Gurney Drive, Suntec City Mall

Gurney Drive has quickly become a popular joint for Penang food. They are very reasonably priced, offer fair and authentic quality and substantial portions, 3 things Singaporeans love and what made this chain successful enough to keep sprouting up branches all over our little island. That's also the reason why we take away from Gurney Drive quite regularly.

The Penang Malay Mee Goreng ($6.90) with a sizable number of fresh seafood, squid and prawns, and chunks of fish cakes and beancurd were fried with scrambled eggs and yellow egg noodles, coated in a sweetish spicy sauce, the typical Chinese style.

The Penang Fried Koay Teow ($6.90) were commendable, with the flat rice noodles fried with a smoky accent. Chinese sausages, prawns, fishcakes, eggs and small but fresh cockles completed the dish.

The best part about the Gurney Nasi Lemak ($5.90) was the very fragrant coconut-flavoured rice, good enough to eat on its own. The side dishes of curry chicken, crispy ikan bilis, a really sad piece of flattened omelette, were alright but ordinary, but the sambal was pretty kickass. Potently spicy but with a heavy hand with the sugar so it was equal parts hot and sweet.

We like the Satay ($5.90 for 6 pcs) here, both the chicken and pork, juicy, tender and succulent, accompanied by a nutty spicy peanut dip. The pork differs slightly with a noticeable sliver of fat wedged between the meat skewers.

Gurney Drive
Suntec City Mall
3 Temasek Boulevard
B1-058 Fountain Terrace
Tel: 6336 8847
Website: www.gurneydrive.com.sg


Bistro Soori

April's L.A. Lunch was held at Bistro Soori, one of my favourite places for modern European cuisine. The hole-in-the-wall teeny tiny restaurant, located in the up-and-coming Keong Saik area, is a sophisticated space with clean lines and chic design sensibilities. It's really to do with its ownership by SCDA Architects, who also designed the so-chic-I-could-cry Alila Villas Soori Bali. I'd enjoyed a fabulous dinner here previously, and was eager to see, a year on, what their lunch was like.

Although we'd submitted our lunch orders the day before (seemingly to facilitate the churning out of dishes for our lunch group of almost 30 persons), service was, unfortunately, ridiculously slow. I didn't notice that the last time I was here, because it was dinner, I had loads of time to spare and I was too busy chatting to notice if service was slow. But, lunch was a different matter.

We, as busy employees and not bosses of our own businesses, have time constrains for lunch. At most, I suppose we could take a 2-hour lunch, but we'd be pushing it, but this took us almost 3 hours. We were there by 1pm, but only got our mains at 2pm. The problem was that they wanted to serve us all at the same time, so we had to wait for everyone to arrive before the starters were served. Then only when everyone had finished their starters, soup was served. The gaps between the courses also took too long. Service was just too slow, we were left hungry between courses, and antsy (and anxious) towards the end of the meal. We didn't quite get to enjoy the dishes because we were all so worried about the inordinate time taken for lunch. Whatever good things they did with the food was marred by the slow service.

That said, I'm not ready to write off the restaurant just yet, mostly because the food was still delicious, but the management will need to improve on service to entice me back there for lunch.

Please note that it's best to order from the set lunch menu because every item on the ala carte lunch menu is also featured on the set lunch menu, albeit in slightly smaller portions of course. Still, at only 39 bucks a pop for 4 courses, the Set Lunch ($39) was quite a steal.

We kicked off on a very high note with the duo of Scallops, succulent, plump and sweet, with perfect searing, served with a nutty pistachio tapenade crust, bunches of peppery arugula, a drizzling of truffle oil and cubes of pear vinegar gelee. A wonderful medley of flavours working harmoniously here. Little wonder it was the most popular starter of choice amongst my colleagues.

The bread, of the oat and foccacia varieties, were served next, when I thought they should have served this first when we arrived at the restaurant. Time could have been saved here.

An espresso cup of tomato soup, with diced cherry tomatoes, was up next, and although simple in theory, was masterfully-executed. Rich without being overwhelming, this was a nice balance of the sweet and tart.

