Jones The Grocer, ION Orchard

We'd popped by Jones The Grocer for a late lunch after a bout of homeware shopping. Quick sidenote: furnishing the home is quickly becoming a real pain. All the little things like dinnerware and flatware and serveware and drinkware may cost little on their own but sure add up to a lot! I'm trying my best to rein in the spending but I always inadvertently overspend. The stuff at Crate & Barrel are just too pretty! *end of sidenote*

Food at Jones The Grocer is distinctively Australian, with a clear focus on really good and fresh ingredients with minimal cooking. Unpretentious, straightforward food that's wholesome and refreshingly uncomplicated. I liked it.

However, service was woefully inefficient. The many waitresses were pleasant and cheery enough, but our water cups were left unfilled until the end of our meal. After we had to ask. The Hubs didn't get a paper napkin but I did. We walked into the restaurant and had to sit ourselves. It was already past the peak lunch hours and the restaurant was barely half-filled so there's really no excuse for such lapses in service.

I got the Soft Herb Risotto ($26) with asparagus, taleggio and black truffle oil. It's been a while since I last had risotto and this was a welcome homecoming of sorts, even if there wasn't a trace of truffle oil in this. It had great texture, with a toothsome bite, and while starchy, was not the least bit cloying. It had a pleasant simplicity to it, flavours were kept light with just asparagus and copious shavings of sharp taleggio cheese.

The Hubs chowed down on Angel Hair Pasta with Blue Swimmer Crab ($28) with chilli, rocket, garlic and grana padano. The freshly shredded crabmeat was incredibly sweet, and we loved it. The cut chillis provided a mild heat and rocket leaves lent a peppery lift to balance the sweetness of the crab. A tiny gripe would be the itsy bits of crabshell that I had to ungracefully spit out.

Jones The Grocer
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard #04-14
Tel: 6884 5597
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.jonesthegrocer.com


Secret Recipe, CPF Building

In my line of work, turnovers are pretty high so it's sometimes heartbreaking when the colleagues that you have come to call friends go elsewhere. You suddenly find yourself having to find new lunch buddies, or bitch friends (aka friends that you trust to bitch about work with). Jase is one of the few people that I've come to call a friend that I care to mix with outside of the work environment.

Because he works at the Tanjong Pagar area, we met halfway at the CPF Building for lunch at Secret Recipe. Secret Recipe is one of those affordably-priced Halal eateries with better sweets than they do savouries. Cakes here are cheap, ginormous and more-than-decent but the savouries are a mixed bag of hits and misses. Just remember to dial down your expectations when dining here.

To my surprise, inspite of my tampered expectations, I liked the Minestrone Soup ($5.20). It was choc-a-bloc with vegetables, and the tomato-based broth was sweet and tangy and rich. I particularly liked the buttery herby garlicky baguette.

The Spaghetti Meatballs ($12.90) was disappointingly amateurish. Very much reminiscent of Pastamania but I suppose it caters to the same crowd. The beef balls were huge but too dry and lacking in flavour. I think even Kang (who is a total noob at cooking) could have done a better job with the meatballs.

Secret Recipe 79 Robinson Road
CPF Building
Tel: 6220 1511
Open Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 8pm
Website: www.secretrecipe.com.sg


The Curry Wok

In the purportedly upscale Bukit Timah suburbs, where cheap restaurants are few and far between, the restaurants along Coronation Arcade are a godsend if you're cash-strapped. Or trying to be financially prudent.

Curry Wok's apparently been around for ages, but somehow, I never quite got around to patronizing it until we moved to the area. This no-frills eatery has a welcoming homey ambience, and much of it has to do with the likeable affable owner. He's so jolly and sincerely smiley he could moonlight as a mall Santa. 

The best way to describe Curry Wok's fare is "local" because, like our melting pot culture, the food served here is a veritable mix of Peranakan, Hainanese, Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew and Malay cuisines. I suppose the majority of the dishes here are all based on its moniker, i.e. curries, although I do spy a fair number of non-spicy dishes.

You'll do well to order the Sayur Lodeh ($8), a medley of wilted cabbage, long beans and crunchy sweet carrots simmered in a rich and spicy curry. Together with Pagi Sore's version, Curry Wok does one of the best renditions of this Malay/Peranakan staple.

Another favourite of ours is the Curry Chicken ($8), Nonya-style and cooked to perfection that even a finicky Peranakan doyenne will approve. It's creamy and heady, with just a film of chilli oil for extra kick. It's spicy without numbing your tongue, and I could finish the delicious gravy on its own with bread or rice. Of course, the succulent chicken and softened potatoes are great sidekicks to the highlight that is the scrumptious gravy.

