Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine

Our Hanoi travel guide recently visited Singapore, and we took the opportunity to show him around our little island city-state. He'd been instrumental in our new-found love for Vietnamese cuisine, and we wanted to inculcate a reciprocal love for our local cuisine. Turns out, our friend wasn't too keen on our spice-and-oil-laden signatures like laksa, chilli crab, char kway teow and hokkien mee. In hindsight, it made sense that a Hanoian, who's accustomed to light and clean flavours, would find our typical "national dishes" too overwhelmingly robust.

It was serendipitous, then, that we opted to bring him to sample Teochew food, a Chinese dialect cuisine characterised by clear and delicate flavours. This meal alone changed his opinion of Singaporean cuisine; he couldn't understand, before, why everyone seemed to rave about Singaporean cuisine.

We brought our friend to Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine, an anchor restaurant at the Teochew Chui Huay Lim Club. The Jumbo-affiliated restaurant was grand and opulent in a traditional chinnoisserie way. Reservations are strongly recommended; even on a Thursday night, they were operating at a full-capacity, mostly with towkay-types. It's easy to see why, the food was fantastic, especially the seafood.

Despite the full-house, service was efficient, warm and friendly in that sweet motherly way made familiar by the Crystal Jade & Imperial Treasure restaurant empires. Dishes arrived in quick succession, our water glasses were kept brimming, so even though my request to hold off any parsley/cilantro/coriander was inadvertently forgotten by the kitchen multiple times, I was okay to let that lapse go.

A must-try, the Teochew Puning Chicken ($16 for half) was balanced and muted, subtly accented by fermented bean sauce slathered over the plump and succulent free-range chicken.

The Deep-Fried Ngoh Hiang Rolls ($10 for small) possessed a lovely crunch, and chunky texture. If I had a gripe, it'd be that it was lightly laced with coriander.

Another must-try, the Teochew Braised Duck ($28 for half) was impossibly fresh, with a nuanced soy-based braise seeped into the moist tender meat, and smooth soft beancurd.

Seafood is integral to Teochew cuisine, and the Teochew-style Steamed Threadfin Tail ($80) was absolutely stellar. Swimmingly fresh, barely seasoned with a few salted vegetables, plums, ginger, chilli, mushrooms and tomatoes strewn about, this was simplicity at its most refined.

The Braised Conpoy with Eight Vegetarian Treasures ($32 for medium) was just fantastic as well, I loved the luscious velvety sauce, and the sweetness of the cabbage layered with a medley of dried scallops, enoki, Chinese black mushrooms, straw mushrooms, black moss, and carrots.

The Seafood Fried Mee Sua ($20 for small) was a commendable rounder, plentiful fresh prawns and squid, nice smoky wok hei.

Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine
190 Keng Lee Road
#01-02 Chui Huay Lim Club
Tel: 6732 3637
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Website: chlteochewcuisine.com


Rive Gauche Patisserie

I'd passed Rive Gauche Patisserie by while in the food basement of Takashimaya, with 2 misconceptions. One: I've always thought that it was French, but as it turns out, it's actually Japanese-owned. Two: I've always thought it was a chocolatier, but as it turns out, it's a patisserie. An underrated confectionery, it seems, but with a good-sized following that's enabled the outfit to last decades.

A signature, the Guanaja ($48 for 14cm x 19cm), is a sexy confection of dark chocolate mousse, dense chocolate sponge and crispy biscuit bed. Love how the gold specks glisten in the glow of the candlelight. 

It's heady and luscious, but nuanced because of its bittersweet nature and contrasting textures.

Rive Gauche Patisserie
Takashimaya B2-07
391 Orchard Road
Tel: 6887 4579
Open daily from 10am to 9.30pm

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower soup is one of my all-time favourite soups. The blended soup is mellow, comforting and fortifying. To spice things up, I've added a little curry powder to the soup. The curry powder lends a mild heat to the soup that elevates the sweetness of the cauliflower.

