Jai Thai, Clover Way

Jai Thai, together with its Thai counterparts E-Sarn and Thai Noodle House, belong to a breed of small, family-run, Thai eateries hidden deep within private residential enclaves. These eateries don't cater to the mass market, because of their inaccessible locales, but they do well enough by catering to its immediate hinterland. Jai Thai, like E-Sarn, has a chain of 4 eateries. However, it does distinguish itself from E-Sarn in 2 aspects. The prices are a notch cheaper, and the ambience is consequently a lot more basic and rustic. In fact, it's even cheaper than Thai Noodle House, even though both eateries are equally rustic.

Prices here at Jai Thai are ridiculously cheap, which explains the prevalence of cash-strapped school-going boys from the nearby Raffles Institution. One of the most value-for-money Thai restaurants ever. The restaurant is starkly decorated (if you can even call it decorating) with harsh fluorescent lighting, white-washed walls and coffee shop-styled furniture providing the basic props. The floor's half done in granite and half tiled, it's like a contractor gave up halfway through tiling the floor. Clearly, the focus is on the food. At Jai Thai, you get rustic, homestyled cooking, like what you'd eat if you visited your Thai penpal's home for dinner.

Because Jai Thai is run entirely by Thais, you get Thai music blaring out of the made-in-China 1970's stereo as your dinner accompaniment. Don't worry, the always crowded eatery will drown out the music with the constant chatter of the diners. We were there at 5.50pm on a weekday, and they were completely occupied by 6.15pm. P.S. They open at 6pm. Reservations are advised and so is car-pooling (Jai Thai is a few doors down from Rubato so they both have the same parking woes).

Jai Thai's Deep Fried Seabass with Pepper & Garlic ($18) is possibly the cheapest fried fish ever. This was surprisingly fresh (especially in light of its price), and well fried, with crisp skin and moist flesh. Chopped garlic cured with lime and soy and interspersed with pepper provided the barest of seasoning. We'd much prefer the fried-to-a-golden-crisp type of garlic seasoning, but this wasn't half bad. Because the garlic was cured with lime, its characteristic sharp pungency was removed.

Don't let the fiery red hues of this soup fool you, the Tom Yum Soup with Prawns ($6) isn't as spicy as it looks. The tom yum spice paste is very thick though, so you get lots of pounded spice bits stuck between your teeth. This was also a tad too oily for our liking, even if the heads-on but shells-off prawns were sweet and fresh.

The Fried Chicken with Basil Leaf ($5) was lightly spiced and fragrant, with the use of basil. Although chicken breast meat was used, they were moist and tender.

The Fried Mixed Vegetable ($4) was a simple, no fuss dish. A medley of cabbage, kailan, carrots and straw mushrooms were lightly sauteed in soy and oyster sauce.

The Mango Glutinous Rice ($4) with juicy ripe sweet mangoes and soft sticky glutinous rice further sweetened by warm coconut milk, was very good, exactly like what you'd get in Thailand.

I always order this if it's available on the menu, Tako ($2), a cool chestnut-based Thai pudding. This is like the Thais version of our Nonya and Malay kuehs,

The top layer is a creamy sweet coconut-milk and rice flour concoction, while the bottom layer is a water chestnut and corn kernel interspersed sticky clear rice flour pudding. Sweet, creamy and soft, while at times crunchy, this was a refreshingly delicious treat to end the meal.

The Thai Iced Tea ($4) is thick and frothy but lacking a teensy weensy bit in richness of depth. Passable but not outstanding.

Jai Thai Restaurant
7 Clover Way
Tel: 6258 0228
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11am to 3pm for lunch; daily from 6pm to 9pm for dinner
Website: www.jai-thai.com


The People vs Cheapo Food Bloggers and Bad English

This is a mini rant.

Friends know that my one guilty indulgence is reading food blogs ("flogs"). ("guilty" because I read them at work...yes, my boss reads this flog too) And Singapore, despite its little size, has a very developed food blogging scene. A quick surf on the internet will prove that there is an inordinate number of flogs for a country as tiny as ours. I suppose it's really due to the connectivity of our island, its technologically savvy netizens and their insatiable appetite and love for food.

