BAKE Cheese Tart, ION Orchard

I finally got on the Japanese cheese tart gravy train. As with any other food fad in Singapore, we waited till the initial furore over the famous Hokkaido confectionery died down, before trying them. Whereas the tarts previously mandated at least an hour waiting in a snaking line, indulging in a treat from BAKE Cheese Tart now doesn't take more than 5 minutes on a Friday evening.

And now that I've finally tried it, I can totally understand the craze. Oh my, these were absolutely sublime. A buttery crust that was just the right amount of bite, filled with a cheesy mousse so light it's like eating a fluffy cloud. Decadent, delicious and addicting, I can polish off a whole box on my own. In one sitting. And that is why I go to the gym.

Even better news, BAKE is open through the Chinese New Year holidays (till 5pm methinks). If you bring these along to visit relations, you can be sure of a warm reception ($19.50 for a box of 6). You'll be everyone's favourite relative!

BAKE Cheese Tart
2 Orchard Turn
ION Orchard #B4-33

Open daily from 10am to 10pm


Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant

The team headed out to Li Bai for a celebratory Chinese New Year lo hei lunch. It's an old reliable and one of my all-time favourite Chinese restaurants. And while it can feel slightly dated or stuffily old-school, I like its solidly traditional approach to the classics. At Li Bai, convention and form trumps trendy pop and modern twists. So don't expect truffle this, or fusion that. Instead, Cantonese cuisine is executed with polish and finesse, for a most exquisite meal.

The Salmon Yusheng Lo Hei Platter ($62 for small) was beautifully elegant, every julienned vegetable perfectly even. I know some of my OCD friends would absolutely love this. 

The soups at Li Bai are exquisite, and the Chicken Broth with Bamboo Pith & Straw Mushrooms ($12) was a fine example of one. Delicate soup base, and generous hunks of ingredients. 

A must-try, both for lunch and dinner, the Roast Pork & Barbecued Meat Platter ($36 for small), sided by marinated jellyfish, was fantastic. Crisp skin and flavourful, not gamey meat for the roast duck, and delightful crackling and juicy lusciousness for the roasted pork.

The dim sum at Li Bai is one of the very best in SG, and possibly the most refined of the lot, the Steamed Shrimp Dumpling ($8) was outstanding, with skin delightfully thin and chewy, swaddling fresh plump prawns studded with crunchy bamboo shoots for texture.

Ditto for the Steamed Pork Dumplings ($8) burnished with fresh shrimp, shrimp roe and conpoy.

I love the Steamed Soup Dumpling ($7.20), stuffed with pork and crabmeat for added sweetness. The pork broth based soup was subtle with the seafresh sweetness of crab stock.

The Steamed Scallops & Snow Pea Shoot Dumpling ($9) was light and balanced with clean and clear flavours.

Also available for dinner, the Deep-Fried Silver Fish ($10), lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, was polished and addictively yummy.

The mark of a skillful wok master was evident in the Stir-Fried Radish Cake with XO Chilli Sauce ($9), redolent with smoky notes and beautifully caramelised charring.

The Deep Fried Crispy Beancurd Skin with Shrimp ($8.10) was well-rounded with the streaks of yellow chives lending a crisp freshness.

For dessert, the Red Bean Paste Pancake ($15) was a massive hit. The semi-sweet red bean paste was velvety smooth, and pancake crusty and crisp, without the soggy weight of oil.

My personal favourite, the Cream of Mango Sago ($7), dotted with fresh mango dice and pomelo, was refreshingly piquant.

Smooth as a baby's bottom, the Mango Pudding ($7), topped with fresh strawberries and coconut cream, was delicate and well-rounded.

Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant
39 Scotts Road
Sheraton Towers Singapore Hotel Lower Level (the hotel sometimes calls it the "ground floor" or "level 1" but for the avoidance of doubt, it's actually the basement 1)
Tel: 6839 5623
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch;
Daily from 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Sundays from 10.30am to 2.30pm for lunch


The White Rabbit

We took time out of the office to get away for a languid lunch at The White Rabbit. To our surprise, the historic landmark of a restaurant favoured by many for a romantic date night has become quite the hot-spot for business lunches; it was a full house on a Friday afternoon.

It's no wonder then, why the young executive-set flock to The White Rabbit; the price points for weekday set lunches are incredibly wallet-friendly: a 2-course is priced at only $38+, while a more ample 3 courses would only set you back by $42+.

