il Lido

il Lido is one of those restaurants that oozes class and elegance in an effortless, understated way. Of course, being perched on a hilltop replete with a magnificent view of the turquoise waters and encircled by lush greens goes some distance in making this a luxurious oasis away from the buzz of the city.

Service was as you'd expect from a fine-dining establishment, impeccable and discreet but attentive. I'd casually mentioned that we were celebrating a colleague's birthday, and they'd planned a surprise birthday cake, illuminated by a single candle, for him. Even I was taken aback because the surprise was so unexpected. But appreciatively so. 

To top it off, the food was fantastic; masterful and exquisite. Best of all, the portions were pleasingly hearty. So even with the upmarket prices, I thought the meal was thoroughly worthwhile. 

Shortly after we were seated, we were served not one, but TWO, amuse bouche! First off was a cup of Porcini Mushroom Soup laced with roasted barley for a little crunch, dusted with nutmeg for levity, and swirled with balsamic for a faint piquancy.

Next up was the Truffle Arancini, a miniature riceball crowned with a truffle shaving, intensely fragrant and wonderfully textured.

The Bread Basket of tepid crusty rolls was so good, we actually finished up them all. No mean feat considering the amount of food we'd ordered.

A tip for the wallet-light: get the extremely value-for-money 3-Course Set Lunch ($38), complete with an amuse bouche and coffee or tea. The daily soup option was a Cream of Asparagus, smooth and thick, fragranced by a splash of truffle oil.

The daily choice appetizer was a melt-in-your-mouth Beef Carpaccio, simply flavoured with shavings of parmigiano and wisps of microgreens and arugula, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

An ala carte menu item, the Green Asparagus & Truffle Casserole ($28) was a bright green soft-boiled egg slurry weaved with garlic croutons and diced asparagus.

For the mains, the pasta-of-the-day was a soft and chewy Homemade Penne with Pumpkin Squash and truffle sand, homey and sweet and mellow.

The daily fish was a perfectly Grilled Halibut with grilled root veggies, a light-as-air pomme puree and brown jus. The crisp of the skin was contrasted by the soft moistness of the flesh.

Off the ala carte menu, the Mushroom Risotto ($35) stirred with stracchino cheese, and topped with shimeiji mushrooms and micro-cress, was sumptuous. A word of caution to small eaters though, this was massively portioned!

The daily dessert option was a Vanilla Panna Cotta, a wobbly cone of delicate cream, balanced by the tart-ish strawberries.

Some of us swopped out the daily dessert for a sweet on the ala carte menu. It was really nice that we were allowed to do that. The Banana Brulee ($18) was sweetened with salted caramel and sided by a rich coconut gelato.

The Hazelnut Coulant ($18) was rich but nuanced, and juxtaposed with a spiced chocolate gelato.

The complimentary birthday cake, a Tiramisu Moderno ($18) was an excellent rendition of the classic Italian confectionery. This was at once heady, creamy and moist.

Another ala carte menu item was the Italian Cheese Platter ($28), a fine selection of the blue, fontina and parmigiano varietals. Dates, fig compote and some rustic garlic-rubbed toast were on hand to help mop up every last bit of the funky cheese. 

il Lido
Sentosa Golf Club
27 Bukit Manis Road
Tel: 6866 1977
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Closed on Mondays
Website: www.il-lido.com


En Japanese Dining Bar, Aloccassia at Bukit Timah

This suburban outfit of the En Dining Group at Bukit Timah was launched in the fall of 2013 with little pomp. It'd opened so discreetly that although we've traversed the long stretch of Bukit Timah Road countless times when we were still at our Sixth Ave rental, we've never noticed it.

Until our friends told us about their value-for-money Queen Crab & Seafood Shabu Shabu Hotpot Buffet ($68++ per pax). Considering the quality of ingredients and extensive menu, we thought that the buffet was one of the better ones we've had in a while. While the raw stuff weren't quite up to Tatsuya's par, the cooked foodstuff were pretty commendable. Suffice to say, I'd return, in a group setting, of course. Buffets are always more enjoyable with a whole bunch of peeps.

The highlight of the buffet was the Crab Hotpot, with thick fleshy legs of the red crab lending sweetness to a clear broth loaded with shitake, enoki, cabbage and garland chrysanthemum.

Slivers of Beef, beautifully marbled, and wonderfully robust.

Strips of Pork Belly, decadently fatty, for dunking into the soup.

Udon noodles, fat and chewy, to soak in the broth made flavourful from all the greens and meats.

