Tambuah Mas Indonesian Restaurant, Paragon

We met up with my youngest brother and his girlfriend over the weekend for our monthly meet-up at Paragon. Although we don't live under the same roof, we try to keep in touch by making it a point to meet up at least once a month. It's all about effort. Since my mom passed on early, I've stepped in as a surrogate mother of sorts to my younger brothers. And while our relationship has evolved from being that of a surrogate mother to that of a buddy-like older sister, I do want to remain a relevant (and important) part of my brothers' lives. So, we make the effort to meet up regularly and share in our lives. Of course, it helps loads that the Hubs gets along fabulously with my brothers so meeting up with them is always a hoot and a half.

Paragon over the weekend, as with any other mall in Singapore, is unbelieveably crowded, (our little island really is suffering from the effects of overcrowding stemming from a poorly thought-out immigration policy). Despite the variety and sheer number of restaurants at the Paragon food basement, there were still queues at every single restaurant. We finally settled on Tambuah Mas because we were all craving something spicy. Thanks to the restaurant's reasonably high turnover, we didn't have to wait too long for a table. Service was quick, but choppy and flustered, and the food was also somewhat mediocre and inconsistent, which could all be attributed to the overflowing capacity of the restaurant.

Comparisons between Tambuah Mas and its direct competitor, Pagi Sore, will invariably be drawn, as both serve Indonesian Malay cuisine at relatively comfortable restaurant surroundings. While there are certain dishes that Tambuah Mas has an edge, my take is that Pagi Sore is, in general, better than Tambuah Mas.

The Ikan Nila Goreng ($20) crisp-fried red fish, served with a homemade sweet and spicy dark sauce, aka kecap manis, is unique to Tambuah Mas. This was so good there was no need for the kecap manis. The golden exterior was crisp without being dry, with moist flaky flesh and a delicate mild taste.

The Ikan Pepes ($6) spice marinated seabass fillet enveloped in banana leaves and grilled, basically what we know as otah, was terribly fishy. Even the heavy spices couldn't mask its fishiness. We couldn't finish this. Pagi Sore's version is, naturally, immensely better.

The Stir-fried Kailan ($9) in starchy oyster sauce is simple and homestyled. Not particular outstanding but it was nice, basic fare.

The Sate Ayam ($7.50 for half dozen), skewers of marinated chicken charred over open flame served with onions, cucumber and homemade peanut sauce was pretty commendable. Juicy flavoursome chicken, nice charring, and a thick chunky peanut sauce.

The Nasi Goreng ($13.50), while not particularly well-fried, was packed with flavour. The fried egg was rubbery, the ingredients in the fried rice were boring and staid, the keropok was soft instead of crunchy, but the rice, by itself, was the saving grace, this had a robust, well-rounded taste.

The Kari Ayam ($7.50) chicken simmered in coconut milk and spices, also known as kalio, paled in comparison to Pagi Sore's version. This was insipid and weak due to an extremely watered down gravy, and the chicken was unappetizingly dry and tough.

The Rendang Lembu ($8.50) braised beef stewed in traditional spice blend and coconut milk, was on par with Pagi Sore's version. The gravy was potent, thick and rich, while the beef was fork-tender and moist.

The Tahu Telor ($9) fried cubed beancurd and eggs topped with kecap manis, is much fluffier than Pagi Sore's denser and compacted version. This manages an airy and light texture that's so delectable.

Now that Pagi Sore no longer serves this curry staple (their management is apparently of the view that the said dish is not very popular...yeah, I don't geddit either), Tambuah Mas' Sayur Lodeh ($6.50) trumps by default. The medley of cabbage, long beans and beancurd in spicy coconut milk was creamy, spicy and rich.

Standard appetizers, a nutty, slightly bitter Belinjau Crackers ($1.50) were served with a thick spicy potent sambal , which is complimentary (always a plus in my book! Pagi Sore charges a small fee for each saucer of sambal btw).

