Hinoki Japanese Dining

Hinoki is opened by the brother of the guy behind Tatsuya, and having heard a number of rave reviews about it, I was expecting a certain standard of Japanese fare when I visited this casual Japanese diner one night for dinner with Lips. Despite the family association with the much lauded Tatsuya, I was surprised to find myself plainly unimpressed with Hinoki's fare. It's a far far cry from the awesomeness that is Tatsuya. Even if I'd taken into consideration the attractively low prices of Hinoki's bento sets, the food just wasn't up to par, both in execution and quality of ingredients. Personally, I'd rather spend a little more to have much better ala carte sushi at Tatsuya. I don't mean to make comparisons because both restaurants cater to very different customer bases, but I'd expected more finesse and skill from a place with a brotherly connection to Tatsuya.  

That said, the stellar service standards is a common thread between Tatsuya and Hinoki. Our cups of green tea were refilled promptly and the waitresses were attentive and sweetly accommodating. A teensy weensy gripe though, was that they shut down the air-conditioning of our area after 9pm. It got a bit stuffy and warm, which was such a mood-killer for lingering over tea and dessert. 

Lips and I wanted some girly-time so we both ditched our husbands. You know, that's the thing with my girlfriends. While the Hubs always joins in for meals with my guy friends (because he's like one of the boys anyways), it's not so when I have catch-up sessions with my gal pals. The Hubs' appearance at such meet-ups kind of "cramps our style".  That's why i usually ditch the Hubs when I meet my girlfriends.

We both got the Hinoki Bento ($38++).

The Buta Kakuni, pork belly simmered in soy and dressed with shredded radish and mustard, was pretty pedestrian. Not bad but not great either.

The Tempura, was poorly done, evident from its appearance. The tempura batter was thick and heavy when it should have been airy and light.

The Gindara Teriyaki, while fleshy and generous, was also another average dish.

The Chawanmushi was layered thinly with a viscous, gel-like, tasteless substance. I didn't like the texture and found no ostensible use for the addition of it.

The Sashimi Mori and Aburi Sushi, was the area that differed most obviously from Tatsuya. The fish was sinewy and tough, when it should have been melt-in-your-mouth and sweet.

The Salad, despite its miserably sad look, was fortunately saved by the refreshingly tangy wafu dressing.

There was also the obligatory Miso Soup, White Rice and Fruits (watermelon and honeydew melon) to round off the bento set.

Hinoki Japanese Dining
22 Cross Street
#01-50 China Square Central
Tel: 6536 7746
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner


Tatsuya Japanese Restaurant

While it's true that we've refrained from pricey kaiseki meals, it doesn't mean that I can't ever indulge. Especially if it's for a special occasion AND on someone else's dime! Muahahaa! It was Beeps' birthday and CC, very kindly and extremely generously, brought us womenfolk out to Tatsuya to sample the Autumn best of Japanese haute cuisine.

As usual, service was faultless. Discreet, warm and professional. Our green tea and sake cups never ran dry, and the various courses were a seamless rollover from one to the next. Little wonder towkays love this establishment.

We all had the $200 Kaiseki Course, the only kaiseki option Tatsuya had anyway. Notwithstanding the hefty bill, the substantial and practically flawless meal was well worth the pricetag. (P.S. Photos were taken with the iPhone 4S so picture quality is noticeably different from the usual posts.)

The Appetizer Course, with warm grilled gingko nuts, a duo of tepid kawaii prawns and chilled leek with freshly shredded prawns was a fabulous way to whet the appetite. I found myself hankering for more.

The Clear Soup with maitake, flavoured simply with fresh kelp and the quintessentially Japanese premium mushroom, was an exercise in restrained seasoning. Clear and delicate flavours abound here.

The Sashimi Course comprised, from top, otoro, amberjack, salmon belly, sweet prawn, swordfish and octopus. Bright fresh sweet flavours from the fleshy cuts of fish and seafood.

The Simmered Course, with a soft and mushy yam ball, a big fat oyster and spinach in a pool of delicate ponzu was mellow and savoury.

The Grilled Yellowtail Teriyaki, fresh and flaky, was served with a stick of pickled ginger to counteract the sweetness of the teriyaki marinade.

The Steamed Chawanmushi, with grated yuzu zest for a tangy freshness, was topped with salmon roe for a burst of seafresh accents.

I apologise for the lack of photos of the next fried tempura yasai and aburi sushi courses, I was too busy eating and chatting I'd completely forgotten to take pictures! Oops. In any case, they're exactly the same as with the previous kaiseki. The Miso Soup, with another variety of wild mushrooms, was served with the aburi sushi.

