Cicheti (pronounced "chi-keh-tee") was highly recommended by Danielle, a regular reader of this my blog, and a fellow blogger herself.

The pizzas at Cicheti are done Neapolitan-style; they're distinctively thicker and consequently chewier than the typical thin-crust pizzas we're so used to. An absolute nightmare for dieters but the Hubs relished its smoky accents imbued from the wood-fire oven.

Seating at the tiny shop-house space is extremely limited so it's best to secure reservations, or be prepared to be turned away. Service was excellent though, attentive and friendly. Our water glasses were always kept brimming to the full.

We started off with the Gamberi Grassi ($13), a quartet of fat juicy prawns grilled with smoked butter, and sided by a crusty baguette toast for mopping up every last bit of the luscious butter. 

The Carbonara ($23) topped with bacon, fior de latte cheese, cream, parmesan, onions, black peppercorns and a sunny side up egg was sumptuous. We especially loved smearing the runny egg all over the pizza. 

The Procuitto e Rucola ($25) was burnished with melted fior de latte, parma ham, arugula and showered with grated grana cheese was just lovely, with the pungent saltiness of the parma ham ribbons contrasted with the peppery bitterness of the arugula greens.

52 Kandahar Street
Tel: 6292 5012
Open for weekday lunch from 12noon to 3pm;
Dinners from Mondays to Saturdays from 6.30pm to 11pm;
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.cicheti.com


Oven Marvel

Sorry for the radio silence, we're just putting the finishing touches on a deal at work, and life's been a whirlwind of events. This was a somewhat dated discovery of ours, in the sleepy old-school city-fringe mall Sunshine Plaza.

Oven Marvel, a hole-in-the-wall shop a few doors from Victor's Kitchen, retails only 3 types of baked confectionery, namely chicken pies, chocolate muffins and curry puffs. With an enviable track record of selling out their wares daily, you could say that they are hugely popular with the masses. When we hit them up at 3pm on a weekend, they'd already sold out their chicken pies!

So anyways, we got the next best thing, and bought up their remaining Curry Puffs ($2.80). These were done Malay-style, proliferated with sweet onions, tender chicken and potatoes in a manageably spiced curried paste and swaddled in a flaky puff pastry. Delicious, but strictly as a matter of preference, I much prefer the Chinese-style ones at Wang Wang.

Oven Marvel
91 Bencoolen Street
Sunshine Plaza #01-51
Open daily from 11.30am to 6pm;
Closed every 8th, 18th, 28th of the month


Ben's Cookies

The famed English cookie company Ben's Cookies launched with much fanfare a few months ago. We were waiting for the hype to die down before sampling their wares, as the sole store at Wisma Atria still sports a long queue of customers. But, a friend brought over a whole bunch of their cookies for dessert one luncheon a couple of weeks ago, and we were forever hooked. The Hubs actually went out that very weekend to satisfy his cookie fix! The cookies truly lived up to the hype; delightfully chewy, crumbly, buttery, generously studded with chocolate chunks and nuts, and surprisingly cheap. Apparently, 7 huge cookie discs retail at only $14!

White Chocolate Chunk, laced with hunks of melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate. By the way, the cookies may seem that they come in semi-circlets, but it's only because the Hubs actually ate the other halves. He was halfway through them all before he'd realised I needed to take pictures of them!

My fave, Dark Chocolate and Nuts, speckled with walnuts and chocolate pieces.

Strictly for chocoholics, the Double Chocolate Chunk has a double dose of chocolate.

Unexpectedly, I didn't like the Peanut Butter as much as I did the ones with nuts. I suppose it's because I prefer my cookies traditional.

The White Chocolate and Macadamia, a smaller disc but higher mound so it looked a little like a mini bun of sorts, had plentiful macadamias. This took a joint first place with the Dark Choc and Nuts.

Ben's Cookies
Wisma Atria B1-50
435 Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 5340
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
Website: www.benscookies.com



Have I already said that the architecture of Orchard Central is the worst? With its haphazard layout and maze of a carpark, it's little wonder that mall traffic is so low. It's already frustrating trying to navigate the nightmare of a carpark, but when compounded with the inaccessibility of the mall from the carpark, morphs into a massively thumping headache just to patronise the mall. BUT, we wanted to check out this ramen place, Nantsuttei. The self-touted ramen champ had apparently disappointed quite the following when it'd wound the shutters down its first shop space when its landlord Parco Marina exited Millenia Walk sometime last year. So when Nantsuttei re-surfaced at Orchard Central a few months ago, I thought a visit was in order.