The Hubs loves the Otak Otak ($8) here. LOVES. It's fresh and moist and nicely textured with whole chunks of very fresh fish layered into it. We've been known to takeaway the otak on its own for supper as a wonderfully addictive snack.

The Sambal Sotong ($10) was cooked just right. Cooked through but not rubbery, it is well balanced between the chewy and soft. Beware the sambal though, its roasted sweetness belies how spicy it really is.

A popular signature here, the Curry Fish Head ($22) is swimmingly fresh, so it's a joy to pick off the flesh. The freshest version of curry fish head I've ever had. No contest. The curry is creamy and full of coconutty goodness, with just the slightest hint of tang.

The Hainanese Pork Chop ($8) is one of the not-so-greats, especially when compared to the rest of the stellar dishes. The meat is just a little too tough and lacking in a little moisture. That said, this was still passable.

We like the Prawn Omelette ($8). A heavy hand was given to the supply of diced fresh prawns, while properly sweated onions lent a toasty sweetness to the fluffy egg.

The Hubs is totally in love with the sambal here.Freshly pounded in-house, with a lime wedge for a sour tinge, this was tongue-numbingly spicy. Just the way he likes it.

The Curry Wok
5 Coronation Road
Coronation Arcade #01-04
Tel: 6464 8878
Open Wednesdays to Mondays from 11am to 11pm
Closed on Tuesdays


[Invited Tasting & Revisit] Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao, Holland Village

This marks my first ever invited tasting, courtesy of Insing and HungryGoWhere. It was incredibly fun to get to know the faces behind some of the blogs I'd been following for some time. I don't have many friends who blog about food, so it was great to hear about the different motivations for blogging. There were quite a number of revelations too, food-wise, as Samantha of Crystal Jade took the trouble to explain how each dish is made.

We dine at the Holland Village outlet of the Crystal Jade La Mian XLB chain of restaurants fairly frequently, so you could say I'm pretty familiar with the stuff here. By and large, what was served at the tasting was in line with the stuff I'd come to expect of the ever-dependable Crystal Jade Group. Still, I went back a couple of days later, incognito, to try the same dishes with the Hubs, as a quality control of sorts. Save for the marinated chicken, everything else, including the service, was on par with the tasting.

Service here is swift and perfunctorily efficient. I've always been partial to Crystal Jade's elderly auntie waitresses, they may be no spring chickens but they sure move like one!

I've always wondered how chefs get the soup into these little dumpling bundles, and it turns out that the stock is made into a jelly and then blended into the pork mince. Upon steaming, the jelly bits melt, filling the dumpling pockets with soup. And to think I used to think that the stock was injected into the dumplings! Here, the eponymous Steamed Soupy Xiao Long Bao ($5.20 for 4 pcs) was very respectable. I've always been enamoured with Din Tai Fung's version, but Crystal Jade's rendition is relatively competitive. The skin may be slightly thicker than DTF's version, but it's still thin enough and chewy. The pork mince is fresh, and the soup is delicate and sweet.

The Chicken Marinated with Chinese Wine & Wolfberry ($9) is a popular starter dish. Succulent chicken is dunked in a cloudy, collagen-rich broth sweetened with wolfberries and Chinese Shaoxing wine.

During my return visit, the appetizer was noticeably more chilled and there was a definite increase in the alcoholic levels of Chinese wine. This was a lot more heady, but somehow, cleaner in taste. This made for a crisper, clearer, more enticing appetizer, whereas the former would have fared better as a side dish for its more rounded flavours.

The Spicy & Sour Soup in 'Sichuan' Style ($7.50) was choc-a-bloc with ingredients - soft beancurd strips, slippery Chinese black mushrooms and egg drops mingled with crunchy julienned bamboo shoots and black fungus for a toothsome bite. Just the right balance was struck between the sour and spicy, and these flavours were in abundance so I was left sniffling a fair bit. For those who love their chilli, you can opt to spice it further by adding chilli oil.

On my return visit, the Hubs loved this for its strong robust flavours, it was just as sour as it was spicy. You've been duly warned.

The Braised Pork Belly ($14.80), is another popular choice here. Hours of braising had resulted in a gelatinous skin and meltingly tender meat. This was the Shanghainese version of our Hokkien kong bak, with a more savoury mellow flavour than its sweet overtures of the more intensely flavoured Hokkien counterpart.

As with the Hokkien-style kong bak bao, fluffy steamed pancakes were on hand to sandwich the fatty pork. A plain contrast to the richly seasoned meat.

