Ice Cream Chefs

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Ice Cream Chefs is a gem of an ice cream place that not only makes good ice cream, but also makes interesting flavours. Their specialty is the mix-ins, where they beat the ice cream to death on a refrigerated slab and wrestle in toppings like nuts and candy bars. We’d been here quite a few times and tried flavours like tau huey with almond mix-ins and apple with fruit pebble mix-ins.

This time we went, DC had cheese ice cream with honey star mix-in. It was a bizarre flavour that worked very well. Think cheese cake made with strong cheese and you’ve got the flavour of the ice cream. The sweet crunch of honey stars complemented it very well. Unfortunately more than a mouthful or two was enough for me, so I had to have my own.

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I had the black sesame one, which was thick and rich and full of sesame flavour. It was as if they froze black sesame soup (the kind you get in Chinese desserts) into an ice cream. Very nice.

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We also took away a tub of Kaya Lottee flavour, with waffles mixed in. It was delicately scented and very delicious. Thumbs up!

Ice Cream Chefs
520 East Coast Rd #01-06
Tel: +65 6446 6355

12 Jalan Kuras
Tel: +65 6458 4849

Quick Eats: Tsuru Tsuru Tei

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DC and I found ourselves at The Central one work night. Despite wanting something light, we were lured in by the siren call of the deep-fried black pig ramen. I thought to order a salad to help lighten the meal and ended up ordering the only salad on the menu: avocado salad ($7.80). At least there were vegetables. I liked how the leaves were fresh and there were quite a lot of avocado chunks. The onsen egg was a lovely touch to top off the salad, I love eggs with still-runny yolks and barely set whites. Yummy!

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And now for the piece de resistance, the koumi ramen ($15.80). I apologise for the poorly composed photo. It was a work night, it was late and I was tired. The basic ramen below the rack containing the deep-fried pork, though not among my favourites, was decent. The noodles were fairly firm on arrival but got soggy towards the end. You just have to eat fast to enjoy the firm texture. The soup was a decent tonkotsu style broth, very milky and unctuous with plenty of collagen dissolved in it. I think it had loads of msg too, so watch out before you over-indulge.

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Ah… and the thing that lured us in! The deep-fried pork rib was fairly decent, though not as crispy as we’d anticipated. Still, the meat was substantial and tender, and the batter fairly light. I’d prefer it slightly less sweet, but for something that’s not too expensive, I’m not quibbling too much.

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Tsuru Tsuru Tei
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-88/89 The Central @ Clarke Quay
Tel: 6327 7887

Quick(ish) Eats: Burger Shack

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We weren’t expecting to go to Burger Shack. Really, we wanted to have something a bit lighter, like the duck bak kut teh at Penang Kitchen. But we passed by and were really hungry. So we did. We went easy by skipping the fries and having a vaguely virtuous salad to compensate.

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Mine was the lamb burger. It was pretty decent with a fairly juicy patty that was spiced just right so that I could still taste the lamb. I quite liked the large juicy slices of portobello mushroom in it too. Next time if I wasn’t too famished, I’d pick out half of the chunky slices of onion. Thankfully, both our burgers had lots of onion, so we ponged each other to happy death the rest of the afternoon. (Oh yes, DC had the black pepper beef burger. I thought it was OK. The sauce was quite run of the mill pepper sauce, not that I was expecting anything really special anyway.)

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They tried to do the shake-shake thing with the salad, which is a good idea since you decide how much dressing to go in. It’s quite a nice Japanese-influenced one with plenty of soy sauce in it. As for the greens themselves, just take a look at the picture below and judge for yourself whether you’d like that kind of salad. It was passable for me in a pinch, but if I’m in my normal fussy mode, my response’d be NO ICEBERG PLEASE KTHXBAI. But I wasn’t, so it passed as my serving of greens for the meal. That, and the pongy onion.

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It’s a great place for a fairly quick burger. Try the spaghetti meatball next time, so many people were having it, maybe it’s good. Oh yes, and the lemonade was quite decent. This place is quite decent and the wait isn’t too long.

