Takumi Tokyo, Keppel Bay

Hidden away in a little nook on the second level of Keppel Island is a little-known Japanese restaurant, Takumi Tokyo, beloved by the Japanese expat community. With expansive views of the marina and Sentosa coastline, the restaurant is sophisticated, but relaxed. An insider tip is to partake in their weekday lunches; they serve up unbelievably cheap sets that make it very worthwhile to drive out here for lunch. 

The Saba Set ($15) comprised a perfectly grilled slab of fish, burnished to a gorgeous gold and delectably moist. The bonito-flaked parboiled spinach and sauteed mushrooms were served refreshingly chilled.

The Tempura Hot Soba Set ($15) paired a wholesome bowl of soupy buckwheat noodles, with a duo of massive inari sushi, marinated spinach, and sauteed mushrooms.

My favourite, the Tempura Soba Set ($15) juxataposed the piping hot crisp of tempura moriawase with the cool clarity of the icy soba noodles. This was sided by kelp-garnished bamboo shoots, bonito-topped lady's fingers and a couple of inari sushi.

The Pork Cutlet Don Set ($15), with a sirloin cut was tender but the egg scramble was a smidge overdone.

The Beef on Garlic Rice Set ($15) was aromatic and flavourful. Loved the copious lashings of fried garlic bits.

The Tai-Chazuke Set ($18) topped with oodles of soy-marinated sea-bream, and a teapot of dashi stock to add on as a porridge, was comfort food at its delicate best on a cool rainy day.

All the sets were started off with a half-cup of Chawanmushi, dotted with shitake, chicken and prawn dice.

To round off the meal, we were served a dessert of fruit cups, with melons, pineapples, strawberries and mangoes in a pool of sweet syrup.

An off-menu item that the chef very kindly obliged at my request, the Dobinmushi ($16) was refined, delicate, and choc-a-bloc with sparkling fresh seafood. 

Takumi Tokyo
#02-01 Marina at Keppel Bay
Keppel Bay Vista
Tel: 6271 7414
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Sundays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner


Ichiban Boshi, Vivocity

We stopped by Ichiban Boshi for a quick, low-fuss lunch. The food's far from the best, but prices are relatively cheap, and makes for a reasonably value meal if you stick to a few tried-and-tested basics. 

The Chicken Katsu Toji ($10.90), a moist chicken cutlet was slathered with a slightly overdone scrambled egg and sweetish brown sauce.

The Dobinmushi ($7.90), a teapot soup of dashi stock flavoured with a melange of seafood like prawns and white fish, and sweetened by enoki and shitake, was intensely umami. 

The Hotate Kinono Kaminabe ($17.90), a paper hotpot laden with scallops, salmon, prawn, beancurd, enoki, shitake in a shoyu stock, was rich and robust.

Ichiban Boshi
1 Harbourfront Ave
Vivocity B2-07
Tel: 6376 8318
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 10pm;
Sundays from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.ichibanboshi.com.sg


Ramen Bari Uma

Bari Uma Ramen, a specialist in onomichi ramen, marries the heady saltiness of shoyu and the robust depth of tonkotsu. A Hiroshima import with branches all over Japan, they've recently opened their second outlet in Singapore along the sleepy end of Orchard that is Tanglin Shopping Centre.

The offerings here are mostly variants of the onomichi ramen, doctored with nori, chillis, or a medley of toppings. In addition to the ramen and the ubiquitous gyoza, they also serve up a small selection of yakitori, so the cosy little izakaya-styled joint may seem a little smoky.

The Kara-Uma ($16) was the spiciest ramen I've had to date. The shoyu-flavoured pork-based broth was liberally spiked with dried red chillis for an intensely rich heat. The chashu here, I noticed, was thicker than most other places, but wonderfully tender and imbued with a smoky charring. The refreshingly clear Corn ($2) helped to somewhat alleviate the spiciness.

For those who prefer their flavours clear and delicate, the Shoyu-Uma ($12) was like a beta version of the standard shoyu-flavoured pork-based broth. The thick-cut flamed chashu was served in a half-portion as well, but we also added Corn ($2) and a marinated soft-boiled Egg ($2). Ramen just wouldn't be complete without an egg.