But lately, I've noticed a worrying trend.

There is a growing number of flogs that I've stopped reading entirely, simply because almost 90% of their posts are all based on invited tastings. Don't these cheapos ever pay for their meals anymore?!? I've always thought that the (one of the primary) purpose(s) of writing a flog is to introduce to the good people of Singapore the various culinary treasures on our little island. An invited tasting will never be a fair assessment of the food served at the restaurant. The chef already knows that he's being judged and critiqued, and so the food will be the best possible quality produced, and service will be at its best behaviour. Just think: do you put in your best effort in your Chinese year-end exams or your weekly Chinese spelling tests? (I use this example because I would sometimes score a big fat zero on some of my Chinese spelling tests but still pass (reasonably well) for my year-end exams, because the year-end exams count and go on your transcripts forever, but nobody really cares too much about spelling tests because they are a weekly affair with no permanent implications.) It's the same with the chefs at such invited tastings.They put their best foot forward because they know that whatever they put on the plate will consequently be put on the internet, a permanent mark on their record of sorts.

Mind you, I'm not against invited tastings per se, just that some food blogs (you know who you are) don't even seem to pay for their own food anymore. Very rarely on these flogs do I see a post that's not an invited tasting. Do these people think that the typical diner will get to enjoy the same type of experience that a flogger gets at an invited tasting? The answer is a resounding and obvious "NO". This is why I always skip reading posts that are based on invited tastings. They're just not an accurate portrayal of the food usually served.

And if the flogger doesn't bother to even dine on his/her own dime anymore, and/or to critic food that's not an invited tasting, why would I even bother to read their flog at all? Their flog is full of inaccurate portrayals of the food actually served at such establishments on a daily affair! I've stopped taking them seriously as "food gurus" because most of their reviews are "tainted". Their flogs rarely contain reviews I'd rely on for honest and realistic recommendations for the best chow.

This is why, I think, more credible reviewers such as traditional media food critics tend to go back to the restaurant, after they've attended an invited tasting, to dine again, incognito, just to compare the food served during both occasions. Maybe floggers should do the same, to lend credibility to their reviews at such invited tastings.

I suppose there will always be the difference between the reviews by floggers and traditional media, the latter having more checks and tighter controls for accountability and credibility. The flogging scene's currently a bit like the Wild Wild West and there doesn't seem to be any checks on flogs. I'm thinking, surely the public court of opinion isn't enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Please bear in mind my irritation is directed at floggers who don't seem to blog about non-invited tastings anymore, whereby you'll be hard-pressed to find a post that's not based on an invited tasting. Those that blog about the occasional invited tastings are still alright, in my book. It's those extremely "commercialized" flogs that annoy the crap out of me.

Also, another pet peeve of mine is floggers who don't know how to use big words but attempt, miserably, to do so. Seriously, if your English isn't great, just use simple English. I've actually read a post wherein a flogger used the word "paranormal" to describe the view, when, I think, the word "panoramic" should have been used instead. I highly doubt that the view of the Marina Bay waterfront was supernaturally scary.

I have nothing against floggers who aren't very proficient in the English language, or those who make typographical errors (because even I'm not that meticulous in checking my work), or floggers who use slang (Singlish is, afterall, part of our local vernacular) or colloquial language. I applaud floggers who use their flogs in the betterment of their English. I can close one eye to small errors in grammar or spelling. But not pretentious try-hards who think that their 'engrish' is so 'powderful' that they make glaringly obvious CMI (cannot-make-it), ROTFL (roll-on-the-floor-laughing), forward-to-friends-for-LOL-moments, types of errors. Know your limits, and if you don't know what the meaning of the adjective is, don't use that to describe the food/view/ambience/service. Nobody will fault you for using plain, simple, English. Or else, check the dictionary. You're never too old to use one.

Okay, maybe the rant wasn't so mini afterall.