The Dessert of the day was a couple of fresh persimmon slices, direct from Japan. Juicy and sweet, this was a refreshing way to round off the very filling meal.

The Green Tea Ice-cream with Red Bean ($6), an additional order from the ala carte menu despite us being stuffed, was icily scrumptious.

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


Ocean Curry Fish Head, Telok Ayer Street

Ocean Curry is one of those lunch spots that you'd have to be prepared to sweat it out. Not a very glamourous thing to do in your crisp work attire, really. It's crowded, stuffy, humid, and on a hot sweltering day, ensures that you get back to the office a sweat-soaked mess. There were times that we'd be hankering to have some fish head curry at Ocean Curry but were deterred by the heat and humidity of its unconducive surroundings. But, now that the monsoon season is well upon us, the regularly cool weather allows for lunch-time indulgence at the open-air eatery without the inevitable perspiration.

Despite its moniker, Ocean Curry Fish Head doesn't just serve up its claypot fish curry mainstay. They serve up a veritable repertoire of economy rice dishes, so even if you don't feel like curry fish head, you still get a full meal with other meats and vegetables. Just think of this as an economy rice stall that just happens to serve curry fish head as well.

The entire meal for 3 persons (inclusive of drinks) came up to just over 45 buckaroos. That's about $15 per person for a substantive 5-course meal. I love the super-value-for-money prices here. 

The Curry Fish is great for lazy folks like us who prefer not to dig through a fish head for fleshy parts. The batang fish was less than sparkling fresh, but the curry was great comfort soul food on a cool rainy day. Spicy, rich, potent with a touch of tanginess, this was served bubbling hot. I think I'd be happy eating this alone with white rice.

The Sesame Chicken with Mushrooms has a very familiar homecooked feel to it. Rich oyster sauce laced with sesame oil, this was fragrant and the chicken succulent.

The Pork Ribs, brushed with a sweet and sticky marinade, were tender and moist.

The Sauteed Spinach, simply seasoned with crisp ikan bilis, is a mild contrast to the rich curry of the claypot fish curry. 

The Sauteed Sliced Mushroom, laden with a delicate oyster sauce gravy, goes down the throat like a slippery dream.

Ocean Curry Fish Head
181 Telok Ayer Street
Tel: 6324 9226
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11am to 8pm,
Saturdays from 11am to 2pm,
Closed on Sundays


Tian Tian Hainanese Curry Rice

One of the things i love about Singapore is that you can eat really well without burning a hole through your wallet. Or getting food poisoning (well, most of the time anyways).

We recently went out for dinner with Kang, the one friend that I can always count on to "slum it up" and "sweat it out" at a hawker centre. We ate at Tian Tian Hainanese Curry Rice at Bukit Merah View, for some old-school Hainanese comfort food. While most other Hainanese curry rice stalls are only open in the day, this is possibly the only worthwhile one that's open for business at night too. Please note that, same name and dialect notwithstanding, this curry rice stall isn't in any way connected to or related to that famous chicken rice stall at Maxwell Market. 

I've realized that Hainanese curry isn't particularly well-endowed in the looks department, but trust me, what it lacked in aesthetics, it more than made up for it in taste. The plain white rice rice, slathered with 3 (not 5, as some reviewers have claimed - we saw the staff ladle a scoop from only 3 different pots of curry) varieties of luscious curry gravies, made for a savoury gooey mess. Totally scrumptious. Would have been happy eating that alone.

The Hainanese Chicken Pork Chop, tender morsels of chicken pork strips encased in a light crisp batter, was one of the best renditions of this Hainanese classic.The Hubs and Kang gave this their Numero Uno stamps of approval.

The Stewed Cabbage was simple comfort food done to its finest. All that flavoured this were tiny little dried shrimp and really good stock. The crunch of black fungus provided some contrast with the soft cabbage. I love this, and went back for seconds. And thirds.

The Sauteed Potatoes with Mixed Vegetables, despite its less-than-appetizing dull-ish appearance, was fairly tasty. A bit average but with comforting homestyled flavours. 

The Pork Ball was soaked in a pool of sweet onion brown gravy, further enhancing the flavourful marinade of the textured pork mince. Beware of tiny little rock hard pellets though. I found myself spitting out a couple of them.

The Curry Chicken was the only slight disappointment of the night. The potatoes were a tad undercooked and the chicken wasn't particularly tender. The gravy was awesome though, fiery, rich and full-bodied.

Tian Tian Hainanese Curry Rice
Blk 116 Bukit Merah View
Tel: 9109 6732
Open daily 9am to 9pm; Closed on alternate Mondays


The Exchange

Phew, when it rains, it pours. Sorry the lack of updates but I've been swamped. 