Nantsuttei is known for slicking their ramen with a layer of inky-black roasted garlic oil, and tampering their rich tonkotsu broth with chicken stock. The deeply aromatic but delicate ramen is what made fans of its customers, and I was no different. I found the flavour incredibly unique and addictive and actually started craving Nantsuttei a couple days after our dinner here.

The must-try is their signature Chashu Men ($16), stacked with a shoyu-marinated pork loin simmered to a plastic fork-tender texture, crisp beansprouts, seaweed and an added Egg ($1.50). The towering bowl was full-bodied but well-balanced and never cloying. The smoky accents of the garlic oil gave the creamy broth a lively edge and kept it slurpilicious to the last drop.

For those who thrive on spice, the Kara-miso Ramen Mouretsu Tanmen Hana-ji Boo ($16), a spicy miso-ed ramen speckled with ground pork fried with hot Japanese pepper, at the penultimate spice level of 3, may be more your thing. Turns out, level 3 was a very manageable spicy even for moderates like me. So if you really like the heat, get the level 4. This possessed a more complex flavour dimension, but I preferred the chashu men. There was just too much going on in this bowl, and got a little heavy towards the end. 

Orchard Central #07-12
181 Orchard Road
Tel: 6337 7166
Open daily from 11am to 10.30pm
Website: www.nantsu.com/english


Mellben Seafood, Ang Mo Kio

Mellben Seafood is another heavyweight name in the local seafood and cze char scene. Having spawned a couple of branches in the east, we chose its original outlet, located in the Ang Mo Kio heartland for dinner. Related to Uncle Leong Seafood, this is actually my first time here at Mellben. I was always so deterred by reports of lousy service and legendary hour-long waits for food.

As it turned out, the legends of hour-long waits for food, and to get seated, were true; so it's best to get a headstart when trying to get seats for dinner. Or else, nominate a friend to start queuing up for a table at least half an hour before the rest of the party is due to arrive. OR, if you really really abhor queuing, just call ahead and dabao for dinner! Another tip is to dine in larger groups of at least 8 persons, I noticed that there were more tables allocated to larger groups as opposed to small gatherings.

While we're on the topic of slow service, I would have thought that having the benefit of decades of experience in running such a massively successful seafood joint would result in a more efficient kitchen service.Throughout our 3-hour sojourn at Mellben, there were empty tables left unoccupied while impatient hungry patrons were fidgeting in the 10-metre long queue for seats. Maybe the management would like to revisit their seating policies and refine their kitchen protocols, hmm??

That said, the crabs here were so good I'm loathe to admit that we actually thought they were worth the wait.

The Crab Fried Beehoon ($50 per kg) was just excellent. Subtly heated with black pepper, sweetened with caramelised onions and studded with crunchy greens, the tangled mass of rice noodles was scrumptious. Even if I could hardly make out any crab stock in the noodles. A tip is to pick out the sweet flesh of the crabs and toss it into the noodles to eat with, instead of eating them both separately. 

The Salted Egg Yolk Crabs ($50 per kg) were just as superb. This was done a dry style, so there wasn't any gravy, but the curry leaves and chilli padi slices added a mild levity to the wondrous grainy salted egg yolk paste plastered all over the crabs.

Mellben Seafood
Blk 232 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 #01-1222
Tel: 6285 6762
Open daily from 4.30pm to 11.30pm


Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

At first brush, this dish sounds like a recipe for some type of human-repellant, but I think, it's time to bring this classic French casserole back in vogue. Garlic, on its own, is anti-socially sharp and pungent, but once caramelised, mellows out into a rounded, buttery sweetness that's incredibly tantalising.

I love making this for dinner parties, it's a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, and appears a lot more sophisticated than it really is. Best of all, it can be whipped up in a cinch and requires minimal ingredients. 

Ingredients (feeds 2-4):
4 chicken thighs (budget 1-2 thigh(s) per pax)
40 cloves garlic (approx 4 heads), peeled and left whole
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay or else, vermouth is a viable substitute)
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp herbs (I used a mix of dried rosemary and thyme; you can also use tarragon or fresh ones)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Heat olive oil in pan on medium heat. Brown chicken that's been seasoned with salt and pepper for about 16 minutes, turning over once at the 8-minute mark. 

