Cugini Trattoria Pizzeria

It's been a while since I last ate at Cugini. Dining at its sister restaurant Los Primos reminded me of that. So as soon as I was back in its vicinity, I made sure to pop by for a spot of lunch.

As with all the Club Street restaurants, afternoons will find the street a ghost-town of sorts, even though Amoy Street which runs parallel to it is bustling with the CBD lunch throng. It's funny how people can mimic the behaviour of lab rats sometimes, that a street barely a 5-minute stroll away can be such a confounding deterrent.

On the upside, this means that lunches at the establishments along Club Street are tranquil and such a peaceful respite from the toils of work. Predictably so, Cugini's service was attentive and efficient, while food got churned out lightning-quick.

We started with a platter of Selezione di Formaggi Italiani ($21.90), a curated assortment of Italian diary: gorgonzola, parmiagiano, fontina, and scarmorza, accompanied by honey, walnuts, and a berry jam.

The Filetto di Branzino al Vapore ($45.90) was a delicate secondi option of a poached Medditerranean seabass fillet, sided by steamed baby carrots, fresh arugula, and a velvety hollandaise sauce. I liked the citrusy notes in the sauce, it lent a bright richness to the somewhat stodgy fish.

Beautifully plated, the Filetto alla Griglia ($55) was a perfectly medium Black Angus tenderloin sided by fluffy truffled mash and garden vegetables.

The Diavola Pizza ($28.90), oozy with melted mozzarella, tomato sauce, was laden with salami rings, and spiked with lashings of fresh red and green chilli. The thin pizza crust, boasting a wonderfully smoky fragrance, was crispy at the edges and chewy on the inside.

The photo is, admittedly, awful, but don't let the quality of the shitty photographer deter you from the delicious Raviolo al Tartufo ($30.90), an honest-to-goodness homemade dumpling bursting with truffled potato, and slathered in a silky walnut butter, and topped with additional shavings of black truffle.

Complimentary crusty Bread with EVOO and a tart balsamic vinegar; it's the simple things in life that's the best, isn't it?

Cugini Trattoria Pizzeria
87 Club Street
Tel: 6221 3791
Open daily from 12noon to 2.30pm; 6pm to 11pm
Website: www.cugini.com.sg


Strawberry Avocado Caprese Salad

This is like the prettiest salad ever, so much so that the most hardcore salad haters would venture a bite. And for something that looks so intricate, it's like the easiest thing ever.

Ingredients (feeds 4 pax):
1 avocado, diced
1 box strawberries, quartered
1 ball buffalo mozzarella, sliced
1 cup fresh basil, leaves only
1 box cherry tomatoes, halved
salt (I used this red wine flavoured salt I got from Australia)
Extra virgin olive oil

1) Toss the strawberries, avocado, and cherry tomatoes with olive oil and salt.

2) Layer the salad with the mozzarella at the bottom, followed by basil leaves, then marinated mix at step 1, and serve with extra basil leaves on top, and a good lashing of freshly milled black pepper. That'll really make the salad 'pop'.


Meat Smith

Ever since the Michelin Guide debuted in Singapore, it's been impossible to secure reservations at Burnt Ends. A galfriend of mine, transiting through Singapore, tried booking for 2 persons, lunch or dinner, a month in advance, but still sorely missed out. They're now booked out for two months solid, and she had to resort to taking away their amazing sanger, just for a taste.

Enter Burnt Ends' little cousin, Meat Smith, a smokehouse restaurant that's designed like a cross between an industrial factory and cowboy ranch, along the Telok Ayer/Amoy Street F&B enclave du jour.

The food is hearty, big, and robust. If you love your beef and barbecues, Meat Smith's the perfect spot. Ceilings hang low, and the cramped enclosure is decked out in dark woods, which lends to Meat Smith's ambience as a caveman's den. Perhaps that's why the restaurant was teeming with boys' night-out types of bunches, and not so much girls' night-out groupies.

The Meat Smith BBQ Platter ($180) comprised, from left to right: a hulking black pepper and mustard-crusted American Black Angus beef rib, Californian 365 day grain-fed Angus brisket, Memphis-style dry-rubbed pork ribs, and a smoked chicken thigh marinated in a Jamaican jerk sauce. This was absolutely sumptuous, but if I had to be brutal, the chicken and pork ribs wouldn't be missed, even if they were pretty good. BUT really, the MVPs of this massive tray were the beef ribs and brisket. Wowza, were they unforgettably delicious. These were meltingly tender, like geriatrics with dentures could appreciate kind of luscious; and incredible in flavour, having been steeped fully in marinade. The charred crust on the beef ribs may look dangerously unhealthy, but don't scrape it off, it served to flesh out the full-bodied flavour of the meat.

