OSO Ristorante

A recent dining experience at OSO reminds me of how the boys used to say that a lot of the local girls are "nice from far but far from nice". You know how it goes, like when a friend gushes about how hot some girl is and yet when you see her for yourself, it's like, "meh".

I've long heard rave reviews about OSO Ristorante. Way before the revitalisation of the Bukit Pasoh/Keong Saik area, OSO was the reason foodies flocked to that area. They were one of the earlier purveyors of refined Italian haute cuisine. But having dined at the restaurant recently, I cannot quite understand diners gushing about this place. Mind you, the food wasn't awful. In fact, it was quite good. It was just not great. For all of the hype, I'd expected perfection. There were just about as many misses as there were hits. 

Service though, was almost faultless. They were impeccably professional, yet warm and spontaneous at the same time.

For people who don't want to splurge your bonuses on a single meal over dinner but want to sample some of OSO's culinary offerings, OSO offers a very affordable weekday set lunch at $32 for a 3-course meal.

The Classic Mixed Vegetables Soup with Basil-Beetroot Pesto was very pretty pink broth choc-full of diced vegetables. The beetroot lent a sharpness to the delicate sweetness of the vegetables while basil provided a peppery lift. It was a very welcome starter to the set lunch menu. The Recomposed Endive with Smoked Salmon and mixed vegetables dressed Scapece style, on the other hand, could have passed off as a meal on its own. The rolls were THAT substantial. That said, this was decent. A layer of fried oats gave the crust some crunch while the inside was juicy and flavoursome.

We also shared some starters from the ala carte menu, beginning with the Pan-Fried Eggs Tagemino ($22) with black truffle paste and mixed cheese fondue. A highly rated starter, this was a little bit of a let down. I couldn't taste the cheese in this, and the egg was disappointingly uneven. The outer edges were overcooked and rubbery, whereas the center portion was left undercooked, with bits of the clear membrane still intact.

The Cioppino ($12), an Italian-American fish stew, was more like a thick prawn/lobster bisque than a watery bouillabaisse, which is what the classic cioppino should have been like. This was too heavy and rich, so despite taking a half-portion, I just couldn't down more than a few spoonfuls of this extremely cloying soup.

Onto the mains from the ala carte menu, the Veal Ravioli ($24) in a velvety cheese and mushroom cream sauce was teetering on the brink of cloying. This needed copious lashings of pepper to get through. The veal mince filling, while hearty, was also a little dry. Considering we had quite a toughie finishing up only a half portion, it was a tad too rich.

The Black Truffle Tartufo Risotto ($26) with mascarpone was AWESOME. The al dente grains had a decisive bite to them, and each was coated evenly with starry dots of heavenly black truffle paste. Mascarpone lent a mild creamy sweetness to the starch of the canaroli rice. Totally aromatic, totally delicious. If I were to come back to OSO, this would be the reason why.

From the set lunch menu, the Roasted Whole Portobello Mushroom was scrumptious. The well-baked mushroom caps were lipsmackingly juicy while the beef bolognese was hearty and full-bodied. A pool of veal jus added extra moistness. Despite its seemingly small portion, this was surprisingly filling with its big rounded flavours.

Another main from the set lunch menu, the Rigatoni Pasta with Tuna and Eggplant Ragout with wild rucola sauce was commendable as well. The al dente tubes were dressed in a peppery bright green sauce. Clean and clear flavours with a toothsome texture.

The Pink Grapefuit Pompelmo Sherbet ($12) was a brilliant way to cut through the heaviness of the meal. A little bitter accents interlaced with the refreshingly fruity elements, making this such a great palate cleanser.

The 70% Hot Dark Chocolate Tart Crostata ($14) with vanilla ice-cream was, in spite of the rave reviews, another too-heavy dish. I would have preferred the chocolate tart to be a little bittersweet to balance out the rich buttery tart and sweet vanilla ice-cream.

From the dessert selection on the set menu, the Gratinated Mixed Berries Tart with Egg Sabayon was lighter than the chocolate version. But barely. The fruits were fresh and sweet, but I would have preferred the thick cream to be served on the side than draped all over it.

The Oven-Baked White Chocolate and Pistachio Cake with an orange slice was the better of the 2 desserts from the set menu. The cake was fluffy and light, lifted by the tangy sourish tones of the orange.

OSO's obligatory bread plate served piping hot and fresh out of the oven so it was aromatic and soft. It was quite the lapse in service that none of us had our side platters or cutlery when munching on these and that our crumb-filled tabletop wasn't cleared off the crumbs.

