El Mero Mero, Chijmes

Chijmes, like Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, are enclaves which go through cyclical periods of hip popularity, passe ghost-town-ness, and revamping facelifts. I've seen Chijmes undergo just about five different overhauls, since it was converted from a convent school to a lifestyle hub, just so to keep the heritage complex vibrant and the crowds over-flowing.

After the recent reconditioning, Chijmes is in vogue again, with a slew of unique restaurant and bar options launched over the past year. Where it was a depressing desert on a Friday night just 2 years ago, it's now a trendy, exciting destination to toast TGIF.

The most happening restaurants are alfresco, facing the astro-turf lawn, where live gigs lend to Chijmes' convivial atmosphere. Note that it tends to get a little deafening at times, so sit a little further away if you actually want to hear what your party is saying.

El Mero Mero is a Mexican restaurant is smack-dab front-and-center where the action is. Great for watching people mill about the courtyard, and awesome for soaking in the buzzy levity. I had a girls' night out-only and loved the ambience, but while the band that night was pretty decent, they sometimes got so loud we found ourselves shouting at one another just to carry on a conversation.

Food-wise, El Mero Mero was commendable. I can't speak to the authenticity of the food, because I've never been to Mexico, but I sure liked it a lot. Even if the kitchen put parsley/cilantro/coriander leaves in half the dishes, despite clear instructions to the contrary.

Service was rough though, and we struggled to get their attention at all, whether to get and refill our iced water, or to take our orders in the first place. We sympathized: the staff looked shorthanded and were clearly frazzled zipping around fast as they could.

The Guacamole ($18) blended avocado with pico de gallo, which mellow creaminess was lifted by a squeeze of the lime.

The guacamole was sided by freshly made tortilla chips, still warm from the oven, and 2 amazing dips, one a spicy green tomatillo sauce that was fiery and a muted salsa that was refreshing.

The Volcan De Queso ($17) breaded and fried cheese sticks, was set in a saucy green tomatillo salsa and served bubbling in a pre-heated earthernware pot. Freshly toasted flour tortillas were excellent in mopping up every last drop of the delicious gravy.

A must-try, the Crunchy Fish Taco ($16) stuffed with blue warehou fish, avocado cubes, oodles of sour cream, dollops of spicy chile, and shredded lettuce was scrumptious. It was sweet and fresh and brimming with clear and crisp flavours.

The El Mero Mero Ceviche ($18) of octopus, prawns and wild fish, cured in a lime and spiced tomato, and studded with avocado, was the best ceviche I've ever had in my life (to confess: I've only had 2 ceviche in my life so that's not really the most accurate marker). The seafood was swimmingly fresh, and clean sweetness was perfectly tempered by the piquant brightness of the sauce.

The Wild Mushroom Tacos ($30), soft corn tortillas laden with shimeiji, guajillo chili, cotija cheese, and coriander, was earthy and juicy.

The Atlantic Grilled Octopus ($28) imbued with the most amazing char from the josper charcoal grill, was plated with corn cream, black garlic paste, and tajin ash. That being said, the octopus would have been a smashing slamdunk if it was taken off the grill about 30 seconds earlier.

The muted sweetness and smoky notes of the Roasted Poblano Pepper ($26) was contrasted by the sweet corn sweet sauce, pungent epazote, and heat of serrano chiles.

For dessert, a must-try was the Roasted Pineapple ($14) caramelised with raw sugarto soften its bite, and served with papantla vanilla ice-cream.

The Tequila Pecan Pie ($14), was nutty and toasty and sumptuous, even if it was barely reminiscent of the liquor. This was accompanied by cinnamon ice-cream.

I was bursting at the seams, and beginning to feel the stirrings of a food-coma, so I got the Raspberry Sorbet ($6), which zesty tart notes was quite the fantastic wake-up call.  

El Mero Mero
30 Victoria Street
Chijmes #01-20
Tel: 6337 1377
Open Sundays to Wednesdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 5pm to 11pm for dinner;
Thursdays to Saturdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 5pm to 1am for dinner
Website: elmeromero.sg


Spicy Minced Pork Lettuce Cups

Another quick stir-fry that's a cinch to make and so quick. Although I've used ground pork here, feel free to switch that out with beef or chicken instead. 

Ingredients (makes 4 cups):
300 gm minced pork
1 small yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tsp miso paste
1 tbsp sake
2 dashes white ground pepper
1 tsp chilli pepper flakes
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp fried garlic for garnishing
4 baby lettuce cups

1) Fry onion in canola and sesame oil, until translucent, about 2 minutes on medium-high heat.

