Bites: Burrito, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill

So I don’t think anyone has questioned my zeal for Mexican food – or at least food from a certain corner of Mexico which has percolated to our shores. (The day mole becomes widely available here will be a very good day.) But if someone were to question this for some reason… well, that’s why I’m putting this out here first. Would Babette write about any Mexican place they come across? Anything that serves a burrito?

Here’s your answer, hypothetical critics. (Also this. And come think of it, this too. I’ve got a track record, people, I’ve got evidence.)

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Bites: Gyoza and Chicken, Let’s Meat Up, Plaza Singapura

You know, now that I think of it, there’s something the very friendly front-of-house said as I paid the bill which sounds a bit ominous. When I asked her if Let’s Meat Up was a new place, she beamed. ‘It opened one month ago. Our only outlet!’

No one says that last bit if there aren’t plans afoot to change it.

So that raises a question: seeing as Singapore’s food scene has got more chains than your average BDSM dungeon, how much should a new arrival be welcomed? On the plus side, Let’s Meat Up is aimed at a new niche for fast-ish food, namely robatayaki. That said, I have seen robatayaki restaurants, and the place looks nothing like one. The name robatayaki means ‘grilling around the stove edge’, but the standard elements – the open grill, ingredients all laid out – are missing. Which means there’s only the food to go on.

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‘Song Joong-ki’: Seorae, Dhoby Ghaut

This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.

Oh look, it’s the Special Forces boys!

Well, I didn’t think it was that easy to get your attention, ladies. Seorae, on the other hand, knows exactly how this works. A TV screen outside replays the scene of South Korea’s impossibly beautiful soldiers pigging out in one of their restaurants; there’s a life-size poster of that iconic shoe-wearing (shoe-removing?) pose at the entrance.

Yes, they are featured in Descendants of the Sun; I just thought you’d like to know. But what I really took away from watching the scene is the possible reason why I don’t enjoy Korean BBQ that much – it’s because in Singapore we often miss out half the fun. A session at the galbi joint isn’t only about food – it’s about the conversation, and sufficient amounts of alcohol to knock out a commando in the morning. 

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Review: Montana (and Companions), Selegie Road

Montana Selegie Road Interiors.JPG

This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.

The Portuguese Man o’ War is a remarkable beast. (Stay with me, I haven’t lost the thread, I’m going on to Montana Brew Bar.) It looks like one animal, but it’s actually a conglomeration of different animals all sharing the same ‘body’ – one to float, some to sting, others to digest.

It’s an arrangement that works well for the Man o’ War, and the recent trend for Singapore’s cafes seems to be to take the cue from these marine wonders, except that instead of stingers and floats we instead have concepts. Montana has gone down this evolutionary path too. From their original glass-fronted spot at the foot of PoMo, they’ve expanded upwards onto an airy second floor space, and have wasted no time spawning more concepts. Montana is upstairs, along with a doughnut focused space called Fabulous Dough; downstairs is South Bronx, focusing on burgers and chips.

At first glance, I’m not sure it is the best arrangement. I can imagine having a burger and a waffle in one sitting, but not if I have to shuffle up and down the stairs just to order it. Or at least this is what I thought before I saw anything of their waffles or their burgers. Now I will just like to assure my readers that it’s probably fine to choose just one. 

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Review: Hong Tai Yang Theme Restaurant 弘泰扬, Selegie Road

Hong Tai Yang Selegie Signboard

They do pay attention to their looks at Hong Tai Yang, but it’s the aroma that catches you. It’s complex – little tendrils of something greasy, aquatic, are mixed with the spicy-salty smell that clings to every place that sells (or proclaims to sell) Chongqing hotpot or Sichuan food. It’s vague, wispy, but there, even when we are the only ones in for dinner this early. And the smell is key. Their English name may say ‘theme restaurant’, but the theme is not for the eyes.

Before we go on, I’ll just say this – if you are quite health-conscious, you should probably look away now. Selegie Road has plenty to please the palate of any who seeks to eat healthily, but Hong Tai Yang cleaves to principles that have animated Sichuanese cuisine – principles like ‘more oil never spoiled a dish’, which a friend told me once while teaching me how to make the alluring, complex fish-fragrance (魚香) sauce of her homeland. In Sichuan, ‘healthy’ means they managed to pick out enough Sichuan peppercorns so the finished dish doesn’t physically hurt your mouth. Still with me? Good. 

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Review: Curious Palette, Prinsep Street

Curious Palette Entrance

Review: Curious Palette, Prinsep Street

The narrow cave barely allowed passage,

But after a few tens of paces

The world opened into spacious brightness…

— Tao Yuanming 陶渊明 (365-427), ‘On the Peach Blossom Spring’

It’s almost like they’re trying not to be discovered, the folks at Curious Palette. Along a stretch of shophouse bars and cafes with all the tried and tested lures dangling out – upper-floor signboards, greeters at the gates – they’ve opted for a waist-high blackboard with the shop name thinly chalked in, placed to the side of the glass door, half hidden behind a step. It’s almost like they’re hiding in shame, and it turns out they are, as I order the seven spiced chai latte and the svelte server is forced to divulge their terrible secret.

‘Um, our cinnamon hasn’t actually come in yet, so would you still like your seven (six) spice chai latte?’ Quelle horreur.

Well, every new restaurant needs a little while to get things in order, and Curious Palette is very new indeed. The fourth cafe by Ryan Tan of Papa Palheta and Strangers’ Reunion, its feel is more stripped down, adapted to the long, narrow space it’s taken over – skylights for abundant natural lighting, fishbowl lamp bulbs and strategically placed staghorn ferns. Inside, the long counter forms the centrepiece of the setting; where it’s sleek and unadorned, the dishes and drinks that issue from it are big, generous affairs.

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