This was a birthday lunch sometime back with my colleagues. The birthday boy had chosen The Exchange, so a whole bunch of us trooped on over. Maybe it's because I'd heard a couple of unimpressive reviews of this place, or maybe it's because the sprawling restaurant always seems barely filled whenever I walk past it, but I admittedly had low expectations for lunch. Nonetheless, I thought the food was way better than expected. Not memorably great, but pretty alright, with above average food, and a very value-for-money set lunch menu. Service was a little choppy and unorganized though, which was disappointing, seeing as the restaurant was only half-filled when we dined for lunch.

It's been a while since I last had good risotto and The Exchange's Risotto ($27) was pretty good. Al dente grains, starchy without being too heavy, seasoned by a nicely rounded mushroom base with the heady essence of truffle.

The Asparagus Salad ($18) comprised enough sinful ingredients to make this a dieter's nightmare. Garlicky ciabatta crisps, plentiful streaky bacon strips, and a poached egg that helped bind the crisp crunchy greens together with its oozy eggy goodness.

The Haddock Fish and Chips ($25) was a little lacking in salt, but nothing a little squeeze of the lemon and some tartar sauce couldn't cure. The fleshy fillets were moist and flaky, while the batter was thick, flavourful and crisp. Mushy peas and fries provided pleasant accompaniment.

The Truffle Fries ($12) were delightful and a real crowd pleaser, piping hot, crisp and evenly salted with truffle, these were snapped up in a flash.

The bread rolls, rightfully complimentary, were so hard you could chip a tooth on it. Needless to say, these weren't finished.

The Exchange
Asia Square Tower 1
8 Marina View #01-05
Tel: 6636 1200
Open Mondays to Tuesdays from 8am to 1am
Wednesdays to Fridays from 8am to 3pm
Closed on Saturdays and Sundays
Website: www.theexchange.com.sg


Swee Kee (Ka-Soh) Fishhead Noodle House, Amoy St

While the end of the year usually means that work generally winds down to a trickle, it's been the converse for us. It's strangely gotten progressively busier these past few weeks. I suppose it could be seen as a good thing. With the recession looming, it's always a good thing to be loaded with more work than not. Consequently, we've had a couple of late-ish nights in the office.

Late nights in the office necessitates pampering our bellies with comfort food, and for old-school familiar favourites, we head to Ka-Soh, one of our late-night dining options that's both centrally-located and relatively 'al-cheapo'. A Cantonese cze char stalwart in its own right that's played a memorable part of our history and childhood, despite the widely held belief that the quality of their stuff has gone down over the years. In my view, the food's still delicious, just not as amazing as it used to be. And while it isn't the cheapest cze char around, they are considered cheap in light of the surrounding upmarket eateries.

We had the Fried Pork Ribs ($15.50 for large) moist and tender strips flavoured with Chinese five spice for that distinctive Oriental taste. Addictively tasty snack.

The Stir-Fried Kailan with Garlic ($9.50 for small), super crunchy mature greens seasoned lightly with garlic and oyster sauce.Would have much preferred baby kailan instead. These hurt my sore Invisalign-ed gums.

The Sliced Fish with Spring Onion and Ginger ($15.50 for large) was an exercise in restrained seasoning, leaving the focus on the freshness of the fish.

The piece de resistance here, the San Lou Hor Fan ($18.40 for large) is one of the best versions of this white hor fan. Clear, delicate flavours abound here, with fresh beansprouts and spring onions layered amidst light soy. If this is too plain for you, there's always that accompanying saucer of fried pork lard for additional crunch and taste 

Swee Kee (Ka-Soh) Fishhead Noodle House
96 Amoy Street
Tel: 6224 9920
Open daily from 11.45am to 2.30pm for lunch and from 5.30pm to 10.45pm for dinner
Website: www.ka-soh.com.sg


Sushi Tei, Thomson Plaza

Now that we're trying to purchase our home, we've cut back on our spending. Yes, that means $200-a-pop kaiseki meals are a no-go. Sob! And because we've been so spoilt by our kaiseki meals, and nothing but the best will ever do for us anymore, we've refrained from having Japanese food in quite some time.

But we were recently hit with a craving for Japanese fare, and so, to satisfy that without putting a dent in our housing fund, we headed to Sushi Tei, possibly the most value-for-money, mass market Japanese food chain in SG. We just stuck to the simple, cannot-go-wrong, cooked stuff. Besides, my brothers like the place and had suggested heading there for our monthly dinner meet-up. We went to the Thomson branch because it's super near to Pops' place, and figured it'd be quicker if we walked instead of driving over.