Tambuah Mas Indonesian Restaurant
290 Orchard Road
Paragon B1-44
Tel: 6733 2220
Open daily from 11am to 10pm


Hide Yamamoto

Hide Yamamoto, a fine-dining Japanese restaurant at Marina Bay Sands, has garnered quite a bit of attention since it opened to much fanfare in the fall of 2010. Since it passed my "must-last-more-than-1-year" test for new restaurants, it's been on my to-try list for a while. It was truly surprising to find it very sparse when we popped in for lunch over the weekend. We were the only ones present at the sushi counter! Ah well, good for us then, I much prefer a quiet, peaceful restaurant devoid of diners than a chatter-filled full-house one.

Although the restaurant's namesake is French and Italian-trained, and although none of Hide Yamamoto's other 4 restaurants in Japan serve Japanese food, he's surprisingly chosen to open his first Japanese restaurant here in Singapore. You may, like me, hold the mistaken pre-conceived notion, that despite his pedigree, the Japanese cuisine at his eponymous restaurant wouldn't be that great, but boy were we bowled over by our meal. It was nothing short of awesome, and one of the more memorable ones I've had this year. Everything was executed with effortless flair and absolutely faultless. Not a single wrong move made here.

Hide Yamamoto serves up 5 different styles of Japanese cuisine, separately located at the sushi area, ramen section, teppanyaki tables, rotaba grill and sake bar. Don't worry, you're not restricted to wherever you sit, you can still order from the other menus even if you sit in a different section. Bits of the chef's east-west fusion style invariably find their way into all 5 menus, but you don't quite realize it because the cuisine, most of their sushi menu anyway, adheres to the traditional.

We were craving sushi, and opted for seating right at the counter, a favourite spot of mine because you get every dish explained in detail to you by the chefs. You inevitably get an education in Japanese cuisine. Besides, it's always entertaining to watch the chefs at work.

Service was excellent as well. The staff anticipated our every need and we never had to call for any staff over. Our cups of green tea were never empty, and the staff was right by our side to take fresh orders barely 2 seconds after I flipped open the menu. Such efficient service was despite the fact that the wait staff always left our section to let us to dine in private. It's as if they had some kind of sixth sense as to when we needed to be waited upon.

One small teensy weensy note though, on closer inspection of the bill, we realized that our green teas, which were refillable, cost a whopping $9 for the iced one, and $5 for the warm one. I don't know how rare the green teas were, but we thought that a difference of $4, just for ice, was a bit excessive. 

We opted for the Sushi Course ($160), which started with a Trio of Amuse Bouche comprising a Jellyfish drenched in a light ponzu sauce and fish roe. The texture of the jellyfish, unlike the Cantonese-style we're so used to, was very crunchy. Almost crisp, in fact. A most pleasant corresponding texture to the refreshing taste of this.

The Pickled Snapper didn't look particularly appetizing (it does look a bit like fish bait) but it was delicious. It had a very salty yet tangy flavour. Like a chewy, raw fish version of pickled radish.

The last appetizer was Grilled Octopus brushed with a delicate sweetish sauce. The chilled octopus had a thick, meaty but still mildly chewy texture. Very delectable.

Next up was the Sashimi course with plump slices of amber jack, blue fin tuna and tiger prawn that were impossibly fresh. Excellent stuff.

The steamed course was up next, a Chawanmushi dressed with sea urchin and, here's the kicker, truffles. The smooth and flavoursome flan was infused with truffle oil and interspersed with minute-sized diced truffles. Best chawanmushi ever.

The grilled course of a Chuck Beef Roll stuffed with diced vegetables was mouth-wateringly good. The tender juicy beef rolls of sweet marinated root vegetables had a nice charring, accenting this with a delectable smokiness to the juicy rolls.

The deep-fried course of Crabmeat Balls with grilled green peppers was also wonderful.

The crabmeat balls were so light and fluffy, they didn't even taste deep-fried. They had a poofy texture, like the insides were aerated, and so well-drained we forgot this was supposed to be a deep-fried dish.