If there ever was any doubt that Meat Smith's a relation of Burnt Ends, the fluffy sesame-crusted Brioche breakaway bread, dusted with paprika and burnished with melty cheese would be quite the compelling evidence. This was a most terrific setup to the wonderful meats.

Also part of the Platter, the Bone Marrow, an oozy decadently fatty jam, was brilliant when schmeared all over crusty bread, and balanced against the refreshing crisp of red onion ringlets and sharp bite of garlic bulbs. I'm not even a fan of marrow (or tulang, as the locals call it), but even I was quite taken with Meat Smith's rendition.

The Platter was also accompanied by your choice of 2 sides, a simple but bright and piquant balsamic dressed Farmer's Salad of kale, arugula, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard, which helped cut through the monotony of a meat-centric dinner;

and a lovely but rather run-of-the-mill Mac & Pimento Cheese.

It isn't a (good) weekend unless we've imbibed, and the Hemingway Daiquiri ($18), a concoction of Bacardi Superior rum, grapefruit and Luxurdo maraschino and Lavender Sour ($18) Titos Vodka, lavender, lemon and sugar were quite yummy, with the lavender a somewhat surprising but evident winner amongst the two cocktails. That was well-balanced, even if it smelled like my bedroom.

Meat Smith
167 - 169 Telok Ayer Street
Open daily from 8.30am to 12midnight
Tel: 6221 2262
Website: www.meatsmith.com.sg



We haven't been to boCHINche for a while, and not since they've moved to new premises in the heart of the business district. The current space is more compact, a little cosier I suppose, but it also means that reservations are now very much more encouraged. The menu's trimmed down too, and tighter, with a decidedly increased focus on the meats, and a more contemporary flair.

They've taken off a number of our favourites, like the ox cheeks and pork chops, which are missed, but retained a couple of mainstays like the steaks and updated the grilled market fish. Some changes, I liked, but many, I found disconcerting, to say the least. The steak, raked over a white charcoal grill, is now a little uneven, and I couldn't appreciate that some of my beloved dishes weren't ever making a comeback, but the fish, styled more intricately, is still fantastic.

That said, it's nice that the staff remembered us from the Martin Road days. That was quite the personal touch.

The Crab on Toast ($18) draped over a velvety "humita nortena" sauce, topped with a sprinkle of marjoram and pickled turnips, was refreshing and well-balanced, the sweet of the crabmeat contrasted with the acidic piquancy of the turnips.

Another new addition to the menu, the Chorizo Croquettes ($16) was beautifully executed, burnished with a dollop of heady smoked peppers and red amaranth.

The Ricotta Tortellini ($17) laced with sweet potato leaves, green peas, broad beans, butter sauce, was wonderfully exquisite. Hearty but polished.

The charcoal-grilled Ojo de Bife ($75), a hefty 400gm ribeye imbued with a fragrant char was unfortunately unevenly salted, but the accompanying chimichurri was instrumental in elevating the pedestrian meat. Thick chips (these were almost wedges), and a balsamic-dressed mixed green salad lent themselves well to cut through the monotony of red meat.

The Fish of the Day, an Atlantic Cod ($43) pooled in a basil beurre blanc with shaved almonds, and sided by a corn and faro medley, was absolutely sumptuous. Another must-try.

115 Amoy Street #01-02
Tel: 6235 4990
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Fridays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 11am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Sundays from 11am to 3pm
Website: www.bochinche.com.sg


Cheng Mun Chee Kee Pig Organ Soup

I don't think I've ever featured pig's organ soup on this my blog before. It's not a dish I'm intimately familiar with, hardly ever having it growing up, so I'm not exactly crazy about it, nor do I ever crave it.

Cheng Mun Chee Kee is a name synonymous with pig's organ soup. The coffeeshop, a stone's throw away from the now demolished Lavender Food Centre, had always seemed a full-house everytime we took-away from Kok Kee. The late-night supper spot is open till the wee hours of the night, and so I thought it a viable option when I felt like something soupy and fortifying in the dead of night.

