Summer Palace

Summer Palace, the in-house Chinese restaurant at the Regent Hotel, has been around since forever. For a restaurant with such longevity, it's, quite surprisingly, stayed under most foodies' radar. Methinks it all boils down to the lack of value-for-money-ness of this opulent restaurant. The food's exquisite and luxurious, but pricey, and in this day and age where restaurants like the Imperial Treasure Group have perfected the art of balancing price points with impeccable quality fare, the higher-than-most pricetag here works against Summer Palace. Granted, their dim sum tends to class it up with precious ingredients, but I'm quite happy to do without the bird's nest or abalone in my dim sum.

That being said, service is as you'd expect from a Four Seasons hotel; attentive and discreet. And, on a huge plus side: they don't have that awful staggered tiered seat timings that so many other restaurants have eagerly jumped on board with, so you get to enjoy a languid unconstrained brunch.

The Double Boiled Bamboo Pith Soup ($16) with mushrooms and chinese cabbage was delicate and elegant, using the barest of ingredients and a most incredible chicken-based consomme.

I liked the Steamed Winter Melon Roll ($5) with fish maw, chicken and mushroom bound by a sprig of spring onion and beancurd skin. Light soy lent flavour.

The meaty and juicy Steamed Pork Dumplings ($6) were topped off by dried scallops.I didn't quite like the topping, it was a smidgen too heavy on the umami accents.

The Steamed Pork Dumpling ($2.50 per pc) was given a local spin with a sweetish eggy chilli sauce and shredded crabmeat. Despite my initial reservations about the fusion of xiao long bao and chilli crab, this combination actually worked!

The Steamed Prawn Dumpling ($8), lavished with bird's nest for added bounce, was light and clear and succulent.

The pillowy Steamed Barbecue Pork Buns ($5) were glutted with a scrumptious honeyed barbecued pork filling.

We got seconds of the Steamed Turnip Cake ($5), smooth, soft and moist, freckled with just the right amount of mushroom, sausage and dried shrimp dice.

Instead of the usual pork mince, the Fried Yam Puffs ($6) were stuffed with a medley of abalone, prawns and scallops. Well-balanced and sumptuous.

We got seconds of the Deep-Fried Prawn Balls with Mango ($6) a contrast of the crunchy and mushy, and savoury and sweet.

The Roasted Meats Combo ($38), clockwise from top right: Roast Duck, Barbecued Honey Pork and Roast Pork, was rather pedestrian. Nice but not outstanding or memorable. 

Summer Palace
1 Cuscaden Road
Regent Singapore Level 3
Tel: 6725 3288
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Sundays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner


Akashi Japanese Restaurant, Vivocity

Despite the rather pedestrian meal I had at Akashi a while back, I decided to give it another go because a couple of my girlfriends love their stuff here. While I still find their sushi borderline clumsy, they do, admittedly serve up relatively fresh fare, and a mindboggling range of sushi.

When held up against Sushi Tei, Akashi does distinguish itself with a few standouts, and occasionally levels up on par with the market leader in mid-range, mass-market Japanese chain restaurants. Also, I find Akashi best at their cooked foodstuffs set meals offerings, as these are most value-for-money. 

The fusion Ebi Tempura Maki No Pitan Zoe ($5.80) marries Japanese with Chinese flavours, with a fried breadcrumbed prawn wrapped with avocados, seaweed, fish roe and topped with century egg dice. If you're anything like my girlfriends, this is a must-order.

The Shake Kawa Maki ($3.80) is a contrast of crisp salmon skin with raw salmon, rolled with fine spring onions and sesame seeds. 

Another balancing act, the Spider Maki ($4.80) walks the line between the crunchy deep-fried soft shell crab and soft avocados.

In spite of its haphazard rolling, the Spicy Shake Maki ($3.80), spicy salmon seaweed roll, possessed a lively kick.

The Spicy Tuna Maki ($4.80) was the tuna counterpart of the Spicy Shake Maki. Purely as a matter of preference, I preferred the tuna version.

In general, the nigiri were more elegant done than the maki sushi. The Spicy Salmon Nigiri ($3.80 per pc) tempered the heat of the spicy salmon with the heavy creaminess of mayo.