OSO Ristorante
46 Bukit Pasoh Road
Tel: 6327 8378
Open for lunches from Mondays to Fridays from 12noon to 2.30pm
Dinner from Mondays to Saturdays from 6pm to 12midnight
Website: www.oso.sg


E-Sarn Thai Kitchen, Ridgewood

It constantly amazes me how Singaporeans will readily travel far and wide for food. E-Sarn Thai, a casual Thai eatery hidden deep within the dated Ridgewood condominium, is still doing a roaring business all these years despite the lack of foot traffic.

Where we're living now, apart from Thai Noodle House, E-Sarn at Ridgewood is probably the only other place that's nearby to hit up for relatively cheap Thai food. We were craving some Thai food late one night and since Thai Noodle House was closed, we headed for E-Sarn instead.

Having recently tried their branch at Upper Thomson, it was quite evident that the Northern outlet serves up better food than this one in Ridgewood. The food in the North is generally spicier and dishes are generally better executed, whereas the fare here at Ridgewood seems a bit too watered down and insipid. That's saying a lot, because I thought that the one at Upper Thomson wasn't spicy enough. The chilli-averse will probably love it here, you get a taste of Thai cuisine without the requisite heat.

Take the Peek Gai Yat Sai ($11.50) for example. The boneless chicken wings was supposed to be stuffed with diced water chestnuts and mushrooms for a juicy finish, but I couldn't quite make out the water chestnuts nor mushrooms in this. This was boring and monotonous, and needed a lot of the Thai sweet chilli dip, when previously at the Upper Thomson one, the wings were tasty enough on their own without the need for the dip.

The Gaeng Paed Gai ($13.50), green curry chicken with eggplant and coconut milk, was so thick and creamy that you can't quite make out any heat in this.

The Panang Gai ($13.50), chicken stir-fried with coconut curry, was a creamy yellow curry laced with chilli oil. Hardly spicy at all but the creamy gravy paired nicely with white rice. 

The Kai Foo ($8.50), a classic Thai omelette, with soft wispy clouds of egg layers, was so airy you can hardly taste the egg in this. It's like eating fried froth seasoned with egg. That said, we liked this, even if it was dripping in oil.

The Pad Pak Ruom ($9.50), a medley of baby corn, kailan, carrots, mushrooms was simply sauteed in a delicate garlic oyster sauce, leaving the focus on the crunch and natural jus of the greens.We liked the golden fried onions topping on this.

A twist on the usual mango sticky rice, the Mango Sticky Delight ($7.50) with fresh mangoes, warm glutinous rice dunked in coconut milk and a scoop of icy coconut ice-cream was sweet, balanced and refreshing. Very nice.

E-Sarn Thai Kitchen
5 Ridgewood Close
Unit G2 Ridgewood Condominium
Tel: 6466 8078
Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm, Closed on Mondays
Website: www.esarn.com.sg


BaliThai, Novena Square

Adee and I drove out of the CBD to meet up with Jal for lunch. These 2 guys were the funniest guys in my jc class so meeting up with them is always so jolly and fun. I always find myself looking forward to meeting up with them because they're such sunshiney persons to be around. It was non-stop laughs the second we met up. My sides were hurting by the time I returned back to the office in the afternoon.

To accommodate Jal's dietary requirement for halal food, we headed to BaliThai, a casual eatery serving both Thai and Indonesian cuisine. The fare here is homestyled and unpretentious. As long as you don't go in expecting authentic fine-dining, you should like the simple stuff here. BaliThai is more like a bastardised take on Thai and Indon fare. I like to think of this as a slightly upmarket cze char eatery, by virtue of its comfortable air-conditioning, less-than-bustling ambience and slightly higher pricetags.

Despite its less than saliva-inducing appearance, the Cumi Bakar ($11), grilled squid with sweet sauce, was quite delicious. It was cooked just right, so it was soft and ever so slightly chewy. The sweet sauce, upon grilling, resulted in a smoky charring that complemented the clear fresh taste of the squid.

The Peek Gai Sod Sai ($3.50 per pc), boneless chicken wing stuffed with Thai herbs and minced chicken, couldn't quite follow in the stellar footsteps of the grilled squid. While the chicken was juicy, this just tasted exactly like good ol' fried chicken. If there was any reconstruction, I couldn't taste it. Some mushrooms or water chestnuts or radishes thrown into the mix would have cut through the monotony of the mince.

The Gai Nuer Chanron ($15), hotplate black pepper chicken, was really nice. There was a very hometown cze char appeal to it. The chicken was succulent and juicy and the black pepper sauce was robust. A smattering of capsicums and carrots lent subtle peppery elements and sweetness.