2) Transfer to a baking dish once seared to a golden. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 176 degrees Celsius (350 F).

3) Sizzle the garlic in the olive-oil-chicken-fat renderings until caramelised, about 5 minutes.

4) Add wine until almost completely reduced. Skip this step if you can't have wine, and add in a tbsp apple cider vinegar after step 6.

5) Add stock and heat through until bubbling. Add herbs to soften.

6) Transfer about 1/4 of garlic over to baking dish with chicken, and mash the remaining garlic into the stock until smooth.

7) Pour stock over chicken in baking dish, and pop into oven for about an hour for chicken to cook through,with a foil cover for the first 50 minutes and uncovered for the last 10.

8) Serve garnished with added fresh herbs.


Wild Honey, Scotts Square

There's nothing else like having breakfast eggs late at night for dinner. We both had a particularly frenzied day at work, and were in need of comfort food, so it really was a no-brainer to head to Wild Honey, our go-to restaurant for the best eggs this side of the equator, for dinner.

The Spanish Hash ($24) was a carb-laden medley of fried potatoes, chorizo, and house-corned beef, crowned with 2 perfectly poached eggs and blanketed with a velvety hollandaise sauce. Truly excellent stuff. I'm ranking this a joint first-place at Wild Honey, together with the Tunisian.

We'd been craving cubanos ever since we salivated watched the food-porn flick, 'Chef', so we deviated from our usual eggs and got the Monte Cubano Sandwich ($22). Not sure if this was authentic, but the toasted ciabatta layered with spiced pulled pork, virginia ham, dijon mustard, dill pickles, swiss cheese arugula and mayo was decently scrumptious.

We also got our usual, the English ($25), the full works of an unbelievably fluffy egg scramble, canadian back bacon, cumberland pork sausage, sauteed mushrooms, baked beans, breakfast potatoes, grilled vine ripened tomato and broiche. I'd recommend this for all newbies to Wild Honey or breakfast eggs.

A favourite side of ours, the Sauteed Shitake and Button Mushrooms ($6) was simply splashed with white wine and barely seasoned with butter and salt, leaving the spotlight solely on the earthy wholesomeness of the fungi.

Wild Honey
6 Scotts Road
Scotts Square #03-01
Tel: 6636 1816
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 9am to 9pm;
Fridays to Saturdays from 9am to 10pm
Website: www.wildhoney.com.sg


Sushi Mitsuya

Have I said before that how much I love my foodie friends? If not for A1 and A2, I'd never have known about Sushi Mitsuya, a hole-in-the-wall Japanese setup so boutique it's got a capacity of just under 25 diners. The zenned-out, pinewood-ed galley restaurant is flush with a serene tranquility, and diners converse in hushed tones. A tip is to sit at the chef's table, where you get front row seats to all the action. And attention from the big boss himself.

As we were seated up front, we were served personally by the affable head Chef Harada, who explained every course (in his heavily accented English...I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to ask him to repeat himself several times just so I could take notes of what I'd ingested) and allowed us time to savour every mouthful. I'd noticed that he'd wait for me to chomp down each sushi before serving the next one.

Sushi Mitsuya offers just 3 sets for lunch (there's no ala carte menu here, for lunch or dinner), which may seem a little constrained, but the food was so sublime, the lack of choice didn't bother me one bit. I got the Ichie Set ($60) which comprised a duo of appetizers, 8 piece sushi medley, makimono, soup and dessert, all dictated by the season's finest and the chef's inclinations. I'm never as adventurous as I am at high-end Japanese restaurants, but I was well-rewarded for trusting my palate with the chef. Every course was just dreamy and memorably so. 

You can bet your last dollar I'll be back, with the Hubs in tow. He'd been very sore about missing out on this!

We started off with a duo of amuse bouche, the first being Persimmon, Spinach and Fried Gluten married beautifully in a pool of walnut sauce.

The Scallops, Garland Chrysanthemum and Honshimeiji was kept light and crisp in a vinegar tofu sauce.

While the sushi variants weren't particularly luxurious, the chef's treatment of each seafood was first-rate. Every sushi was so well-balanced and seasoned, I didn't need additional soy dips. First up was Surf Crab, firm and clear, simply brushed with a sweet-ish soy to complement the natural flavour of the seafood.