The Sushi course was the most anticipated, having such an amazing buildup with the rest of the dishes, and they didn't disappoint. Every one was impossibly fresh, with the clean and sweet flavours of the sea. The perfect moulds of vinegared sushi rice, and just the right dab of freshly grated wasabi was all it took to leave the focus on the raw fish. We started with Flounder, already sprinkled with salt, so there was no need for salt. This is a very delicate and mild fish, so soy would have overwhelmed its taste. (p.s. apologies for that very extra intrepid grain of rice photobomb)

The Kinme Snapper Sushi was sweet and mild.

The Ark Shell Clam Sushi was the hardest for us conservative eaters to stomach, because of its very raw bloody taste and relatively chewy texture. Its taste is akin to raw cockles (Kang will like this).

Oh we loved the Medium Fatty Tuna Sushi for its melt-in-the-mouth texture.

The Salmon Roe Nigiri, with a crisp seaweed wrap, was bursting with a seafresh sweetness. 

The Miso Soup, with cabbage strips added for sweetness and dimension, is relatively delicate. I very much like this version, it's not too salty and fairly light.

We supplemented with stuff from the ala carte menu, starting with the Tuna Sushi Combination ($50), a trio of sushi comprising Fatty Tuna Sushi. The picture says it all.

Medium Fatty Tuna Sushi

And the Blue Fin Tuna Sushi. To be honest, I would have been extremely happy eating this grade of tuna, it was just that fresh and sweet and awesome.

The Salmon Sushi ($8 each) was unbelievably sweet and clear. We promptly re-ordered another 2 of this.

The Truffle Edamame ($13) is an absolute must-try here. We loved this. Aromatic and delicious. Truffle really does go with everything, doesn't it?

The dessert course aptly named "Full Moon", an artfully plated macha roll cake topped with mango cheese cream, macha ice-cream, and mango sauce, macha white chocolate bits, and chocolate balls was a play on so many different textures of macha. The fruity sweetness of mangoes balanced out the naturally bitter tones of macha. This was a well-thought out and satisfying dessert. 

I like my desserts light and refreshing and the citrusy Guava Sherbet ($4) was a bull's eye. Icy cool and palate-cleansing, a very good end to an equally excellent meal.

We'll definitely be back.

Hide Yamamoto
8 Bayfront Avenue
Marina Bay Sands
#02-05 Atrium level
Tel: 6688 7098
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch, 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Website: www.hideyamamoto.com


Seah Street Deli, Raffles Hotel

I'd been craving mac & cheese all week. We'd actually tried going to Seah Street Deli (coz they have one of the heartiest mac and cheeses in town) on Monday but it was closed, so it was only at the end of the work week that we managed to satiate my craving.

You know, that's one thing I don't quite understand about Raffles Hotel. Seah Street Deli, like most of the in-house restaurants at Raffles Hotel, is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Save for the Steakhouse, Courtyard, Royal China and Tiffin Room, the remaining 10 other restaurants all take turns being closed for lunch and/or dinner on Sundays, Mondays and/or Tuesdays! I'd assume that, being a hotel of such caliber and history, most of their in-house restaurants would be open all week, instead of the other way around. It's like how Pontini at Grand Copthorne Waterfront is closed on Sundays, and Saturday afternoons. Seriously, what's that about?

Also, Raffles Hotel restaurants now apparently have a no-takeaway policy, so you better make sure you finish your food then and there in the restaurant because that includes doggie-bagging the food. I just don't get it, why can't we takeaway or doggie-bag food? Even if it's for conservation reasons, surely we can use recycled paper bags? If it's the cost of such recycled paper bags that's of concern, I'll be most happy to pay a small fee for that. For the life of me, I can't fathom the rationale behind such a policy.

Another thing we noticed, Seah Street Deli has raised its prices significantly (it's about a 60% increase across the board). I don't quite get the need for such a drastic increase in pricing. In all fairness, the portions have increased. But, I never really thought their portions were puny anyways. Further, the portion sizing may have swelled, but certainly not by 60%, which would have somewhat justified the corresponding increase in pricing. I use the word "somewhat" because it's not like the standard of the dishes has suddenly shot up. The food tastes pretty much the same. So at the end of the day, you just get super duper stuffed, without a similar increase in enjoyment, and with a disproportionate increase in price. Diners end up paying 60% more for an experience that doesn't have a corresponding increase in satisfaction. This just doesn't make much economic sense. Maybe that's why the restaurant looks a lot more empty than it used to. I say, go back to the old pricing and portion sizing instead.

