Barossa, Esplanade

We had our February L.A. Dinner & Drinks at Barossa, an Aussie-inspired restaurant under the CreativEATeries group (they also own Al Dente, Tajimaya and Patara).

While I'm not a fan of any place that doesn't have any air-conditioning, Barossa's location at the Esplanade waterfront ensures a steady breeze through the open-air restaurant. Barossa, named after the famous wine-producing region of South Australia, is designed to give customers an authentic feel of the outback. The restaurant is decked out in wooden furniture and boasts a relaxed, laidback, chilled-out vibe.  The food is distinctively Australian, hearty, rustic, and humongously portioned, but with many misses amongst the somewhat passable dishes.

The Australian Seafood Bouillabaisse ($16), tasted more like lobster bisque than a bouillabaisse, sweet, heady and very very rich. Good thing there was toasted herbed bread to soak up and balance out the sweetness of the soup. That said, the seafood, prawns, clams and scallops, was plentiful and fresh.

I liked the Parma Ham Pizza Foccacia ($24) with ricotta and truffle oil, which was more like a flattened and toasted sandwich bread than a pizza. Crispy and flaky, this was light, fragrant and balanced.

Both steaks were overdone, but at least the Pan-Roasted "Stockyard" Gold Class Angus Ribeye ($45 for a 250g) was full-bodied, juicy and robust. The creamed spinach & cheese side was alright, very creamy and milky, but the potato mash tasted generic and straight out of an instant mix package.

The Grilled Grain-Fed Australian Sirloin ($38 for 200g) was leaner, less juicy, but fairly moist. We all agreed that the sauteed forest mushrooms were delicious, juicy and with just enough flavour.

The Sauteed Prawns and Scallops Fettucine ($26) with asparagus was just awful. The sauce was just terrible (methinks they were trying to attempt a tomato-cream sauce but it just fell flat, it was limp and tasteless) and the pasta overcooked. The only good thing about this was the prawns and shaved parmesan cheese.

The Buffalo Wings ($15), from off the bar bites menu, was possibly the best dish, juicy wings fried to a delectable crisp golden crust were brushed with a piquant spicy sauce for an impactful flavour.

The Angus Beef Cheeks Braised in Barossa Shiraz ($28), chunked up with carrots, mushrooms were set atop a bed of mashed potatoes. The beef would have benefitted from an additional hour on the stove, and the mash was so lacking in character. The sauce was nice though, rich and sweet and just a little bitter.

8 Raffles Avenue
#01-11 Esplanade Mall
Tel: 6534 5188
Open Mondays to Fridays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch;
Mondays to Thursdays from 6pm to 1am for dinner;
Fridays from 6pm to 2am for dinner;
Saturdays from 12noon to 2am
Sundays from 12noon to 1am
Website: www.barossa.com.sg


Max Brenner Chocolate Bar, Esplanade

Lips and I headed here after our fantastic meal at My Humble House. Although dinner was great, we really needed to get away from the ridiculously cold temperatures of the way-too-aggressive-air-conditioning in My Humble House. Lips thought a cup of hot chocolate would do the trick, and Max Brenner, a name synonymous with chocolate, was just downstairs. And open till late.

Browsing through the menu, I got irritated with all of the fanciful names and lack of proper description of each of the menu items. Plus, the lack of organization of the menu really annoyed the crap out of me. That's the one thing I never really noticed and took for granted about menus, that there's always some form of categorization of the various dishes so you know where to look for each category and the difference between each of the items in each category. The management really needs a crash course on how to categorize the various items in their menu. I had a very hard time going through the very confusing menu.

The Melting Chocolate Truffle Heart Cake & Shake ($16) was served with vanilla bourbon ice-cream, red berries and an iced milk chocolate shot. You couldn't tell from the menu that this was actually a chocolate lava cake, and we had to ask the waitress for the equivalent of a chocolate lava cake because we couldn't seem to find one on the menu despite poring through it several times! That said, this was delicious, but very very VERY rich. Good thing the berries provided a tart contrast to the richness of the warm chocolate cake. Would have preferred a hint of bitterness to the chocolate cake for a nuanced sweetness.

We loved the HugMug that the Hot Chocolate ($7.50) was served in, so kitschy and adorable! The HugMug doesn't have a handle, you're meant to hold it with both hands, to keep your hands warm. This was a more balanced richness, and creamy and smooth, a comforting delight meant to warm your insides.