Ingredients (feeds 4-6):
12 cups cauliflower florets
1 potato, diced
2 tbsp butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
4-5 cups vegetable stock

1) Toss about 2 cups of florets with salt and olive oil. Roast cauliflower at 200C for  25 minutes till golden brown. Set aside, these will be used as toppings.

2) Melt butter in pan.

3) Add onions, and fry till transluscent, about 2 minutes on medium-high heat. 

4) Add curry powder and cumin, and fry till toasty, about 1 minute.

5) Add cauliflower and potato, and fry till slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

6) Add vegetable broth, bring to boil, and simmer till cauliflower is soft and mushy, about 7 minutes.

7) Transfer to a pot, and blend into a puree.

8) Salt to taste and serve with sprinkling of roasted cauliflower.


Fusilli with Cherry Tomatoes, Arugula & Parmesan

As you may be aware, I recently purchased a punnet of marusho tomatoes from Ethan's Gourmet, wonderfully juicy balls of pure sunshine. This easy-to-make dish is vegetarian-friendly, incredibly simple, and highlights the natural sweetness of the rainbow-hued tomatoes. And because it's so gorgeous, it looks a lot more pro than it actually is!

Ingredients (feeds 4):
400 gm fusilli
10 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups uncooked wild rocket leaves
2 cups marusho tomatoes, halved (regular red and yellow cherry tomatoes work in a pinch as well)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Salt to taste

1) Cook fusilli in salted boiling water till just underdone. These fusilli cook in 11 minutes, so I took them off the heat at the 9-minute mark.

2) Fry garlic in olive oil, about 1 minute on medium-heat.

3) Lower heat, add tomatoes, toss.

4) Add semi-cooked fusilli, toss for about 1 minute, coating each screw evenly with olive oil.

5) Turn off heat, add arugula, toss and let residual heat wilt leaves.

6) Salt to taste, sparingly, because you'll serve with sprinkling of grated Parmesan which will up the sodium content.


The Chop House

We had a thoroughly satisfying steak dinner at Wooloomooloo, so when invited to lunch at sister restaurant The Chop House, I jumped at it. Whereas Wooloomooloo is the upscale sophisticate, The Chop House is the modest laidback bistro. Prices are correspondingly reflective of the difference in quality of food, service and ambience.

The Chop House has a condensed steak menu, with only 4 options for red meat lovers. But with the massive 400-gram T-bone tipping the scales at just under 50 buckaroos, I thought, after tempering my expectations, the meats here were just as value-for-money as Wooloomooloo. 

Despite the many cautionary tales of the purportedly terrible food and awful service, my friends and I enjoyed our lunch here. The tip is to pick carefully, and stick to the burgers and steaks. I wouldn't wax lyrical about The Chop House, or rate it as a top steakhouse, but it's certainly far from horrible. I, and my friends, waddled away sated, and would consider The Chop House one of the more viable dining options at Vivocity.

If sharing an appetizer, I'd recommend the Chicken Quesadillas ($19) toasty tortilla pockets oozing with jack's cheddar, minced chicken and fresh diced tomatoes. This was served with a trio of dips: guacamole, sour cream and salsa pico de gallo.

A must-try is the Black & Blue Burger ($24) of juicy beef patty blackened with cajun spices, fresh tomato and crisp lettuce, and slathered in a slobbery blue cheese dressing. Hearty, and heart-stopping stuff. Of note was the tater tots, little crunchy morsels of carb-heaven.

I loved my USDA Prime Ribeye ($37 for 200gm), luscious, decadently fatty and beautifully charred, with sauteed potato, caramelised onions, and a robust black peppercorn sauce.

For a full-bodied flavour, get the Australian Grass-Fed Tenderloin ($30 for 200gm), perfectly moist, with grilled sweet corn-potato cake, sauteed spinach, and an armagnac-laced black peppercorn sauce.

