Cicheti (pronounced "chi-keh-tee") was highly recommended by Danielle, a regular reader of this my blog, and a fellow blogger herself.

The pizzas at Cicheti are done Neapolitan-style; they're distinctively thicker and consequently chewier than the typical thin-crust pizzas we're so used to. An absolute nightmare for dieters but the Hubs relished its smoky accents imbued from the wood-fire oven.

Seating at the tiny shop-house space is extremely limited so it's best to secure reservations, or be prepared to be turned away. Service was excellent though, attentive and friendly. Our water glasses were always kept brimming to the full.

We started off with the Gamberi Grassi ($13), a quartet of fat juicy prawns grilled with smoked butter, and sided by a crusty baguette toast for mopping up every last bit of the luscious butter. 

The Carbonara ($23) topped with bacon, fior de latte cheese, cream, parmesan, onions, black peppercorns and a sunny side up egg was sumptuous. We especially loved smearing the runny egg all over the pizza. 

The Procuitto e Rucola ($25) was burnished with melted fior de latte, parma ham, arugula and showered with grated grana cheese was just lovely, with the pungent saltiness of the parma ham ribbons contrasted with the peppery bitterness of the arugula greens.

52 Kandahar Street
Tel: 6292 5012
Open for weekday lunch from 12noon to 3pm;
Dinners from Mondays to Saturdays from 6.30pm to 11pm;
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.cicheti.com


Oven Marvel

Sorry for the radio silence, we're just putting the finishing touches on a deal at work, and life's been a whirlwind of events. This was a somewhat dated discovery of ours, in the sleepy old-school city-fringe mall Sunshine Plaza.

Oven Marvel, a hole-in-the-wall shop a few doors from Victor's Kitchen, retails only 3 types of baked confectionery, namely chicken pies, chocolate muffins and curry puffs. With an enviable track record of selling out their wares daily, you could say that they are hugely popular with the masses. When we hit them up at 3pm on a weekend, they'd already sold out their chicken pies!

So anyways, we got the next best thing, and bought up their remaining Curry Puffs ($2.80). These were done Malay-style, proliferated with sweet onions, tender chicken and potatoes in a manageably spiced curried paste and swaddled in a flaky puff pastry. Delicious, but strictly as a matter of preference, I much prefer the Chinese-style ones at Wang Wang.

Oven Marvel
91 Bencoolen Street
Sunshine Plaza #01-51
Open daily from 11.30am to 6pm;
Closed every 8th, 18th, 28th of the month


Ben's Cookies

The famed English cookie company Ben's Cookies launched with much fanfare a few months ago. We were waiting for the hype to die down before sampling their wares, as the sole store at Wisma Atria still sports a long queue of customers. But, a friend brought over a whole bunch of their cookies for dessert one luncheon a couple of weeks ago, and we were forever hooked. The Hubs actually went out that very weekend to satisfy his cookie fix! The cookies truly lived up to the hype; delightfully chewy, crumbly, buttery, generously studded with chocolate chunks and nuts, and surprisingly cheap. Apparently, 7 huge cookie discs retail at only $14!

White Chocolate Chunk, laced with hunks of melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate. By the way, the cookies may seem that they come in semi-circlets, but it's only because the Hubs actually ate the other halves. He was halfway through them all before he'd realised I needed to take pictures of them!

My fave, Dark Chocolate and Nuts, speckled with walnuts and chocolate pieces.

Strictly for chocoholics, the Double Chocolate Chunk has a double dose of chocolate.

Unexpectedly, I didn't like the Peanut Butter as much as I did the ones with nuts. I suppose it's because I prefer my cookies traditional.

The White Chocolate and Macadamia, a smaller disc but higher mound so it looked a little like a mini bun of sorts, had plentiful macadamias. This took a joint first place with the Dark Choc and Nuts.

Ben's Cookies
Wisma Atria B1-50
435 Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 5340
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.benscookies.com



Have I already said that the architecture of Orchard Central is the worst? With its haphazard layout and maze of a carpark, it's little wonder that mall traffic is so low. It's already frustrating trying to navigate the nightmare of a carpark, but when compounded with the inaccessibility of the mall from the carpark, morphs into a massively thumping headache just to patronise the mall. BUT, we wanted to check out this ramen place, Nantsuttei. The self-touted ramen champ had apparently disappointed quite the following when it'd wound the shutters down its first shop space when its landlord Parco Marina exited Millenia Walk sometime last year. So when Nantsuttei re-surfaced at Orchard Central a few months ago, I thought a visit was in order.

Nantsuttei is known for slicking their ramen with a layer of inky-black roasted garlic oil, and tampering their rich tonkotsu broth with chicken stock. The deeply aromatic but delicate ramen is what made fans of its customers, and I was no different. I found the flavour incredibly unique and addictive and actually started craving Nantsuttei a couple days after our dinner here.

