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.

Continue Reading

‘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. 

Continue Reading

Review: Shin-Sapporo Ramen, Orchard Gateway

Pic 1.jpg

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

Humans are visual animals, and for restaurants to give people something to look at is nothing new. The Japanese absolutely love that, to the point they have a term (moritsuke) for it, even if that is a term normally used for more refined dishes than ramen. Ramen is fast food. Ramen rarely cries out for artful decoration.

But what ramen could use, visually, is a bit of spectacle, and that’s what Shin-Sapporo Ramen is happy to provide with their new special. They’ve done their bit to hype the new special with a bit of mystery, just calling it Fire Ramen, which could really mean anything. They probably mean ‘fire’ figuratively. I’ve written before about how capsaicin works by tricking your mouth into thinking it’s on fire. That must be what they’re driving at.

Continue Reading

Review: Koh Grill and Sushi Bar, Wisma Atria

Koh Grill and Sushi Bar Wisma Atria Establishing.jpg

Because I have the navigational skills of a blind squirrel, I like to arrive early at dinner appointments just so I can find the place and maybe take a look into it. And to take a look into Koh Grill and Sushi Bar is to glimpse quite the operation, even before the crowds have actually hit – big fillets of salmon lined up on the blocks, the unexpectedly small grill heaving smoke past the slabs of meat placed on it.

In other words, despite its position up at the peak of Wisma Atria, in the heart of Orchard Road, the operation is still of a piece with its location in a food court. I don’t mean this as a disparaging comment, not when food courts are where the majority of our eating still gets done. To supply this sort of demand requires machine-like work, and that’s what Koh provides – a finely tuned machine that satisfies. 

Continue Reading

Review: Hua Ting Steamboat, Orchard Hotel

Hua Ting Steamboat Orchard Hotel Spread

This is an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts.

During my second year in London, we – a couple and I, sharing a ground-floor flat in Brockley – decided to throw a Chinese New Year reunion dinner the time-honoured way, with steamboat. Too lazy to find a shop that sells one of those portable cookers, we ended up using two rice cookers – one with spicy soup, chicken in the other, set permanently on ‘cook’. It was enough, with several refills, to feed 12 or 15 people. More importantly, it’s the kind of meal you remember fondly 6 years later.

My point is that steamboat’s bare essentials really are bare, which makes it both profoundly easy to run a steamboat joint, and very difficult to run a good one. Which part of the meal are you supposed to improve? This is probably why some go for gimmicks; manicures while you are queueing comes to mind.

Hua Ting Steamboat in Claymore Connect, however, takes another route, and they make it clear from the start; the invitation to the tasting asked if I would prefer winter melon and conpoy, tomato and century egg, or maybe shark cartilage as the soup base. Even before I’ve seen the place I’m already favourably disposed.

Continue Reading

Review: Masizzim, 313 Somerset

Masizzim 313 Somerset The Spread
Masizzim 313 Somerset The Spread
The spread.

What I’ve got in simmering away front of me, sitting in Masizzim, is one culture’s answer to an age old culinary problem – the issue of pairing something with chilli. It is a beef stew, kept bubbling by a flame below, spreading a meaty, rounded scent every which way. See, capsaicin is a beautiful, wonderful thing, but by itself it is often far too vicious for a dish. It’s not something that can be used alone. The native Mexicans used the equally formidable chocolate as its foil, but in Europe, while chocolate found its own mates (sugar and milk), they seem to have simply given up on chilli – more’s the pity.

But not in Asia. Just about every culinary culture in Asia, introduced to chilli in the 17th or 18th century, has found its preferred match to the spicy kick. It’s Sichuan peppercorns, citrusy and buzzing; it’s the fermented, marine odours of belachan and fish sauce. Korea’s solution is simple too – the savour of fermented soybeans, sweetness from honey or fruit juices. It is an approach that focuses on the nature of chilli as a fruit, rather than just a hot poker for the mouth. Masizzim gets it, the chilli assertive but not aggressive. 

