Cugini Trattoria Pizzeria

It's been a while since I last ate at Cugini. Dining at its sister restaurant Los Primos reminded me of that. So as soon as I was back in its vicinity, I made sure to pop by for a spot of lunch.

As with all the Club Street restaurants, afternoons will find the street a ghost-town of sorts, even though Amoy Street which runs parallel to it is bustling with the CBD lunch throng. It's funny how people can mimic the behaviour of lab rats sometimes, that a street barely a 5-minute stroll away can be such a confounding deterrent.

On the upside, this means that lunches at the establishments along Club Street are tranquil and such a peaceful respite from the toils of work. Predictably so, Cugini's service was attentive and efficient, while food got churned out lightning-quick.

We started with a platter of Selezione di Formaggi Italiani ($21.90), a curated assortment of Italian dairy: gorgonzola, parmiagiano, fontina, and scarmorza, accompanied by honey, walnuts, and a berry jam.

The Filetto di Branzino al Vapore ($45.90) was a delicate secondi option of a poached Medditerranean seabass fillet, sided by steamed baby carrots, fresh arugula, and a velvety hollandaise sauce. I liked the citrusy notes in the sauce, it lent a bright richness to the somewhat stodgy fish.

Beautifully plated, the Filetto alla Griglia ($55) was a perfectly medium Black Angus tenderloin sided by fluffy truffled mash and garden vegetables.

The Diavola Pizza ($28.90), oozy with melted mozzarella, tomato sauce, was laden with salami rings, and spiked with lashings of fresh red and green chilli. The thin pizza crust, boasting a wonderfully smoky fragrance, was crispy at the edges and chewy on the inside.

The photo is, admittedly, awful, but don't let the quality of the shitty photographer deter you from the delicious Raviolo al Tartufo ($30.90), an honest-to-goodness homemade dumpling bursting with truffled potato, and slathered in a silky walnut butter, and topped with additional shavings of black truffle.

Complimentary crusty Bread with EVOO and a tart balsamic vinegar; it's the simple things in life that's the best, isn't it?

Cugini Trattoria Pizzeria
87 Club Street
Tel: 6221 3791
Open daily from 12noon to 2.30pm; 6pm to 11pm
Website: www.cugini.com.sg


Strawberry Avocado Caprese Salad

This is like the prettiest salad ever, so much so that the most hardcore salad haters would venture a bite. And for something that looks so intricate, it's like the easiest thing ever.

Ingredients (feeds 4 pax):
1 avocado, diced
1 box strawberries, quartered
1 ball buffalo mozzarella, sliced
1 cup fresh basil, leaves only
1 box cherry tomatoes, halved
salt (I used this red wine flavoured salt I got from Australia)
Extra virgin olive oil

1) Toss the strawberries, avocado, and cherry tomatoes with olive oil and salt.

2) Layer the salad with the mozzarella at the bottom, followed by basil leaves, then marinated mix at step 1, and serve with extra basil leaves on top, and a good lashing of freshly milled black pepper. That'll really make the salad 'pop'.


Meat Smith

Ever since the Michelin Guide debuted in Singapore, it's been impossible to secure reservations at Burnt Ends. A galfriend of mine, transiting through Singapore, tried booking for 2 persons, lunch or dinner, a month in advance, but still sorely missed out. They're now booked out for two months solid, and she had to resort to taking away their amazing sanger, just for a taste.

Enter Burnt Ends' little cousin, Meat Smith, a smokehouse restaurant that's designed like a cross between an industrial factory and cowboy ranch, along the Telok Ayer/Amoy Street F&B enclave du jour.

The food is hearty, big, and robust. If you love your beef and barbecues, Meat Smith's the perfect spot. Ceilings hang low, and the cramped enclosure is decked out in dark woods, which lends to Meat Smith's ambience as a caveman's den. Perhaps that's why the restaurant was teeming with boys' night-out types of bunches, and not so much girls' night-out groupies.

The Meat Smith BBQ Platter ($180) comprised, from left to right: a hulking black pepper and mustard-crusted American Black Angus beef rib, Californian 365 day grain-fed Angus brisket, Memphis-style dry-rubbed pork ribs, and a smoked chicken thigh marinated in a Jamaican jerk sauce. This was absolutely sumptuous, but if I had to be brutal, the chicken and pork ribs wouldn't be missed, even if they were pretty good. BUT really, the MVPs of this massive tray were the beef ribs and brisket. Wowza, were they unforgettably delicious. These were meltingly tender, like geriatrics with dentures could appreciate kind of luscious; and incredible in flavour, having been steeped fully in marinade. The charred crust on the beef ribs may look dangerously unhealthy, but don't scrape it off, it served to flesh out the full-bodied flavour of the meat.

