B @ Rochester

Kang had been wanting to try B @ Rochester for some time, so when the time came to deciding the dinner venue for our monthly meet-ups, we let him take the lead and followed him out west to Rochester Park.

Rochester is no longer the crazy and overcrowded dining enclave that it used to be. The hoards have diminished and instead, descended on the Dempsey, and Duxton dining clusters. Where parking used to be a bitch, it's now relatively easy to find available lots. (A tip is to park at Rochester Mall, it's free in the evenings!) I much prefer it this way, less crowds, less congestion and a much more intimate dining experience.

B @ Rochester, a 1-year young restaurant that serves up French-Japanese fusion cuisine, is celebrating its 1st anniversary with a specially crafted 6-course Set Dinner at $88 per person. In all, the meal was good, and in fact, more than decent, but there was just something lacking. Comparing it to heavyweights such as Ember, Bistro Soori (but only for dinners) and Buko Nero, I've found that it's just lacking in that extra spark, that extra something that makes the meal pop. The finishing of the dishes just lacked that particular finesse and masterful execution.

That said, we genuinely liked the service, the chef and head waiter were very down-to-earth, almost homey, and chatted us up like old friends.  

The dinner kicked off with the starter of Maguro Carpaccio seasoned with crisp garlic chips and served with a side of French dressed-mixed mesclun, topped with shredded daikon and wakame. Nice searing on the tuna, not the freshest but more than passable as the wonderfully fragrant garlic chips helped disguise the less-than-super-freshness of the tuna.

The Homemade French Onion Consomme served with mentai toast and amaebi, was a delightful twist from the typical French onion soup. The wait staff arrived at our table to pour in a shrimp-sweetened broth over the onions, which had been fried to a fragrant crisp and plated with a deshelled prawn. A most pleasant presentation, and my favourite dish of the night. The fried onions lent a rounded, robust and roasted element to the soup.

The Pan-Seared Royale of Foie Gras was melt-on-the-tongue and seared to a caramelized outer crust, layered on top of a crispy homemade chawanmushi that was incredibly smooth. A light drizzling of passionfruit sauce provided a refreshingly fruity accent while ikura lent their characteristic seaburst flavours.

The Baked Nasu Dengkaku with Escargot in aka-dashi miso was badly executed. I may not be a connoisseur of escargot, or even a lover of one, but even i could tell that they were overcooked. Rubbery instead of soft and chewy, these should have been taken out of the oven at least 5 minutes prior. A lot more potential but fell far short. 

The Squid Ink Pasta stir-fried in wafu sauce with pan-seared alaskan cod and sakura ebi was enlivened by the plentiful mesclun greens. Al dente pasta, moist fish and the tiny salty shrimp provided just enough flavour to the dish.

The Umeshu Sorbet with puree of passionfruit, blueberry, pomelo and pomegranate seeds was a very nice way to round off the dinner. It was light, icy cold and tangy, with clean and clear flavours, great for cleansing the palate.

We got some ala carte dishes to supplement our set dinners. The Mekajiki, Sake and Maguro Sashimi ($18) from left to right, swordfish, salmon and tuna sashimi, was disappointing despite the pretty presentation. They just weren't fresh enough, and it was particularly evident with the swordfish, which reeked of fishy elements.

We liked the set dinner starter, and got an ala carte portion of the Maguro Carpaccio ($18), seared black pepper-encrusted tuna served with shredded daikon, crispy garlic chips and wafu dressing.

B@ Rochester
8 Rochester Park
Tel: 6778 1788
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch, 6pm to 11pm for dinner
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.rochester.com.sg


Twelve Cupcakes

Cupcakes have never really been my thing. I'll admit, I've always preferred the savoury to the sweet. But I do like the occasional sweet treat. And I like my cheesecakes, lava cakes, and ice-cream. But, curiously enough, I've never really been too fond of cupcakes.

Until my colleague brought a dozen of those sweet little things in their signature fuchsia box to the office. She's totally made me a convert.

Twelve Cupcakes, famously owned by local celebrity husband-and-wife duo Daniel Ong and Jamie Teo, and infamously known as the shop that got into a copyright tussle with SPH for using SPH's copyrighted articles, has proven fairly successful in the local market. In a short span of a couple of years, they've opened 3 shops, all of which seem to be doing a roaring trade.

Having gotten a taste of their yummy cupcakes, I got the Hubs to buy half a dozen of their cupcakes to sample further. I can totally understand why they are doing so well. Their cupcakes are dense, compact and moist in texture, with a rich but balanced sweetness. One of the best cupcakes, if not the best, around. Priced at $3 per cupcake, it may be considered a little pricey, but that small little thing does fill you up. Your sweet tooth can be satiated with just one cupcake.