The Cured Roasted Pork Tenderloin, perfectly pink in the middle, was tender and soft, set atop braised red cabbage, a drizzling of grain mustard and sprinkles of raisins and diced pears for a fruity essence. Very nice mix of flavours.

The Fish of the Day, was a fillet of seabass, with artichokes and a tomato cream sauce. Too bad the fish had muddy, fishy overtones. Even the sweetish creamy sauce wasn't enough to musk the fishiness of the seabass.

For dessert, some of us had the Chef's Selection of Cheese, with crusty olive oil-stained baguette, a honey saucer and blackberries. I loved them all, tart, pungent and delicious. I have to admit though, I've never dared to try blue cheese, and this time was no different. It's really about the look of fungi on the cheese.

The Chocolate Mousse with fresh berries was by far the most ordered dessert option, the mousse was airy and so light in texture, while balanced and controlled in sweetness. A perfect counter to the juicy, fruity, tart-ish berries.

Bistro Soori
2 Teck Lim Road
Tel: 6438 3802
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch;
Mondays to Saturdays from 6.30pm to 10pm for dinner;
Sundays for brunch from 11.30am to 3.30pm
Website: www.bistrosoori.com


Tung Lok Signatures, The Central

When it comes to birthdays of the people in my team, we prefer to celebrate our turning a year older with a good meal at a nice restaurant. We're not really in the habit of buying each other gifts or birthday cakes (and then singing the obligatory birthday song, in the office). We usually head to some place for an intimate get-together and talk all through a huge dinner. For my birthday this year, I'd been craving steamed fish all week, and so we headed to Tung Lok Signatures. We've got the Palate Card, which offers a substantial discount at all Tung Lok restaurants, and this fairly elegant and downtempo restaurant offers a variety of fresh seafood.

My favourite fish, when it comes to steamed fish, has gotta be marble goby, also known as soon hock. The fact that the marble goby spends its adolesence in the sea ensures it doesn't have the muddy taste of freshwater fishes, and because it spends its adult life in the rivers and streams, the cost is kept a bit low(er) and flesh softer. The Steamed Soon Hock ($9 per 100g) was incredibly fresh, so it tasted clear and mild, with a soft, moist, flaky texture. A pool of delicate balanced light soy and crisp refreshing green onions lent flavour.

We liked how mild and light the Poached Spinach with Bamboo Pith in Pumpkin Stock ($22) was. The pumpkin-and-wolfberries-sweetened broth was muted and delicate, while the spongy texture of the bamboo pith soaked up the delicious broth.

The best part about the Sauteed Scallops topped with Crabmeat and Roe ($44) was the luscious eggy and starchy crab meat and roe infused gravy. The scallops, encased in a thin batter and deep fried, managed to stay moist and cooked just right.

The Sauteed Beef Cubes with Wild Fungus in Black Pepper Sauce ($28) was very tender and hearty, with just a hint of pepper to flavour but not overwhelm. Diced button mushrooms and fried cruellers completed the heady dish.

The Century Egg with Pickled Ginger ($8) was a disappointment though. What should have been a classic Cantonese staple just tasted off, the century eggs had an uncharacteristically sourish tinge. 

The Chilled Mango Cream ($5) with pomelo, diced mangoes and sago, was very refreshing, a great end to the meal with its tangy but sweet accents.

Tung Lok Signatures
The Central #02-88
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
Tel: 6336 6022
Opening Hours
Lunch: 11.30am to 3.00pm (Mon to Sat); 11.00am to 3.30pm (Sun & PHs)
Dinner: 6.00pm to 10.30pm (Daily)
Website: www.tungloksignatures.com/


Paradise Dynasty, ION Orchard

We've always seen long queues for lunch and dinner outside Paradise Dynasty and wondered what the fuss was with their signature multi-coloured "xiao long bao" dumplings. Granted, it's kitschy and a novelty alright, but having recently tried it, I really didn't think the dumplings were worth that long a queue.

