KSL City Mall, Johor, Malaysia

We escaped to KSL City in JB over the F1 weekend when the massive jams in the city got majorly annoying. The newish mall, opened in April last year, is like a half-priced version of our Far East Plaza. With about a gazillion mani-pedi bistros and massage (non-dodgy ones, mind you!) parlors, giant hypermart Tesco (which apparently reminds the Hubs of his poor broke undergrad days in the UK), and a huge cinema hall, we made a day of it exploring the labyrinth of a mall. And, with the very favourable exchange rate currently, our Singapore dollar was certainly stretched to the max. Brilliant for our self-imposed budget sequestration. 

And while the food basement may not be as extensive as, say, Takashimaya's food basement, there are a couple of hidden gems here that the locals flock to and you'll do well to seek them out. 

The Penang Laksa (RM$5) from D'Laksa was awesome and on its own, made our whirlwind trip worthwhile. The best Penang-style laksa we've had in quite some time. Here, chewy noodles, crisp lettuce, sardine flakes (you're lucky if you get a bunch of them), and tart raw onions are served up in a thin broth flavoured by tamarind, chilli, lemongrass and galangal. A thick dollop of stickily sweet prawn paste rounds off the barrage of flavours.

The stall facade for reference. Even if you don't immediately see this, you'll certainly smell this from a hundred meters away. The tantalizing smells were what drew us to this spot in the first instance.

Another place that drew us in, just by scent alone, was the Indonesian-style Tom Yum Soup (RM$6) loaded with plentiful fish balls, prawns, white fungus, chicken slices, and kangkong in a runny nose-inducingly spicy broth. Invariably compared to the Thai version, this was less sour, less shrimpy, with a chicken stock base that was just as potently hot.

The stall facade for reference. Even in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, the tables were all occupied. We had to share a teeny tiny spot with another couple.

To wash down all that grease and douse the fire in our bellies, a cup of Chendol (RM$3), with fat slivers of green jelly that slid down the throat, mushy red beans and a milky crushed ice sweetened with smoky gula melaka was just perfectly refreshing.

The stall facade for reference.

KSL City Mall
Johor Bahru
Website: www.kslcity.com.my


Burlamacco Ristorante

September's L.A. Lunch was held at Burlamacco Ristorante, a new-ish Italian restaurant that's been making its mark along the dining enclave du jour of Amoy Street. The restaurant boasts distinguished pedigree, with its chef having honed his skills in a couple of Italy's 1-Michellin-starred restaurants, and then in the local kitchens of Senso and Alkaff Mansion, while the matrie d' has headed the front of house at the very prolific Les Amis, Iggy's and Garibaldi. 

With pedigree like that, you would think that Burlamacco would be fantabulous right? Thing is, Burlamacco, in its attempt to set itself apart from its haute, stiff upper-lip heritage, has veered in the wrong direction. So anyways, Burlamacco purportedly means "carnival", and it appears that the service consequently adopted an overtly casual and uncomfortably familiar approach. Reactions to the well-meaning but inappropriate approach of the service staff ranged from the mild uncomfortable to the downright offensive. There were a number of stony faces by the second inappropriate joke told by the waiter. The waiter probably thought we lawyers are the sort to appreciate crass but probably forgot that we're first and foremost, Asians, and that Asians are still a pretty conservative lot. The general feedback by my colleagues was for the wait staff to tone down the overt familiarity adopted and keep service unintrusive and professional.

Inappropriate service aside, the food was great. In fact, most of my colleagues had comments along the lines of "service was inappropriate/too bold/offensive/(insert negative remark here), but the food was great/fantastic/flawless/(insert praise here)".

Another upside of this restaurant is that their weekday set lunches are priced very competitively at $26 for 2 courses and $34 for 3 courses. At these prices, they probably have the cheapest set lunch promotions in or around the CBD.

An absolute must-try here is the Uova al Pomodoro ($16), a trio of farm-fresh eggs softly baked in a garlicky tomato puree and garnished with fresh herbs, is like an Italian rendition of my beloved Turkish shashouka. We loved this. It was absolutely superb. The eggs were cooked perfectly, soft and wobbly whites with a semi runny yolk.

The Tomato and Feta Cheese Salad with olives and mesclun (part of the set lunch appetizer option) is simplicity at its finest with the procurement of really sweet and fresh vegetables.

The Crab Bisque (part of the set lunch appetizer option) with peas and white beans had a seafresh sweetness that was balanced with a roasted smokiness.