Peach Garden Chinese Restaurant, Thomson Plaza

Peach Garden at Thomson Plaza is one of those places that uses metal pushcart trolleys to serve their dim sum. Save for dishes such as roasted meats, rice rolls and porridge, all other dim sum are served the old-fashioned method, on these pushcarts. It's a kitschy idea but not enough to distract from the fact that the dim sum was fairly unimpressive. This is surprising, seeing that the restaurant was operating at an overflowing capacity over the weekend. I'd expected more, as I'd really good meals at their CBD and Sichuan branches. The main problem I had was that the dim sum were just so very lackluster, and generally ho-hum. They were below par with the stuff served at the mass marketed Crystal Jade Kitchen branches, which have lower price points than Peach Garden. I just felt that you just don't get your money's worth here.

There was one good thing though, service was warm and friendly, without compromising on efficiency and professionalism. Plus, Thomson Plaza's a very short stroll from Pops' place so we didn't have to contend with the horrendous weekend parking woes. (For those who aren't in the know, there's always a long queue outside the perpetually full and limited underground carpark at Thomson Plaza on weekends and during any peak dining periods.)

We started off with the Siew Mai Steamed Pork Dumpling ($4.20), which had very strong "porky" smell and taste, which put us off a fair bit, because that meant the pork wasn't sparkling fresh.

The Steamed Scallop and Prawn Dumpling ($4.20) fared better in comparison (which isn't saying much). The dumpling skin was thin and chewy, and seafood was reasonably fresh but admittedly not particularly sweet.We had to dip this in a bit of soy because it was lacking in flavour.

The Steamed Radish and Mushroom Rice Roll ($3.90) was probably the best dish, which isn't saying much either, but this is the one dish that actually stood out. The chives-laced rice roll skin was thin and chewy, and stuffed generously with sweet and crunchy radish strips and juicy mushrooms. A most pleasant vegetarian rice roll.

The Rice Roll with BBQ Pork ($4.30) was also quite commendable. Translucent and thin chewy skin, plentiful sweetly charred diced char siew and delicate soy made for a well done dish.

The Pan-fried Carrot Cake ($3.60), however, was also lackluster. This was served tepid so it just tasted like cold mush, which was most unfortunate. It would have been passable if it was freshly fried, or reheated. This is not one dish that should be served on a dim sum trolley. Peach Garden should do this Hongkong-style, where the dim sum trolley has an attached frying griddle to re-fry dishes such as this.

I was hankering for some porridge, so I got the Minced Pork Congee ($6) which had the requisite grainy texture but stock base was tasteless. This was so sub-par. In fact, I think this was something even an ACS boy could cook up in home economics class. (for the record, this isn't a slur against ACS boys, I just think most of them can't cook, based on my experiences with them, I married one and he cannot cook. Some of my besties were ACS boys and they can't cook either. That said, they'll clean up as long as you cook for them, which is such a winning point, I think.)

The Braised Peanuts ($2) were standard and generic, but also served cold. And, they were just a tad hard and crunchy, when they should have been really soft. We didn't finish this.

Peach Garden Chinese Restaurant
301 Upper Thomson Road
Thomson Plaza #01-88
Tel: 6451 3233
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11am to 2.30pm for lunches;
Saturdays, Sundays and PHs from 10am to 3pm for lunches;
Daily from 6pm to 10pm for dinners
Website: www.peachgarden.com.sg


Rubato Modern Italian Trattoria

Rubato has been making waves amongst the Northerners since it was established deep in the Jalan Pemimpin residential estate, off Upper Thomson Road sometime around mid-2011. Rubato is one of those small, hole-in-the-wall, cosy, family-run restaurants that's casual but still chic at the same time. Soft candlelight and rustic wooden furniture give this place a down-to-earth, countryside and romantic vibe. I think, this is the north's answer to the west's Valentino's (it's probably not as authentic as Valentino's, which is run by actual Italians, but Rubato's probably the best the north has for Italian food).

If you're dining over the weekends or during the peak meal hours, be sure to make reservations to avoid disappointment, because the restaurant's so small. Also, a word of caution to those driving there, parking is a pain in the a*s, so be sure to go early to avoid the crowd. Or car-pool.

