Kiraku Japanese Restaurant, Market Street

Kiraku, located in the basement of Market Street, is a classy Japanese restaurant that offers reasonably priced set lunches. This place serves up one of the better Japanese food in the CBD. There are about 20 different set lunches for your choosing, ranging from grilled teriyaki meats to sashimi based chirashi bowls.

A bunch of us brought Mr J out for a celebratory birthday meal here recently. It's ironic, because when I used to work in the area, I'd always walk past this restaurant but never go in. It's only when I no longer work in the area that I first stepped into the restaurant. Please note that reservations for lunch are a must, as it's always packed to the brim.

The Beef Gyu-Niku Stew Set ($25) was made up of a rich stew with diced prime beef chunks served with salad, rice, the daily appetizer, miso soup and fruits. The beef was fork-tender and meltingly moist.

The Beef Teriyaki Bento Box ($22) had a succulent prime beef sirloin brushed with teriyaki sauce and grilled, then served with rice, salmon sashimi, appetizer, pickles, miso soup and fresh fruits.

The Salmon Teriyaki Bento Box ($21) had pretty much the same sides as the beef teriyaki bento box, but with a fillet of grilled teriyaki Norwegian salmon instead.

The Unajyu and Sashimi Special Set ($29) was more substantial than the other sets, which explains the slightly higher pricing. A piece of fresh eel marinated with homemade kabayaki sauce was grilled to a smoky hue and served with 3 types of sashimi, smooth chawanmushi, daily appetizer, rice, pickles, miso soup and fresh fruits.

The Unajyu and Tempura Special Set ($24) was pretty much the same as the unajyu special set but the sashimi was switched out with an assortment of crisp vegetable and prawn tempura.

Kiraku Japanese Restaurant
55 Market Street
Tel: 6438 6428
Open Mondays to Fridays & Eve of PH from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch
Mondays to Thursdays from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Fridays and Eve of PH from 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Closed on weekends and PH


The Blue Ginger, Tanjong Pagar Road

You know how it's been said that the prevalence of foreigners in a restaurant is a sure sign that the food there is watered down or unauthentic? This generalization certainly didn't hold true when we recently dined at The Blue Ginger, a popular Peranakan restaurant at the very-centrally-located-but-with-nightmarish-parking-woes Tanjong Pagar Road.While there were foreigners aplenty dining alongside us, we thought the cuisine was very authentic.

The Blue Ginger is one of few names that come to mind whenever Peranakan food is mentioned in Singapore. They're consistently featured on most "Best Eats" lists, because they serve up food that even a finicky matriarch would have little to complain about. While they aren't as cheap as Ivins, or have portions as big as Ivins, their ambience is decidedly more upscale than Ivins' casual style. You do pay a little extra for the nicer ambience, but we still thought that our dinner was very reasonably priced.

A small note is that reservations for dinner are a must (unless you plan to eat dinner at 9.30pm), as the small-ish restaurant is perpetually a full-house every night.

We started off with some Kueh Pie Tee ($7), crisp savoury buttery cups filled with stewed shredded bamboo shoots and turnip, and garnished with half a boiled prawn and a kickass sambal. This was delicious, I could have eaten several portions of this on its own for a full meal.

Babi Pong Tay ($9.90) is the Fiance's favourite Peranakan dish (he's Baba on his Dad's side), and The Blue Ginger's rendition didn't disappoint. Fatty and decadent pork belly was stewed with preserved bean paste and flavoured with cinnamon bark till it was melt-worthy. The only teensy tiny gripe we had about this dish was that the green chillis should have been allowed to infuse their heat into the dish for a little dimension, instead of simply being used as a garnish.

The Ayam Panggang "Blue Ginger" ($11.50), a house specialty was understandably a hit as well. Tender boneless chicken was first grilled to a smoky sweetish finish and then slathered in a thick, ginger-and-lemongrass-spiced coconut milk paste. This was a nice balance of sweet, spicy, salty and sourish flavours.

The Chap Chye Masak Titek ($9.50) here was one of the best versions of this mixed veggie dish I've had in a long long time. Cabbage, clear vermicelli, black fungus and sweet bean cake were stewed till soft, but not soggy, in a sufficiently rich prawn stock, preserved bean paste and sambal for some heat. This was rich, flavoursome and thoroughly satisfying.

