Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King, Tras Street

Keisuke Tonkotsu King can be credited for revitalizing the Tras Street dining enclave. Once exclusively a bridal boutique hub, the unassuming ramen joint burst onto the dining wasteland with its rich milky broths and hearty portions. Queues at the pocket-sized eatery used to be unabating, even at odd hours, resulting in several other eateries setting up shop to catch the dining overflow.

Now that the wildly successful Keisuke chain has expanded throughout the island, the crowds at the flagship shop have eased. Having dined at 4 of their branches (the chicken-based one at Keisuke Tori King, the multi seasons-inspired one at Keisuke Tonkotsu King Four Seasons, the crab-bisque one at Keisuke Tokyo, and the gyoza-centric Gyoza King), we thought it high time to hit up the mothership where it all started.

The Black Spicy Tonkotsu King ($11.80) with Flavoured Egg ($2) was so thick the broth was practically viscous. I couldn't finish this, it was terribly cloying. I should have ticked the 'light' option for the soup base, this needed to be watered down to half its viscosity.

The Red Spicy Tonkotsu King ($11.80) with the option of Special Topping ($4) comprising a flavoured egg, seaweed, and stewed pork, was just as stodgy. In contrast, the pork needed more flavour and stewing time.

The best part of the meal: the marinated beansprouts that were totally refreshing, addicting and delicious.

Keisuke Tonkotsu King
1 Tras Link #01-19
Orchid Hotel
Tel: 6636 0855
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Sundays from 6pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: keisuke.sg


Hong Kong Kim Gary Restaurant, Vivocity

If you grew up in Hongkong or Malaysia in the 90's, chances are that you would have enjoyed many after-school trips to Hong Kong Kim Gary with your friends. The food is unabashedly B-rate, a bastardised hodgepodge of the east and west flavours. Compound that with value-for-money sets that helped stretch a limited allowance, Kim Gary was a teenager's paradise. One thing I hated though, was how disorganized and repetitive the menu here was; it drove me crazy.

The Seven Treasure Cheese Baked Curry ($12.50) was laden with pork chop, squid rings, ham, chicken wing, sausage, egg, and potatoes; great for hungry hippos.

The Cheese Baked Rice with Pork Chop ($13.90) with red sauce was decent; moist and sumptuous.

The Cheese Baked Rice with Pork Chop ($13.90) with white sauce got a little cloying and heavy halfway through, although a girlfriend, who loves her cream, lapped this all up. 

I much prefer the red sauce, an instant bottled spaghetti-like sauce, the Cheese Baked Rice with Chicken Chop ($13.90) and the chicken was better done than the pork. More juicy.

All the sets comprise a choice of Borsch or Sweet Corn Cream Soup. I say to get the minestrone-like borsch over the sweet corn cream, which was marginally better than a can of campbells.

Hong Kong Kim Gary Restaurant
1 Harbourfront Walk
Vivocity #02-128
Tel: 6376 8183
Open daily from 10am to 10pm


Cuban Beef Stew (Carne con Papas)

Carne con Papas, i.e. Spanish for beef and potatoes, is a Cuban-styled beef stew rooted in its Spanish colonisation days. It's characterised by the use of cumin and oregano being predominant flavours, and grounded in a base of white wine and tomatoes. Yes, you heard right, white wine, and not the usual red. Some recipes call for sherry, but I like to keep it traditional with a dry white, like a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Ingredients (feeds 6):
1 kg stewing beef, 1" cubes
1 large onion, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green pepper, diced to 1cm-cubes
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
dash of tumeric (optional as it's really to give the stew the distinctive orange colour)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup white wine
1 cup pimento-stuffed spanish olives (didn't have this in my pantry so I switched it out with rainbow olives)
4 potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 large carrots, diced
2 cups water
1 cup beef stock (optional but I like the depth this gives)

1) Brown beef, in chicken-fat or bacon-infused flavoured oil, salting liberally, and taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Set aside in a stewing pot.

2) Fry onions, and garlic till fragrant.

3) Add carrots, fry for 2 minutes.

4) Add tomatoes, with juice, and fry for about 3 minutes.

5) Transfer to stewing pot with beef, add wine, reduce to half, then add stock, and water to cover beef. Add olives, oregano, coriander, paprika, cumin, tumeric, bay leaves, bring to a boil before lowering to a simmer for 2 hours, or until tender.

6) Add green pepper in the last 25 minutes before serving.

7) Add potatoes in the last 20 minutes before serving.

8) Salt to taste.


The Soup Spoon Union, Vivocity

The Soup Spoon has come a long way from its humble origins as a purveyor of wholesome hearty soups. It's now a chain restaurant with 5 distinct concepts, a smart diversification to capture a larger market share of local diners. 

The Soup Spoon Union Square is a canteen-like, self-serviced eatery that houses a combination of their concepts under one roof. Together with mothership The Soup Spoon, there's The Handburger, for well-rounded handcrafted burgers; The Grill Knife, for sizzling meats and seafood straight off the barbie; and The Salad Fork, for fibre-rich clean eating.