Stepping into the restaurant on a Tuesday evening at about 6pm, the restaurant was devoid of customers, so we had the entire place to ourselves. Nice. The staff was polite and very unintrusive, leaving us alone for most of the meal except to check in on us, and fairly helpful when giving suggestions for our mains. A weird thing we noticed about the menu though, is that the mains cost about the same as the starters, as well as the desserts! So the mains are comparatively cheap but the starters and desserts are seemingly expensive. I suppose, if you order only mains, it'll be considered a cheap meal. But if you order starters and dessert, then it'll be considered an expensive meal.

The Carpaccio di Manzo con Olio Extravergine di Oliva ($20.80) beef carpaccio drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, rocket salad, parmesan shavings was admittedly generic, but still one of the better ones we've eaten. There was a clarity of flavours that was so refreshing.

We totally loved the Capesante Avvolto in Prosciutto di Parma con Una Salsa Grappa ($22.80) sea scallops wrapped in Parma ham drizzled with Grappa sauce, and interspersed with dollops of salsa.

The salty, indulgent ribbons of Parma ham wrapped the plump succulent scallops that were seared perfectly so they remained unbelievably juicy. A sumptuous creamy grappa gravy draped each scallop with its warm velvety textures while the salsa provided a fruity piquant lift.

The Oven-Baked Chicken ($20.80) with rosemary was possibly the only downer of the meal, especially in light of the outstanding other dishes. The mashed potatoes were tasteless and the chicken thigh was miserably teensy. That said, the chicken was seasoned well and reasonably juicy and moist.

Save for bits of crab shell, the Risotto alla Polpa di Granchio, Paprica dolce e Pomodorini ($22.80), risotto with crabmeat, sweet paprika and cherry tomatoes was commendable. It was a big portion, but it wasn't cloying one bit. The textures of the crabmeat seemed of the frozen variety but the flavours seemed fresh. That said, the crabmeat was plentiful and the prawns were sweet and fresh. Peppery arugula and paprika provided some lift to the dish as well.

Bite-sized cubes of complimentary Foccacia drizzled liberally with olive oil were served as appetizers still warm and soft and incredibly aromatic.

Rubato Modern Italian Trattoria
3 Clover Way
Tel: 6252 3200
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch and 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner


E-Sarn Thai Corner, Upper Thomson

The shophouse-lined row that is Thomson Ridge is choc-a-bloc with eateries. Every other shophouse unit is some kind of restaurant. As with many in the very-fickle F&B industry, a number of these restaurants close up shop as quickly as they open, but there are a few mainstays that prove hardy, like Liquid Kitchen, Nam Kee Chicken Rice, Fatboys and La Petit Cuisine. E-Sarn Thai Corner, a chain of casual Thai eateries, looks to be another mainstay in this highly competitive food enclave. In an area where the turnover of restaurants is so high, E-Sarn Thai Corner has proven to be hardy since it was opened back in late 2010. Where there was no air-conditioning previously (a complaint of most of their regulars), it's now a comfortable air-conditioned restaurant.

Since E-Sarn's move from a hawker stall at Farrer Road to the little condominium enclave of Ridgewood back in 2010, it's successfully spawned 3 more outlets, all set up in similar locales - private housing residential estates. I'm surprised, because I didn't think the cuisine was authentically spicy enough for the restaurant to be this successful. I suppose the formula of watering down the spice level to cater to the expat tongue and situating itself in estates that are home to many expats works. It's not that I think the food is bad, because it isn't. The flavours are there, but the food's just not spicy enough.

In all fairness, the reasonably cheap price points and casual relaxed ambience are huge pluses. And service here is great, the all-Thai staff are genteel and polite to a fault, they're almost zen-like. And while the food isn't as spicy as I'd like, the above average food scores well with people that cannot take spice.

For example, the Tom Yum Koong ($7.50) was, despite the presence of chilli padis, really quite mild. There was depth of flavour though, even if there was no kick. The sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes were also a nice touch, as with the crunchy prawns.

