Brasserie Gavroche

Ever since we had that transformative steak frites at the sublime Restaurant Hubert in Sydney, we've been on the hunt for the best steak frites in Singapore. Tbh, I've never been a fan of French cuisine. But that steak, slathered in the most insanely scrumptious sauce ever, changed my life. That plate was honestly one of the best things I've ever had.

My friend Addie, who spent almost a decade in Paris, says the best is homecooked. Specifically, by her. But since her kitchen isn't always available, we've taken to the streets, running down the list of French restaurants to dine at. You know, in our quest to discover a worthwhile substitute for Restaurant Hubert's amazing steak frites.

Brasserie Gavroche, located along the buzzy dining enclave of Tras Street, was first on the list. The food, classic and unfussy, was decent, but less-than-mind-blowing. There were a couple of standouts, but the steak frites was disappointingly pedestrian.

A must-try, the Tartine D'Os A Moelle ($19) of oily bone marrow lumps on sourdough toasts and garlic confit, was heart-attack on a plate. So bad for you, but sodamn good. The balance was excellent, from the tang of the bread to the buttery caramelly tones of the roasted garlic, and the melty fatty decadence of the marrow.

The Steak Frites Et Sauce Bearnaise ($48) a medium-rare hunk of Australian Angus ribeye, was full-bodied and robust. Not a fan of the too-rich sauce though.

The fries, crisp and well-salted, was lovely.

Another highlight was the Parmentier de Cuisses de Canard Fait Maison ($38), a potato gratin set with shredded duck confit and bacon. This was rustic and comforting and hearty and delicious. A must-try.

Complimentary cheese choux which were little airy fairy balls of delight.

The bread was lackluster, it was unappetizingly cold.

Brasserie Gavroche
66 Tras Street
Tel: 6225 8266
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinners only;
Closed on Sundays
Website: brasseriegavroche.com



We were dismayed when the local outpost of Kuala Lumpur landmark Restoran Oversea exited our shores. We loved their char siew, and no one else in SG did it with quite as much aplomb as them...How else to get KL-style char siew now?

Enter Char. The pre-eminent char siew specialist, which moniker is a decent pun on the subject matter, barbecues pork so outstanding it may actually rival Restoran Oversea's version. I've put off visiting the restaurant for some time now, as reviews of its other offerings were lukewarm at best and I wasn't particularly keen on eating just char siew.

But since the installation of a new chef, whose stint in Imperial Treasure is an instant pass in my book, and the roll-out of a slew of Cantonese-styled dishes, I thought it high time to visit the Jalan Besar eatery.

An absolute cannot-miss, the Signature Char Siew ($18 for 300gm) was decadent, sinful, and all kinds of delicious. Sticky, luscious, melty, it was redolent of honeyed nuance and smoky char. While excellent on its own, that sambal chilli was noteworthy too. Its bright piquancy was a refreshing contrast to the sweetness of the meat.

The Cold Chicken ($8), which shredded poached chicken was a smidge dry, was saved by the scrumptious black vinegar-chilli oil emulsion jazzed up with chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, garlic, and szechuan peppercorns.

The Roast Pork Belly with Beancurd Casserole ($14) was entirely forgettable. The mushrooms needed salt, and it was disappointingly less saucy than I'd expected.

The Steamed Beancurd with Prawns ($14.80), drenched in a lurid green spinach-egg drop gravy, was best described by the Hubs as "baby food but yummy".

Char Restaurant
363 Jalan Besar
Tel: 6842 7759
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner;
Closed on Mondays
Website: char-restaurants.com


Red Bean Cold Noodles, Taipei

Liang2 Mian4, or cold noodles, is Taiwan's answer to Korea's naengmyeon. Or western pasta salad. Typically eaten during the sweltering Summer months, the noodles are served chilled and doused in a peanut-sesame sauce with a simple garnish of julienned cucumbers. It's refreshing and spritely, and doesn't ever feel too heavy for a carb-centric dish.

We were recommended Hong2 Dou4 Liang2 Mian4, or Red Bean Cold Noodles, in the foodie district of Xinyi. The shop's proprietors are friendly as heck, and are as congenial as their noodles.

The Cold Noodles (TWD35), springy and wonderfully devoid of that alkali aftertaste of most other fresh egg noodles, was slicked in a creamy nutty sauce redolent of sesame oil and peanut butter. Aromatic and lively, this was refreshingly scrumptious.