The baby of The Soup Spoon empire, and a recent addition to the food basement of Vivocity, The Soup Spoon Union co-ops The Soup Spoon, The Handburger, and The Grill Knife. Its production-line efficiency, substantive sets, decent fare, and wallet-friendly prices, make for brisk business. 

From The Handburger, The Original Set ($13.80 for set), a juicy stack of New Zealand grass-fed prime beef, melty cheese, grilled onions, honey mustard, was classic done right. This was sided by a house caesar salad, and a choice of 4 drinks.

From The Soup Spoon, the Chicken & Mushroom Flatbread Set ($11.50), was a petite toasted pita stuffed with grilled white button mushrooms, roasted chicken breast, tomatoes, arugula, and a yoghurt dressing...

with a medium-sized Roasted Pumpkin Soup and a choice of 4 drinks. I thought this was well-balanced, delicate and nuanced in its sweetness, but a friend thought it was too bland. 

From The Grill Knife, the Chicken Combo Set ($13.80) was chicken breast with portobello mushroom, both grilled to a moist perfection. This was served with a side of cauliflower rice with quinoa and edamame, and blanketed in a creamy mushroom sauce

The Soup Spoon Union Square
1 Harbourfront Walk
B2-37 Vivocity
Tel: 6274 1979
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 11am to 10pm;
Fridays from 11am to 10.30pm;
Saturdays from 10am to 10.30pm;
Sundays from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.thesoupspoon.com


Chin Huat Live Seafood

So, a bunch of us were talking about our favourite crab dishes, when a foodie friend commented that we haven't had crabs till we've had the Alaskan King ones. He'd waxed lyrical about the superiority of Alaskan King crabs over their Sri Lankan cousins, and proclaimed that once you go Alaskan, you never go back. So, one lazy afternoon, we rounded up a crew and trooped on down to Chin Huat Live Seafood, his favourite seafood joint and Alaskan king crab specialist. I swear they probably stock up on more Alaskan King crabs than they do regular ol' Sri Lankan crabs.

The Sunset Way-long timer has weathered significant change; where the previously sleepy estate full of industrial / paint shops has since gentrified into a thriving restaurant and cafe enclave. It looks vastly different from years ago when I first dined at Chin Huat with then-fellow singleton Lips.

Reservations are highly encouraged if you're dining, especially at peak periods. Reports of bad/slow service are rampant, so best tamper expectations, and develop a Buddha-like patience. Or just dine during weekday lunches.

Seafood is the order of the day, and you'll do well to get the Boston lobster and Alaskan king crabs. Skip everything else if tummy space is limited, as the cze char here is fair but not particularly memorable.

The Sauteed Scallops with Asparagus in XO Sauce ($20 for small) was decent albeit forgettable, a lovely contrast in soft and crunchy textures, and lively in spice.

The Spicy & Sour Szechuan Soup ($10 for small) was surprisingly refined for a neighbourhood seafood joint such as this.

The Hongkong Steamed Giant Garoupa ($38) was unexpectedly done fillet-style, and it was a smidge overcooked. In any case, the fillets were still slightly bony. I suspect this would have been much better left whole.

An absolute must-try, the Alaskan King Crab in Pumpkin Cream Sauce ($138 per kg) was fantastic. The salted-egg yolk accent was a savoury, and decadent, counter to the sweetness of the pumpkin, and curry leaves and chilli specks lent a subtle heat to the velvety sauce. Seriously the best salted egg yolk sauce ever. We wiped this clean off.

The Alaskan King Chilli Crab, slathered in a nutty garlicky gravy, was heady with spice, and complementary to the incredible sweetness of the crab. That friend was indeed right about how good Alaskan king crabs are, I haven't been able to look at Sri Lankan crabs the same way since. A telling factor to how amazing these are: a girlfriend who's mildly allergic to crabs and has to take anti-histamines before indulging, didn't break out in hives even though she ate several crab legs.

We had to order several rounds of this Deep-Fried Bread Rolls to mop up all the wonderful gravies.

The Boston Lobster Noodles was sweet with the essence of the shellfish. Excellent stuff.

Chin Huat Live Seafood
105 Clementi Street 12
#01-30 Sunset Way
Tel: 6775 7348
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 5.30pm to 11pm for dinner


Sweet Potato Casserole

A winter holiday classic, Sweet Potato Casserole is just about the easiest you can make. So easy even the 'I-burnt-water' Hubs can make. With minimal direction, of course. And because this is done entirely in the oven, space is freed up on the stove for the other bubbling pots and pans.

Most sweet potato casseroles veer towards the saccharine and into the dessert category, so I've tried to limit the sugars added to the already-sweet potatoes.

Ingredients (feeds 4-5 pax):
3 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed clean
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped roughly
1/4 cup pecans, chopped roughly

1) Preheat oven to 200C; prick the skins of the potatoes a few times with a fork, and bake it whole for 45-50 minutes or until soft. Set aside to cool.

2) Turn down oven to 175C. Scoop potatoes out of their skins, and mash with milk, butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

3) Transfer the whole mixture into a buttered 8x8" casserole, and sprinkle with pecans and walnuts. Bake about 15-20 minutes or until puffy.

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