We liked the Pad Pak Ruom ($9.50) crunchy baby kailan, cabbage, long beans, corn, carrots, straw mushrooms stir-fried in oyster sauce.

The Kra Pow Moo ($11.50) utilised very lean pork, so it was a little dry, but the chilli paste helped moisten it. This wasn't very spicy either, but the basil leaves lent a peppery aroma to the dish.

We couldn't quite taste the egg in the Kai Foo ($8.50), a deep-fried plain crispy omelette. It just seemed like it was mostly fried batter. That said, it was crisp and not too oily.

The Panang Gai ($13.50) chicken stir-fried with coconut curry gravy, was very creamy and rich, and not spicy at all. It also tended to the salty side, and the chicken tasted off.

We always order a glass each of Thai Iced Tea ($4) and Lemongrass Juice ($4)  whenever they're available at a Thai establishment. Loved the lemongrass drink, fragrant and refreshing.

We particularly liked the addition of Grass Jelly ($0.50), which balances out the rich creaminess of the milk tea.

E-Sarn Thai Corner
9 Thomson Ridge
Tel: 6554 4174
Open Mondays, Wednesdays to Fridays from 11am to 2.30pm for lunch and 5.30pm to 10pm for dinners
Weekends from 11.30am to 10pm
Closed on Tuesdays
Website: www.esarn.com.sg


Ngee Fou Restaurant (Hakka) Ampang Yong Tau Foo

We're house-sitting for Pops, who's away in Italy with my brothers for a 2 week jaunt. Whenever we house-sit, we always take the opportunity to explore eating places in the central and northern parts of Singapore.

The entire stretch of Upper Thomson Road is littered with notable eating spots, if you look hard enough and ask the Northerners (that's what we locals call the people who stay in the North, which includes the Upper Thomson area). Upper Thomson isn't just known for roti prata, you know?

Ngee Fou Ampang Yong Tau Foo, a family-run stalwart that's fed the masses since the 70's, is one of those notable eating spots. It's admittedly quite ulu-fied, and we would never go there unless we were around the area, which is to say, never. It's on the far north stretch of the seemingly endless Upper Thomson Road (it extends from the city-fringed Novena area all the way north to the very forested Mandai area). The best way to describe its location is near Nee Soon Camp (NS men will know this) and in the predominantly landed property Springleaf estate. Although Ngee Fou is purportedly open till 7.30pm, the food runs out by late lunch. Besides, the food is made fresh everyday so you'll do well to eat early in the afternoon when it's at its freshest. Also, because parking is so limited, it's best to hit this just before the peak lunch hour.

Apart from yong tau foo, there's chicken rice, duck rice and curry fish head that's worth a try here. Just take a look at the other tables, and you'll see almost everyone ordering the same stuff as well. Diversification is probably the reason for their continued success and repeat customers.

The Chicken ($13.50 for a 3-person portion) is juicy and succulent, with minimal soy marinade so the flavour of the chicken really shines through. This was pretty good.

While the rice isn't the most flavourful we've tried, it's a good base to set off the braising gravy for the yong tau foo and fish curry.

The Nonya-style Curry Fish Head ($20 for small) is rich and creamy, spicy enough and brimming with lots of ingredients, lady's fingers, eggplant, tomatoes and fried beancurd. The fish is fresh and flaky, no fishy muddy tones here. One thing that we noted as well, the onions were very well done, they were soft, caramelized and sweet. We loved nibbling on them.

Ah, the piece de resistance, the Ampang Yong Tau Foo ($12.50), freshly made yong tau foo that's served "dry" (as opposed to the soupy style) with a brown braising gravy slathered over it. That brown gravy is what makes yong tau foo an "Ampang" yong tau foo. It's a muted, mellow, starchy and gooey gravy with roasted garlic and oyster sauce undertones. The standard ingredients are bouncy fishballs, fried pork dumplings, fried beancurd skins, sliced fishcake-filled bittergourds, cubed silken beancurd, poached kangkong and fried beancurd.