If there ever was any doubt that Meat Smith's a relation of Burnt Ends, the fluffy sesame-crusted Brioche breakaway bread, dusted with paprika and burnished with melty cheese would be quite the compelling evidence. This was a most terrific setup to the wonderful meats.

Also part of the Platter, the Bone Marrow, an oozy decadently fatty jam, was brilliant when schmeared all over crusty bread, and balanced against the refreshing crisp of red onion ringlets and sharp bite of garlic bulbs. I'm not even a fan of marrow (or tulang, as the locals call it), but even I was quite taken with Meat Smith's rendition.

The Platter was also accompanied by your choice of 2 sides, a simple but bright and piquant balsamic dressed Farmer's Salad of kale, arugula, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard, which helped cut through the monotony of a meat-centric dinner;

and a lovely but rather run-of-the-mill Mac & Pimento Cheese.

It isn't a (good) weekend unless we've imbibed, and the Hemingway Daiquiri ($18), a concoction of Bacardi Superior rum, grapefruit and Luxurdo maraschino and Lavender Sour ($18) Titos Vodka, lavender, lemon and sugar were quite yummy, with the lavender a somewhat surprising but evident winner amongst the two cocktails. That was well-balanced, even if it smelled like my bedroom.

Meat Smith
167 - 169 Telok Ayer Street
Open daily from 8.30am to 12midnight
Tel: 6221 2262
Website: www.meatsmith.com.sg



We haven't been to boCHINche for a while, and not since they've moved to new premises in the heart of the business district. The current space is more compact, a little cosier I suppose, but it also means that reservations are now very much more encouraged. The menu's trimmed down too, and tighter, with a decidedly increased focus on the meats, and a more contemporary flair.

They've taken off a number of our favourites, like the ox cheeks and pork chops, which are missed, but retained a couple of mainstays like the steaks and updated the grilled market fish. Some changes, I liked, but many, I found disconcerting, to say the least. The steak, raked over a white charcoal grill, is now a little uneven, and I couldn't appreciate that some of my beloved dishes weren't ever making a comeback, but the fish, styled more intricately, is still fantastic.

That said, it's nice that the staff remembered us from the Martin Road days. That was quite the personal touch.

The Crab on Toast ($18) draped over a velvety "humita nortena" sauce, topped with a sprinkle of marjoram and pickled turnips, was refreshing and well-balanced, the sweet of the crabmeat contrasted with the acidic piquancy of the turnips.

Another new addition to the menu, the Chorizo Croquettes ($16) was beautifully executed, burnished with a dollop of heady smoked peppers and red amaranth.

The Ricotta Tortellini ($17) laced with sweet potato leaves, green peas, broad beans, butter sauce, was wonderfully exquisite. Hearty but polished.

The charcoal-grilled Ojo de Bife ($75), a hefty 400gm ribeye imbued with a fragrant char was unfortunately unevenly salted, but the accompanying chimichurri was instrumental in elevating the pedestrian meat. Thick chips (these were almost wedges), and a balsamic-dressed mixed green salad lent themselves well to cut through the monotony of red meat.

The Fish of the Day, an Atlantic Cod ($43) pooled in a basil beurre blanc with shaved almonds, and sided by a corn and faro medley, was absolutely sumptuous. Another must-try.

115 Amoy Street #01-02
Tel: 6235 4990
Open Mondays to Thursdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Fridays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 11am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Sundays from 11am to 3pm
Website: www.bochinche.com.sg


Cheng Mun Chee Kee Pig Organ Soup

I don't think I've ever featured pig's organ soup on this my blog before. It's not a dish I'm intimately familiar with, hardly ever having it growing up, so I'm not exactly crazy about it, nor do I ever crave it.

Cheng Mun Chee Kee is a name synonymous with pig's organ soup. The coffeeshop, a stone's throw away from the now demolished Lavender Food Centre, had always seemed a full-house everytime we took-away from Kok Kee. The late-night supper spot is open till the wee hours of the night, and so I thought it a viable option when I felt like something soupy and fortifying in the dead of night.

