Chicken Scarpariello

Chicken Scarpariello is an Italian-American chicken stew, punched up with red peppers, cherry peppers, and spicy Italian sausage for a subtle heat. Chicken stock and a dry white wine form the base of the soup, while fresh thyme lends flavour.

8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
1 medium yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 roasted peppers, cut roughly (I used a mix of red and yellow peppers for colour)
4 tbsp cherry peppers (you can get this from Marketplace or any gourmet grocer)
4 links spicy Italian sausage, cut to 1" cubes (I prefer the chunky Johnsonville ones from the frozen section at Meidi-Ya or Cold Storage Great World City)
3 cups white wine
3 cups chicken stock
10 stalks fresh thyme, tied together with butcher's twine
1 tbsp olive oil

1) Brown chicken in olive oil (you can use less oil if using a non-stick pan, as the chicken releases fat on its own anyway), about 3 minutes on high heat each side, salting liberally, and taking care not to overcrowd the pan.

2) Set aside in stew pot.

3) Using 2 tbsp of the chicken fat-infused olive oil, fry onions in pan, until translucent, about 3 minutes on medium-high heat.

4) Lower fire to medium heat, and add garlic (garlic burns easily so a lower fire prevents the garlic from being burnt), fry about 1 minute.

5) Add white wine, reduce by half.

6) Transfer to stew pot with chicken, and add red peppers, cherry peppers, and thyme bundle.

7) Add chicken stock, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer for about 40 minutes or until fall-off-the-bone.

8) Fry sausage separately, and add that to the stew just before serving.


Gemmills is also owned by the people behind the fabulous Maggie Joans and delightful Moosehead. A distinctively different concept from its Mediterranean sister restaurants, Gemmills is casual and intimate, a cafe in the day-time which morphs into a bar come dusk. Styled like an old-school kopitiam replete with desks re-purposed from singer brand sewing machines and hardy stone coffee tables, the cool, darkened cafe-bar is a respite from the blazing heat outdoors. The grub served is classic cafe fare, a decidedly limited menu of sandwiches, salads, and simple pastas. Service can be a little slow, but it's understandably so; there's just the one waitress the entire lunch service.

The Prosciutto & Buffalo Mozzarella Panini ($15) was a commendable sandwich, wonderfully burnished with fragrant pesto and layered with juicy tomatoes.

The Chicken, Cauliflower & Quinoa Salad ($16) was excellent, the dukkah spice rub enlivening the roasted chicken and cauliflower, and lending to a smoky aroma. Blobs of sour cream and pomegranate seeds provided a refreshing counter to the char and mild heat of the green chilli.

Despite being tainted by the parsley garnish, the Rigatoni & Beef Ragu ($18) was hearty, rustic and sumptuous.

The Vanilla Ice-Cream & Caramel Sauce ($7) was given crunch by chocolate cookie bits. Simple but delicious.

110 Amoy Street
Tel: 6221 5564
Open weekdays from 8am to 12midnight;
Saturdays from 6pm to 12midnight;
Closed on Sundays


Gu Ma Jia Private Kitchen

I was complaining to a chum about the recent spate of blah meals when I was directed to Gu Ma Jia; it's where his extended family, all live-to-eat type of foodies, gather for big Sunday dinners. TBH, I'd never have known about this place, tucked away at Tai Thong Crescent, if he didn't tell me about it. For that matter, I didn't even know where Tai Thong was. heh.

Notwithstanding how ulu I'd thought Tai Thong was (it really isn't; it's easily accessible off the CTE-PIE), or how the Hubs, the half-Korean half-Peranakan, full-ACS boy, keeps mangling up the restaurant's Chinese name, we made our way there one week-day night for an early early dinner.

My chum has good taste; everything we ordered was a standout. Masterful cooking with robust flavours, the food at Gu Ma Jia was so damn good we returned a few days later to takeaway some of their dishes. The only problem: they seem to have an irresistible urge to put coriander leaves in every.single.thing...arghhh (and urghhh)...despite clear instructions to hold off all "yan sui, yin xu, xiang cai, qing cong, coriander leaves, parsley, spring onions". I'd even pointed to a picture of the herb on the menu. I don't think I could have been any more explicit, or been any more thorough in belabouring the instructions.

Soft and slightly springy, the Hotplate Thai Style Sotong ($22 one-size), slicked in a tangy spicy sauce, was perfectly cooked.  A delectable twist to the typical sambal sotong.

An absolute must-try, the Gu Ma Jia XO Prawn Noodle ($30 one-size) was crazy good. Flush with a rich broth sweetened by prawn stock, it was spiked with XO sauce for a punchy heat. The kangkong lent crunch while the prawns were sweet and fresh.