The Tao Hoo Chanron ($10.50), a sizzling hotplate beancurd was another respectably good cze char-standard dish. Choc-a-bloc with crunchy vegetables (even if the mixed veggies were of the frozen variety), a bed of fluffy scrambled eggs, and baby bottom-smooth egg beancurd, this was really nice and light.

The Khao Pad Numlieb ($8.80), fried rice with olive and chicken, was also very decent. Salty minced olives were scattered liberally atop the rice, to be smeared into the fluffy fried rice. Tart raw shallots lent a sharpness and cashews provided a little crunch and nuttiness. Even first-timers initially scared off by the faint purple hue like Jal loved this.

238 Thomson Road
#03-61 Novena Velocity
Tel: 6256 0021
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; and 6pm to 10pm for dinner


Old School Delights

Is it just me and my unrefined childhood tastebuds, or did the food in my canteen taste awesome? It may be a selective/tampered memory, but in my mind, the 50 cents fried chicken wings, 50 cents fried bee hoon and 50 cents mee rebus were the most awesomely delicious stuff ever. A quick check with my friends reveal that they all thought their canteen food was awesomesauce as well.

In a bid to relive those very fond memories of tucking into simple homestyled fare, we dined at Old School Delights. This new-ish casual diner attempts to lead you down the hallways of nostalgia with their hawker heritage dishes and 70's and 80's memorabilia. While they certainly succeed in the knick-knacks department, what with their five-stones,  flag erasures, marbles and Donkey card games, the food here was quite the letdown. Most of the stuff seemed to be served up by a novice home cook. It's not terrible, but a lot of their dishes were not even on par with those in the hawker centre, and taking into consideration the higher-than-hawker-centre prices here (which are admittedly cheap by most restaurant standards), I didn't think my money travelled the distance here. If I'm going to eat hawker-styled food in nice digs at higher prices, I'd like the food to be at least on par with those at the hawker centre. I don't mind paying more for a nicer ambience, but I do mind forking out more for sub-par food.

I couldn't understand how the place was packed to the brim on a Saturday night when we visited for dinner. There was even a short queue outside when we left as well! Maybe it's our love for all things nostalgic, and a yearning for the carefree days of yore? As such, do be sure to make reservations if you really still want a dash of the past.

The Chicken Macaroni Soup ($5.90) with shredded chicken breast meat, a couple of quail's eggs, sliced fish cakes, carrots and lettuce in a plain-ish chicken broth was alright, but I've had better. I loved the idea of quail's eggs in this (to heck with soaring cholesterol levels right??) but the soup base was sorely lacking in depth. This would make really good "sick food" because it's just so dull.

The Hainanese Chicken Cutlet ($8.90) was better, even if the garlic fried rice was barely passable. Judged on its own without the rice, the chicken cutlet was juicy and flavourful: decent and relatively value-for-money considering the portion.

The saving grace of the Nasi Lemak Besar ($6.90) was the tongue-numbingly spicy sambal chilli. This was equal parts hot and sweet, with a roasted nutty element blended into it. That said, the coconut-accented rice had the requisite scent but didn't quite translate to a rich coconutty taste,  the fried chicken wing hadn't been marinated long enough, the otak was a little puny, the omelette was flat and thin, and we could have liked a bigger portion of the fried peanuts and ikan bilis. You can definitely get a much better hawker rendition at cheaper prices.

The gravy of  the Home-style Curry Chicken ($8.90) was indeed homey. Creamy, well-rounded and robust. But that was it. The potatoes were significantly undercooked, so biting into it required a Gaston-like strong jaw. The chicken, while large, was also lacking in flavour. They needed to be stewed/marinated for a longer period of time.

The Mee Rebus ($5.50) was semi-decent, and you can definitely get the same stuff at much cheaper prices at the hawker centres. I liked the smooth, nutty, mildly spicy gravy, but the beancurd was a little off, evidenced by its sour tinge and waterlogged texture.

The Big Basket o'Wings ($5.80 for 3), with just 3 little wings, turned out not to be that big afterall. They smelled a lot better than they tasted. I liked the marinade, and it really was reminiscent of the wings from my primary school canteen, but the marinade hadn't had time to set in. So, while the skin was adequately flavoured by the marinade, the flesh was left tasteless. Ikea's are waaaay better. More value-for-money too.

It was glaringly obvious the price differential and lack of value as regards the Nyonya Otak ($2.40). This would have been $1 at most laksa stalls. That said, this was at least, as nice as the hawker centre versions.

