A Viet Gem

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We dropped by Viet Lang for a dinner with friends one weekday evening and were pleasantly surprised by how good the food was. Every dish we ordered was good, quite a change from most restaurants were there were invariably some items that were pretty run of the mill.

We started off with the imperial spring rolls, which had a filling of chicken and prawn encased in a net wrapper and seaweed of some sort, then deep fried to perfection. Wrapped with lettuce and aromatic basil leaves, then accompanied by a fish sauce based dipping sauce, the rolls tasted really fresh and had wonderfully contrasting flavours and textures.

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Next up came a dish that was awful to look at, especially in the badly taken photo below, it looked like something the dog brought home perhaps. But oh the flavour! The smokey eggplant really was smokey, which added an extra dimension to the dish, a bit like a very lovely Vietnamese take on babaganoush.

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The next dish, prawns steamed in young coconut, came masquerading as a drink. We wondered why the waiter was serving us a drink halfway through the meal but soon realised that the prawns were cooked in the coconut shell. It was very unusual because of the light touch to the flavouring. It was just delicate coconut juice, prawn and coriander that shone through, and was very, very good.

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Then there was the Hue-style grilled chicken with fried glutinous rice. The chicken was decent and quite tender, which I liked. Here, the unusual part was the fried glutinous rice. It was a bit like a cross between fried polenta and plain tangyuan (glutinous rice balls). DC loved it but I found it a bit stodgy after so much food so far.

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Then there was the Hanoi style hot pot with beef and seafood. The hot pot came with accompanying raw meat, seafood and vegetables and it was up to us to cook it ourselves.

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The ingredients were fresh and of very good quality, particularly the beef and seafood. The broth at the end was full of flavour and the glass noodles soaked it all up, showcasing the fresh flavours nicely.

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Last but not least was the pho bo. I was a bit sceptical when one of our friends specially requested for it but was amazed by how good this traditional beef noodle dish was. It beat any other version I’ve tried hands down with its lightly spiced broth and very good quality beef that melted in the mouth. A definite re-order for next time.

We didn’t have any space for dessert, but are definitely planning our return!

Viet Lang @ The Arts House
1 Old Parliament Lane #01-03
Annex Building, Old Parliament House
Tel: 6337 3379
E-mail: vietlang@wellborn.com.sg

PeraMakan

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It was my father’s birthday, of course I had to take him out for good food. He requested Peranakan food and PeraMakan naturally came to mind. We’d eaten at the now-defunct restaurant in Joo Chiat and were crestfallen to find that it’d disappeared. Only much later did I find out from a friend that it’d reappeared at Keppel Club. Said friend raved about the food and especially the durian pengat. I’m not a durian fan, but Dad is. We were all set.

We started of with something not normally associated with Peranakan food, a salad. The jantung pisang kerabu was a salad of banana flowers, green mango and cucumber topped with cooked prawns, a light sambal belachan sauce and covered with a generous dollop of thick coconut cream. The sambal belachan was accented with lime juice and ginger flower, making it a surprisingly light-tasting dish. Goes without saying that the prawny tangy crunchy salad was a hit with the whole family.

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Next up was probably the star of the show: ayam buah keluak. I’m not sure why but the dish came with four pieces of chicken and only two nuts. I was pretty surprised when later I passed by a table of two and saw at least three nuts in their dish. I certainly hope it’s because the other table somehow requested for extra nuts and not because of inconsistency because I’m such a buah keluak fan! The dish was very well made, with tender chicken and very thick black and flavourful sauce. The best part was obviously the buah keluak,which was scraped out of the shell and stuffed back in.

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The deeply smoky, earthy nuts were so ambrosial I scraped out every tiniest bit and even licked as much of the insides clean as I could while at the same time avoiding an embarrassing trip to the dentist or worse!

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Now the dish I remember best of the old PeraMakan was the amazingly well made sambal terung. The brinjal was perfectly grilled till the skin turned a beautiful deep glossy purple. It was smothered with slightly sweet tomatoey sambal and topped with yummy prawns. Just like the ayam buah keluak, I could probably gobble down a whole dish of it all on my own.

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Next up was the only dud of the evening. It was a special: pomfret in assam nanas. The fish wasn’t particularly fresh and the flavours seemed rather watered down. A downer next to everything else on the table.

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The last main was almost an epiphany. You’d think otak otak would be a quotidian type of dish, but this one is the Platonic ideal of otak otak. The grilled dish looked almost like a lasagne, it was so well browned on the top. But bite into the coconut and seafood cake and taste the unctuousness of coconut. Couple this with perfectly cooked fish, prawn and sotong as well as uber-complementary spices and, well, you’re in otak heaven!