I got my Mac and Cheese ($29, this used to be $17.50) with roasted chicken and additional Portobello Mushroom ($9, this used to be $5). This is a lot more generously portioned than the last time I had this, I was actually full halfway through! The elbow pasta was done perfectly al dente, chewy with the slightest bit of bite, topped off with juicy portobello slices and flavoursome roasted chicken, then finished off with a slathering of rich luscious cheese. This is as good as before, but what's the point of an upsized portion if I can't finish it? I just end up paying more for a portion sizing that I can't finish, and to compound matters, I can't doggie-bag the remains to finish later.  I think, I'm going to have to head to Pique Nique for my mac and cheese cravings from now on.

The Hubs, who's staying away from carbs, ordered the Broadway ($40, this used to be $25), a combination of quarter roasted chicken and half rack of baby pork ribs served with seasonal vegetables and sauteed mushrooms. The increase in sizing for this was a lot less than with the mac and cheese. Chicken was flavoursome but could be more moist. Ribs were nicely marinated but could be more tender and fleshier. Chili's does a much much better version of this combo at a much more attractive pricing (at $25.90). Seah Street Deli needs to do a lot better to stay competitive in today's culinary climate.

Update 17 October 2012: Seah Street Deli has closed and may be making way for a halal eatery

Seah Street Deli
Raffles Hotel
1 Beach Road
Tel: 6337 1886
Open Sundays to Thursdays and Public Holidays from 11am to 10pm, Fridays, Saturdays and eve of Public Holidays from 11am to 11pm


NYDC, Novena Square

I met up with Ernie over the weekend for afternoon tea, or as he likes to call it, "happy time", which is really just code for chocolate and ice-cream. I picked him up and headed to the closest NYDC outlet, located at Novena Square right next to his home, which is possibly the most "unknown" and obscure NYDC branch ever. It's hidden deep in the corner pocket of the third floor of Novena Square, and little wonder why it was almost devoid of diners in the middle of the lunch peak period over the weekend. They need to do a lot more marketing to spread the word.

You'd think that with so few diners, we'd get really awesome personalized and attentive service. But no, the staff were lackadaisical and restless, mostly chatting amongst themselves. We couldn't quite seem to get their attention in getting our orders taken so Ernie had to go to the counter to place our orders instead. To get our iced waters, we had to remind them of our request. I think, with so few diners, service had inevitably become slow, lethargic and unmotivated. In all fairness, they were perfectly pleasant and polite when dealing with us.

In any case, our desserts were consistent with the standards at other NYDC outlets, the Cookie Monster Mudpie ($11.80), with layers of double chocolate chip, mocha almond fudge ice-cream and cookie chunks nestled on a Oreo cookie base. Hot fudge drizzled over the concoction and a dollop of whipped cream completed the icy block of deliciousness.

I didn't even have to tell Ernie my order and he automatically knew to get That Boney Cake ($11.80) for me. I guess I'm quite the predictable bunny with the most consistent preferences. Chocolate sponge Elmer Fudge cake served delectably warmed and contrasted with the cold scoop of vanilla ice-cream, then finished with stripes of hot fudge and chocolate chip sprinkles, this was, as usual, divine.

238 Thomson Road
Velocity @ Novena Square
Tel: 6358 4924
Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm
Website: www.nydc.com.sg


Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck, Paragon

My youngest brother just turned 21, a landmark age, and we decided to celebrate by treating him and his girlfriend to Sunday brunch at one of our favorite Cantonese restaurant chains, Imperial Treasure. Luckily for us, we managed to snag last-minute reservations at the Paragon outlet of the Super Peking Duck arm of the Imperial Treasure group of restaurants. It's one of our fail-safe options for a guaranteed good meal, I don't think we've ever had a bad meal at Imperial Treasure, yet.