Burger Shack
559 Bukit Timah Road #01-01 King’s Arcade
Tel: 6466 3477

July in Vietnam: A Close Shave in Sapa

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My experience in Sapa was definitely head and shoulders above that in Ha Long Bay. Here I experienced something a tad more opportunistic. Although the personal danger was higher, somehow I felt far less upset about this experience, and filed it away under things to watch out for in future.

Here’s what happened. I’d booked my short tours in Sapa through a travel agent recommended by, of all people, my pastor. He’d been on a wonderful trip in a large group from church, enough for the travel agent to personally show them around Sapa. I hadn’t the same luck, which wasn’t a big deal. The tour guide who took me on a group tour to Cat Cat, seemed like a nice enough and friendly guy. Dzong was informative and also very fluent in English. After a very pleasant day trip to Cat Cat, he asked the group to join him for dinner. The rest seemed fairly interested but later backed out because they were all on pre-arranged package tours with dinner included.

Dzong invited me to his place for tea. Eager to make friends with a local, I readily agreed.  Turned out that he shared a room with his brother, one in a row of many little rooms in a building. We sat on little stools drinking green tea and eating lychees. Too bad he was really bad at choosing fruit. He obviously hadn’t spent a great deal of time living on his own. We chatted a while about all sorts of random things and I foolishly set the location a bit too far away when I fibbed to him that I had a boyfriend waiting for me in Ho Chi Minh City.

Later that evening we met for dinner and headed out to one of the local barbecue joints serving grilled black chicken and various glutinous rice specialties.  We sat down at the low wooden benches and enjoyed all the delicious local delicacies. Dzong got a half litre mineral water bottle recharged with the local firewater and I obstinately sipped at it while he exhorted me to scoff it down like the locals. No way for something at about 20% bv!

Soon dinner was over and it was time to retire for the night. I was a little buzzed as we walked back down the path leading to both our places. He asked me to wait outside while he picked up something at the pharmacy. Thank God for my curiosity as I wandered into the shop consisting of a single counter and looked around. Before long I realised to my horror that he was picking some prophylactics. That brought me straight out of my buzz and immediately put me on the alert. I kept my distance from him and true enough, he asked if I wanted to go to his place for a drink. It was my cue to profess exhaustion and head back.

Unfortunately, he insisted on being gentlemanly (whether faux or not I care not to explore) and escorted me back to the hotel. I kept insisting that he needn’t go to my floor or to my door but he did. I unlocked the door, said a quick goodbye and slipped inside, closing and locking the door firmly behind me. I was incredibly lucky that he didn’t try any harder because I later found that the door didn’t shut properly and really needed a chair pushed against it.

Boy did that teach me a lesson. I never told my parents about this, not even now, two years from when it happened. I wonder what Mum would say if she finds out, if she ever gets back to reading this blog again!

Having survived that, I thought I’d go on to more challenging things and hired a motorbike plus driver to take me through hill country the long way. Of course, not without thoroughly haranguing the travel agent who arranged Dzong as a tour guide to make sure that the motorbike driver was a decent chap who wouldn’t try a thing on me.

Layang Layang: Reef Life and Macro

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Don’t think that Layang Layang is only for the pelagics. There’s plenty of macro to be found here, it’s only that sometimes the currents and the wall can be a bit challenging for finding those critters and also getting the perfect shot of that tiny little creature. There was a lot of reef life here, such as this rather surprised looking tomato grouper.

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I was also quite pleased to see one of my favourites, a juvenile black snapper with its characteristic black and white stripes and dots.

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Then there were the fish that insisting on posing for a picture, like this slightly constipated looking pennant bannerfish.

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There were also bottom dwellers like blue-spotted stingrays.

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They always seem to stare up so malevolently at us.

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There were also other fairly amusing fish, like this doublebar goatfish. They like to rest on coral and pretend that they are not there, innocently spacing out, as if if they can’t see us we can’t see them!

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Others showed off their colours beautifully against the coral, like these panda butterflyfish and peacock grouper.

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DC is obsessed with the pufferfish family, just like I’m obsessed with hawkfish. His favourite shot of the whole trip is this seal-faced puffer that he cornered in a coral niche. It’s cute, isn’t it?

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Not so cute is this giant frogfish that has its mouth open in wait for unsuspecting prey. In a split second, it’ll pounce and the prey will be in its belly.