If a little tight on budget and not too fussed about eating steak, the 2-Course Set Lunch ($19.90) would be quite prudent choice. The starter, a Creamy Onion Soup with caramelised onions, chives and garlic croutons was a little amateurish, but nicely balanced.

The main, a towering Bacon, Guacamole Chicken Burger, layered with melted cheddar and applewood smoked bacon was quite scrumptious.

The Chop House
Vivocity #01-161
1 Harbourfront Walk
Tel: 6376 9262
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 11.30am to 11pm;
Fridays, Saturdays & Eve of PH from 11.30am to 12midnight;
Sundays and PH from 11am to 11pm



Esquina, a casual tapas bar in Chinatown, is the brainchild of Michelin-starred, Gordon Ramsey-disciple, English Chef Jason Atherton and Midas-incarnate lawyer-turned-hotelier-and-restauranteur Lok Lik Peng. In addition to being one of the earliest purveyors of the interactive kitchen, counter-seating-only styled restaurants, we have Esquina to thank for kick-starting the small plates movement.

The celebrated restaurant has been on my to-review radar for the longest time, but I never really got around to dining here until recently. Maybe it's because reservations weren't taken until 2014, and then, when reservations were finally allowed, they were frequently at full capacity at the teeny tiny bistro.

I don't know why I took this long to visit Esquina. The modern European food was innovative, delicious, and immaculately plated. I'd recommend dining here for lunch; the lunch sets are extremely value-for-money and affordable in a mass-market kind of way. A three-course lunch will set you back by $45++ for 3 courses, while the small-eater two-courses will cost only $35++. There are a total of 4 options each for appetizers, mains and desserts from which to choose.

The downside of indulging in the wallet-friendly set lunch: in the heat of the afternoon sun, the open-kitchen-facing, galley of a restaurant was sweltering. To further exacerbate matters, the steampunk-esque counter-seats were impractical and uncomfortable; the way the stools jabbed into our bums was a little too forward for a virgin visit.

We were mollified by the fantastically congenial service; our supply of iced waters was kept flowing and plates regularly changed. Without any prompting on our end.

We were quickly served complimentary Churros Fries with ricotta and truffle. Scrumptious fragrant stuff and I hankered for more.

Also on the house was Toasted Breadsticks with a creamy paprika aioli. Simple but totally yummy fare.

The Crispy Baby Squid with chilli coriander and black ink aioli was surprisingly substantive. These breadcrumbed babies were excellent, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and dusted with an addictive spice that enlivened the sweet squid. 

The Scallop Ceviche, cured in a sesame lemon infusion, was seasoned with dill and ginger, and served with pickles and radish. Brimming with clean flavours, and very refreshing.

The Burrata was whipped to a cloud-like mousse and dressed in truffle, served with pickled beetroot, walnut crumble and raspberries.

The Baked Seabass with grilled heirloom tomatoes, charred squid, black olive tapenade, sweet garlic and sauteed beans. Esquina does its fish well, and this was flaky, soft and moist, contrasted against the crisp of the golden skin.

The Poached Snapper, drizzled in truffle butter was buttery soft, and balanced out by a melange of spring peas, bacon, leeks, and kale.

The Grilled Duck Breast, was ultra fresh, and done to perfection, elevated by a yuzu carrot puree, and sided by grilled baby heirloom carrots, kale, and hazelnut.

Reminiscent of gazpacho, the Basil Sorbet, with sweet tomato, strawberries, blackberries, yuzu yoghurt and a black pepper meringue, was more palate-cleanser than dessert.

Purportedly popular, the Esquina Tiramisu was a deconstruction of the classic Italian dessert, with mascarpone mousse, chocolate soil and coffee jelly, slathered in hot chocolate sauce.

We were gifted with a complimentary Raspberry Almond Cake when the kitchen was informed that we were celebrating a birthday, and this was superb, moist and eggy.

16 Jiak Chuan Lane
Tel: 6222 1616
Open Mondays to Fridays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Closed on Sundays
Website: esquina.com.sg

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