When Kang first suggested going to "Ronin" for brunch, I was tickled. Having just watched 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (yeah yeah, I know, I'm a little late to the game, but I don't go to the cinemas anymore, and the dvd/blueray was only released 2 weekends ago), I was bewildered that someone would name a bistro after 'Ronan', a lesser-known comicbook villain that only exploded onto the public's consciousness after what was arguably the best movie of the year hit the theatres.

So after a hilarious, albeit lengthy, exchange, it turns out that the cafe's name is what you'd call a Japanese samurai without a master - absolutely no correlation with what the cafe is about.

Ronin the cafe is what you'd expect of just about every other coffee joint: dark, eclectic, industrial and totally hipster. The fact that the facade is completely hidden speaks volumes as to its wannabe pretentiousness. But, at least the service was warm and smiley. I'd almost expected the wait staff here all to be moody and brooding.

The menu's decidedly limited, with up to only 10 items available on any given day. Not a lot of choice, but heaven-sent for the perpetually-undecided. Please note that this is a cash-only establishment, so be sure to to pad your wallet accordingly.

The Scrambled Eggs on Toast ($9) was incredibly silky, but slightly undersalted. I've read online reviews proclaiming Ronin to serve up the best scrambled eggs on the island, but I maintain that Wild Honey retains that coveted title. Add-ons like the juicy Pork Sausage ($4.50) and succulent grilled Portobello Mushroom ($3.50) made this a much more substantive meal option.

Kang made his Scrambled Eggs on Toast ($9) vegetarian with half an Avocado ($3) and Portobello Mushroom ($3.50).

A must-try here, the Brioche French Toast ($14.50) was sumptuous; it was thick and fluffy and eggy and caramelised perfectly. This was paired with a softly braised green apple, grilled back bacon, a knob of hazelnut butter and sticky sweet syrup.

We asked for, off the menu, left to right: Raspberry Jam ($2) and Fig Jam ($2) to spread atop our toasts. These were lovely, chunky and sweet. 

The Latte ($4.20), while creamy, was too milky and lacking in potency.

A better option would be the Wicked ($5.50), essentially a hot mocha peppermint. This was like drinking a liquid form of After Eights dinner mints.So luscious.

The Iced Ero Tea ($7+), an earl grey tea infused with fresh thyme, was a refreshing thirst quencher.

17 Hongkong Street
Open on weekdays from 8am to 6pm;
weekends from 8am-7.30pm;
Closed on Mondays


Basic Marinara Sauce

Many moons ago, I tended to use store-bought pasta sauce in my dishes. Until I realised how easy and quick it was to make your own! So, now, instead of using bottled pasta sauces from the supermarket or those high-end gourmet provision stores, I spare about an hour or so to make my own. This way, I get to control what goes into my sauces and adjust accordingly to my preferences (the control freak in me is yelping for joy right now).

The secret to pasta sauce lies in the tomatoes, so get the very best the market has to offer. Get those of the plum variety (the small-ish oval shaped ones), and I find a mix of Roma and San Marzanos to be a good balance of the tart and sweet. I also add a dollop of tomato paste to even out the sharp piquancy of the tomatoes. As for the herbs, I gravitate towards basil and thyme, but rosemary, oregano and parsley are very well-received as well. I also like to saute aromatics like onions and garlic and toss them into the mix as I find they lend sweetness to the sauce. Skip this for an unadulterated pure tomatoey flavour. Lastly, for those who can't take wine in their food, also skip the red in step 2 below.

5 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup red wine
7 cups milled tomatoes (bottled plum tomatoes, or canned diced tomatoes work in a pinch)
3 1/2 cups tomato puree
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 tbsp frying oil (I used a chicken fat and bacon renderings-infused olive oil to amp up the flavour)

Optional: 2 tbsp sundried tomato pesto
1/2 cup water
Pinch each of dried basil and thyme 
1 tsp sugar

1) Fry garlic and onions in oil until onions translucent, about 2 minutes on medium-high heat.

2) Add red wine and fry until almost completely reduced, about 2 minutes.

3) Add tomatoes and fry for about 1 minute.

4) Add tomato puree.

5) Add tomato paste, herbs and pesto and lower to a simmer for an hour, stirring constantly at 15-min intervals to ensure the bottom of the pot doesn't burn. Add water, by the tablespoon, if necessary. 

6) Salt to taste before using. If not using immediately, freeze to store up to a month.


Canton Paradise, The Star Vista

I've never really taken to the restaurants under the Paradise Group of restaurants, mostly because I'm a Crystal Jade traditionalist and Imperial treasure loyalist. But, for some inexplicable reason, the Paradise Group has surreptitiously grown into a competitor to the Crystal Jade and Imperial Treasure restaurant empires. Just look at Canton Paradise, the casual restaurant concept of the Paradise Group, it's hugely popular, and always seems to sport long queues.

Generally, the food at Canton Paradise isn't bad, but it is a little choppy, with a few misses littered amongst the passing grade majority. Compared to its direct competitors, the heavyweight Crystal Jade Kitchens and Imperial Treasure Noodle & Congee Houses, I'd venture that Canton Paradise scores a solid B- to Imperial Treasure's consistent A and Crystal Jade's occasionally-floundering A-.

The ubiquitous Steamed Pork Dumpling ($5.80) 'siew mai', topped with flying fish roe, checked off the right boxes, but was forgettable.

The Steamed Prawn Dumpling ($5.80), 'ha kao', was competently executed, with a thin but resilient and chewy skin encasing fresh bouncy prawns.

The skin on the Steamed Prawn and Chive Dumpling ($4.90) was a tad too thick, but the filling was tasty in a light, clean and clear way.

The Steamed BBQ Honey Pork Bun ($4.60) would have fared better with a higher filling-to-bun ratio. And, the BBQ pork filling was lacking in that smoky sweet richness.