We were in the area and stopped by for a light tea break, seeing as the restaurant was emptying out after the lunch peak hour. While the restaurant boasts a panoramic view of the Orchard cityscape and a sexy contemporary vibe with its deep reds and black hues, I wasn't particularly impressed with the food. It could be that it's totally overhyped. Its direct contemporaries, the Crystal Jade Xiao Long Bao chain and the Imperial Treasure La Mian Xiao Long Bao chain, have a refinement and authenticity that the Paradise group of restaurants lack. It doesn't help that Paradise Dynasty is staffed by a significant number of mainland Chinese nationals, whose service lack the efficiency, flexibility, experience and warmth of the older aunties staffed by the Crystal Jade and Imperial Treasure restaurants. 

We each got the Signature Dynasty Dumplings ($13.80 for 8 pcs) clockwise from top, orange for crab roe, yellow for cheese, white for classic, lilac for garlic, pink for szechuan, peach for foie gras, green for ginseng, middle black for black truffle. They were pretty alright, with thin but hardy skin, with a little chewiness in the texture, and piping hot clear broth. Only 2 stood out, the pink szechuan flavour coz it was tongue-numbingly spicy, and the black truffle one for its aromatic tones. The rest didn't quite stand out because the "extra special additions" were very understated. Overall a novelty item but not something I'd end up craving for.

We also had a Double-Boiled Chicken Soup ($8.80), with was delicate but had depth of flavour, but unfortunately with MSG overtones. That said, the chicken was fork-tender was substantial.

Paradise Dynasty
2 Orchard Turn
#04-12A ION Orchard
Tel: 6509 9118
Open weekdays from 11am to 10pm; weekends from 10.30am to 10pm
Website: www.paradisegroup.com.sg


La Strada

La Strada underwent a mini-revamp late last year. The restaurant's smaller, which explains why we felt a little cramped immediately when we walked in. While there seems to be more of a crowd now than it did before the revamp, it could really just be that the restaurant's significantly smaller so the usual crowd just seems larger in comparison.

The classic Italian menu has been overhauled, but the food's no less delicious, we practically wiped our plates clean off as we did last year when we had dinner then.

We've always felt that La Strada is one of those inexplicably underrated restaurants where we're always guaranteed refined and polished Italian cuisine in intimately cosy surroundings. For a restaurant that's under the ultra posh and ultra luxe Les Amis umbrella, the low-light illuminated restaurant manages an unpretentious air that's very appealing. The staff are attentive but unintrusive, and pleasantly non-stuffy.

La Strada's 4-course Set Dinner ($65) is an absolute must-try. It's just so value-for-money. The Hubs had that while I ordered from the decidedly limited ala carte menu. The La Strada Egg Florentine ($24) starter caught my eye and didn't disappoint. In fact, it was just awesome. A juicy deep fried portobello mushroom sat on a bed of lightly sauteed spinach and a pool of veal jus, with a perfectly poached egg delicately perched atop the mushroom while a couple of laces of Parma ham completed the masterful creation. We totally lapped this up.

The Hubs' antipasti first course was the Minestra Maritata, a variant of what we commonly know as minestrone soup. A very well-balanced soup that utilized a meat stock base and sweetened simply with the use of cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots and celery, then chunked up with diced prawns.

His primi second pasta course was the Spaghettini Aglio Olio e Gamberi, which showcased their finesse in making the most out of the very best in quality of ingredients. The best olive oil, garlic and bird's eye chili was all it took to flavour this incredibly simple dish. Toss in al dente pasta, a few fresh prawns and voila, you get an uncomplicated, clean yet dazzling dish.

The secondi meat third course was the Arrosto di Miale, a grilled pork rack that was so tender and juicy and moist, with a lightly charred edges for oomph, and a spiced tomatoey Amatrichana sauce to the side of a broccoli sprout and freshly mashed potatoes.

I loved how nuanced my Risotto con Aragosta ($36) with a lobster stock base was. It somehow managed a lightness of being that was so delectable. I usually find lobster stocks to be quite cloying, but this was different. It walked a fine line between the bland and saccharine. It was rich enough but still very balanced. A finely executed dish, with al dente risotto and a generous helping of bouncy lobster chunks.