Ngee Fou Restaurant (Hakka) Ampang Yong Tau Foo
928 Upper Thomson Road
Tel: 6452 1801
Open daily from 9.30am to 7.30pm


Ice Cream Gallery, Tanjong Katong Road

We needed a respite from the sweltering heat at Fengshan so we'd thought we'll go get dessert somewhere air-conditioned. And what better way to cool off than indulging in a bit of ice-cream? Pat had heard about some ice-cream parlor along Tanjong Katong Road, so we headed there.

While we're on the topic of ice-cream shops, I've noticed a sudden sprouting of ice-cream shops all over the island. Along the short 200 meters stretch of Upper Thomson where The Roti Prata House is, there are not just 1, not 2 but 3 ice-cream shops! (btw, it's Salted Caramel, Udders and Scoopz) And what's it with jaded, burnt out bankers and lawyers that every disillusioned one of them seems to want to open up an ice-cream parlor? (The Hubs says that it's because they need to chill...geddit??) I suppose ice-cream shops are now the food fad du jour, and I'm really curious as to how long it lasts and which one actually outlasts them all.

Anyway, Ice Cream Gallery, like most of the other newly opened ice-cream shops, is catered to the local palate, with Asian flavours such as the D24 durian and gula melaka with red bean. Its location beside Hong Kong Street Chun Kee  and lots of other famous eateries such as Punggol Nasi Lemak ensures a steady stream of post-dinner customers looking to satiate their sweet tooth.

We got 3 flavours to share between the 4 of us, and while the sea salt caramel and rum & raisin were nice enough, they were still pretty ordinary, with the soursop being just plain awful. It had a gooey, slimey, somewhat chewy consistency that was so uncharacteristic of a sorbet. We wanted something more sherbet-like, something similar to a shaved ice ball. Suffice to say, we didn't finish it.
Bottom: Soursop Sorbet ($3.50); top right: Sea Salt Caramel ($4); top left: Rum & Raisin ($3.50)

Ice Cream Gallery
242C Tanjong Katong Road
Tel: 6348 6535
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 12noon to 10.30pm
Fridays from 12noon to 11pm
Saturdays from 11.30am to 11pm
 Website: www.icecreamgallery.com


Fengshan Food Centre (temporary), Bedok North Road

Whenever we have overseas friends visiting Singapore and asking to go to Newton for barbecued seafood (because they've all heard about Newton Hawker Centre), we always tell them to scrap that (coz it's such a tourist trap) and head to either Chomp Chomp at Serangoon Gardens or Fengshan Food Centre at Bedok North (also colloquially known as "Bedok Blk 85"). Both hawker centres serve food that you'd find at Newton, but with much much MUCH better food and are a lot more value-for-money. Thing is, while Newton's right smack in the middle of the town area, Chomp Chomp is far north, and Bedok Blk 85 is far east of the island. You'll just have to travel for good food I guess. Parking at both places is also quite a pain, especially at Chomp Chomp, so if I'd have to choose, I'd say that Bedok Blk 85 is the place to go.

The unique thing that sets Bedok Blk 85 apart from any other hawker centre is the 2 stalls serving soupy minced pork noodles. You can't find the same type of noodles anywhere else on the island. Every time a craving hits, we'll have to make a "pilgrimage" of sorts to the eastern end of our little island for our soupy bak chor mee fix.

When we brought Ray & Pat, who are new-ish settlers in Singapore, there recently for some yummy hawker food, we discovered that the hawker centre has been undergoing renovation works since last year, and will be ongoing until the fourth quarter of 2013. The stalls have mostly been re-housed a short stroll away in a temporary makeshift structure, at block 84A, just off block 84. Like it's predecessor premises, it's really stuffy and hot and humid on the inside so try to get an open-air table on the outside.