The Battuta di Tonno e Avocado ($26), with impossibly fresh and naturally sweet chopped red tuna was complemented by the creamy ripened avocadoes. Light, clear flavours that was crisp and refreshing.

The Involtino di Prosciutto e Mozzarella ($24), a couple of chewy mozzarella swaddled in ribbons of gorgeous parma ham and pan-fried for a melty consistency makes for a fail-safe appetizer. Baby spinach and a balsamic reduction balance the richness with a piquant bitterness.

The Pan Fried Foie Gras (premium option top up of $10 to the set lunch), a pleasantly larger than expected portion, is countered with a tartish green tomato relish and fruity pomegranate seeds.

We also liked the Duck Confit (part of the set lunch mains option), thoroughly flavourful with a fork-tender texture and crisp-as-paper skin, served atop roasted baby potatoes, a carrot and white bean stew and drizzled with molten brown jus. A comfortingly homestyled hearty roast.

The Ravioli di Carne in Crema di Funghi ($24), ravioli stuffed with hearty veal and slathered in a luscious porcini mushroom cream sauce was pretty good. Even if it does look a brown gooey mess. This is best shared with friends though, as it can tend towards the cloying.

The Pan-fried Seabass Fillet (part of the set lunch mains option) with a duo of potato and beetroot mash with sauteed zucchini was indeed praise-worthy. Filleted generously, moist, flaky and well-salted, with an incredibly crisp skin, the freshness of the fish was done justice. A great yin-ying balance of flavours with that potato and beetroot mash.

A signature dish here, the Linguine all’Aragosta ($30), soft and chewy homemade flat pasta with huge chunks of lobster tossed in a spicy and garlicky arrabbiata sauce was a big hit. A wonderful confluence of flavours here.

A signature, the Costato di Manzo alla Burlamacco ($38) of slow cooked beef short ribs was meltingly tender and intensely flavoured with a marsala red wine sauce, served atop a bed of mash that was whipped light as air, and poached green beans.

The Pan Roasted Grain-fed Beef Tenderloin (premium option top up of $10 to the set lunch), grilled to a perfect medium rare, was juicy and full-bodied. A rich veal jus provided libation, while truffle scented fries and green beans provided accompaniment.

Another signature here, the Fish Cacciucco alla Burlamacco ($40), a traditional Tuscan fish and seafood soup, utilising the freshest catch stewed in a tomatoey base, was wonderfully rich yet delicate. Crusty garlic bruschetta was brilliant for wiping up every last bit of that luscious soup.

The Gnocchi Agli Scampi ($32) of spinach-infused potato dumplings with gargantuan prawns was tasty, hearty and an explosion of seafresh flavours with every bite.

The Risotto al Nero di Seppia ($28), yet another signature of a traditional Florentine black squid ink risotto was lavishly capped with an edible gold foil. The squid ink lent a moreish flavour that kept the starchy al dente rice light.

For vegetarians, the restaurant was pleasantly obliging in whipping up a special, off-menu order of a Mushroom Risotto ($26) loaded with porcini and tomatoes that cut through the richness.

The Chocolate Crostata with Vanilla Ice-cream (premium top up of $6 to the set lunch), a tart version of a chocolate lava cake, was delicious. Nuanced, with a semi-sweet chocolate in a buttery base heated till oozy, this was one of the more memorable chocolate tarts.

The Tiramisu alla Burlamacco ($14), apparently a heritage recipe, was exquisite. Perfectly moist and heady with lady finger biscuits and mascarpone

Warm crusty mini baguettes, fresh out of the oven, to load up on while waiting for our mains to arrive.

Burlamacco Ristorante
77A Amoy Street
Tel: 6220 1763
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Saturdays from 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Sundays from 11.30am to 3pm for brunch
Website: burlamacco.com.sg


Old Town White Coffee, Novena Square 2

*Sidenote: Pardon my choppy posts, as I'm dealing with moving house and an upcoming trial. Oh my, when it rains, it pours.*

I've always thought Old Town White Coffee is like a Malaysian version of Killiney Kopitiam. A primarily kopi place with a smallish warm foods menu centered around the breakfast duo of kaya toast and soft boiled eggs. Turns out, on closer inspection of its menu, the fare served up is really quite extensive, and very much in line with that of Madam Kwan's and Grandma's. Being a Malaysian franchise brought in by the multi-hypenate funnyman Mark Lee, the food is grounded in Malaysian classics like assam laksa, prawn noodles, nasi lemak, and ipoh hor fan. You wouldn't think that a skinny guy like Mark Lee would know much about food, but the food here is pretty awesome. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality, and how incredibly value-for-money the stuff is here.

