Golden Mile Food Centre

After 2 whole months of renovations, Golden Mile Food Centre (or more commonly known as the "Beach Road Army Market" because the 3rd and 4th floors are filled with army supply stores that our local national servicemen and reservist men frequent to stock up on army supplies) is finally open. Personally, I don't see any difference whatsoever to the popular hawker centre.

Many of the shops here are marked by long snaking queues of patient fans and laminated or framed news writeups and TV-show endorsements. This is one of the more popular hawker centres in Singapore, and rightly so, there's a veritable range of noteworthy stalls to choose from.

Char Kway Teow

One of the more famous stalls here is the 91 Fried Kway Teow stall, which touts itself as a healthier alternative to the local favourite by using vegetable oil and refraining from the use of lard. You can't miss it. Flashing neon lights adorn the stall front. The Char Kway Teow ($4 for large) is served with a distinctive layer of green leafy vegetables and crisp silver fish topping. I've never really understood the hype about this stall. Taste-wise, it isn't mind-blowing. And if you think that a bunch of artery-clogging oil-soaked chai sim are going to help lower your cholesterol, then you've got another thing coming.

Plus, a huge downer of this place is the overtly stingy serving lady. She counts every single little green leaf as if she's deathly afraid she's gonna give you one more leaf than your plate of $4 noodles is worth, and refuses to give you one more pair of chopsticks even if you order a large plate of noodles. You know, that's the problem with hawker stalls that have been "discovered" and consequently become famous. Their breeches are suddenly too tight and their heads swell with fame. The hawkers suddenly develop an attitude problem. They become complacent and that inevitably breeds lowered standards. Sometimes, the presence of TV and news endorsements serve to make me avoid me the stall instead of drawing me in, because it sometimes translates to an overhyped allure.

91 Fried Kway Teow
HP 98300965
Open daily from 11am to 9pm
Closed on Mondays


Char Kway Teow

Those really "in-the-know" will make a beeline for the hidden gem on the bottom level. The Fried Kway Teow ($4 for large) here is done the traditional way, with glorious lard, Chinese sausage (i.e. lup cheong), fishcakes and fried to savoury smoky perfection. Half a wedge of lime provides a unique refreshingly sour lift to the heavy grease of this local classic. If you're gonna use up half a day's worth of calories on a plate of grease, you better make sure it's worth it. And trust me, this is well worth the extra hours on the treadmill.

The stall front for reference. Even if it sells other noodle dishes, stick to their moniker. That's what everyone in the queue is waiting for.

Golden Mile Fried Kway Teow Mee


Hokkien Prawn Mee

The Hokkien Mee ($3) here is also another crowd favourite, as evidenced by the long queues. This is one of the better versions we've tried. The prawn stock used to imbue the rice noodles with flavour is awesome. Every mouthful is a burst of flavoursome shrimp stock. There's a slight hint of wok hei to this, so the robust shrimp taste is finished off with a rounded smoky essence.

The stall facade, the fried kway teow stall is just round the corner from this.

Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee
Tel: 6294 6798
Open daily from 11am to 2pm; and from 3pm to 9pm
Closed on Wed


Chicken Rice

Just beside the hokkien mee is another notable hawker that sells boneless chicken rice. The Chicken (half for $9) is succulent and juicy, definitely one of the better renditions of our national heritage dish. If you're sitting on the same floor as this stall, they will serve this to you. Otherwise, it's self-serviced style. The portions are a little small but it's so cheap anyways you might as well get the whole chicken portion if you're a big eater.

While the Rice ($0.50 per plate) isn't super tasty or aromatic enough to eat on its own, it does set up as a very nice backdrop to the kickass chilli and garlic.

The stall facade.

Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice
Tel: 6298 6270
Open from Mondays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 9pm

Closed on Sundays


Golden Mile Food Centre
505 Beach Road


Crystal Jade Kitchen, Suntec City Mall

Due to extensive renovations undertaken at Suntec City, it's become quite the ghost town. We like going to the restaurants there for meals because we can be sure there's no crowd or queue to jostle with. Just the way we like it. Plus, we get more personalised and attentive service because of the dearth of customers. By the way, the restaurants are taking turns being closed for renovations to be done, so call ahead to check if the restaurant you want is, in fact, open.

We've been patronizing Crystal Jade Kitchen for the longest time. It's one of those places you can rely on for cheap, homestyled, albeit MSG-laden, food that's familiar and comforting. We opted for the very value-for-money 7-course Chinese New Year Set Meal ($288 for 4 persons). We were completely stuffed and relatively satisfied by the end of the meal.

We started off with the obligatory Yu Sheng, with chunky pieces of fresh sweet salmon and the unusual addition of fried yam strips, which I'm particularly fond of. Huat ah!