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Far less grotesque were pretty nudibranchs slowly making their way across the coral gardens.

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They were surprisingly hard to spot among the colourful backdrop of coral, but once found, a joy to photograph.

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Far harder to photograph were the pink anemonefish, who were so skittish, this is probably the only decent one I got amongst the tens of shots I took.

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Going down to the seriously macro-level, I found some large whip gobies on a sea fan and thankfully this one wasn’t as shy as my next subject.

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The Denise pygmy seahorses were such a pain to photograph. My camera had great difficulty focussing on the tiny creatures smaller than my fingernail. This one is pregnant and had the tendency to swim to the underside of the sea fan, making it impossible to catch on camera.

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DC got this picture that’s far superior to mine, it’s so beautiful how he managed to capture the eye and its almost serene expression.

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We had some good luck on sandy patches at the house reef at night. There was a flamboyantly coloured Spanish dancer.

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There was also this strange blob of a sea slug oozing its way along.

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Much prettier was this variation of a reeftop pipefish that wiggled its pretty pink tail and didn’t seem to mind the many flashes from our cameras.

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Then there was the bizarrely shaped longhorn cowfish that seemed to have difficulty navigating its way out of this patch of seagrass.

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Back on the coral reef, there were other oddities like this leaf scorpionfish with its glassy white eye staring out at us while swaying back and forth in the water pretending to be a leaf.

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In the anemone were some porcelain crabs, which were quite shy. This one kept scuttling towards the underside of the anemone and it was really hard to keep up with it before it disappeared from sight.

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A rare sight in the coral was this peacock flounder. Normally associated with muck diving, I was thrilled to see this one swim along and then try to rather unsuccessfully camouflage itself on some maze coral. Its googly eyes and patchy colouration gave it away immediately!

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There were also quite a few shrimp and other crustaceans hiding out in crevices. Here’s DC trying to get a good snap of some shrimp.

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They were some kind of orange cleaner shrimp that I have yet to identify, very pretty though!

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Other cleaner shrimp like these commensal shrimp also hung around the same area. Both kinds would come out onto my hand and pick away at dead skin. I suppose it makes good eating for them. And round goes the circle of life!

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There were also these spiny rock lobsters in another hole. I was so tempted to pull them out by their feelers but of course resisted. It’s a pity they were so shy though!

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Back on the surface of the coral reef, we were happy to see the bigger fish thriving. There were plenty of sweetlips about, including these adult harlequin sweetlips that seemed to love giving a mirror mirage by going in pairs above and below the coral.

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Then there was this emperor angelfish that came up to pose for a picture on my last dive. Such an obliging creature!

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And last of the fish, there was this white mouth moray looking out for prey.

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Unfortunately, as this video shows, it’s a bit of FAIL because it got slapped in the face by a passing fish. So much for being a lean, mean predator.

The nicest finale to our dive was getting up close to this turtle. As we approached, the green turtle was facing us and knew full well of our approach. Somehow it didn’t swim away.

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DC got in close enough for a really macro shot of it.

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But then we noticed something odd about the way it was rocking back and forth.

We realised that it was stuck in the coral! For the sake of this turtle, I broke one of the laws of diving – don’t touch any creature – and tugged it gently out. It got free and immediately coasted up towards the surface for a good breath of fresh air.

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It was such a lovely feeling to end our successful series of dives by helping out a stranded turtle.

Layang Layang: Pelagics and the Star of the Show – Hammerhead Sharks

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The reason why we were at Layang Layang was really for hammerhead sharks and the pelagics that were so famous in that area. The whole area was just wall diving with corals dropping off from zero metres all the way to 2000 metres into an oceanic trench! We were under strict instructions to secure things to ourselves because anything that fell into the abyss certainly would never be retrieved.

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Our first couple of attempts to find hammerheads drew a blank. We saw other animals instead, like pretty green turtles…

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… who were quite friendly and didn’t spook too easily when we got close.

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We had to go further out into the blue, away from the coral walls, to get a better chance of seeing hammerheads. Sometimes, all we saw was each other in the blue…

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… and nothing but bubbles rising. We normally had to go pretty deep as hammerheads are very shy and never get used to divers because as migratory animals they pass by Layang Layang only occasionally in the year.