While I wasn't a fan of the gigantic pork meatballs, the Egg Drop Miso Soup (TWD35) was velvety and nuanced.

The shop front for reference.

Hong Dou Liang Mian
No. 105, Yongji Road, Taipei, Taiwan
Tel: 8787 0195

Greyhound Cafe

Greyhound Cafe opened to much fanfare in Singapore. Originating from Bangkok, aka the land of smiles, the cafe is a big thing in its homeland and insanely popular with the millennial set. It's now over a year since its launch in Paragon Shopping Centre, the crowds have long dissipated, and I thought it finally time to visit the cafe.

You know, Greyhound Cafe is the perfect example of why I don't think an overseas outpost will ever fare as well as the original mothership. Greyhound Cafe may serve great food back in Thailand, but its sister outlet here in little ol' Singapore, was awfully pedestrian. And the business, or lack thereof, speaks for itself. Even with its one-for-one mains promotion for dinner, the cafe rarely operates at a full capacity.

Because the cafe hires the hearing-impaired, service at Greyhound requires patience and understanding. On the part of the customer. We weren't aware at first that our waiter was hearing impaired, so we rattled off our orders as usual. It took us a minute to notice our waiter's badge, which notified us of his impediment. That hiring policy was a nice touch. And we'd have tipped extra, if not for the waiter's grouchy surly attitude.

The Crispy Sweet Corn ($16), generously dotted with kernels galore, was bursting with a delicate sweetness. A must-try.

The Duck Wanton Soup ($16) was a half-and-half. It looked stodgy and its dull pallor less-than-appetizing, but the broth, rich in depth of duck bones, was delicious. As was the wanton filling. The wanton skins, on the other hand, was too thick and blah.

The Noodle Tom Yum Koong ($19) was so watered down, we requested and dunked in lashings of chilli padi just so this would have some kick.

The Mince Pork Basil Rice ($18) fared much better, punchy and robust but that egg was so rubbery you could bounce a basketball off it. This came in a set with winter melon soup, which made a lovely counter to the heat of the mince.

Greyhound Cafe
290 Orchard Road
Tel: 6235 4078
Open daily from 11am to 10pm


Song Shan Gua Bao, Taipei

Gua4 Bao1 is Taiwan's answer to the burger. A breakfast staple frequently eaten on-the-go, the modestly sized bun is hearty and rustic. Everyone has their favourite, but one of the most popular offerings can be found in the Wufenpu Garment Wholesale Area of the Xinyi district, along Songshan Road where the shop draws its name.

A fluffy steamed bun is stuffed with soy-braised pork belly, fatty and indulgent and all kinds of bad for you, and laced with pickled mustard greens, and overflowing with lashings of peanut powder. It's sweet yet savoury, spicy yet tart, an explosive confluence of contrasting flavours that was at once delightful and wonderful. Each bun is hawked at an affordable (TWD50).

The shop front for reference.

Songshan Guabao
179 Songshan Road, Xinyi District, Taipei
Tel: 02 2756 7426
Open daily from 11.30am to 10pm

Tung Lok Signatures, Orchard Parade Hotel

Apologies for the extended silence. We've been caught up with life. Also, the laptop went on the fritz (again!), and thankfully, all it took was a hard reboot to kick it back into gear this time. On this note, I'm seriously considering replacing it at the year-end Comex Singapore. *hoping that threat scares lappie into submissive performance*

We haven't been to Tung Lok Signatures for some time now, and thought a return was in order. The branch at The Central at Clarke Quay is frequently jam-packed, so we headed over to its outlet at Orchard Parade Hotel for dinner instead.

I can understand why the Orchard Parade Hotel outpost was noticeably less populous. The food was a hit and miss. Service was excellent though, warm, efficient, and speedy.

I don't usually order Sweet & Sour Pork ($22), but we were with Ernie and he eats like a foreigner. Sweet & sour pork is a default order at any Cantonese restaurant. Tung Lok's version, contrasted with the tangy sweet of pineapples and peppery kick of coloured capsicums, was excellent. Thin batter, crisp fried, juicy pork, and a not-too-sweet glaze.

The Deep Fried Prawns with Salted Egg Yolk ($28) was a miss. This was dusted with milk powder that left a sickly aftertaste to the delicate shrimp.