The Soup ($6) was a pick-and-mix, so we got a large bowl loaded with beancurd, lean pork, and pork ball, passing on the innards. I'd always thought this would be like a less-oily bak kut teh, but this was nothing like our local pork rib soup. It wasn't peppery or robust one bit, but it was heavy on the porky overtones. Suffice it to say, I'm still not a fan of the peasant food of a dish. Also, the chilli lacked punch and heat; I would have liked it more piquant, and a hellotta spicier.

The Oyster Sauce Xiao Bai Cai ($3) was passable in that cannot-fail way. Greens were crunchy, drenched in a light sauce, and topped with lashings of fried shallots.

I detected a hint of red wine vinegar in the Stir-Fried Cabbage ($3) which overwhelmed the delicate sweetness of the stewed cabbage.

The Hua Tiao Wine Chicken with Ginger ($3) sweetened with wolfberries, was ok but the chicken was less than fork-tender.

The Steamed Minced Meat with Chestnut ($2) was one of the better dishes, juicy and coarsely textured.

The only other worthwhile dish, the Braised Peanuts ($2), subtle in its soy marinade, was nicely done.

Cheng Mun Chee Kee Pig Organ Soup
24 Foch Road
Tel: 6297 5068
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9am to 5am;
Sundays from 9am to 12midnight;
Closed on Mondays


Park Bench Deli

Sandwiches are my current comfort food go-tos. It just sucks that there's a dearth of halfway decent sandwich shops in Singapore.

Then I discovered Park Bench Deli, a sandwich specialist smack dab in middle of the Telok Ayer/Amoy Street dining enclave. In addition to being incredibly accessible, they're also open all day; so we don't just have our lunches here, we eat dinners here too! 

The bright and cheery, turquoise-hued deli is directly opposite The Market Grill, a small-ish setup with tiny cocktail-height tables and even tinier stools. You'll never be more acutely aware of your big bum here.

Buzzy with executive or young hipster types, the bistro gets fairly packed during peak dining hours. Turnover is high though, as the eatery gets a little stuffy so people don't linger for long. Methinks Park Bench Deli isn't efficiently ventilated or sufficiently air-conditioned. I was sweating up a storm by the time I left the crowded joint. (in this regard, I must highlight that I've never really acclimatized to SG's weather, and I perspire at the slightest, so if you're generally fine with our tropical weather, you should be ok lolling in PBD)

Service is chirpy and engaging, especially during a lull, and I have them to thank for recommending the best Philly-styled cheesesteak sandwich ever. Holy cow was it mind-blowingly delicious. Tbh, if this is what Philly's cuisine is like, sign me up for a transfer pronto!

That said, the Cubano ($16) decked with seared pulled pork, smoked ham, contrasted with bread & butter pickles, melted cheese, a schmear of yellow mustard, and slapped between toasted cuban bread, was the Hubs' favourite sandwich here. Ever since we watched 'Chef', we've been obsessing over Cubanos, and PBD's version finally makes sense of the hype of a Cubano in the food-porn of a movie. This was insanely glorious!

Ah, the piece de resistance, the Cheese Steak ($16) loaded with juicy sliced beef brisket, griddled onions, oodles of molten cheese sauce, swaddled in a toasted hoagie. We'd originally ordered the Patty Melt, but saw the beef sizzling on the griddle, and were convinced to switch out our order, and boy was that decision life-changing. This was absolutely magnificent! For sure a must-try.  

The Fried Egg ($10), layered with bacon, cheddar, PBD sauce, frisee, and cuffed between a fluffy buttery brioche, was one of the best club sandwiches I've ever had, but unfortunately paled in comparison to the awesome Cubano and Cheese Steak.

The Cured Meat ($16) luscious with beautifully strips of salami, coppa, rosette, and pancetta, was contrasted with a piquant sundried tomato aioli, crisp frisee, melty mozzarella, and sandwiched between brioche buns. Served refreshingly chilled, this was quite excellent.

Park Bench Deli
179 Telok Ayer Street
Tel: 6815 4600
Open Mondays from 12noon to 4pm for lunch; 5pm to 10pm for dinner;
Tuesdays to Fridays from 10.30am to 4pm for lunch; 5pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: parkbenchdeli.com
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