The Soup ($6) was a pick-and-mix, so we got a large bowl loaded with beancurd, lean pork, and pork ball, passing on the innards. I'd always thought this would be like a less-oily bak kut teh, but this was nothing like our local pork rib soup. It wasn't peppery or robust one bit, but it was heavy on the porky overtones. Suffice it to say, I'm still not a fan of the peasant food of a dish. Also, the chilli lacked punch and heat; I would have liked it more piquant, and a hellotta spicier.

The Oyster Sauce Xiao Bai Cai ($3) was passable in that cannot-fail way. Greens were crunchy, drenched in a light sauce, and topped with lashings of fried shallots.

I detected a hint of red wine vinegar in the Stir-Fried Cabbage ($3) which overwhelmed the delicate sweetness of the stewed cabbage.

The Hua Tiao Wine Chicken with Ginger ($3) sweetened with wolfberries, was ok but the chicken was less than fork-tender.

The Steamed Minced Meat with Chestnut ($2) was one of the better dishes, juicy and coarsely textured.

The only other worthwhile dish, the Braised Peanuts ($2), subtle in its soy marinade, was nicely done.

Cheng Mun Chee Kee Pig Organ Soup
24 Foch Road
Tel: 6297 5068
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9am to 5am;
Sundays from 9am to 12midnight;
Closed on Mondays


Park Bench Deli

Sandwiches are my current comfort food go-tos. It just sucks that there's a dearth of halfway decent sandwich shops in Singapore.

Then I discovered Park Bench Deli, a sandwich specialist smack dab in middle of the Telok Ayer/Amoy Street dining enclave. In addition to being incredibly accessible, they're also open all day; so we don't just have our lunches here, we eat dinners here too! 

The bright and cheery, turquoise-hued deli is directly opposite The Market Grill, a small-ish setup with tiny cocktail-height tables and even tinier stools. You'll never be more acutely aware of your big bum here.

Buzzy with executive or young hipster types, the bistro gets fairly packed during peak dining hours. Turnover is high though, as the eatery gets a little stuffy so people don't linger for long. Methinks Park Bench Deli isn't efficiently ventilated or sufficiently air-conditioned. I was sweating up a storm by the time I left the crowded joint. (in this regard, I must highlight that I've never really acclimatized to SG's weather, and I perspire at the slightest, so if you're generally fine with our tropical weather, you should be ok lolling in PBD)

Service is chirpy and engaging, especially during a lull, and I have them to thank for recommending the best Philly-styled cheesesteak sandwich ever. Holy cow was it mind-blowingly delicious. Tbh, if this is what Philly's cuisine is like, sign me up for a transfer pronto!

That said, the Cubano ($16) decked with seared pulled pork, smoked ham, contrasted with bread & butter pickles, melted cheese, a schmear of yellow mustard, and slapped between toasted cuban bread, was the Hubs' favourite sandwich here. Ever since we watched 'Chef', we've been obsessing over Cubanos, and PBD's version finally makes sense of the hype of a Cubano in the food-porn of a movie. This was insanely glorious!

Ah, the piece de resistance, the Cheese Steak ($16) loaded with juicy sliced beef brisket, griddled onions, oodles of molten cheese sauce, swaddled in a toasted hoagie. We'd originally ordered the Patty Melt, but saw the beef sizzling on the griddle, and were convinced to switch out our order, and boy was that decision life-changing. This was absolutely magnificent! For sure a must-try.  

The Fried Egg ($10), layered with bacon, cheddar, PBD sauce, frisee, and cuffed between a fluffy buttery brioche, was one of the best club sandwiches I've ever had, but unfortunately paled in comparison to the awesome Cubano and Cheese Steak.

The Cured Meat ($16) luscious with beautifully strips of salami, coppa, rosette, and pancetta, was contrasted with a piquant sundried tomato aioli, crisp frisee, melty mozzarella, and sandwiched between brioche buns. Served refreshingly chilled, this was quite excellent.

Park Bench Deli
179 Telok Ayer Street
Tel: 6815 4600
Open Mondays from 12noon to 4pm for lunch; 5pm to 10pm for dinner;
Tuesdays to Fridays from 10.30am to 4pm for lunch; 5pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: parkbenchdeli.com


Kaiho Sushi

Cuppage Plaza may look dodgy AF, but it's a veritable trove of cheap eateries, especially those of the Japanese persuasion. Like, there's one Japanese restaurant for every other fogged-up KTV lounge, which may explain the prevalence of Japanese men thronging the dingy mall.