For starters, the Salt Baked Tiger Prawn (+$6) was outstanding, its plump sweet flesh brightened by a piquant lemon confit chimichurri.

Always a safe bet and pretty as a painting, the Rangers Valley Wagyu Carpaccio seasoned with truffle cream, balsamic pearls, celery cress, and grated parmesan, was as delicious as it looked.

For those preferring a lighter appetizer, the Organic Asparagus Veloute, topped with a truffle crouton stick, shaved truffles, and dotted with crunchy asparagus spears, was a delicate exercise in restrain and richness in depth of flavour.

Onto the second courses:- the Alaskan King Crab Tagliatelle drenched in an exquisite pork bone broth, and flecked with konbu, was a must-try entrée option. This was a modest portion from the full-sized ala carte version, so the carby main was a lot less guilt-inducing than you'd expect. With maximum pleasure in return.

A meatier option was the Braised Pork Shoulder, fork-tender and luscious, slathered in a robust red wine sauce jazzed with a little Chinese five-spice. Roasted winter vegetables and a creamy swede puree lent levity and texture.

I really liked the Challans Duck Breast (supplement $8); seared to moist perfection, and sticky and aromatic in lavender honey glaze. A schmear of charred scallion puree, roasted baby carrots, young corn, and new potatoes complemented this.

We supplemented with a couple of side dishes from the ala carte menu, and while the Sauteed Field Mushrooms ($10) is usually a reliable choice, it was unfortunately, laced with parsley despite instructions to the contrary that day.

Thankfully, the Sauteed Brussels Sprouts ($12) was smashing, not least due to the plentiful lardons of decadently sinful bacon tossed into the mix.

For the third course of dessert, we each had our favourites, and oddly enough, fervently diametrical opinions on every one. While the rest of the party thought the Cinnamon Cherry Parfait layered with a cherry compote was too sour, I loved its bracing refreshing notes.

I found the Chocolate Moelleux, oozing with a green tea ganache, and crowned with a vanilla caramel crunch ice-cream, a smidgen saccharine, but the rest of the chocoholics loved it.

Half of us thought the Pavlova & Yoghurt Snow was a beautiful contrast of the sugary sweet and tart fruitiness, but the other half felt the passionfruit gel orange curd was overpoweringly sour.

We couldn't find consensus on the Millefeuille of Strawberry Caramel either, as some thought the framboise sorbet too tart.

The White Rabbit
39C Harding Road
Tel: 6473 9965
Open weekdays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch and 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
weekends from 11am to 2.30pm for lunch and 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Closed on Mondays
Website: www.thewhiterabbit.com.sg


Chang Korean Charcoal BBQ Restaurant

Chang Korean has been on my to-eat list for quite some time. The Dempsey Hills long-timer is well regarded by the Korean expat community for serving up reasonably decent Korean fare. It's not the most authentic (for that, you'll have to make friends with the Koreans and invite yourself into their homes) and tbh, it can't quite compare to Seoul's offerings, but this was as good as you're gonna get in this part of Asia.

They say the mark of a good Korean restaurant is its kimchi, and in this case, the kimchi was dismal. It was excessively sour and lacked the punch of a spicy kick or the sweet of fermentation to balance it out. The other banchan were a hit-and-miss. The cauliflower, dubu-jjim (chilled steamed tofu), and gamja jorim (soy marinated potatoes) were adequate, but the sigeumchi namul (seasoned spinach), kong-namul (seasoned soy bean sprouts) and oi muchim (kimchi cucumbers) were dreadfully mediocre.

Thankfully, the Haemul Soondubu Jjigae ($18), spicy seafood tofu soup, fared better. Fresh enough clams and mussels, beautifully silky beancurd, sweet zucchini, and an oozy egg was softly poached in a robust seafood broth.

I liked the crisp and subtle heat of the Haemul Pajeon ($22), a seafood pancake studded with onions, spring onions, green chilli, and a small gripe here, just 4 shrimp.

The barbecue was where Chang Korean shone, and must-trys include the (top to bottom) Wang Yangnyeon Galbi ($45) marinated prime rib, Ddak Bulgogi ($28) marinated chicken thigh, and Heukdoijee Moksal ($37) kurobuta collar, all luscious, flavourful, and best of all, cooked to a smoky, juicy perfection by the wait staff.