From the classics menu, where you get these flavours everyday, the Chocolate Chocolate ($3 each but $17 if you order half a dozen) with chocolate cream cheese on chocolate cupcake is my faves. Love those crunchy chocolate balls.

My other fave, the PB Chocolate ($3) is a peanut butter and chocolate laced topping on a chocolate cupcake. Hands up who ate peanut butter out of a jar coz I did!

The Vanilla Chocolate ($3) with vanilla cream cheese on chocolate cupcake.

The Cookies and Cream ($3) Oreos crumbles infused buttercream topping on a chocolate cupcake.

The quintessentially American Red Velvet ($3) with vanilla cream cheese on classic red velvet cupcake.

And from the specials menu, which isn't available everyday, there's the Apple Cinnamon ($3), the Hubs' favourite.This is such an in-season Autumn flavour!

And the Bailey's Chocolate ($3), a bailey's-tinged cream on a chocolate cupcake. Just for the grown ups.

Twelve Cupcakes
Bugis Junction B1-03B
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.twelvecupcakes.com


Cafe Iguana

You may have noticed that I hardly review Mexican restaurants. It could be due to the lack of Mexican restaurants in Singapore. Unlike Japanese, Italian, French, or Thai cuisines, which have won the hearts of Singaporeans, Mexican fare doesn't really seem to have taken off in Singapore. I have to confess as well, that I'm really not a fan of Mexican cuisine. Sure, I like their signature margaritas, sizzling platters of grilled meat and fish, accompanied by flour tortillas, black beans and spiced rice, but it's just that they love putting cilantro in everything! I really hate that herb, you see.

Of the few Mexican restaurants in Singapore, Cafe Iguana is one of the more notable purveyors of Mexican cuisine. It's the name you immediately think of whenever someone mentions Mexican fare.

Located along the Clarke Quay waterfront, Cafe Iguana has got a pretty view and a breezy, relaxed vibe. But, I really dislike the restaurant's open-air concept. Seriously, when will restaurateurs learn that going completely alfresco is just not suitable for Singapore's hot, humid and muggy weather? Even if the fans were twirling at full speed, all I felt was warm, muggy air. Now that we're right smack in the middle of the hottest months (no thanks to global warming!), we were all perspiring throughout dinner!

Service was great though - smiley, cheerful and extremely prompt with the replenishing of our iced waters. Food-wise, they were pretty alright - grilled meats were moist and tender, and packed with just enough flavour. As and when it was applicable, we requested that the kitchen held off the cilantro.

Also, the happy hours here are one of the longest, from opening time to 8pm, and from 11pm onwards. So, be prepared to load up on their refreshingly yummy margaritas.

The Smoked Duck Platter ($28) was pretty enjoyable. Tender, well-flavoured meat lined with fatty flavoursome skin, was paired with spiced rice, mushy black beans and grilled mild jalepeno peppers and onions.

The Grilled Chicken Fajitas ($27) was served on a sizzling platter with sauteed onions and peppers, and accompanied by flour tortillas for wrapping, and classic Mexican dips such as sour cream and guacamole. The chicken was well-done, tender and moist breast meat that was well-marinated.

The Red Snapper Enchiladas ($25) with house-made tortillas surrounding ancho chilli coated fish, topped with tomatillo sauce and melted cheese was served with Mexican rice. With the exception of the spiced rice, everything else was laced with cilantro. That said, the fish could have been fresher. The robust cilantro couldn't quite mask its slight fishy scent and taste.

The Chile Relleno ($27) was a roasted poblano chile stuffed with spicy chorizo and cheese served over tomatillo sauce and refreshingly piquant corn salsa. Sides such as Mexican spiced rice and black beans helped quell the potent fiery chili.

Cafe Iguana
30 Merchant Road
Riverside Point #01-03
Tel: 6236 1275
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 4pm to 1am;
Fridays and eve of PH from 4pm to 3am;
Saturdays from 12noon to 3am;
Sundays from 12noon to 1am
Website: www.cafeiguana.com


The Marmalade Pantry, Ion Orchard

I'm so loving August. 2 long weekends, 2 whole 4-day work weeks, it's just awesome! I've always thought we should just mandate 4-day work weeks, with 3-day weekends for all to savour and enjoy. We'd all be much happier that way. Of course, this is just an idealistic dream, because the economics of it all don't allow for such a work-life structure. Oh well, we'll just have to make do with that elusive public holiday-assisted long weekend!

We took advantage of the long weekend to sleep in late, and took some time out of our comfy bed to enjoy a leisurely brunch at The Marmalade Pantry at Ion Orchard. It's a bit of a pretentious poser place, but so long as you don't let that bother you, you'll find that the food here is pretty alright.

The Egg White Omelette ($18) stuffed with feta cheese, accompanied by spinach and tomato concasse is a dieter's dream. Salty feta imparted just enough flavour to cut through the plainness of the fluffy egg whites.