The soup course was the somewhat controversial Shark's Fin Soup with Fish Maw. While I may not support the finning of sharks for food by not ordering this at restaurants, I'm not about to reject a soup if it's already ordered and presented in front of me (what, and let the shark die in vain and its fin go to waste?!). Ethical considerations aside, the starchy soup was well-flavoured, and choc-a-bloc with spongy fish maw, crunchy strips of bamboo shoots and diced fresh prawns and scallops.

The Stir-Fried Prawns with Greens had peppers, celery and bamboo shoots for crunch, while cashews lent a nutty element and extra crunch. A simple dish with minimal seasoning, leaving the focus on the vegetables and seafood. The fresh prawns were mighty fine as well, sweet and bouncy. Great texture and flavour.

The Dried Seafood with Black Moss, and Chinese black mushrooms on a bed of layered lettuce and slathered with a luxuriously rich oyster sauce gravy was very nice, even if we're not fans of dried oysters and abalone. We just kept to the juicy mushrooms, lettuce and moss whispers.

The Steamed Soon Hock was perfectly steamed, the fresh fish was done to a flaky moistness, and served in a pool of delicate soy emulsion that complemented the mildness of the fish.

The Pan-fried Glutinous Rice, was enlivened by cubed Chinese dried sausages, mushrooms and omelette strips. To be honest, I would have been quite happy with the rice alone, it was moist and luscious and soft, tinged with a hint of sweetness.

For dessert, each of us got a bowl of Red Bean Soup with Tang Yuan. While the soup could have done with a lot more body, the tang yuan was pretty good. Bouncy texture, balanced and sweet filling.

Crystal Jade Kitchen 3 Temasek Boulevard,
B1-013, Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6338 3511
Open daily, 11am to 10.30pm
Website: www.crystaljade.com


Samy's Curry, Dempsey

Samy's Curry is one of the notable purveyors of South Indian cuisine. Along with Muthu's, Banana Leaf Apolo and Gayatri, Samy's makes up the South Indian cuisine version of the Big Four (for those not versed in legalspeak, the 'Big Four' refers to the 4 biggest local law firms in Singapore).

My family's been eating at Samy's since I was a young 'un, loooong before Dempsey is what it is now. Despite the fact that the area has become a lot more touristy, I was relieved to discover that the prevalence of Caucasians and franchising of this brand didn't translate to watered down curries. The spiciness of the food has, thankfully, stayed pretty consistent. 

The place still looks like what it used to: a conserved colonial house that's kept reasonably spic and span, cooled solely by industrial ceiling fans and furnished with no-fuss plastic tables and chairs. Because of the lack of air-conditioning, this place is great for cool weather days, but not so much during the muggy humid mid-year months. This is strictly a casual tees-and-shorts ensemble dining place, so don't expect much of the service here. It's all business, it is.

Samy's version of the local classic, Curry Fish Head ($27 for medium) has got sourish assam undertones. The gravy's still lemak with the rich creamy essence of coconut milk, but the sour elements makes this a little piquant, a little lighter than the usual lemak versions. The fish was huge (so there was a lot of meat to go around) and fresh, so the mild flaky flesh was set off very well against the rich gravy.

The Curry Mutton ($12 for large) was a surprising discovery. I've never been a fan of mutton but this was pleasantly fresh. Soft and tender meat dunked in a tomato-tinged curry that was at the same time sweet, tangy and spicy.

The Curried Prawns ($12) was swimmingly fresh, succulent, and simmered in a potent gravy.

We wanted aloo gobi but got this mixed vegetable Gobi ($10) instead. Compared to the rest of the hits, this wasn't great. It was too milky and lacking in flavour. Suffice to say, we didn't finish it.

A better alternative, should you be inclined to getting your day's fibre intake, is the addictively delicious Cauliflower Tandoori ($10), the natural sweetness of cauliflower enhanced by the tandoori spice.

Most of us opted for the Briyani Rice ($3.20 per person), fluffy, long grained basmati rice that's fragrant and oh-so-flavoursome and, which I'd happily eat on its own with a liberal dousing of curry.

The accompanying Cabbage Dhal ($cost already in-built with the briyani rice) looks like baby food mush but take my word for it, it's delicious. Mild and sweet but imbued with incredible flavour from cumin and tumeric, this is why Indian vegetables are awesome. By the way, there are free refills of this so don't be shy in asking for seconds. Or thirds and fourths.

The Masala Chicken ($4.70) at Samy's is incomparable. This is seriously the best masala chicken anywhere. No contest. A definite MUST-TRY. It's potent and sweet and spicy as hell, but the thick paste will have you licking off every inch of this moist and tender chicken. Ask for the thigh bit, it's juicier. By the way, this is really spicy so you've been warned. You'll end up with a churning stomach for the rest of the day (and night!), but this is so worth it.