The Hubs' dolci dessert fourth course, Tiramisu, was humongous. This was headily delicious. Very very moist and a controlled creaminess, with just the right dash of the sweet and the bitter.

We also loved the complimentary foccacia bread, very flavoursome and aromatic, and totally soft and fluffy.

Update 18 July 2012: La Strada has closed its shutters. 

La Strada
1 Scotts Road
#02-11 Shaw Centre
Tel: 6737 2555
Open daily from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch and 6.30pm to 9.30pm for dinner
Website: www.lesamis.com.sg


Paradise Inn, Funan Digitalife Mall

Paradise Inn is possibly the only choice for homestyled no-fuss Cantonese cuisine at Funan. Although I much prefer Crystal Jade Kitchen, its direct competitor, for its better quality of Cantonese food, Paradise Inn does win in one aspect, which is its wide array of double-boiled tonic soups with a local flavour. The kind you always enjoy in the comfort of your grandmother's home.

I met up with Adee at Funan for lunch after having had a conference at the High Court opposite. Adee works in the surrounding area so it's super convenient for him to just walk over for lunch.

We started off with the appetizer of Cold Tofu with Century Egg ($6.90), a refreshingly cool start to the meal. Very clean and clear flavours here, with only a pool of very delicate soy for taste.

The Poached Chinese Spinach with Egg Trio ($14.90) and minced pork in superior stock had huge roasted garlic bulbs added for a grounded garlicky element. The stock had a bit of egg yolk stirred into it so it had a rich milky texture.

No visit to Paradise Inn is complete without a pot of their soups. We had the Double Boiled Pig Stomach ($14.90) with spark ribs and white pepper, reputed to dispel wind and stave off colds in strengthening the stomach, a peppery concoction of pork-bone goodness.

Paradise Inn
109 North Bridge Road
#02-10/11 Funan DigitaLife Mall
Tel: 6338 4018
Open daily from 11.30am to 9.30pm
Website: www.paradiseinn.com.sg/


Bali Thai, Novena Square

I previously reviewed that although the food at Renn Thai is authentic and suitably spicy, their portions are tiny and prices exorbitant. Bali Thai, its sister restaurant, with its more wallet-friendly pricing, provides a more value-for-money meal. In comparison, a pot of tom yum soup at Renn Thai costs $18 whereas the same dish at Bali Thai will cost only about $13. The mixed vegetables in oyster sauce is $4 less while the grilled chicken is $7 less at Bali Thai than at Renn Thai.

However, what you pay more for elegance and refinement at Renn Thai, you sacrifice that for cheaper price points at Bali Thai. So, you get more rustic, homestyled cooking in a simpler, plainer surroundings at Bali Thai. This is a place you go to for run-of-the-mill, cheap and fairly good Thai and Indonesian cze char fare. Yes, Bali Thai additionally serves Indonesian cuisine, as well as the usual Thai dishes so you get to indulge in both Indonesian staples such as beef rendang as well as Thai classics such as green curry.

We started off with a sizzling hotplate of Tao Hoo Talay ($12.50) beancurd with seafood, which was really indistinguishable from our local cze char dish of hotplate beancurd. This was a very no-fuss, standard dish, with a garlicky eggy oyster sauce based gravy slathered over the silky beancurd and the requisite prawns, squid and fish slices.

The Gai Phad Bai Krapow ($10.80) stir-fried chicken with basil leaves was also no-fuss, spicy and fragrant, with baby corn and long beans lending texture and fibre to the dish.

The Satay Madura ($9.80 for half dozen) skewered chicken from the Indonesian menu was tender and moist, with a chunky peanut sauce for dipping.

Belinjau crackers ($3) were paired with a watery sour-ish but potent chilli sauce.

Bali Thai
238 Thomson Road
Velocity @ Novena Square
Tel: 6256 0021
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner
Weekends from 11.30am to 10pm
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