For dessert, we had the very refreshing and classic Peranakan dessert of Chendol ($4), red beans and pandan-flavoured jelly in freshly squeezed coconut milk sweetened with gula melaka, cane sugar that's known for its caramel-like sweetness. For those who don't know, it tastes like burnt caramel. We loved this for its icy coolness and nuanced sweetness.

The green jelly was slippery, plump and totally slurpworthy.

We also sampled the other classically Peranakan dessert of Sago Gula Melaka ($4) with tiny iridescent pearl sago beads and honey sea coconut strips in coconut milk-infused shaved ice and a liberal drizzling of gula melaka. This was really quite the same taste, albeit a little sweeter because gula melaka features more in this dessert, but with different ingredients.

The complimentary Achar appetizer to whet our tastebuds. Good but fairly ordinary.

The Blue Ginger
97 Tanjong Pagar Road
Tel: 6222 3928
Open daily from 12noon to 2.15pm for lunch and 6.30pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: www.theblueginger.com


Sauce, Esplanade Mall

Sauce is The Butter Factory's newest baby and first solo foray into the fickle F&B world (it previously collaborated with the Lo & Behold group to set up Overeasy at One Fullerton). It's a fun, light-hearted take on the American backyard BBQ party, which probably explains the astro-turf, white-washed patio furniture at the alfresco area and general breezy, casual vibe. It's primarily a drinking hole, and second, a food venue. Now, you may wonder why it's named "Sauce", and it's really because you get at least 3 sauces paired with every ala carte dish. All proprietory blends and specifically tailored to that dish itself.

Please bear in mind that it's just been soft-launched, so there are a number of kinks in service, food and consistency that are still being worked out by the management. I generally don't like to review an establishment that's just been opened due to the aforementioned reason, but we recently had our L.A. Drinks there so I figured the management could benefit from our critic.

Service-wise, the attitude of the staff was commendable, helpful and cheery, but efficiency level left much to be desired. The wait staff were generally a bumbling, fumbling lot, a bit "blur" and not familiar with the food or drinks. I assume this will be sorted out over time and with training.

The food, on the other hand, was generally a hit-and-miss affair. I'll deal with the nibbles menu (available till closing time) first, then the dishes from the ala carte menu (available from 5pm to 9.30pm).
The Garlic Mushrooms ($9) were a hit, mushrooms were juicy, sauteed in fragrant garlic and fresh English parsley with just the right amount of salt to be flavoursome without being overtly salty.

The Lunch Meat Chips ($8) of thinly sliced luncheon meat fried till crisp, and served alongside an orange-accented chilli made from orange zest, coriander and Thai chilli was a novelty hit and brought back memories of a simpler childhood.

We would have liked some melted cheese to go with the Nachos ($8), which was served with mango mustard, a blend of mango puree, mayonnaise and whole grain mustard. A bit pricey, seeing as this was something that one can easily whip up at home. Still, this was nice.

We all liked the Crispy Mid Wings ($10) sliced at mid section, with a distinctively Oriental influence. The sauce blend of garlic, ginger, jalepeno, cilantro, lime juice and chilli padi, with its Asian overtones, complemented the chicken wings. Please note that each wing, because it was cut into 2, may seem a little small to some.

The Waffle Fries ($11) were sinfully yummy, served with curry mayo, a blend of coriander, green curry paste & palm sugar.

The Chicken Quesadillas ($14) may not look particularly appetizing compared to the rest of the nibbles, but it was good. Chicken breast strips, diced jalapeno & shredded mozzarella cheese were wrapped in tortilla and served with a blend of maple syrup, garlic mayo and black sesame seeds.

I would have preferred the Smoked Sausage ($14) grilled as opposed to being smoked, as grilling makes the pork sausages more juicy, but it was flavoursome enough. It was served with homemade BBQ sauce made from Dijon mustard, chilli powder and pineapple juice.

The Poutine ($15), a quintessentially English snack of chunky french fries drenched in gravy and cheese sounded promising, but was seriously lacking in a lot more gravy and a lot more cheese. It's supposed to be "drenched", as stated on the menu, not just "drizzled".

Onto the ala carte dinner menu, the Rib Eye ($30) was nice enough, full bodied and meaty, with a pretty criss-crossed grill pattern. A trio of pickle & herb, mushroom orzo and rosemary roast sauce went well with the steak. The funny thing about all of the mains was the extraordinarily large plates on which the mains were plated. The too-large plate just made the 200g of grass-fed, Angus rib-eye steak look puny in comparison, but in actual fact, the portion of the steak was just right. All mains are served with a choice of potatoes or veggies.

