Massive Portions at a Teenage Joint

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Iluma is one of those places that seems like such a good idea but once you go in, you get bored so fast 10 minutes seems like an age. Unsurprisingly for a teenage-oriented place, this place is teeming with kid-wallet-friendly places. Empire State is one of them. Surprisingly for a teenage-oriented joint, this place has decent value for money food!

I insisted on having salad, so this starter came along. I was pleasantly surprised to see the fairly sophisticated touch of pistachios and grape halves under the balsamic cream dressing. Of course the teenage touch was having way too much dressing so after a while I gave up trying to scrape the extra off. Can’t fault them for being generous though.

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I thought I’d have a change from burger (DC was on a bit of a burger roll), so I went for the completely different spaghetti meatball. If I was a teenager, I’d be in heaven: it was one hell of a plate of pasta. Think of a huge plate of spaghetti smothered in bolognaise sauce and then have a giant meatball on top of it all. It’s crazy mound of food and it took ages to get through.

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DC of course went for the Empire State Burger. In a rare moment of weakness, he declared it the best burger he’d had in a while. I felt that while it was incredibly juicy, there wasn’t a whole lot of taste to it aside from salt. It wasn’t a bad burger though, and was hardly asking to be gourmet.

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This is a great joint for having a lot of food at decent prices. The tagline is spot-on: they’re sure to stuff you till you’re full. It’s a great place to take a teenager (or a DC for that matter!).

Empire State
201 Victoria Street
#04-03 Iluma At Bugis
Tel: 6238 7076

Quick Eats: Hollywood Ice Jelly

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I like the ice jelly at Hollywood best. It’s got smooth, soft jelly that tastes fresh and non-synthetic (yes, ice jelly standards are currently at a low), it’s got tropical fruit cocktail with nata de coco and bits of (canned) papaya. Plus, it’s cheap and it’s consistent. Not much not to like here.

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Hollywood
#01-66 Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre

Where’s your favourite ice jelly?

April in the Philippines: The World’s Smallest Airport

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The landing at El Nido was very smooth. The plane coasted across a strip of sea polka-dotted with giant white jellyfish, and dipped down onto a runway flanked by two low hill ranges. I should have expected it, but the sheer (lack 0f) size of the airport stunned me.

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Everything was done manually because it was so darn small, from the steps for passengers to get on and off to the baggage cart. Incidentally, I was the only one getting off the plane and I offered to carry my own bag to the arrival hall but I was waved away with cheerful grins. I then trotted off to the arrival/departure hall.

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It really was more open-air shack than airport hall. Low benches were the departure/arrival area. The check-in counter was but a rostrum with a manual weighing scale next to it. Both were covered with plastic canvas once check-in was done. It was lovely and relaxed chatting with the departing passengers, mostly western tourists. We exclaimed at how quaint and dinky the airport set up was.

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Of course this wasn’t quite the whole airport. The VIP lounge was at the back. In reality just a hammock strung between two tree trunks. Much of the time airport staff used it for their siesta.

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I gather that this here is the side gate of the airport. I don’t know where the meandering path goes to but it sure looks pretty.

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Seeing that there wasn’t a road in sight, I worriedly asked the friendly folks manning the counter how I could get to El Nido town. No problem was the answer: I’d just wait till the plane took off and then they’d open the runway gate. A trike soon came rumbling in and I was off on the next part of my journey!

April in The Philippines: My First Propeller Plane Ride

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My time in Puerto Princesa very quickly came to an end. The main problem was finding accommodation. It was impossible to find an empty bed at the time as there was a regional sports meet in addition in the city in addition to the bible dedication.  After the dedication was over, I felt that I shouldn’t overstay my welcome. After coming back from the morning at Honda Bay, I knew I had to bring my plans forward and head out of Puerto Princesa, and fast.  The next leg of the trip involved heading north to Coron to dive the famous WWII wrecks. I thought I’d splurge on a 1 hour plane ride instead of taking a bumpy and unpredictable ride that could take 24 hours via various public buses and ferries. The only problem was that the flight was leaving in two hours and I still hadn’t a ticket.

Michael took me on what was a mini version of The Amazing Race and sped me round town first looking for the travel agent and then finding that they were out on their lunch break, straight to the airport. I managed to get past airport security without a plane ticket by waving my Singapore passport at the nice guard at the door. To cut the long story short, I managed to get on the plane, but not all the way to Coron. Instead I was to stop at El Nido even though the plane was heading there and had empty seats. Why? Because there was only sufficient fuel to carry 36 kg more of payload! Dismayed that I wasn’t an anorexic teenager, I resigned myself to stopping in El Nido first. At least I made it on the plane.

When I saw the plane on the tarmac I realised why they had to be so precise in their fuel measurements. It was the smallest plane I’d ever been on!

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Of course I had to take a picture with it!

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This baby could take a grand total of 11 passengers and had no aircrew. To my great surprise, I was flying with the mayors (or some sort of official-type) of Coron and El Nido. They were very friendly and of course astonished that I would travel on my own like this.

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I wasn’t too impressed by the level of safety for the pilots here. I was seated right behind one of the pilots and throughout the flight I enjoyed the lovely view of half of the back of his head.

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This flight made me realise the sheer delight of flying. Forget jumbo liners, the scenery from lower flying propeller planes is what you want. First, you get the clouds…

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… then as the clouds clear, you see the islands. Darkest green against the deepening blue, they faded out into further distant islands fringed by pale yellow sand beaches.

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It was utterly captivating just to watch the play of colours across the landscape. For once, I put away my books and note-taking, simply sitting back to take it all in.

