Back to Tulamben: The Small Ones

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I have a very soft spot for the little creatures and DC was constantly waiting about for me to finish lying in wait for one small creature or another to emerge or stay still enough to photograph, such as this hawkfish.

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I was very happy to see quite a few hawkfish there, like this pixy hawkfish with the tasseled dorsal fins.

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Then there were the ornate ghost pipefish. It’s normally quite a rare fish to spot, but we saw plenty here. This one is fairly young, as can be seen from its wispy tail.

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Then we got some nice young adult specimens like this.

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And finally some of the older, darker coloured ones that looked less delicate than the younger fellas.

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We also found some of its close cousins, the robust ghost pipefish. They were well camouflaged, looking like brown leaves floating just above the sandy bottom.

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Another of my favourites is the pink anemonefish. Here, one shyly looks up as another dodges away from the camera.

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I don’t know how rare these spine-cheek anemonefish are, but I was delighted to find them as I’d never seen them outside of the fish books before.

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Check out the weird spine jutting out from its cheek!

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Other anemonefish had eggs! This is really rare anywhere else, but every trip to Tulamben I’ve seen fish eggs. Have I told you yet how much I love diving at Tulamben?

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It was really sweet to see how the parent tended the eggs so carefully.

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There were other fish with eggs too, like this sergeant major fish. I think it was really cool how the eggs are purple.

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This fish had laid its eggs on the walls of the wreck, and we ascended to an entire expanse of sergeant majors guarding their own eggs. A wonderful sight.

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Then there were the juvenile fish, like this baby emperor angelfish.

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I like how striking it is, looking like a kid got a white marker and drew circles on the fish.

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Other juvenile fish were less pristine, like this bannerfish that made it out of a bigger fish’s jaws just in the nick of time. Poor guy.

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Of course other juveniles do much better, like this batfish, looking much more elongated than its adult self.

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There were other fish that remained small even as they reached adulthood. One of them is a superstar of the diving world – the pygmy seahorse.

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It was almost impossible to get good shots of this shy creature half the size of a fingernail, especially when it turned its back to the camera and resolutely looked away.

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Still, no trip to Tulamben would be complete without a couple of pictures of these, imperfect or not.

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Back to Tulamben: Crustaceans

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There were a whole load of crustaceans around in Tulamben. Considering that we hardly did any night dives, which is when they typically come out to play, it is again a testament to the great diving at Tulamben that we saw so manyof them.

Here’s a brightly coloured coral crab under its anemone house. It’s a wonder it doesn’t get eaten that easily, its colour is so vivid.

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Even more brightly coloured were the peacock mantis shrimp, its inquisitive eyes jutting out quizzically.

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It’s when the mantis shrimp is in side profile that one understands why it’s called that, for its tail has the pretty colours of a peacock.

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We revisited startling specimens such as this orang utan crab, something you wouldn’t typically expect of something underwater, let along a crab.

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It’s almost impossible to bring one of these into sharp focus, as it’s so hard to tell whether the fuzz is caught sharply or not.

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There were also plenty of shrimp, like this imperial shrimp. It’s amazing how transparent its body is.

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I guess the transparency is how it camouflages itself, especially when young. Check out how the young one is so much harder to spot than the full-size one.

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There’s another type of mantis shrimp, the smashing mantis shrimp that hides in its hole waiting for unsuspecting prey to go past.

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Here, I admire the bravery of these hingeback shrimp. They’re so close to the smashing mantis shrimp’s home that it’s impossible for the bigger one to catch the smaller ones. Nothing like being too close for comfort here!

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Then again, these little shrimp are so tiny it’s hard to see how they’d make a dent in any sizeable creature’s stomach.

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Still, they are very pretty and it’s fun to get in close to catch a good shot of this attractive orange shrimp.

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One of my favourites, as regular readers would know, is the harlequin shrimp and again Tulamben didn’t disappoint. We saw this adorable pair posing as orchids.

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It’s really cute how they strutted and posed about.

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There were also some lobsters and these were incredibly well-camouflaged amongst the featherstars. Check out the yellow one here…

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… and the red one here.

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It’s hard to believe how sharp Wayan’s eyes were in spotting these.

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Easier to spot but much harder to spot were the goby shrimp, who spent their days pushing sand out of burrows guarded by gobies. At any movement at all, the goby would dart back into the hole, and of course the shrimp would dart in at the first twitch of the goby’s tail.

