Al Fresco Dining Next to a Monsoon Drain

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We’ve had takeaway crabs from Big Eater before but this was the first time we tried it out for dinner. It had a lovely riverside ambiance, even though the river is really more of a monsoon drain (yeah we know it’s Sungei Bedok, but a concrete drain is a concrete drain). The evening we went, it was so breezy that we asked the staff to switch off the overhead fan. Adding to the cheery atmosphere were crab shells decorated by creative customers.

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The food was pretty decent. I enjoyed what they called the hotplate tofu. It might as well be called chilli prawns with tofu since the sauce was quite spicy considering that we asked for less chilli. And check out the number of prawns in this dish!

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We came here for the crab. This time we took the crab beehoon, one of the specialty dishes. It was decent, but not fantastic, especially since there’s a cze char stall in Pasir Ris that serves a far superior version. No less, there was fresh meaty crab and springy noodles. Too bad the soup, while made creamy with evaporated milk, wasn’t aromatic enough. There was something missing, and it certainly wasn’t the msg. Got thirsty after downing half a bowl of the soup.

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The cereal prawn passed the taste test as the fresh juicy jumbo prawns were nicely offset with a light curry leaf flavour. I found that the oats were not crisp enough though my dining companions thought otherwise. I also prefer cereal prawns to be smaller so I can crunch up the prawn whole. It adds to the flavour. Hardly anyone serves this dish with smaller prawns these days so I shan’t quibble.

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The deep-fried soon hock was pretty decent. Fish was done so crisp that you could chomp through the small bones and fins. I liked the extra touch of deep fried ginger generously sprinkled on top. Too bad the sauce was a touch too salty. They need to lighten up on the soy sauce.

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What I really liked was the sambal kangkong. The sambal was aromatic and tasted freshly made. The colours really popped with bright red and deep emerald green inviting you to eat more. And of course the kangkong was young and crisp-tender. One of the best sambal kangkong dishes I’ve had in a while. I leave you with this picture I hurriedly snapped before the last few bits were snapped up.

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The damage? $145 for four people, including two drinks. Not bad if you want to go somewhere decent without queueing or paying crazy prices.

Big Eater Seafood
34 Jalan Pari Burong

Picardy Gardens

Tel: 6245 7268

Duck at the Lagoon

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It was the fourth day of Chinese New Year and lots of hawker stalls were still closed. Nonetheless, we braved it to East Coast Lagoon to get some lunch. To our relief, Cheok Kee Duck Rice was one of those open. Shockingly, there was a queue even though we got there at 2pm and the rest of the hawker centre was quite empty.

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Dad and I shared a ginormous plate of braised duck, gizzard, pig’s small intestine and tau kwa. I wasn’t expecting too much because I’d eaten there lots and never thought it was that fantastic. This time, the duck impressed me. It was stewed just right, till firm tender and absorbed the flavour of the black sauce. And it tasted robustly of duck. Yummy duck. The gizzard was pretty decent too, but Dad and Mum took most of it so I didn’t get a chance to properly taste it. Intestines were decent, better than the ones from the Amoy Street kway chap stall. The tau kwa was another winner: soft, creamy and full of black sauce goodness. ($15 for the plate of stuff and two bowls of noodles.)

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Check out the kway tiew dry. Enticing right? They were good, especially with the sambal chilli.

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Here are Mum’s fishball noodles. They’re from the stall nearer to the beach in front of the toilets. She said they had standard. I believe her. Check these out.

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I noticed that Zhen Jie from Amoy Street has a branch here, so I made sure I got my dessert fix. The peanut and black sesame cream ($2) is mighty good! The peanut part is very aromatic, you can tell they toasted the peanuts to make this. Thick and yummy. Dad liked the sesame part a lot because the sesame flavour was very strong. It’s a new favourite now that Yee Ku at Chinatown stopped making it right about 10 years ago.

The pulut hitam ($1.50) is good too. Thick, full of pulut flavour and topped with a good drizzle of coconut milk. They even ask you whether you want coconut on top. Tastes like how Mum would make it (if she bothers to).

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Deli Moroccan: More Cafe Than Deli

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I’ve been eating out way too much, but hey it’s the festive season and the weight can come off later. A good respite from the Chinese food overdose this month is heading to one of the little places in the Arab Street area. Deli Moroccan is one of my favourites for its friendly owners, unpretentious food and down-to-earth prices.

My friend is crazy over their mint tea. It comes in its special pot and stand. Pour the hot brew into your little mint-filled glass and slurp. It’s sweet, herbal and nicely astringent – a great accompaniment for pre-dinner people watching. For hot days, it also comes iced, but you only got a large plastic cup and none of the fancy paraphernalia.

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Despite knowing how filling the mains are here, we unwisely ordered starters. The hammous was excellent: lots of chickpea and tahini flavour, and the olive oil swirled on top made it go down very smoothly. Too bad the pita bread was dry and tasteless.