The 'Shroom Burger ($24), with an all-veggie patty  of juicy portobello, zucchini, tomatoes and crisp lettuce between toasted burger buns, accompanied by chilli cheese, cinnamon apple and jalapeno tartar sauces, was a vegetarian dream. 

The Pork Rack ($26) of a US-flown pork rack on the bone was infused with lemon-thyme, grilled and served with cinnamon apple, coffee bourbon and apricots & almonds sauces. The pork was tender enough, but needed more flavour.

The Twin Prawns ($32) was overpriced and under-portioned. Also, this could have benefitted from a shorter time on the grill, it was a little dried out.  A set of ginger & lime, BBQ and mango saffron sauces accompanied this dish.

The Lamb Rack ($30), rubbed with garlic and rosemary, was aromatic, but needed more marination time to let all the herbs seep into the meat. This was served alongside red wine & mint, mushroom orzo and balsamic beans sauce.

The Cornish Game Hen ($24) was too dry and tasteless. Even a copious helping of the BBQ, pickle & herb and balsamic beans sauces couldn't save this.

The Salmon ($27), flavoured in Cajun spice mix of cayenne, paprika, garlic, thyme, oregano, and cumin, and accompanied by jalapeno tartar, port reduction and ginger & lime sauces, was well done. Fish was crisp on the outside but moist on the inside.

There aren't many desserts to choose from, apart from this Chocolate Vanilla Cup ($8) and 2 flavours of ice-cream. We liked this, chocolate was rich and satisfying without being saccharine, while vanilla was creamy and comforting.

8 Raffles Ave
#01-01/12 Esplanade Mall
Tel: 6837 2959
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 5pm to 1am;
Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm to 2am


Cedele Restaurant, Raffles City

I'm someone that's perfectly comfortable eating alone in a restaurant. Of course I'd prefer eating with someone because of the lively conversation, but every once a while, when the Fiance is busy, I'll eat by myself. It brings to mind this episode of Sex & The City, when Carrie was lamenting how she couldn't eat by herself, alone in a restaurant, because it made her feel like a freak. And the girls discussed about how some guys, if they see a girl alone in a restaurant, would automatically think she's a freak. I personally don't think there's anything wrong with people eating alone. What do you think?

The Fiance was having a dinner meeting at Swissotel so I headed there after work to have dinner at Cedele while waiting for him. Not the one in the food basement, but the one at the 3rd floor. Cedele is nice and quiet, because it's situated at the convention centre, away from the hustle of the main shopping area of Raffles City, so it's great for a meal alone. Plus, the iPhone makes for a fantastic dinner companion...who needs to carry around hardcopy books when you have the iPhone?

I had the Red Seafood Risotto ($16.90) with seared white fish, prawns and mussels in tomato basil arborio rice. This was terrible, which was surprising, because it was the first time I've ever had a bad meal in Cedele. The seafood was stale, rubbery and/or fishy, very off-putting both in smell and taste. The fish fillet was choc-full of bones, I was spitting out bones with whatever little bite I bit off the fillet. The only edible thing on the dish was probably the rice.

Cedele Restaurant
Raffles City Shopping Centre
Tel: 6337 8017
Open daily from 11am to 10.30pm
Website: www.cedeledepot.com


Hong Kong Kim Gary Restaurant, Vivocity

Mr J, The Professor, Mr Harvest-the-Crops and I got out of the CBD for lunch to Vivocity. It's always a treat to get out of the office area, there's a relaxed air to it that makes us all happy. Hong Kong Kim Gary is apparently The Professor's "Happy Place", and it's easy to see why. The food is in the style of Hongkong's "cha chan tengs", serving east-west "fast-food", with a bustling atmosphere and quick efficient service. While I personally don't fancy such "fast-food", to have it once a while is fine by me.

The Mix Curry BK Rice ($11.90) was devilishly indulgent, with grilled chicken and pork cutlets, ham, hotdogs all slathered generously with cheese and baked till a golden brown. A few fried potatoes, one lonely broccoli floret and hard boiled egg completed the artery-clogging dish.