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Last of all in this series of crustaceans is this shell of sorts. I have no idea what it is. If anyone can identify it, I’d be really grateful.

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Back to Tulamben: Bottom Dwellers

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There were lots of creatures living on the bottom, whether on the bottom of a part of the wreck or on the sea floor proper. One of them was the relatively hard-to-spot snowflake moray eel with its startled expression.

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Other eels included the ribbon eel, like this yellow female…

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… and this black juvenile.

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Ribbon eels have a characteristic way of moving in and out of their holes, probably partly moving with the surge and partly to act like a lure for its prey.

Yet other eels we saw were the incredibly shy garden eels. It was impossible to get any closer without chasing them back into their holes.

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I think these are spotted garden eels, but it’s difficult to tell without a close up picture.

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Moving away from the eels, there were other fish that live in holes, like this goby…

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… and this yellowbarred jawfish with its characteristic yellow mark on its eye.

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Then there were the fish that simply sat on the bottom, never being found more than a few centimetres off the coral. Case in point is the leaf scorpionfish.

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At Tulamben, we found the white variation…

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… the yellow variation…

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… and a red variation. Such was the multitude of fish at Tulamben, it was a fish photo collector’s paradise.

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We were also lucky to find a rather hard to find ocellated frogfish. This tiny fella was about an inch or so long and we find him while battling a unexpected strong current. Too bad we weren’t able to stay for too long as I’d certainly like to get a better shot of him.

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And last of all was this deeply depressing stonefish. It’s almost perfectly camouflaged, with only its glum downturned mouth to give itself away.

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Back to Tulamben: Of Coral, Crevices and Cleaning Stations

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There was plenty of very healthy coral in Tulamben as usual. And there was occasionally very blue and clear water.

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We were lucky to catch a small school of razorfish passing by…

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… and were even luckier to discover an electric clam in a crevice on one of the walls of the wreck. Check out the blue-white lines on the clam – those are the electric bits. I wouldn’t advise putting a finger anywhere close!

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Other things in crevices included this octopus that didn’t make any attempt to conceal itself.

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All it did was to curl its bulbous head in a bit more to look like a giant, doleful nose.

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Another one was far less gregarious. I wouldn’t call this one shy, given its evil eye peering malevolently from its hole.

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Cleaning stations had plenty of crevices too. Here, many different types of shrimp were proffering their services, including this one coming right up to my hand. It tried to give my glove a good clean, but in vain.

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Others had more business with this giant moray eel, giving it a good dental check up.

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Some were so zealous about their job that they went into the jaws of the eel quite fearlessly. And the eel never bothered trying to eat it.

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The shrimp obviously had to be quite smart in getting out before the eel’s jaw closed, just like this one making the eel look rather foolish.

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Wayan did a reprise of the last trip and demonstrated how the shrimp would even go into his mouth with sufficient coaxing. Here’s an incredible action shot of not one but two (!) shrimp making a beeline for his lunch leftovers.

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And here they are making sure they’re doing a thorough job. Wayan kept at this till he could hold his breath no longer.

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The show was over and we went on to the next cleaning station. Here, a shrimp took a breather atop a coral grouper’s head before going back into its mouth for more dental action.

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And a midnight snapper waits its turn, mouth open in anticipation of the cleaning to come.

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Back to Tulamben: The Wreck

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I’d greatly enjoyed my last trip diving in Bali and I knew DC would love it as much as I did. It was a no-brainer to choose Tulamben and Tulamben Wreck Divers. Tulamben has the fabulous Liberty wreck and other fantastic dive sites that are just off the beach (hence no long boat rides and the chance to return to the room for an afternoon nap), and TWD has excellent guides like the eagle-eyed Wayan.

The wreck itself is fairly broken up, so it’s impossible to have an idea of its size just from one picture. Here’s part of the inside where a portion of its hull came to rest tilted on its side.

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It’s not often that we come up close to the resident great barracuda. My last trip, I only caught a glimpse of him once and it was the same this time round. A group of us practically came nose to nose with him in one of the chambers of the wreck. You can just about make out its ferocious teeth. Pardon the poor picture quality, I was still testing the camera.

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Other visible bits of the wreck included a boiler valve encrusted with coral, and I tried to get some pictures of me trying to turn the valve, but in vain.

