Tai Liok Claypot Chicken Rice, Alexandra Village

I know it may seem like that we don't eat hawker food because of the lack of blog posts thereof. But au contraire, I eat hawker food a lot of the time. I love hawker food! It's just that I usually dabao (i.e. takeaway) hawker food to enjoy in the air-conditioned comfort of my home, and because food that's packed for takeaway doesn't quite look as good as its freshly plated state, I don't take pictures or blog about it (btw, that's the reason why Buko Nero, one of my fave restaurants, doesn't allow photos to be taken of their food...no QC). But, every once a while, I will brave the heat and sit down for a full meal at a hawker centre. We were recently with Kang at Alexandra Village to hunt down some long-lost food stall to satisfy his current claypot rice craze. 

Tai Liok Claypot Chicken Rice is one of the purveyors of claypot rice. They used to be situated at the second floor of the now derelict margaret drive hawker centre. They've since moved to the very popular and extensive Alexandra Village, and despite the prevalence of other much-loved food stalls, Tai Liok seems to hold its own very well amongst the stiff competition. Its customers have definitely followed them from its margaret drive days and it clearly does a roaring trade. But, the downside of such popularity is that one has to be prepared to wait at least half an hour for your food.

Oh another warning note as well: parking in the industrial area housing mostly car garages is also quite a pain, so it's probably best to dine really early like a geriatric, or super late like a pre-clubbing party animal.

The Claypot Rice ($16 for 3 person portion) is one of the better ones I've tried, though not mind-blowingly good. The issue I had with it was the rice, while mostly fluffy and moist, with delectable charred edges at the bottom, lacked an impactful flavour. The rice just seemed plain and one-dimensional, even with copious lashings of soy. That said, the rest of the ingredients are just fabulous. The chicken pieces were juicy and flavoursome, while there was plentiful salted fish and Chinese sausages to lend extra oomph and flavour. One last gripe: I would have liked a bit more greens in this. There were about 5 green leaves in the entire pot.

There's apparently a set method of eating claypot rice and I was given an education in this. To personalise your claypot, you can ask for the kitchen to hold off the dark soy, so you get to control the salt content of the dish. While there are some claypot stalls that automatically add in the soy into the rice, Tai Liok's claypots are, by default, without soy. So, first, you ladle out the ingredients, they have enough salt and flavour and don't need the soy.

Drizzle copious amounts of thick dark caramelized soy and flavoured peanut oil over the plain rice.

Mix it all up and voila, you have a deliciously smoky concoction.

Store front

Tai Liok Claypot Chicken Rice
Blk 120 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Alexandra Village
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 5pm to 10pm
Closed on Mondays


Ed's Fish Soup, Food Republic @ Vivocity

Have I mentioned before that I hate eating at food courts? I do. In fact, I try to avoid them as much as possible. The stuff offered at food courts are usually sub-par but cost twice as much as their hawker centre counterparts. Total waste of calories and total waste of money.

But, eating is a communal thing and sometimes, you gotta go with where the pack wants to go. So, when my friends suggested heading to the food court at Vivocity, I tagged along. Ah well, it's sometimes the company you enjoy than the food you eat, isn't it?

I thought sticking to something safe like fish soup would do the trick, and besides, this stall looked like it had quite the queue. Boy was I wrong.

The Fish Soup ($4.50), with just a handful of fish slices (4-5 of them thin ones), was incredibly miserly and miserable a portion. The soup was practically an MSG-bomb and the fish so treated with milk (to remove any fishy odour) that there were unappetizing milk strands hanging off the fish. The only good stuff about this were the lettuce, beancurd and tomatoes.

The Tom Yum Fish Soup ($7 for large) broth was similarly insipid and reeked of a generic premix base. The layer of chilli oil floating on the surface was also quite off-putting.

The Fried Dory Fish with rice ($5) was dried out. A hard crisp all the way to the flesh. Not even the liberal tomato-ish based gravy could save this so-simple-I-have-no-idea-how-they-screwed-it-up fish.

Ed's Fish Soup
Food Republic @ Vivocity
1 Harbourfront Walk
Vivocity Level 3
Open daily from 8am to 10pm


PS Cafe, Paragon

PS Cafe is one of those places I never really understood the fuss about. I always hear friends rave about their food and how amazing it is, but, to be honest, having dined there a couple of times, I just don't geddit. Maybe it's how the restaurant seems to attract a certain crowd, the type that loves to be seen dining in a place like this. Maybe that's what contributes to the pretentiousness of the place. It doesn't help that tables are situated so darn close to each other I can easily overhear the conversations of diners seated 2 tables away. Maybe the hype is why I'm rather unimpressed with the food. It just seems overrated. Mind you, the food isn't bad, but it is only alright and run-of-the-mill, and certainly not noteworthy. No major complains but nothing amazing either.