Take for example, the Signature Dry Ipoh Chicken Hor Fan ($8.90), which is a must-try here. Not least because it's amazingly cheap and generously portioned. The slippery flat rice noodles went down like a dream with the wonderfully fragrant soya sauce. Moist and tasty poached chicken thigh, fresh and sweet prawns and the obligatory parboiled green veggies topped the substantive creation. Definitely one of the better ipoh hor fans I've had in a long while. I would return just for this alone.

Another signature, the Rendang Chicken Rice ($11.50), with fried peanuts and ikan bilis, piquant achar, kickass sambal that was as spicy as it was sweet, a fried egg, pappadom crisps and a mound of aromatic coconut rice, was awesome, and strictly for big eaters. Special mention must be given to the chicken, a hulking chunk of fried chicken thigh coated in that thick rendang rempah. It was juicy and lipsmackingly good. I was left sucking on the bone for every last bit of flavour.

The Paratha ($3.90) may have been of the generic supermarket frozen foods variety, but I appreciated that this was lacking in oil and nicely toasted. Besides, when married with really good curry, who cares about the soaking medium, right?

Have you ever wanted just potatoes in your curry chicken, but had to order the chicken just to get them? Well, at Old Town, you don't have to! There's an option to order just the Curry Potato ($2.90), with 7 large chunks of softly boiled potatoes dunked in a fiery, creamy, albeit oily, curry. This may have been a carb-overload with the prata, but it was just so delicious, I figured I'd just work that extra hour at muay thai class the next day.

Old Town White Coffee
Novena Square 2
10 Sinaran Drive
Tel: 6397 7078
Open daily from 8am to 10pm


Lau Pa Sat Festival Market

Clearly, this is quite an outdated post, and I'm not sure if this will still be relevant after the revamp, but here goes!

I've never noticed this but there's quite a large number of stalls at Lau Pa Sat serving North Indian cuisine. It may have something to do with the fact that there is a correspondingly large number of Indian expats working in the CBD that flock to this open-air food court.

Beeps was hankering for some Indian food that day and so, we decided to try the Indian food here. The only North Indian food I've ever had were from fairly notable North Indian restaurants, and never from a food court, so I was surprised to find that this wasn't half bad. In fact, it was more than passable. What made it more palatable was the price points of the lunch sets here. I suppose they don't need to factor overheads such as air-conditioning and rental of nice restaurant digs.

The Lunch Set ($6) comprised some masala potatoes, cumin-laced sauteed long beans and carrots, a couple of tandoori chicken that could be a little moister, tasty biryani rice and a fragrant garlic naan.

I was craving something soupy and comforting during this weird early-arrival of a monsoon season, so I headed to the ever-popular Jason Yong Tau Foo. I tried to keep this vegetarian, with cabbage, kailan, tomatoes, fish paste-stuffed chillis and lady's fingers drowned in a pool of yellow beaned broth.

Lau Pa Sat is now closed for renovations so stay tuned for the latest addresses of my favourite stalls after it's scheduled to be open later this year.

Lau Pa Sat Festival Market
18 Raffles Quay


Hai Tien Lo

Pan Pacific Hotel, in keeping with the times, recently underwent major renovations. High time, I say. The hotel had been looking a little dated amongst the gleaming younger set of hotels in the Marina Bay area. The third level of the hotel has been re-designed like a open-concept mezzanine reserved for the hotel's restaurants. Hai Tien Lo, the award-winning Cantonese restaurant favoured by the well-heeled, is now on the third floor, and no longer perched on the topmost floor of the hotel, so it's a fond farewell to the expansive seaviews.

We'd decided we needed a change-up from our usual brunch at Cherry Garden, and hence, headed to Hai Tien Lo's Weekend A La Carte Yum Cha Buffet ($68++ for food only; $128++ with alcohol). It's not so much a dim sum buffet as it is a lunch buffet, but notwithstanding the limited range of dim sum, we really liked the buffet here. Hai Tien Lo is renowned for serving up some really exquisite Cantonese cuisine, so it's not too far off that their ala carte buffet would fare well too.

What we liked about Hai Tien Lo is that, unlike many ala carte buffet places, it doesn't have that staggered seating system. Here at Hai Tien Lo, we sat down for the entire duration of the lunch opening and had ourselves an incredibly leisurely brunch. I suppose that was how we managed to finish everything.We were there when it opened at 11.30 am till well past 3 pm after it'd closed.