Old School Delights
215M Upper Thomson Road
Open Tuesdays to Fridays from 11.30am to 10.30pm
Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 10.30pm
Closed on Mondays
Tel: 6458 4518
Website: www.oldschooldelights.com


La Villa

La Villa is the casual country barnyard sibling to Senso's sophisticated classy downtown. The fare here isn't super refined or mind-blowingly great, but appeals in a rustic homey way. Also, the very affordable prices and cute old-school garden setting ups the ante in the charms department.

Oh, the parking here is fabulous in that there's loads of it! Be sure to inform the staff  accordingly though, because they will discount the parking charges off your bill.

We started off with the Calamari Pirata ($19), which was very well done. The light batter coating was fried to a flaky crisp while the squid rings remained soft with a chewy yield. A fairy dusting of sweet paprika and a refreshingly chilled salsa was added seasoning.

The Merluzzo ($34) a fleshy, smooth and oily grilled cod fish would have been nicer if the skin was paper crisp for a contrasting texture. A drizzling of piquant balsamic reduction lent flavour. The saffron and rosemary mash was flavoursome but a little dry.

The Risotto ($28) was alright, but rather unmemorable. The grains were al dente and had a great bite but the duck confit was a little too rich and one-dimensional. Thank goodness the bitter accents of the asparagus kept this from getting too cloying.

The Ravioli ($28 for large) was easily the best main of the night. The veal-filled pasta pockets were hearty, grounded with a creamy earthy mushroomy sauce.

The Cioccola ($15) of a chocolate lava cake was a safe bet for dessert, the rich chocolate was balanced by the icy creamy vanilla ice-cream. It was so lovely that my girlfriends got me this little candle to celebrate a belated birthday. LUFF ya both!

The obligatory bread basket, fresh outta the oven and served warm, which helped quell a rumbling tummy.

La Villa
341 River Valley Road
Tel: 6836 5286
Open daily from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch and 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.lavilla.sg


Thai Express, Esplanade

We drove out to the Esplanade for lunch one stormy afternoon. We were all wearing pretty shoes and didn't want to get them wet walking to any of our usual lunch destinations. Drizzle on suede and ponyhair is a total disaster man!

It could have been the heavy rain that deterred the masses, but the Esplanade was like a shanty-town in the day. Restaurants were either closed or barely occupied, shops were devoid of foot traffic, and the entire place was just so eerily quiet and sleepy. A little depressing, really. Apparently, the Esplanade comes alive only when the sun begins setting.

Ah well, all the better for a peaceful lunch with (probably more) attentive service. No need for reservations, joining in a queue or jostling with a crowd.

Thai Express was one of the few restaurants that was open for lunch, manned by a skeleton crew. I sat down to moderate expectations but I was very pleasantly surprised by the above-average quality of the food. Every dish was relatively well-executed and yummy. This would make a much better meal-time option than Barossa a few steps away. Cheaper too.

The Tom Yum Peek Gai ($8.30), chicken wings marinated in spicy tom yum seasoning, was lipsmackingly good. Balanced between the sweet and spicy and sour, this was juicy and thoroughly flavoursome.

The Massaman Chicken Curry ($13.60) was a creamy, rich, thick curry, loaded with bite-sized baby potatoes and 2 big pieces of chicken thigh. This is similar to our Nonya-styled curry, but with an additional nutty accent. Toasted Thai style pancakes which resembled flattened roti prata were on hand to mop up every last drop of that delicious gravy.

Beware the Tom Yum Talay ($8.30), tom yum seafood soup. Its deceptively clear appearance masks a spice level that'll leave your tummy churning for the rest of the day. Super shiok. We also liked the fresh seafood that was cooked to a tender perfection.

Another classic dish, the Phad Thai Talay ($11.30), flat rice noodles with seafood, was also well-executed. A little sweet, a little smoky, a little peppery, this was chunked up by plentiful fish slices, squid and prawns.

The Nam Neua Yang ($8.90) a grilled beef salad was tender, rolling in streaky fat and flavourful.Tart shallots and cut chillis lent a sharp tartness to the savoury beef.

Thai Express
8 Raffles Ave
Esplanade Mall #01-13D
Tel: 6533 6766
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 11.30am to 11pm;
Fridays and Saturdays from 11.30am to 12midnight
Website: www.thaiexpress.com.sg


Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, The Riverwalk

Our April L.A. Dinner was held at Jumbo Seafood at Riverwalk. The Riverwalk outlet is nearest to the office, so in the event that taxis aren't available (FYI, it's notoriously difficult to hail a taxi in the CBD on Friday evenings, and even calling for one is quite an exercise in futility), walking to the restaurant is always a viable option.

