I like wandering malls on those few holidays when most shops are closed – Christmas in London, CNY here. Maybe, as a reaction to the festival, it has the same logic as the people who go overseas during this period – just to get away from the socialising that would be necessary if they were here. It’s also interesting to see which few places are still open.
To find that Riverside Grilled Fish is among the open restaurants, though, is a real surprise. Of all the Asian imports in the Raffles City basement, only the ones from China and Taiwan showed up. But unlike neighbouring Din Tai Fung, Riverside was not rammed to the gates with white people. In fact there was only one white guy, at the next table. We’ll get to him shortly.
My friend D is a living example of cosmopolitanism – he comes from Italy, studied in Ireland and the UK, lived for a year in Japan, works across Europe, is in love with a Singaporean. More to Babette’s point, he knows and loves eating. He can hold forth on the virtues of Italian food today, and be a partisan in the Fukuoka ramen chain rivalry tomorrow. (He supports Ichiran. They aren’t in Singapore, unfortunately.)
So when he proposes a ramen joint – especially one that his friend from Japan recommended – I’m all too happy to go along.
Ikkousha is a relative newcomer in its native Kyushu, seeing as its founding date was during the Heisei era. But in Singapore, it’s been around since 2014, which would count as ‘established’. The Chijmes branch, nestled in along a whole stretch of Japanese joints, puts out an open welcome with its warm lighting and wood-based decor.
I’ve been playing a game of hide and seek with KOKI Tamagoyaki for a while, albeit in my own mind. Twice I’ve come too late for there to be any of their choux puffs. But this time I’m here – five minutes before the teatime offer ends, when the shelves are full of the goods. Yes.
Koki is, as the name suggests, a tamagoyaki place – serving the square-pan, rolled, mildly sweet Japanese omelettes with a range of toppings. Except that even now its dessert options – choux (or ‘shuu’) puffs – are already overshadowing the egg dish. (Honestly, take a look at the Burpple reviews of the place. How many tamagoyaki pics do you see? Precisely.)
This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.
One of the smaller problems of traditional gender roles, with its demands on men to keep things to themselves, is that there is little consensus about how best to treat a father on ‘his’ day. (I already told you it’s a small problem.) Seen another way, though, this is the best thing for restaurants – a gap they can fill.
So here comes Crystal Jade Prestige to fill this gap with a champagne brunch option. The terms are as follows – for $58 ($48 for DBS/POSB cardholders), you get a choice of ten courses in total from the menu. Another $98 ($88) gets you free flow bubbly. The ten courses include 5 dim sum options (out of a list of 10), an appetiser, a wok-fried dish, a soup, a roast meat and a dessert.
It’s funny how chicken, which is just about the mildest and least flavourful meat, has one of the most distinctively flavoured fats. My favourite step in making homemade chicken rice is the rendering – low flame and a pot half filled with scraps and skin, and then the slowly spreading aroma, if aroma is the word for it.
At Menya Takeichi, they certainly are aware of how potent this smell can be, judging by the flasks of mild soup they offer to thin out the noodle broth. Nutty, sweetish, with a subtle whiff of feathers and gooeyness from collagen, the stock can reek a little – a property it shares with roasted pork bones, the base of tonkotsu ramen. But can chicken also play well with the versatile, easygoing noodles? Well, in the hands of an acclaimed Tokyoite chicken ramen chain, yes.
This is an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.
I was thinking about the angle for this review while playing Europa Universalis IV at the same time, and it occurred to me – culinary empire-building is not unlike the real thing. It’s always a balance. You can sell people the equipment and a licence and be done with it; Subway does this and they’re everywhere. Or you can keep a shorter leash, keep a firm hand on the reins; the growth is slower, but more of the original is preserved.
You’d think Tokyo Sundubu would take the first path, considering what their specialty is. Sundubu jjigae is a little more complicated than its name suggests, but it’s still a straightforward stew. But no – the Singaporean outpost of the chain, which has grown to some 35 outlets in its native Japan, is adamant about consistency and control over its chief ingredient.