The Claypot Wine Chicken ($15 for small), redolent with ginger and sesame oil, was heady and balanced. I loved the textural contrast of the julienned black fungus to the succulent chicken.

The Yam Ring with XO Scallops ($38 one-size) overflowing with a vegetable hodgepodge of sugar snap peas, carrots, purple cabbage and lotus chips, shone in its simplicity. Another cannot miss here.

Gu Ma Jia Private Kitchen
45 Tai Thong Crescent
Sennett Estate
Tel: 6285 2023
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 5.30pm to 10pm for dinner;
weekends from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.gumajia.com.sg/wp/


Pasta Salad

I love salads. But people are frequently surprised when I say that. I suppose it's because the salads they think of are boring mesclun greens dressed in some generic vinaigrette. But who says salads have to be boring? Or that eating clean and healthy has to be mutually exclusive to delicious? Not tooting my own horn here, but my salads have converted a few veggie-hating friends. Like this pasta salad, which I recently whipped up when Pet came over. As she said, if her parents had made her salads like this, she wouldn't hate greens so much.

Ingredients (feeds 4):
1 cup uncooked pasta, boiled in salted water till 1 minute before al dente, and cooled by an ice bath, and drained
5 cups arugula leaves
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
3 tbsp pitted and sliced kalamata olives
1 ball burrata, cut into small chunks
3 tbsp pesto
4 tbsp olive oil
salt to season

1) Marinade cherry tomatoes with pesto and olive oil, with salt to season. Leave aside for 5 minutes.

2) Assemble salad any way you like. I layered the bottom with a mix of pasta, arugula, and basil, drizzled a little pesto-olive oil dressing on top, then topped that with cherry tomatoes, olives, eggs.

3) Finish with a layer of burrata and you're ready to go!


Royal J's Seafood

We were trying to hit up Kok Kee wanton mee at Lavender when we belatedly realised that they'd closed their shutters for good. Thoroughly disappointed, but still in need of sustenance, we wandered over the the coffeeshop behind and spotted Royal Js Seafood. A sizable week-night crowd suggested good food was to be had at the brightly lit cze char joint, so we thought to give it a shot. Besides, their much touted fried porridge seemed a novel antidote to the drizzle-cooled weather.

Perhaps the inordinately slow kitchen killed our appetite, or perhaps we ordered the wrong dishes, but we didn't think the food here was particularly outstanding to warrant a crowd. There were a couple of delectable dishes, but most were pedestrian, entirely unmemorable affairs.

The Prawn Fried Porridge ($36), a premium version of the overhyped fried porridge, was really porridge that was fried in a wok than simmered in a pot. Taste-wise, it was indistinguishable from regular 'ol porridge. Still, it was a scrumptious claypot of rice gruel, robust with fried yam cubes, pork lard nubbins, conpoy and shredded cuttlefish for a umami unctuousness. Topped off with 4 giant prawns which were sweet and juicy, this was delicious and comforting. A must-try here.

The Minced Pork Fried Tofu ($10) was a half-and-half. The beancurd was incredibly smooth and silky, but the garlic minced pork gravy needed salt and oomph. It was too bland.

The Crispy Garden Chicken ($12) was a riff on popcorn chicken, burnished with a tumeric spice rub and laced with fried shredded ginger strips. Nice but forgettable.

A twist to the ubiquitous sweet-and-sour pork, the Tasty Fried Pork ($12) was glazed with a marinade that was part coffee, part plum sauce, and part guinness, that was at once sweet, piquant, and smoky. A must-try here too. 

The Drunken Clam Soup (complimentary) was a moot appetizer, because it was lush with coriander leaves, which spoiled and overwhelmed the natural sweetness of the soup.

Royal J Seafood
30 Foch Road
Tel: 9357 3993
Open daily from 11am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner


The Lokal

I'd noticed The Lokal sporting a long queue every time I go past it, and I'd thought that it had to be a really awesome restaurant. The brunch menu wasn't particularly enticing, but the dinner menu looked interesting enough, and so we popped by for dinner during off-peak hours on a week-night.

Dinner turned out a middling affair, a sentiment echoed by my foodie pals Izzy and Pet. I was plainly unimpressed by The Lokal, and it's unfathomable the crowds thronging the cafe-restaurant. The food, a small-ish menu of modern Australian fare, was a hit-and-miss, and lacking that something-something. Like Izzy says, "it's not quite there".

