Choon Hui Cafe, Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching may not be known as a gourmet's paradise, but there are some must-try eats unique to Kuching. There's the famous export that's kolo mee. And there's Sarawak laksa, which, despite its name, isn't really laksa at all.

As we only had one afternoon to try all that Kuching had to offer, we asked the hotel concierge for suggestions as to where he thought was the best Sarawak laksa. After a lengthy discussion with the bell porter and taxi driver, we were sent to this old-school coffee shop, just minutes away from the hotel. The coffee shop was filled with local Kuchingites having lunch, a sure sign of authenticity. 

The Sarawak Laksa (RM$5.50 for large) is really more like our local mee siam, but totally unique and unlike anything we've ever had. The prawn stock base was spiced up by sambal belachan base and cut with sour tamarind and lemongrass, which gives it its sourish spicy flavours, reminiscent of mee siam, but with a nutty, smoky accent. Strips of omelette, fresh prawns and crunchy beansprouts were added for texture to the rice vermicelli.

The stall front, this is possibly the only place that one can actually get a full meal for under S$2.50.

The Kolo Mee (RM$2.80) was totally unlike the kolo mee available in Singapore, which I've personally thought was such a poor imitation of wanton mee. This was actually delicious from the first mouthful. Egg noodles were flash boiled, then tossed in peanut oil, garlic, shallots and white vinegar, and served with pork slices, pork balls, minced pork, barbecued pork and prawns. This was so yummy in its simplicity. It had such clean, clear and mild flavours.

I liked the Fresh Meat Kway Teow (RM$3.50) even more, due to its very delicate and light flavours.

The stall front, please remember to come early to avoid disappointment. We were told that they sometimes sell out by 11am!

There was also a stall selling popiah so we thought we'd try one. This Popiah (RM$2.20) was really very well done.

Ingredients were, by and large, the same as the ones in Singapore, save for the addition of red beans for that nutty flavour.

The coffeeshop facade, it's apparently quite famous. When I told my friend that we had laksa, kolo mee and popiah at some coffee shop, he immediately referred to this exact coffee shop!

Choon Hui Cafe
Choon Hui Coffee Shop
Jalan Ban Hock


Sabai Fine Thai on the Bay

Sabai is one of the few Thai restaurants that's suitable for a business lunch. Its first outlet at Takashimaya is so hugely successful that it's spawned a new branch at the newly restored Customs House. This establishment, with its centralised location (it's walkable from the office) and picturesque view of the bay, was the perfect choice for our June L.A. Lunch. Obviously, the high rents of the CBD area has translated to the pricey menu and somewhat small-ish portions of the food. That said, the food's authentic and good, with a spice level that has stayed true to its Thai roots. Nothing's watered down here despite the presence of many Caucasians.

Apparently, according to the grapevine, the owners of Sabai were originally from Thanying, another high-end Thai establishment. I think the food here is better than at Thanying though the dessert buffet at Thanying is without compare.

We started off with Khao Dtang Nar Dtang ($16) wonderfully crisp rice crackers served with a delicious dip of simmered minced chicken and prawns in coconut milk.

The Peek Gai Sod Sai ($4.90 per piece) of deep fried stuffed chicken wings were amazingly juicy and flavourful, with an aromatic marinade that seeped right through to the bones.

The Som Tum ($15.50) was an unbelievably spicy shredded papaya salad, due to the addition of fiery chili padis. Still, if you can get past the spiciness, this was very refreshing.

The Gang Jued Tao Huu Orn ($20.50 per pot) was a very delicate clear chicken soup with soft beancurd, minced chicken, prawns and spring onions.

Although the waitress told us that a pot would serve 5 persons, I thought this little pot, kept hot under a flame, could only serve a maximum of 2 persons. 

The Grapoh Pla Nahm Daeng ($24), Thai-Teochew fish maw soup, is one of my favourite Thai soups, along with the ubiquitous tom yum. This was choc-full of crab meat, chicken and quail's egg in a rich thick brandy-sweetened broth.

The Pat Gaprao Moo ($22) was a fragrant dish of stir-fried hot and spicy pork with fresh peppercorns, and holy basil leaves, heady and spicy.