Max Brenner Chocolate Bar
8 Raffles Avenue
Esplanade Mall #01-06
Tel: 6235 9556
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 12noon to 10.30pm
Fridays to Saturdays from 12noon to 11.30pm
Website: www.maxbrenner.com


My Humble House, Esplanade

I've been wanting to try this restaurant for the longest time. My Humble House can be considered the most high-end restaurant under the Tung Lok Group, serving modern Cantonese cuisine. While the prices are somewhat "cha-ching" and portions miniscule (each dish is really only meant for one person so you'll have to order multiples of every dish according to the number of diners), the attention to the tiniest of details and the way the dishes are executed with such finesse makes the food here worth every cent. Also, every dish is masterfully presented as a work of art, and named in poetic and lyrical Chinese descriptions, which is so apt, seeing that it is housed in the Esplanade, the arts hub of our little island. Don't worry, there are comprehensive English descriptions of every dish so you know what you're ordering.

If we really had to whine, it would be about the freezing temperatures, our piping hot food turned cold in minutes and Lips and I were sorely missing our sweaters and shawls. We had to keep topping up our hot teas and downing it just so stay barely warm.

I also didn't appreciate the layout and design of the restaurant. The avant garde, artsy fartsy feel of the place was just too pretentious and failed in its functionality. The restaurant is split into 2 levels, the lower one is a mish-mash of a modern twist on traditionally Qing dynasty furniture, which is really quite ugly, in my opinion. The furniture also dwarfed in comparison to the dining area, so it looks "swallowed up" by the enormity of the space. When making reservations, bear in mind to book the upper stage area, much more cosy and more like a dining space.

We started off on a fantastic note with 2 soups. We gals couldn't decide on which soup to get so we got both and shared. The Dance of the Wind ($18), a double-boiled seafood consomme in young coconut is an absolute must-try here. The soup was intensely flavoured with the richness of the scallops and prawns and the sweetness of the wolfberries but still delicate, with spinach grounding the soup in its characteristic metallic elements. Although I couldn't smell it, Lips said that there was a very fragrant scent of coconut wafting through the soup.

Velvet Memories ($18) was a well, velvety braised fish maw and mushroom in shark's cartilage broth. This was silky, and so flavoursome and rich, but still balanced. I liked that this didn't leave a yucky milky film on the tongue.Loved the spongy bamboo pith.

The best part about the Beckoning of Blossoms ($16), a crispy boneless sakura chicken marinated with "mao tai" wine, was the sweetish chutney-like sauce smeared between the 2 baby asparagus.

If we really had to choose, the Dusk, Twilight & Perhaps Stars ($8) would be our least favourite. We really didn't take to the old tofu, with its airy, sponge-like texture. I suppose the texture was designed to soak up the roasted garlic infused superlative chicken broth, lightly accented with crisp-fried conpoy and shimeiji mushrooms.

We had another meat dish, Sauntering Among The Golden Leaves ($14) crispy spiced juicy kurobuta pork rib in a tangy sun-dried tomato reduction.

We loved the Heart of Soul ($12) braised bai ling mushrooms, smooth as silk, in a thick black truffle jus with sauteed spinach. Best dish of the meal, hands down.

This was Lips' favourite, In the Heart of Gold Fever ($8) crisp-fried soft and sweet pumpkin glazed with salted egg yolk and baby snow pea tempura.

This was my next favourite dish, From the Earth, Sea & Heart ($22) fleshy marble goby fillet simmered in winter black truffle jus, chunked up with chopped mushrooms and layered on a bed of spinach.

We couldn't quite taste the truffle in the hand-made noodles, but unlike its namesake, Unforgettable, The Last Kiss ($12) was quite forgettable. We were just underwhelmed because of the promise of warm truffle noodles with fried sliced fish in salted beans. But, this was still delicious. Noodles were soft and silky, and the battered fish was fresh and mild, with a capsicum salsa topping over the tart black and soya beans-based gravy.

My Humble House
8 Raffles Avenue
#02-27/29 Esplanade Mall
Tel: 6423 1881
Open from 11.45am to 3pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.myhumblehouse.com.sg


Fish & Co, Novena Square

Now that Jal's new workplace is in the Novena area, Adee and I went over from our offices at City Hall and Shenton respectively to meet up with him for our standing monthly lunch date. We've been to almost every eatery at Funan over the past year and it was time for a "change of scenery" anyway.

Jal suggested Fish & Co at Novena Square for its halal certification, and the restaurant was doing a bustling lunch hour. While service seemed understaffed and a little harassed, the staff were fairly efficient and quick on their feet. Food-wise, I think that apart from their standard fish & chips selections, the rest of the dishes are quite unimpressive.