The A-Mix Set Meal ($10.90) wasn't much different, with grilled chicken steak, pork chop, sunny-side egg, ham, hotdog, accompanying pepper spaghetti and boiled veggies. Don't worry, the egg does come with its yolk, it was just that Mr J had gobbled up the yolk before I had a chance to take a picture of his dish.

We shared the Dai Pai Dong Curry Fishballs ($4.90), which is basically fried fish balls with sweetish spicy sambal. Nice.

Hong Kong Kim Gary Restaurant
1 Harbourfront Walk
Vivocity #02-128
Tel: 6376 8183
Open daily from 10am to 10pm


SICC The Lookout

The club's recently launched its new mega clubhouse, after almost 2 years of renovations. The Lookout is its open-air coffee-house overlooking the golf course, with all day dining serving both local and western fare. It's really lovely in the mornings, as the early morning mist covers the green fairways and the weather's nice and cool. We were in the area and decided to pop by for breakfast. It's been a while since we had American-styled breakfast and you know what a sucker I am for eggs and bacon. 

I got the Two Fried Eggs ($7.50) scrambled and served with toast, an English cumberland sausage, grilled tomatoes, hashbrown and crisp bacon. While I'm a fan of most sausages, I've since discovered I don't particularly care for the cumberland variety. It's probably got something to do with the herb mixture.

The Fiance got the Club Breakfast ($12.90), which is basically like my dish, but with additional Danish pastries, and he had his eggs sunny, instead of scrambled.

The Lookout
Singapore Island Country Club
180 Island Club Road
Open daily from 6.30am to 10pm


Cafe Le Caire

We usually like hanging out at Arab Street in the afternoons, there's this languid, sleepy vibe that's such a refreshing change to the fast pace of our work-life. It's completely different at night though, it's crowded, lively, messy, almost rowdy, due to the number of pubs and late-night cafes in the area.

We had a lazy Sunday brunch at Cafe Le Caire, and wow, was it lazy. It may be due to the heat of the afternoon sun, but service was super, duper, unbelievably slow. Slower than it usually is. In fact, it was so slow it took more than half an hour for the kitchen to get our orders out, and notwithstanding the delay, our orders were wrong anyway. And we were the only customers. We would have liked to be informed if they were going to take such a long time with my food. Mind you, I'm not very particular about service standards, but hey, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that I be informed, beforehand, if my food was going to take more than half an hour to arrive. I would have gladly gone someplace else.

Please note that I may be biased about the food because I was so hungry by then. We liked the Grilled Chicken Steak ($11) a piece of succulent chicken thigh grilled on a spit to a smoky finish. it was well-marinated and juicy, but not too oily.

I do like the aromatic spices and seasoning, typical of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Although we ordered fish kebabs, they gave us Shish Tawouke ($14.50) instead, chicken kebabs that were moist and tender. I suppose it's easy to mix up the 2 as they sound alike, but hey, I'd like to think our pronounciation is pretty accurate.

Despite the wrong order, this was yummy, flavoursome and moist chicken breast meat.

Cafe Le Caire
39 Arab Street
Tel: 6292 0979
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 10am to 3.30am
Wednesdays to Saturdays from 10am to 5.30am
Website: www.cafelecaire.com


Tawandang Microbrewery, Dempsey

Like Brewerkz, Paulaner Brauhaus and The Pump Room, Tawandang Microbrewery is one of those watering holes that you can have a full meal while indulging in in-house-brewed beers. While the food at Brewerkz, Paulaner and The Pump Room are All-American grub, German, and Aussie respectively, Tawandang's fare is mainly Thai.

What could have worked in theory to pair Thai spicy food with refreshing German beers failed in execution. Simply because the prices at Tawandang are quite exorbitant. Having had dinner there recently, I think it's possibly the most "boh hwa" (i.e. not value-for-money)Thai establishments in Singapore. The pricetag of Tawandang would have been fine if this was a fine-dining upscale restaurant, but the ambience was really no different from a rowdy German-styled beerhouse. Why would I pay such prices for a place like this?

While the food was generally alright, the hefty prices of both the food and beers are just such a deterrent to go back. Prices need to be at least a-third less than what it is now to make this place a lot more value-for-money.

The salad Lap Mu ($16) was a cool version of the spicy basil sauteed minced pork dish. We didn't quite take to this as we much prefer the steaming hot version. Add to that the overpriced-tag and this dish was literally "hard to stomach".