The must-try is their signature Chashu Men ($16), stacked with a shoyu-marinated pork loin simmered to a plastic fork-tender texture, crisp beansprouts, seaweed and an added Egg ($1.50). The towering bowl was full-bodied but well-balanced and never cloying. The smoky accents of the garlic oil gave the creamy broth a lively edge and kept it slurpilicious to the last drop.

For those who thrive on spice, the Kara-miso Ramen Mouretsu Tanmen Hana-ji Boo ($16), a spicy miso-ed ramen speckled with ground pork fried with hot Japanese pepper, at the penultimate spice level of 3, may be more your thing. Turns out, level 3 was a very manageable spicy even for moderates like me. So if you really like the heat, get the level 4. This possessed a more complex flavour dimension, but I preferred the chashu men. There was just too much going on in this bowl, and got a little heavy towards the end. 

Orchard Central #07-12
181 Orchard Road
Tel: 6337 7166
Open daily from 11am to 10.30pm
Website: www.nantsu.com/english


Mellben Seafood, Ang Mo Kio

Mellben Seafood is another heavyweight name in the local seafood and cze char scene. Having spawned a couple of branches in the east, we chose its original outlet, located in the Ang Mo Kio heartland for dinner. Related to Uncle Leong Seafood, this is actually my first time here at Mellben. I was always so deterred by reports of lousy service and legendary hour-long waits for food.

As it turned out, the legends of hour-long waits for food, and to get seated, were true; so it's best to get a headstart when trying to get seats for dinner. Or else, nominate a friend to start queuing up for a table at least half an hour before the rest of the party is due to arrive. OR, if you really really abhor queuing, just call ahead and dabao for dinner! Another tip is to dine in larger groups of at least 8 persons, I noticed that there were more tables allocated to larger groups as opposed to small gatherings.

While we're on the topic of slow service, I would have thought that having the benefit of decades of experience in running such a massively successful seafood joint would result in a more efficient kitchen service.Throughout our 3-hour sojourn at Mellben, there were empty tables left unoccupied while impatient hungry patrons were fidgeting in the 10-metre long queue for seats. Maybe the management would like to revisit their seating policies and refine their kitchen protocols, hmm??

That said, the crabs here were so good I'm loathe to admit that we actually thought they were worth the wait.

The Crab Fried Beehoon ($50 per kg) was just excellent. Subtly heated with black pepper, sweetened with caramelised onions and studded with crunchy greens, the tangled mass of rice noodles was scrumptious. Even if I could hardly make out any crab stock in the noodles. A tip is to pick out the sweet flesh of the crabs and toss it into the noodles to eat with, instead of eating them both separately. 

The Salted Egg Yolk Crabs ($50 per kg) were just as superb. This was done a dry style, so there wasn't any gravy, but the curry leaves and chilli padi slices added a mild levity to the wondrous grainy salted egg yolk paste plastered all over the crabs.

Mellben Seafood
Blk 232 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 #01-1222
Tel: 6285 6762
Open daily from 4.30pm to 11.30pm


Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

At first brush, this dish sounds like a recipe for some type of human-repellant, but I think, it's time to bring this classic French casserole back in vogue. Garlic, on its own, is anti-socially sharp and pungent, but once caramelised, mellows out into a rounded, buttery sweetness that's incredibly tantalising.

I love making this for dinner parties, it's a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, and appears a lot more sophisticated than it really is. Best of all, it can be whipped up in a cinch and requires minimal ingredients. 

Ingredients (feeds 2-4):
4 chicken thighs (budget 1-2 thigh(s) per pax)
40 cloves garlic (approx 4 heads), peeled and left whole
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay or else, vermouth is a viable substitute)
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp herbs (I used a mix of dried rosemary and thyme; you can also use tarragon or fresh ones)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Heat olive oil in pan on medium heat. Brown chicken that's been seasoned with salt and pepper for about 16 minutes, turning over once at the 8-minute mark. 

2) Transfer to a baking dish once seared to a golden. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 176 degrees Celsius (350 F).

3) Sizzle the garlic in the olive-oil-chicken-fat renderings until caramelised, about 5 minutes.

4) Add wine until almost completely reduced. Skip this step if you can't have wine, and add in a tbsp apple cider vinegar after step 6.

5) Add stock and heat through until bubbling. Add herbs to soften.

6) Transfer about 1/4 of garlic over to baking dish with chicken, and mash the remaining garlic into the stock until smooth.

7) Pour stock over chicken in baking dish, and pop into oven for about half an hour for chicken to cook through.

8) Serve garnished with added fresh herbs.

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