The Eggs Any Style ($20), done to a perfectly semi-runny sunny side up, was served with a chunky fat English sausage, juicy sauteed shitake mushrooms, half a roasted tomato, and homemade baked beans and a couple slices of whole wheat toast. I don't understand one thing though, why The Marmalade Pantry loves parsley on everything! I had the hardest time picking out all the little green bits.

We thought we'd add a plate of greens to share and up our fibre intake, but as it turns out, the Crab Caesar ($22) with pine nuts and parmasan was huge! We could hardly finish it. We asked for dressing to be on the side because I'm really not a fan of caesar salad dressing. That said, I thought the crabmeat could have been fresher. It reeked slightly of that frozen seafood aftertaste.

The Marmalade Pantry
2 Orchard Turn
Ion Orchard
Tel: 6734 2700
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.themarmaladepantry.com


Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant

We've recently developed a very expensive habit. It's an insatiable taste for kaiseki meals at ultra-posh Japanese restaurants. Our go-to place for comfort eating whenever we need a little de-stressing and pampering.

The Hubs says that I've forever spoilt him for Sushi Tei (which used to be our go-to Japanese restaurant for affordable, value-for-money Japanese fare). I've previously brought the Hubs to Nadaman and Hide Yamamoto, and thought it was time to introduce him to one of my all-time favourite Japanese restaurants, Tatsuya.

Tatsuya is the grand-daddy of Japanese cuisine in Singapore. The pinnacle of luxury dining. Where freshness is unparalleled and attention to detail is unrivaled. The one place you bring someone you're trying to impress. The place where rich towkays go to for their regular meals.

It was very telling that they were fully booked on a typical Monday night for dinner. Luckily for us, we were early. So, with the promise to vacate our counter seats in an hour and a half, we were quickly ushered to seats at the end of the counter.

You may be mistaken if you think you need a big fat bonus to dine here, because a quick review of the ala carte menu proved otherwise. Their ala carte dishes are surprisingly quite affordably priced, with most sashimi costing about $30 for 5 fat pieces, sushi costing about $20 for 2 pieces and noodle dishes costing about $15.You can actually get full here without busting your wallet!

Service was impeccable and top-notch. The service of the courses were timed perfectly (each course arrived only after the last was done and spoon put down) and the kimono-clad waitresses took the time to explain each dish so we knew what we were eating. We loved that the chefs were also genuinely affable and chatty.

There's only one Kaiseki ($200) selection here, and you'll do well to order this. It highlights the seasonal best and it's totally awesome. We kicked off the meal on a high note with the duo of cold appetizers, starting with the scallop with figs. The delicate sweetness of the plump scallop was enhanced by the sweet juicy figs.

The other appetizer, jellyfish dressed in a very light alcohol and stock, had clean, clear and refreshing flavours, with kelp and radish lending crunch.

The clear soup course was a couple of humongous chunks of maitake mushrooms dunked in scalding hot water. Very light, very delicate broth with the barest of flavours and the slightest hint of earthiness.

The sashimi course comprised the freshest, sweetest, fattiest pieces of raw fish and seafood ever. Everything was impossibly sweet and fresh. Oishi!

The simmered dish course was a baby yam, amberjack and pumpkin trio. Warm comforting flavours of autumn here. 

The grilled dish course was up next, with a salt-crusted fish stuffed with foie gras. Decadent, luxurious and totally melt-in-the-mouth.

The deep fried dish course was a light-as-air yasai tempura.

The steamed dish course was an incredibly smooth chawanmushi, topped with salmon roe bursting with umami-flavour.

The sushi course was a set of aburi sushi lined up all pretty in a row. The aroma of blow-torched fish was intoxicating.

First up was the Tuna Belly, which totally melted-in-the-mouth. No chewing required here.

The Amberjack, a fish I much prefer slightly cooked, was delicious and creamy.

The Sweet Prawn lusciously topped with Caviar.

The Scallop was perfectly matched with Foie Gras, one mild flavour playing off against the rich one.

The last one was the Salmon, barely seared so its natural juices and sweetness shone through.

I love the dessert course of Yuzu Sherbet, palate cleansing and refreshing with a citrusy tang.

The Edamame ($5), served piping hot, was nicely salted and a wonderful nibbler, but it can't quite beat Hide Yamamoto's truffle-infused ones.

The Shake Sashimi ($25 for 5 pieces) were impossibly fresh and sweet. Loved how generous and fat the slices of salmon were.

The Maguro Sushi ($10 for 2 pieces) was good enough to eat, without having to sample the higher grades of tuna. Super fresh and super sweet.

We also indulged in a couple of Chu-Toro Sushi ($24 for 2 pieces), perfectly pink and so incredibly fatty on its own.