The Hotate Mayo Tobiko ($3.80) comprised diced scallop, mayo and fish roe. 

Although every table has a platter of Edamame ($4) by the time you're seated, beware that these are chargeable, and not complimentary. These looked malnourished, and were a little anemic and rather forgettable.

I really liked the Yaki Meshi ($6), commendably fried rice choc-a-bloc with squid and prawns and scrambled eggs, and redolent of fragrant garlic.

The Gyu Don ($16) beef rice bowl was highlighted by a perfectly glorious poached egg, which we pricked to smear it all over the soft fluffy rice.

The Sukiyaki ($16), with silky beef ribbons set bubbling in a pre-heated pot with a melange of greens, tofu, shitake, carrots, glass noodles, was rich with the sweetened oniony broth. Some people prefer to dip their meats in the raw egg before eating it with rice, but I prefer dunking in the egg into the broth to let it cook in the hot soup.

The Saba Shioyaki ($16) comprised a slab of beautifully grilled mackerel sided by grated radish, rice, soup and freshly cut watermelons.

The Tenzaru Cha Soba ($18) wasn't the best I've had, what with a more flour-based batter than tempura batter, and overdone, dried out prawns, but it was substantial.

The Dobinmushi ($10) a teapot soup sweetened by shimeiji, prawns and clams and fishcake, was delicate and nuanced.

Akashi Japanese Restaurant
1 Harbourfront Walk
Vivocity B2-07
Tel: 6376 9972
Open daily from 11.30am to 11pm


Kongnamul (Korean Seasoned Soyabean Sprouts)

Kongnamul is very similar to Siguemchi Namul. Save for the vegetable base, the seasonings for both are largely the same. These can all be done 1 day before a big party, so as to reduce the cooking load and hassle on the day itself. Just chill them, and take 'em out to serve at room temp when the dinner party gets underway. I had a lot of difficulty getting a hold of these sprouts though, but found that Meidi-Ya (and sometimes NTUC Finest) carries them. 

400gm soya bean sprouts, washed and with brown ends trimmed off
1 tbsp Korean sesame oil (use Chinese sesame oil if you can't find its Korean counterpart)
1 tbsp light soy
5 cloves garlic, minced
4L water
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp white sesame seeds
optional: 1 tsp Korean chilli oil

1) Blanch sprouts in salted boiling water, 3 minutes.

2) Drain and shock in ice-bath to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

3) Season with soy, sesame oil, sesame seeds and garlic. Most recipes call for raw garlic, but I prefer frying them up to a golden crisp, and tossing them bits all over.

4) As an option, drizzle chilli oil for some kick.


E-Sarn Thai Corner, Pasir Panjang

This is the third E-Sarn Thai I've been to around Singapore. What really sets this outpost apart from the Upper Thomson and Holland Road branches is its spice levels. Whilst I've always lamented the watered down spice levels at their central and western outlets, I found the flavours at this southern offshoot significantly more robust and punchy. Me likey!

Weekdays will find this casual, low-frills eatery buzzing with office-types, while weekends are crammed with families flocking from the Pasir Panjang/west coast hinterland. Service is brisk, but sometimes inattentive, especially during peak hours. BUT, when the dining crowd begins to dwindle, service becomes more genuine, hospitable and warm.

The Yum Ma Muang ($10.50) a tangy salad with cherry tomatoes, peanuts, dried shrimps, onions centered around julienned green mangoes, made for a nice appetite whetter.

The Moo Dad Deaw ($12.50), deep-fried pork strips, were moist, intensely flavoured with basil and soy, and brightened by lemongrass.

The Tom Yum Seafood ($9.50) was bold and runny nose-inducingly hot. The seafood, while generously in supply, could be fresher, but in view of its price, reasonably decent.

The Gaeng Paed Gai ($13.50), green curry chicken with eggplant, was at the same time fiery and creamy.

The Cha Om ($10.50), a flat but airy fluffy omelette laced with acacia shoots, was served alongside a sambal belachan dip for extra kick. 

The Khao Pad Saparod ($14.50 for large) pineapple rice topped with pork floss was run-of-the-mill, but good fodder for the rich curries.