One of the more popular spots is Kaiho Sushi, a tiny cramped space frequented by locals and Japanese expats alike. The 15-odd-seater capacity is a blessing in disguise really, because Kaiho Sushi is a one man show. Seriously. When we were there for lunch, the chef was whizzing about, doubling up as the waiter and sometimes, tripling up as cashier. Halfway through, his dishwasher stepped in to help out with the clearing of tables and cashiering duties.

Food-wise, I wouldn't venture that it's the most authentic or exquisite. But, the sushi passed muster, and the cooked fare was commendably executed. Best to pick from the aburi section of the menu, there were a number of standouts here. In all, Kaiho Sushi would make for a worthwhile mass-market type meal, with affordable prices and generous portions.

The Sake Sashimi ($15) and Hamachi Sashimi ($30) weren't dirt-cheap, but the salmon and yellowtail were sliced thickly. They weren't the best cuts of fish, but fresh and sweet enough.

A must-try, we smelled the Aburi Wagyu Beef Sushi ($15) even before it arrived on our table. This was more beef than rice, and the sticky sweet yakitori sauce slathered all over only served to enhance the smoky char of the meat.

The Aburi Spicy Tuna Maki ($12) was a smidge clunky in execution, but big on flavour. And size. I'm relatively big-mouthed, but even I couldn't fit one into my mouth.

The Ebi Tempura ($15) was decently battered, but the prawns were a little tasteless.

I liked the Edamame ($9) which was served steaming hot and beautifully salted.

Kaiho Sushi
#03-01 Cuppage Plaza
5 Koek Road
Tel: 9734 9822
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 11pm for dinner
Closed on Mondays


Xi Yan Shaw

Xi Yan was a recommendation by a foodie friend who lives in the neighbourhood. The casual offshoot of the Singapore outpost of the lauded Hongkong restaurant is one of his go-tos for family dinners.

Tucked away in a neglected corner of the depressingly forlorn Shaw Centre, the small-ish cosy bistro was quiet. Clearly, this part of the mall doesn't get much foot traffic from the throngs of Lido cinema-goers. Other than peak dining hours, the eatery barely packs in a three-quarters' capacity.

The fare at Xi Yan is simple, and not particularly fancy or refined. Save for the incredible dan dan noodles, dinner wasn't particularly memorable. Or outstanding. But it had a comfortingly homecooked appeal to it.

Likewise with the service, which was a-ok, if a little dull and unmotivated. You can well tell the staff was more enthused about clearing the restaurant than serving the customers. We didn't get any water (tap or bottled). And that ridiculously oily floor between the kitchen and the service galley was just an occupier's liability suit waiting to happen.

The Fried XO Chai Poh Radish Cake ($8.80), mildly spiced, was fragrant with umami overtones. The radish cake was chunky, dotted with strips of julienned radish, but soft and flavourful.

The Deep Fried Pork Belly in Fermented Sauce ($10.80 for small) was a porky rendition of our local prawn paste chicken, tasty and moist.

The Black Truffle Prawn Omelette ($17.80) was wonderfully homestyled, even if the alkali-treated prawns were a little stripped of natural sweetness.

The Fried Sotong in Butter Salted Yolk ($16), crusty and heated subtly with fried curry leaves, was perfectly cooked.

The dry, spicy version of the Dan Dan Noodles ($10.80) was a must-try. It was delightfully piquant, with copious lashings of black vinegar, balanced with scrumptious nubbins of seasoned pork mince. If there was one thing that'll draw me back to Xi Yan, this'll be it.

Xi Yan Shaw
1 Scotts Road
#03-12 Shaw Centre
Tel: 6733 3476
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 5.30pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: www.xiyan.com.sg


Potato Head Folk

We were devastated when Bruno Menard terminated his partnership at &Made. We'd loved the burgers there, and the celebrity chef's Midas touch proved crucial for the burger joint, as its tenure was short-lived after his exit.

So it was quite a joyous event when we discovered Potato Head Folk, an offshoot of the famed Bali hot spot. I mean, holy cow! The burgers here were truly ah-mazing: juicy, oozy, messy, drippy and totally scrumptious. Just be sure to have lots of wet-nap on hand, you'll need it to mop the dribble off your chin.