The great thing about street food is that it is pretty much context independent. Because street food can be made anywhere, it seems at home everywhere. And so you can dial back heavily on the decor – everything, from walls to chairs and tables, just need to exist. That’s the vibe of the old pasar – I don’t make it a lovely place with a lovely view, because a view is not what you’re here for.
And because of this, efforts to zhuzh up street food, to make it presentable in a fine restaurant with banquettes and spotlights, can be hilarious. I’ve seen the wonders that sous vide can do to chicken rice (not very wondrous), and tasted the magic that carrageenan does to chili crab sauce (not all that magical). In both cases, the restaurant they built to house the tools had a lot more interest than the ‘refined’ food.
But Pasarbella’s Suntec branch doesn’t need to worry about that, because they’ve gone the other way, pulling street food ‘back into the hood’. They’ve ‘built’ a ‘space’, basically, by slathering it in no-statement graffiti. It’s hideous. I’ve read that it’s ‘inspired’ by the Lower East Side, and am only surprised the Lower East Side hasn’t sued for reputational damage. But maybe in focusing me entirely on the food it fulfils its function.
The Korean lady who runs House of Gimbap needs, in my opinion, to delegate a bit more. The girl at the counter is just there to take the orders; she, on the other hand, is constantly shuttling back and forth, such as when I start asking about the drinks whose names are all in Korean. (I’m not an easy customer, I fear.) Well, every new place is looking for its groove, and better to find it in the kitchen first, as they have, and figure out the service as they go.
The kitchen’s work, as the name suggests, cleaves to a tradition of rice and seaweed rolls whose origins are murky and contentious. The similarity with Japanese makizushi – though sesame oil stands in for vinegar – may suggest it was brought over during the dark decades of the Japanese occupation. Then again, it may have been brought in via more peaceful trade in older times. Yet another possibility – Korea being short of neither gim (seaweed) or bap (rice) – is that they came up with it themselves, probably in response to the same demands for something filling and portable. The paddy field has been replaced with the office block, but the need for portability persists.
This was an invited tasting. Thanks to the hosts and fellow bloggers.
I arrive in Sprigs for the tasting about half an hour earlier than the appointed time, and am taken to the appointed table in an empty restaurant. So far, so normal. But then I start listening to the background music, which I don’t recognise until the main theme is reprised. It’s Bésame Mucho – no, actually, it’s jazz variations on the theme of Bésame Mucho. The music swirls out, trails an arc, and then comes right back to the old theme again.
In retrospect, maybe this was a sort of signal they were sending, consciously or not. The stuff we eat at Sprigs, which is pushing out its new menu, is a little like that music – each dish a different tune, but with similar motifs popping up here and there. The new menu itself was created by Shubri, the chef de cuisine (who’s been with them since the start, and with Gunther’s down the street before), with Titus, the co-founder who is in attendance at the tasting.
The other impression I get before anything hits the table is of the PR, which is pretty competent and thorough. They do part of my work for me, which I always welcome. I do like the 1.8m (metres, not millions) paintings of everyday objects. The high, black benches at some of the tables must be great for dates.
The eagle flies on Friday; Saturday I go out and play…
— T-Bone Walker, ‘Stormy Monday’
I sometimes wonder if I’m a little too easy to please. Case in point – I liked Morganfield’s before I’ve had any of the food, before I’ve even really seen the menu. It’s not so much what it looks like – comfy benches, clangy, heavy metal chairs, a small forest’s worth of wood panelling all around the interior, contrasting with the sleek bar that slouches at the entrance. It’s a polished, dapper attempt at looking easy and down-home.
Elsewhere, maybe this would raise my hackles just a little. But then the soundtrack makes up for it, and more. I love blues music; the twelve-bar blues is to music what the sonnet form is to poetry, an apparently strict and simple framework that turns out to hold endless creativity. It’s about the softest of my soft spots, mellow yet mischievous.