The lackluster Steamed Spare Ribs with Black Beans ($4.30) needed a lot more time in the steamer as it was less than tender, and it was way too oily and bland. I could hardly make out the black bean seasoning.

The Steamed Cheong Fun with Scallops ($5.80) was thankfully, much more competently done. Plump fresh scallops cooked to perfection were rolled into smooth rice sheets.

The Prawn Dumpling Noodle Soup ($7.90) was very commendable. Noodles had a nice chewy bite, the prawn stock base was rich without being cloying, and the dumplings were sizable and succulent.

The Century Egg and Shredded Pork Porridge ($7.20) was pretty decent as well. Blended smooth gruel faintly accented with pork stock was liberally laced with diced eggs and pork strips.

The Poached Kailan with Light Soy ($10.80) was simple but well-done, plenty of crunch in the greens doused with a most delicate soy sauce.

Canton Paradise
The Star Vista #B1-45
1 Vista Exchange Green
Tel: 6694 2915
Open weekdays from 11am to 10pm; weekends & PH from 10.30am to 10pm
Website: www.paradisegroup.com.sg


The Bar at Morton's

The Bar at Morton's is reputed for its Mortini Nights, a wallet-friendly happy-hour serving up cocktails and free-flow of complimentary steak sandwiches. But because the service hours were between 5pm and 7pm, it was always tough to get there in time to snag a spot at the immensely popular bar.

But, I was recently in the vicinity for a conference, which just so happened to end at 5pm, and so, a couple of my conference buddies and I all trooped on over to The Bar at Morton's to wind down and chill out with drinks, and fill up on their much touted sandwiches.

While their cocktails were indeed commendable, all of which were appreciatively generous in alcohol content, I thought that their steak sandwiches were overhyped. Stuffed simply in a plain hotdog bun, the sliced steaks seemed insipid. Disappointing, considering how high a regard I have for the food at Morton's the Steakhouse. It was exacerbated by the fact that the sandwiches were in such short supply that each of us was only allowed 1 teeny tiny morsel per rotation. And, for the entire happy hour stretch, there was only 4 rotations.

Clockwise from top: Appletini, Classic Gin, Lychee Martini, and Cosmopolitan (each $15.95)

A Steak Sandwich, which would have been more memorable if it was dressed with a lettuce, tomato, and/or sauce, and the buns toasted.

Because I didn't think much of the Steak Sandwiches here, I didn't feel as shortchanged as some others that we only got 4 sandwiches the entire happy hour stretch.

The Bar at Morton's
Mandarin Oriental Singapore 4th Storey
5 Raffles Ave
Tel: 6339 3740
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 5pm to 11pm;
Sundays from 5pm to 10pm


The Handburger, The Soup Spoon Union @ Raffles City

The Handburger is part of 3 restaurant concepts under 1 roof at the Soup Spoon Union. It's a semi-self-serviced joint where you queue up, supermarket checkout-style, to place your orders and make payment, then find a table and sit yourself, cafeteria-style, where the skeleton crew serves your orders.

I'd heard good things about their gourmet burgers, and was on the lookout for a worthy successor to &Made after burger maestro Bruno Menard ceased his collaboration with the Pacific Plaza burger bistro.

While the selection of burgers is decidedly limited (they offer up up to 3 variants each of the poultry, game and seafood burgers), The Handburger does excel where it counts. The beef-centric burgers were superb in an all-American, hearty, generous way, even if I wasn't blown away by the chicken patties (I'd taken away the cajun one on a separate occasion and was unimpressed).

The Works ($16.80) was the "everything-bao-ga-liao" option, with a 150gm NZ grass-fed prime beef patty perfectly grilled to a juicy medium well, streaky bacon, onion rings, basil pesto portobello cap, egg sunny side up, sweet onion jam, melted cheddar, housemade barbecue sauce and aioli, coral lettuce and tomato, sandwiched between pillowy halves of a toasty caramelised onion bun. Absolutely sumptuous.

The Works ($16.80), sans bacon, for those who abstain from pork.

We upsized our burgers to a Set Meal ($3.90 with a choice of 4 sides and drink of your choosing), mine with The Soup Spoon's velvety wholesome Mushroom Soup choc-a-bloc with shitakes and white buttons.

The other option of a side of Chunky Fries, thick and crisp and double fried for an extra dose of artery-clogging deliciousness.

The Handburger
The Soup Spoon Unon
Raffles City Shopping Centre #B1-61/62
Tel: 6334 3220
Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm
Website: www.thehandburger.com


Dutch Colony Coffee Co, Frankel Ave

I'd first sampled the wonderful brews at the Pasarbella outlet of Dutch Colony Coffee Co. The open-concept shop space was teeny tiny, and it was operating at a full capacity on a weekday mid-afternoon. When it opened a second branch in the far east, a proper cafe amongst the shophouses lining the gentrified Frankel Ave, I made sure to pop by. A full menu of brunch classics and selection of sweets is offered here at their industrial-chic bistro setup. I'd already eaten lunch, so I couldn't quite fit in brunch eggs, but because desserts occupy a different stomach, there was room for cake!

The bergamot-scented Earl Grey Citrus Cake ($5) was excellent. The dense confection was delectably moist, and aromatherapy-like accents subtle and layered. A must-try here.

Strictly for chocoholics, the Chocolate Truffle Cake ($7.50) was luscious and sumptuous in its nuanced sweetness.

The Latte ($4.50) was a potent adrenaline zinger, full-bodied, rich and frothy. A absolute first class coffee concoction.

Dutch Colony Coffee Co
113 Frankel Ave
Tel: 6448 5852
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 8am to 8pm;
Fridays and Saturdays from 8am to 10pm

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