On the return visit, the Hubs mentioned, while wolfing down the sinfully fatty meat, that he needed to get more insurance. In particular, those that covered heart disease. If there ever was a (good) reason to lie (by omission) to your cardiologist, this would be it. 

The Sauteed Egg White with Fish Meat and Conpoy ($13.50) is a dish we order quite regularly here. Best eaten piping hot, because it develops a cloying film when tepid. The fluffy clouds of perfectly fried scrambled egg whites relied on the umami taste of shredded conpoy and Chinese ham bits for flavour. Texture aside, this is very delicate, almost verging on plain. For those who prefer stronger flavours, this may not be as palatable for you as it was for me.

I loved the Spicy Chicken with Poached La Mian ($9.80). It's basically a Shanghainese version of the Hubs' much beloved Korean cold spicy noodles (bibim naeng myeon). It blended the piquant and sweet with spicy to make a delightfully refreshing, palate-cleansing clear dish. For a carb dish, this didn't feel carby at all.

On my return visit, the Hubs' tasting notes were that he'd have preferred this much colder, and more piquant. To be fair, he was comparing it to his incomparable Korean cold spicy noodles. That said, this made for a passable substitute to tide him over his motherland cravings till we make our yearly pilgrimage to Seoul. 

For dessert, the Mango Pudding ($6) is always a crowd pleaser. World-renowned Philippines mangoes are used here, with half a mango made into chunks and the remaining half juiced into the pudding. The pudding is smooth and sweet but not overtly so, with plentiful diced mango cubes laced into it.

Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao
Holland Village
241 / 241A Holland Ave
Tel: 6463 0968
Open daily from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.crystaljade.com/


Cake Avenue

Much of my office culture revolves around food. We have our L.A. Lunches/Dinners/Drinks, and although "L.A.", strictly speaking, refers to Legal Associates, the trainees and partners are all included in such lunches/dinners/drinks as well. And somehow, there's always food, junk or otherwise, in the office. In fact, one of my colleagues, Mr J, actually has a personal mini fridge in his office with a stash of artisanal chocolates that never seem to run out. You know about the "freshmen 15"? Here, it's the "trainee 20"!

A colleague had delivered cupcakes to the office to celebrate her baby girl's one-month, and I couldn't resist them because they were just too cute! These were quite good too, moist and dense. The Hubs particularly liked the chocolate chip ones, while I took to the plain vanilla ones.

Cute as a button

Got milk?

How adorable are these booties? All together now, aww!


Pretty as a bib

Cake Avenue
Tel: 6877 9008
Website: www.cakeavenue.com


Cherry Garden

It's been a while since we last dined at Cherry Garden. Ever since we signed on the dotted line for our home, we've tried to be more financially prudent. Operative word being "tried". Since Ernie's birthday was coming up, we chanced upon the opportunity to have ourselves an indulgent brunch. It's all Ernie's fault, of course. He wanted dim sum and also, he wanted brunch, and really, no one else does dim sum brunch buffet like Cherry Garden.

In my view, Cherry Garden offers the best weekend dim sum brunch buffet around. I usually stay away from buffets because they typically place quantity and variety over quality, and seriously, if I can stuff myself silly with dim sum at Lei Garden for less than Cherry Garden's pricey tag of $68++, then to hell with quantity and variety right? But, Cherry Garden's dim sum brunch is awesome in that most of their dishes are pretty much on par with Lei Garden's dim sum. Every dish is exquisite and epicurean.

Service is also flawless, attentive but not in the slightest bit intrusive, professional but still warm and genuine. Our teacups were never left half-filled for more than a minute. And, the best part about brunch here is the lack of a crowd. It always seems so exclusive. Although the restaurant has been around for ages, it seems that the masses haven't quite caught onto its presence. I love how underrated this hidden gem is!

The Siew Mai was lavishly capped with a mini abalone. Too bad I ain't no fan of this shellfish. So I promptly took it off and gave it to Ernie instead. Save for the abalone, I thought this was great. A nice bouncy texture, and great flavour with fresh pork and juicy mushrooms.

The Har Gow was dusted with edible gold powder for a touch of luxury. The translucent skin on this was thin and ever so slightly chewy, and the prawns were sweet and fresh, enlivened by bits of spongy bamboo pith.

The Steamed Conpoy Dumplings was topped off with fish roe for a burst of seafresh flavours. The  delicately sweet scallops and shrimp mix filling was a nice contrast against the umami fish roe and conpoy topping, while parsley lent additional flavour.