Both soupy bak chor mee stalls sometimes have ridiculous queues at different times of the night, so best to ask, before ordering, how long the wait will be, and order from the stall with the shortest wait. Sometimes one stall has a half hour wait while the other has no wait at all, but it's reversed at other times, so there's no telling which one has the shortest serving time. And since there's no discernible difference between the noodles from either of the stalls, I say go for whichever one has the shortest wait. We had the Soupy Minced Pork Noodles ($3 for large) from Xing Ji Rou Cuo Mian. which arrived steaming hot on our table barely 5 minutes after our orders were taken. What sets these noodles apart are how the noodles stay so springy in the soup base.  The rich-with-pork-bones broth is kept light with the heat of cut chillis and pieces of fried lard, while fresh bouncy meat balls and chunks of soft chewy minced pork lend texture and flavour. This was good to the last drop.

We also had a bunch of BBQ Chicken Wings ($1.10 per wing) from Sin Bedok North BBQ Chicken Wing, with nicely charred glistening skin but still kept juicy on the inside and very well-flavoured. Totally finger licking good. We promptly ordered another plate after devouring this.

We also ordered barbecued seafood from Wang Wang BBQ, but the BBQ Sambal Stingray ($10 for small) was a disappointment. It was overcooked and dried out, so even the liberal slathering of the thick sambal paste couldn't save this.

The BBQ Sambal Squid ($8 for small), on the other hand, was executed perfectly. The perfectly cooked squid was soft and tender, and tossed in a fiery sambal sweetened by pineapples, so there was a little tartness added to the spicy heat of the dried shrimp-based sambal.

We also had some Satay (chicken and beef from one of the stalls slightly more than halfway down the side opposite the bak chor mee stalls), done really well, juicy and tender and moist, with a delectable charring on the edges.

Fengshan Temporary Market
Blk 84A
Bedok North Road


Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck, Paragon

It's been a year since we last dined at this Imperial Treasure outlet. I've realised that I always dine here whenever I utilise my birthday discount at Ferragamo @ Paragon every year. Every year, after opening my notification-of-birthday-discount letter, the "standard operating procedure" is to inform all of my girlfriends about the birthday discount (because it's good to share!), arrange for a day, after work, to meet up at the boutique, and then buy up half the store. Because everyone turns up at different times, and also because everyone takes forever to decide on their purchases, it's usually past 9.30 pm that everyone's finally done with their shopping. By that time, only Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck and Crystal Jade Golden Palace, both on the 5th floor, remain as viable dinner options.

Despite the timing (9.30pm on a Friday night), the restaurant was still a full house and we had to settle for a coffee table at the bar area outside the restaurant. This place really does a roaring trade. I think it all boils down to efficient professional service, reasonable prices and consistently delicious food.

The Sauteed Scallops with Italian White Truffle Oil ($14 per 1-person portion) is an absolute MUST-ORDER, even if it's a bit pricey. This is the first time we've ever had it, despite being Imperial Treasure regulars, and we totally fell in love with the first mouthful. Succulent plump scallops are lightly seared and set upon a bed of fluffy scrambled egg whites then tossed in aromatic truffle oil. Only 3 things comprise this dish but what results is such an amazing confluence of flavours. Even my burps smelled delicious! (a bit gross, I know, but that's how good this was)

We also had the Claypot Chicken ($15) that was supposedly served with pork liver as well, but we opted to leave the liver out. Liver is also one of the things I never really liked, even goose liver, and especially pork liver. It's one of those foods that apparently have nourishing properties for women (the Chinese believe that liver is good for replenishing the blood supply because it has lots of iron) but I've never liked the taste of it. This claypot dish had a very homely appeal, with tender juicy chicken morsels coated in sticky oyster sauce, enlivened by spring onions while grounded by ginger slices.

I like that the Sauteed Sliced US Beef with Fresh Mushroom ($18) isn't overtly tender so much so it practically disintegrates into a mush in the mouth. The red meat has a mild sinewy texture that walks the fine balance between firm and soft and the mushrooms are firm and juicy, while the carrots are crunchy and sweet.

The Poached Seasonal Vegetable ($16) with 3 varieties of eggs has a grainy broth as a result of the yolks from salted eggs stirred into the light soupy base. Delicate without being tasteless, this was well-executed.

