon? With the haze still loitering around, I took refuge in Cedele at Raffles City. For those who have yet to pop by the newly-revamped basement of Raffles City, they know not what they are losing out on. Friends of mine would know that I absolutely love Cedele. Wholesome soup, delightful sandwiches, crusty breads and the whole works of wonderful confectionery goodies to warm the heart, nurse the soul and bring on a smile.

Three or four choices of soups are available daily and you can either have the soup neat or pay a little more to have it come with their selections of freshly-baked bread. I decided to go for the Spinach Chicken Soup with the bread option ($7) and thoroughly enjoyed the rich, creamy soup that tasted really like spinach and chicken. It was creamy in a nice way. Not the heavy stuff used to overwhelm poor ingredients. The spinach gave the soup a green colour while small chicken bits provided some bite to the soup. With a few of slices of their breads to go with the soup, it would make for a satisfying lunch.

But sometimes soup alone won't satisfy a creaure with four stomachs, like myself. And that was why I also ordered a Rosemary Chicken Sandwich ($7.50). This has got to be one of my favourites. Fresh chicken meat marinated with rosemary-infused olive oil together with crisp lettuce, tomato slices and cranberry sauce between crusty flaxseed wholemeal bread makes me drool each time. The rosemary imparts a very refreshing note without being too strong, making the chicken extra delicious. I thought it was quite ingenious to pair it with cranberry sauce. Being sweet and tart, the cranberry sauce worked well with the rosemary to produce a well-balanced sweet-savoury sensation.

Okay, so let's see. Four stomachs but so far only two food items. Good thing Cedele has a rather tempting array of cakes, pastries and other confectionery goodies. Onto my plate came a slice of Carrot Walnut Cake ($5) and a Mixed Fruit Pavlova ($4). The Carrot Walnut Cake was tasty with hints of spices and embedded raisins. The cheese frosting was also not too sweet. But I would have preferred if the cake was a little more moist. However, it would still be perfect with a cup of strong tea.

The Mixed Fruit Pavlova was very pretty indeed with strawberries, a couple of blueberries, a slice of kiwi and mango pieces set atop a meringue base. Unlike some bakeries who like to coat their fruit slices with a thick gelatin layer which I find a turn-off, Cedele does it with a very thin glaze. The fruits chosen were naturally sourish to provide some acid and tartness to balance out the sweet meringue. But in my opinion, I think the balance scale is still tipped to the sweet side. Those with a sweet tooth, sugar mummies and daddies as well as tooth fairies won't be complaining though.

And before I ended my wonderful meal, I had to try their Raspberry Thumbprint Cookie ($1) which was staring at me from inside the cookie jar. I hate it when food stares at me. I end up losing the battle most of the time. The cookie dough was buttery and almost like a bit of a shortbread and the red 'thumbprint' in the centre turned out to be chewy raspberry jam. Cute-looking and good-tasting.

I shared the above food with my sister and we enjoyed a lazy afternoon nibbling and people-watching while the world went by. What a luxury to enjoy, especially now that exams are just a month away. Damn.

Cedele by the Bakery Depot
Raffles Shopping Centre
(various branches around)

Chew On This: Cedele prides itself in using only organic unrefined sugar (unless icing sugar is required in the recipe) and unsalted butter that is supposedly a healthier alternative. Another good news is that there is NO trans fat whatsoever in any of their products. All their soups, breads and confectionery items are all freshly made from scratch. Knowing all these certainly gives a comforting assurance that is so rare in this crazy, fast-paced world where short-cuts are everything.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Aglio Ole

'Great Aglio Olio' I was thinking to myself. My craving for pasta led me to Pizza Pazza at Anchor Point. (Yes, a certain Dr Koh would be pleasantly surprised I'm actually in the West.) Pizza Pazza was owned and operated not by an Italian but a Romanian, Chef Peter Bontoi who used to run Il Piccolo in Crown Centre. Word about his 'restaurant food at food court price' spread like wild fire.

Unfortunately, it is one of those places which I had always wanted to try but some how did not get to do so until now. When I got to Pizza Pazza, I was told that Peter has just some time ago sold the business to a local businessman. The Romanian that I was expecting was nowhere in sight. Instead, a Chinese chef whipped up the dishes for me, after the initial language barrier. I watched him cook a spaghetti dish for the lady before me and immediately requested for the same thing. Apparently not on the menu, she ordered Spaghetti Aglio Olio with Prawns ($6.50), pictured at the top of this post. And so did I.