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The first of the mains was the tagine beef. Their version was a rustic version stewed with peas. Even though I’m not very big on peas, I enjoyed it immensely the combination of tender beef and grainy peas. Good idea too because peas could be slightly healthier (more fibre, more green stuff, more protein) than rice as a staple.

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We were lucky that they were serving tagine lamb even though it wasn’t the weekend.  I always feel that lamb makes for far better stews than beef. This hearty stew was packed with huge lamb chunks and topped with the rather unorthodox combination of french fries and toasted almonds. The lamb was slow-cooked till tender with the fat and cartilage melting into the stew (and my mouth). The almonds crunched beautifully even after soaking in the stew juices for a while, making the dish even more decadent.

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Of course the two of us couldn’t finish the food. We got mock-stern reprimands from the boss lady and all three of us laughed as we traded the blame between us. The damage? $30 for two people.

P.S. On another trip over the weekend, I finally got my couscous fix. It was the biggest mound of food I’ve ever had at a restaurant, especially for that price. It was worth the wait. There was chunky lamb, there was couscous, there was a generous sprinkling of chickpeas. The flavours melded together beautifully and the best part was when I got a chickpea and it burst unexpectedly in my mouth. The smooth texture and lamby flavours were just to die for. Even though it was so good, I took away three-quarters of it and it fed me well for three more meals.


Deli Moroccan
30 Bussorah Street
Tel: 9121 512

Of Rieslings and Sweet Whites

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This season is somehow marked by lots of whites. It’s probably because I’ve been staying away from red meat in my cooking and I’ve been choosing whites by the glass when out at bars and such. I think whites are lighter than reds and are easier to parse while on a night out. Better to taste  quickly, put the notes away and get on with the socialising at hand than to take my time and look like a pretentious twit. Here are some that escaped this blog till now, in order of increasing sweetness.

A bottle of Pike’s Creek Riesling (2005) from Victoria, Australia was sitting in my store room for too long. Of course I had to do it justice and it didn’t disappoint. It was pale straw with a floral and sweet honey nose. Mid-dry, it was crisp and had a whiff of asparagus to it. That was surprising as I associate asparagus with New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. I liked the smooth, slightly mineral finish with a tinge of acid. Rating: 4/5

At a friend’s house, I had a Flonheimer Klostergarten Huxelrebe Spätlese (2007) from the Rheinhessen region in Germany. It was very similar to the Kabinett I had at an earlier gathering. Pale yellow, it was medium sweet with similar honeysuckle, peach and apricot bouquet. It had a touch of mineral to the finish and was pleasing but forgettable. Rating: 3/5

There was also a Trimbach Riesling (2006) AOC Reserve from (where else?) Alsace, France. It was fresh green-tinged yellow and had a floral honeysuckle nose. It had a lovely flinty finish, well-balanced by acid. Rating: 4/5

Rounding off the lot was a Brockland Valley Noble Semillon (2003) from Margaret River, Australia. Deep amber, the dessert wine had a lime, citrus and honey nose. It was, of course, sweet and had a syrupy finish replete with toffee. Good for having instead of dessert. Rating: 3.5/5

Key to ratings:

0 Wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole
1 I’d rather drink beer
2 If there’s nothing better
3 Just one glass is fine
4 More, please!
5 Where can I get a case?

Jazz at a Smoky Bar

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Thanks to anti-smoking laws, we don’t get smoky bars in Singapore anymore. While it’s great that we get to pickle our livers and avoid the risk of lung cancer at the same time, jazz bars lose a certain sense of romance without the cigar smoke. (Not that our jazz bars had much cigar smoke in the first place.)

Now in KL, there are lively, just smoky enough jazz bars. Perhaps because most of the smokers were on cigars and cigarillos, Alexis Ampang was such a place. I wish I could post the photos of the revelry but my friends would probably kill me first. Sorry!

The jazz was decent and the wine accompanying the music was even better. I started off with a Nicolas Potel Bourgogne Cuvee Gerard Potel (2006) from France. It was pale yellow with a gentle bouquet of honeysuckle, apricot and peach. Lots of soft fruit in the medium dry wine, well-balanced by slight acid on the tongue and had a long mineral finish. I liked it very much. Incidentally, Jancis Robinson gives a stamp of approval of sorts: she counts Nicolas Potel as a quality-conscious négociant. It would pair very well with seafood. Something quite restrained like seafood risotto. Rating: 5/5

For my second glass, I stayed with the whites and ordered a South African KNW Chenin Blanc (2007). It was the palest yellow you can imagine, with a lovely lime nose. It was medium dry, had a rather chewy sort of flavour, and had the mineral finish I like so much. Rating: 4/5

One of my friends had a Brightwater Nelson Sauvignon Blanc (2008.) from New Zealand. It was pale straw and had a big fruit nose. Lots of fresh lychee, peaches and honey in there. It was sweet, well-balanced with a pleasing floral finish. One of those flamboyant, straight forward, in your face wines. Rating 3.5/5

Damage done for two glasses of wine and a great night of jazz and chatter: RM 55

Alexis Bistro Ampang
Great Eastern Mall
303 Jalan Ampang
Kuala Lumpur

Key to ratings

0  Wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole
1  I’d rather drink beer
2  If there’s nothing better
3  Just one glass is fine
4  More, please!
5  Where can I get a case?