The Tung Lok Signature Curry Prawns ($28), sided by fried buns, was sumptuous. Punchy, heady and robust, we mopped this up.

The Steamed Grouper Fillet ($48), swimming in a broth of chicken stock and Chinese wine, and jazzed up with ginger, shimeiji mushrooms, roasted garlic, and black fungus. This was middling and forgettable, especially in light of VLV's amazing rendition.

The Braised Chicken in Black Bean Sauce ($20), copiously laden with red onions, was comforting, hearty and delicious. A fail-safe dish here.

An oldie but goodie, the Braised Beancurd with Seafood in Claypot ($28) was exceptional. This was simplicity at its finest, a culmination of fresh ingredients and an awesome braising sauce.

Another must-try was the Hot Stone Pot Rice with Wagyu Beef ($28), which was like claypot rice amped up a million.

Ditto for the Crispy Rice with Crabmeat in Superior Stock ($32). It was a wonderful contrast of textures and delicate flavours.

The Braised Fish Maw Bisque ($15), coloured with saffron, is one of my must-orders at any Tung Lok Signatures outlet. Velvety and nuanced and rich in umami, this was absolutely smashing.

Signature Test Tube Juices ($3 each usual price) served with compliments were very handy in refreshing our palates at the end of a gut-busting dinner.

Tung Lok Signatures
#02-18 Orchard Parade Hotel
1 Tanglin Road
Tel: 6834 0660
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Website: www.tungloksignatures.com


YongChun Market Thousand Layer Scallion Pancake, Taipei

Our virgin trip to Taipei is forever marked by a life-changing appreciation for scallion pancake. This revelation was most surprising, most of all to myself, as anyone who's read this blog will know that I absolutely detest the trio of herbs: coriander leaves/cilantro, parsley and spring onions. I don't know how the Taiwanese do it, but the liberal lacing of spring onions in their scallion pancake, or cong1 you2 bing3, didn't bother me one bit. I thought I'd take at least one bite for posterity's sake, and then offload the rest to the Hubs, but it was so damn good I ended up finishing the whole thing on my own.

One of the very best renditions of this Taiwanese street food can be found at the morning market of Yong3 Chun1 Market, where its exquisite millefeuille-like folds have given it the moniker of 'Thousand Layer Scallion Pancake". This was remarkable, toasted till crisp and golden on the crust and delightfully chewy within. The spring onions, chopped finely and flecked throughout, was oily but just so, without leaving that film on the tongue. Absolutely delicious, and an absolute must-try.

The stall front for reference. She sells out her wares by like 10am so go early early.

Yong Chun Market
294 Songshan Road, Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan 110
(Next to Yongchun Station along the MRT blue line)
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 7am to 8pm (it transforms into a flea market of sorts in the afternoon-evening transition)


Dolce Vita

Mandarin Oriental Hotel is my favourite hotel for its in-house restaurant options. There's the best-in-class Japanese Teppan-Ya, illustrious grand dame of Chinese fine-dining Cherry Garden, renowned steakhouse Morton's, the immensely popular buffets at Melt....and then there's Dolce Vita, the long-timer Italian trattoria.

Perched on the 5th floor overlooking the bay, the glass enclosure of a restaurant flanks the hotel pool, so you get glistening bodies oiled up and soaking up the sun's rays in the foreground, against the azure expanse of the Marina Bay in the background.

I like the ambience Dolce Vita affords, it's breezy, casual, and tranquil. Being on the fringes of the madding CBD and bustling Orchard Road shopping belt is evidently conducive for a relaxed vibe. Which is why a bunch of us from work drove out of the city for a languid Friday lunch. And also, because TGIF!!

Also, the Set Lunch ($36 for 2-courses, $42 for 3-courses, and $52 for 4-courses) was quite the attractive draw. While Dolce Vita isn't my favourite Italian restaurant by any measure, I would admit that the set lunch was one of the most value-for-money around.

The highlight of the appetizer courses, the Vellutata di Funghi, was the house's signature wild mushroom veloute, earthy, thick and creamy with lashings of parmesan crumble. Wonderfully comforting and a must-try.

The Orecchiette alla Norcina was our pick of the pasta courses for its delicate flavours. An Umbria-style pork sausage ragout, this was dotted with summer black truffle and topped with pecorino shavings.