The next was Sea Whelk, similarly given a light coat of soy and topped with a dollop of grated ginger to counteract its umami tendencies.

The White Baby Shrimp was one of my favourites, so gloriously sweet and moist.

Another fave, the King Mackerel was aburi-ed to give its skin a crisp contrast, and there was a pike mackerel, that, in my haste, had gobbled it up before taking a picture of...oops!

The Lean Tuna was sparkling fresh, meaty and scrumptious.

Also aburi-ed for a juxaposition of textures, the Seabass was also excellent.

The Asari Clams were incredibly juicy and bursting with the salty essence of the sea.

The Sea Eel was burnished with a creamy wafu-like dressing, enhancing its sweetness.

The Maki Gourd was a superb palate cleanser, with its crisp clean taste.

The other Makimono, this had a delightfully crunchy mouthfeel.

The last savoury course was a Seaweed Soup, liberally laced with shredded vegetables for extra oomph.

For dessert, we had a refreshing Seaweed Jelly with Muscat and Mango, so nuanced and light.

The Bara Chirashi Set ($50) is the cheapest option for lunch, but it's no slouch. The humongous bowl was brimming with a melange of seafood, sparkling fresh and a riot of sumptuous colours, and it's paired with the same couple of appetizers, soup and dessert.

Sushi Mitsuya
60 Tras Street #01-01
Tel: 6438 2608
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.sushimitsuya.com


Nando's, Plaza Singapura

Nando's is my favourite grilled chicken spot. I think they're the best purveyors of grilled/roasted chicken, and with an almost perfect hit rate, they reliably deliver up the juiciest and most flavourful grilled chicken. I always opt for the lemon and herb one, as it's the most like a classic Sunday roast, redolent with fragrant thyme, garlic and the lift of lemon. I know, I know, it's like the most wussy flavour there is, but I prefer its delicate seasoning, and besides, you can always layer on the various Peri Peri sauces separately for a customised heat.  

Unlike their outstanding chicken, Nando's sides are a little ho-hum, so unless you need a little levity from just chicken, it's best to avoid them and load up on a protein-centric meal.

The 1/4 Lemon & Herb Peri Peri Chicken ($13.90) was, as expected, lipsmackingly delicious, and it was sided by a rather pedestrian fino (read: premium) bowl of Afro-Portuguese Spinach sauteed with onions and tomatoes.

If you opt for the regular, not fino, side, you get 2 sides instead of just 1. A girlfriend had the 1/4 Lemon & Herb Peri Peri Chicken ($13.90) with 2 regular sides of Coleslaw and lightly buttered Mediterranean Rice. The crunchy coleslaw was pleasantly refreshing.

Plaza Singapura #04-10
68 Orchard Road
Tel: 6337 2555
Open daily from 10am to 10pm


Kaya French Toast

Regular readers will note that I always make fun of the Hubs' cooking skills, or lack thereof, but surprise surprise, he's apparently got reasonably commendable, and extremely well-hidden, cooking chops! I'd woken up one weekend afternoon to loud clangs in the kitchen, and found the Hubs busy trying to whip up kaya french toast. As usual, his rudimentary handling of the utensils irked me so much that I tried to take over (he was whisking the egg mixture with a fork when we had a proper whisk, and making lumps of the spices, the horror!), but he'd actually kicked me out. Yes, I got kicked out of my own kitchen!

As it turned out, he did pretty well. No fires unwittingly set, the kitchen was left in the same spotless shape it'd been in before the Hubs started cooking, and the toast was, objectively, good. I probably can't be in the kitchen with him whenever he cooks, because the compulsive control freak in me would likely attempt a hostile takeover, but it's really cool that he can actually cook!

Ingredients (makes 4 toasts):
4 slices bread (brioche for best results or plain white bread)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1 tbsp honey (you can substitute this for sugar, but I like honey for its fuller body)
1/8 cup milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 knob butter
1/4 cup kaya (we love the Chin Mee Chin one)

1) Put the eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, and vanilla extract into a bowl, and whisk it with milk until homogenous.

2) Melt butter in flat pan over medium heat until bubbly.

3) Dip the bread and coat it evenly on both sides.

4) Fry on medium heat, about 2 minutes before flipping over.

5) After flipping, fry for another 2 minutes, for a toasty golden caramelisation

6) Serve, sliced into strips, plain on its own or with liberal lashings of kaya.

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