The Baked Pollock ($14.90) with Mediterranean sauce, from off the Set Lunch Menu (set comes with a very snooze-worthy salad buffet, dessert and soft drink), was a very no-fuss dish. The potato mash tasted generic and straight out of an instant mix box, and the fish looked awfully tiny. You're better off ordering from the ala carte menu, the portions are more substantive at only a slightly higher pricetag, and extras that come along with the set lunches are so not worth it anyway.

Jal got the Grilled White Fish ($15.95) with coriander sauce, which I totally hated. Primarily because of the liberal layer of pounded coriander leaves atop the fish. Even Jal thought that the coriander totally overwhelmed the mild-tasting fish.

Fish & Co
238 Thomson Road
#03-11 Novena Square
Tel: 6255 7001
Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm
Website: www.fish-co.com


Lei Garden Restaurant, Orchard

Lei Garden, a famed and much-lauded chain of Cantonese restaurants hailing from Hongkong has 2 Singapore outposts, the "original one" along Orchard Road, and the "pretty one" at Chijmes. While there are an equal number of loyalists who swear by each outlet for a variety of reasons ranging from service to food and ambience, I didn't feel that there was a discernible difference in service and food between the 2 branches. Having dined at both restaurants several times, the only material difference (to me, at least) is that the Orchard location offers free valet parking.

I had my regular Saturday lunch date with Ernie here at the Orchard outlet. We're making the most of whatever free time he's got in Singapore before he heads back to Hongkong to start a new job in April.

We started off with a plate of Crispy Silver Needle Fish ($7), with a deliciously thin batter coating the crunchy fish.

We shared a portion of the Rainbow Egg and Shredded Pork Porridge ($4.80). Ernie ate the century eggs and I ate the rest. Very lightly grainy but thick and gruel-like, this was both delicate and rich in flavour.

The Fried Beancurd Roll with Mushroom ($4.80) was unfortunately, laced with coriander. It took me quite a bit of time to pick out the coriander on half of one piece. This was very thin, almost flat, with just a slice of Chinese black mushroom and some mince stuffed into it. Very crisp and light. 

I liked the Pan-fried Dumpling with Chive, Dried Shrimp and Minced Chicken ($4.80) very much, with a thick chewy skin enveloped around the mince, and chives lending freshness to this fried dish.

The Steamed BBQ Honey Pork Bun ($4.30) were very commendable, soft and moist and fluffy.

With lots of sweet and smoky diced marinated sticky pork cubes stuffed into the buns.

We also liked the Steamed Cheong Fun with Fresh Shrimp Filling ($5.20). Skin was chewy and prawns were sweet and crunchy.

Lei Garden Restaurant
321 Orchard Road
#03-00 Orchard Shopping Centre
Tel: 6734 3988
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Website: www.leigarden.hk/eng


Pique Nique, Takashimaya

Pique Nique reminds me of a little girl's tea room, where everything is so pretty and girlish. The most exquisite desserts can be found here, ranging from light fluffy cupcakes to decadent chocolate-based ones. The savouries are centered around American comfort food, so you get up to 10 varieties of burgers, 5 types of hotdogs, and 5 different macaroni & cheeses. This is a heaven of sorts for Ernie, who loves all things cheesy and recommended this place.

Pique Nique occupies the spot previously tenanted by Macdonalds in the basement of Takashimaya, beside KFC, so I understand that they can get quite busy on weekends and peak dining hours. However, the cafe was barely filled when Ernie and I had a weekday lunch. I have to say that despite the fact that there weren't many diners to handle, service was disappointingly lackluster. The staff were generally lethargic and out of sight so much so that we had to walk over to the kitchen serving counter to place our order ourselves because there was no one around for us to wave over! It was as though the staff were taking their self-appointed siesta. This was very disappointing, because I'd have expected more of a place helmed by someone of Les Amis pedigree (i.e. Chef Pang Kok Keong).

Food-wise, they were pretty good. Somehow, Pique Nique manages a lighter, more delicate version of the usually very hearty American style. A little pricey, but relatively worth the quality of food.

The Grilled Cheese Toast ($7) is a set of thick sliced crusty toast grilled with 4 different cheeses, American, mascarpone, gouda and cheddar, for a multi-layered flavour.

The Mushroom Mac 'n' cheese ($14) with elbow macaroni, gouda, mascarpone and roasted field mushrooms was balanced and light, creamy but not overly rich, pleasant to the last bite.