The Steamed Xiao Long Bao was decent but a tad forgettable. Din Tai Fung still reigns as king over this Shanghainese classic. The skin could have been thinner and the soup content higher, but the broth was very good. Not a hint of MSG. Just good ol' double boiling of pure chicken bones.

The Steamed Dumplings with Shrimps and Crabmeat laced water chestnut for a bit of crunch and parsley for a flavourful lift. Ernie liked the sweetness of the crabmeat in this.

The Crystal Dumplings with Assorted Mushrooms and Zucchini was my favourite. I had myself third helpings of this! It had a plainness about it that I loved. The clear chewy gelatinous skin was complemented by the delicate sweetness of the carrots, beans, zucchini and woodsy mushrooms.

The Steamed Kurobuta Char Siew Bao was another respectable dish, with sweet and smoky barbecued pork encased in fluffy airy buns.

The Hubs loved the Wok-fried Radish Cake in XO Sauce. A little spicy, a little eggy, a little shrimpy, beansprouts provided a refreshing crunch to the babyfood-soft cubes of radish cake. We got seconds of this as well.

The Beancurd Skin Roll of Avocado and Prawns was fried very well, achieving a crisp, not oily finish, and the avocado was a unique twist.

The Pan-fried Gyoza stuffed with spicy eggplant, minced chicken, tofu and mushrooms had a delectably chewy skin. Nice balance of textures and flavours.

The accompanying fruit salad was a refreshing counter to the Deep-fried Crystal Prawns Dumpling. A welcome lift to an otherwise run-of-the-mill dish.

Cherry Garden's Steamed Sweetened Custard Bao is uniquely filled with dark chocolate. We liked the bittersweet elements of the dark chocolate to this.

Apart from the dim sum selection which is free flow, everything else on the menu is limited to one portion. The soups are similarly limited to one portion per person. I got the Double Boiled Trio of Mushrooms Soup loaded with white fungus, bamboo pith, carrots, baby corn, and sweetened naturally by wolfberries and red dates. A nourishing but delicious clear broth.

The Hubs, a meat-lover, opted for the Thick Superior Soup with Wagyu Beef and Egg White. This was surprisingly light, and the beef was oxymoronically delicate and robust. I loved the shimeiji caps and plentiful egg white drops in this.

Ernie got the nutritious Double Boiled Lotus Root Soup, and I liked that the lotus roots had been stewed long enough to be super soft so eating it didn't require a titanium-strength teeth.

We also got a duo of roasted meats.

The Roasted Pork Belly was sufficiently flavoursome but the skin wasn't great. It was more chewy than crunchy. This was a bit of a disappointment.

Same goes for the Cherry Wood Charcoal Roasted Duck. The duck wasn't sparkling fresh, but the skin was delicious. We stripped this clean of them skin and gobbled them up.

The Wok-fried Kurobuta Pork with garlic, leek, and honshimeiji mushrooms was surprisingly full-bodied. The meat was tender but not artificially so, and the oyster based sauce was complementarily light.

The Cooked Live Prawns in Herbal Soup was swimmingly fresh, sweet on its own but made even sweeter by the herbal accents of the soup. We slurped up every last drop of the delicious broth.

The Braised Cod Fillet with Spinach Tofu was another winner. The fatty cod was lightly coated in a thin batter and fried to an even crisp. A thin sauce provided additional libation.

The Deep-fried Mantou with Chilli Crab Dip was perfect for a lazy bum like Ernie who hates having to scrape out the flesh from crabs. Here, fresh, not frozen crabmeat was used to chunk up the tomato-ish, mildly spicy chilli crab dip.

We loved the vegetables selection, in particular, the Wok-fried Seasonal Vegetables and Mushrooms in XO Sauce. I think it all boils down to the XO sauce. It just adds that special pizazz to any dish.

A more delicately seasoned green, the Poached Chinese Spinach with a Trio of Eggs, was also a hit.They were very generous with the century, salted and farm fresh eggs, while woldberries lent a subtle sweetness and roasted garlic bulbs lent extra taste.

The Chilled Cream of Mango with sago pearls, pomelo and lime sorbet was a perfect way to round off the heavy meal. The sour overtones of this was just such a refreshing palate cleanser.

The Cherries in Nui Er Hong and Kuei Hua Chen Chinese Wine Cocktail Jelly and lychee sorbet was another refreshing dessert. A perfect end to a perfect meal. We'll be back. Real soon.

Cherry Garden
The Mandarin Oriental
5 Raffles Ave
Level 5
Tel: 6338 0066 / 6885 3030
Open daily from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch and 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
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