The Steamed Egg White with Mushroom ($14) is another must-try here, but you'll have to tell the staff to hold off the coriander in this, as the strong herb totally overwhelms the delicate dish. The egg whites are whipped and steamed into a wobbly custard lightness, then doused with a starchy oyster sauce gravy and diced white button mushrooms.

Imperial Treasure does one of the best renditions of our local favourite, the Sauteed Prawn with Salted Egg Yolk ($24). Salted egg yolks form a crusty layer over the deshelled prawns so they remain moist and juicy and crunchy. This isn't a dish that assaults the tastebuds, but rather, it gently teases you with its simple flavours and complex textures.

I love the Crabmeat with Conpoy & Diced Melon Soup ($8 per 1-person portion) here, it's one of my all-time favourite soups. The clear broth is super umami and rich in flavour, with generous and plentiful ingredients, chewy yellow fungus, sweet shredded crabmeat, button mushrooms, diced winter melons and shredded conpoy.

I like that the Sweetened Sago with Mango Juice ($5 per 1-person portion) has an almost creamy consistency, with the mango blended till smooth into mango juice. Bits of pomelo cut through the sweetness with a hint of bitterness.

The Honey Dew Melon with Sago ($4 per 1-person portion) is sweet and refreshing, with the use of crushed ice so this is really cold.

Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck
290 Orchard Road
#05-42 Paragon
Tel: 6732 7838
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 2.45pm for lunch;
Saturdays from 11am to 3pm for lunch;
Sundays from 10.30am to 3pm for lunch;
Daily from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner


Ichiban Boshi, Novena Square

I've long regarded Ichiban Boshi to be one of the better mass-market conveyor belt-style Japanese restaurant chains around, like Sushi Tei. However, with the closure of its Esplanade branch, which arguably was one of its better outlets, I've discovered that the quality of its food has definitely dropped a few notches. I was at the Novena Square branch for a light bite, and it was quite the lackluster meal, with the sushi not being very fresh and the dishes tasting like they came out of a novice chef's kitchen. I couldn't understand how the restaurant was still bustling with business. Maybe the chefs were having an off day, or maybe their best chefs aren't posted to this outlet. In any case, the meal was utterly unsatisfactory. In my view, Ichiban Boshi has relegated to becoming Sakae Sushi's competitor, which mostly caters to the cash-poor and not-very-fussy-about-food types, as opposed to Sushi Tei's value-for-money quality Japanese fare. This is highly irregular, because Ichiban Boshi is associated with its pricier sister Kuriya, which serves really awesome Japanese cuisine. 

The seasoned mini octopus in the Chuka Lidako Sushi ($2.10) was rubbery and required a good amount of chewing to get through. This tasted a little stale as well.

The Egg Mayo Inari ($3.90) wasn't half bad in comparison to the octopus sushi, the sushi rice was soft and sweet, the egg mayo was fresh, not too cloying and complemented the sweet beancurd skin wrapping.

The Crispy Spicy Tuna Mayo Maki ($2.10) is usually one of Ichiban Boshi's unique signatures, but today's version was disappointing, with the rice bed tasting like it was re-fried in tempura batter and texture being too mushy. We just scraped off the layer of tuna to eat.

The Chicken Katsu Toji ($10.90), chicken cutlet with scrambled egg on a griddle plate, wasn't too bad, even if the chicken was a bit dry and tough. The eggs were still soft and fluffy and the light soy and onions sauce lent just the right amount of flavour.

The Dobinmushi ($7.90), teapot soup made up of shrimp, chicken and vegetables in dashi stock was awful. The clear soup was way too saturated with the overpowering sweetness of prawns and to top it off, the prawn base didn't even taste fresh. I practically squeezed out the lime wedge and dunked the entire thing into the pot but its acidity still couldn't save the soup. I couldn't finish this.

Ichiban Boshi
238 Thomson Road
Novena Square #02-13
Tel: 6255 7767
Open daily from 11.30am to 9.30pm
Website: www.ichibanboshi.com.sg
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