2) Add garlic and toss through, about 1 minute.

3) Add pork, breaking up the mound while frying.

4) Add oyster sauce, hoisin, miso, sake, pepper, chilli flakes, which have been pre-mixed separately in a bowl.

5) Add pinenuts and toss through before serving.

Sauteed Lettuce with Chicken & Gingko

I love gingko nuts, it's just that I can never seem to get through a packet of them. Huh, you may ask? Well, apparently, gingko nuts, for all of their health benefits (hello gingko biloba supplements!), are actually poisonous in large doses. Sounds like an old wives' tale, but it's medically proven, so the general consensus is to eat no more than 8 nuts a day.

So I incorporate them into my stir fries, a little each time, to get through the smallest packet I could find at the supermarket. I find gingko nuts add a chestnutty flavour to a vegetable stir-fry.  

Ingredients (feeds 4):
1 large head lettuce, cut/torn roughly to 2" squares
2 small carrots, shredded
300 gm chicken fillet, sliced to strips and marinated with recipe below
20 gingko nuts
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp guk kanjang (Chinese light soy will do too)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp mirin
3 dashes white ground pepper

Chicken Marinade (for at least 1 hour):
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp brown sugar
1 dash white ground pepper

1) Fry garlic in canola and sesame oil, on medium-low heat, taking care not to burn the garlic, till fragrant, just under 1 minute.

2) Add carrots, and fry for 1 minute on medium-high heat.

3) Add lettuce, and fry till wilted, about 2 minutes.

4) Add guk kanjang, oyster sauce, mirin, white pepper, and stir through.

5) Add chicken, stirring through, until cooked through, about 2 minutes.

6) Add ginkgo nuts just before serving, as it disintegrates otherwise.


Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters

Whoever said that the central region of Singapore has no worthwhile cafe has obviously never been to Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters. A Melbourne-styled cafe serving modern Australian cuisine and one of the best coffees on the island, Pacamara is casual and buzzy. While Pacamara is notably more crowded and service inevitably choppy on weekend afternoons, night-time will find this place a bit less frenzied and ambience relaxed.

We'd seen Pacamara on our way to the club many times, but never ventured in. Partly because we always saw the cafe packed to the gills, and in part put off by the nightmare of a carpark shortage. But, at the recommendation of Beck, we popped by one night for dinner after hitting the club. She swears by their coffee, which she buys by the truckload, and tells us to park at Sin Ming Plaza across the road: "there's always parking lots, and fees are so low".

Beck knows her food, and she's bang on about the food at Pacamara. The dishes are as delicious as they are pretty. Everything we had was scrumptious.

The Baked Portobello ($15.90), capped with melted brie, was strewn with tomato salsa, arugula, and grated parmesan. Clean clear flavours abound, and an excellent way to get the vegetable-averse to eat their greens.

A fantastic recommendation by the lovely cashier/waitress, was the Duck Pappardelle ($18.90), laced with shredded duck confit, fresh tomatoes, and slicked in a sauce rich with garlic and duck stock. A must-try.

The Slow-Cooked Chicken Breast ($17.50) paired with cubed avocado, wilted spinach & pine nuts, tomato salsa, crumbed feta, and a lemon wedge was light and bright and delightfully lively. The chicken wasn't the most succulent or moist, but it was commendably decent, considering it's breast-meat.

The crisp on the Pan-Fried Seabass ($22) was wonderfully done. A beautiful golden hue and exceptional crunch of the skin. Creamy parsnip puree, juicy oven-roasted mushrooms, sea-fresh ikura, kenya bean, dill, chives, tomatoes, and a 62C sous vide free-range egg completed the ensemble.

Coffee at Pacamara are white or black, for those with or without milk respectively. The Hubs had the Caramel Roadster White ($5 for 5 oz), a rich frothy concoction of caffeine blast.

I'm a sucker for anything toffee, so I got the Santa Sofia Toffee White ($5 for 5 oz), which was subtly fragranced by the burnt sugary notes.

Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters
185 Upper Thomson Road
Open daily from 9am to 11pm
Website: pacamara.sg


La Ristrettos

La Ristrettos is the very epitome of a hidden gem. It's squared away deep in the bowels of the Novena Medical Centre, and thus so secluded, that you'd have to be looking for it to actually find it. Or else, happen to be a patient of the few medical outfits abutting the cafe.