Chang Korean Charcoal BBQ Restaurant
Blk 71 Loewen Road
Tel: 6473 9005
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: www.changbbq.com


House of Peranakan Petit, Tiong Bahru

House of Perankan Petit is possibly going down as one of the year's most wasted eats. A waste of calories, and a waste of time; I walked out of the restaurant, post-dinner, crabby and dissatisfied.

The cooking was clunky and uneven, and scarcely authentic. And what's baffling was how the restaurant managed to draw a full crowd on a regular weekend, notwithstanding its limited capacity. Even more mystifying was its glowing online reviews, and longevity in the brutal world of F&B, which tends to weed out the crap.

That said, service was hospitable and well-meaning. Even if they lacked knowledge of the menu, forgot to hold off the parsley/cilantro/coriander leaves, and were a clumsy mess (they'd spilled a black soy braise on my white skirt while clearing the table, but apologetically offered complimentary Perrier to dab out the stain before it set). 

Despite assurances to the contrary by the waiter who took our order, the Otak Otak ($12) was laced with coriander leaves. I couldn't eat this, so my friend doubled up as a rubbish bin. But, he couldn't finish this either; it'd stayed in a steamer about a minute too long and reeked of a fishy odour.

The Nonya Chap Chye ($10), a melange of cabbage, beancurd skin, black fungus, and glass vermicelli stewed in bean paste, was decent, if a little pedestrian.

The tamarind in the Assam Prawns ($18) lent a delightful piquancy to the sweetness of the tiger prawns, which were plump but less than sparkling fresh.

The spicy coconut cream slathered over the Scallop Lemak ($28) was commendable, but then was let down by the overcooked scallops.

I get that the Claypot Chicken ($16) was meant to be a comforting homey staple but it was amateurish. In a way that a teenager in a Sec 1 Home Economics class would be able to do this. So even if this was nice, I didn't think its price point was worthwhile.  

The Babi Pongteh ($16) used lean pork stewed in taucheo and garlic. I'm totally on board with the the healthy, "no fatty pork belly" direction the restaurant intended to take, but only if the pork was cooked well and remained moist. Instead, the lack of fat layers highlighted how dry and stringy the pork was.We didn't finish this.

The soups lacked depth of flavour. The Itek Tim ($10), a classic salted vegetables, duck and pork rib soup was grimacingly sour, without the balance of a rich duck flavour.

It was a blessing in disguise that the Bakwang Kepiting ($8), a crabmeat broth with a stuffing blend of prawns, crabmeat, pork, and bamboo shoots in a crab shell, was small in portion. It was too damn saccharine.

We really wanted to give the Pulot Hitam ($4.50), a dessert of black glutinous rice pudding swirled with coconut milk, a fair shake, but this was watery and lackluster. This was the Hubs' favourite dessert but he actually declined a second mouthful.

House of Peranakan Petit
42 Eng Hoon Street
Tel: 6222 1719
Open Wednesdays to Mondays from 12noon to 3am; Closed on Tuesdays
Website: houseofperanakan.com.sg


Sanpoutei Ramen, Holland Village

Sanpoutei Ramen was a superb recommendation by Lips, and one of the better ramen I've eaten in some time. Taking over the spot previously tenanted by the dreadfully crummy Ramenplay, Sanpoutei Ramen is one of the more distinguished dining options in the Holland Village enclave.

My pick of the soup-based options, the Rich Tori-Spicy Miso ($20.80) was a silky chicken broth buoyed by punchy spicy accents. The up-sized version was loaded with 5 slices of grilled pork belly chashu that was meltingly delicious, ajitsuke tamago of soy-marinated soft-boiled egg, braised cabbage, and minced chicken. Particularly noteworthy was the noodles, delightfully springy and chewy; and none of that soft mushy crap favoured by the local palate. This is, in my opinion, one of the best chicken soup-based ramen.

The pork-bone soup base, Tonkotsu Ramen ($17) was velvety and thick, topped with 2 slices of chashu, soft-boiled egg, kelp, and crunchy black fungus. This passed muster, and I liked that it didn't have leave that annoyingly cloying milky film on the tongue, but I still thought it was rather stodgy.