The Salmon Mentai ($6) a slice of salmon coated with a layer of creamy cod roe and baked till a caramelized char on rolled sushi rice is great for newbies who are a little averse to the idea of raw fish.

Tamago Maki ($2.20), J-Cup's fave for its simplicity, was reasonably well done. Compact sweet egg omelette with moist vinegared rice and crisp seaweed.

The Salmon Shio ($10), a thick fleshy piece of grilled salmon seasoned simply with salt, was done well, moist with delectably crisp skin.

We also had the Gindara Teriyaki ($12.80), grilled cod fish brushed with teriyaki for a smoky sweet finish.

The Asari Misoshiru Soup ($10.80) with asari clams flavoured with salty miso and smooth beancurd cubes was rich and full of umami goodness.

The Dobinmushi ($6) a clear broth flavoured with a whole salmon, crab leg and sweetened with vegetables served in a teeny tea pot, was delicate but sweet.

Sushi Tei
301 Upper Thomson Road #03-46
Thomson Plaza
Tel: 6457 6678

Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm
Website: www.sushitei.com


Wild Honey, Scotts Square

I think we're getting addicted to Wild Honey. This is my third post in 3 weeks. A bit excessive, I know, but it's just that their eggs are really really good! We truly think it's the best place to get brunch in Singapore. We like that in all our 3 visits, the food and service have been consistently above par.

We always hit up the Scotts Square outlet, because they take reservations. And, even if we're unable to get reservations, the counter seats are always available (these aren't up for reservations so as to leave availability for walk-ins).

The Portobello Road ($22), aka eggs benedict, was a duo of brioche towers layered with perfectly poached eggs on wilted spinach atop juicy baked portobello, spiced with sweet melted onions and coloured peppers, and a slathering of homemade Hollandaise sauce. I'm usually not a fan of Hollandaise sauces coz I find them too rich and cloying but Wild Honey's rendition is so utterly delicious. It was at the same time smooth, creamy, light and balanced. 

The Tunisian ($19) a sizzling skillet pan of shakshouka - eggs fried in a cumin-and-paprika-spiced mix of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and studded with chorizo. Delicately spicy with sweetish elements, this was mouth-wateringly delicious and great soul food for chilly weather. A couple of thick buttery brioche were on hand to wipe up every last drop of the lip-smackingly good sauce while a crisp cucumber-centric Israeli salad cut through the grease and spice with its uplifting freshness.

As usual, I had the Latte ($6), full-bodied and creamy, and wonderfully comforting during the rainy end-of-year monsoon season. As you can well see, Wild Honey still needs a lot of work with their coffee art.

Wild Honey
6 Scotts Road
Scotts Square #03-01
Tel: 6636 1816
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 9am to 9pm;
Fridays to Saturdays from 9am to 10pm
Website: www.wildhoney.com.sg



SPRMRKT is fast becoming my go-to place for lunch. Having dined there thrice, I haven't been able to find any fault with any of their dishes.They consistently serve up good honest grub that's substantial and hearty, and it's a great place to hang out, post lunch, over a hot latte to de-compress before heading back to daily grind of work. FYI, this was Wednesday's menu.

The Warm Ratatouille Salad ($10) with grilled zucchini, eggplant, fresh mixed greens, seasoned with a tomato-centric ratatouille paste and balsamic dressing, is a deconstructed version of the classic French stew. And healthier as well. Great juxtaposition of warm and cold flavours.

The Pure Pumpkin Soup ($7) with pureed pumpkins, pumpkin seed and garlic croutons is a wonderfully kitschy reference to Halloween. Smooth and sweet, this was comfort in a bowl. A flavoursome crusty Garlic Bread ($1 $3) helped mop up any remnants of the creamy soup.

The Oxtail Penne ($18), tossed with freshly shredded stewed oxtail meat and homemade tomato sauce was rich and robust. A drizzle of aromatic olive oil provided libation while parsley lent a crisp freshness.

The Grilled BBQ Pork Ribs ($17) with paprika-seasoned shoestring fries, and a tangy balsamic mesclun salad was awesome. Generous portions, with fall-off-the-bone ribs that were thoroughly infused with the smoky sweetness of BBQ sauce, this made for a substantial and hearty meal. For the Professor who said that $10 isn't worth rabbit food in my last post about SPRMRKT, these tender and succulent ribs got both CC and Mr J's approval! 

2 McCallum Street
Tel: 6221 2105
Open Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 9pm;
Saturdays from 9am to 4pm
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.sprmrkt.com.sg
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