I love the seafood at Jumbo. It may be a little commercialized, in that food seems to be churned out like a production line, and service is run like a well-oiled machine with cyborg-ish wait staff, but the food's still consistently delicious.

A tip is to make sure you get advanced reservations (best to call at least 2 weeks in advance for peak days), otherwise, be prepared with alternative plans.

We got a private room to facilitate the chatting. The restaurant's such a bustling hive of chatter that you'll find yourself straining to hear each other across the table. A private room ensures the yak of the other diners gets shut out behind closed doors and need for hearing aids is negated.

The Donut with Seafood Paste ($20 for large), thick crispy you tiaos stuffed with chewy seafood cakes is a safe bet as a starter. This was quickly devoured by us hungry folks.

The Deep Fried Beancurd Skin with Seafood ($20 for large) is the beancurd skin version of the seafood donuts. Juicy bouncy seafood paste with crisp flaky beancurd skin.

The Ribeye Fillet with Pepper Sauce ($33 for 3 pieces at $11 per piece), albeit a little artificially tenderised, was, nonetheless, flavoursome, fatty and tender.

The Scallops wrapped in Yam Ring ($32 for large), a signature here, is a must-try. Succulent juicy sweet scallops accented by soft mashed sweet yam with a flaky crust. You can't stop at just one of these babies.

The Crispy Fried Baby Squid ($18 for medium), coated in a stickily sweet sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds, was addictively crunchy.

The best part about the Herbal Drunken Live Prawns ($52 at $6.50 per 100g) was the alcohol-tinged broth. It was sweet and intense and rich, but managed to somehow complement but not overwhelm the delicate sweetness of the medium sized prawns.

We also ordered a local fave, the Golden Salted Egg Wok-Fried Prawns ($44 for large), deshelled for convenience and the ones without husbands/boyfriends/fiances to peel the prawns for them. The mildly grainy salted egg yolk coating was lightly spiced up by diced peppers.The prawns for this were noticeably bigger than the drunken prawns. A better bite.

The Steamed Marble Goby Soon Hock with Soya Sauce ($72) was steamed to perfection. Soft and moist flesh with a delicate soy marinade made lighter with julienned yellow chives.

The BBQ Red Tilapia ($36) was highly recommended, and for good reason. The fish was grilled to a smoky char, highlighting the mild sweetness of the fish. A lemon spritz lent a citrusy zing. 

Jumbo's Black Pepper Crabs ($112) are an absolute winner. If you think this isn't as spicy as the chilli crabs, think again. This left even the regular chilli lovers sniffling away. Despite the heat, the sweet crab meat was nicely balanced by the black pepper seasoning.

The Chilli Crabs ($112) here are spicy, robust, with just a tinge of nuttiness. Generously egg-dropped, the gravy was finger-licking good.

Like Bert and Ernie, chilli crabs go hand-in-hand with Deep Fried Mini Buns ($10 at $0.50 per bun for 20 buns), fluffy insides with a crisp outer crust.

Yes, we may have indulged in lots of seafood, but we also loaded up on our greens. Although, I must admit that the Braised Homemade Beancurd ($32 for large) with spinach and mushrooms was so good that it shouldn't have counted as vegetables. I loved the plentiful mushrooms and luscious oyster sauce gravy in this.

The Braised Chinese Spinach ($32 for large) with conpoy, century egg and salted egg yolk was a lighter, but no less delicious, soupy vegetable dish.

The Mee Goreng ($28 for large) at Jumbo is famous. It's a Chinese-style of the Malay staple, with the predominant use of tomato ketchup sauce. That said, this was still deceptively spicy. Well fried with good wok hei. The prawns and squid were swimmingly fresh.

The Mango Pudding ($5) was a refreshingly fruity way to round off the heavy meal. Light and smooth with freshly diced mango.

Jumbo is run by Teochews, so it's not surprising to find a classically Teochew dessert such as "orh nee" on the menu. The Sweet Yam with Gingko Nut ($4.50) was moistened by a sweet corn soup.

The Hashima with Red Dates ($7.80) was another light dessert, if you can stomach the idea of eating frogs' fallopian tubes. The very plain hashima was sweetened with the use of red dates and rock sugar.

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant
The Riverwalk
20 Upper Circular Road #B1-48
The Riverwalk Singapore 058416
Tel: 6534-3435
Open daily for lunch from 12noon to 2.30pm
Dinner from 6pm to 12midnight
Website: www.jumboseafood.com.sg/
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