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Residents of the wreck included plenty of bumphead parrotfish. When we went in September, it seemed like the season. We saw them on a lot of dives at the wreck and not just in the early morning.

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This one in particular was easy to approach as it rested on the bottom. It didn’t seem fazed by the big SLR at all.

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This poor fella was probably sick and in need of some serious cleaning from the blue-streak wrasse here, hence not quite caring whether anyone took its photo.

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We caught some other less-sick fish being cleaned, like this blue-spotted stingray bulging out from the bottom in its characteristic way, signalling that it was open for cleaning.

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Tulamben’s black sand gave cover to all sorts of strange fish, like this peacock flounder just about concealing itself. Only its bulbous pair of eyes gives the game away, thereafter its shape becomes apparent.

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Similarly given away by its bulging eyes was this dragonet.

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It reared up as I got closer, but not close enough to see exactly what type of dragonet it was.

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Beyond the wreck, there were other things to see, just not that often, like this blackfin barracuda.

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There was also the occasional squid, seen from afar. Squid tend to be very shy and it’s not easy to get a shot of one especially in the day time.

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But the most exciting thing about the blue was the occasional treat of fish schooling above the wreck, like these jacks starting to form a tornado.

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It’s quite exciting when you see a bunch of them forming up, I always wonder exactly how many fish end up inside that tornado.

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It’s such an amazing thing watching them congregate and almost block out the light.

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Battle of the Turkish Joints

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We were in the Arab Street area quite a bit, partly because our favourite dive shop is there and partly because there were a lot of errands concentrated in that area for us to run. It was natural to end of the busy-ness with a good dinner. We chose Turkish places on two separate occasions and found that while they weren’t good enough to have separate posts of their own, they seemed to complement each other for an interesting comparison.

At Sufi, I had a lassi-like yogurt drink called ayran. It was thinner than lassi and a pleasantly sweet accompaniment to the meal.

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Pardon the bad lighting as we were sitting outside in the dim evening light. The combination starter, meze tabagi ($18) was stellar. It consisted of the classic turkish appetisers including babaganoush, hummus and cacik. The hummus stood out for being uber creamy and very tasty, full of chickpea and sesame flavour. We also fought over the patlican salata, the one with eggplant chunks cooked in tomato and peppers. The eggplants were cooked to perfection as they held their shape yet collapsed into an unctuous ooze when chewed.

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All this was accompanied by lavash, a pillow-like bread that rose majestically with the steam inside. We had to be careful when breaking it open to let out all the hot air. The tasty bread was a perfect foil to the appetiser dish.

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DC had the doner ustu ($12), supposedly chicken doner with buttered rice and a special sauce. He liked it a lot. Unfortunately I felt that it tasted a bit too much likeĀ  stirfries you get in greasy UK Chinese takeaway joints. My mum had the doner durum ($9), essentially the same chicken doner sliced with some vegetables into a wrap and accompanied by some cold fries – not good, hence no picture.

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Glad that we didn’t order that many disappointing mains, we had kunefe ($7.50) for dessert. Make sure you have enough people to share it as it’s big and very rich. It’s basically string pastry soaked in honey syrup, served with cream cheese sauce and sprinkled with pistachio dust. It’s very sweet, very decadent, and very delicious. I’m coming back for more.

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Sufi
48 Arab Street
Tel: +65 6298 2258


Then there’s Alaturka, just a street away. Funny how it seemed to be a bit of an opposite, because the appetiser platter ($14), though decent, wasn’t as good as Sufi’s.

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It came with the same bread, and again the bread wasn’t as fragrant and tasty as Sufi’s.

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The main course was where Alaturka really shone. This time my mum had the doner rice ($12), which I felt was much tastier. It was also quite salty, so we had to eat it together with the rice.

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The rest of us had the combination kebab that came in an impressive platter on a stand with the various grill offerings, with minced lamb, lamb chop, beef and various chicken parts. It was well grilled and tasty. I especially liked the lamb chop because it was tender and juicy.

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Then the dessert failed us. The baklava ($5.30), was tough and while sweet, didn’t seem to have been soaked in syrup enough. A pity.

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Alaturka
16 Bussorah Street
Tel: +65 6294 0304

Moral of the story? Go to Sufi for appetisers and desserts, and head to Alaturka if you only want main courses.