We were in the vicinity looking at furniture and decided to stop by for an early dinner. Even at the odd hour of 4 plus in the mid-afternoon on a weekend, we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table to be freed up. Maybe someone can enlighten me on why this place is so popular, hmm?

The House Bolognaise ($26) was a generously portioned spaghetti tossed in a hearty homemade ground beef, bacon and tomato ragu topped with thickly grated parmesan for extra saltiness and crispy basil leaves for a peppery spice. Basic comfort fare that was commendable but not noteworthy.

The Triple Cheese Penne ($23) is like a classy version of the good ol' mac & cheese, with al dente penne oven-baked with triple cheese mornay for a layered but delicate cheesy flavour. A refreshingly tangy valencia orange and garden green salad on the side help balance out the rich textures of the cheese. A pretty solid effort but somehow unmemorable.

The Truffle Shoestring Fries ($15) is humongous. We were stunned when this arrived coz we thought this would make for a nice side dish, but seriously, this can double up as a main course on its own. It's just that substantial. The fries were crisp enough but unfortunately, the truffle oil was concentrated only at the top so they were the only yummy thing about this dish. The bottom fries were left unadorned, plain and boring generic french fries. This needed a lot more truffle oil tossed around to the lower rungs of the mound. And way more shreds of parmesan.

PS Cafe
290 Orchard Road
Tel: 6735 6765
Open daily from 10.30am to 10.30pm
Website: pscafe.com


Senso Ristorante & Bar

Shann was the first friend I made at the firm, and although she's left the firm some time ago, I make it a point to keep in touch. It was her birthday recently and both Beeps and I thought we'd bring her out for a celebratory treat somewhere nice. We decided on Senso for its yummy food and even yummmier ambience.

Despite numerous fine-dining restaurants popping up for business every other week in the CBD area, Senso has managed to remain relevant by consistently serving up authentically good Italian food with exquisite plating and generous portions.

Senso's Executive Set Lunch ($38++) is one of the most affordable and value-for-money set lunches around, especially in light of the fact that the much-lauded fine-dining restaurant caters to a well-heeled clientele (read: their prices are usually quite "cha-ching" so dining here at below $50 per pax is really very worthwhile).  You get 3 whole courses and finish off with a coffee or tea, very important to keep awake after the substantially filling meal.

The Tartara Di 'Hokkaido' Capesante Servito con Riduzione di Aceto Bianco Balsamico Di Modena e Rafano, one of 4 starter choices, is a tower of sweet Hokkaido scallop tartare dressed in a piquant white balsamic reduction and enlivened by the bite of horseradish, while crisp mesclun leaves provided a refreshing texture. An overall light and clear-tasting dish, great as an appetizer.

The Spiedino di Pesce Verdure Di Stagione Servito Su 'Cous Cous' Accompagnato da Salsa d'Aragosta is one of 3 mains choices, comprising a mixed seafood skewer, with succulent prawns and scallops, alternated by green and yellow peppers, and tart red onions, on a bed of cous cous and a pool of rich lobster bisque sauce.

The Lonza di Maiale con Patate Arrosto, Rapette Allo Zafferano e Salsa Bruna all'Arancia, is a tender and moist pork loin, pan-seared to seal in its juices, and served alongside roasted potatoes, saffron turnip, and an orange brown sauce for a fruity twist.

You get 2 choices for dessert, and the Torta Al Formaggio Fatta in Casa, Con Riduzione di Lamponi gets my vote between the 2. This is possibly the lightest and airiest cheesecake ever, and so delicate in flavour you almost don't feel guity indulging. A drizzling of tangy raspberry coulis balanced out the creaminess of the cheesecake and finely-ground Oreo cookie crust.

The Pera Cotta nel Vino Bianco E Porto 'Tawny' e Sorbetto Alle Fragole di Bosco, is better suited for people who prefer something fruity. A pear is poached till soft in white wine and tawny port for a Christmasy fruit cake accent, while a scoop of strawberry sorbet rounds off the refreshing dessert.

From the Ala Carte Menu, the Capesante Spadellate su spinaci saltati e pomodori canditi ($28) is an absolute must-try. A duo of plump scallops is pan-seared and served atop sauteed spinach and candied Italian tomatoes and a dollop of Hollandaise sauce. Mega love.

I also loved the Ravioli fatti in casa ripieni di stinco di vitello serviti con salsa ai funghi porcini ($32) a very filling and perfectly al dente homemade ravioli dumpling stuffed with hearty braised veal shank in a lusciously earthy porcini mushroom sauce.