This was just delicious. The simple combination of olive oil, garlic, chilies, prawns and a dash of herbs and pepper made this a winner. Simple flavours melted to give a spicy pasta stained slightly orange with the fragrant crustacean-infused olive oil. Please be forewarned that it is more spicy than the normal Aglio Olio found elsewhere. Request for a less spicy version if you have a low tolerance for spicy food. The only gripe I had was the irritating prawn feelers which should have been trimmed away. It was quite a challenge to wipe perspiration off my face with one hand and to dig between the strands of spaghetti to remove the feelers with the other hand.

The Penne Arabbiata ($4) was less inspiring. The penne was a little over-cooked and the tomato sauce tasted flat. The chillies failed to give it a lift. Edible but also passable.

I also tried the 7-inch pizza ($5). The best part of the pizza? You get to choose from a selection of toppings that includes fresh mushrooms, chicken sausage, artichoke, ham, pineapples, capsicum, pepperoni, bacon and black olives at any combination or select all of them at no additional charge. The baked pizza had a nice, thin chewy crust that was topped with sufficient tomato paste and melted mozzarella cheese. The toppings could have been a bit more but I can't ask too much for a 7-inch pizza that costs $5 can't I?

Some interesting stuff on their menu includes Spaghetti Chilli Crab, Penne Buongustio (chicken, mushroom, onions in a cream sauce), Spaghetti Putanesca (Anchovies, black olives, capers, mushroom, chilli in a tomato and cream sauce), Lobster Crepes and Rotolino Di Melanzane (rolled eggplant).

No more ang moh (Caucasian) chef but Pizza Pazza still holds it's own, though it would have benefited from an experienced ang moh's touch. And yes, it does serve Italian food better than most foodcourt stalls and cafes.

Pizza Pazza
Oscar's Food Mall
(Anchor Point)

Chew On This: Pizza Pazza has a branch in Horizon Food Mall (Causeway Point) and even one in Chongqing, China! Delivery service is also available but not from their Chongqing branch, of course. Call 64743626 to order.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Swede Dreams Are Made Of These...

I bet many of us actually visit Ikea specifically for their Swedish food but are too shy to admit it, preferring to use the furniture there as an excuse. Not me. I've had a craving for Ikea's meatballs for about two weeks and finally got to savour them today. I ordered ten meatballs for $5.80 (a 15-meatball portion is also available) and enjoyed every bit of it. Made of minced beef, pork and breadcrumbs, these ping-pong-sized meatballs guarantee satisfaction. It is served simply with boiled potatoes and ligonberry jam together with a light brown cream sauce. I don't know but there's just something so satisfying about the casual, no-frills Swedish fare served up at Ikea.

If you are trying to figure out just what ligonberry taste like, think of a cross between raspberry and cranberry. These berries grow in the Swedish forests and many people gather them during August to make their own homemade jams and sauces.

Another must eat item here is the Fried Chicken Wing ($2.60 for two and $6.90 for six). Golden-brown with super crispy skin and juicy flesh, it is one of the best chicken wings around. The marinate imparts a slight savoury-salty taste. I don't think it's anything Swedish but it'll sure make the Vikings proud.

Chew On This: If you stay in the east and like me, feel too lazy to travel to Ikea, you can satisfy your meatballs craving in the comfort of your own home. Just buy the stuff from the Ikea food shop the next time you are there and you'll have Swedish meatballs at your fingertips. Grab these: 400g Bottle of Ligonberry Jam ($5), 1kg Pack of frozen Swedish Meatballs($17.50) and 40g Packet of Meatball Sauce Powder ($2).

Ikea Cafe & Restaurant
2nd Floor
317 Alexandra Road

PS: I can't wait for Ikea to open their Tampines branch this year end.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Modern Poverty Fare

How times have changed. The dishes at Soup Restaurant were inspired by Samsui women. These were women who toiled under the hot sun as coolies, doing manual labour especially in construction, in the early days of Singapore nationhood. Life then was tough and hard. Eating was for survival and was more of a necessity than a pleasure.