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It looked like one of those pictures that appear only on travel brochures.

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It was only too soon that the journey ended at the smallest airport I’ve set eyes on. More of that later, but not without first taking a picture of the cockpit…

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… and charming one of the pilots into a photo with me!

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A Socially Awkward Dinner

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Some nights I crave something very strong-tasting and assertive, food for non-date nights and when you really don’t care how many vampires or other nasties you scare away with your repellent breath. On nights like these, I cook something starting off rather innocuous: pasta with grilled courgettes and mozzarella. Things go up a notch with the addition of sharp rocket, but we’re hardly anywhere near the pongy breath zone. Slip in mustard to dress the pasta and the arrow of the pong-o-meter barely registers a tick upwards. Now add in the garlic and copious amounts of anchovies and we’re talking (with hand firmly over mouth)! Try it at your own risk, remembering that you have to like the ingredients before using them (silly!) and that you can always dial down the intensity by either using less of the ingredient or in the case of garlic, sauteeing it gently in olive oil before throwing it into the dressing. Are you game?

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Ingredients:

½ courgette, sliced into thick diagonals
linguine
2 anchovy fillets
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsps prepared mustard
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp peppery extra virgin olive oil
1 generous handful rocket leaves
¼ ball of mozzarella, torn into rough strips

Recipe:

  1. Heat a grill pan over the stove and grill the courgette slices on both sides till you get black bars on each side. Set aside and wrap in a piece of aluminium foil to keep warm.
  2. Cook the linguine till al dente in unsalted water.
  3. Get on with making the pasta dressing. In a mortar and pestle, grind the anchovy fillets and garlic to a paste, then stir in the mustard and combine well. Add a touch of balsamic vinegar, then a couple of good glugs of good olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning either with more mustard or more vinegar.
  4. By now your pasta should be about done. Drain and toss in the dressing till well coated.
  5. Assemble your dish. First the rocket leaves, then quickly flip over the noodles so that the rocket wilts slightly in the heat. Then the grilled courgette on top, followed by torn bits of mozzarella. Finish with a sprinkle of olive oil and the leftover dressing. (Go easy with the dressing, it’s very very salty). Devour.
  6. Brush your teeth when done.

Serves 1.

Spruce: A Birthday Dinner

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The DC’s birthday was long overdue so I booked a table at Spruce so that we could try their famed ahi tuna starter and their supposedly famous burgers. The ahi tuna certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a western twist to negitoro: chopped tuna sashimi was seasoned and dressed with olive oil for unctuousness and sprinkled with chives, then eaten with some of the best baguette I’ve had in a while. Creamy avocado slices on the side lifted it to sublime. I’d go back there again just for that one dish.

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The problem with having the best dish first is that the rest of dinner, though competent, was a bit of a letdown. I liked the squid salad with rocket and roast lemon. I hate to complain about such a minor detail like fiddliness, but it was a bit of a mess trying to get to get the lemon juiced. It was a nice touch though, and enhanced the herby sharp rocket very well. The squid wasn’t too bad, but I’d prefer it a bit more charred so I can taste the smokiness.

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The burger wasn’t too bad either. The staff noted that we were sharing and were nice enough to instruct the kitchen to divide it up and skewer each half carefully. DC liked the tender patty, it was quite juicy and tasty, with good beefy flavour. I liked the chips: soft and fluffy on the inside and nicely crisp outside.

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The meal went downhill after that. There was a side of what were supposedly grilled mushrooms drowned in a lacklustre and vaguely vinegary (wine?) sauce, then a ginger steamed sponge. I don’t know why the presentation was so bad because the ice cream was half melted by the time it got to us (see the picture). Presentation aside, the cake itself was decent, though nothing to shout about.

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Service-wise, this place had great intentions. It was sweet of them to bring out a ginormous piece of chocolate cake for DC. The waitress came out with the candle ablaze and singing the birthday song. It was a pity that this was only after I’d asked for the bill and was preparing to go. Nevertheless, it was a nice touch. I’ll definitely be back for the ahi tuna and perhaps for other starters, but I’ll give the sides a miss.

Spruce
320 Tanglin Road
Phoenix Park
Tel: 6836 5528

Chronicles of MPT: The One Next to Mustafa’s

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DC, a man after my own stomach, had been looking up MPT places as he was concerned about the recent lack of Chronicles of MPT posts. He found this place at Verdun Road that supposedly used buah keluak as one of the magic ingredients in its chilli sauce. Of course we had to find the next opportunity to go!

The stall is nestled in a coffee shop just by Mustafa’s, that emporium of everything you need in this world (except MPT). We ordered a bowl each, DC being a purist for my blog’s sake ordered meepok, while I on advice from some reports went for the meekia.

Each bowl came with a generous topping of fish dumplings, pork mince, sliced pork, fishball and a piece of crisp dried sole. I liked the gluey fish dumplings and didn’t mind the fishball. DC didn’t like the fishball though, he felt that it tasted too mass-produced. He was also pretty unlucky because his pork was undercooked and noodles soggy. For the former, he simply pushed the offending pink pieces away, but for the latter he had no choice but to slurp up the  soft pap. Why? The chilli was heavenly. I think it’s by far the best MPT chilli I’ve had. It was smoky with deep earthy buah keluak flavour and had plenty of kick. Complemented by the crisp lard pieces and a splash of black vinegar, this combination is to die for. Do yourself a favour and order the meekia. Mine was perfect. The best in a long while.

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Ah Hor Teochew Kway Teow Mee
12 Verdun Road