Continue Reading

Review: Oriole Cafe + Bar, Somerset

Oriole Cafe Bar Somerset Tagliatelle Close Up
Oriole Cafe Bar Somerset Interior
Looks like fall is coming.

Ah, Somerset. Who came up with this idea anyway? Let’s take a large plot of land, and make not one or two malls, but a sprawling, Siamese triplet, one jutting into another, corridors and escalators twisting every which way. There was an article somewhere recently, recounting the mournful travails of shop owners in Orchard Gateway, whose locations – all tucked away in one niche or another – simply did not draw footfall.

Well, I do sympathise. It’s not their fault in any case. What’s happened here, maybe, is architects and developers being a little too inspired by all those operant conditioning mazes, dreaming of a building of mice with disposable income scurrying down corridors towards mealtime, getting distracted and buying a sundress and a pair of shoes or something. But the aspiring mice wranglers seem to have forgotten that the mice here can choose not to go into the maze. Sod it, I tell myself. I’ll just take a right turn here and go right to Oriole Cafe + Bar

Continue Reading

Review: Mon Bijou, Orchard Hotel

Mon Bijou Claymore Connect Establishing

Doing this whole blog thing has really taught me many things, including some things I probably should have known a long time ago. When a friend and former colleague of mine, who now works for Orchard Hotel, brought up Mon Bijou, I nodded along and smiled and said I’d be there, then went off to check Google Maps. And only then did I realise that Orchard Road did not end at the junction with Scotts Road, but went on down to merge with Tanglin.

(Full disclosure: because she’s staff, I had a staff discount on my visits. Thanks, friend!)

Well, looking at it positively, that just means a new neighbourhood to explore, starting with Claymore Connect. Newly refurbished and gradually rolling out its shops, the mall – connected to Orchard Hotel through a subtly positioned walkway – has made a virtue of its location off the main drag. It has the look of a hiding place, a serene refuge for sir and ma’am after a long day of mall foraging. Which would explain why I would never have known about this place, or about this more old-school stretch of Orchard in general. 

Continue Reading

Review: Tanuki Raw, Orchard Central

Tanuki Raw Orchard Central Establishing Shot

First things first – besides their food, Tanuki Raw has also given me a deep appreciation for soundproof glass panels. When we first arrive, the four of us, we are taken through the cool, air-conditioned space and then out into the alfresco area. It’s all very nice, were it not a sunny Singapore afternoon. The air being humid to the point of viscosity is one thing; but the parade of supercars just underfoot on Orchard Road, alternately gurgling and keening, is an altogether novel form of suffering. We plead for, and thankfully obtain, an inside table.

Of course, neither weather nor traffic noise is the restaurant’s fault; I’d say it’s even a glimpse into Tanuki Raw’s multiple natures. The Tanuki in Japanese folklore is a benign but mischievous beast, shape-shifting and fun-loving, and clearly the folks behind this joint – who are also behind Standing Sushi Bar – intend the name to be a mission statement. And people have responded, if Instagram is to be believed; I was first alerted to it by an Instagram-trawling friend showing me photos of its Truffle Yakiniku Don – a flower of rare beef slices surrounding an onsen egg just on the edge of bursting.

Continue Reading

Review: Saveur Art, ION Orchard

Welcome to my parlour, said... (Source)
Welcome to my parlour, said… (Source)

Well, you have to give credit to them – the meal that I had at Saveur Art really made me think. And not just me – all three of us think about the meal, really hard, while strolling from ION to a nearby fast food joint for some soft serve ice cream to cleanse the palate. We mull in long silences. We posit and postulate and reminisce. Were we still as well-versed in econometrics as we were in university, we’d be drawing graphs on paper napkins.

But let’s backtrack a little, to clarify the first premises of our discussion. We were not, like some underfed, cranky jury, debating fiercely among ourselves about the merits of the meal; the point of contention was never its quality, or its lack thereof. Rather, like investigators at a gruesome crime scene, the entire debate revolved around the causes. How? Why? Where did it all go so spectacularly pear-shaped? Had there been earlier signs?

Continue Reading