A Night Where the Eating was Incidental

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It was one of those nights that happens when too many winos and people possessing wine turn up and all alcoholic hell breaks loose. While the food was great, it was incidental, only serving as a foil for the wine. Here’s what we had:

First up was the rather pompously named Flonheimer Bingerberg Bacchus Kabinett (2007) from the Rheinhessen region in Germany. It was pale yellow with a nose of honeysuckle, peach and soft fruit. Mid-sweet and pleasing, it wasn’t very complex and made for easy drinking. Rating: 3/5

Next was the Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz (2005) from the Barossa Valley in Australia. It was red-purple with lots of mulberry nose, boasting big fruit and soft tannins. A straight forward and again not very complex wine, it’d do great for barbecues. A typical outdoor Aussie barbie comes to mind. To our surprise, it also went beautifully with dark chocolate cupcakes. Not a lot of wines can handle chocolate, so extra points for that. Rating: 4/5

There was another red in between but I narrowly missed out, watching in vain as the resident wino casually poured out the last of the bottle. Mental note: must act faster next time. No matter, the dessert wines that followed more than made up for it.

The Trentham Noble Taminga (2005) from New South Wales, Australia was a golden amber brew with a heady melon and honey nose. It was rather syrupy and sweet but also very refreshing because it isn’t sticky like most dessert wines. In a word, luscious. Strangely enough, having some kiwi fruit with it brought out the citrus notes.Rating: 3.5/5

Up next was a non-vintage Italian Vin Santo, Il Santo Giglio di Firenze from Tuscany. Such a deep amber it was almost brown, giving off nutty toffee and raisin notes. It was sweet, extremely syrupy and viscous, a great digestif. Rating: 4/5

Last of all was yuzu liquor from Japan. We should have drunk it as an aperitif because it was light and fresh. The slightly medicinal citrus whiff of yuzu went well on the rocks. It’s also sweet, making it a good ladies’ drink. Think umeshu and the like. Rating: 3.5/5

After all the eating and mainly drinking, there were red faces all round. It didn’t stop us from playing wii and that got us even more red-faced and merry.

Key to ratings:

0 Wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole
1 I’d rather drink beer
2 If there’s nothing better
3 Just one glass is fine
4 More, please!
5 Where can I get a case?

The Rib Shop at Bukit Damansara

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The last time I was in KL, my friends took me to this great place for ribs. It specialises in pork ribs and wine, a rarity for Muslim-majority Malaysia. It was a great find: generous portions, good food, great waiters. Our server was kind enough to advise us not to OD on the appetisers. We reluctantly struck the mussel pot off our order and stuck to just deep-fried fresh cheese and fried calamari. Both were freshly made and were fantastic to whet the appetite while the eight (plus one) of us chatted up a storm. It was so great to see them after that many years that I forgot to take pictures of the appetiser. My bad.

The ribs stole the show. No wonder they pride themselves on the dish. I think our table had at least four variations on the theme. First up was my special of the day — ribs braised in mushroom sauce.  That mother of all rack of ribs was completely blanketed in the mushroom cream sauce. It was just rich and creamy enough to please but not overwhelm after the twentieth (!) mouthful of the stuff. The ribs themselves were so soft you could chomp up the cartilage too and of course it was falling off the bone. No pictures of the ribs undisguised by sauce because they were unpresentable after the animals got to them.

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Also excellent was the ribs braised in red wine sauce. The same falling-off-bone tenderness, the same high standard for the sauce. I enjoyed how the red wine brought out the flavour of the ribs so well. The sides were good too. The rosemary potatoes, while ugly in the picture, scored top points for taste and sheer potato goodness. No nasty dried out roast potatoes here. The side salad also scored as the fresh mesclun lifted an otherwise stodgy dish.

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There was also barbecued rib, which is probably the classic dish for the place. It was nicely charred and smoky and I liked the all-American flavour. By the time I got my little nibble, I was probably a bit sloshed, so not much more comments on that. No picture because, as mentioned earlier, the animals. Can’t stop them.

We also had a bottle of wine shared between the four wine-drinkers. It was awful. I take full responsibility for it because I defied the server’s recommendation to get a merlot. They had a great selection of those but I felt like something more robust and ended up with a bad Malbec instead. Nobody liked it. I am ashamed and have learned my lesson.

For those still interested, here are the notes for the Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec (2007) from the Tupungato Mendoza region in Argentina. Deep red with red berry nose. Strong hard tannins create a mouth-puckering aftertaste. Awful. Gave me a headache to boot. Rating: 0/5 (Wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole)

The bill came up to RM82.50 including the wine, RM62.50 for food only.

The Rib Shop
120-122, Jalan Kasah, Damansara Heights
50490, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-20961645