A Good Brunch at db

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We’re not sure how it happened, but one Sunday I found myself at Daniel Boulud’s swanky cafe at Marina Bay Sands with DC, Shinta, KK and Eeyore. We opted to share some starters and then proceeded to our own main courses. The first appetiser was the quail ballotine en croute ($22), basically a baked pate of quail and foie gras enclosed in a pastry shell. It was well executed and tasty. Maybe I’ve had too much airline food but this reminded me a lot of the stuff you get on the plane if you eat just the quail part. But with the foie gras centre, things are all good and yummy. I quite liked the pickles at the side, especially the bit of shiitake pickle – a refreshing change to the usual carrot and cucumber pickle.

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The spicy tuna tartare ($23) was good in that the ingredients were impeccably fresh and flavourful. The chef had a very light hand in the spices as it was hardly spicy to my palate, yet paradoxically heavy on the salt. Perhaps he was going for the cured salmon style while I was expecting more sashimi salad.

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The chop chop salad ($15) cost more with shrimp ($21). We counted 4 shrimp, making them $1.50 each, which isn’t too bad considering that they were, as is the standard at this restaurant, fresh. What I enjoyed throughout the meal was that every ingredient in each dish seemed to burst with freshness and was pretty much picked at its peak. I normally tolerate bits of wilted salad leaves here and there, sometimes even at the best places, but at db, it seemed like they did a proper freshness QC. Very good! Here, again, the salad was very tasty and fresh, though nothing inventive or mindblowing. $15 for a fresh salad with watermelon, sweet and juicy though they were, seems a bit steep to me.

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For mains, DC went for the piggie burger ($24) which had a beef patty topped with pulled pork. My tasting portion of beef patty was well seared on the outside and nicely juicy in the outside. I didn’t taste much pulled pork and think the patty is delicious enough to have on its own. Maybe I’ll go for this one next time.

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KK and Eeyore both had the original db burger ($35), which had braised short ribs in the middle of the meat patty and foie gras on top. I didn’t find my tasting portion very special and didn’t even notice much of the short ribs. One thing though was that the foie gras was tiny and I was very lucky that the piece KK cut for me had a tiny sliver that barely caught my attention had it not fallen onto my plate. But the fries at this place are da bomb. I think they’re probably the best fries I’ve had in recent memory. These are definitely twice fried, they’re super crisp on the outside and somehow slightly waxy and moist on the inside. I wouldn’t call it fluffy, but somehow the texture worked really well. The flavour was great too, and they salted the fries just so. I wonder if they put beef or goose fat in the oil to make it taste that good.

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Shinta had the barramundi grenobloise ($34), again an impeccably seasoned dish. My tasting portion of fish had a lovely crisp crust of skin that really added to the juicy fish. Excellent.

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Finally, my dish. I went for the grilled yellow fin tuna ($36), which I felt was the weakest link of the main courses. The tuna was of decent quality. I’m belabouring the point here, but the produce offered at this restaurant is faultless. However, the flavour of the tuna somehow didn’t sing and I felt that the corn fricasee was a tad too stodgy despite being lifted by the spicy, mustardy watercress. Plus, I could hardly taste the hedgehog mushrooms that I ordered the dish for (yes I put dishes with mushrooms at the top of my order list). While it was a decent rendition of tuna, it was sadly very forgettable.

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For dessert, we were stuffed and none of the other desserts appealed to us, so we went for the warm madeleines for the table to share ($8). Considering that the rest of the dishes were fairly pricey, we were expecting no more than one madeleine per person in that portion. We were very happily surprised that the madeleines came piping hot instead of warm and there were plenty to go round. Even Shinta, who was on a no-carb diet, dipped in and there were so many that no one fought over the last piece (a rarity in this crowd). I liked how each delicate little cake had almost crisp edges of darker golden brown that really added to the tender texture of the morsel. The subtle orange peel flavour added to the yummy ending to the meal.

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I like db Bistro Moderne and think it’s got good, fresh, well executed food and efficient, attentive service. Price-wise, it’s not cheap as we paid $66 per person for all the food above plus a glass of wine and a fruit punch (don’t order the fruit punch, it tastes just like the type you get at post-event buffets). However, I’d say it’s quite worthwhile, as opposed to truly value for money, as the produce really is fresh (there, I’ve said it yet again!). I’d return, though probably for a chi-chi splurge than for a regular work-night dinner. Oh yes, and I’d return for the fries!

db Bistro Moderne
B1-48 The Shoppes Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 8525