Its hyped signature, Niigata Shoyu Ramen ($15) of shoyu base was overrated. The shoyu had traces of a bitter-fishy undertone, due to the ground sardines blended into the soup. So where the sardines was supposed to lend a umami appeal, the pairing clashed badly and was off-putting. This was exacerbated by the alkaline rawness of the bamboo shoots. Suffice it to say, most of the soup and bamboo shoots were left untouched.

Another must-try was the Japanese version of the local dry mee pok, Maze Soba Aburi Chashu ($14). Slicked in a spicy sardine oil-shoyu sauce, the noodles had a lovely springy and chewy texture. Here, the sardines fused well with the sauce. The noodles would have been excellent on its own, but there was a side of chicken broth, probably for those who prefer their ramen soupy.The aburi-ed chashu was shredded here, for easier blending into the noodles.

We supplemented the noodles with a Butariki Niigata Rice Mini Don ($5), a modest rice-bowl flush with decadent strips of charred pork belly, crisp nori, and a raw egg yolk. Well-executed but unmemorable.

The Edamame ($6) was outstanding. I know this seems like the most regular of appetizers to rave about, but the beans were sizeable, not like those anemic ones served by many a ramen shop, exceptionally flavoursome, and salted to perfection.

Sanpoutei Ramen
253 Holland Ave #01-01
Tel: 6463 7277
Open 11.30am to 11pm
Website: sanpoutei.sg


The Peranakan

We're always on the lookout for good Peranakan restaurants. We're both part Peranakan and short of inviting ourselves to our relatives' homes every other weekend for a throwback to our childhood, we've had to make do with satiating our cravings commercially. We've heard good things about The Peranakan, a new-ish restaurant in the recently revamped Claymore Connect, the mall annexed to Orchard Hotel and previously known as Orchard Hotel Shopping Arcade. So, after the initial furore of The Peranakan's official launch died down, we popped by for a visit.

The Peranakan is an intricate and vibrant, if a little kitschy, wallpapered tribute to the Peranakan design sensibility. And with a trove of Peranakan knick-knacks strewn around the restaurant, it almost looks like a museum. I was skeptical, wondering if the food was going to be a cheesy and underwhelming affair. The restaurant's half-capacity on a Friday evening didn't exactly bode a stellar dinner either.

Thankfully, the food impressed. It's not the best we've ever had; those superlatives are reserved for our beloved Maks' cooking, but the traditional fare at The Peranakan was wonderfully homestyled. In fact, the seafood Hokkien mee and sambal belachan were practically indistinguishable from the Hubs' Chek Joe's version.

Service was a little eager, but generally unintrusive. Although they'd forgotten my request to hold off the coriander leaves, the staff made sure to remake the soup proper (instead of just lazily taking out the greens), and offered profuse and sincere apologies.

The Kueh Pie Ti ($10), a DIY platter of fried flour top-hats, poached prawns, and stewed turnip was excellent. The julienned turnip was a bit uneven, but the stock was mellow and nuanced.

One of the best renditions around, the Sup Bakwan Kepiting ($9) was sweet but balanced, and the balls of crabmeat, pork mince, and chopped shrimp were juicy and meaty.

The Ayam Buah Keluak ($22) was heady and thick, jazzed up with a subtle heat, and I liked that they only served succulent thigh meat.

A must-try, the Sambal Udang ($27) was absolutely fantastic; the sambal was robust and bold, while the prawns were sweet and fresh.

Another must-try, the Sambal Sotong ($19) with ladies fingers was cooked to perfection.

A dish I haven't seen for some time, the Ikan Goreng Sumbat Sambal Belachan ($17) was a duo of tenggiri stuffed with sambal, deep-fried, and drizzled with kecap manis. Bony but exquisite.

The Hei Bi Hiam ($1.50 per person), served with sambal belachan, was addictively good. Like Pringles, you can't stop at one!

Another must-try, the Pandan Gula Melaka Chiffon Cake ($6.50) was an airy fairy confection showered with grated coconut and smoky-sweet gula melaka syrup. Ask for extra gula melaka, they'd happily oblige.

The Green Lime Juice ($6.50) and Passionfruit Soursop Juice ($8) riddled with biji selaseh for a seedy crunch, made for refreshing thirst quenchers.

The Peranakan
442 Orchard Road
#02-01 Claymore Connect @ Orchard Hotel
Tel: 6262 4428 / 6262 4728
Open daily from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.theperanakan.com

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