The Pla Neung Manao ($36) was a very fresh and delicately steamed seabass in a classic Thai seasoning of bird's eye chili, garlic and fresh lime juice. The very simple seasoning really helped focus on the freshness of the fish.

The Gang Gwio Warn Gai ($19.70) was an aromatic and creamy green curry with chicken, coconut cream, sweet basil leaves, eggplant and pea eggplant.

The Kai Jiaw Bpuu ($19.30) was a fluffy and generously filled with crabmeat thai omelette. 

The Pat Pak Ruam Nahm-mun-hoey ($17.70) was our obligatory plate of greens, stir-fried mixed vegetables with oyster sauce. Simple, homely and crunchy.

The Tawd Mun Gung ($18.50 for 4) were delectable golden morsels of breaded deep-fried prawn cakes.

The Gung Op Wunsen ($31.70) was a claypot of baked plump humongous prawns with vermicelli, black mushrooms, spring onions, Chinese celery and garlic.

The Poo Ja ($14.50) was a hit, deep fried minced chicken and crab meat were stuffed into crab shells, and topped with egg yolk for a pretty presentation.

The See-krong Moo Op Nahmpeung ($23.50) was a yummy dish of deep fried smoked honey pork ribs, the ribs were moist and succulent, with a sweet honey marinade that permeated through to the bones.

The classic Thai dessert of Kao Niew Mamuang ($14.50) was great, with juicy sweet mangoes served with sweetened moist and soft sticky rice.

The Kao Niew Durian Nahm Gati ($9.50) is a must for durian-lovers, a dollop of fresh creamy durian is served in warm simmered coconut cream and sticky rice

The Tap Tim Grop ($7) of water chestnut in syrup and coconut milk was a tad too sweet, too much syrup and coconut was added to this.

Sabai Fine Thai on the Bay
70 Collyer Quay
#01-02 Customs House
Tel: 6535 3718
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 2pm
Mondays to Saturdays from 6pm to 10pm
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.sabaifinethai.com.sg


Riverside Majestic Hotel Wedding Dinner, Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching's a fairly small city with an unusual history. Their rulers, called "White Rajahs", were actually white men. I learnt this little nugget of information from an Ipohite friend of mine. This probably explains the prevalence of extremely English names of many of the roads, why English is very widely spoken throughout Kuching, and the predominance of Christianity and Catholicism throughout Kuching.

Also, I've noticed that Kuching is really quite a "neat" and clean city, which sets it apart from the other Malaysian cities I've been to, like Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, both of which are vibrant in their "messiness". Buildings are all laid out in neat lines so the city looks somewhat like Legoland, or Melbourne from the air.

The vibe is quite laidback and the pace of life is more languid. In short, life is simple here.

Of course, there aren't that many big chain hotels here, and definitely not of the super swanky Ritz type. The Riverside Majestic is one of the major hotels in Kuching, and very conveniently located in the centre of the business, entertainment and dining district of Kuching. This was the last stop of the "wedding world tour" for my friend, who held a grand total of 3 weddings in 3 different countries on 3 consecutive weekends. The first in London, second in Hong Kong and the third and grandest one in Kuching. You see, both the bride and groom have lived in England for the better part of their adult lives, the bride's originally from Hong Kong, and the groom's from Kuching. I honestly don't know how they pulled it off. Here's a secret for all you getting-married couples, rope in your families and friends. They got a lot of help from their siblings, who practically organised the entire Kuching wedding for the couple.

As with most wedding dinners, this was really no different. The food was tolerable at best, unappetizing mostly, and really not worth the breaking a diet for.

The obligatory cold starter dish of Phoenix Cold Hors D'oeuvre, with poached chicken terrine, fried beancurd skin, marinated jellyfish, and prawn ball. Only the beancurd skin was passable. The jellyfish was limpid, the chicken terrine was powdery and the prawn ball was just not very tasty. 