No curry-centric meal is complete without yummy freshly deep-fried papadoms to scoop/soak up all that rich curry.

Samy's Curry
25 Dempsey Road
Tel: 6472 2080
Open everyday except Tuesday from 11am to 3pm for lunch and 6pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: www.samyscurry.com


Chijmes Lei Garden Restaurant

Wow, that was an awesomely long weekend, wasn't it? I loved and relished every second of it! Because the Hubs and I don't have many family commitments over the CNY festive holidays, we took the time to catch up on a lot of sleep (cleared a lot of backlogged sleep!), stuff our faces and meet up with a number of our friends.

In the days after the restaurants re-opened after CNY day 1, Lei Garden was one of the few handful that offered dim sum on their lunch menus. Both the Imperial Treasure and Crystal Jade chains didn't serve dim sum so it was a no brainer where to meet up with Ernie for lunch over the long weekend.

Besides, Lei Garden rotates their dim sum menu regularly so things are kept fresh all the time. Every week's dim sum offerings are changed up (with the classics perennially on the menu, of course) so you're always surprised by the novel things they do with dim sum here. 

We LOVED the Deep Fried Spring Roll with Mushroom ($5.20), crisp blankets of fried egg rolls with juicy fillings of chives, mince and mushroom bits. Flavoursome and scrumptious, we promptly ordered another portion of this.

The Steamed Cheong-Fun ($5.20) with thick-ish chewy skin stuffed with tender morsels of plain shredded chicken and juicy mushrooms, drizzled with delicate soy for taste, was also another fresh take on the classic steamed rice rolls.

I liked the Shredded Chicken Porridge ($4.80), with succulent strips of marinated chicken laced in a smooth rice gruel. Simple and delicious.

We also ordered our favourite Rainbow Egg and Shredded Pork Porridge ($4.80), just the way grandma used to make it. Clean simple flavours.

We also had the Grilled Cod Fish ($9.80) brushed with a sweet and smoky teriyaki sauce to balance out the oily texture of the fish. A twist of crispy onion rings lent a western touch.

Chijmes Lei Garden Restaurant
Chijmes #01-24
30 Victoria Street
Tel: 6339 3822
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch and from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.leigarden.hk/eng/


Summer Pavilion

Summer Pavilion is an award-winning heavyweight in the Cantonese fine-dining circuit. Sophisticated and elegant, Summer Pavilion serves up modern Cantonese cuisine, exquisite and innovative, but never veering too far from its traditional roots. It was here that we met up with Ray & Pat for a pre-CNY weekend brunch.

Compared to my pet fave Lei Garden, Summer Pavilion attracts a noticeably older clientele (read: lots of grandparents with their multi-generational extended families). You walk into the dining hall to a sea of towering, gravity-defying coifs that would make any tai tai proud, as well as waves of greying combovers. Okay, i kid.

The sunlit restaurant is draped in soothing creams and nestled amongst well manicured gardens, visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows encasing the restaurant. Hmm, I just figured out that the picturesque restaurant is really set like an actual summer pavilion!

Service was impeccable. Professional, attentive and discreet, the waiter seemed to immediately apparate whenever our hands were in the midst of being raised to place more orders. And our tea cups were never left more than half empty. (sidenote: the poor guy, who's evidently staying in SG instead of going home for the CNY holidays, must have been eyeballing our table the entire time...hats off to him really!) (further sidenote: I always feel guilty seeing other peeps working over CNY...do you?) And, in line with the top-notch service standards here at the Ritz, if there's anything off the menu that you'd like, the kitchen will be more than happy to accommodate your special request.

By the way, Summer Pavilion is one of those chi-chi places that requires a dress code so leave those flip flops and singlets for lounging at home. 

The Steamed Beef Ribs ($6) with dried beancurd skin and onions, and spiced up with a black pepper seasoning, is a twist on the classic black bean pork ribs. Tender and lip-smackingly juicy, the beef was delicious. I think I actually prefer this over the classic version.

The Steamed Prawn Dumpling ($5.20) is enlivened with the addition of crunchy bamboo shoots. A little texture to the bouncy succulent prawns.

The fluffy Steamed Barbecued Pork Bun ($4.50), with bits of preserved vegetables and onions, provide a piquant saltiness to the sweet pork.

We loved loved LOVED the Steamed Crystal Dumpling ($4.50) with pumpkin, vegetarian ham, sweet pea and water chestnut. From the translucent chewy glutinous skin to the sweet pumpkin bits, pungently salty ham, refreshingly crunchy water chestnut and earthy mushrooms, this was fabulously balanced and exquisite. This is an absolute MUST-TRY.