Senso's Bread Basket is huge, and is a veritable treasure box of freshly baked breads with fragrant foccacia, aromatic walnut, crunchy breadsticks and crusty raisin bread. If the rest of the dishes don't fill you up, this will surely do the trick. A huge plus point: this is complimentary!

Senso Ristorante & Bar21 Club Street
Tel: 6224 3534
Open weekdays from 12noon to 3pm;
Daily from 6pm to 10.30pm;
Sunday brunches from 11am to 3pm
Website: www.senso.sg


Jumbo Seafood, Dempsey

My family loves eating crabs. We grew up having a crabs-centric feast every weekend. So, it wasn't that big of a surprise that Pops wanted to go eat crabs for his birthday this year. We settled on Jumbo @ Dempsey so we could adjourn elsewhere for dessert and drinks after.

As with most other Jumbo outlets, reservations are a must. Otherwise, be prepared to be turned away or wait. A very long time. The restaurant is a bustling hive of activity, with boisterous diners all trying to talk above each other. Still, this is one of my favourite Jumbo outlets. Less cramped than the east coast seafood centre one and less touristy than the Riverwalk outlet.

Service is extremely speedy and dishes arrived in quick succession (all the better for a higher turnover, I suspect). The food was, as usual, generally consistent and delicious, with nary a wrong step. For Pops, it was a truly satisfying way to round off turning 53.

The Scallops wrapped in Yam Ring ($14) is one of their signature dishes and you'll do well to order them. The mashed yam ring lends a muted sweetness to the succulent bouncy scallops while the crisp flaky flour coating provides texture.

The Homemade Beancurd ($14) with a trio of Japanese mushrooms, shimeiji, enoki and shitake, perched upon a layer of poached spinach was more rustic version of those found in Imperial Treasure and Tung Lok Signatures. We liked the smooth beancurd and silky oyster sauce-based gravy. A fairly well-balanced dish.

The Deshelled Prawns Fried with Cereal ($20) were a hit with my brothers. They loved the crisp fried oats, a little sweet and a little spicy enlivened by fried curry leaves and cut chilli padi. The prawns were huge, crunchy and (thank goodness deshelled so no fumbling around to remove the shells) sweet.

The Donut with Seafood Paste ($8) is a childhood favourite of my brothers. A coarse, textured prawn and fish mince is stuffed into the hollows of the strips of "you tiao" and coated with sesame seeds for that extra oomph.

Ah, the piece de resistance, Jumbo's Chilli Crabs ($52) are one of the best around (some swear by the slightly sweet and more eggy rendition at Long Beach or the spicier and more garlicky version at No Signboard, but really, it's all a matter of preference). Only male crabs are served here, and I like it this way. Male crabs tend to be fleshier and sweeter, and I'm not that huge a fan of that bright orange crab roe of female crabs anyway.  Deep Fried Buns ($0.50) are practically mandatory to soak up the thick, luscious gravy made chunky by oodles of egg drops and a sprinkling of chopped nuts.

To round off the meal, we had the Supreme Seafood Fried Rice ($12) choc-a-bloc with diced prawns, fish and scallops, and further chunked up with barbecued pork, egg and shredded lettuce. Nice wok hei and each grain of rice was evenly coated with oil and flavour.

Jumbo Seafood
Blk 11 #01-13 Dempsey Road
Dempsey Hill
Tel: 6479 3435
Open Mondays to Fridays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch and 6pm to 12midnight for dinner;
Weekends and PH from 12noon to 3pm for lunch and 5.30pm to 12midnight for dinner
Website: www.jumboseafood.com.sg


Five & Dime Eatery

If not for our friends, we would never have known about Five & Dime. It's one of those places that's flown so below the radar despite the fact that it's been around for at least a year. A tiny but cosy hole-in-the-wall premises along River Valley Road, Five & Dime oozes a casual laidback vibe. We like it for its unpretentious and easy ambience. In line with the eatery's relaxed atmosphere, the food served up is simple, no-fuss western favourites with an asian twist.

Service was generally easy-going and fairly energetic and upbeat, we notice that it's due to a young-ish team of servers. Oh, an important point to note is that reservations is a must - we were there on a Wednesday night and they were full from dinner to supper.

Generally, dinner was a hit and miss affair. Some were memorably great in their simplicity and boast a familiar, comfort-food element about it, but some were disappointingly lackluster.

The Fish & Chips ($20) are one of the better renditions that we've had in a while, and a quick glance at the other tables proves that the classically British fare is quite a popular hit. Thin light crisp batter, fresh, fleshy, flaky shark catfish fillets and thick handcut fries that are coated in the same flavoursome batter as the fish, these were delicious.