I'm a big big sucker for risotto, but I wasn't a fan of the Pumpkin Risotto, And while I liked the sauteed prawn dice freckled through, I thought the addition of ginger oil a step too far, which heat was a jarringly stark contrast to the subtle sweetness of the pumpkin and shrimp.

We had one of every protein in the meat course; the Filetto di Salmone (supplement $10) was a poached salmon fillet crisped up on the skin for a textural juxtaposition, and sided by broccoli, vanilla parsnip coulis, and a blood orange vinaigrette. A well-balanced dish with delightfully light, fruity notes.

The Pollo, was well-executed. Organic chicken breast was seasoned with mustard seed for a mellow bite, and served alongside juicy mushroomsm, smooth mash and a rich shallot jus

The Controfiletto di Manzo (supplement $10) was a perfectly medium grass-fed sirloin, heady with a smoky char, and topped with capperata, green leaves and rubra sauce.

We also ordered a few items off the ala carte menu, for sharing, and the Prosciutto di Parma ($26) with homemade grissini and piadina emiliana flatbread was a reliable failsafe.

We also shared a cheese plate of creamy Taleggio ($22), which soft pungent notes were picked up by the tart of homemade marmalade and fruit bread.

The Crema di Cavolfiore ($20) of cauliflower soup, creamy and smooth, was speckled with cauliflower florets and a seared Hokkaido scallop dusted with black truffle powder.

The Roasted Barramundi Fillet ($46) with scapece zucchini, homemade ricotta, and mussels sounded much better on paper than it actually turned out. It was a middling, forgettable dish. The salmon on the set lunch menu would have been a far more worthwhile option.

Freshly baked bread, crusty and toasty, paired with softened butter. EVOO and balsamic are available too, feel free to ask for that.

Dolce Vita
5 Raffles Ave
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Tel: 6885 3500
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner


Kao Chi, Taipei

Everyone knows about Din Tai Fung. The world renowned, Michelin-starred international-chain restaurant synonymous with xiao3 long2 bao1 draws the tourist horde to its ten stores throughout Taipei city. But the Taiwanese know Din Tai Fung isn't the exclusive paragon for xiao long bao. Ask any local, and they'll direct you to a Kao Chi chain restaurant instead.

Kao3 Chi1, with an even more enduring legacy than Din Tai Fung, is the less touristy, less commercial, but just as exceptional, compeer to Din Tai Fung. The restaurant may be less prominent than DTF, but the Shanghainese fare is no mousy imitation of its world-famous counterpart.

Just about every one of its four branches does a roaring business, largely sustained by the local populace. Obviously, reservations are a must. Or be prepared to wait in line for an hour or so.

The Xiao Long Bao (NT$220), or soup dumpling, was exquisitely nuanced. The skin is a smidge thicker than DTF's standard, but it was still thin enough to be toothsome. The soup and pork mince was more delicate as well, and I liked that restrain and polish.

The highlight, and must-try, was the Sheng1 Jian1 Bao1 (NT$220) or pan-fried pork buns. Thick flour buns stuffed with a delicious pork mince steamed to fluffy perfection, and given a toasty crunch on the bum with a pre-heated skillet pan.

The restaurant for reference.

Kao Chi
#B2 Eslite Spectrum Songyan
No. 88 Yanchang Road, Xinyi District
Taiwan 110
Tel: +886 2 6639 6589
Open daily from 11am to 10pm


Korean-Style Roasted Cauliflower

This is a Korean take on roasted cauliflower. Using a base of gochujang and lashings of sesame oil, I made this a sweet-spicy nibbler that's great for healthy snacking. But because it's coated in a thick emulsion, you'll need to roast this at a lower temperature of 190C (400F) to ensure it doesn't burn.

Chunk it up with fried tofu, or an egg, like I did here.

Ingredients (feeds 4):
3 heads cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tbsp canola oil for pre-oiling the roasting pan
sesame seeds or furikake for garnishing
optional: fried egg

3 tbsp guk kanjang (switch it with Chinese light soy in a pinch)
5 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp Korean sesame oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger

1) Mix the marinade.

2) Toss the cauliflower in the marinade.

3) Spread it out in a pre-oiled roasting tin, and roast for 40 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 190C, tossing it all at 15-minute intervals. At the 35-minute mark, turn up the oven to 240C and roast it for 3-5 minutes for a slight charring.

4) Serve with a liberal sprinkling of sesame seeds or furikake like I did here.

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