We supplemented our ramen with some Pan-Fried Gyoza ($6.80 for 5pcs), delightfully chewy with a beautifully golden and crisp side, and stuffed with juicy chicken mince and spring onions.

Ramen Bari Uma
19 Tanglin Road
Tanglin Shopping Centre B1-01/02
Tel: 6887 4484
Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm


Fatboys The Burger Bar, Far East Plaza

The Burger Bar is a scaled-down version of the Fatboys' chain of burger bars strewn across the island. A hole-in-the-wall of teeny bopper hangout Far East Plaza, this tiny diner is manned by a satellite crew. It's entirely self-serviced (you place your orders through the ipads and make payment at the cashiers), and clearing up after oneself is de rigueur.

The menu here is, likewise, downsized, so expect a decidedly limited choice of burgers, sides, and canned and bottled drinks. At least they've retained their build-your-own-burger (aka '"BYOB") option, I'm a big fan of customisation. 

The Beef Cheeseburger ($7.50) laden with Bacon ($2), Fried Egg ($1.50), Caramelised Onions ($1), with standard toppings such as tomato, cheese (monterey, in this instance) and gilded with a premium Smoked Chipotle Sauce ($0.50), wedged between pillowy sesame seed buns, was a sinfully delicious greasebomb. Really awesomesauce, but best eaten piping hot when the oil hasn't soaked through and wilted everything out.

The Beef Cheeseburger laden with Fried Egg ($1.50), whole grilled Portobello ($3.50), Caramelised Onions ($1), melted cheddar and slathered with a Roasted Garlic Aioli ($0.50) and clamped between a wholemeal bun for a minutely healthier option. Shouldn't have heeded the damn health advisories, coz the wholemeal bun option ruined the entire concept of a cheeseburger. Go big or go home, eh?

The Chicken Cheeseburger ($7.50) comprised a succulent chicken fillet grilled to a perfect smoky hue, brushed with a premium Smoked Chipotle Sauce ($0.50) and layered with Bacon ($2), Honey Baked Ham ($2) alongside standard garnishes such as shredded lettuce, tomato slice, cheese (cheddar) sandwiched by fluffy sesame seed-studded buns. Excellent stuff. 

The Burger Bar, a Fatboy's Concept
Far East Plaza #01-16A/B
14 Scotts Road
Tel: 6737 3315
Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm


Outram Park Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh, Keppel

This Bak Kut Teh institution on the fringes of the CBD is a branch of Ya Hua at Havelock Road, but unlike the Havelock original, this is completely non-air-conditioned. It's got a bigger space and larger capacity, but it's not the most conducive of environments to be indulging in refillable bowls of piping hot soup, so it's best to hit this place up on overcast, drizzly days.

We opted for the Spare Ribs Soup ($8) over the shorter pork ribs version; it's more satisfying and succulent. There are 2 options for the long ribs: the lean or fatty. My advice is to pick the fatty spare ribs. My mantra, when it comes to food, is to always pick the fatty one. Don't worry, the "fatty option" isn't as fatty as you'd think. It's just the right proportion of fat, and a little fat goes a long way in greasing up the meat. Otherwise, you end up with a dry piece of meat that's tough to get through. The soup isn't the most full-bodied, but I appreciated that the peppery overtones weren't overwhelming. 

Lazybums will likely prefer the Sliced Pork Loin Soup ($7), because, the tender pork slices are boneless, so your fingers stay clean.

The Sliced Fish Soup ($7) may be a tad overpriced compared to other fish soup stalls, but at least the fish was fresh and smooth.

Instead of steamed white rice, the Mee Sua Soup ($2), soft and silky strands of flour vermicelli dunked in pork-based soup and garnished with fried shallots and spring onions, was a popular alternative pairing with the pork ribs.

The Braised Peanuts ($3), while pedestrian, were velvety and rich.

Ditto for the Braised Tau Pok ($3), these were fluffy and chewy.

The crunchy Salted Vegetables ($3) provided a bright contrast and cut through the heavy drudgery of the braises and stews.