I loved the Hot Chilli ($5) with a cheesy melted cheddar topping.

The chilli was robust, unusually spicy (for "ang moh" food) and complex in flavours. Possibly the best version of this American staple I've tried.

Pique Nique
391A Orchard Road
Takashimaya #B1-01/02
Tel: 6238 6705
Open daily from 10am to 9.30pm


Chili's Grill & Bar, Tanglin Mall

Even though we're married, we always make time for our friends. We're not one of those couples that "drop off the face of the earth" and retreat into our own "2-person world". This was something we decided a long time ago when we first started dating. My friends are important, and I will always make time for them. Besides, they were there first in my life, before the Hubs came along. 

Besides, it's never a good thing to stagnate in our personal growth when we get into a relationship.I believe a healthy relationship is one that allows just enough space so you don't suffocate each other. Of course, what is defined as "enough space" is all relative really. What I deem to be "enough space" may be "suffocating" to someone else.

This is why I make it a point to see my friends at least once a month. This way, we make sure we don't drift apart just because we have other things happening in our lives, like family and work.

So, anyway, Ernie, the Joey to our Monica and Chandler, called us out for dinner at the last minute. The good thing about Hubs and I living the children-free life is that our plans are always fluid. We never really have a concrete plan for anything so we're super flexible in fitting our friends into our daily life. So, we picked Ernie up after work and went off for dinner at Chili's, where Ernie is most happy eating his burgers, with cheese of course.

This was of course, Ernie's order of Fried Cheese ($9) crispy breaded mozzarella sticks served with a very generic ketchup-and-chilli-sauce based marinara dip.

Ernie's Southern Smokehouse Bacon Big Mouth Burger ($22) was an extra thick-cut brown sugar and chile-rubbed bacon topped with smoked cheddar cheese crispy onion strings, mayo, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and pickle and a piquant sweet-ish spiced BBQ sauce.

The sizzling plated Mushroom Chicken Jack Fajitas ($26) was such a delight for mushroom lovers like us, with moist and marinated grilled chicken smothered in green peppers and loads of sauteed button mushrooms

The Monterey Chicken ($24) is a must-try, with one of the moistest grilled chicken breast meats around, layered with BBQ sauce, applewood smoked bacon, and topped with a layer of melted cheese and diced salsa tomatoes. This is served with sides of a yummy black pepper mash and very oily but delicious sauteed mushrooms.

Chili's Grill & Bar
#02-23 Tanglin Mall
163 Tanglin Road
Tel: 6733 3317
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 11am to 10pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 11pm
Website: http://chilis.sg/


Pastamania, Funan Digitalife Mall

This is a bit of a backdated post. I'd met up with Adee and Jal for our monthly lunch date and we headed to where else but Pastamania. Apart from the food court, coffee club and pizza hut, this is the next possible lunch place because it's halal.

The Seafood Marinara ($10.90), while generic, was redeemed by the fresh seafood. Squid was done well, soft and cooked through but not rubbery. Prawns were fresh and sweet. And clams were delectably chewy and briny.

The Bacon Aglio Olio ($7.70) was loaded with fried garlic pieces, so it ended up being very fragrant and flavoursome. It helped that the crisp bacon was in abundance as well.

109 North Bridge Road
#01-08 Funan Digitalife Mall
Tel: 6337 3428
Open daily from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.pastamania.com.sg


Crystal Jade Kitchen, Suntec City Mall

Crystal Jade Kitchen has started offering homestyled cuisine. Dishes that you see commonly in most households' homecooked dinners are now featured in a brand new section of this casual Cantonese dining chain's menu.

We tried a couple of their dishes and were quite impressed. It's got that simple, comfort food factor that we don't even realize that we've missed in our lives.

As there's only 2 of us in our household, it really doesn't make sense for me to cook at home. The time and money spent having a homecooked meal is simply not justified for 2 persons. That's why we eat out or take out everyday. So, it's nice to enjoy homecooked dishes/dishes tasting like homecooked ones every once a while.

The Sauteed Scrambled Eggs ($10.80) with black fungus and shredded meat was very well done, eggs were barely cooked through so they were still soft and fluffy but not rubbery. The strips of lean pork imparted just enough flavour while the  black fungus provided some crunch and texture.

The Steamed Beancurd ($9.80) topped with minced pork and diced mushrooms was such a simple uncomplicated dish, with the most delicate of soy marinades lending just that little bit of taste. We'll be back to try the rest of the dishes in this section.