The Steamed Prawn and Chicken Dumpling ($4.80) was juicy and moist, with conpoy for an umami accent, bamboo shoots for crunch and mushrooms for extra juiciness.

Though I'm not a huge fan of fried glutinous rice, Summer Pavilion's version of the Pan-fried Glutinous Rice ($4.50) with diced mushroom, vegetables, vegetarian ham, onions and pickles was pretty commendable. Soft and moist, this was fragrant and really quite yummy. 

The Baked Chicken Bun ($4.50), with sweetly flavoured diced chicken and onions, was smoky and sticky and sweet with a slightly roasted element.

We also liked the Deep Fried Lobster Roll ($3) with succulent lobster chunks mixed with tasty prawn paste then coated with crispy bread vermicelli.

The Marinated Sliced Duck ($13) with beancurd and done Teochew style, was braised in a delicate soy. This was one of the best renditions ever of braised duck. It was nuanced and balanced, assisted by impossibly fresh duck meat that's tender and moist.

The dessert of Mango Sago with Pomelo was refreshing, fruity and cool. A wonderfully light way to cut through the heavy and satisfying meal.

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Here's wishing you all a prosperous year of the snake!

Summer Pavilion
7 Raffles Avenue
The Ritz Carlton Millenia Hotel 3rd Floor
Tel: 6337 8888
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; and 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner


Ristorante Da Valentino

I've been wanting to try Valentino for the longest time. But its previous Binjai Park locale was really far away from the city. Plus, its tiny shop space ensured you couldn't get reservations unless you were the type who planned what to eat for dinner at least 2 weeks in advance. Now that it's at The Grandstand (previously known as Turf City, which previously housed the old Turf Club), a slightly more centralised (and consequently closer to the the city center) location, it's less of a hassle to drive out to the suburbs to try this famed and much raved about Italian restaurant. And, with its much bigger premises, we didn't have a problem scoring a table despite the lack of reservations.

The Grandstand, which spent millions of dollars rehauling itself, still reeks of paint fumes, and still in dire need of tweaking. There are virtually no directional signs, and no directory that we could see at all. There were little nooks and crannies that led to hidden doors which, in turn, led to an entire stretch of eateries tucked into obscure corners. There was no organization of the tenant eateries and shops that I could see, so it's all a mess of shop space. Really annoying and quite frustrating, especially if you're trying to locate a specific restaurant.

But, once we got to the restaurant (with the assistance of many a sweet and helpful shop staff along the way) our frustrated selves were immediately soothed. We felt like we were transported to an Italian countryside or vineyard. It was casual and relaxed. In line with its charmingly homestyled ambience, service was animated, reactive and genuinely friendly. We had a wonderful time, courtesy of the staff and entertainingly jovial manager.

We also enjoyed the food. Valentino boosts refined home-cooking, which sounds a little oxymoronic coz it's both rustic but elegant. Just think of it like this, it's as if you had an Italian grandmother who cooked damn well and plated it very finely.

We got all of our mains to share. We started on a high note with the Fettucine al Granchio ($25.90) perfectly al dente squid ink fettucine slathered with a tangy and sweet creamy tomato sauce layered with generously huge chunks of sweet shredded crabmeat. A little chilli helped keep this sharp and spicy.

The Ravioli Beef ($28.90) stuffed with minced beef and creamy ricotta cheese was tossed in a tomato and garlic sauce, while slices of porcini provided texture and an earthy taste.

The Risotto al Funghi Porcini ($24.90) al dente starchy rice with gourmet porcini mushroom and bright sunny saffron was an exercise in restrained flavouring.This was a great balance of starchy elements and light simple flavours.

We also ordered a meat option to liven up all that carb courses, the Secondi, the Salti in Bocca alla Romana ($38.90). A duo of moist and tender veal wrapped in salty Parma ham and pan-fried, then smothered in a buttery sage sauce and served alongside boiled skinned baby potatoes, softened beans and baby carrots.

The Tiramisu ($13.80) classic Italian dessert infused with espresso was wonderfully aromatic, and heady. Moist and rich and a real zinger with copious amounts of cocoa powder.

The Lava Cake ($18.50), a daily special, was also awesome. The chocolate cake was baked to perfection, with gooey bittersweet chocolate oozing out of its warm center. A scoop of vanilla ice-cream lent sweetness and a icy respite from the chocolate.

The complimentary crusty bread rolls, fresh out of the oven so they were still warm, were paired with a olive and parsley herb emulsion. Bright, herby and potent.

Ristorante Da Valentino
200 Turf Club Road
#01-19 The Grandstand
Tel: 6462 2247
Open daily from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; and 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.valentino.sg
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