I describe the fare served here as 'modern poverty' as the dishes were driven by poor economic conditions and were then considered a splurge or extremely expensive but have now become easily affordable, whether eating out or cooked at home. Most people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s would tell you that they ate plain porridge cooked with a lot more water than rice grains. White rice was accompanied by fermented beans, salted vegetables and a drizzle of soy sauce. On lucky days, the family would get an egg or two on the table. A whole chicken was only enjoyed once a year during Chinese New Year.

The Samsui Chicken ($25 for a whole bird), pictured at the begining of this post, is similar to what you'll get for chicken rice. The relatively small chicken was chopped into pieces and sat on thin slices of cucumbers. A light soy sauce with sesame oil lightly doused the smooth and succulent chicken pieces. The minced ginger and sesame oil dipping side was fragrant and sharp. And no, there is no chicken rice-style chilli sauce.

I also tried the Kang Kong (water spinach) fried with Fermented Beancurd ($10.50). For the undiscerning, fermented beancurd, as scary as it may sound, is actually really delicious. It comes in bottles or small vats and tastes rich, salty with spicy fragrant notes. Fermented beancurd adds a nice creamy touch as well. The Kang Kong was stir-fried with garlic and fermented beancurd. I felt that the chef was too heavy-handed on the fermented beancurd, rendering the dish a tad salty.

The Boiled Soup of the Day ($9 for 2-4 people) was Old Cucumber (different from aged cucumber!) with Pork Rib soup. This soup, boiled in one of those earthen pots, was light, refreshing and 'cooling'. 'Cooling' soups are believed by the Chinese to relieve heatiness. People who like to scrape the soft flesh of the old cucumber will be delighted with the tender pieces of the gourd. But I was hoping for the Lotus Roots Soup which I've tried before and which I prefer.

Simple, humble and pretty homely is what I'll describe the food. Have some soup for the soul. And don't expect any fancy dishes or modern Chinese fare.

Soup Restaurant
Suntec City Mall
(various other branches)

Chew On This: When Soup Restaurant was opened at Chinatown a few years ago, former Samsui women, mostly in their 80s and 90s, were treated to a meal there as an appreciation of their hard work and efforts. They literally build this city with their hands.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Price-Buster Beef

$11 for a 300g New Zealand ribeye steak? A figure like this is easily likeable and who bothers about how the price can be so low? Located at a coffeeshop in the Bedok heartland, e.Blackboard has recently opened and is attracting people with their higher-than-foodcourt-standard western food at a fairly competitive price.

The ribeye comes in two sizes, 200g at $9 and 300g at $11. I ordered the 300g ribeye and requested for medium-rare. The steak, while not over-cooked, was unevenly cooked and a tad tough despite the gentle fat marbling. The portion was good although I don't know if it's really 300g of meat that was sitting on the plate. What I would suggest is to use a thicker cut of meat while retaining it's 300g weight. But it's still better than that skinny piece of dead cow slathered with mucky sauce at some western food stall in hawker centres. Eeks!

I also tried the Cajun Chicken ($6.50) which was nice and tender. The Cajun seasoning had really penetrated the chicken thigh and the BBQ-like sauce added a smokey touch. Both the ribeye and the chicken were served with crinkle-cut fries sprinkled with Italian herbs and a pile of coleslaw. What I found interesting was that they added red cabbage which gave a lovely pinkish hue and golden sultanas (otherwise more commonly known as raisins) which provided a sweet contrast to the citrus-infused mayonnaise dressing.

Although I did order the Fish and Chips ($5) and Grilled Lamb Chops ($8), a bad habit of mine deprived this blog of their pictures. Too hungry and having not had breakfast, I happily gobbled them up, forgetting about the digital camera sitting in my pocket. Nonetheless, I shall just briefly review them.

First, the Fish and Chips were pretty good with the thinly-battered dory fillet being firm and fresh. But I found the portion too small to justify for it's price. The Lamb Chops on the other hand were, well, scrawny and below standard. I would certainly give it a miss.

Overall, I feel that e.Blackboard serves western food that is better-tasting and of a better quality than most of their hawker centre and food court counterparts. The price is slightly higher but still reasonable. I would definitely pop-by again if I happen to be in the vicinity but I doubt I'll purposely make my way there just for their food...Unless the blackboard changes.

e.BlackBoard (inside 18 K K Eating House)
Blk 18 Bedok South Road
Opens from 11.30am - 9pm
Closed on Mondays

Chew On This: e.Blackboard also provides delivery services. Call Brian at 91776074 to enquire.