The Oyster Sauce Chye Sim ($7) the obligatory green fibrous showing of lunch, was enlivened by lashings of golden fried onions.

The wilted and limp Fried Dough Sticks ($2) had evidently been sitting out for some time, but were (somewhat) revived when dunked into the hot soup. 

Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha
7 Keppel Road
Tanjong Pagar Complex #01-05/07
Tel: 6222 9610 / 8282 7896
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 7am to 3am;
Sundays from 7am to 1am;
Closed on Mondays
Website: yahuabakkutteh.com


Janggut Laksa vs 328 Katong Laksa, Queensway Shopping Centre

Queensway Shopping Centre, where locals flock to for all things sports and optical-related, is also known for good laksa. There are 2 laksa stalls, within a stone's throw of each other, both claiming to serve up the best. Both tout to be affiliates of world-famous Katong ones, and the accolades, writeups and publicity plastered all the utilitarian facades will attest to the fierce competition.

Seating at both eateries is cramped and constrained, so dining is really a touch-and-go affair. Both are manned by efficient, if a little curt, bevy of staff, and so turnover is high. Good news for the 5-minute-on-average long line of diners waiting their turn.

The menu is similarly limited, with laksa being the primary dish of choice, and its fixins' like otah and lime juice as regular side orders. Curry chicken, Chinese-style, is also a popular option.

Janggut Laksa 

The Laksa ($3.50 for small) here was disappointingly lackluster. It was insipid, and the milk had obviously curdled badly. I needed a lot of sambal to get through this.

The Curry Chicken ($5) was a lot more palatable. Robust and creamy, this had a lovely homecooked taste.

Janggut Laksa
#01-59 Queensway Shopping Centre
Tel: 6440 4633 / 9622 1045
Open daily from 10am to 9pm


328 Katong Laksa

The Laksa ($4) here was significantly better. Lively and spicy, and with bouncier prawns, this was a joy to eat.

The Otah ($1.10), while pedestrian, was fleshy and moist. A great complement to the laksa.

The stall facade for reference.

328 Katong Laksa
#01-60 Queensway Shopping Centre
Open daily from 10.30am to 9.30pm
Website: www.328katonglaksa.com.sg


Ajitsuke Tamago (Japanese Marinated Soft Boiled Egg)

Cooking is an art mostly based on "agar-ation" (slang for estimation)., which is why recipes blogged about here are seldom exacting. But this recipe for soft boiled ramen eggs is probably the most precise cooking I've ever done. Just about everything, from the timing to the marinade seasoning, is drawn right down to the wire.

The tip here is to start with regular, Goldilocks-sized eggs: not too small, not too big, not the atypical low cholesterol or high vitamin ones; they have to be just right. And, try not to use ultra fresh eggs. I find that the ones that are about 4-5 days old produce the best results.

One last tip: always overbudget your eggs, because there will be some that won't make it out of the deshelling. We started off with 10 eggs, and only 7 survived! 

Ingredients (feeds 4; estimate 1 egg per person):
4 eggs
1 cup water
1 cup sake
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup light soy
1/2 cup sugar

1) Put the water, sake, mirin, soy and sugar in a container and whisk till homogenous.

2) Heat water in a pot till a softly bubbling boil, and lower the eggs into it. The fire has to be at a consistent, softly bubbling heat, and not a rolling boil.

3) Remove eggs from heat at the 6-minute mark, and shock them in an ice-bath for about a minute or 2, until fully cooled.

4) Gingerly deshell them, taking great care while peeling because the eggs, with their soft centers, will be delicate and wobbly. The eggs should look like this on the inside.

5) Marinate them in a covered container for at least 4 hours but no more than 5 hours. You want the marinade to season outer lining of the eggs, but not soak all the way through and overwhelm the eggs. Because the eggs will float, place a small light lid over the eggs to sink them so the marinade covers the eggs entirely.

6) Remove from marinade, and store them in the fridge for use up to 3 days later.