Very possibly the best eat in the Novena Square vicinity, La Ristrettos serves up brunch like fare with aplomb. The icing on the cake is the price-points, which, at about $15 a dish, are akin to the prices in the brunch capital of the world, Melbourne. For those who aren't familiar with Melbourne's brunch, that makes La Ristrettos one of the cheapest purveyors of brunch foods in SG.

The low prices may be due to the low rent tagged to the isolated shop space (there is like zero foot traffic here), OR it may be due to the fact that air-conditioning is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent here. It was so stuffy and muggy indoors, that sitting alfresco in the little garden nook, braving the sweltering heat of the afternoon sun was marginally better. At least you get the occasional breeze outdoors.

The Smoked Duck Breast ($14), accompanied by a pancetta-swaddled asparagus spear, fried potato cake, and pesto topped poached egg, was flavoured with a drizzle of honeyed wholegrain mustard glaze. The duck breast was fantastic, rich and luscious, and not at all gamey.

A must-try, the Breakfast Crab Cake ($15), stacked with avocado, potato cake, a grilled pancetta strip, pesto-dressed rocket leaves, a side of poached egg, and finished with balsamic sauce, was insanely good. The plate was incredibly balanced, and that crabcake, ooh la la, amazing!!

The Grigliata Oceania ($14.90), a seafood salad of grilled prawns and scallops set upon cherry tomatoes, mesclun greens, croutons and parmesan was pedestrian, in no small part thanks to the low-grade parmesan, which powdery insipid texture was reminscent of those kraft-branded pre-grated crap. The greens weren't exactly the sweetest either. Such a letdown to the decent shellfish.

Coffee is a big big thing at La Ristrettos, and it's excellent here. The Caffe Latte ($5.50 each), a potent, heady concoction of creamy froth, was a superb perk-me-up.

La Ristrettos
10 Sinaran Drive
Novena Medical Centre #08-37
Tel: 6397 7165
Open weekdays from 8am to 6pm;
Saturdays from 8am to 2pm;
Closed on Sundays
Facebook Website


Joo Chiat Teochew Porridge (aka Teck Teochew Porridge)

So, Joo Chiat Teochew Porridge (aka/fka Teck Teochew Porridge) has moved premises, again! This is like their 4th location since their original location at Joo Chiat. Seriously, the stall has to find a more permanent home. Because it was quite the roller-coaster of emotions to have to hit up their last site at East Coast Road and be terribly disappointed, and then elatedly discover that they'd hauled ass further east to Frankel Ave.

Anyways, I love love love Teck Teochew Porridge. We think it's the best Teochew porridge in Singapore. The seafood is swimmingly fresh, and because everything is cooked only upon order (save for the braised dishes), you get food piping hot off the fire. There's an ice counter flush with an array of fish, prawns, clams, crayfish, scallops and the occasional lobster, for the picking and the kitchen will steam them, Teochew-style, or fry them up with black beans and chilli. Don't be shy to ask the staff to explain what's available for the day, as they're great with recommendations. 

Because there was just the 2 of us, it was suggested that we get a cut of the threadfin, instead of getting a whole fish which might be too big an order to finish. The Steamed Threadfin Fillet ($24), bathed in a delicate stock flecked with salted plums, leek, ginger, tomatoes, tofu, and mushrooms, was lipsmackingly delicious and incredibly balanced. A must-order.

The Stir-Fried Tiger Prawns ($18 for 300gm), burnished in a honeyed garlicky black bean sauce, was decent but unmemorable. We should have heeded the lady's suggestion to have this steamed instead.

Another must-try, the Stewed Cabbage ($2) was simplicity at its finest. Sweet, mellow, and wonderfully comforting.

The Braised Duck ($12) was excellent, and possibly the best hawker Teochew-style duck around. Sparkling fresh, with nary a whiff of game, and drenched in a heady but thin soy sauce braise.

The Braised Peanuts ($2), laced with strips of chewy pig skin, was rich with nutty overtones.

Another must-try, the Chai Poh Omelette ($5) was fantastic, beautifully charred and its smoky notes complementing the salty preserved radish nubbins.

A regular fixture whenever I have Teochew porridge, the Salted Egg ($2) was scrumptious just paired with a mouthful of plain porridge.