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Sometimes we got so bored that we’d take pictures of anything in sight, such as this jellyfish relative that join up to form a rope-like organism floating in the water.

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Yet our persistence paid off. On three different occasions we saw hammerheads, and mostly in threes and fours. They were generally pretty deep and hard to capture on camera. This is the best picture I have, where you can clearly see its scalloped head. On another occasion, we saw a few outlines appearing out and down and as we descended lower, just about reaching the 40m limit, more and more shapes appeared in the blue gloom and the dim shapes with high pectoral fin and just barely discernible odd-shaped heads filled in the entire field of vision. It was truly an awe-inspiring vision seeing that school.

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There certainly were other pelagics that were much less shy, such as this dogtooth tuna that I certainly didn’t want to get any closer.

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Thankfully, it swam over my head and off to find smaller prey instead of taking revenge for my penchant for otoro sashimi!

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We saw quite a few reef sharks, including this white tip reef shark that swam away before I could get in any closer for a better picture, and an even shyer thresher shark that I saw for a few seconds before it swam off.

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The friendlier creatures were the manta rays, which we saw quite a few of.  One of them came in at quite shallow depths and sailed past majestically.

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Others were quite deep and some were in flocks and flitted like birds, disappearing before we could react to take photos. There’s something about how they fearlessly continue on their way, not bothering to hide themselves, that really impresses me about this beautiful creature. I don’t think I could ever get sick of seeing them.

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Other pelagics included many members of the trevally family, including schooling big eye trevally, like below.

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And them turning this way and that to form a tornado.

It was another of those amazing sights, and quite mind-boggling, to see these silvery masses of fish turning round and round, probably to trap prey within.

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Other big fish include this bumphead parrotfish that was curious enough to check us out instead of the other way round!

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I’m glad to report that its ferocious-looking beak is used for chomping down on coral and not on divers!

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And before long, our dive time was up and we had to head back to the surface.

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Quick Eats: Temple Street Desserts

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Mei Heong Yuen is famous for its excellent desserts. The standards are still high despite its popularity and the sheer volume of people and corresponding desserts passing through. I went for the tang yuan in ginger soup. The glutinous rice balls were soft and chewy and came in black sesame and peanut flavours. I liked the peanut one more as the filling had bits of crunch while being just the right sweetness. It contrasted nicely with the spicy ginger soup. Such traditional comfort food for me.

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Slightly less traditional was the shaved ice that was new to the menu. I like how they took a new-fangled idea and made it their own with the almond snow ice. It’s basically a block of their signature almond cream frozen and shaved into delicate layers. Same familiar flavour, quite a different and incredibly novel texture. I liked how the very slightly grainy almond layers melted in the mouth.

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I’ll definitely be there again soon, sooner if it’s a hot day!


Mei Heong Yuen Dessert
65-67 Temple Street
Tel: 6221 1156

Secret Eat Revealed: Chinatown Fish-Head Beehoon

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Remember that place I told you about before? I think it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. This place needs recognition. It’s run by an old couple in a Banda Street food court. Not sure where Banda Street is? It’s the place overlooking the carpark next to the Buddha Tooth Temple, kinda across the road from Maxwell Market.

I went back there with Delightt and this time we brought our men with us. The fish head beehoon was as good as ever, perhaps better this time as the beehoon was perfectly done. I liked how the soup was still cloudy with no milk added and plenty of good flavour from the fish head and bones. It was hard to eat the fish pieces because tongue had to navigate between fishy grooves to find tasty meat and spit out the spent bones. It was one of the few places where the second visit after so long was better than the first!

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The nice stallholder auntie recommended chicken with bittergourd and black bean sauce. It was good too! There was plenty of wok hei in the dish and both chicken and bittergourd were well-cooked. The chicken was tender and just cooked through while the bittergourd was nicely braised yet not too soft. The chef has real mastery over his fire here!

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Come here for good Cantonese fare, just be prepared to wait as there are lots of regulars and the old man at the wok isn’t very quick on his feet.