I had a tough time finishing up the Shark's Fin Soup with Prawn, Crabmeat & Mushroom. I kept picking out bits of crab shell from the soup, the shark's fin was also tough and rubbery, and the soup base was too starchy, with little blobs of starch floating around the soup. Suffice it to say, I didn't go for seconds.

The Steamed Seabass "Hong Kong" Style was barely passable, while the soy marinade was delicate and light, the fish would have been fresher if it was served 2 days ago.

I appreciated that the Oven-Baked Five Spice Pi Pa Duck with Plum Sauce was served warm and meat was fairly soft and tender, but even the very salty spices couldn't mask the gamey taste of the duck.

The Golden Soil Prawn was battered way too much, so it created a very huge coating around prawns that were powdery and small. The only ok thing about this was the crunchy fried chye poh.

This was probably the best dish of the night, Stewed Mixed Vegetables with Bamboo Pith, Mushroom and Cashew Nuts. The vegetables were crunchy enough, but too much flour made the seasoning a little too starchy.

Only the noodles, boy choy and egg drops in the Fried Emperor Noodle "Cantonese" Style were good. The seafood medley of prawns, fish and squid weren't fresh enough.

The dessert of Chilled Lotus Seed, Lily Bulb, Snow Fungus & Dried Longan was refreshing but too sweet.

Riverside Majestic Hotel
Sarawak Chamber Ballroom
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman
PO Box 2928
Website: www.riversidemajestic.com/rmh/

Tomo Izakaya

It seems that I'm only here when I'm having lunch with CC and Mr J. The last time I was here, more than a year ago, was also with the both of them.

Since a year ago, there are less restaurants offering the Clarke Quay Weekday $15 Set Lunch Promotion. Tomo Izakaya is one of the best lunch spots under this promotion. Their bento set lunches usually make for a full substantive meal, and generally of reasonable quality. Tomo Izakaya has 2 different choices for the set lunch, 1 with fish and the other with beef.

Set A is paired with simmered gindara, and served alongside tuna and salmon sashimi, chicken gyoza, prawn and avocado salad, rice, pickles and miso soup. The cod fish was fresh, creamy and mild, and everything else was fairly good, except the sashimi, which weren't particularly fresh.

Set B is paired with simmered beef and potatoes, sides of deep fried sliced burdock, sashimi, prawn avocado salad, rice, pickles and miso soup. Save for the sashimi, the rest were reasonable alright.

Tomo Izakaya
3A River Valley Road #01-04
Clarke Quay
Tel: 6333 0100
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 12pm to 2.30pm for lunch and 6pm to 1am for dinner;
Fridays, Saturdays and Eve of Public holidays from 12pm to 2.30pm for lunch and 6pm to 3am for dinner.
Website: www.tomoizakaya.com/


Pullman Kuching Hotel Room Service

We were in Kuching over the weekend to attend a friend's wedding. It's the first time we've ever been to Kuching, or Sarawak (Kuching is its capital city), or Borneo (Sarawak is one of the 2 states on the island of Borneo). Heck, we've never even been to East Malaysia (consisting the island of Borneo which is split into the 2 states of Sabah and Sarawak, and Labuan).

Like I told my friend, I would never go to Kuching if not for his wedding. Hey, I'm not dissing Kuching okay. It's just that I'm not the kind of person who'd go to a place like that. I just don't like the rainforest. Which is in lush abundance in Sarawak. I'd rather go to the beach. Grab a book, a wide-brimmed hat, slap on copious amounts of sunscreen, and laze beside the pool all day.

Despite all that my friend's told me (he claims that Kuching is just one big kampong), Kuching isn't filled with kampongs. It's doesn't look any different from Johor, or Ipoh. Definitely a slower pace of life than Singapore. But with its own commercial vibe. There seems to be a large Chinese community here, very similar to Penang and Malacca, and most Chinese here predominantly speak Hokkien, as opposed to Cantonese in Johor and Kuala Lumpur. 

Despite being a really short weekend trip, this was still a really good trip. It was a whirlwind of events from the time we stepped off the plane to the time we sleepwalked back on board for the 1-hour flight home. 