The Tenzaru Soba ($18), cold soba with tempura, was a huge portion. This alone would have filled any of us up. I have to say that this was really quite cheap.

The assorted tempura, with eggplant, sweet potato, prawns and shitake mushrooms, the batter's so light it hardly feels like fried foods. 

Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant
22 Scotts Road
Goodwood Park Hotel
Tel: 6887 4598
open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 11pm for dinner


Bangkok Jam, Wheelock Place

I'd heard good stuff about Bangkok Jam, and thought I'd get reasonably decent stuff. Like Thai Express, which serves similar stuff at the same price points, I'd expected simple Thai fare, no-fuss and homestyled.

I thought it was a good sign that it was a full-house on a Friday night, with a seemingly never-ending queue outside. But that turned out to be a fake-out. The food was lackluster, with very few barely passable dishes, and the price tag not commiserate commensurate with the quality and value. Maybe we ordered the wrong dishes. Maybe the chef was having a very off day, but it was one of the most unforgettable meals I've ever had. Because it was just so bad. 

Service that night was also frantic and frazzled. The staff were clearly stressed to their limits and unable to handle the full-house. They were nice enough, once they stopped zipping around to take orders, but their ragged harried mannerisms made it obvious that they were so understaffed.

In comparison with Thai Express, which serves similar stuff, my take is that you're much better off at Thai Express instead.

The Por Pia Tod ($7.90) deep fried spring rolls with Vietnamese dip were unimpressive and generic, like those frozen ones that you get from the supermarket. The spring roll skin was too thick and the fillings too stingy.

We also had the Khao Tang Na Tang ($7.50) rice cracker crisps with mild chicken pate. One look at the dip and I wasn't impressed. It looked dull and insipid, like it'd been sitting out for waaaay too long. True enough, it tasted just as bad, if not worse. It had a sour rancid taste, and smell, and I spit it out and had to rinse my mouth out after a mouthful. Not very ladylike, I know, but it was just awful. This alone would have made the entire dining experience horrible. The rice crisps were hard enough to chip a tooth, it had been re-fried to a solid rock-hard finish.

The Goong Pun Tak Rai ($9.90) of lemongrass prawn cake skewers was the only passable dish.

The prawn cakes were juicy and fresh, not the best around but it was alright. I liked the unusual addition of sweet corn nibblets.

The Kai Jiow Poo ($10.50), fried omelette with crab meat, while flavoursome, was a wee bit too salty. That said, if paired with plain white rice, this would have been half-way decent.

The Panang Moo ($11.90), a classic Thai curry, should have been good, but the pork was overly tenderised. It reeked so much of artificial tenderizer, that the mildly spiced curry couldn't quite mask it.


Bangkok Jam
501 Orchard Road
Wheelock Place
Tel: 6836 0989
Open daily from 12noon to 10pm
Website: www.bangkokjam.com.sg


Fatboy's The Burger Bar, Upper Thomson

We've recently learnt why Fatboy's is so popular. They serve all-American comfort food at teenager-friendly prices. Seriously, with such generous portions (you can totally expect to get totally stuffed here) and amazing food (they do really delicious burgers with the most mouthwateringly juicy beef patties), it's astounding how they keep prices so low! 

We first "discovered" this place while house-sitting for Pops a while back. They're open till late, so we've gone back multiple times whenever the late-night munchies hit. 

Oh, Fatboy's caters to you as well if you're the picky and fussy type. You can to customise your very own burger! Like The Professor, who wants 3 beef patties stacked together for his personalised burger sans vegetables, you can get that too! You're guaranteed no judgment here.

The Fat Basterd ($18) is perfect for big eaters. Double beef chuck patties are layered with chewy bacon, cheddar cheese, and a fried egg, while homemade BBQ sauce help stick them all together between toasted sesame buns.

All burgers arrive with a side of thick cut chips, and a couple of crisp lettuce and tomato slices thrown in for good measure (and less guilt!). The Swiss Shroom ($13) consists of a single beef chuck patty, sauteed shitake mushrooms, melted delicate swiss cheese and garlic aioli sandwiched between wholemeal buns. This is the Hubs' favourite.

I'm not that huge a fan of burgers, so it's great that Fatboys caters to non-red meat lovers. The Breakfast Fry Up ($12.50), with a couple of chicken sausages, crisp bacon, 2 sunny side up eggs, sauteed shitake mushrooms, hashbrowns and crisp waffles, is perfect for people who want breakfast food in the middle of the night.

The Bangers and Mash ($12), a mix of juicy grilled bratwurst and chorizo sausages, is served with spiced mustard and a sweet dip. Great for sharing.

Fatboy's The Burger Bar
187 Upper Thomson Road
Tel: 6252 8780
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 4pm to 12midnight; Fridays and Saturdays from 12noon to 12midnight
Website: www.fatboys.sg
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