Blk 5 Banda Street
Corner near restrooms

Possibly the Best Vegetarian Food in Singapore

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Naive was so good we went there twice in a month, a rarity considering how promiscuous we are with our food places. This post is an amalgamation of both visits. At the start of the meal, a waiter will bring round a mortar and pestle filled with black and white sesame seeds for a wellness ritual of sorts. It was quite a nice start grinding up the seeds for sprinkling onto our food later.

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We started off with the excellent and almost unbelievably good brown olive rice. With the savoury olive paste inside, it was tasty enough to eat on its own. The kaffir lime leaf strips on the top brought it up a notch so much so that it was almost a waste to eat the rice with the dishes!

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The tamarind tofu cake was flavourful and the firm tofu tasting almost meaty. It really didn’t taste at all like I was eating a vegetarian dish. I liked how the seaweed wrapping the tofu gave it plenty of umami flavour that went well with the spicy tangy sauce.

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My favourite dishes were the monkeyhead mushroom ones. I can’t decide which is better, the braised version (Enchanted Forest) or the slivered and fried version (can’t remember the name).

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Both versions tasted fairly similar, they probably used the same sauce. It was made from good stock nonetheless and I’ll definitely have it again. I liked the texture of both versions. The fried version had a very nice crisp-chewy texture while the braised version was somehow firm and again, almost meaty. It certainly didn’t feel like I was eating vegetarian here.

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There were quite a few dishes that didn’t work for me. DC liked the golden oats (it’s his soft spot), but I felt that it was too pedestrian. The tofu in the dish didn’t shine at all. There was also the rendang tofu paired with mantou. That flopped because the taste was neither here nor there and the mantou gave the wrong taste associations: tongue was expecting darkly savoury and sweet, but got spicy instead. A big no-no.

I also didn’t like the steamed tofu with water chestnut and orange sauce. It didn’t help that the service is a bit odd: our waitress was this “I know better than your mum” type who didn’t get her recommendations right. She told us that the special of the day was two kinds of steamed tofu, one was orange and watercress and the other something I can’t remember. I expected that it would be a pairing of tofu, which would be rather interesting, but we were disappointed. It was also a bit annoying to find that the portions were really small. At first, we ordered only one olive rice and asked for a bowl so we could share. When the food arrived, we realised that we needed extra. At this point, the server took away the empty bowl, meaning that we couldn’t even share out the first bowl of rice and start eating. Sure, the second rice arrived very soon, but befuddling moments like these punctuated our entire meal.

Last gripe: the bowls are pretty but hopelessly impractical. The sloping sides made it impossible to rest our chopsticks  naturally in between bites. I kept trying to put my chopsticks down only to realise belatedly that I had to angle them 90 degrees before it would work. Eat there and you’ll realise it.

Final verdict: the cooking at this place is very good, if they fail it’s because of the flavour profile falls flat, not the textures or cooking technique. There are some dishes that work really well, especially the signature monkeyhead mushroom and tofu cake dishes, as well as the olive rice. Other dishes aren’t so good, so be careful of the side-ish dishes. The place is too expensive for what you get and the service is very odd! (See above, plus they don’t take reservations for groups of less than five. I don’t see what’s stopping people from making reservations for five, turning up with three and telling the restaurant that the others didn’t want to go because of their odd requirements.)

99 East Coast Road
Tel: 6348 0668

Trung Nguyen Coffee

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I was delighted to find out the Trung Nguyen Coffee got to our shores, and even more delighted that DC found it too and loves it. In fact, he loves it so much they recognise him already. I think one week he went there for a cuppa almost every day.

Trung Nguyen is the Viet equivalent of Starbucks, only infinitely superior to the coffee-flavoured milk Starbucks serves. Here they do things the traditional Viet way using flimsy little drip coffee contraptions. Choose which number brew you like (each is blended differently) and wait for the hot water to percolate through the metal filter. I like Blend No. 5. It’s deeply aromatic and very robust with little acidity. It’s the equivalent of a boot up the bum gulped black, but what a fragrant boot up the bum! Drunk with a good dose of condensed milk, it’s a better version of the coffeeshop kopi: very sweet, very smooth and very strong. I think this is the best coffee in Singapore. Do yourself a favour and forget the other coffee places. This is it.

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Trung Nguyen Coffee
Liang Court
177 River Valley Road #02-34
Tel: 6837 3314