Because our flight was delayed, we had to head straight to the church where the ceremony was already underway, luggage in tow. We didn't miss much. Catholic Church wedding ceremonies are quite long, so we got to see the couple exchange their vows. The thing about churches in Kuching is that they aren't air-conditioned. Luckily, I was in a thin, cool dress. The poor Fiance though, he was in a long-sleeved shirt and sweating like crazy. 

We all headed back to the groom's parents' home for the buffet reception. Because the reception area was similarly without air-conditioning, we were just too uncomfortable to eat much. We thought we'd just get some room service at the hotel after we checked in.

Pullman is the newest hotel opened in the "Golden Triangle" of Kuching, near the waterfront where most of the action takes place. My rule of thumb when staying in a hotel in Malaysia, is that it should be relatively new, and belong to a reputable hotel chain. The hotel was clean, spacious (the bathroom was huge, and with an expansive view of the waterfront) modern and very comfortable.

The room service, despite being very limited, had a bunch of good stuff. We had the Wah Tan Hor (RM$21.80), which is basically like our local hor fan. However, this was way better than most of our hor fan. The gravy was the winning factor, deep, rich, thick and with silky egg drops. The Fiance proclaimed this the "best hor fan" he's ever had. Baby bak choy, Chinese black mushrooms, fish, prawns, chicken breast and squid lent texture and flavour.

I had the Pullman Fried Rice (RM$20.80), which is like nasi padang. A sunny-side up egg, chicken and beef satay, fried chicken wing, sambal prawns were plated alongside a spiced fried rice, while pickles and fish crackers served as accompaniments. The fried rice may not look like much, but that was the star of the dish, it was nicely flavoured, a little spice, a little peppery, a little stock. The rest of the meats were just so-so, passable but not memorable.

We shared the Malaysian Satay (RM$32.80), a dozen beef and chicken satays, with traditional condiments of compressed rice, cucumbers, pickles and paysanne cut onions.

Breast meat was used for the chicken, so it was drier than the ones we are used to. Still, it was reasonably moist. The Fiance didn't like this though, he only likes the ones which use thigh meat and usually dripping in oil and fat.

The beef was moist, tasty and fairly tender.

Pullman Kuching Hotel
1A Jalan Mathies
Kuching Sarawak
Website: www.pullmankuching.com

Muthu's Curry Restaurant, Suntec City Mall

There are a few names that pop up whenever a craving for South Indian-style fish head curry hits. Muthu's Curry, Banana Leaf Apolo, and Gayatri Restaurant are some of the notable purveyors of this local creation. There! That's at least one dish nobody else can claim is their creation. This truly is "Uniquely Singapore" dish. Even Wikipedia says so too! You won't find this dish anywhere in India. Apparently, an Indian Singaporean chef wanted to cater to the local Chinese palate, who view fish head as a delicacy, so he put the fish head together with his Indian spices and made it all into a curry! Bring to mind the phrase, "melting pot", doesn't it?

To be honest, I can't tell the difference between all of their curry fish heads, they all belong to the thick, creamy (with lots of coconut milk) and spicy type. Not the assam type. If you want the assam type, head to Samy's Curry.

So, we obviously had the Fish Head Curry ($25 for medium) with okra and pineapple in a thick, richly potent and heady curry. The fish could have been fresher, it had a lingering "day-old-fish" smell and taste. The curry, while spicy, could have been a tad spicier. Just a smidgen. And with a little less salt. That said, the curry was suitably spicy, and quite satisfying when ladled over piping hot white rice.

Muthu's doesn't just do South Indian cuisine. In order to stay competitive, they've branched out into North Indian territory as well. They now serve up naans fresh from the tandoor, dhals and tandoori meats. We got a portion of the Garlic Naan ($4), sans coriander. These were very well done, fluffy, soft and hot, with a delectable chewy bite to them. And a barest whiff of garlicky accent. If I had to gripe, it would be that the bread was really quite overpriced.

Complimentary Poppadoms, which we used to wipe off the curry gravy.