Crystal Jade Kitchen
3 Temasek Boulevard,
B1-013, Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6338 3511
Open daily, 11am to 10.30pm
Website: www.crystaljade.com


Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant

We stopped by Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant for a bit of dessert after dinner at Tajimaya Yakiniku. While we only had dessert here, I don't think we'll be back to try the rest of the menu. Firstly, water apparently costs $2 here. I'm usually alright with paying for water, at a reasonable fee of course, but $2 is quite ridiculous. Also, with the dismal dessert sampling, what's to say that the rest of the menu would have been good? I think I'll stick to my favourites, like Don Quijote and Octapas, they have proven to serve up much better Spanish food, and way better churros.

The Churros ($10.80), fried cruellers served warm and toasty, with dense but soft insides, were alright. These were plain, not bad but not great either..

But the dipping hot chocolate was another thing entirely. There was something in the chocolate that made it so awful. I always thought that the chocolate syrup accompanying churros need to be good enough to eat on its own, but this was awful. I wouldn't have eaten or bought this grade of chocolate. It tasted off, like a really lousy additive was put into the chocolate, though we couldn't quite identify what it was exactly. Suffice it to say, we left the chocolate alone and ate the churros on their own.

Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant
1 Harbourfront Walk
#01-98/99 Vivocity
Tel: 6376 8185
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 11am to 11pm; Fridays & Saturdays from 11am to 12midnight
Website: www.serenity.com.sg


Tajimaya Yakiniku, Vivocity

We'd missed out on our January monthly meet-up with Kang because we were all still decompressing from our Phuket hedonism, and also occupied with Chinese New Year festivities, so we met up early in February. Both the Hubs and Kang wanted to stay away from carbs and I wanted to try out this Japanese BBQ place at Vivocity.

Tajimaya, another concept restaurant under the creativEATeries umbrella, is a relative newcomer in the local Japanese BBQ scene. We've only ever been to Gyu-Kaku and Aburiya. Tajimaya differs slightly from the 2 other more established Jap BBQ chains in that there's only one standard marinade for the meats, methinks it's teriyaki (the other 2 offer up to 4 or 5 different marinades). Also, their beef is only available in 2 different types, the more full-bodied US Black Angus range (Gyu-Kaku and Aburiya don't offer US beef) or the highly-marbled more delicate Japanese wagyu variety (whereas the other 2 offer only Japanese beef, but in different marbling grades).

Tajimaya seems to have a better ventilation system though, my hair didn't have any lingering smells of charcoal smoke and cooking marinades. I suppose it's gotta do with its more airy, less-closeted high-ceiling-ed dining space. As a bonus, the outdoors area affords a very pretty view of the Sentosa waterfront.

We got both beef varieties to compare, the US Beef Karubi ($18.90) was up first, using US Black Angus short rib. This was very robust beef, full-on red meat flavour, the kind The Professor will like. This was, despite the juiciness, a little chewy though. We should have done this medium rare.

We all preferred the Wagyu Karubi ($28.90) Japanese short ribs which were more delicate than the US beef. It could also be that this was very much more marbled than the US beef, resulting in very much more tender meat.

The Prawns ($12.50) were lightly seasoned with a brush of butter and a sprinkling of salt and pepper to bring out its natural sweetness. 

The Scallops ($12.90), simply seasoned with a little soy and pepper, were succulent and sweet, too bad we left them a little too long on the grill.

The Kurobuta Pork Jowl ($16.90), long strips of lean pork, also marinated with teriyaki, solid stuff.

The Chicken Sausage ($10.90) had cheese injected for good measure was drizzled with a bit of teriyaki sauce for a wee bit more flavour.

We liked the Chicken ($10.90) very much, succulent juicy chunks dripping with marinade and thoroughly seasoned.

We also got the Kinoko Moriawase ($8.90), a platter of an assortment of mushrooms.

The King Oyster Mushrooms, drizzled with teriyaki, were delectably chewy.

The Enoki, cut in half and pooled with butter and teriyaki was well flavoured.

The Shitake, also lightly drizzled with teriyaki, were the most earthy of them all.

The Shimeiji was my favourite, simply for its texture and mild flavours, also seasoned the same way as the enoki.

Tajimaya Yakiniku
1 Harbourfront Walk
#01-102 Vivocity
Tel: 6377 0070
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch and 5.30pm to 10pm for dinner
weekends from 11.30am to 10pm
Website: www.tajimaya.com.sg
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