Joo Chiat Teochew Porridge
65 Frankel Ave
Tel: 9897 4477
Open Thursdays to Tuesdays from 11am to 9.30pm; Closed on Wednesdays
Facebook Website


PS Cafe Petit, Tiong Bahru

I finally get the big deal that is PS Cafe. The fanfare lies with their pizzas, only available at their "petit" branches, which are one of the best in SG.

[Aside: did you know that there was a PS Cafe in Tiong Bahru??!?? Coz I sure didn't!! I frequent that enclave, and I've actually walked past the outlet several times, but I never realised it was a P.S. Cafe!!]

So anyways, at the recommendation of a colleague who's a big big fan of PS Cafe, a bunch of us from work trooped down to Tiong Bahru on a languid Friday (because, TGIF!!), to chill at PS Cafe Petit.

The cafe, a chic spot bedecked in black with a pretty little greenhouse-like nook, is wonderfully cool to hang out in the blazing heat of the afternoon sun. The staffing is purposely kept lean, so the bistro works like a self-serviced fast-food joint. You find your own seating, order and pay at the counter, and collect your food when your buzzer rings. And when you're done, there's the one staff to clear the table. That being said, it's nice to clear your own crap.

A must-try, the Carbonara ($28), dotted with pancetta and bacon, slathered with parmesan cream, melted mozzarella, grated pecorino, and spiked with fresh basil and crispy sage. I loved the herb additives, they lent a unique and refreshing twist to the familiar flavours of carbonara. And that delicious garlicky chilli oil paste, that added a lovely punchy accent.

The Winter Salami Margherita ($28), a meaty spin on the vegetarian classic, was loaded with mozzarella, cheddar, bologna scarmozina cheese, and rings of szeged magalista pork hungarian winter salami. The pizza crust was something else altogether, perfectly balanced between the thin and thick, so it was at once chewy and fluffy, and imbued with a smoky essence from the wood-fired oven.

I'm trying to eat healthy, so I snuck in some greens, so assuage any carb-loading guilt, and the Superfood Salad ($12) was a beautiful melange of blueberries, almonds, pumpkin, quinoa, broccoli, spinach, romaine, roasted nuts, and goji berries, tossed in a lively orange rosemary dressing, was absolutely scrumptious. So scrumptious, in fact, that it should have been sinful.

A popular mainstay throughout the PS Cafe branches, the Truffle Shoestring Fries ($12) heady with the aroma of truffle oil, was salted with grated parmesan and a sprinkling of parsley.

P.S. Cafe Petit
Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street
Open weekdays from 11am to 11pm;
weekends from 9.30am to 11pm


Steeples Deli

Steeples Deli is one of the oldest tenants of the dinosaur-like Tanglin Shopping Centre. The old-school mall is sometimes forgotten as a relic of the constantly evolving Orchard Road, but it's a trove of medical outfits, art galleries, and specialist tailors.

And tucked away in a corner on the second level, the country deli, with a warm homely feel and an easy languid vibe, welcomes regulars like a second home. Sandwiches and milkshakes are the main draw here, with a smattering of breakfast classics, pastas, and burgers. Bestsellers are indexed with a mark, so it's a safe bet to stick to those recommendations. The food is hearty and comforting, but I wouldn't venture that it's tops for sandwiches. Credit goes to Park Bench Deli for that.

The Philly Steak Sandwich ($19.90), loaded with red peppers, shallot crescents, a medium-well steak, melty cheddar, and cheese curds, on a garlic buttered ciabatta. I liked the garlic butter treatment to the bread, that lent a wonderful fragrance and oomph, but it couldn't mask the heavy, stodgy notes of the beef. 

The Cuban Sandwich ($18.90) layered a ham slice, cheddar, caramelised onions, pulled pork, gherkins and melty cheese, between a mustard-ed crusty bread. They were a little too liberal with the mustard, its sharp bite overwhelmed everything else.

The Steeples Burger ($20.90), a multi-grain bun stuffed with a beef patty, bacon, melted cheddar, and egg sunny-side up, was fair but unexceptional.

Ahh, the milkshakes were out-of-this-world delicious. The Shamrock Milkshake ($6.90), a thick concoction of vanilla ice-cream and peppermint syrup, was absolutely smashing.

The Hubs got the Chocolate Peanut Butter ($6.90), so thick it could pass off as oozy peanut butter.

Steeples Deli
Tanglin Shopping Centre #02-25
Tel: 6737 0701
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 10am to 7pm;
Closed on Sundays

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