For appetizers, we had the Sashimi Salad, with hunks of raw fish and roe tossed with a tangy wafu dressing.

One of the 2 must-try appetizers, the Salmon Wafu Carpaccio dressed in Japanese mustard and topped with lashings of fried garlic, was refreshing and tasty.

The other must-try appetizer was the Beef Carpaccio drenched in a ponzu sauce. Excellent stuff.

Though mostly decent, I wasn't as impressed with the Sushi; the Aburi Salmon Sushi and California Rolls were a tad clunky.

Bottom row from left to right: Squid, Flying Fish Roe Maki, Prawn, Swordfish; Top row from left to right: Red Snapper, Yellowtail, Tuna, Salmon. These were fresh but not sparkling.

Ditto for the Sashimi Platter with salmon, tuna, swordfish, red snapper, yellowtail. Nice but pedestrian.

They've a selection of Yakitori, with some hits and misses. From left to right: Enoki Bacon (ok), Chicken wing (dry), Chicken Balls (nice), Pork (dry), Chicken (not bad), Shitake Mushrooms (alright).

The Quail's Eggs were highly anticipated, but fell flat because they were overcooked, tough and rubbery.

Onto the cooked foods, the Ebi Tempura, was fried perfectly, crisp wispy batter, fresh succulent prawns.

A surprising hit was the Stir-Fried Bittergourd with luncheon meat, tofu and egg scramble. This was the first time I'd eaten bittergourd, and it turned out very well. It was soft and its bitter undertones were balanced out by the saltiness of the luncheon meat. 

The highly addictive steamed Edamame, plump and well-salted.

The Grilled Scallops with spicy wafu sauce were a smidge overdone, but the sauce, a blend of the tangy and creamy and umami accents, was really quite lovely.

Another surprise hit was the Crab Fried Rice, choc-a-bloc with shredded kani sticks, and slathered in a luscious eggy gravy that made it so scrumptious.

En Japanese Dining Bar 
383 Bukit Timah Road
#01-01 Alocassia Apartments
Tel: 6235 0080
Open for lunch on weekends only from 12pm to 3pm
Dinners everyday from 6pm to 11pm


The University Club by Prive

The University Club by the Prive Group is one of the finer dining establishments on the NUS campus. The small-ish restaurant is a tranquil oasis in the hive of student activities, with tables spaced far apart for maximum privacy, and diners conversing in hushed tones. Brainiac academia frequent this chilled-out spot, so you're likely to bump into a professor, or two, here.

As with most Prive establishments, the food was a mixed bag with most dishes hovering around the average mark. The somewhat hit-and-miss fare is alleviated by how attractively affordable their set lunches are, with 2-courses and 3-courses priced at only $25 and $28 respectively.

The Smoked Duck Salad (+$2 to the set pricing) was excellent, with nary a hint of game, highlighted by black olives, crispy onions, cherry tomatoes, roasted bell pepper, mesclun greens and a tangy red wine vinaigrette

The clear and light Spinach & Brie Salad featured fried artichokes alongside black olives, cherry tomatoes and puffed buckwheat tossed in a sherry vinaigrette

The Paprika Salami & Sous Vide Egg was a wonderful medley of textures, from the chewy cauliflower cous cous to the crunch of the sweet potato strips, and the half-boiled egg slurry. That said, I didn't take to the salami. It had a sour tinge that didn't sit well with the rest of the parts. 

The Herb Roasted Spring Chicken was outstanding. It was juicy and moist where it needed to be, and flavoursome to the bone. Garlic baby potatoes, roasted parsnip and fresh arugula sided this, but the mushroom cream sauce was a little cloying with the full cream.

The Zucchini & Basil Pappardelle was delicate, if a little bland, drawing on the uplifting peppery accents of the basil for taste.

We all picked the same dessert, a Chocolate Sponge confection of michel cluizel 55% dark chocolate ganache & Raspberry Sorbet. Despite its potential, the fudge sponge was a little clunky, and lacking in refinement. We liked the sorbet though, it was refreshing, fruity and tart. 

The complimentary crusty Bread Rolls were served warm, always a plus point.

The University Club
Shaw Foundation Alumni House #04-02
11 Kent Ridge Drive
Tel: 6779 8919
Open weekdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 11pm for dinner
Saturdays from 11am to 2.30pm for brunch; 6.30pm to 11pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays
Website: theprivegroup.com.sg


Ikea Restaurant, Alexandra

I've realised that Ikea Restaurant is always packed. No matter the day or time of the week, school holiday or not, weekend or weekday, the expansive cafeteria always sports a long snaking queue of diners. It's understandable though; the food is relatively decent and the price points are affordably wallet-friendly.