Service was almost flawless; warm and friendly, if a little bumbling as some of our orders were mixed up.

There were a couple of dishes that are restricted to just a single order per table, like the Steamed Pomfret in chef's special spicy sauce, a plummy sweetish blended chilli paste emulsified with delicate soy. The fish was impossibly fresh, its freshness done justice by steaming to a moist perfection.

The Quick Fried Hokkaido Scallops was so lightly cooked you can still see the faint pink hue in the middle. The creamy scallops were lightly sauteed with sugar snap peas and, in keeping within the family, topped with crisp-fried dried scallops for a salty briny finish.

The Braised Abalone, naturally also a single order per person, was soft and succulent, set atop a smooth beancurd, a broccoli floret and slathered with a luscious oyster gravy.

The soups here were ah-mazing. We loved them all. The Double Boiled Buddha Jumps over the Wall, the last of the single-order-per-person dishes, is usually something I don't eat because I'm not a fan of the dried seafood that goes into it, was superb. The soup had real richness of depth. A whole hunk of shark's fin, chunks of dried scallops, sweet wolfberries, juicy Chinese black mushrooms, deer tendon and cordycep flowers provided texture.

The Double Boiled Chicken Soup was my favourite. It was delicate but oxymoronically packed with flavour. White Fungus and Chinese black mushrooms lent texture.

The collagen-rich Double Boiled Prawn and Preserved Vegetable in Shark Bone Broth wasn't as salty as you'd expect. This was smooth and surprisingly light, with the use of piquant tomatoes to cut through the richness of its collagen base.

The sunshiney Double Boiled Scallop and Pearl Mushroom in supreme chicken stock was creamy, silky, generous with the scallop bits and shimeiji caps, with a mellow base.

For appetizers, we loved nibbling on the light-as-air Thai Style Crispy Fish Skin, made a little tart and spicy by raw shallots and fish-sauced bird's eye chillis.

The Deep Fried Fillet of Sea Perch with salt and pepper, another great snacker, was wonderfully crisp and addictive.

The Crispy Barbecued Pork Belly was decent; tender and salty, proper fat-to-meat-ratio, and crunchy skin, but somehow, generically forgettable.

Generally, the dim sum were unimpressive. They were decent but just lacking in that finesse in execution. The ubiquitous dim sum duo of Steamed Shrimp Dumpling and Steamed Pork Dumpling were juicy, had the right bouncy texture, but clunky. Even if the siew mai was lavishly topped with caviar beads. 

The Deep Fried Beancurd Sheet stuffed with Prawn Paste was prettily be-ribboned with a seaweed strip. Crisp golden skin and juicy fresh prawn mince fillings. Too bad it was laced liberally with parsley, urgh.

The Steamed Vegetarian Dumplings stuffed with diced mushrooms and vegetables would have been great but for the overwhelming addition of ginger. I just couldn't make out anything else in this.

Compared to the limited and unmemorable dim sum, the mains made for the better part of lunch. Like the Poached Fresh Prawns, unbelievably fresh and sweet.

The Sauteed Venison, seasoned simply with ginger and spring onion, was juicy and moist, if a tad gamey.

The Braised Pork Chucks were supposedly laced with truffles but there was about one tiny shred of it, and for most part, none of us could tell this was truffled. Still, this was very nicely done. Tender, moist and delicate.

The Sweet and Sour Pork was very commendable, with pickled pink ginger balancing the sweetness of the ketchup-base sauce.

We really liked the Braised Beancurd with conpoy and a trio of century, salted duck and chicken eggs. Saucey and thick and luscious.

The Braised Homemade Beancurd with minced pork and pine mushrooms in chef's homemade XO chilli sauce was another fabulous main. We wiped up that lovely meaty gravy.

The Fragrant Fried Carrot Cake was a lot larger than I'd expected. Each cube was a big mouthful. That said, this had a nice charred crust and soft insides.

For desserts, the Jackfruit and Coconut Pudding was a modern take on the traditional kuehs. Fruity and refreshingly light.

The Matcha Cake was one of the better ones I've had. Moist, airy and nuanced.

The Chocolate Cake used semi-sweet chocolate and a sour strawberry wedge for a balanced sweetness. 

Hai Tien Lo
Pan Pacific Hotel Level 3
7 Raffles Boulevard
Tel: 6826 8240
Open daily from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
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