Variation to make this Muslim-friendly (i.e. no cooking alcohol):
Swop out the mirin and sake with 2 tbsp oyster sauce and 1 tbsp thick black soy, heat the entire mixture to activate the flavours, and let cool before marinating eggs.


Baba Wins' Peranakan Cuisine

We'd read about Baba Wins' Peranakan Cuisine being raved about in the papers, and headed to Star Vista for lunch. A purely family-run establishment, this teeny tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery exudes a cosy, homely vibe dripping with genuine warmth. The eponymous chef runs this eatery with his parents helming the front-of-house.

Unfortunately, the kitchen was experiencing a major hiccup that afternoon, so the food took almost half an hour to arrive. BUT, the fact that we weren't too irked speaks volumes about the congenial service and authentic fare. The profuse apologies from the contrite dad was very helpful in mollifying our hunger pangs.

To highlight: they deal with takeaways with maximum convenience; they've streamlined a system of taking phone orders, and then waiting for you by the roadside with your orders and exact change for your bill, so you don't even have to get out of your car to doggie-bag their food home!

The Nonya Chap Chye ($9.50), with cabbage, fuchok (beancurd), kim hcam (lilybulbs), bok gee (black fungus), and carrots stewed in a taucheo gravy was sweet and mellow.

The Chinchalok Omelette ($8), flavoured with fermented shrimps and diced long beans was balanced and comfortingly homestyled.

The Ayam Buah Keluak ($12.50) was distinctive in that the keluak nut paste was stirred right into the inky gravy for a richer grittier flavour. The inky gravy was chunked up with succulent chicken tenders.

The Belinjau Crackers ($3.50), uniquely served with a gula melaka dip, were instrumental in quelling our hunger pangs.

The Sambal, homemade of course, was excellent, and went amazingly well with just about everything.

Baba Wins' Peranakan Cuisine
#01-23 The Star Vista
Tel: 6268 9370 / 9735 9178
Open daily from 11.30am to 8.30pm


&Sons Italian Bacaro

&Sons is the latest jewel in the ever-growing stable of F&B ventures of noted restauranteur Beppe DeVito.

The Italian restaurant-bar oozes a careless sophistication, so it's perfect for busy executives grabbing a quick and portion-light lunch, or after-work types looking to chill out in a casual but chic watering hole in the CBD. Clearly, the small-plates gastrobar formula works here. It's been a year since the bacaro was launched, and it's still doing a roaring business...It's always packed to the gills everytime I go past it!

The food was, as expected of a Beppe DeVito offering, excellent. Just about every small plate we had was masterfully executed, and beautifully plated. We thoroughly savoured our time here. That said, I would have appreciated if they turned down the deep house music a decibel or two. Or ten. I could hardly make out what my galfriend was saying all through our meal, so we ended up shouting at one another, and my ears were still ringing long after I'd left.

Service, on the other hand, was choppy, distracted and frazzled. BUT, the attitudes were refreshingly interactive, and chirpily upbeat.

I think, part of the reason &Sons is such a popular drinking hole is the dazzling array of complimentary hor d'oeuvres. Ribbons of silky Parma ham and honshimeiji-capped cheesy bruschettas are a sure-fire way of keeping customers sated. 

Of all the dishes, the best of the lot was the Calamari ($13), squid grilled so perfectly it died happy. Save for the sweet spice of the nduja-based dip, the soft rings were barely adorned, simply imbued with the smoky char of the grill.

The full-bodied Wagyu Beef Carpaccio ($19), meltingly tender and moist, was enlivened with a creamy and aromatic truffle-accented aioli. 

The Gorgonzola Polenta with Mushrooms ($9) was robust and rich but layered, a myriad of soft and juicy textures.

The towering block of Iberico Pork and Truffle Paccheri ($16) was countered with a nice bite. Balanced and nuanced, this was sumptuous.

The inky black balls of Baccala Cakes ($15), jammed with moist salted cod mash, were delectably crunchy. A lusciously velvety sea urchin sabayon sided this.

#01-19 China Square Central
20 Cross Street
Tel: 6221 3937
Open Mondays to Fridays from 11.30am to 1am;
Saturdays from 6pm to 2am;
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.sons.com.sg
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