The casual bistro is located at the Keong Siak enclave, a 3-storey tower of kitsch decked out with irreverent knick knacks like an ironic burger lamp and frivolous statues. It's fun and playful, just like its approach to burgers.

The signature Truff Ryder ($36), a massive hunk of 120gm A5 Kagoshima Wagyu patty, was layered with a slab of seared foie gras, black truffle cheese, onion jam, and slapped with den miso mayo and ketchup, between fluffy demi-brioche buns. Sinfully indulgent, decadent, and an absolute must-try. 

Mushroom lovers (like myself) would probably take to the Fun Boy Three ($25), with a roasted portobello cap, and smoked cheese centered upon a hefty 120gm Hereford Angus Applewood cheddar aged beef patty, slicked with garlic miso butter, ketchup, and truffle aioli, and cuffed between demi-brioche buns. 

The Smokin' B-Boy ($25) had a local twist, with lashings of bawang goreng (golden fried shallots) laden on a 120gm Hereford Angus beef patty, melted smoked applewood cheese, crispy Dingley Dell beer & treacle bacon, burnished with bbq ketchup and smokey mayo. This boasted a subtle spiciness, which kick was bolstered by the smoky punch of the bacon and cheese. 

The Sticky Toffee Pudding ($6), wet with a toasted coconut butterscotch sauce, was surprisingly delicious, in no small part due to the gula melaka slathered all over the luscious cake. Clotted cream provided a cool contrast. It's a teeny weeny portion, but that was alrightey with us; we were stuffed to the gills having finished 3 burgers between the 2 of us. 

Potato Head Folk
36 Keong Siak Road
Tel: 6327 1939
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 12midnight; Closed on Mondays


Mitzo Restaurant

We were looking to avoid the weekend crowd thronging the Orchard malls, and Mitzo, hotel Grand Park Orchard's Chinese offering, fit the bill. The hotel, despite its central location, is markedly underrated, and its standalone structure meant that it has a near-zero shopper traffic. Mitzo, hidden in the bowels of the hotel, is consequently devoid of crowds.

Cladded in blacks, greys and rich jewel accents, Mitzo is dark and sleek and sophisticated. And with tables spaced a good distance apart, it'll make a wonderfully private date-night. Not so much for big noisy gatherings though, as the ambience is serene and hushed; and most diners here converse in soft tones.

Excellent atmosphere aside, Mitzo's contemporary Chinese cuisine was a mixed bag; while there are a couple of memorable highlights, there were a few dishes that missed the mark.

A must-try, the Black Truffle Crispy Roast Duck ($38 for half) was intoxicatingly fragrant. The cardboard-thick skin, lined with slivers of fat, was resoundingly crunchy. The meat was luscious but the breast portion bore just the slightest hint of game. The sauce, a thick concoction of duck jus and truffle bits, was pure heaven. We couldn't get enough of that.  

A signature, the Mitzo Special Barbecued Pork ($18) was indeed fantastic. Burnished with blackened charred edges, this was beautifully caramelised and sumptuously honeyed. One of the best renditions around.

Another superb dish was the Oven Baked Chilean Seabass ($36), glazed with a lemongrass and chilli-ed spice. This was fatty and flaky and had a restrained nuance to it.

The Homemade Egg Tofu ($26), topped with crabmeat and shimeiji, and set in a pool of spinach sauce, was a miss. The crabmeat looked like it was of the frozen variety, a big no-no in my book; and to exacerbate matters, the spinach sauce was just weird. Sometimes, a modern twist on the classics fares winningly, but other times, it's better to stick to the traditional, and this was one of those times. I would have preferred poached spinach draped in an oyster sauce gravy.

Ditto for the Braised Vermicelli ($28) with scallops, prawns, and cod fish. It was an awfully confused dish. The braising collagen broth was far too milky, and the flavours of leek, dried chilli, roasted garlic, and ginger clashed terribly; there were too many conflicting flavours, at least 2 of those seasonings needed to stay out of this dish. 

The Braised Crabmeat Soup ($14) with dried scallops, fish maw and bamboo pith, was disappointing as well. There was this artificial, alkaline element that was off-putting, and again, the crabmeat tasted frozen.

The spiced nuts ($5), dressed in a seaweed pepper, was delightful.

Mitzo Restaurant & Bar
Grand Park Orchard Level 4
270 Orchard Road
Tel: 6603 8888
Open daily from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: mitzo.sg
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