Muthu's Curry
3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-056 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6835 7707
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm, 6pm to 10pm
Website: www.muthuscurry.com/flash/


SICC Bukit Poolside Cafe

I've been down with a bacterial infection, so I was coughing and wheezing my lungs out. That meant no exercise until all the phlegm was purged out of my system. I finally got to go back to the gym after 2 whole long months, and man, have I lost my stamina! I was huffing and puffing away on the treadmill and could barely last all of the 15 minutes' slow jog.

Still, exercise was bearable because I get to indulge, guilt-free, after the workout! Yes, I know some people think that they should keep to a healthy regime and eat sensibly and light, especially after they've worked out, so as not to "erase all of the hard work" at the gym. Well, I belong to the other camp. I'm one of those people who feel that I deserve to indulge, especially since I've worked so hard at the gym.

I got the Fish & Chips ($10), fresh and smooth dory fillets, coated in a thin batter and fried to a golden crisp. This could have done with less salting though. Fries were generic but nice.

SICC Bukit Poolside Cafe
Singapore Island Country Club, Bukit location
240 Sime Road
Tel: 6461 7433
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 8am to 8pm; Fridays to Sundays from 8am to 9pm


TCC, The Connoisseur Concerto, Bugis Junction

We revisited TCC for dinner the other night. We'd originally intended to try Nando's, just next to TCC, but it was a full-house and there was a long queue just to be seated. As you all well know by now, we hate queuing, so we made a beeline for TCC instead, which is quite surprisingly, really. Their food's good, ambience casual and breezy, prices reasonable, but there's always seats available in this cafe. Maybe it's because most people think that they serve only coffee? Hmm...

We started off with the Spicy-hot Wings ($12.50) which was lipsmackingly juicy and moist but with an exceptionally spicy and peppery battered crust. I was quite stunned at how spicy this was, in a very Mexican, slow heat, peppery way. You have been warned.

The Fiance got the Beef Stew ($20.80). This was braised so well it was fork tender, in a red wine and tomato veal jus, and paired with oven baked herb potatoes.

I got the Shrooms and Splash Gratin ($16.80) of golden baked penne gratin with shrimps and mushrooms ragout topped with mozzarella. Even if the shrimps were a little teensy weensy, I still liked this for its creamy, cheesy, mushroomy flavours.

The Connoisseur Concerto
80 Middle Road
#01-97 Bugis Junction (Atrium)
Tel: 6336 6956
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.theconnoisseurconcerto.com


Coffee Club, Wheelock Place

There's this old saying, what goes around comes around. I was just gloating to my colleague the other day that being on Invisalign really is quite a breeze, compared to people who've had to ensure the pain of metal braces. Really, I should have kept my mouth shut. Having just started on my 6th aligner yesterday, I'm in pain. There's a lot more straightening movement of the teeth with the 6th aligner, which means that I constantly feel like I'm having my teeth pulled. Without novocain.

This also means that I'm on soft foods for now. Foods like ice-cream, which is both soft and refreshingly cold, helps soothe my very tender teeth and gums. So, I'm on an all ice-cream diet for now. While the Fiance had a proper meal at Coffee Club, I was relegated to the mudpies selection. Ah well, at least there's a silver lining.

There are 2 Coffee Club joints at Wheelock Place. While the open-air outlet facing Orchard Road is open 24 hours and offers the full menu, the air-conditioned one inside, just past Borders, is open only from 8am till late and offers a limited range of dishes.

I had the Nutty Frenzy ($10.50) a majestic combination of caramel, nougat and macadamia nut ice-cream, with candied macadamias and richly satisfying dessert that's nutty and sweet. I've always liked Coffee Club's mudpies, they're generously portioned and extremely value-for-money. Obviously, the Fiance ate the macadamias and shortbread crust.

The Fiance had the Country Pie ($10.50) a yummylicious combination of marinated diced chicken, root vegetables and mashed potatoes, topped with golden molten mozzarella cheese. This is so good, it's a must-try.

The Iced Lychee Passionfruit Tea ($3.60) was a tad too saccharine, sweetened cocktail lychees were added to an already sugared fruity tea.

Coffee Club
501 Orchard Road
Wheelock Place
Tel: 6836 5383
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 8am to 10pm
Fridays to Saturdays from 8am to 11.30pm
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