For a Swedish restaurant, they do fairly commendable local fare, like the Chicken Curry ($4.50), succulent chunky meat dunked in a flavourful and punchy gravy.

The Poached Salmon ($7.90), while less than sparkling fresh, was moist and flaky, highlighted by the dill-accented cream sauce draped all over. The stuffing, while veering on dry, was mottled with herby aromas.

The Chicken Wings ($5.60 for 4), an Ikea staple, was fantastic, if a little skinny. Well marinated and flavoursome to the bone, the skin had a beautiful crisp.

The pork-and-beef-based Swedish Meatballs ($9.50 for 20) were nicely textured and juicy, complemented by ligonberry compote and brown jus.

For dessert, the Butterscotch Cookie ($1), so massive that we shared it amongst the 4 of us, was delightfully chewy and sticky and moist.

Ikea Restaurant
317 Alexandra Road
2 Floor Ikea Alexandra
Tel: 6378 1604
Open daily from 8am to 10pm


Saboten, 313 Somerset

Saboten is synonymous with tonkatsu and all things breadcrumbed and deep-fried. The newly-opened city outlet of this Japanese chain is distinguished by a perpetually long queue, but a couple of our (very indulgent and patient) friends waited in line so we could 'rip off' the benefits and arrived only after they'd gotten a table.

All of the proteins were paired with a rather pedestrian miso soup, chawanmushi cup, pickles and rice, for a complete meal. Sesame seeds, a mix of the white and black varietals, were also given to toss with Saboten's in-house tonkatsu sauce, a lively, worchestershire-like, fruit-based, brown sauce. This was one kind of exceptional, and its bright piquancy brought the sometimes jejune cutlets to a whole new level.

The Ebi Katsu Loin Set ($25) combined a succulent minced prawn cutlet and medium-sized breaded pork loin. The golden breadcrumbed coat was thick and crisp, sealing in the moisture and providing a lovely contrast of textures.

A seasonal special, the Iberico Loin Katsu Set ($28) using the prized Spanish pork, was disappointingly lackluster. It was a little dry, and we couldn't tell if this pork was any different from the usual pork.

We generally preferred the katsudons over the tonkatsu. The Chicken Katsudon ($19) slushed egg scramble with 2 fat slabs of chicken cutlet and slathered with a salty, onion-sweetened donburi sauce over rice.

The Hunwari Tenderloin Katsudon ($20.50), a mini pork tenderloin version of the chicken katsudon, was just as luscious.

313 Somerset #B2-02
313 Orchard Road
Tel: 6333 3432
Open daily from 11am to 10pm


Bella Pizza

Bella Pizza is one of the more notable pizzerias around. Its riverside locale at Robertson Quay makes it popular with yuppie-types and the expat crowd, drawn from the nearby CBD and residential hinterland respectively. On hindsight, we should have hit this spot up at night, because the sweltering afternoon heat of the open-air restaurant wasn't particularly conducive for lounging. The heat was just so intrusive that we couldn't make it through lunch; we'd gobbled up our starter and pasta, and packed the pizza to savour in the air-conditioned comfort of our home. Moral of the story is: to dine here only at night, where the tropical heat is more bearable with an occasional breeze flowing through the al fresco area.

Bella Pizza is also sister restaurant to Bella Pasta, and while the menu places a strong emphasis on pizzas here, they serve up a respectably enticing array of pastas as well. The pizzas are indeed excellent, and their pastas, while rustic, are hearty and commendable. Ironically, a couple of my friends claim that the pastas at this pizzeria are better than the ones at Bella Pasta.

We started off with some Portobello Ripieno ($20), a whole portobello schmeared with porcini mushroom paste and baked to a juicy goodness, burnished with a luscious porcini cream sauce, and countered by the bed of baby spinach leaves. This was a little staid, which we spiced up with lashings of freshly ground pepper. 

The Ravioli Verdi con Salsa di Porcini ($24), dumplings laced with spinach and stuffed with beef mince, and slathered with the same porcini cream as the portobello starter. Not the most refined, or sophisticated of pastas, but I liked that these were well-balanced.

The Pizza Crudo ($24) complemented the salty pungency of prosciutto with the sharp creaminess of gorgonzola, on a crisp but mildly chewy pizza base wood-fired to a smoky perfection.

Bella Pizza
30 Robertson Quay
Riverside View #01-14
Tel: 6734 0139
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Closed on Mondays
Website: www.bellapizza.com.sg

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