The Cauliflower Three-Ways ($13) comprised cauliflower cooked a variety of manners: battered and fried, pickled, and mashed. Dotted with homemade ricotta, almonds, mesclun and a tangy vinaigrette, it passed muster, but veered to the forgettable.

The Beef Short Ribs ($30) were fall-off-the-bone tender, but the carrot-ginger puree, speckled with gingko nuts, was too saccharine a counter to the sweet sumptuousness of the meat. That said, the tendon was cooked perfectly, a delightful chewy texture.

The Pork Chop ($28) was also a mixed bag, where the pork was ah-mazing in its lusciousness, but it was unfortunate that the kale salad, flecked with green beans, green apple chips, and walnuts, was dressed in a whey emulsion that was off-puttingly rancid.

We also got a couple of sides to share amongst the table, and the Mashed Potato & Gravy ($10) was hearty but unmemorable. I'd expected the gravy thicker and with more heft but this was really more a thin red wine jus.

The Sauteed King Oyster Mushrooms & Bacon ($8) was lovely, the crisp of the bacon a wonderful contrast against the springy juiciness of the mushrooms.

The Lokal
136 Neil Road
Tel: 6423 9918
Open Tuesdays to Fridays from 8am to 10pm;
Saturdays from 9am to 10pm;
Sundays from 9am to 4pm;
Mondays from 8am to 5pm
Website: www.thelokalsingapore.com


Meng Kee Fried Kway Teow

It's a good thing to surround oneself with friends who've good taste; foodie ones alert you to the best foods. I must have gone past this Havelock Road coffeeshop a million times but never knew there was a hawker gem hidden within. Until Steffy told me about this "amazing char kway teow stall" near where she does her hair. It's very old-school, and sells out by around 6pm-ish as the stall's apparently crazy popular with the folks living in the area.

The Fried Kway Teow ($4 for medium), flush with thick sweet black soy, was robust and punchy. Laced with fresh cockles that were fat and juicy with the salty tang of the seawaters, and slivers of Chinese sausage, this was absolutely scrumptious. I don't eat a lot of char kway teow (because, cholesterol) but since we'd just gotten pre-approved for our health insurance, we thought the gluttony deserving. heh. And boy was the indulgence totally worthwhile. It's one of the best ckt we've ever had, and way better than the Zion Road one.

The stall facade for reference.

Meng Kee Fried Kway Teow
22 Havelock Road
#01-669 Wei Xuan Eating House
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 10.30am to 7pm;
Sundays from 10.30am to 4pm


Sik Bao Sin (Desmond's Creation)

Sik Bao Sin (or Desmond's Creation as its named for its chef-owner), is another one of those second generation hawkers. Spawned from Sik Wai Sin several streets away along Geylang Road, Sik Bao Sin is the offshoot of one of two sons of the founder at the former. While Sik Wai Sin is now charged by the elder son Steve, the younger son Desmond decided to make his own way with his own cze char joint. It's a no-frills place serving up a decidedly limited menu dominated by sauteed dishes, which Desmond specialises in. It's not to say that there's some kind of juicy family feud, both brothers are still close, and the whole family has purportedly blessed Desmond's venture.

We were lucky to have dined right when they opened for business one early Friday evening, as the small-ish shop space was completely packed by the time we finished our dinner and left.

While I found the place charmingly old-school, the Hubs thought the food relatively middling. He makes a fair point: while the cooking was competent and food hearty enough, it was also lacking that something special, which makes cze char food 'pop'. It might be the mellower flavours of the food, or the lack of a distinctive 'wok hei', but Sik Bao Sin wasn't outstanding enough to warrant repeat visits.

The bestseller, Tofu Prawns ($19), lush with an egg-drop gravy, was velvety and redolent of garlic notes. Delightful when slathered over white rice, but wasn't memorably punchy.

The Ginger Chicken ($19) was surprisingly sweet-ish, as the chunks of ginger were candied with honey accents. I would have preferred this simply savoury, sans the sweet elements.

The swimmingly fresh and hugeeeee Prawns with 'Special Sauce' ($33) were burnished with some kind of sticky-sweet-unctuous glaze, like a mix of marmite and oyster sauce, enlivened with lashings of spring onions.

The star of dinner, was the Garlic Fried Kailan ($12) wonderfully crunchy and delicately slicked with light soy so it didn't detract from the natural taste of the greens.

The Watercress Soup ($19) needed a little salt, but it was delicious in its simplicity and homespun goodness.

Sik Bao Sin (Desmonds Creation)
592 Geylang Road
Tel: 6744 3757
Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 9.30pm for dinner;
Closed on Mondays

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