The Khao Soi ($8.50) a classic Chiang Mai dish of crispy noodles in a red curry, was the Nothern Thai state's version of our Chinese sang mee. This was delicious, the crunchy noodles are set against the backdrop of the lusciously thick curry.

The Tom Yum Kway Tiao ($8.50) was probably catered for the tom yum soup-lovers, where flat rice noodles load up a tom yum chicken broth.

The Phad Thai ($8.50) the ubiquitous Thai flat rice noodles stir-fried with chicken, beansprouts, egg, tofu, chives in slightly sweet and savoury seasoning, was competently done. This had a nice wok hei, didn't clump together at odd places, and balanced the chewy and sticky and smooth.

E-Sarn also offers wallet-friendly lunch sets, the Olive Rice Lunch Set ($8.50 set with a main and drink, a mound of plain rice capped off with a pork mince-diced olive mix, was just lovely. A duo of rather pedestrian fishcakes and a cucumber peanut dip sided this.

The Green Curry Chicken Lunch Set ($8.50 for set) was served with a slightly rubbery, over-fried egg and steamed rice, great for mopping up the sumptuous gravy.

For a decidedly limited dessert selection, E-Sarn does pretty commendable sweets. All chilled and light and great for dousing the flames in your tummy. The Thai Ruom Mit ($4) married red rubies, jack fruit, palm fruit, and agar-agar atop crushed ice and a shower of coconut milk.

The signature here, the Thai Ruom Mit Delight ($5.50) sees grass jellies and nata de coco with peanuts centered around coconut ice-cream. Thoroughly refreshing.

E-Sarn Thai Corner
130 Pasir Panjang Road
Tel: 6473 3716
Open Wednesdays to Mondays from 11.30am to 10pm


Muthu's Curry, Dempsey

We'd originally planned on hitting up Samy's Curry for lunch, but alas, they were closed. Luckily, there was Muthu's Curry just around the corner in the Dempsey Hills enclave, so we got to have our Indian food fix afterall.

Despite a modern sleek interior swathed in black and punctuated with bright orange hues, the food at this South Indian stalwart has stayed grounded, traditional, and authentic. In addition to modernising its operations and decor, Muthu's Curry has branched out into North Indian cuisine; a fantastic way of drawing in the chilli-averse, as North Indian fare tends to be less potent than its Southern counterpart.

For easy reference, I'll sequence the dishes in order of spiciness, starting from the mild to the stomach-churning ones at the end.

Their Naans, a trio of the Plain ($3), Garlic ($4) and Cheese ($4) varieties, were perfect foils for soaking up the addictive curries. Chewy and fresh, these were imbued with a delectably smoky fragrance from the tandoor oven.

The Paalak Paneer ($9), with cubes of homemade cottage cheese dunked into a smooth-as-silk pureed spinach was nicely balanced between the bittersweet and sour, but a little pedestrian.

We all loved the sunny Cabbage Thoran, sweet and so scrumptious in its simplicity. Suffice it to say, I got seconds and thirds of this.

The Yellow Daal ($8.50), studded with dried chillis and cumin seeds, was mellow, mushy and delicate.

The Aloo Gobi ($8), stir-fried potatoes and cauliflower lightly spiced and flavoured with cumin was excellent as well.

The Butter Chicken ($12) was possibly the least spicy curry of them all. Here, barbecued chicken chunks were dunked in a creamy, buttery, mildly spiced gravy.

The Mutton Mysore ($11) stir-fried with chilli, coriander powder and cashews, was just superb. The mutton was executed with finesse, devoid of the scent of game and incredibly moist and tender.

The Chicken Tikka ($12), boneless chicken rich in a yoghurt-tandoori spiced marinade was grilled to a succulent, juicy perfection. Deceptively mild-looking, it packed quite a mean right hook.

The Chicken Tikka Masala ($12) was basically chicken tikka dunked into a punchy, complex tomato-garlic based curry. 

The Chicken Masala ($5 per piece) was tongue-numbingly spicy. Its thick, paste-like curry gravy kept the chicken hunks all moist and tender, so even the breast pieces were a joy to eat. No scrambling for the thighs here!

Muthu's Curry
Blk 7 Dempsey Road #01-01
Tel: 6474 5128
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: www.muthuscurry.com

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