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Then came the desserts. I can’t personally vouch for the durian pengat, but considering how quickly it disappeared into my Dad’s stomach (yes, Dad’s usually queasy about dessert, no less rich ones), it must’ve been pretty darn good!

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I had the sago gula melaka and the gula melaka! It was so thick and rich and oozy I fell in love with it instantly. The only downer was that the sago was presented in the usual moulded jelly lump rather than separate pearls. I much prefer the little sago bits to be, well, in bits than in one slightly chewy lump. It was the fly in the ointment, but what lovely ointment that gula melaka was.

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DC had chendol which was very excellent too, again thanks to the superlative gula melaka and nicely cooked red beans.

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Mum had the apom balik filled with kaya. I quite liked the coconut-pandan fragrance of the pancake but felt that the kaya was a tad overpowered, I felt that the kaya could have been more flavourful, either with caramel flavour from slow-cooking the kaya longer or from more pandan flavour. That aside, it was a well executed dish and a nice sweet bite to round off the very excellent meal.

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PeraMakan
Level 3, Keppel Club
10 Bukit Chermin Road
Tel: 63772829

Quick Eats: That Shanghainese Place

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Hypodermically likes this place along New Bridge Road near the junction of Mosque Street. Even though it’s one of the many China eating places along the stretch, she still calls it That Shanghainese Place. The best part is that the menu isn’t particularly Shanghainese. The mind boggles.

We started off with deep-fried squid. This stuff was surprisingly good as the batter was light and less greasy than expected. It stayed crisp even after cooling a bit and the chilli salt with msg gave it extra kick. The squid inside was  just the right degree of chewy and not mushy at all. Thumbs up!

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Then came the spicy braised eggplant. Wow, it was pretty good too. Squishy mushy eggplant and spicy, deeply savoury chilli came together in a slightly gooey dark sauce. Wonderful.

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It all added up to be a tad too greasy and we skipped the noodles. Those dishes were enough for two girls trying to stay fit and look fab, so the other dishes will have to wait for another day.

Farm Visit at Poison Ivy

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A friend and I went to explore the Lim Chu Kang farm area on a lazy Sunday. Our first stop was of course for lunch and we had it at Poison Ivy at Bollywood Veggies Farm.

First, we cooled off with an icy glass of fig tea and then perused the menu.

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We ordered quite a bit of stuff off the special menu of the day. There was a lot to choose from but only two bellies to fill, so we had a tough time choosing.

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We started with the grilled brinjal. Even though the presentation was awful, with the tomato and onion sauce slapped on messily, it tasted quite decent. Dunno why but it seemed to be fried in egg rather than grilled like it said on the menu. I liked the soft texture It was not badof the brinjal although the sauce was a touch too sweet. My friend said that he had eaten better on previous visits.

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Next up was the banana curry. It’s so popular that it’s often sold out, so get there early for your banana curry fix. It was quite unusual because the bananas were the starchy less ripe variety. It went surprisingly well with the curry although I felt that it could have had a little more depth, perhaps paired with another vegetable, either carrot or cabbage maybe.

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Our last main dish was sweet potato leaves fried in chilli, garlic and onion. It was delicious! I liked how tender it was. It’s hard to find sweet potato leaves that aren’t fibrous and tough. These were deep green and very young, going very well with rice.

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For dessert, we had banana crumble and kueh kosui. The crumble was more of a cobbler and came with the usual supermarket vanilla ice cream. I liked the texture of the banana and suspect it’s probably pisang rajah. The topping and ice cream were pretty run of the mill. I routinely make better crumble than this and in my books, crumble has to come with custard. Not up to my standards.

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Now the finale certainly was a worthy one. The kueh kosui was what it should be: soft, sticky, coconutty, caramelly and yummy. It came in a big slab and had to be teased out in bits by the sticky forkful. Even my true-blue grandma-makes-everything-from-scratch Peranakan friend said it was decent. Pass!

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A word about the portions: they’re not exactly the most generous, but it makes for reasonable prices and the chance to nibble at a lot more things. I think small is beautiful, so I’m not complaining. Just take note if you’re a big eater, as opposed to merely a greedy eater like me. The bill came up to $23.50 for the two of us. It was decent considering we had two fig teas, three dishes with rice and two desserts.

Poison Ivy Bistro
100 Neo Tiew Road
Tel: 6898 5001