Their Chicken Wings ($7 for 3 wings and drumlets) is an absolute MUST-TRY. Next to Ikea's version, these are the best chicken wings this side of town. No more braving the long queues at Ikea whenever the craving for chicken wings strikes. These had a old-school quality about it, like those 70-cents wings that you used to enjoy in your school canteens. Deeply marinated with 9 different asian spices so the flavour soaks right to the bone, lip-smackingly juicy and wonderfully crisp skin, these were just purrrrr-fect. I foresee us taking away a lot of their chicken wings. YUMS.

The Mac & Cheese ($15), though, is an acquired taste. In addition to the lobster sauce infused into the 3 cheeses (cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan), the distinctive flavour of mentaiko is layered upon the already rich seafood base. This is where the chef's Japanese cuisine background has obviously influenced this dish. A bit too cloying and rich, if you ask me. That said, this would be great if you love everything mentaiko, but not so much, if you're like me, who prefers the creamy pollock roe in small doses.

The Char-Grilled Ribeye ($28), a slab of 200gm of NZ grain-fed red meat, served with grilled vine tomatoes and asparagus, was entirely forgettable, insipid and generally lacking in finesse. No smoky elements of a great grill, and not robust enough in flavour.

Five & Dime
297 River Valley Road
Tel: 9236 5002
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 12noon to 12midnight;
Fridays to Sundays from 10am to 12midnight.


Beng Hiang Restaurant

Stepping into Beng Hiang is like stepping back in time. From the faded carpeting to the dated furniture and retro Teresa Teng songs blasting from the old-school speakers, everything about this Hokkien stalwart screams nostalgia. Many would remember this place from their childhood. I, for one, have been eating here since I was a kid.

Beng Hiang is often confused with Bee Heong, and it's easy to see why. They both are stalwarts in the (local) world of Hokkien cuisine, they each have their loyal die-hard fans, and they're located barely a street apart. While I personally prefer Bee Heong to Beng Hiang, the latter does set itself apart in a couple of areas. Beng Hiang offers a slighter wider range of dishes, and quite a number of standard cze char fare that's not entirely Hokkien-style. As a bonus, they also serve free dessert. 

The Stir-fried Spinach with Garlic ($8) was well-fried, with a little crunch for texture. We liked the plentiful pieces of crispy fried sole that lent a pungent saltiness and thick bulbs of roasted garlic that provide a subtle rounded garlicky accent.

The Sizzling Beancurd ($12) is one of my favourite cze char dishes. The thick luscious gravy was spicy and robust, with a layer of bubbling scrambled egg on the hotplate. A well executed dish.

No visit to Beng Hiang is complete without an order of the Fish Maw Thick Soup with Crabmeat ($18 for small). I've just found out why the soup is so thick. They add a raw egg into the steaming hot soup and swirl it around just before serving so you get an extra thick and eggy soup. Delicious at every slurp.

Beng Hiang Restaurant
112-116 Amoy Street
Tel: 6221 6695
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch and 6pm to 9.30pm for dinner
Website: www.benghiang.com


Obolo Galeria, Rochester Mall

After dinner at B @ Rochester, we headed to the nearby Rochester Mall to have a bit of cake. Rochester Mall is a new-ish multi-purpose office, residential, hotel, restaurant cum shopping space that's revived a little life into the once-bustling-but-now-somewhat-sleepy Rochester Park area.

As the mall is still relatively new and unknown, the eateries are considerably sparse, and generally frequented by residents and office workers in the adjoining buildings. It is at this mall that Obolo opened up their third outlet. Like most of the other cafes and bistros circling the outer perimeter of the mall, Obolo has limited indoor air-conditioned seating and lots of alfresco tables. I know I've mentioned before that I hate alfresco because of Singapore's heat and humidity, but alfresco kind of works here, because the 3-storey high atrium makes the open area so incredibly windy.

Obolo specializes in all things sweet. Or used to, at least. Although it primarily still serves desserts, it now has ventured into the savory and churns out a small selection of western-styled bistro fare as well. We were stuffed from dinner and so, we only ordered a couple of Obolo's desserts.

The Chocolate Truffle Mousse ($7.50) was mouthwateringly divine. It had a crunchy bottom, with layers of airy mousse and soft sponge, great textures at play here and a rich, but not cloying, sweetness.

The Molleux Au Chocolat Maracaibo ($12) served with vanilla bean ice-cream and cocoa streusel was a lava cake enlivened with crunchy Oreo crumbles. Really decadent and catered to the chocolate lovers, I would have liked a little bitter elements to contrast with the sweetness of the rest of the chocolate.

Obolo Galeria
35 Rochester Drive
#01-08 Rochester Mall
Tel: 6570 0102
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 10am to 10.30pm
Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 12midnight
Website: www.obolo.com.sg
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