I've long associated the Imperial Treasure chain with Crystal Jade group of restaurants, considering that Imperial Treasure was set up by people that used to run Crystal Jade. However, Imperial Treasure has started to distinguish itself in terms of its varied menu (there are like 15 different ways of cooking every single meat or seafood!) and particular dishes. There are a couple of beloved items on Imperial Treasure's menu that I simply can't find at Crystal Jade.

We started off with a Steamed Marble Goby ($68) Hongkong-style, with the most delicate of soy blends dressing the equally mild fish. Fantastically well-executed dish.

The Double Boiled Yellow Melon Soup ($15) with mixed seafood was delightfully light and clear, with an excellent stock base and packed with white button mushrooms, bamboo pith, diced melon, scallops and prawns. I especially liked scraping off the sides of the hollowed out melon to eat, just like with a coconut.

Another excellent broth was the Double Boiled White Cabbage and Bamboo Pith Soup ($12) with mushroom. It's amazing how much flavour is steeped from just 3 ingredients and a very commendable soup base.

The Hubs felt like carbs that day so he ordered the Steamed Red Bean Buns ($3.30).

The rounded globes of soft fluffy buns revealed a most scrumptiously smooth and sweetened red bean paste.

The Steamed Beef Ball ($4.80), while juicy, was unfortunately laced with coriander leaves. Hard pass for me over to the boys.

The luscious Steamed Pork Ribs ($4.80) with black beans was given a kick with sliced red chillis.

We also had a portion of the Steamed Rice Roll with BBQ Pork ($4.80), thin and chewy layers of rice rolls interspersed with charred barbecued pork cubes.

The Steamed Crispy Rice Roll with Shrimp ($5) was a wonderful riot of textures, with crispy wisps of rice paper wrapped around dice shrimps, which was then swaddled in another layer of steamed rice wrapper. Eat fast though, this got soggy quickly.

The shrimp-stuffed Crispy Wanton ($5), a perennial favourite of the kids, was gargantuan, and juicy.

The Baked Egg Tarts ($4.20) was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Buttery flaky base, and a nuanced eggy custard.

We also got the Baked BBQ Pork Pastry ($5), a shortcrust confection of sticky-sweet barbecued char siew dice.

I notice we order a lot more fried dim sum whenever I'm dining with the boys, and we got the Hubs' favourite dim sum, Fried Carrot Cake with XO Sauce ($12), all kinds of smoky and eggy and beautifully charred edges.

The boys needed their red meat, and we had the Sauteed Diced Beef ($24) with black pepper. Full-bodied, tender and moist, with a light smoky accent due to the prevalence of the grounded black pepper, these were very well done.

I know we had fish already but I couldn't resist the Sauteed Sliced Garoupa ($20) with vegetable, which I ended up loving to bits. A ridiculously simple but brilliantly executed dish, thick slices of fleshy grouper were simply flash fried with celery and garlic to allow the naturally clear taste of the fish to shine. This is going on my list of must-trys here.

The vegetarian Braised Assorted Mushroom & Fungus with Bamboo Pith ($22) had a thick luscious oyster sauce gravy lightly coating the crunchy greens. Well done but nothing I couldn't get from other Cantonese restuarants.

We also got a small portion of the Roasted Duck ($16), soft and tender with amazing fragrance. Good but not as amazing as the Oversea Restaurant one.

What's a visit to Imperial Treasure without my favourite must-try? They didn't have the usual scallops that day but offered to switch it out with fresh Norwegian scallops instead. The Scallop Sauteed with Egg White and Truffle Oil ($14 each), with roe and all, was still yummy and an immediate hit, but I'm not a fan of the roe and sinewy bits. I understand they do a crabmeat version of this, I just might try it the next time!

We finished off with Fried Rice with Dried Scallop, Crabmeat and Egg White ($18), a most satisfying way to round off the very good meal. Requisite wok hei, check. Generous ingredients, check. Fantastic flavour, check. We were way too full after this to attempt the dessert section.

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
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