The ubiquitous Thai soup Tom Yam Kung ($30) was suitably spicy and sour, and prawns were a-plenty, but we didn't quite like the addition of sweet creamy coconut milk.

The Phat Thai ($12) stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp was a tad too sweet. We had to sprinkle a lot of chili flakes to make this less sweet and more savoury.

The Kaeng Khiao Wan ($22) chicken cooked in green curry would have been faultless if not for the fact that it was served at room temperature, when it really should have been served steaming hot. At such prices, I would think that great care would be taken to serve dishes hot. Then again, all 4 dishes arrived barely a few minutes after our orders were taken, so it is highly suspect that the dishes were pre-prepared and simply heated up in the microwave before serving.

Tawandang Microbrewery
Blk 26 Dempsey Road
Tel: 6476 6742
Open daily from 11.30am to 1am
Website: www.tawandang.com/home.html


OChre Italian Restaurant & Bar

Sometimes, I wonder how some architects can even consider themselves educated, because some of them are so lacking in common sense and basic sensibilities. Just look at the "always-empty" Orchard Central. The architect(s) that designed this atrociously impractical and notoriously-difficult-to-navigate mall should be shot. Or sued.

If you are parked at certain levels of the carpark and want to get to the top floor of the mall, where the restaurants and sky garden are, you'll have to take the lift to the 4th floor of the shopping mall, walk over to the central lobby area of the mall, and then carefully switch to some lifts (because half the lifts serve certain floors and the other half serve the remaining floors). How stupid is the design of this mall? Seriously, a large part of great, awe-inspiring design is the functionality of that design. It's just lousy shitty design if it doesn't serve its function.

I mean, the shop lease turnover at this mall is so high because some shops hardly get any foot traffic due to the convoluted layout of the mall. Also, shoppers get so frustrated navigating the mall they just give up shopping there altogether.

We were at Orchard Central recently to visit the modern Italian restaurant, OChre. And yes, we had to take 2 different lifts to get to the restaurant from the carpark. Ridiculous. Well, we decided to brave the mess of a mall because I've heard good things about the food there, as well as the Japanese head chef being heart-breakingly good-looking. So I thought we'd go check it out.

While it was too bad that the said chef wasn't present that day, the food was indeed good. It didn't blow us away, but it was a very pleasant meal, with a fantastic chic and relaxed ambience and even better view. The restaurant was barely occupied, so it may have contributed to the private feel of the restaurant. Service was attentive but unintrusive.

We got a main from the ala carte menu, and the 4-Course Set Dinner ($68++) to share. There are 3 choices for each course in the set dinner, so it's really quite worth it. The chosen antipasti was the Fegato Grasso 'Padellato' (add $10) a hunky piece of foie gras, pan-fried and set atop a toasty pistachio brioche and served alongside balsamic strawberries and grapes. While the foie gras wasn't the most creamy I've tasted, this was robust and tasted more like duck than it did liver.

The primo course was the Risotto con Anatra Affumicata with smoked duck, radicchio and parmiggiano reggiano. The staff had very thoughtfully separated out the risotto into 2 portions for us. I always say, little gestures like this go a long way. This was nice, creamy and rich but never overwhelming or cloying. It could be that the portion was really quite tiny, even if we had put both our portions together, it would still have been a relatively small portion. Let's just say that this left us wanting. More, I mean.

The secondi was the Filetto di Merluzzo in Padella, pan-fried fillet of oily creamy cod matched with spicy squid ink sauce and sauteed diced zucchini. A safe but well-executed dish.

For dessert, we chose the Tiramisu al Te Verde tiramisu, green tea style. This was possibly the only dish that I thought was "modern Italian". The green tea powder snowed on top of the green tea infused mousse layers of sponge made me feel like I was eating antioxidants with my dessert. It's like the health benefits of green tea totally cancelled out the negative effects of sugar and butter and fat. I like desserts like this.

We got the daily special of freshly-made Ravioli del Giorno ($18 for 6 pcs), filled with minced pork and topped off with a basil tomato ragout. Pasta was al dente, filling was hearty and sauce was full-bodied. A dumpling version of spaghetti bolognese.

The Foccacia Bread Bowl was served warm, soft, fluffy and incredibly aromatic. Delicious. We got second helpings of this.

I thought the personalized table reservation card was adorable.

OChre Italian Restaurant & Bar
Orchard Central
181 Orchard Road
Tel: 6634 0423
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.ochreitalian.com.sg
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